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Friday, November 23, 2007

Mi Barrio

My new neighborhood of Ruzafa is Valencia’s most well-kept secret. Before I moved here in the middle of September I had never been here, or if I had I don’t remember it and saw nothing that would have compelled me to explore further. Although Ruzafa is only a few blocks from the borders of the heavily-touristed downtown area, we don’t get many tour bus stragglers around here. Besides the church of San Valero, there aren’t a lot of things people would find in the guide books.

I just picked up a sort of insider’s guide to Valencia called Go! that lists lots of cool bars and restaurants in town. I guess that it really isn’t too much of an insider’s guide since it is available for free, but it is in Spanish so most tourists are unlikely to seek out these places.

Ruzafa is very disproportionately represented in this hipster guide to Valencia with dozens of entries under bars, restaurants, and cool shops. Even if I had looked at this guide before moving to the neighborhood I probably would not have attempted to track down any of the places mentioned in Go!, or if I had tried to find any of them I would have failed.

It takes time to learn los entresijos del laberinto, the ins and outs of the muddle of Ruzafa. Many of the blocks in the neighborhood are triangular in shape so you can imagine the problems that newcomers face in trying to find their way around.

Even my trusty key chain compass did me little good during my first few weeks here. The easiest way I have found of staying found, as opposed to lost, is to learn a few street names.

Literato Azorín runs in one direction and parallel you have the calles Cuba, Sueca, and Cadiz. I would leave a trail of bread crumbs when I leave home but the pigeons would eat them. These are all of the street names you need memorize to find a couple of dozen cool places to have a drink, get a bite to eat, or have a conversation.

This last bit is what I find to be the most charming aspect of my new residence. People here actually talk to me. Just about every place I go I know the people who work there by name, whether it’s my egg lady, the gals at the vegetable stand, or the four or five cafes I stop in for coffee or a glass of wine. My bike shop guy recognized me in the market the other day and said hello. I have only been in his shop once to buy new tires for my bike (I have gone through two sets of tires already in one year—that must be some sort of mileage record).

There are lots of great places I have only been to once or twice since I moved—it’s hard to make it to all of them. I frequent a bar run by a couple of brothers from London that is a really cozy joint. There are lots of Brits and a couple of Americans who hang out there. I tend to sit with the Spanish folks I have met. It’s kind of ironic that I speak more Spanish in this English pub than I did in the Spanish places in my old neighborhood. I don’t know if it is because the people here are friendlier or because my Spanish has improved to the point where locals aren’t bothered by talking to me. It is rather tiresome speaking with someone with a less-than-full grasp of the language.

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