It had been cold and rainy, typical for the Mediterranean in late February, but when we pulled into Valencia, Spain, the sun came out for a while. The air was still cool, so I knew that this was going to be wonderful bicycling weather. By now, I had ridden my new bicycle in four countries. The streets of Toulon, Naples, Piraeus, Barcelona and Palma de Majorca were familiar to me. I knew almost nothing about Valencia, but from the charts I could tell that the topography by the coast was gentle.
Second day in, I had the day off, and it was Sunday. Tricked out in my bright red sweat suit (even back then, I knew about visibility on a bicycle), I slung my lightweight Velosolex over my shoulder, saluted the quarterdeck, and rode off.
I rode north along the coast road. Initially, Valencia looked much like any other modern city: scores of blocks of apartment buildings with stores beneath them. The traffic was not bad; in fact there was hardly any traffic at all.
Back then, the city did not dribble into suburbs like so many other large towns. Instead, I was suddenly in open countryside. To my right, the Mediterranean Sea sparkled in the sunlight. To my left began miles and miles of orange groves. I took a left inland, and rode into the orange country. Neat groves spread as far as the eye could see. The dark green of the leaves contrasting pleasantly with the bright color of the fruit.
I looked at a map of Valencia today, and I was surprised at the number of towns, villages, and agglomerations around the city. Back then, there wasn’t really anywhere to stop, which was just as well, because I could not afford eating out back then. I had packed some snacks to stave off starvation. I rode for at least 20 km before bending back to the left some more and returning towards Valencia. I remember signs for Puig, Moncada, and Rocafort. Curiously, I did not see any fruit stands, so I did not have a chance to buy an orange at the source.
I don’t remember much about the countryside except the orange groves, and the wonderful feeling of being able to ride fast on a smooth road without having to stop for intersections, traffic, stop lights, or even steep hills.
By mid-afternoon I crossed the Valencia city limit, and, after a short ride around downtown (mostly closed), I rode back to the ship. I arrived in time to shower before the evening meal.
We sailed the next day. I wish that we could have stayed longer, because Valencia struck me as a “normal” town. It was not touristy, but it clearly had history and attractions worth seeing. And of course, it had oranges.
Next week, meet me at The Freewheeling Freelancer as we start an armchair ride along the great rivers of Western Europe.