The thing I love the most about cities, whether it’s where I’m visiting, or where I’m living, is the concept of a neighborhood. Maybe its because where I grew up, on Prairieview Drive, the neighborhood kids were like my extra siblings, their parents my extra parents. I didn’t imagine then that such a community can exist in a city, full of so many people. But now I know that you create your own corner of the city, by seeing the same people every day going about their business. On our corner alone, we have the lazy eyed pharmacist where we get Jesus’s eye drops, the Pakistani internet shop where I buy phone cards, and of course El Bouet Wine and Tapas Bar. With a name like that, I dont need to tell you why we are frequent customers. Even though these guys may not be like my second siblings, seeing them and greeting them every day is exactly what makes this corner a home. You walk by and greet each other. You sip wine when you are locked out. You try new international phone cards and you talk about the weather.
Neighborhoods in cities are marked by the cafes, restaurants, businesses, shops, or even zip codes. However, I think the most important factor is the residents. The people, the characters that live and work there and create its culture. These kind of people mark a neighborhood, make it distinct, and give it a feeling. When I visit a city, I love to see the neighborhoods where the people live even more than the tourist sites. Try asking the people at the hotel where they would go to dinner with their friends, instead of where they are paid to recommend. This little tip has lead Jesus and I to some of our favorite travel memories, especially when it leads you a dark little romantic French restaurant where no one speaks English and the waitress resorts to charades to explain the menu.
Our neighborhood is called Ruzafa, and it seriously rocks. It is definitely one of my favorite things about my life in Valencia. Rumor has it that it was traditionally a working class neighborhood post Spanish Civil War, and then more recently home to many Arabic Immigrants, followed by Chinese Immigrants. Now its simply a mix of everyone, all hanging out together. The fact that its chock-full of fun galleries, restaurants, cafes, and shops and events doesn’t hurt either.
I thought maybe I should provide you with some more reliable history than “rumor has it,” so I (of course), googled it, and found some MAJOR history, dating back to the 1200’s. The name “Ruzafa” comes from the Arabic word for garden, and was an Arabic neighborhood before being conquered by King James in 1238. How amazing is that? (source: http://www.holavalencia.net/2009/05/31/ruzafa-information-and-history/)
Im going to show you a few of my favorite things in Ruzafa. However, I’ll leave an exploration of restaurants and bars for another post, because believe me I have a lot to say on that topic. Here are just a few really cool things about our neighborhood, so you can imagine the feel of this very special place.
The center of our ‘hood is definately the Mercat de Ruzafa. We are so lucky to have this great market a few blocks away, open 6 mornings a week. This is Pilar, the woman who owns the stand we buy most of our fruits and veggies at. Her stand is called Pilar Fruites I Verdures (Valenciano for Fruits and Vegetables) and her family is always friend and helpful, offering great quality, mostly organic products with excellent service and even cooking suggestions.
This has been my favorite Plaza, since I discovered it after moving to Valencia…even before I lived in Ruzafa! It has great places to have a drink, coffee, or snack, and a good atmosphere. (some of which are not open on this Sunday afternoon shot). Its also next to the market.
Here are a few more good shots of Ruzafans doing what they do best; enjoying the sun, having drinks, playing soccer in the street. You can also see above where we check out our Valenbisis, and some lovely neighborhood architecture. I hope you enjoyed my neighborhood, what is the best thing about YOUR neighborhood?