YouTube is a great invention. Marvin Gaye’s greatest hits playing in the background. A chilly but light Berlin day is pouring through the windows. Over an excellent coffee and a flapjack I finished reading Wuthering Heights. Berlin is that sort of city and why I find myself spending longer here. I am in the mood to be creative. My blog ideas about Valencia fill my mind now.

The city has long been on my list. Ever since I saw the magnificent 1961 Hollywood film, El Cid. Charlton Heston and a stunning Sophia Loren. It is the story of Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar, known as El Cid, and his military successes which played a great part in uniting Spain in the 11th century. Three hours of drama, battles, lovely outfits and real armies battling not CGI. El Cid is a Spanish hero. Charlton was portrayed as a gun crazy, old man in the Bowling for Columbine film. But I was surprised to read of his part, alongside several white Hollywood actors in supporting the Civil Rights movement. But something changed.

Valencia is a port city on the South Eastern coast of Spain. It is known as the City of Arts and Sciences. And the modernity is engaging. And its history is stunning. Great history and culture in the buildings and streets. On every corner. Superlatives abound and are not out of place. Churches that look small from the outside but when you enter they are cathedralesque in their style, beauty, grandeur and perfectly maintained. Loved with the spirit of their God. The history of the Christians and Moors seamlessly standing beside the modern and imaginative buildings. I love walking around cities. Exploring. Getting lost. It gives you a flavour of life there, especially if you are away from the tourist spots. Valencia has streets built for this. Just wandering. Safely. But also its fair share of shops. All shapes and sizes. The men and women of Valencia are fashionable, stylish and always immaculate. In a city bathed in sunshine, history and great fresh orange juice they seem serious, unhappy and in some ways stressed. Or was that just me?  There is also a universal sight – homeless people and people begging.

I did a one week Spanish course. To pick up bits of the language, learn about the culture and meet people. It worked. Travelling alone can be good. You move at your own pace but can be lonely. The structure of a course is good – arrive for 9 a.m. No sleeping in. It was exhausting because of having to concentrate, focus, listen, translate Spanish to English, understand it, find the words and most of all not speak English. From the start the tutor only spoke Spanish. A great way to immerse yourself in a language. But tiring. Of course google translate helps. It was part of my little win one morning when I found the place to buy stamps. The course was a good move.  The other people on the course were all interesting, friendly, welcoming and good fun. Eight of us from Germany, Holland and England. Chats, laughs, stories and chilling out together. All of us in holiday mode. It was good to have company to go to the beach, have a drink or meal. And then find our own time. The hot sandy beaches of Valencia are a joy. Warm, inviting blue seas with waves to knock you about and ease the muscles. And sufficient eye candy walking by on a regular basis. Some distractions are a good thing.

The main site for filming El Cid is the town of Peñiscola, which is about 90 minutes from Valencia by train. I was so pleased I went there. Using my “Spanglish” I got a train and a taxi to and from the nearest station. The Castillo de Peñiscola is a splendid 13th century castle built by the Knights Templar. The views across The Mediterranean and the town are beautiful when the sun is pouring out. Stunning. I am always impressed by the skills, strengths, knowledge and commitment of those who built these buildings. Precariously perched on very strategic points. But the inaccessible is made accessible. I spent an hour just looking, enjoying and moving around on the battlements. Taking it all in. The castle and area have a real sense of place. The story I have about the place, plus it’s history, the experience of touring the castle and its information combine with my imagination and emotions to give the building a life. I can feel and sense soldiers or the film crew moving about the place. There is a strong sense of place as I move around these places. The spirit and essence of its inhabitants is all around. The steps, the walls, the corners. Each curve shares a piece of its story.

And as the sun and I begin our journey, home the colours and reflections add a new beauty to the grandeur of the castle.


Keith Stewart – from Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England. A qualified TEFL teacher, Murder She Wrote and Colombo aficionado. A Spanish music and Motown fan.
Only to be used with permission or attribution.