Better late than never – Valencia

With the heavy weights of Spanish incentive destinations such as Barcelona, Ibiza and Madrid taking centre stage it’s easy to over look the city of Valencia located on the beautiful Orange Blossom Coast.  This incredible city hosts a yearly festival called “Las Fallas” in which the Valencian residents spend an entire year preparing for it, this event is a celebration of the spring equinox that lasts for almost 3 weeks with the city grinding to a halt to celebrate. My visit was during the second week when their carnival was in full swing, the city was alive with 65 foot statues for their parade, fire crackers being let off everywhere and spirits were high in everyone I met.

After a busy weekend of research, great food and some delectable local wines this is a perfect incentive destination with a local celebration for any group looking for something a little different in March. The festival is on from the 1st week in March and continues for 3 whole weeks, the weather is around 14-18c most days so remember to pack your sun cream.

Where to go
There is a steady pace of flights to Valencia from the U.K every day and with flight times being under 2.5 hours it gives you enough time to brush up on your Spanish greetings and is perfect for 2-4 night incentive trips. I stayed on the coastal side of Valencia in De Eugenia Vines just 20 minutes by car from the city centre, this side of the city offers clear sea views, long sandy beaches and lots of sea front restaurants and bars to enjoy. However staying in the city will offer a more bustling experience, you’ll be immersed in impressive architecture around every street corner and with authentic restaurants and bars tucked into almost every side street you are spoilt for choice for lunches and dinners. Along with the added bonus of the Las Fallas celebrations happening right on your door step.

What to do in Valencia

Las Fallas! Watch the city come to life with the Masculetas midday fireworks, over 300 comical statues fill little pockets of open space all over the city, the ongoing sound of fire crackers booming down usually quiet side alleys, traditional dancing in the streets and local women in the traditional dress with princess Leia hair buns. The festival is a metaphorical cleansing of all things bad from the previous year, intricate statues are made to represent those moments in a satirical yet cartoon like interpretation and displayed in full for just 4 days. One thing you can say is when you have seen some of those statues, Valencians sure do have a wicked sense of humour. At the end of the 3 week celebration they are judged and a prize is given to the winner and then they are all burnt in a glorious manner that resembles the “Burning Man” followed by the city rejoicing in a fresh start for everyone.

If you need a break from the celebrations then you must not miss the breath taking architecture along the port and in the older parts of town. This is the city of contrast, take in the sheer size of the futuristic City of Arts and Science building or the Plaza De La Virgin that homes the 750 year old cathedral rich in history. The best way to see Valencia is by bicycle, take a tour though their own central park formally an old river bed now a hub of smooth cycle lanes, children’s parks, water features and rogue roller skaters. By taking a guided tour this will mean you don’t miss the fascinating history behind almost every building and bridge you pass – this works well with groups up to 20. If you fancy feeling the real wind in your hair then head 20 minutes out to the Ricardo Tormo Circuit for a afternoon of 4×4 off road driving, Go-Karting and extreme safety driving (aquaplaning training). Follow this with a tour of the F1 test track and this trip seemed to be every boys dream and brought out the competitive side to most when they knew a trophy was up for grabs at the end of the Go-Karting for the top 3 places. There was no trophy for me unfortunately!

Dining out in Valencia

Like most costal parts of Spain the food is bounteous in seafood options and incredible Paella.  The L’Estibador offers both on the beach about 20 minutes out of the city by transfer, if the moreish Paella and fresh breaded calamari doesn’t make you unbutton your trousers their dessert platter will. Dinner is usually from 9pm on wards and Ma Khin Café located in centre is the perfect way to end your trip, with Burmese and pan Asian influences introduced to Mediterranean flavours each course came with simply no fault to find.  Beautifully created by 2 of the top cooking trailblazers on the Valencian gastronomic scene every dish tasted as good as it looked.

The Nightlife

Valencia is the city that doesn’t sleeps at weekends. Most don’t head out to the trendy part of Carmen till midnight and the party then goes all through the night till 6am. If you fancy something a little less audacious then you are spoilt for choice with rooftop bars offering spectacular views of the restless city streets below and there are lots of quaint late night cocktail bars situated in historical squares.

Hotels in Valencia

Like any big city hotels come in all shapes, sizes and styles but the hotel that offers luxury and some of the best meeting spaces at an affordable price is the 5* Hotel Balneario Las Arenas . Situated 20 minutes out of the city centre it over looks the Balearic Sea.  It is modelled on a Greek Temple and became the meeting point of aristocracy at the end of the 19th Century. With over 6 difference meeting paces including an impressive auditorium and state of the art AV equipment, over 200 bedrooms, a gym, a fine dining restaurant, 2 pools and a thermal spa it has it all for group incentives.

Key facts

Valencia is one hour ahead of GMT.  As it has 320 days of sun it is suitable for all year round travel. When you ask how long it will take to get somewhere you will probably be be told 20 minutes. You will quickly learn that the “Valencian 20 minutes” is known across the city and most places really do only take 20 minutes to get to.

 

 

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Lovely Lovina 

After we survived the cattle bus to Lovina it was a calmer pace of life from the minute we arrived. The locals love of Mr Bean i found very strange and with UB40 blaring out of almost every restuarant we weren’t quite sure what to expect. The manager of the hotel wasted no time in selling us everything she had going, to be honest we were tired and it was an easy one stop shop so we smiled, nodded and handover money a little unsure of what we exactly had purchased.
The first of my many “out of my comfort zone” experiences happened straight away. We were a little short of cash to pay for our room so they offered to drive us to a cash point. On the back of their scooters!! We we made it and i secretly enjoyed it, even though i clung on like a spider monkey the whole ride. 
As many of you know i can’t swim and deep water is a sure thing for a panic attack for me, so at 6am we set off to see dolphins. I made it as far as the shore to get on this rinky dink boat that looked more like a stick insect than a boat. Susy was so excited i made her go without me and i went back to bed to watch Bake Off. Susy’s photos looked amazing even if the motor broke down and she had to change boats half way she came back pumped and ready for the second half of the day. Snorkelling! Now being in my line of work i see danger pretty much everywhere and if i can’t see a safe way of doing something it’s not going to happen. We headed North West of Bali and got on what we were told was a speed boat. What we were greeted with was a boat held together with plastic rope, rusty nails and what smelt like no nails used as a filler for holes. The sea was stunning and the ride was smooth as we approached the island. So off Susy went snorkelling into the crystal waters and really enjoyed it. I then spent the day on the boat trying to explain to the captain i didn’t want to go in the sea with the rest, so he put me to work! As Susy saw the amazing corals and tropical fish i was helping him tie the boats up, empty the bottom of the boat with water with an old jerry can and then he showed me how to fish for squid with an old rusty oil can. Conversation was non existent as he spoke no english and just pointed a lot so it was nice being quiet for an afternoon. I was glad to get back to the homestay and back on dry land, so to reward myself for a hard day at sea as a ship hand we decided to go for a massage. Susy enjoyed a relaxing traditional bailanese massage, i opted for a generic relaxation one, which i quickly regretted when the little lady climbed onto the bed to part my bum cheeks and feel that my arsehole needed a massage. As i was thinking happy thoughts and hoping that she wouldn’t invite herself in she asked me to turn over. Now I have had massages all over the world and all have a different techniques but i was surprised when she went to town on my nipples and general boob area, i looked over the Susy and there she was still eyes closed looking quite content and i was being casually sexually assaulted willing it to end quickly.
Next on our paid and unknown excursions list we were up early on a full day motor bike tour for 10 hours with our legs wrapped around total strangers seeing the north of the island. It was a great day and our guides Ringo and Come’on were very funny, their english was sketchy but they still knew how to lay on the charm. Stand out sights were not the amazing temples, beautiful rice fields or even a trip to see one of the guides family compounds unannounced but when Susy fell into a rice paddy in brand new white converse, a man selling shotguns on the roadside at a reasonable price and then something neither of us will be able to erase from our memories. Let me explain… The views at the two lakes were stunning and it really was nature at its best and slightly to the left of the viewing platform there were some men with snakes and lizards asking tourists for photos with them. There were about 30 or so tourists there but no one noticed the huge bat (the same size as a tubby 4 year old child) hanging upside down with a huge erection licking and sucking it! Something we’ll never un-see. We ended the day with saddle sore and covered in dirt but after a quick freshen up, the night ended with locals and the guides back at the hotel with a fire on the beach drinking their local drink Arak (it tastes like tequila and sherry) and eating their readily available fresh Magic Mushrooms.
The final trip in Lovina was a major feat for us both and Susy kept saying how she was very proud of both of us was a 4 hour trek up and down a mountain to see 7 waterfalls. Now most of you know im not at my physical peak and climbing down sheer drops holding onto tree roots to get down was so tough even my earlobes were sweating. That was physically one of the hardest things i have ever done and to be honest i don’t plan on doing it again anytime soon. The Waterfalls were great but the physically grueling trek down with 1 panic attack in tow made them a little less impressive for me as i just wanted to get back to the top and hit a cold Bintang.Susy did really well though and I felt bad that i was the old lady holding her back, however i felt better when she turned around and her face was red and sweaty and she looked about as happy as me! When we got to the bottom there a few other tourists and couldnt work out how some of them had got there as they were really old and one even had a prosthetic leg. Low and behold they took the friggin stairs down the mountain while we had trekked across rice paddies, jungle terrain, dusty dirt tracks and rocks. After talking to a few of the other tourists no one else did the route we did with a local guide! So stairs back up it was, we stopped half way up the mountain only to find a little shack selling drinks and to our enjoyment we saw hanging in the shelter was a hand made wind chime using old Mr Bean DVD’s. The guy literally gets everywhere!!!!

Seminyak done

Friday 4th September
I’m writing this currently riding shot gun on a rammed 12 seater bus for the next 4 hours, I’m still getting used to the Balinese way of driving. Which is basically getting there as quickly as possible without running someone over.

The past week has been chilled as there wasn’t too much to do. We ended up in a 3D trick art gallery one night in the middle of nowhere, the locals didn’t quite get our sense of humour as we strayed from the usual tourist poses but more than happy to laugh at us from the side lines. As fun as it was, it was so hot in there my fingers were so sweaty i left smear marks on the camera – I didn’t know fingers could sweat that much. As for the walk back this was like the obstacle course at the end of the krypton factor with a leap of faith needed every 10 yards or a blind panic run across the road.

We had a night out but i was so drunk i couldn’t tell you in what nearby town but we ended up in a heaving rooftop club. It was a glorified Oceana with drinks that induced bell’s palsy by 10pm, floors that smelt like drunk girls vomit, full of lads from Essex and Susy’s fave cheesy pop and r’n’b music from the last 20 years. My personal highlight was showing Susy how to slut drop, before i knew it she was practising her skills on the bar like a coyote ugly girl (or one of the lady boy go go dancers from the gay bar we end up in later). Great night though however the hangover today was administered by satan himself and Susy and I are very much feeling our age.

Highlight of the last few days was the traditional Balinese cookery school we went too. We were a little reluctant to book it as it was expensive but reading one 5 star rated review after another on Trip Advisor it was the best one on the island we were sold. 10 courses we cooked up and only 14 people in the class, i loved it as it felt a little Masterchef and it was a chance for me to show off my skills, for susy on the other hand she passed her GCSE food tech with a very good garlic bread it was a little more out of the suzy Q’s comfort zone but i’m glad she got stuck in. We all got to eat the food after and lucky you we all got given the cookery book to take home. No idea where I’m going to get half of the ingredients from though!

We have also established this week that i am a magnet for all freaks, weirdos, gropy old men, taxi drivers and street sellers. Even if you have boundaries with personal space it is not something they are familiar with so be warned you’re going to be touched by strangers and their hands are not going to be clean. Susy puts it down to the fact I smile at everyone, i haven’t quite mastered Susy’s perfect resting bitch face or pretend sleeping pose yet. Oh i must also add that susy wanted me to include my stupid question of the week. “Susy, what colour is the sea?” i am fully aware what colour it is, she pissed herself laughing for ages. Don’t make me post the video of you dancing on that bar on FB!

Now we are off to Lavina after 4 days in Seminyak we are leaving with sunburn that resembles 2 magenta shin guards, 4 mosquito bites, 2 hangovers and at least 12 plasters down from the first aid kit for susy’s feet. So all in all we are doing well.

The prologue

We are officially on our travels, we are packed (just) and i’m writing this on the second leg our our flight from Qatar to Bali, trying to distract myself from the squeaky bum turbulence. So to fill you in…..Thursday saw Susy and I’s last day in the office. It ended in the usual Three Crowns nonsense, we’re still unsure if we had a good turn out to say ta-rah or if it just clashed with thirsty Thursdays. Either way we had lots of fun and spent most of the evening reassuring people we hadn’t quit our jobs, I did however set myself the challenge of coming back as brown as an asian. This challenge was with an asian man – poorly thought out on my part. Next was the packing.
In hindsight we both could have been more organised with the packing however it was something Susy and I both didn’t really know where to start, it was left to the night before with several methods tried. Susy opted for the cram it in and i went with the fold and roll. Even though we got the books, read the blogs and asked the friends at 30 and 30-something we still haven’t mastered packing. Many sacrifices were made in the packing cut but then again who does really know what to pack for if you are travelling for only 2 months? I said farewell to my beloved pro curler and Susy said hello to the new “security pouch” or bum bag to you and me her mum got her. However Susy has still managed to make room for her dressing gown, yes that is correct her dressing gown and i have a back pack full of Tampax after hearing they don’t sell them where we are going and went into a pre menstrual Tampax buying frenzy.
I did believe that being older would make this travelling malarky easier, however with all the creature comforts we have set in over the years left at home this will make for an interesting trip. We’ve come to realise that no one can ever be fully prepared to travel for the first time, if they say they are they are pulling your leg as they hide away their newly thumbed copy of Eat, Love, Pray.
Like anyone leaving their adult lives behind, you have worries. However with all worries pushed aside for a couple of months we only have to look out for each other and not worry about anything. It’s not very often that you get the opportunity as an adult to escape from life when you aren’t a Teen or uni grad and life is still there to pick up when you come back, so we plan on making the most of this last chance liberation. 
Past 30 hrs in stats;

2 days travelling, 3 hour wait at Heathrow for the flight to Qatar, 2 demon children kicking our chair for 6 hours, 1 Home Alone inspired run through Qatar airport to get our connecting flight, 1 lost hat, lots of squeaky bum turbulence, 1 randy french couple dry humping next to us and trying to hide his permanent erection and way too many Tramadols.

Now we are here in paradise and you know I love to gloat but this place is paradise.

If you didn’t know we’re off somewhere nice

Do you remember what you did on the 6th January 2015 with your first day back in the office after a 2 week break for Christmas?

Well Susy and I decided that we would ask for a sabbatical for later in the year, mine is a modest 2 months while Susy opted for a brave 4 months of adventure. After a very easy process of approval from what felt like everybody we were lucky enough to get 2 thumbs up from work and told to enjoy ourselves.

The next step for any good Project Manager and Event Manger was to set up the plan, so too Google Drive we went. I must admit Susy has been busy in power point and google drive working out the plan of what we are going to and where we are staying with weblinks, fancy pictures and trip advisor ratings, while i’ve been enjoying all my jabs! Lucky Susy and I like most of the same things to do and stay so it’s been a very smooth process of me agreeing with most suggestions she had and happpy with everything so far. So my part in the big adventure comes into action when we step off the plane in Bali. Social media is my bag during the trip and as we chose Southern Asia the Wi-Fi comes as standard everywhere so i’ll be updating you (and gloating) on all of our adventures. This should also reduce the amount of chat time our first day back in the office in the big kitchen at work.

Our trip begins on Sunday 30th August as we start this little jaunt with a few cocktails at Heathrow before our 18hr flight too Bali, quite a few of you have asked what the plan is, so here it is;

30th August – 20th September – We will be bumbling around Indonesia

20th September – 30th September – Hanging out with the monkeys in Borneo

30th September – 2nd October – A cheeky spa weekend in Cambodia

2nd October – 5th October – Drinking buckets in Bangkok

5th October – 14th October – Looking at LOTS of temples in Burma

14th October – 28th October – Seeing the wildlife in Sri Lanka

29th October – On the 13.5hr flight back to blighty, to weeping friends and family at arrivals waiting with banners and flowers (more likely an Addison Lee driver with a sign calling me Mr.Low on)

Many of you have asked and said, why are you booking so much and planning you should go with the flow and follow the other people you meet. Well my answer to you is that Susy and I are Flash Packers, we are too old to be sleeping with a room full of strangers, having a 1hr queue for the bath room in the morning, living in dirty unknown squalor and sweating in cattle class on a bus. We are opting for a grown up version, where we wont come back with back pack flags, braids, 30 dirty rag bracelets from a monk you met in the mountains who cleansed you Aura and having found ourself. We know who we are and so do you.So why are we doing this?

We are taking some time out of living in central London, stressful careers and simply escaping life for a while, just a quick regrouping of our minds to do something for ourself and only have to worry about each other and making sure Susy doesn’t turn into a zombie after 1 too many buckets.

So i guess you’ll hear again from me soon and apologies in advance for any smugness you may experience from us before we go.