Valencian odyssey

Dated: 11 March 2020

Arriving in a strange city in the dark, at nine o’clock in the evening… getting dropped off with your suitcase on a random street corner and being whisked away by a stranger who is suddenly your new parent… This would rightfully seem like a daunting prospect for many seventeen-year-olds.
But not for our adventurous Spanish students, who last month were fortunately in the hands of the excellent Taronja Spanish School in Valencia, Spain. And the strangers were the families handpicked by Taronja for our students to spend five nights with. Living, eating, and most importantly… speaking with… in Spanish.
That first evening may have seemed like a trial by fire for some, as they were forced to remember every Spanish lesson of their A level syllabus in order to engage in any meaningful conversation. But again Taronja had it covered, because the new families are veterans of this process, they have met many students from many countries and are experts at making them welcome, comfortable and immediately at ease. And of course our students were not alone, they went in groups of two or three friends, they helped each other find the words they needed. By the time their teachers met up with them at the Spanish school the next morning, fears and worries had dissipated. Tired and concerned faces had changed to relaxed smiles as they enjoyed their first walk through the colourful streets of Valencia in brilliant sunshine, a far cry from the relentless rain they left behind. And perhaps they already felt a little bit Spanish.
Student Ranaa said “Our host family was really nice, they treated us like their own family and tried to make us feel as comfortable as possible. Even though it was bit weird staying in someone else’s house we got used to it very quickly” “And they spoke to us just in Spanish” fellow student and housemate Mia explained “They were really encouraging us to practice our Spanish speaking and when we get back to the classroom it’s going to help us so much”
And so to a first morning walking tour, led by Alvaro, a teacher at Taronja and excellent guide. We took in the majesty of Mercat de Colón (Columbus Market) - a public market located in the city centre. The building was designed by the Valencian architect Francisco Mora Berenguer between 1914 -1916 and is a clear example of Valencian Art Nouveau architecture of the early century. It impresses with its extraordinary facade and lavish decor.
We then wandered through the winding Turia Garden, one of the largest urban parks in Spain. It runs through the city along nine kilometres of green space boasting footpaths, leisure and sports areas. Crossed by 18 bridges full of history, the former riverbed of the Turia (whose course was altered to prevent constant flooding in the city after a devastating flood in 1957) passes by the city's main museums and monuments on either bank.
We passed fountains and waterways to reach Gulliver Parc where a giant model of Gulliver (from Jonathan Swifts novel) serves as a play park with slides built in.
And we continued on into the ultra-modern Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias - The City of Arts and Sciences - with it’s futuristic buildings, the Hemisfèric, Oceanogràfic, Palau de les Arts, and the Museu de les Ciències where students saw an interesting exhibition of Fallas models.
The Fallas is a traditional celebration held in commemoration of Saint Joseph in the city of Valencia and refers to both the celebration and the monuments burnt during the celebration. Each neighbourhood of the city has an organised group of people, the casal faller, that works all year long holding fundraising parties and dinners. Each casal faller produces a construction known as a falla which is eventually burnt and currently there are approximately 400 registered in Valencia. The exhibition is to showcase all of the fallas that will be burnt and awards are given to those voted as the best. Our students voted for their favourites as they exited the exhibition.
For the rest of the day it was back to Taronja for an afternoon of proper lessons with the language specialists. Taronja split the group into three classes, who then take part in structured, interactive activities that require students to speak Spanish all of the time and develop their vocabulary and listening skills.
In the evening, the Taronja Spanish School host a 'Paella Party' for all of their students and serve up huge pans of the popular local rice-based dish.
The next day, after a morning of Spanish lessons at the school, students take another walking tour, this time of the older parts of the city.
They visit Estació del Nord, the main railway station in Valencia. It opened in 1852 and is built in the Valencian Art Nouveau style featuring amazing ornate ceramic work inside the waiting rooms.
Students climb to the top of the Torres de Serranos, imposing Gothic-style towers that were part of the old city walls and offer great views (and selfie opportunities) across the city.
Outside the Catedral De València in the Plaza de la Reina
The next morning the students visited the world famous Mercado Central, The Central Market of Valencia where they had language tasks to complete that involved chatting with the vendors there.
Ranaa said "I think it was a very good experience so that we could practice our Spanish even more and it was nice because all the people there really like to talk to you. We even talked about topics that might seem controversial, like when we were in the shopping market a woman started talking to me about racism in England (in Spanish) and it was a good conversation, I really enjoyed it."
Inside the beautiful rooms of Ayuntamiento de Valencia (Valencia Town Hall) looking at the proposed pedestrianisation of parts of the city.
Next stop, an excellent Spanish cookery class by the very funny and entertaining ‘The Great Chef Nando’ which gave the students a chance to pick up many new words related to culinary activities, as well as learn how to prepare gazpacho and cook a potato tortilla. This was followed by a huge lunch communal - including the dishes they had helped to prepare. 
The final full day in Valencia began with a trip by bus (itself an experience for the locals with 27 British teenagers aboard) to the beach. The sun was blazing, but as you would expect in February - the Mediterranean was considerably less warm. As a result, paddling was as far as any student dared go. But that did not stop sunbathing, ice creams, beach football and volleyball. In fact the students were lucky to have the beach largely to themselves for the morning, an impossibility in high season when thousands flood to the area. The rest of the day was taken up visiting the Oceanogràphic.
Student Darina commented "I loved the city, but I especially loved the beach because we live in London and we just don’t get that, and it was really warm in February."
Student Will got a lot from the trip "Being immersed in the language helps you and listening to my host family talk, and being in lessons just speaking Spanish the whole time…you pick up phrases and stuff. The family treated us very well, I miss them already." 
The journey home was a slow affair as we were held on the tarmac of the airport just before take-off and spent two and a half hours parked in a plane waiting for air traffic control at Gatwick. This was followed by a blustery, bouncing journey and a rather bumpy, and for some quite frightening, landing. But as we all stepped off into the gloom and rain that is a Saturday in February for the British, the students were still smiling and most importantly… still a little bit Spanish.

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