Day 17: Travel to Valencia
After a relaxing and indulgent stay in Dubai, it was time to move onto the final leg of the trip: Europe. This of course required a travel day, but due to the limited time and the flight schedules, we would be going on a red eye. We got to Dubai International Airport via Metro by 10pm, plenty of time for the 1am flight. I would be flying on Lufthansa 601, an A330-300 in business class to Frankfurt, Germany. From there we will catch our connecting flight to Spain. We departed out of the new Concourse D, which is home to almost all airlines besides Emirates. My mom wanted to check out some of the duty free shops, which DXB is famous for. There was even a mini Gold Souq if you wanted to take some bling with you. After a quick browse, we went upstairs to the lounge level. We first checked out the Ahlan Business Class Lounge, operated by Dubai Airport. This was accessible with Priority Pass, so my mom and I both went in. The coolest feature of the lounge was the Flight Radar screen that showed live aircraft movements - perfect for AvGeeks like me.
There was a surprising amount of food in the buffet as well as several made to order options. I ordered an Eggplant Parmesan, while my mom had a ramen. Both were not very good, but the curries in the buffet were decent.
After a while, I headed down the hall to check out the Lufthansa Business Class Lounge. While not particularly special, it was comfortable and had a small spread of hot and cold foods. I wasn’t hungry so I helped myself to some Champagne and fruits. It was here that I saw the breaking news coming out of Paris about the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral. This was very sad to see, even though I’ve never been to Paris. Actually, I seriously considered adding Paris to this trip and I would have been flying there that very day. Hopefully they will be able to restore it to its former glory.
Dubai Airport has an extra security check at the gate, so we got there a bit early. I had seat 11A, which is a window seat at the back of the second business class cabin. There were just 2 rows in this mini cabin so it was a bit more private. Lufthansa’s business class is laid out in a 2-2-2 configuration, with fully lie flat seats. Unlike the 1-2-1 configuration, window seat passengers do not have direct access to the aisle. The flight was also completely full, including the business cabin, so I had a neighbor. While I had low expectations for this flight due to the seating arrangement, I was pleasantly surprised. The seat was large, comfortable, and the leg room was limitless. In the full bed position, it felt just as spacious if not more so than the 1-2-1 cabins.
There was a large pillow and comfortable blanket provided at each seat, along with a set of Bose noise cancelling headphones and a nice leather amenity kit.
The headphones were the best I’ve had on an airplane so I actually used it instead of my own. I was also given a welcome drink of mint lemonade, which was refreshing.
Since this was a red eye flight, the menu was pretty sparse, with a small snack after take off and then breakfast before landing.
The guy next to me was out as soon as we took off. I followed pretty closely after and didn’t make it for the first meal. I did manage to catch some stunning views of Dubai at night though.
As mentioned before, the bed was quite wide and very comfortable. The seat area also acts as a cocoon when in bed mode, so it felt private even though there was someone next to me. I had to use the restroom once so I had to cross over my neighbor, but was able to do it without waking him. I slept very well and didn’t wake up until breakfast.
I opted for the Belgian waffles, which were fine but nothing special. Unlike some airlines, Lufthansa only offered brewed coffee – no espresso drinks. Overall, the food and seat (although comfortable and very practical for this flight), felt a step below the other business class flights. Since I slept for most of the flight, I can’t comment too much about the service, which seemed good in my brief interactions. The entertainment screen was responsive and had a good selection of content, including a documentary on my Golden State Warriors’ last championship. We caught a beautiful sunrise as we came in for landing.
After getting off the plane and making our way to customs, we saw the number of people drop significantly. By the time we got to customs, my mom and I were the only people in the area. Turns out most of the passengers had connecting flights and would not be entering Frankfurt. While we also had a connecting flight, it was with Ryanair on a separate ticket so we would need to clear EU customs anyways. I also wanted to enter at Frankfurt to use the Lufthansa Welcome Lounge. Besides, we had 5 hours to kill before our next flight. The customs agents were initially confused as to why we were entering for just a few hours, but they still let us through. I headed straight for the welcome lounge, open exclusively in the morning for Lufthansa’s premium passengers.
The lounge had 24 private shower suites, which was amazing after a red eye flight.
The food quality was also quite good, much better than the plane. I tried one of the coffee options in German, which ended up just being hot milk. I got a couple espresso shots separately to try and salvage it.
After I was full and fresh, I went out to my mom’s lounge and then checked into our connecting flight. We spent the rest of the time in the Air France lounge, accessible via Priority Pass.
Finally, at around 10am we headed to our gate and started boarding. Ryan Air is probably one of the most famous (or infamous) low cost carriers, dominating leisure travel throughout Europe. It has by far the most extensive route network in the continent and offers dirt cheap fares. Ryan Air does charge a fee for bringing a carry-on luggage, but it’s only 7 Euros if you buy it in advance. However, they do have a pretty strict size limitation and we were worried that my mom’s carry-on might be too big. American luggage sizes don’t always pass on this side of the pond. When we were in line, it didn’t seem like our luggage was any bigger than the other passengers, and the gate agent definitely didn’t notice. As expected for a LCC, we took a bus out to the plane and boarded via stairs. Although the bus ride was pretty cramped, I do like boarding from the ground and seeing the plane in whole. The 737 (not MAX) was pretty new, which is another aspect of LCCs as they prefer newer, more efficient planes to save on maintenance cost.
The seat was not as bad as I expected. Of course there was no infotainment nor even seat pouches (just a sticker with some safety instructions), but the legroom was perfectly fine. For a while, it looked like I would get the whole row to myself, but alas another bus arrived with the remaining passengers and we took off at full capacity.
I was able to sleep through most of the 2 hour flight. When I woke up, I could see the east coast of Spain as we came in to land at Valencia.
Valencia is the third largest city in Spain (after Madrid and Barcelona). It is often overlooked as a tourist destination, but that was exactly why I picked it. It didn’t have the crime and crowds of the big European capitals, but had the right mix of climate, food, and attractions that I was looking for. On paper Valencia made perfect sense, lets see how it compares in real life.
Since we had already entered the EU in Frankfurt, this was essentially a ‘domestic’ flight in the sense that there is no immigration nor customs. This is due to the EU Schengen Zone which permits free travel throughout the EU member states. Literally not 2 mins after getting in the terminal building, we were through to the arrivals hall. We then headed for the metro which would take us to our hotel in the City Centre. The metro was perfectly fine, but in comparison to Dubai, it did not have the same level of polish. It definitely wasn’t dirty or old by most standards, but its hard to avoid direct comparisons to the previous city on trips like this. After about 25mins, we got off and emerged at the Jardin del Turia, a river that was drained and converted into a public park. As a result, there are many bridges that span the former river, each with its own distinctive theme.
Our hotel, the Westin Valencia, was only a 5min stroll away. The hotel is located in a restored historic building which used to be the Swiss Embassy.
This is probably the nicest hotel in the city from what I found, and part of the new Marriott Chain. Check-in was smooth, although we didn’t get a room upgrade. There were only 2 floors in the hotel, but it spanned the entire square block. There was a large courtyard within the hotel walls formed by this block. We got a double room on the second floor with a small balcony. The room was pretty spacious for a non-suite and very adequate for European standards.
By now, it was around 3pm in the afternoon. We had breakfast in Frankfurt at around 7am, so we were pretty hungry. I found a decent looking place on my phone just a few minutes from the hotel, so we headed out. Restaurant Maldita Dulzura was excellent and a great introduction into local Spanish cuisine. This place was so authentic it didn’t even have a menu, just a specials board outside. None of the wait staff spoke English, so when they came to take our order with no menu, we were really confused. Luckily, there was a local that spoke some English and helped us translate. For lunch, this place offered a set meal where you get 2 main dishes plus a dessert, drink, and coffee for just $9 euros. You could also get a half meal with 1 main dish plus the rest for $7 euros. We opted for one of each, so we tried 3 main dishes: a braised pork dish with rice, a classic Valencian paella, and fried fish. All three dishes were really delicious and had generous portions. We finished with dessert and coffee.
For 16 euros total (tax and tip included), this was an incredible bargain. The staff was also extremely nice and patient. I was able to use some broken Spanish to express our gratitude and enjoyment of the meal. The local that helped translate was really nice and explained that he worked for city hall, which was located in this area. This was a great first impression to Spain, and judging from what I hear, I don’t think this experience would have been possible in Barcelona. After lunch, we went back to the hotel to rest. We did just fly a red-eye from Asia to Europe with a 5 hour layover. I made dinner reservations in advance via the Amex Platinum Concierge for 8pm. The meal schedule in Spain is quite unique. Breakfast is usually a small meal, with some pastries and coffee early in the morning. Then there would be a mid-morning snack. Lunch doesn’t start till at least 1:30pm and goes all the way to 5pm. This period is known as Siesta, where everyone gets off work and school, goes home or out and eat. This afternoon meal is the main meal of the day and can take hours, stretching for many courses. After that, people go back to work until about 8pm. Then they go out for Tapas, with full dinner as late as 10pm.
Before going out, I went down to check out the hotel’s pool and spa facilities. There was a large indoor pool and a glass enclosed room with an interesting waterfall shower as well as a sauna/steam room. I couldn’t find the hot tub and there were quite a few people so I didn’t stay long.
At around 7pm, we headed out to explore the city on the way to dinner. Valencia’s historic city centre is pretty dense and small, making it easily walkable. We first crossed the Turia River, this time over the Bridge of Flowers.
The historic centre was lined with beautiful ornate buildings, with small plazas and statues at the intersections
In the centre was the Valencia Cathedral.
As we walked to the other side of the cathedral, we arrived at Plaza de la Virgen. This is one of the most popular plazas in the city and was packed.
The reason it was so popular today was that the Valencia basketball team just won the Euro Cup and was having the Championship Parade through the plaza.
Although I’ve never watched or followed European basketball, the atmosphere was very exciting. Walking a bit further north, we reached the Torres del Serrans or the Twin Towers.
Just across the street was our restaurant, Restaurant Blanqueries. This was a fine dining establishment, recommended on the Michelin Guide. They offered a daily multi course menu for just 21 euros per person. We were the first to arrive, right as the restaurant opened, but it quickly filled up to capacity.
They served three courses of appetizers: thinly sliced beef tongue, fried duck wontons, and a Thai salad course with asparagus. All the dishes were very unique and delicious.
The main course was a beautifully seared sea bream.
Dessert was a pumpkin pie and chocolate brownie. Those were pretty average.
All in all, this was a fantastic meal. 5 courses of high quality fine dining for just 21 euros. Another benefit of being in a not-so-touristy city. After dinner, we called an Uber to take us back to our hotel and went to bed. This was a great first day in Valencia, with some delicious food, good value, nice environment, and friendly people.