Valencia 2020: closed museums, detours, Artistas Falleros, and conversations in broken Spanish

Valencia 2020: closed museums, detours, Artistas Falleros, and conversations in broken Spanish

“It’s not an attractive city,” someone told me about Valencia before my weekend trip in January 2020. I wondered what made a city attractive. Do all of them have to have picture-worthy architecture? Enchanting light? Color contrasts that look great on film?

I don’t remember ever choosing a travel destination for its attractiveness (whatever that means). And, to be frank, I didn’t choose to travel to Valencia (nor was I aware then that it would be my last international trip for more than two years). It was a one-weekend work trip, and I tagged along without much on my list of unmissable sights.

I planned to wander around on foot to see what would resonate with me; visit a couple of museums on local culture (always one of my top priorities); definitely skip Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències (perhaps leave it for a next time when I’d have more time in the city, but not dying to go where everyone else was going).

On my first full day in Valencia, the sky was clear and the air was crisp. The perfect weather for a stroll around town while I made my way to Museu Faller de València, about 30 minutes from our hotel (give or take a detour). I took in all of the city, brushing off the idea that it was “unattractive,” pacing while looking at everything (except where I was going and, therefore, tripping).

And then.


The museum was closed for renovation work on that weekend.

(I should have known better and double-checked the museum’s website.)

My memory is a bit fuzzy, but it doesn’t matter to explain why I decided to head to Museo del Artista Fallero de Valencia instead. I’m 99% sure it was because I was so intrigued with Falles, the local cultural event in honor of Saint Joseph in March, that I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to learn more about it.

Much of the walk there is a blur, except for crossing Jardí del Túria and somehow finding myself in a sort of residential-meets-suburbia block of apartments. A note to point out I didn’t feel unsafe, but maybe it wasn’t the best judgment to blindly follow the suggested Google maps itinerary at an unknown city.

After what felt like an endless road, with sore legs and throbbing feet, I reached my destination. Relieved and smiling, I hopped up the stairs to… a closed door.
I was ready to give up on the city in that split second.

But something happened that changed my mind.

A man in a museum uniform, with a half-bitten green apple in one hand and a crumpled paper napkin in the other, leaped from his desk, rushed to my rescue and unlocked the door, apologizing. As if ME interrupting his mid-morning snack was HIS fault.

I didn’t speak Castellano or Valencian; he didn’t speak English or Portuguese (I managed to tell him in broken Spanish from where I was). Yet, remarkably, we managed to communicate for the next hour.

He told me they didn’t get that many tourists because they all go to the other museum; I told him I was also on my way to the other place, but it was closed for maintenance work. He nodded in agreement.

I asked if I could walk around unassisted; he said yes, then lifted a finger that meant “wait here” and disappeared behind one of the statues. A flip of a switch later and a marching band’s music carried through the small two-floor museum. He popped out from behind the falla, one hand on the hip and the other still holding the half-bitten green apple.

I thanked him and urged him to return to his mid-morning break; he thanked me and told me he’d be there if I needed anything.

A lot of details about this experience have slipped my mind since — the admission ticket price, the exact route I took there, the history behind each falla on display, how I made my way back to the hotel, or why I ended up lunching patatas bravas and a cold beer at a place I don’t remember the name but reminded me of Lisbon’s Pastelaria Versailles.

There is one thing I know, though. People make the place, even in “unattractive” cities.

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