My arrival to Castellón, Spain, in late July from Victoria, BC, was a smooth one. I chose to fly into Barcelona and took the train south along the beautiful Mediterranean coastline, getting off at Castellón de la Plana. Easy as pie. Really. And with very limited Spanish and no Catalan, which was probably due to the friendliness and help from the locals. Finding my hotel was also easy. It was kitty corner to the Castellón train station and was pointed out to me by a barista who made excellent espresso served in a rather fetching cup. Nothing quite like espresso to energize you in 40°C heat.
The day after I ventured out taking the tram to meet with colleagues within the International Office at the Universitat Jaume I (UJI). I was here in Castellón for this purpose: exploring opportunities for an overseas residency location (for our students on our MA Intercultural and International Communication program). It took about 7 minutes to reach the university and also finding out that if I went in the opposite direction I’d end up at the beach. A tempting possibility for later…
I was a bit early so I had a wander and soon found myself in an outdoor café (I later found out the university had quite a few of them). So after downing an espresso and chatting in my Spanglish (which wasn’t really understood) I set off to the Agora where Berta, the International Manager, would meet me.
Berta spent the next three days showing me the UJI campus (very green with many, many palm trees), meeting colleagues (both faculty and International staff, as well as the Vice Rector and Dean, Castellón, and the wider region. I thought I had gained a fairly clear picture of Castellón and what it had to offer from the tourism website. This was not the case. After two hours or so with Berta and her team I was overwhelmed by the cultural possibilities that would be open to our students for their field study experience. Not only that but UJI itself had so much to offer our residency from faculty specialists in various areas of communication studies, the weekly intercultural seminars, student mentors, to all the extra curricula activities. Not to mention the sports facilities, or the wonderful outdoor cafes dotted around the campus, did I already mention these? In addition at UJI’s campus there are Spanish cinema events that run throughout the year. These events are student led and include a discussion about the particular Spanish film (with subtitles) being screened.
It soon became very clear that the main difficulty with this location would be deciding what we could fit into the three-week residency.
Unbeknownst to me and to the delight of the International team, the timing of our overseas residency for March 2017 was superb with the two biggest cultural events of the year happening then. From what I grasped it was clear there would be two weeks of intense cultural experiences with the two festivals: Falles in near by Valencia from the 15th-19th March (images of Falles) and Magdalena in Castellón (images of Magdalena) from the 18th – 26th March. I heard from all quarters that these festivals are the highlight of the year covering pretty much every aspect of Castellón and Valencian culture possible. Perfect!
On top of these festivals I learned there were many other possibilities for inclusion if we had the time that would fit nicely with the field study providing more socio-cultural insights. The short list included various museums such as the Espai d' Art Contemporani (contemporary art) which although a small museum it has a prominent reputation; Museum of the Beaux Arts (ethnographic, Castellón’s origins, folklore etc.,), Valencia’s Ethnographic Museum, Historic House – show cases how life was in the past in the area; Museum of Ceramics (Castellon is the leader in ceramics industry) and a visit to local ceramics factory.
For keeping active during the residency there are Spanish dancing classes – in particular the local specialization is the Aragon Jota . For eating well there are cooking classes that cover the cultural origins of the local specialty dishes, history as well as making them. To wash down the food a trip to Villa Famize for sampling the regions wine, citrus, and olive oil with opportunities to learn about the history, techniques used, and understanding the various quality levels.
Near by Castellón de Plana is Morella, a beautiful medieval town, which is stunning and has a rich historical background of cultural significance in the area. Tarragona, which is about an hour away, is considered to be one of the best-preserved examples of a Roman city in Spain. Other places included Peñíscola, Benicàssim and many, many others.
Castellón’s white sandy beaches.
Apart from being ‘wowed’ by UJI and the cultural possibilities I also managed to see the truly azure blue of the Mediterranean with Castellón’s white sandy beaches, the seafront promenades, and sand dunes (part of a regeneration plan the city has), swimming and diving.
In the evenings I loved how Castellón’s vibe changed around sun set and into the night becoming more and more lively. The town and its friendly inhabitants made exploring it a real pleasure. In the evenings I’d walk into the centre (10 minutes at the most) and participate in what the town had to offer. People of all ages were there from families with small children to teenagers hanging out at the cafes and shops, to those of us enjoying the tapas and wine (or the fabulous Alhambra beer). The parks were busy with people walking and enjoying the cooler air that the evening brought with it. Everything was open from cafes to department stores such as the famous Spanish El Corte Ingles, which is definitely worth visiting.
Prior to travelling to Castellón I thought it would potentially be a nice location for our overseas residency. Having visited Castellón I can’t wait for our students to experience it and its surroundings.
Gracias Castellón, hasta la próxima!