Valencia, Spain - April 18, 2015
Our day in Valencia was absolutely perfect.
The port in Valencia is huge and you are not allowed to walk around it. We caught a cab with Bill and Terri (new friends from Maryland) and met the rest of our tour group (12 of us in total) at the City of Arts and Science buildings of Valencia. These modern buildings were all designed by Santiago Calatrava. We learned from our tour guide that there is a lot of controversy about them (and especially him). The buildings were late, over budget, the tiles fell off and are being re-done, and they were originally designed with no fire exits. When we were in Barcelona our guide there went as far to call Calatrava a crook. Anyhow, the buildings are interesting and we were there early so we had time to explore.
Once our guide Suzie from Tours in Valencia arrived, we were fitted for our bikes and started the tour. First we learned all about the modern buildings - arts and science, opera house and the bridge - which is nicknamed ham in Spanish. Of course. Suzie told us there are a lot of rice fields in the area which is why paella originates from Valencia. Traditionally the men cook paella, usually on the weekend, and use rabbit, chicken and beans. Now seafood paella is also popular in Spain.
Back to our bikes. We rode around the building to get a good view from all sides. We sent messages through the curved wall. The guys on one side and us on the opposite. Hard to explain but the acoustics are really neat.
Then we rode through the park to see what the locals do on a Saturday morning - we saw joggers, dog walkers, soccer games, dog parks (with agility equipment), the start of a run/race, a kids park and lots of people walking. After the city flooded in the 1950's they decided to re-route the Turia river. The city converted the dry river bed to 9 km of gorgeous park area with a bike lane. It was a really nice ride.
Valencia doesn't have any of the buildings from Muslim rule. Unlike the south they did not use the structures (mosques), they tore them down and rebuilt. Apparently the people from the south were too lazy to tear down buildings and re-build which is why they converted the mosques to churches. Not my thoughts, just repeating what we were told! When the Spanish regained rule they told the Muslims they had to leave or become Christian. Unfortunately all the intelligence for how to create water systems and engineering left with the Moors. They should have thought that one through.
On the tour Suzie told us about Fallas - a celebration where the city burns elaborated sculptures over 5 days in March. It starts on March 19, St. Joesph's Day, and historically old wood pallets and carpentry wood was burned. Over the years it has grown in to a large creative and satirical festival. One fallas is saved each year and it goes in to the museum. Some other tours went to the museum and said it was very interesting. This video is a bit long but explains it well.
We took our bikes through the city gate and left them at the bike rental shop. We walked through the old town area and visited the cathedral. It has three different architecture types. We looked through a window area that locals always peek through when they pass by. Straight ahead you see the Virgin Mary statue and you will notice a glowing light in the middle of her forehead. Some people see red and some see green. We both saw green...that means good luck for the day. Red means bad luck.
We stopped for some tapas with toothpicks (known as pintxos) and a drink - sangria for me, beer for James. The sangria is really good here. Much better than the sangria we had in Alicante a few years ago. Everything was delicious.
Next stop was the market - Mercado Central, one of the oldest markets in Europe. The building is stunning with spectacular stain glass. With about 1000 stall, talk about sensory overload! The locals actually shop here for their goods and they are fresh. Of course there was lots of ham, meats and fresh seafood. Including live eels. Cheese, fruits, vegetables, baked goods, candies and drinks. We stopped to sample some ham, cheeses (including manchego, my favourite Spanish cheese) and cava mixed with fresh Valencian orange juice. Yum!
Across the street from the market we stopped in a store that only sells products from Valencia. The building was formerly a pharmacy and it is gorgeous. Here we sampled Agua de Valencia. It is really good and I can see how it would be easy to drink while sitting out in the Spanish sun!
Next stop, the UNESCO world heritage site La Lonja, The Silk Exchange building. This gothic structure was built in the 15th century at the height of economic and cultural times for Valencia. It is where all mercantile business went down. The palm tree shaped columns are spectacular.
After touring the Silk Exchange you can imagine we were famished (it must have been 45 minutes since we last ate!) so time for more tapas...and sangria! This time we sat outside and Suzie ordered for us. We had bread, gazpacho, squid, potatoes with mayonnaise and shrimp floating in oil.
Once we were completely stuffed, the tour ended. We hung around with Terri & Bill a bit longer in the old town area - no need to go back to the ship early. Bill tried to get some olives but there was some sort of communication barrier so we had more sangria, wine and beer.
Suzie is amazing - friendly, fun and knowledgeable. She gives just the right amount of information. If you go to Valencia, I highly recommend Tours in Valencia! Suzie will customize a tour to your interests.
We opted out of happy hour today - we had enough sangria - and had a short rest instead. We met Terri and Bill at Canaletto for dinner and had a great meal with excellent company. We are sad that they are getting off the ship tomorrow in Barcelona. We'll have to plan another cruise together!