Tuesday, November 30, 2004

A Trip To Valencia

My team at work occassionally go for a night out about once every two months. It used to be once a month but it's become slower now what with the ax we're facing. Normally it's dinner with drinks (of course) that's before or after a theatre show, salsa dancing lessons, comedy show, go-kart racing, concerts, etc. - you get my drift. Very very occasionally we go on a very short trip abroads in something like once a year. Last time they went to Amsterdam. 'They' because I wasn't able to go - I think I was recovering from my operation back then. This time, one was organised for a weekend trip to Valencia. Why Valencia? Because it's got the best deal at the time we were booking which was at least more than 1 month ahead. The main criterias being - cost 1st and warm weather 2nd. My travels are recorded here while the culinary side of the trip is in my food blog. Click on the pictures for a bigger view.
The city of Valencia lies in the eastern coast of Spain an area called the Costa Blanca (white coast) in the Region of Valencia. As the third largest city in Spain, it has been inhabited by Iberians, Romans, Visigoths, the Moors (who introduced Spain to olives, oranges, cumin, saffron, among other things), and the Aragonese. It is where the paella (rice dish) was invented. The city is not very touristic which is a pleasant surprise and the temperature when we arrived (late November) is a balmy 18C/65F. It is almost always sunny which makes a nice setting in exploring this lovely place.

We arrived in around 4:30PM with nary a glitch in our flight (BA) and sailed through immigration and baggage control. By 7:30PM we were on our way to the old part of town to have our first night out in Valencia!

I then encountered the reason for the bruises on my knee and legs - the Torres de Quart. It was so ginormous (about 10 stories high) and looking like chess pieces that I was in awe while walking towards it. I didn't realise the ground I was walking on dropped 5 inches lower suddenly. So my legs decided for me to kiss the ground. Hehehe! But I'm okay now just a few scraches here and there. As you can see on the right, it is pock marked by cannon balls from the many wars it witnessed mainly in the 18th and late 19th century.

We hit the pubs and bars but was quite puzzled why there were few people around. It was already 8:30PM, restaurants and bars were open but all are virtually empty. We walked in bars and staffs give us strange and puzzled looks as if saying "What are you doing here?" They did serve us but with much prodding. It was only later when we were at a restaurant that people start coming for dinner at 10PM and bars start getting lively at 12 midnight. Oh so ... this is Spanish time! So we went bar hopping and ate dinner where we had great pans of paella. Half of our group (of 8) decided to call it a night at around 12:30 while the other half carried on bar hopping 'til I think 4AM.

Next day we walked to explore the old city again this time in broad daylight. Above left is an old building beside the central market while the one on the right is a street scene. We visited the Mercat Central (central market) see below left.

I was so excited (nataranta ako) in the market seeing all the great variety of fresh produce and they were all so cheap compared to London prices. I left with several kilos of jamon serranos, morcillas, chorizos, saffron, etc. If I can lug it around I would have even bought jugs of olive oil. We then walked towards an area with lots of shops and that's where I encountered these 2 buskers (above right) playing classical guitar music. Wow it was heavenly! They were very very good musicians and the acoustics of the place added to the experience. I was actually reluctant to leave.

After the market it was a long trek to the beach promenade of Valencia. We tried getting taxis but we made the mistake of travelling midday which is the Spanish siesta time. There were no taxis in sight so we decided to take the train and tram. When we got to the area it was deserted. "Where is everybody?" It's a good thing we asked a guy fixing his car and he pointed us to the direction of the restaurants. It was 3PM and some of us haven't even had breakfast and were absolutely starving. We walked some more for about 'media kilometros' (half kilometer) according to the guy and found the cluster of restaurants we were looking for. It was like an oasis in a desert. An area where there was nobody around no shops open and suddenly you come to a spot teeming with people. What a relief !

After lunch we decided to go back to the hotel and have a siesta ourselves and then regroup at 8:30PM. On the way back we passed by the old Turia riverbed. The Turia River used to run right in the middle of the city but because of disastrous floods in the 1950s, it was diverted away from the centre with the old riverbed transformed into parks, childrens playgrounds, and sports playing fields. They are welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of city life.

It's a shame I wasn't able to take pictures of our second night out and you'll know why my male companions refused to budge from the bar of a club. All because the bartenders there are really seriously gorgeous girls in obligatory tight plunging neckline clothes. Just because of that! :) We seem to be "buena mano" lucky early customers because wherever we go to, the place seem a little thin on people but after awhile the hordes come rushing in. We went back to the hotel in the wee hours of the morning although the night scene we left was just starting to go full swing.

The morning saw us walking again (we did a LOT of walking) to complete our final day's tour of Valencia. On the way to the tourist spots we passed by green lush parks and dancing fountains with no music. Can you see the rainbow on the pix above right?

Then we came to the Torres del Serranos. I believe this together with the Torres de Quart are the only surviving remnants of the defensive wall around old Valencia. The stairs and steps to this tower were rather steep. I didn't go to the highest part because I was feeling height sick mainly because the railings were quite low. One wrong lean over it and you'll be free falling.

Above left is the former palace of the king of Valencia (yes they used to have their own king) now used as the seat of government of Valencia. The road leads to the Plaza de la Virgen where we were lucky to watch a cultural show of traditional dances and music (above right). The costumes reminds me a lot of the Filipino "baro't saya" dress which is heavily influenced by our Spanish colonisers. The dancers were using castanets and their movements are very similar to our traditional dances, too.

The one on the left is the Real Basilica of Our Lady of Holy Innocent Martyrs and the Abandoned - did I translate it right? 'Nuestra Senora de los Santos Inocentes Martires Y Desamparados'. It has a circular central hall inside from which small side chapels radiates from. Although it looks relatively stark outside it is completely the opposite inside with its over the top baroque designs and decorations. Unfortunately I was only able to photograph (above right) the fabulous ceiling because there was a mass at the time.

The cathedral (above left) is right beside the basilica. I wasn't able to go inside but my colleagues said it was fab as well. Above right is one of the celebrated symbols of Valencia - an orange tree. Remember the ads - 'made from Valencia oranges'. They grow everywhere in the area.

We had paella lunch (again) at a restaurant right behind the cathedral. As you can see above left paella pans can be as big as 2-3 feet across. After having paella overload almost everyday my colleagues said they don't want to see a bloody paella at least for a while. We carried on walking to a nearby market due to the fact that it's siesta time and we can't find a taxi again. On the right above is an unusual fountain in the centre of a circular market. The water looks so clear and cool.

We were walking rather aimlessly outside that market when Steve managed to nab 2 taxis. Yehey! And we zoomed to the Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences) to gaze at the marvelous modern futuristic architecture of this cluster of museums, cinemas, aquariums, etc. Above left is actually the top of the car park - (sosi ano?) posh isn't it? There are still parts of it that are under construction like the above right where it positively looks like the head of a Japanese robot character.

One of the buildings looked like a bug with wings (garapata?). Above right is another view of the ensemble of structures in this centre. Beautiful isn't it?

Overall impression: I was pleasantly surprised at the beauty of this city with its numerous leafy squares and parks. Things I like: the absence of hordes of tourists; the fab balmy temperature and mostly sunny weather; delicious food - seafood especially; lower prices on almost everything; very friendly and helpful locals even if we were mangling their language. Mind you I can survive here (and so can most Pinoys) because I can read the signs. Numbers and money counting is a piece of cake (dos cuarenta'y cinco). If they talk moderately slow enough I can understand them (hurray to 4 semesters of Spanish classes!). The problem is when they talk rapid fire or when I try to talk - I cannot express what I really want to say. So I would really recommend Valencia although if I come back I would definitely brush up on my pidgin Spanish. Vamos amigos !

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