We spent 10 wonderful days in Valencia. We packed quite a bit into those 10 days. So, what did we do?
On our first morning, we set an alarm (oh, how we hate that these days) to make it to a free walking tour at 10:30 (I know, I know, you are shocked we need an alarm to be somewhere by 10:30, but we do these days). The “free” tour was offered by a company called, aptly enough, Free Tour Valencia. And, it was a really good tour. We saw quite a few things and learned various bits of trivia about Valencia. Five minutes in and I turned to Robert and said “this is already better than the tour of Seville.” Of course, free doesn’t mean totally free, as you are expected to tip at the end, but at least you can tip according to how good the tour turned out.
We also walked much of the Turia Riverbed Park. At somewhere between 7-9 km long (I’ve seen conflicting reports), it is the biggest urban park in all of Spain. As I understand it, a river used to flow just outside the old part of Valencia. Back in 1957, the river flooded, sweeping many people to their assumed deaths (or so I was told) and destroying thousands of homes. After that flood, the government decided to reroute the Turia river to prevent future floods. Initially, the government planned to turn the riverbed into a big, ugly highway system. But, the people of Valencia protested and demanded gardens instead. Smart people, right? Ultimately in the 1980’s, the government turned the old riverbed into a huge park. Thankfully, they left the old bridges up. Some of them are over 500 years old and pretty darn cool.
Many of the bridges have cool gargoyles and the like on them.
At one end of the Turia Riverbed Park is the City of Arts and Sciences. The City of Arts and Sciences is a set of six futuristic-looking buildings, containing attractions such as an aquarium, a science museum, and an IMAX theater. We didn’t visit any of the attractions, but we did enjoy looking at the buildings.
At the other end of the Turia Riverbed Park is the BioPark. We didn’t make it there either, but we read it is supposed to be very cool.
In between, there are a variety of interesting things to see. I particularly liked some of the sculptures.
If our free walk and our walks around Turia Park were not enough, we also took a street art walking tour with Free Tour Valencia. It was fantastic. More on that in a future post.
In addition to walking all over the city, Robert took a paella cooking class with the School of Rice and Paella. I passed on the class as: (1) it was expensive; (2) he is the chef; and (3) there were snails in the paella. Anyway, he loved the class. He got to cook, he got to eat paella and mussels and a Spanish omelet. He also came home more than a bit buzzed, as they plied him with wine throughout the course.
We, of course, visited the Central Market to buy some of our groceries. It is huge and the building that houses the market is stunning. If you go, make sure to look up at the beautiful ceiling. Although we had a hard time turning our eyes away from all of the lovely hams. Just be careful taking photos — some of the vendors will most definitely yell at you. Not that we know from experience or anything….
And, we couldn’t miss La Lonja de la Seda (the old Silk Exchange). The building was built in the 1400’s and 1500’s and has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site (and you know how we love those). The twisted columns in the main building were amazing. But you know what else is cool? The doorways are lined with carvings depicting a variety of sins, including gluttony and lust (yeah, thought it best not to post a photo of that one) as a way of saying none of the sins are welcome in the exchange.
We also visited a large (for us) number of museums. My favorite was the Fallas Museum. Fallas is a big celebration held every spring to commemorate St. Joseph. Every neighborhood spends an entire year building a figure, known as a ninot. Then, all the ninots get burned. Every year, there is a vote, and one ninot gets “pardoned” and put in the museum. I think we need to plan a trip back to Valencia during Fallas….
Robert’s favorite museum was the Museo de La Amoina. This is an archeology museum built over some Roman ruins. It was small, but cheap (2 Euros per person), and an interesting way to spend an hour or so.
Another museum we saw was the Museo de Prehistoria. This museum might have been really interesting, as it was chock full of artifacts from centuries ago, but (1) there was very little signage in English and (2) it was crawling with loud school kids. Ugh.
We even made it to a religious site without getting struck by lightening — we actually walked into the Basilica de la Virgen. We would have never visited this place, but our guide on the free walking tour recommended it. It was beautiful inside. I, of course, inadvertently swore when my camera acted up (nothing serious . . . just said “what the hell”) and I’m sure I’m never welcome inside again…
We got really lucky and happened to be in town for Valencia Day. Valencia day celebrates the day in 1238 when King James I entered Valencia and freed it from Moorish rule. It also falls on St. Dyonisius day, which appears to be somewhat like Valentine’s day — men give their wives, girlfriends, and mothers a bundle of marzipan sweets wrapped up in a scarf. I read they go through 70,000 kilos of marzipan….
Anyway, on Valencia Day, a huge parade (we left after about 3 hours) with “Christians” and “Moors” marches down the streets. Parades are just a bit different here. First, they set up plastic chairs along the route and, right before the parade starts, they collect 4 Euros from anyone sitting in the chairs. After about two hours, I was wishing we had paid for chairs…. Second, they don’t throw anything. No candy, no beads, nada. And, they don’t have barriers along the entire route so people can come and go as they like.
We also went to the Lake Albufera area. Lake Albufera is supposed to be a great place for bird watching. So, we dragged ourselves out of bed at 7:45, walked half an hour to the bus stop, and rode the bus for just under an hour to a town called El Palmar. Where it was cold, and cloudy, and raining — none of which had been in the weather forecast and none of which was conducive to bird watching. So, we walked down the main street and realized everyone was drinking bottles of wine at 10 in the morning. We thought, “well, when in Rome….” and sat down and ordered second breakfast with wine. As we were eating (really good sandwiches and quite honestly one of the best meals we had in/near Valencia) it dawned on us — all the guys drinking wine were most likely fishermen ending their days. Oops!
And, I’ve saved the absolute best for last. We went to a football match!!!! My first ever professional football match (Robert technically can’t say that because he went to a Chicago Fire match). It was so much fun. Although so different than a sporting event in the U.S. For starters, there was no national anthem or display of military might before the game. And — get this — you are allowed to bring your own food into the stadium. Crazy, right?
Valencia is a pretty cool city. Not as cool as Seville, but we still liked it and would go back in a heartbeat.