Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Our Trip to Valencia

We hopped a plane to Valencia last weekend. Valencia is a lovely city on the east coast of Spain. Most residents speak Valencian, Spanish, and a surprising amount of English (which was convenient for me, as my Spanish is limited to "hola" and "gracias").

The weather was cooler than Malta. We needed our fall coats and sweaters most days and I wished I had a hat and mitten most nights. I'm not sure that is a fair description as I think our internal thermometers are officially Mediterranean and neither M nor I can stand being the least bit cold now (M admits that we are just wimps). The average day temp was around 18-20 deg C and at night it hovered around 6-12 deg C. Brr! It was a relief to step off the plane onto our warm and windy island, we immediately peeled those coats off. However, if you think we are pathetic, the Valencians were dressed in their wool coats and parkas, hats, boots, gloves, and scarves during the middle of the day when it was the warmest. Even we thought that was a bit overboard.

Valencia is known for its oranges, paella (they grow a lot of arroz [rice] there), ham, sea food, and like all respectable Spanish cities, its sangria.

Typical Spanish ham (serrano) shop
Enjoying some sangria...
... and paella!
On the topic of food, as it was November there were street vendors all over the city roasting and selling chestnuts which smell deliciously like Autumn bonfires. November was a fantastic time to see Valencia (or any southern European city) as it was still sunny and pleasant outside but all of the main tourist areas were practically empty. We managed to get a lot of pictures without a single person in them - an impossible feat from May to September.
The CAC Opera House (back) & Hemisferic (front) surrounded by shallow pools that cover the whole complex
The first day we arrived we went straight to La Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences or CAC). The CAC is located in the large Turia Gardens, a park that spans the length of the city, separating the historic city centre from its industrialized suburbs. The Turia Gardens and CAC were built in an old river bed when the former Turia River was diverted in the 50's due to continuous flooding issues. We stepped off the Metro and walked along half the length of the park - several kilometers - passing dozens of cyclists, joggers, and dogs enjoying the impressive green space in the middle of the city. You could easily waste a whole day in the Turia renting a bicycle, having sangria and tapas at a cafe, and enjoying the gardens, football pitches and fountains.

In the Turia you can find three things that seem to sum up Valencia - oranges, cyclists and dogs. Orange trees grow abundantly in Valencia and seem to be in every park and square. I will never get tired of seeing citrus grow everywhere all year round in the Mediterranean (you find this in Malta too). Valencia also appears to be a big biking city. You can rent bicycles from private vendors or from the municipal bike service which offers bike rental stations around the city. And cyclists are everywhere. The sidewalks have separate biking lanes and the Turia was teeming with seniors, toddlers, and businessmen on bikes. The park was also teeming with dogs. Valencia is a dog lover's paradise. We have never seen so many dogs in a city before. There must be something in the water because all Valencian dogs are polite, friendly, and very well trained. On Saturday night dogs sat under everyone's chair at outdoor restaurants and bars. People walked dogs (off leash!) throughout the city all day. In cafes dogs sat in the doorway (again, no leash!) while their owners bought pastries. It was very cool and made us reluctant to return to the cat culture that is Malta.

 These old men sailed remote control sailboats in the fountains at Turia Gardens
The Rose Garden in the Turia Gardens and (behind) the world's coolest off leash park and pond.
Turia Gardens
The obligatory playground visit in the Turia Gardens (we do this in every city)

The CAC was opened in 1998 and certainly represents the most shockingly modern architecture of Valencia. It is a beautiful 2 km complex comprised of a Science Centre (El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe), Opera House (Palau des Artes Reina Sofia), IMAX dome/Planetarium (Hemisferic), an Aquarium (Oceanographic), and a park/sculpture exhibition space built on top of a parking complex (Umbracle).

Pools by the Opera House
M in front of the Opera House
Me in front of the Hemisferic, with the Science Center complex in the background
M in the Hemisferic
The walls in the Hemisferic could be completely opened by a set of hydraulics, M thought it was very interesting.
The Agora, a multi function sports/entertainment complex that forms part of the CAC
Top of the Umbracle Park & Exhibition space, CAC, 
M in a part of the Umbracle. The exterior of all of the buildings in the CAC are covered in this mosaic tile.
M in the Umbracle
Science Center
The Opera House is not open to the public except for performances, so we visited the Science Center and the Aquarium. The Science Center was massive, with dozens of exhibitions. The one we were most looking forward to - the Star Trek exhibit - did not disappoint.

Live long and prosper.
On the set! "Make it so"
M was taking on fire from a Klingon Bird of Prey

M in the chromosome forest at the Science Center
M at the Aquarium
The best sangria we found in Valencia
The main building of the aquarium, underneath the entire complex are giant fish tanks with walrus', whales, penguins, etc.
The next day we took a hop on/hop off Bus Turistic around the city. Although these bus tours are overpriced and painfully touristy in every city, they are a great way to get a quick history of a new place while getting your bearings and seeing all of the important historical and cultural sites.

Then we saw the Valencian Cathedral and Bell Tower at Plaza de la Reina. The Cathedral was a curious mixture of predominantly Gothic architecture with Baroque, French Gothic, Neoclassicism and Romanesque (M just thought it looked plain old).
Exterior of the Cathedral and Bell Tower
Apse and central dome of the Cathedral
Like all great churches, it was a lot to take in in one visit, and mostly overwhelmed the visitor (which is, of course, the point). Next we climbed the spiral staircase (circa 1300?) to the top of the Bell Tower. M had a great laugh when, half way up I was nervous about the extreme heights and the bells started tolling and the tower starting shaking. He had some difficulty convincing me to continue climbing to the top. The view from the top was nice (but perhaps not worth the frightening climb for all of us).

M at the top of the Bell Tower
Me at the top of the Bell Tower (compare our proximity to the edge...)
View from the Bell Tower
View from the Bell Tower
The Cathedral and Basilica which back on a pretty public square
So. Many. Dogs.
Later in the day we visited the Fine Arts Museum which houses a collection of historical art with emphasis on Valencian and other Spanish painters. It was housed in a disappointingly outdated building with a strange curatorial presentation. Let's just say, it was not the Prado. Next we went to IVAM (Institut Valencia d'Art Modern) - a breath of fresh air! This museum is clearly the art jewel of the city with several impressive exhibitions including the Judith Rothchild collection (Cy Twombly [my favourite!], John Baldessari, Jeff Koons, Robert Rauschenburg, Jasper Johns, Martin Kippenburger, Edward Ruscha, and - I've been wanting to see his work since I learned about him at NCAD - 2 panoramic pieces by Henry Darger). M does not "appreciate" modern art as much as I do, so he sat outside at the IVAM, had a beer and played Civilization on his iPhone.
Outside of a sculpture installation at IVAM
Street art near our hotel
Next we went to the Serrano Towers, a remnant of the old medieval walls that used to surround the city (similar to the ones that still surround Valletta in Malta). Another high climb and another nice view.
Donde esta Senor Waldo?
Esta Aqui
Finally, we visited the Silk Market. Valencia thrived on the business of silk from the mid 17th to 18th centuries, and the silk market is where it all happened. It is a beautiful, secular building with lovely architectural details (I loved the columns, M loved the secular part).
Courtyard of Silk Market with orange trees
Main hall of the Silk Market
Silk Market, main hall, with beautiful vaulted ceilings & solomonic columns
M in the Silk Market courtyard
On our last day in Valencia we went to the Bioparc, an immersion zoo. It is located at the opposite end of the CAC in the Turia Gardens. "Immersion" zoos allow you to respectfully enter the habitats of animals.You can fully immerse yourself in the habitat in the case of tamer animals (lemurs) and partly immerse yourself through observation areas for more dangerous animals (gorillas). The bioparc was a fantastic little zoo that focused on African animals with a great rehabilitation and natural breeding program established by the EU to support the zoo's animals which are mostly critically endangered species. Neither M nor I have been to a lot of zoos but this one is our favourite so far. The animals appeared to be healthy and happy, and their habitats seemed large enough and well taken care of. The interpretive efforts at the Bioparc were impressive, with great information posted everywhere, including plenty of literature about specific animals that the Bioparc rescued from circuses, or animals facilitating the EU natural breeding programs. And getting to hang out with lemurs is always a plus too.
M and the lemur
We shared a moment. They are as tame as cats!

A slightly intimidating, alarmingly human animal.
I really wanted one to touch me with its trunk but you can't get that close. Guess I'll tick that off the bucket list another time...
Shortly before we witnessed this elephant "go bathroom"...a truly impressive display...
A giraffe eating a from tree a foot away from me, so beautiful!
After our visit to the Bioparc we had tapas and sangria and did a bit of shopping, stocking up on sweaters for the difficult Maltese winter ahead. We grabbed some great sushi for dinner (you can only eat so much tapas and paella) and ended our mini vacation at the CAC to see it lit up at night.

We had a really nice time in Valencia and are already planning to go back for their Fallas festival sometime. Because really, the only thing that could make Valencia cooler would be to see it all on fire (be still my pyromaniac heart).  

- Jess


  1. Great post! I had no idea Civilization was available for the iPhone!


    Just kidding. I knew. Besides, the stuff about the Opera House was more interesting.

  2. Great presentation, indeed! I've lived in Valencia for 3 years and I fell in love with the city. Unfortunately I had to go, due to the job, so... :(
    Now I'll be coming to Malta, hoping for the best. :)

    1. Thank you, Adrian! Best of luck in your move to Malta. The sangria in Valencia is far superior to what we have here, so get your fill before you leave! :)


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