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SPAIN: Valencia

Just by itself, the name 'Valencia' is enough to inspire the imagination to believe that this is truly a place of drama and romance. Research a little further and you will discover an ancient settlement founded by the Romans in the 2nd century BC that also benefits - almost uniquely for a Mediterranean country - a subtropical climate!

So you won't be surprised to find out that  not only has Valencia an excellent heritage of ancient monuments, views and cultural attractions, it is in fact one of the country's most popular tourist destinations!

However, you shouldn't believe everything you read (unless of course I wrote it) as this not the whole story. It turns out that popularity has a price.

Valencia is the third largest city in Spain  - holding a population of almost 1,000,000, and 5th busiest container port in Europe making it the largest on the Mediterranean Sea.

If you are looking for a beach destination then you will certainly have sand, sea and sun. Unfortunately there is not much else - although I did partake in a beach foot massage which didn't go down to well with the future Mrs Eade.

The beach is featureless with a marina at one end and the port at the other. Beach with a view - no.

However, last years holidaymakers did get to see the cargo ship Celia of St Johns which was blown off course and run aground just off the beach.

Walking around Valencia is no different to any other major European city. In fact it is a lot like how you would imagine 'Croydon'-by-the Sea. That's the Croydon of old days, not the unfortunate and grotty multi-cultural display you see today.

There are plenty of places to shop, and there are plenty of places to stop for coffee and fancy cake. 

However, if you are looking for a decent meal that doesn't just involve 'meat and chips' and plenty of it you may find yourself wanting.

Eating out in Valencia

Rather than spend another evening eating in the hotel, we took the metro into Valencia city to look at the closed door of a pizza restaurant we fancied visiting. Still hungry, we gave up waiting for it to open and with nothing else suitable in view, we decided to follow the signs to Burger King. 

After walking for another 15 minutes and still unable to find an alternative venue in the winding Valencian streets we gave up on the Burger King idea but did manage to find a rare off-street restaurant that was actually open.

The waiter was extremely friendly and helpful and after choosing our order from picture cards we were later presented with a spectacular selection of meat accompanied with a huge amount of chips. After only being able to eat about half the meat - between us - we left with an insatiable desire for vegetables.

This feeling was quickly sent packing buy a quick succession of numbing cocktails further along the street.

The moral to this story is this. It is hard to find somewhere that provides a decent selection of evening meals. Most menus are in Spanish  and so if you intend to use your smart phone translator it will only work if you have arranged a suitable provider for internet access before you leave. With that in mind, take an old school English-Spanish dictionary with you.

What to see in Valencia

1. Explore the Old Town

Explore the city centre  starting with the two main squares (Plaza Ayuntamiento and Plaza Victoria). There are plenty of maps around - we got ours from the hotel - which highlight all of the main attractions in and around the city. You may need a compass if map reading is not your thing, and may be a day metro ticket, but most importantly is some bottled water and snacks.

2. Cathedral

Valencia Cathedral sits at the very heart of the old town of Valencia - an area called El Carmen. The Cathedral links two of El Carmen's most iconic plazas - Plaza del la Reina and Plaza del Virgen.

The Cathedral itself is an impressive structure that spans a variety of architecture styles, including baroque, Romanesque and Gothic.

 Whether you are religious or not, it is worth making a trip especially as it is said to be home to the Holy Grail - or is it? You can make up your own mind by  visiting the Santo Caliz Chapel.

This is well worth the effort as from the terrace you can see views of the whole of Valencia and the areas surrounding it. 

There are other treasures too, inside the Saint Francis Borja Chapel you will find a famous painting by Goya.

Valencia Cathedral was built on the site of a Roman temple in the thirteenth century. After being a Roman temple, it was turned into a mosque.

Throughout the building you can see a range of architectural styles.

This is typified by three of the cathedral's main doors: the Puerta de los Apostoles is gothic, the Puerta de los Hierros is baroque and the Puerta del Palau is Romanesque.

Next to the main entrance you will find a belfry, called the Miguelete which is built in a baroque style. There is a spiral staircase inside the belfry that leads to a terrace area.

3. City of Arts and Sciences

This mega cultural centre  designed by the architect Santiago  Calatrava, is host to a dolphin show, an IMAX movie theatre, a science museum and much more.

The architecture is avant garde and eye-catching, with modern white buildings. The City of Arts and Sciences has 5 main building areas.

The first building is the spectacular Opera House, the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia. It looks like an enormous helmet or fish. Next there is an Imax theater, where movies are shown, such as a movie about the Grand Canyon on a giant screen. This building is white and is in the middle of a very wide reflecting pool.

The Prince Felipe Science Museum is the science building, a huge white structure surrounded by two reflecting pools of water. This houses a very wide range of interesting subjects. The science museum is interactive and shows the contributions of science and technology in improving daily life. There are special cultural and museum exhibits all the time that are very educational, perfect for young people and people of all ages. There are 3 stories of science subjects above the main floor.

One of the newest additions the City of Arts and Sciences is the Agora, a multifunctional space where major sports events are held, such as the Valencia Open 500 ATP Tennis tournament, the Valencia Fashion week and international congresses.

The next group of buildings are set in a huge garden and they consist of the buildings for the aquariums. The L'Oceanografic became the largest aquarium in Europe when it was inaugurated in 2002. This great aquarium has exhibits that come from all over the world and represent the major oceans and seas. The best are the aquariums showing tropical fish and the ones showing the fish of the Mediterranean.

Above ground there are small cylindrical buildings which have the entrances to the underground aquariums. The aquarium is one of the best in the world. The complex has a very large building for parking. There are restaurants in the complex because the visit is a whole day affair. There are beautiful gardens everywhere and a building that is called the L'Umbracle, which houses a walkway that is lined with trees.

4. Port and Beach

Valencia's revamped port area has played home to the America Cup in recent years and now hosts a Formula One Grand Prix every year.

The beach is good as far as city beaches go, though there are better ones in the region.

You have already read my opinions on Valencia beach earlier.

5. Mercado Central

Construction of the Central Market building began in 1904 and was completed in 1928. It is a fantastic example of Art Nouveau architecture, displaying genuine Valencian style with lots of colour, ceramics and mosaics.

Mercado Central is one of the oldest running food markets in Europe, but what really jumps out is the unique roof which is comprised of domes and sloping sections of various heights that allow light to shine through coloured window panels.

Valencia's market is more spacious than the more famous Boqueria market in Barcelona, less touristy and not so expensive.

6. La Lonja

The Lonja de la Seda or 'old silk exchange'  is tucked into a medieval street near the Mercado Central, up a flight of steps.

 The visitor steps through heavy doors into a beautiful soaring Gothic hall whose ceiling is held up by graceful twisting columns.

 The columns and the ribs etched into the ceiling represent palms, emblematic of honest business dealings. The ceiling was once painted blue, adorned with stars.

 This venue served as a commodity exchange at the heyday of Valencia's power, a period dating from around the mid-1400s well into the 16th century.

The grand hall lets out onto an enclosed orange garden on one side, and to a small room like a chapel with leaded windows, which itself leads onto a Baroque chamber with heavy wooden coffered ceilings.

Above that hall is another large assembly room. These two rooms served as courts.

However, there is a couple of problems with La Lonja. There is almost no visitor information and the place looks as though it has been robbed. 

Besides the table where the staff take your money the buildings are almost completely empty.

There is no sense of history, and no attempt to tell the story of this fantastic building.

 If you speak Spanish - and I don't -then the guide tours are supposed to be good. At the end of the day, they need to take a few leaves out of the national Trust book of how to appropriately dress a historic property.

7. Bullring

Valencia's bullring is impressive and very reminiscent of the Flavian amphitheatre - otherwise known as the Colosseum.

 The bullring is a modern design, and attracts some good fighters, especially during the Fallas festival.

The stadium was built in 1851 and holds 12,884 people.

The Valencian bullring is situated next to the equally impressive del north train station, was built between 1850 and 1860. 

Don't walk past the bull ring with out having a quick peek at the amazing tiled interior of this gorgeous station. It is worth a train ticket in itself!

8. Turia River

The Turia old river bed is truly a jewel of Valencia. It runs right through the central axis of the city, making it a 9 km stretch of a green belt surrounded by ancient walls and buildings  In truth, it is not a masterpiece of landscape design but it does gives you a sense of the spirit of Valencia.

The city of Valencia grew up on Turia from an ealy Roman settlement.

The river was prone to floods and after a catastrophic flood in 1957 which devastated the city of Valencia, the river was divided in two at the western city limits.

The water was diverted southwards along a new course that skirts the city, before meeting the Mediterranean. The old course of the river still continues although dry - through the city centre, almost to the sea.

Today, the old riverbed is now a sunken park and garden that allows cyclists and pedestrians to travel much of the city without the use of roads. In fact, by following the river bed you can find some of Valencia's best museums, gardens and architectural  buildings which are on the river banks.

The park, called the 'Garden of the Turia' boasts numerous ponds, paths, fountains, and landscaped gardens. You can also find football pitches, caf├ęs, artworks, climbing walls, and an athletics track.

However, the government went further and developed the riverbed into an entire world of leisure and culture.  So over time, the riverbed became the area for new cultural projects. The Palau de la Musica now has its own section of the garden, while the City of Arts and Sciences sits right in the river bed. The space between Bridge de las Flores and the Calatrave (Exposicion) Bridge is often used as a venue for fairs, festivals or circus's.

 9. Bioparc

Valencia's self-proclaimed "new generation zoo" is walking distance from the city centre.

If you travel to Valencia wanting to see the much-hyped City of Arts and Sciences, you may be surprised to discover a place which is less publicised, but just as worth visiting.

 The Bioparc is a sprawling expanse covering some 25 acres, home to dozens of species of animals. It is a zoo, but with a safari-like experience for the visitor, for the animals are in enclosures often without glass or cages keeping them at bay.

One of the first zones you'll encounter is the Madagascar Zone - home to monkeys - and playful lemurs welcome you as you enter the zone, casually walking across your path and sitting on the grassy slopes within inches of you. Touching or feeding the animals is not permitted, but it doesn't hamper the experience of getting so close.

At certain times of the year, gorillas and chimpanzees are in the zoo. This feeling of immersion into the wild does not end there.

Other zones are home to elephants, leopards, hippos, zebras, lions, hyenas - and they are often kept apart from visitors only by strategically-placed watering holes, rocks or trees.

Safety is of course paramount, but the layout cleverly allows you to get as close to the animals as possible.

There is no effort spared to make this a comfortable home for the wildlife, keeping it as near possible to their natural habitats. It does not escape the visitor's attention that this zoo does things differently - animals which live in the wild together, are put in the same groups at the zoo. Not with lions though as that would be silly.

For related articles click onto:
VALENCIA: The Lonja de la Seda
VALENCIA: The Turia River
Based on an article from Images care of and and and and and and and

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