Valencia

Picture of torre We flew into Barcelona for our trip to Spain and immediately drove south to the city of Valencia which would be our base for the next few days. Valencia is the third largest city in Spain and has a very nice historic center and good beaches nearby as well. The original city walls of Valencia are gone, but the two gates remain. This is Torres de Serrano which faces north towards Barcelona. The other gate (Torres de Quart) faces west towards Madrid. Torres de Serrano dates from the 14th century.
Picture of statues The old city of Valencia was bounded on one side by the Turia River. After some flooding issues, the government rerouted the river entirely and the old riverbed has been remade into parkland featuring playgrounds, formal gardens and innumerable football (soccer) fields. We stayed near the Plaza del Ayuntamiento in old Valencia (ayuntamiento = city hall), which is shown in this picture. The building with the clock is the city hall.
Picture of cathedral We spent more time however in the Plaza de la Virgen. This was originally the forum in the Roman town of Valentia, and in fact just a block or so from this plaza is an extensive archeological site featuring Roman and Moorish ruins. There are quite a few cafes and restaurants on this square as well and I think we may have tried just about all of them at some point. More on that later though. The eclectic building in this picture is Valencia's cathedral - an unsual mixture of Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and a few other inspirations as well.
Picture of baroque This is the baroque entrance to the cathedral which is located on the third major plaza in Valencia, the Plaza de la Reina. There's some pretty good shopping in this area which is an unsual recommendation from us. In particular, fans seem to be a ubiquitous Spanish souvenir although several of the shops in this area of Valencia have much higher quality versions than we saw anywhere else. Of course, they're also priced substantially higher.
Picture of monstrance Valencia cathedral has three major attractions. One of them is the treasury museum which has about five rooms and features a couple of paintings by Goya, some Romanesque art, and a whole lot of silver and gold relics. This is probably the feature relic, a monstrance which is carried (!) on certain holy days through the streets of Valencia. We have no idea how much it weighs but it's probably a bit over 6 feet (2 m) tall.
Picture of holy_grail The cathedral is probably best known as the current location of the Holy Grail. There is tentative acceptance of this officially from the Vatican but either way it can be seen in a reliquary hovering rather high up above the altar in a chapel dedicated to it. This particular grail story is rather elaborate and involved several locations in eastern Spain to avoid a series of wars and monarchs. In the end the grail has been here more or less continuously since the 15th century. It was dropped and broken in 1785 but supposedly a masterful repair job was carried out by a jeweler. Not that you can tell at this distance.
Picture of skyline The third attraction in the cathedral is the Miguelete bell tower, which can be seen several pictures back rising above the cathedral. 207 stairs up to the top gives you a fine view over the city of Valencia, and also some insight into the inner workings of the various bells in the carillon. This view is roughly to the southwest and the tower in the foregound is part of the church of Santa Catalina.
Picture of sciences Valencia's biggest tourist attraction in raw numbers is the impressive City of Arts and Sciences which looks about like this from the bell tower of the cathedral. One of the buildings can actually open and close like a giant eyeball although we did not visit them personally.
Picture of fountain Sitting at cafes on the Plaza de la Virgen we saw quite a lot of Valencian life pass by. Amongst the Valencian life would be this dog that blithely jumped in the fountain in the center of the plaza causing Melanie to abandon her horchata and go take pictures. Speaking of horchata, it is one of several Valencian foods and drinks we sampled. Horchata is a non-alcoholic milky looking drink made from tiger nuts. It's not really much like anything else we've ever had before. Also on the local drink list is Agua de Valencia which is basically orange juice strengthened (considerably) with a clear hard alcohol. Valencia's best-known culinary export is paella which at a fundamental level is just saffron-flavored rice cooked with a variety of meats and/or seafoods and some vegetables thrown in for good measure.
Picture of lonja_seda This is an unusual historical building - it's a 15th century gothic hall that was used as a commodities exchange for silk. It is just across the street from an enormous marketplace which is also an architectural wonder. This building, La Lonja Seda, is now just open to the public to wander around in. It also includes a very nice enclosed garden in the courtyard.
Picture of flags Valencia is the capital of the province of Valencia which has it's own dialect of Catalan (not Spanish) known as Valenciano. Signs seem to be interchangeably in either Spanish or Valenciano. The Valencian nationalism is not readily noticeable to the tourist like it is in Catalunya, it's a much more relaxed sense of autonomy. The red and yellow striped flag of Catalunya does make an appearance in the Valencian flag as well.
Picture of bullring This busy street (Calle Jativa) separates old Valencia from new. The building on the left is the bullring, on the right is the train station. Just across from them (about where we were standing to take this picture) is a fun little set of pedestrian streets which come alive at night with a maze of cafes, bars and ice cream shops (heladerias). Speaking of which the local specialty is a flavor called 'turron' which can be found in candies as well. Turron is sort of a nougat flavor produced mainly in the town of Jijona (or Xixona in Valenciano).

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