Showing posts with label Spain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Spain. Show all posts

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Spain: Requena's bodegas, vinos and cava

Requena gave us a glimpse into the wine culture of Spain. It is a municipality in the Valencian comarca of Utiel-Requena which is said to have a viticulture tradition that is more than two thousand years old.

We visited the bodega or wine cellar of Torre Oria. Founded by the Oria de Rueda family in 1897, it's one of the most popular wine cellars in the Valencian Region and receives a lot of visitors. Tours are by appointment.

Our visit started at the palace-house of the wine cellar designed by Jose Donderis in the early 1900s. The cava (champagne) and wine-making process was explained to us before we proceeded to the production room, cava tunnels, and barrel warehouse. But the highlight of the tour was the cava-tasting which sent all of us buying bottles to take back with us to the Philippines.

After the tour, we proceeded to downtown Requena for lunch. Our host family had mentioned to us that the specialty of the place was chorizo and embutido so we made sure to order some. I was expecting the embutido to be the stuffed sausage we have here in the Philippines. But in Spain, it's actually a mixed dish of potatoes, longganiza, chorizo, adobado and costillas.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Spain: Paella in Valencia!

Where else to have paella other than in Valencia where it's from! That's right, paella is a Valencian rice dish which is quite popular here in the Philippines. They say the traditional Valencian paella is not made with pollo (chicken) but with conejo (rabbit). Yes, you read right, rabbit!

We were looking for a great value restaurant to savor paella in Valencia since it's quite pricey given that rice here is expensive. And we finally found our restaurant called NECO Buffet de Cocina Mediterranea. Not only did they have two kinds of paella served in humongous paelleras in their buffet. They had a host of other Mediterranean dishes and desserts as well, all for the price of 10€, not bad given that in most restaurants, paella could go as much as 15 to 20€. And that's just one serving! So the buffet was a great deal.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Spain: Have you tasted Filipinos?

It was amusing to find out that in Spain, there is a commercial brand of biscuits called Filipinos! The standard Filipinos biscuit is ring-shaped and coated in either white, milk or dark chocolate. It is said that the biscuits were inspired by the rosquillos of Iloilo and Negros hence the name Filipinos. Its manufacturer added a twist by coating it with different kinds of chocolate.

They also sell Filipinos Agujeros or the holes of the biscuits coated in dark or white chocolate, as well as Filipinos Bigsticks. I found it equally amusing that Filipinos are sold alongside popular cookie brands such as Oreo and ChipsAhoy! But it was not amusing that a former administration made a big fuss out of it by filing a diplomatic protest saying that the use of "Filipinos" for a commercial brand was insulting. The Foreign Affairs secretary reluctantly filed the protest saying that he saw nothing wrong with the use of "Filipinos" as a brand name and pointed out that Austrians don't complain that small sausages are referred to as Vienna sausages! I'm actually happy they chose the name Filipinos since the biscuits are really good! What do you think?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Spain: Cuenca, Spain and its casas colgadas

We ventured into the land of Don Quixote, the region of Castilla-La Mancha! We were off to the city of Cuenca, Spain a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in between two gorges, this fortress city is perfectly integrated into the marvelous natural landscape around it. Thus, the character of Cuenca is dictated by this breathtaking harmony between architecture and nature. The trip from Valencia was close to three hours.

Be prepared for a lot of walking up and down the narrow roads of this fortress town. Cuenca is actually divided into two areas, the low quarter which is the modern area that sprung up in the 19th Century. And the medieval city located on top of the rugged promontory between the Huécar and Júcar Rivers.

We started our walking tour at the Huécar River Gorge which offers dramatic views of the Convento de San Pablo and the Casas Colgadas, the hanging houses which Cuenca has become known for. There are accounts which say the houses have Muslim roots. Others say that they date back to the medieval period. We got to cross the San Pablo Bridge built high on top of the gorge, linking the convento to the rest of Cuenca.

In the center of town is the Plaza Mayor, the town square which is actually a triangle bounded by the Catedral, Convento de Las Petras, and the Ayuntamiento. The current ayuntamiento dates back to the 18th Century and was designed by Jaime Bort in 1733. What is unique about the design is that it isolates the plaza and yet makes it accessible with the incorporation of three arches at the base.

The Catedral de Santa Maria de Gracia is an exquisite example of early Cuencan Gothic architecture. Construction began at the end of the 12th Century and was completed in 1271. Just like the cathedral in Valencia though, there was a fee to enter (3€ per person).

We walked down Calle Alfonso VIII, enjoying its colorful row of buildings, on the way to the restaurants in the lower part of Cuenca. For lunch, I tried the grilled lamb chops; they say the lamb chops in Cuenca are the best. I spent 6€ for it but I wasn't satisfied with the serving size and it had a lot of fat! Maybe it wasn't the right restaurant for it.

After lunch, we made one last trek up the old city, this time to the Júcar River side where we were treated to a stunning view of the low quarter of Cuenca.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Spain: Jávea in Costa Blanca and more from Spain's Mediterranean coast

Jávea (Xàbia in Valencian) is a coastal town in the province of Alicante, Spain. It's about an hour from Valencia and we went there for our first out-of-town excursion. There was a fiesta in town today since every May 3, Jávea celebrates the feast of the Nazareno. It's the day when the image of the Nazareno is returned from the San Bartolome Church to the Calvary Chapel. But we weren't able to watch the procession since it was still in the evening and we would be back in Valencia by then.

The streets of the town were also decorated with bright and colorful crosses made of flowers since Spain celebrates the Cruces de Mayo (Creus de maig in Valencian) also on May 3. I enjoyed walking around the narrow streets of the town since they gave you the feeling of age.

Listed as a National Historic Monument of Spain in 1931, the fortress-church Church of San Bartolome (Església de Sant Bertomeu) dates back to the late 14th Century and is one of the finest examples of Late Valencian Gothic architecture. But parts of it may be much older than that. Beside it is the town hall which is as old as the church.

We also dropped by the municipal market where we got some snacks and the Palace of Antoni Banyuls (Palau d'Antoni Banyuls) which is now the municipal museum. We didn't stay long though since the group was excited to go to Arenal Beach.

Platja de L'Arenal is located in Costa Blanca which forms part of Spain's Mediterranean coast. The beach is flanked by a promenade of shops, bars and restaurants which was a perfect place for us to have lunch. But just like the other day, it was a bit cold for a swim. So we were just content lazing around under the sun.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Spain: Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias is Valencia's city of the future

We decided to visit the museum complex of Valencia, the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, today since May 1 is a holiday here in Spain as well. This wonderful collection of futuristic architecture by Santiago Calatrava is a showcase of modern Spain. A complex of monumental beauty, it was built in the old riverbed of the Turia and is the largest cultural-educational complex in Europe.

The complex has several component structures, the newest of which is the Queen Sofia Palace of the Arts or Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía, inaugurated in 2006. The structure which looks like a ship sailing in the ocean, has been a venue for events related to the arts.

For today, we visited the different museums namely the Museo de las Ciencias Príncipe Felipe, L'Hemisfèric, and the Oceanográfico. It was good that we were able to get the student group rate which is 15,50€ for the three attractions. The regular package rate is 30,60€ while if you enter them individually, it's 7,50€ for L'Hemisfèric, 7,50€ for the Museo de las Ciencias, and 23,30€ for the Oceanográfico.

Our first stop was the Museo de las Ciencias Príncipe Felipe which is one of the largest museums in Europe. Covering a total area of 42,000 square meters, the structure is 220 meters long, 80 meters wide and 55 meters high. The concept of the museum is "touching permitted" with thousands of interactive modules and experiments for visitors. Although the museum is targeted at younger kids, it's also a learning experience for older people.

We then proceeded to the Hemisfèric for the 1:30 p.m. film showing of Secrets of the Titanic using the large-format cinema, IMAX Dome. IMAX Dome uses the largest frame possible with today's technology, more than 10 times that of the conventional 35 mm film. The headsets they gave out translated the film into four languages namely Spanish, Valencian, English and French.

By the time the film ended, everyone was hungry. So we proceeded to Aqua, a popular shopping mall beside the complex, for lunch. Since it was a holiday, shops were closed. But many restaurants were opened.

After lunch, we visited the last attraction, L'Oceanográfic. It is the largest oceanographic park in Europe, housing 45,500 examples of 500 different species of marine life in nine thematic underwater habitats. The park was designed by Felix Candela. I enjoyed the exhibits, especially those from the Arctic and Antarctic. We watched the dolphin show before calling it a day.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Spain: Costa de Valencia along the Mediterranean

Valencia is one of the major cities found along the Mediterranean coast of Spain. In fact, it is said to be a prototype of big Mediterranean cities which are fertile, productive, luminous and commercially astute. It would be a pity if we did not check out its beaches. So we visited Playa de las Arenas or Playa Levante.

Arenas Beach is just a few minutes from the city center. In fact, there is a Metro station to it. It's right beside the port yet it remains clean and pollution free. Paseo de Neptuno (Passeig de Neptu in Valencian) is a walkway along the beach known for its row of restaurants. It's a relaxing stroll especially on warm afternoons.

As much as we would have wanted to swim, at 20 degrees Celsius, the temperature was just too low for tropical denizens like us. So we were content hanging out enjoying the Mediterranean breeze. Before leaving, we had more horchata at an heladeria (ice cream store). This time, it was horchata con helado (with ice cream). I spent an additional 1€ for the scoop of ice cream floating in the horchata! But it was perfect!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Spain: La Lonja de la Seda, Valencia's old silk market

La Lonja de la Seda or the silk exchange market in Valencia, Spain is one of the most outstanding monuments of Spanish Gothic architecture and was thus inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1996. Also known as La Lonja de los Mercaderes, it was where commercial transactions related to silk were carried out.

One of its most outstanding features is the impressive hall of pillars which was completed in only fifteen years from 1483 to 1498. It’s a grand space crowned by ribbed vault ceilings supported by two rows of sixteen-meter pillars that look like palm trees.

If you take a closer look at La Lonja, you will notice detailed ornamentation on the building and its façade composed of hundreds of symbolic and grotesque figures. The building is right in front of the Central Market and entrance is free of charge.

Spain: Horchata in Valencia, Spain

We went back to the old Valencia in the afternoon, this time with the rest of the group for a walking tour with some teachers. We used the Valencia Metro again which is why the multiple trip tickets come in handy and much cheaper. The cost of a single trip in Zone A or the inner city is 1,20€. But you can purchase a ten trip ticket for 6,10€.

Our walk started at the Torres de Serrano, once the main gateof the city and one of two remaining gates from old Valencia. When the city expanded in the 19th Century, they got rid of the old city walls and most of the gates. We made our way through the same attractions and ended up at the Plaza de Toros where bullfights are held. Again, we were lucky because of the upcoming fiesta, there are bullfights scheduled. So we’ll be buying tickets to that.

After the tour, we chilled out (quite literally since it was cold and started to drizzle) at the horchateria in Plaza Sta. Catalina, one of the older and more popular horchaterias in Valencia. Horchata (or orxata in Valencian), is a sweet drink made of tigernuts or chufas. We spent 2€ a glass.

The next afternoon, I found myself back in old Valencia exploring more of the place. We passed by even more churches (I wonder how many wishes I’ve gotten by now) and other historic structures. I’m featuring the churches in a later post. But the main reason I went back was to visit La Lonja de la Seda, the old silk market of Valencia which was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Spain: Walking around old Valencia

The day after we arrived in Valencia, we went straight to the old city for a stroll. The city has conveniently marked important places of interest in the maps they give out such as churches and other religious structures (there were just so many of them that I felt sad we lost our own Intramuros during WWII), government and other civic structures, museums and parks.

We took the Metro to the Colon station in Valencia viejo. And from there, made our way around the old district. This is a wonderful collection of built heritage from various periods since the city was founded in 157 B.C. Our first stop was the Ayuntamiento de Valencia (city hall) and the grand plaza in front of it.

While walking, we passed by the Iglesia de San Martin where Mass was being said. So we stayed. A few meters down the road is the towering belfry of Sta. Catalina and its Medieval church. In Plaza Sta. Catalina, there is a popular horchatería. Horchata (or orxata in Valencian), is a sweet drink made of tigernuts or chufas.

From Sta. Catalina, we walked towards Plaza de la Reina and the Catedral de Valencia. For access to most of the Cathedral, you have to pay the 4€ entrance ticket. We actually asked if we can go inside just to pray. But they said we could only stay in a small area by the door designated for that. I guess it's true then what people have been saying that churches in Europe have become museums unlike those in the Philippines and much of Latin America which are alive as places of worship.

Behind the Cathedral is the Basilica de la Virgen de los Desamparados. I'm quite excited since the fiesta of the Virgen de los Desamparados is on the second Sunday of May and we'll be here to witness it. We went back to school to meet up with the rest of the group and were back in Valencia viejo in the afternoon. There are just so many significant structures in old Valencia so I'll write more about them in the next few days.

Spain: Madrid to Valencia by bus

Taking the bus from Madrid to Valencia was a great way for us to see the Spanish countryside. We had been traveling for over 24 hours now and this last leg would take four more hours. There are two types, the Normal [22,89€] and Express [28,95€]. They are both four hours but I was told that the Express has wider and more comfortable seats. So we took the Express. Most of what I saw was agricultural land. But we'd pass by small towns quite often, many of which have preserved their character through the years. We were also warned to watch our luggage while at the bus station since theft was a threat if you are not alert. We finally arrived in Valencia at 3 p.m. just in time for lunch, in Spain that is.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Spain: ¡Viva Madrid!

I just arrived in Madrid, Spain today together with my group from the Institute for Foreign Study, after a 19-hour trip from Manila via Doha, Qatar. Our destination is the Mediterranean city of Valencia, four hours from Madrid by bus.

Before proceeding to the bus station, we asked the Enforex staff to stop at an attraction. And they brought us to the Puerta de Alcala. Stay tuned for more stories from Spain!
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