Showing posts with label Valencia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Valencia. Show all posts

Friday, May 16, 2008

Spain: Port America's Cup Marina in Valencia

Valencia hosted the 32nd America's Cup, the most prestigious regatta in the world, in 2007. The race is usually held in the country of the defender or the winner of the previous race. Alinghi, a Swiss team won the 2003 race. And since Switzerland is a land-locked country, Valencia was chosen to host the next America's Cup. The 2007 regatta also marked the first time since it was first held in 1851 that the race returned to Europe.

The Port America's Cup Marina was built to host the race. And since a lot of people had suggested we pass by since there are a lot of great restaurants and bars there, we decided to do that for our last night. Sad to say, the place was empty on a Thursday night. It turns out, since the race was completed, activity slowly died down.

We got to see the boat yards of the different teams. But that was all. Restaurants and bars were closed that night. I wonder though how it looks like during weekend nights. So we just walked over to neighboring Paseo Neptuno for a light dinner and some drinks.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Spain: Alicante, a vibrant Mediterranean getaway

Alicante is such a charming Mediterranean city and a popular tourist getaway being the center of Costa Blanca. After exploring Elche in the morning, I decided to breeze through Alicante in the afternoon before proceeding back to Valencia. Ever since I was a child, Alicante had been very familiar to us since we had a granduncle, a retired diplomat, who lived there. Sadly, he passed away last year even before I could meet him.

The capital of Alicante (Alacant) Province, the city was described by the Valencian author Joan Fuster as the most pleasant city in the Valencian Region, “the city you would choose to live in if you had to exchange your village for a town.” Its more than 3,000 years of history was evident in its rich architectural heritage.

I immediately noticed the Castillo de Sta. Barbara perched on top of Monte Tossal. There are buses that take you up the hill to visit the castle. The city hall of Alicante is a gem of Baroque civil architecture. Equally impressive are Alicante’s churches, particularly the Concatedral de San Nicolas de Bari and the Basilica de Sta. Maria with its impressive Baroque façade. They were closed when I got there so I had to wait until late in the afternoon to see the interiors.

But with 300 days of sun every year, one of the city’s main highlights is its Mediterranean coast, especially the Playa de Postiguet, an urban beach located on the city’s sea front, and Marina Alicante with its many yachts and sailboats docked in the area. In fact, there was a competition ongoing while I was there.

It was fun walking along the Explanada de Espana, the city’s paseo par excellence bordered by date palms with a spectacular tile mosaic floor. On one end of the Explanada is Casa Carbonell, an enduring edifice that has become a symbol of Alicante’s Mediterranean vibrancy.

When the bells of the co-cathedral and basilica tolled at 6 p.m., it was a signal for me to walk back to marvel at their interiors. High up the main altar of the co-cathedral is an image of the Virgen del Remedio. Behind the main altar is a chapel to the city’s patron, San Nicolas. Below the image of San Nicolas is the reliquary bust of Santa Felicitas of Alicante which houses her bones.

The city’s oldest church, the Basilica de Santa Maria, is dedicated to the Asuncion de la Virgen, and was recently elevated to Basilica Minore by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006. The Baroque main altar is as grand as its façade. After visiting the two churches, I still had time to spare since my bus back to Valencia was still at 9 p.m. So I made some last minute exploring.

As an aside, it surprised me that the ALSA bus ticket to Valencia from Alicante (17,60€) costs more than the bus from Elche (10,94€) which is even farther! The ticket counter explained to me that the bus from Elche stops in a lot of towns while the one from Alicante is direct. But not exactly since it had one stop in Benidorm.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Spain: Palmeral de Elche, a palm forest within a city

Elche (Elx in Valencian) is host to two cultural treasures, the Palmeral de Elche (Elx Palm Groves) which is in the UNESCO World Heritage List, and the Misteri d'Elx which was declared one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. And the good thing was it was just two hours and 30 minutes from Valencia. So I decided to make a day trip to Elche and Alicante.

The RENFE (train) ticket to Elx-Parc cost me 13,45€. I got on the 7:04 a.m. trip arriving at 9:32 a.m. Had I gotten an earlier trip, it would have posed a problem since the first trips on the Metro usually start at 6 a.m. And I would have been forced to take an expensive cab! Trains leave on the dot so don't even try to arrive a minute later.

As soon as I arrived, I immediately looked for the tourism office to get a map. Elche's old quarter is an easy walk and the map conveniently suggests two routes around the city center and the palm groves.

Indeed, Elche is an urban forest of palm trees which creates a very unique cultural landscape. It has some interesting buildings as well including the Alcasser de La Senyoria, Basilica de Sta. Maria, Mercat Central and Ajuntament among many others.

But the main attraction of the city is the different palm groves, parks and gardens. Check out the Huerto del Cura and its Palmera Imperial (Imperial Palm Tree), a 170-year old palm tree with eight arms attached to the main trunk. The garden also sells dates and date sweets in its souvenir shop.

You should take the route around the palm groves which is a little over 2 kilometers if you want to explore this cultural treasure some more. Shortly before lunch (that's 2 p.m. in Spain), I proceeded to the bus station to catch a bus to Alicante, which is just 30 minutes away. I spent 1,80€ for that.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Spain: Valencia Cathedral and the Holy Grail

Within the old city walls of Valencia alone, there are dozens of old churches all stunning in their own right. At the center of all these churches in the Catedral Basilica Metropolitana de Santa Maria or the Valencia Cathedral. Founded in the 13th century, it incorporates several architectural styles (its exterior is mostly Gothic but the main entrance is lavishly Baroque), and houses a large number of artistic and religious treasures.

One of those treasures is said to be the Holy Grail which has a long history. Legend has it that St. Peter transferred the grail to Rome in the first century. It was then brought by St. Lawrence to Huesca, Spain together with Pope Sixtus II in the 3rd century when they escaped the persecution of Emperor Valerian. The cup was hidden in various places during the Muslim invasion that started in 712 A.D., finally finding itself in the monastery of San Juan de la Peña. It was given to King Martin of Aragon who kept it in the royal palace in Saragossa, and later in Barcelona when he died. His successor, King Alfonso transferred it to the palace in Valencia. During his stay in Naples, it was transferred together with other relics to the Cathedral where it finally stayed.

Inside the cathedral, aside from the main altar, there are close to three dozen chapels, each housing its own treasures. Just looking at every one of them, absorbing the rich history of these artistic masterpieces, was an enriching experience.

In two of those chapels, you'll notice skulls and bones enshrined in reliquaries. One chapel houses the tomb and remains of Sto. Tomas Villanueva. While another belongs to San Luis Obispo. Behind the altar, you can find the arm of San Vicente Martir. But in the Cathedral Reliquary, there are even more saintly remains including those of San Juan Ribera, San Luis Bertran (a hand that is the only part of his body that is entirely kept), San Luis de Anjou and other saints as well as other recently beatified Valencian people.

Finally, there is El Miguelete or El Micalet, the Cathedral bell tower that has become a symbol of the city. You can climb its 207 steps to see the various bells and a great view of the city.

They usually charge 4€ to enter the Cathedral. But since there was a fiesta, I got to enter for free.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Spain: Virgen de los Desamparados of Valencia, Spain

Every second Sunday of May, Valencia comes alive with the feast of the Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados. Our stay coincided with the big celebration, most of which are centered in the Plaza de la Virgen. It would have been a really great event with religous festivities and bullfights scheduled. But it was raining. And it never rains during the fiesta! Is this global warming at work? It was good though that some major events still pushed through. Festivities usually begin the night before the fiesta or the visperas.

The bullfight or corrida I was supposed to watch in the afternoon was canceled even if it was not raining since the ground was too soft and therefore not safe for the matadors. In fact, the matadors were all dressed for the event.

So I then proceeded to the Cathedral to check out the festivities. And I got to attend a Mass celebrated by His Eminence Agustín Cardinal García-Gasco y Vicente, Archbishop of Valencia.

It was good the weather cooperated up until the evening events were completed. The program at the Plaza de la Virgen started with a concert by the Banda Municipal de Valencia. As soon as the bells of the Miguelete signaled 11 p.m. the band played various classical songs from Spain. What struck me was the strong patriotism of the crowd when the band played the patriotic songs. As soon as they heard the first notes, the crowd erupted in applause, some were even teary-eyed. You could see people silently singing together with the orchestra. I wonder when Filipinos will react the same way upon hearing Pilipinas Kong Mahal or Bayan Ko being played. Let's admit it, many young Filipinos today even consider singing patriotic songs corney in fact! I hope that changes.

For the last song, the conductor faced the crowd and everyone started singing with fervor the Himno de Valencia. As the last part of the song was sung, you could feel the power of the crowd: "¡Glòria a la Pàtria! ¡Vixca Valencia! ¡Vixca! ¡¡Vixca!! ¡¡¡Vixca!!!" Indeed, it was a spectacle we should learn from. The concert ended at exactly midnight as the bells of the Miguelete tolled anew.

The Dansà followed with dozens of locals in intricate regional costumes. Just like the Philippines where many cities used to dance the rigodon de honor the night before a fiesta, the Dansà is performed for the same reason, in honor of the feast of the Virgen de los Desamparados. It was great we got a good position to watch the performance. And I captured some videos using my Sony Ericsson K850i camera phone.

The next day, I was supposed to attend the morning events at the Plaza de la Virgen. But it was still raining. So I was content with watching the festivities on TV. After the morning Mass, the Virgen de los Desamparados is transferred from the Basilica to the Cathedral in a fervent procession called the Translado. It was heart-warming to see the faithful raised on the shoulders of other people in impromptu bursts of poetic praises to the virgin. The image is brought out in a Quiapo-like procession, showered by a deluge of petals from the buildings as it passes by. But what is peculiar about the Translado is that it's women and children trying to touch the image. It scared me seeing parents pushing their babies and young children, screaming and crying, in order for them to touch the image during the morning procession.

Early in the evening, a grand procession is held. The streets of Valencia were decorated for the grand event with symbolic banners hanging from balconies and flower ornaments to match. It would also have been a great opportunity to witness the intricate fiesta costumes of Valencia. But the procession was canceled at the last minute since the archbishop was afraid it would rain. But ironically, it didn't rain! It's a pity since all the falladoras were all dressed-up in lavish gowns for the procession.

Update: The procession pushed through the week after. But sadly, we were already in Barcelona by then. The video above is from YouTube.

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.

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.
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