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.
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