Saturday, April 15, 2017

Offbeat places and funny faces of Valencia

A resident of Museu Faller in Valencia
Plaza de la Virgen is one of Valencia's oldest meeting places. This fountain
depicts Neptune and eight naked women, representing the Turia River
and its eight irrigation ditches.

Our week in Valencia starts with a free tour of the town. Our excellent guide, Miguel, shares with our small group the culture and history Valencia as well as some of the unexpected details that he loves about his city. He also sends us a follow-up email with a personalized list of can't-miss experiences for the remainder of our week here including the best places to eat paella. ("Never eat paella in a cafe or bar — only in an authentic paella restaurant," he warns.) We'll have the rice dish several times while we're here, but not the traditional Valencian recipe since that includes rabbit, something I won't touch unless it's cute, furry, and very much alive.

Look carefully below the surface of this fountain at Museo de la Almoina and
you can see ancient Roman ruins. Almoinia is Valencia's archaeological museum.

Ken pauses during our bike ride along the Turia riverbed,
now a 9-km-long park.

Valencia is Spain's third-largest city. Located on the southeastern coast, the city has two official languages: Spanish and Valencian (similar to Catalan). The river Turia runs — or ran — through the city, but its bed was converted in the 1960s to a wonderful 9-kilometer-long park, filled with walking and bike paths, sports facilities, gardens, and a guy named Gulliver. At its end lies the City of Arts and Sciences, a futuristic set of museums and an aquarium.

We didn't see the interior of Valencia's Ciutat de les Arts y les Ciències,
but we'd love to come back, maybe with a couple of kids, and check out
the complex of science and cultural museums.

Parque del Gulliver is a giant-size (or is it life-size?) attraction for young
Lilliputians. It is located in the Turia Gardens in Valencia.

Miguel's tour includes pointing out the tiny and sometimes naughty details on Valencian landmarks. The artisans here seem to have had a good sense of humor.

Somewhat normal building adornment in Valencia

Somewhat risque building adornment in Valencia

Somewhat rude building adornment in Valencia

Somewhat intimate building adornment in Valencia

We also peek inside the requisite churches, and opt to come back and visit the Cathedral (officially named Iglesia Catedral-Basílica Metropolitana de la Asunción de Nuestra Señora de Valencia) at 5:30 when the paid visitors leave and we can get in for free. Locals say the Holy Grail that is here is the real one (a claim shared by several other places), and we take a look at the chalice before heading off to find the mummified arm of Saint Vincent, one of Valencia's most revered martyrs.

The mummified arm of Saint Vincent is located in the
Resurrection Chapel at the back of the Valencia Cathedral.
Saint Vincent of Saragossa is patron saint of both
Valencia and Lisbon.
We pose in front of the Torres de Serrano in Valencia. The
gate is one of 12 that formed part of the ancient city wall.

This tagged building was a bomb shelter during the Spanish
Civil War. Soon it will be turned into a museum.

We are here a few weeks too early to enjoy Falles, a five-day festival in mid-March that has been celebrated since the 18th century (although its current form dates back to the 1920s). All year long, artistes fallers create huge satirical figures and monuments made of cardboard, plaster, wax and wood. The fallas are burned on the final night of the festival. Fortunately, a few fallas are "pardoned" and spared from the flames, and we spend time a couple of hours with them at the whimsical Museu Faller.

A pardoned falla  or ninot  at Museu Faller in Valencia

A pardoned falla  or ninot  at Museu Faller in Valencia

A pardoned falla  or ninot  at Museu Faller in Valencia

No, this is not Ken. It's a pardoned falla at Museu Faller
in Valencia.

A pardoned falla  or ninot  at Museu Faller in Valencia

Sixty days after Easter, Valencia celebrates Corpus Christi with a parade that includes traditional dancing, horse-drawn carriages called Rocks (Rocas), as well as processions of giants. The unusual Corpus Museum, commonly known as Casa de les Roques, houses the 11 official Rocas, huge paper mâché figures and other fascinating Corpus Christi memorabilia.

Large figure used in Valencia's annual Corpus Christi

Large figures used in Valencia's annual Corpus Christi celebrations

How large? Ken is on the right, 

What's a parade without horses? These spend most of the year at Valencia's
Corpus Museum.

Since we're here on a Thursday, we stop by a ceremony with roots dating back to Roman times: the water tribunal, or Tribunal de les Aigües de València. The land around here is divided into irrigation communities. The weekly tribunal is designed to settle disputes, if any, between the various communities. A huge crowd looks on as the judges sit, waiting for someone with water business to step forward. There's no dispute today, so within a few minutes, court is adjourned, photos are posed for and we head off to find some lunch.

A Valencia Water Tribunal judge sports some fancy stockings.

We've been told that we absolutely must visit the nearby lake and wetlands sanctuary of Albufera. On Friday, we've missed the bus as I had misread the timetable, so we try again early on Saturday. In fact, it's way too early as the restaurants (a zillion paella places) don't open until 1 and the boat rides don't start until the afternoon. After thoroughly exploring the tiny village of El Palmar, we decide to do the boat ride first. We've picked a good one that includes a brief lecture about the history of the area, growing rice and the ecological significance of Albufera. The only real way to enjoy the lake (Spain's largest) is by traditional boat, and our hour-long tour is relaxing but a bit monotonous. We decide to splurge on lunch, but (alas!) miss our bus back to Valencia and have to kill two more hours until the next one arrives.

A long-necked water fowl checks us out as we embark on a tour of Albufera
National Park near Valencia.
We never seem to run out of things to do in Valencia. We rent bikes from a cool dude for 6 euros a day and ride to the sea. Another day we visit the National Ceramics Museum, which is located in the Palace of the Marquis of dos Aguas, a sumptuous mansion. And we make several trips to the Mercado Central to buy fresh seafood and other delicious edibles. 

We paid a euro to photograph this high-end sandcastle on the
Platja del Cabanyal in Valencia. 

I'm not sure how to prepare these, so we buy tuna instead at
Valencia's Central Market.

Grand tree in Valencia
Fancy room at Museo Nacional de Cerámica in Valencia

Ken checks out ancient pottery at Valencia's Museo Nacional de Cerámica.

I take a drink from a fountain in Valencia. I believe I would have
preferred some Agua de Valencia — a cocktail of Cava (or champagne),
fresh orange juice, vodka and gin.

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