Monday, June 3, 2013

We Visited Valencia – 22 April 2013

After a good breakfast we set out for Valencia. Breakfast is very elaborate and in plenty in all the hotels – varieties of bread, cheese, bacon, eggs, cold cuts, scrumptious fruit, different types of coffee, hot chocolate and tea are a part of the spread. One should eat well and be prepared for a long haul.

Trafalgar Details

The bus we traveled on was a Merc – very spacious and comfortable with an attached toilet for use in any emergency. The bus is provided with an efficient public address system and televisions to screen any program. The ‘Trafalgar Program’, I suppose has been made with years of experience – primarily to provide the best travel experience whilst ensuring the safety and comfort of all the passengers. The program covers the most important aspect of the city and leaves you with sufficient time to enjoy the trip on your own. There are a number of ‘Optionals’ which one can pay for separately. The pace of travel is comfortable, especially for senior citizens - barring a very few, all the members in the group were senior citizens. The bus stops regularly enroute for a much needed break and is called a ‘Technical Stop’ for a bit of leg stretching, a spot of coffee and visit to the washroom. The cities have very few public toilets – instead they encourage you to visit a cafe or souvenir shop. At our age this aspect is indeed a very important item.

David our ‘TD’ kept us very well informed with facts and figures, jokes, anecdotes and whole lot of trivia. He speaks good English and is extremely well informed on a variety of subjects. His depth of knowledge is really fascinating – I am sure he has spent a lot of time in research and prepared well for the travel. It was indeed a pleasure to listen to him.


Spain was under the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco from 1939 to 1975. Juan Carlos was designated king according to the law of succession promulgated by Franco. Spain had no monarch for 38 years and in 1969 Franco named Juan Carlos as the next head of state. There are 4, 55,000 registered politicians in the country. Currently, there are 17 autonomous communities and 2 autonomous cities, collectively known as autonomies, governing Spain. Two thirds of the country lies in the ‘Plains’ – remember the song ‘The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain’. The country’s main rivers are Ebro and Tagus. Mulhacen in the Sierra Nevada at 3,478.6 meters is the highest point in Spain.

Royal Gossip - King Carlos shot an elephant on a hunting trip in Botswana at a cost of 30,000 Euros which led to lot of criticism back in Spain. People are now asking him to retire. The king is married to Queen Sofia of Greece and Denmark. Apparently she is not liked very much. Princess Elena the eldest daughter is divorced with two children. Princess Christina is the youngest daughter of the king; her husband was investigated from early 2012 on suspicion of fraudulently obtaining millions in public funds. Prince Felipe is the 3rd child of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia. Under Spanish law he is the next in line to become King of Spain. Letizia Ortiz, who used to be a former newscaster, suddenly stopped coming on the TV news channel; soon after, her wedding to Prince Felipe was announced. On May 22, 2004, Prince Felipe married her. She is reported to have gone under the knife and looks quite pretty nowJ. She is likely to be the future queen. Being a divorcee, they had to break all the rules to get married. They now have two little girls – Leonar and Sofia. Her life seems to have had the proverbial happy ending!

Hidden Treasure

They also had an item on our itinerary termed a ‘hidden treasure’ – showing or giving you something which the regular tourist may not have noticed otherwise. Enroute we stopped to see the ‘Evil Bridge’. The ‘Pont del Diable’ – a Roman aqueduct built in Tarragona which brought water from the Francosi river to the ancient city of Tarros during the 1st century.

Legend has it that the master builder was building the bridge when a strong gust of wind blew it away. In despair, he said that only the devil could build a bridge that could last 1000 years. So, Satan appeared to him and ensured that he would build a bridge that very night. In exchange, the devil demanded the soul of the 1st person to drink the water that went across the bridge. The first to do so was an ass and it is the ass whose soul the devil took.

Figure 1 - Devil's Bridge- The Pont del Diable

Figure 2 – The gang at the bridge

Figure 3 – Prem, Joe and self along with a motor bike enthusiast from UK during a technical halt.

Stop at Peniscola

The drive from Barcelona to Valencia is very beautiful and the country side is full of vineyards. The entire drive is pleasing to the eye. Mid way we stopped at Peñíscola for lunch. Peñíscola is located in the north of the Valencia Region in Castellon Province, just over an hour north of Valencia and 2 hours south of Barcelona on the Mediterranean coast. Peñíscola has a privileged position on the Mediterranean.

This historical town runs parallel to the coast. Peniscola has been awarded the ‘Blue Flag ’ Beach- Blue Flag is a prestigious, international award scheme which acts as a guarantee to tourists that a beach or marina they are visiting is one of the best in the world. The award of a Blue Flag beach is based on compliance with 29 criteria covering the aspects of: Environmental Education and Information, Water Quality, Environmental Management and Safety and Services. One look at the beach is enough to understand why it was awarded the ‘Blue Flag’. We were told that a number of Germans and Brits own property along the coast line.

The Mediterranean blue is simply captivating. We spent time walking up and down the beach and finally ended up eating lunch at Zyssa. Jai had exotic ‘Sangria’, a delicious fruit-based wine "punch", with its traditional heritage well rooted in Spain. Typically, sangrias are made with red wine, fresh seasonal fruit and a bit of bubbly water or citrus flavored soda.

Figure 4 - Peñiscola Castle at the back was featured in the movie “El Cid” that came out in 1960 and was very successful at the box office. Starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren.

Figure 5 - Walkway along the 5 KM beach

Figure 6 – A fascinating beach

Figure 7 – The entire beach line

Figure 8 – Palm trees adorn the beach

Figure 9 - Jai is thrilled

Figure 10 - Neatly lined shops and cafes

Figure 11 - Another view of the palm tree lined beach

Figure 12 – Entrance to the old city

Figure 13 - Lunch at Zyssa Cafetaria

Visiting Valencia

After a two hour ride and a bit of Zzzzzz after beer and a good lunch we reached Valencia.Valencia is the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona, with around 809,000 inhabitants in the administrative centre. Valencia was founded as a Roman colony in 138 BC. This charming city, situated on the banks of the Turia, on the east coast of the Iberian Peninsula, is the capital of the Old Kingdom of Valencia province of Spain.Valencia is famous for its Fallas Festival in March, for being the birthplace of paella, for hosting the 2007 & 2010 America's Cup, and for the massive architectural project by Santiago Calatrava called The City of Arts and Sciences. The city has both the new and the old like all other Spanish cities - well maintained and organized. The city is full of parks and flower laden roundabouts. It is cleaner than Barcelona.

We went straight to the ‘City of Arts and Science’; an extremely interesting place, with fascinatingly modern architecture by Santiago Calatrava. It is located where the old river Turia used to flow. A Science Museum, a Planetarium, an IMAX cinema, an Aquarium and Arts Museum are located there. We were informed that the local people do not think much of the architect, as he took government money to construct these master pieces and then settled out of the country to avail tax benefits.  

During our walk around, we had a drink called ‘Horchata’ made from tiger nuts, water, and sugar – an Almond tasting nut. – a cold and refreshing drink. In June 2010 the city of Valencia achieved a milestone: it became the home of a Formula 1 spectacle. Incidentally, it became the second street circuit after Monte Carlo. Thus, for a week each year, the streets of this eastern city become a place where cars speed over 200 km / h, where the drivers, all their equipment and the hundreds of celebrities that follow this circus parade their little toys around the city. Valencia's circuit has a total of 25 turns, 11 to the right and 14 to the left, and hosts a total of 100,000 spectators.

From 13 to 19th March, Valencia celebrates one of Spain's best known festivals: Las Fallas. The Fallas are enormous models made out of papier mache, wood and wax. The models are burnt on the night of 19 March in a festival of fire, fireworks and organized mayhem.  Some claim that the festivals have been celebrated in Valencia since the Middle Ages when carpenters used to light a bonfire on 19th March, St Joseph’s Day. St. Joseph is the Patron Saint of Carpenters. As it coincides with the commencement of the bull fighting season, a number of fights are arranged.

We visited the church of the ‘Holy Grail’. One of the supposed Holi Chalices in the world is revered in one of this cathedral's chapels; this chalice has been defended as the true Holy grail; indeed, most Christian historians all over the world declare that all their evidence points to this Valencian chalice as the most likely candidate for being the authentic cup used at the Last Supper. There is also a mummified hand of San Vicente Martyr (patron saint of the Valencian Community) - the man who changed the course of history here.
Finally we reached our hotel – Mas Camarena’ – a very basic business type hotel quite far from the town.

Figure 14 – Helmet like Opera House at the back and a IMAX 3D Movie hall - City of Arts and Science

Figure 15 – IMAX 3D Movie hall - City of Arts and Science

Figure 16 – Gang at the City of Arts and Science

Figure 17 – The harp. City of Arts and Science. L’Agora – place for assembly in Greek.Used to house sports events.

Figure 18 – The dinosaur houses a Science Museum - City of Arts and Science

Figure 19 – Valencia Bull Ring

Figure 20 - Fascinating balconies

Figure 21 – Interesting roundabouts

Figure 22 - The city is full of art work

Figure 23 - Plaza de la Reina

Figure 24 – Santa Catalina tower in city centre

Figure 25 – Plaza de la Reina

Figure 26- Saint Mary's Cathedral or Valencia Cathedral

Figure 27 - Saint Mary's Cathedral

Figure 28 - Mummified hand of San Vicente Martyr

Figure 29 – Before going to bed

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