Trip Start Dec 11, 2009
10Trip End Jan 26, 2010
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A cloudy, wet start and we're up before Snr 7B. We nip out for breakfast, where I settle for coffee and toast – there's only so many 1000 calorie breakfasts I can handle in a week! It's the day of the annual Christmas lottery, 'El Gordo’ ( the Fat One) and on the tv the epic draw is being made and the results are sung out by school children (let’s see Dale Winton match that on the UK lottery). The draw goes on for hours and literally fortunes are made on this one day. It’s an intriguing sight.
We trudge down to the station in the drizzle and remnants of the recent snowfall and wait for the train. There is no high speed line over to the east coast and Valencia yet and the smart 'Alaris’ intercity train covers the 400km (250 miles) in three and a half hours, with us in comfortable 'turista’ or second class seats
Rolling into Valencia and people are stood in the aisles of the carriage with their luggage some ten minutes before we arrive in the station. "Wassup?’ – Is there a prize for the first one off or something or do the last ones get given a brush and shovel? It’s like people stood queueing to get off an aeroplane as soon as it stops and before the doors are open. I think there’s a secret world wide epidemic of claustrophobia that the health authorities are not admitting to.
Oh – does someone who is addicted to Christmas suffer from claustrophobia - CLAUS-tropho….- come on, keep up!!!!!!
We emerge into the dull but DRY Valencian streets and it’s only a ten minute walk to the hotel in the city centre
In the modern, comfortable hotel we dump our bags and go out for a walk. The sky is slowly clearing and we are treated to some hazy afternoon sunshine. Wonderfull! We get the news of further snow in the UK and I’m dead choked when I realise that I can’t be there to build a snowman with you lads!! (but I guess I’ll just have to get over it!!). We walk through the ‘Plaza de Ayuntamiento’ (Town Hall square) and have a look at the old cathedral and the surrounding buildings. There’s lot more character in the buildings here than in Madrid. There the buildings were grandiose and impressive, as befits a city that was developed as a capital. It reminded me of Ottawa in Canada where they had set out to build an impressive (and yes it is) capital but it lacks a certain naturally developed character. (No offence meant guys – just don’t revoke my passport PLEASE!) Valencia has a natural historically progressive city feel to it.
We walk around and realize that this is also a city developed for shopping. There are more international high street names than in many other cities. The drawback – there’s nowhere to eat
In bed by 10 after a steady day and we’re awakened around 12 by a party of some sorts in a nearby room, where they’re playing loud music and singing their heads off. A neighbour remonstrates with them in Spanish and they take no notice and we eventually nod off around 3pm. I wish these people would take their ‘claustrophobia’ somewhere else and the Valencian ‘character’ is now definitely under question!
Wednesday 23rd December
We struggle awake by 9am, assisted by the busy city traffic and enjoy a comprehensive buffet breakfast in the hotel. It’s back to dull and raining and we’re in no rush to get wet again, so we have an easy morning in the room, where the internet fails to work. Aardvarks – yes again Chris!
By lunchtime it has dried up and the sun is trying to poke through the clouds, so we walk on a different route behind the cathedral, through the streets towards the edge of the old city. Now we start to find more little restaurants hidden away in the labyrinth of twisted narrow streets. So this is where they all were.
The limits of the old city end at the river, which formed the city border and there is an old great gateway left to mark where the city walls were
We follow the parkway for some distance and then turn in towards the city centre and back to our hotel. An enjoyable afternoon’s walk – oh and we’d won 120 euros on El Gordo as well.
For an evening meal we settle for a tasty pizza near to the hotel.
Thursday 24th December.
Another drizzly morning and after a late start we walked to the great market centre where the stalls of meat, veg, fruits, cakes and spices are busy with Christmas shoppers. In the fish section there are all sorts of fish and seafood and live lobsters sit in slow animation on beds of ice whilst in a big tray, dozens of live eels twist about in a mesmerizingly frenzied ballet
After a drink we visit ‘La Lonja’, an old priory with fabulous spiralling columns in its great gothic hall. Back in the plaza we people watch in the late afternoon sunshine before relaxing and then changing for Christmas Eve.
The streets are relatively quiet, as it is a customary family time when people gather in their homes for a meal. We had planned on a Greek restaurant but it was closed, so we returned to the narrow streets round the back of the cathedral and found a little place where we enjoyed a delicious steak / pasta dinner.
It’s our custom to visit a church every Christmas Eve and we arrive at the cathedral at 11pm. By 1130 and the start of the service it’s still only a quarter full, which we find surprising. "Hey God, if I’m not there, start without me, OK?"
The service, partly in latin is impressive with all the pomp and ceremony that the Spanish catholic church can muster. Now I’m not a religious person but I was quite surprised as people gradually wandered in as the service progressed, took calls on their mobile phones and even photographed the service on their mobiles - maybe it was some kind of proof they could use on Judgement Day, I don’t know
The church choir was very good and for me made the service. As Cliff says “Why should the Devil have all the best music??" Their finale was the ‘Halelujah Chorus’ sung in English, I guess some things just don’t translate well! We emerged into the Christmas winter evening around 1.30am, with the temperature about 17deg, which was quite pleasant!
Friday 25th December
Now our original partying neighbours had (thankfully) only stayed for one night on Tuesday but they had been replaced by a group of youngsters who occupied several rooms around us. They had noisily arrived on Wednesday night, disrupting our sleep as they settled in and were still wandering backwards and forwards last night. So we slept in and just about made breakfast by 11am.
The city was fairly quiet on this sunny morning, temperature displays showed 21deg and we decided to walk to the botanic gardens through the old part of the city, passing under an enormous mediaeval gateway that had been preserved to show the scale of the old city walls
Arriving at the botanic gardens we found it was administered by the university, was completely enclosed behind a wall and was shut for the day! Aardvarks.
Plan B – er, first, think of a Plan B. I know – what do you normally like to do on a Christmas Day – play trains. There was a metro station nearby and as we’d seen some buses running, would the underground metro be running? Yes – OK so we bought tickets to go down to the Valencia port and marina, needing to transfer to a modern city tram which covered the new section down to the marina, which has had millions spent on it to run the yachting ‘America’s Cup’ two years ago. The development is impressive but on this sunny Christmas day the place was almost deserted. We had a quick walk round and then managed to find a restaurant that was open to have Christmas Dinner.
Now, what should it be? Turkey? Beef? No – as Valencia was the originator of Paella we opted for this renowned classical Spanish dish. It was explained that, as the dish was freshly made we would have to wait for some forty minutes. That’s fine, we settled for a bottle of wine and sat and talked until the dish arrived. It was very good …….but…… not as good as Ayo’s !!!!!! (see the blog on Nerja). So we have a new challenge – find the best paella. Now that should be something I can get my teeth into !!!!! The wine ran out before the paella and so we had to have a half bottle of wine to complete our dinner. The wine was one we hadn’t seen before and was called ……… “Vino Nora” and was (obviously) very good.
After this leisurely ‘lunch’ it was now 5.30 and we caught the tram and metro back to the hotel. Some research on our next destination, not helped by the extremely intermittent internet link at the hotel and we finished off the enjoyable day with a Starbuck’s coffee.
Settling down and dozing off by midnight, we were disturbed by the young group returning. We had already mentioned the inconsiderate noise level to the hotel management and asked if they would have a quiet word and not cause any confrontation. The ‘word’, if it had taken place, had no effect or did it have the opposite effect? We again decided against a (useless?) confrontation and consequently did not get to sleep until 4am. In the morning, now suffering from lack of sleep for four days, we insisted on a room change, which was speedily effected by a seemingly anticipative hotel reception. We were told that this group of (older) teenagers were from South America and were part of a dance group performing in the city, hence the late night returns.
Saturday 26th December
A consequentially late start to the day. The weather was cooler, around 14deg and cloudily dull. The ‘internot’ came on long enough for us to book our next hotel in Alicante and we then walked to the station and booked train tickets. A quick afternoon snack and then window shopping, before returning to the hotel around dusk. The drizzly weather was now 12deg and breezy, so it was starting to feel cold.
We ventured out around 10pm for a coffee and cake and then back to the hotel, in serious need of a night’s sleep. Our ‘new’ room was right at the other end of the corridor and we settled down hopefully but anticipating our ex neighbours’ return. It was almost 1am and they had to pass our room to get to theirs. I heard the patter of many, not so tiny, feet and picked up the words “ les Ingleses” (which must mean us) and then after a slight interchange “pero salimos hoy” (“but we’re leaving tomorrow”). As the chatter reached the far end of the corridor near our old room there was a pause and then all hell broke loose, with cheers, shouting and even a party trumpet being frantically blown. We were quite a way from it and although we were not subjected to the (intended) full blast, we could still hear it, as I expect the whole floor if not the hotel could. We dozed until 3.30am when we phoned reception and the night manager came up, whereupon the racket ceased, they obviously being satisfied that their evening’s disruptive efforts had had an effect on us. Now we’ve done a little bit of travelling and have come across many cultures and nationalities but I’ve never experienced this lack of consideration, followed by such a vindictive, premeditated ‘assault’ anywhere. Obviously ‘peace on earth and goodwill to all men’ does not apply to the youth of South America !!!! They can take their ‘Claustrophobia’ back home with them!
Sunday 27th December.
Somehow we were up around 9am, breakfasted and then out for our last visit. This was to the amazing ‘Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias’, an amazing collection of modern buildings built on the old river bed towards the port. It was an imaginative bid to construct something outstanding to illustrate Valencia’s growing position in a modern Spain.
We caught a bus through the city and arrived in bright sunshine and 21deg. Our first visit was the vast ‘Oceanografico’, a great display of many enormous aquariums containing fish and sea life from the marine regions all over the globe, complete with several ‘walk through’ glass tunnels and even an underwater restaurant. I’m ok with small fish species in aquariums but have a reservation about the larger animals like beluga whales and walrus being kept in tanks. This visit ended with a well presented dolphin display where, whilst I personally appreciated the prowess of these magnificent mammals, I did have the same reservation on a creature with their intelligence being kept in captivity.
Then on to the ‘Museo de las Ciencias’ (science museum), which is mostly dedicated to experiments for youngsters, to introduce them to science. One cute display was a heated enclosure of chickens’ eggs, where the chicks were actually hatching and it was a fascinating sight watching an egg slowly split open and the tiny chick fight its way out, before spending the next twelve hours drying out and recovering. Definitely an ‘aaaawww’ moment!!
The ‘Hemisferic’ is a cinema where educational films are shown and the ‘Palacio des Artes’ is a high spec music and dance concert hall but sadly there were no performances on over this Christmas period. The centre of the area is joined by a great walkway, the ’Umbracle’, which was 18 metre curved arches over a central walkway of trees. A very impressive area.
We returned to the city around 7.30 after quite a full day and went out for another tapas based meal before crashing out for a reasonable (yes the South Americans had left) night’s sleep.