Friday February 26 2016 – Valencia, Spain.
Last summer, good friends of ours bought a home in the town of Lliria, 40 minutes away from the centre of Valencia and El and I are joining on a long weekend visit. We have been really looking forward to this trip.
Valencia began as a Roman colony back in 138 BC, located on island in, and on the banks of the River Turia, it was settled by the Roman army after a battle with Iberians. It was under the control of the Germanic Visigoths for a 150 or so years from the 6th century before being taken over by the Moors in 714. The city remained under the control of the Moors until 1094 when it was taken by the Castilian nobleman El Cid. The city returned to Moorish control in 1109 and remained so until it was conquered by King James of Aragon in 1238.
The city went through a boom period for a couple of hundred years up until the early 1500s when the discovery of America moved commerce and trade from the Mediterranean coast to the Atlantic. It was during this period that most of the remaining ‘historic’ buildings were built – obviously they were not historic at the time 🙂 The city entered a prolonged period of decline, resulting in riots, massacres, overthrows and all sorts of unpleasantness under a range of rulers. English soldiers even ruled the city for a short period in 1706 before losing out to the Spanish. After a period of French rule in the 19th century the city finally sort of settled down for a while and many of the mid-period buildings were built. The city went through another period of upheaval and destruction when the republican government moved there from Madrid early in the civil war. The city was bombed, shelled and otherwise treated poorly until it finally surrendered to the nationalists in 1939. There are a number of really nice post-war, semi-art deco buildings from this period. The city centre is quite attractive in its way, a mix of a range of architectural styles and design details make it at least interesting.
Under Franco’s rule the city was left to fend for itself through times of extreme hardship. In 1957 the River Turia flooded into the city killing at least 87 people. In 1961 a massive project was started that saw the river redirected away from the city, this was completed in 1973, and the old riverbed was a wasteland until recent times when it was turned into a park – we will visit the park tomorrow.
It has had a tempestuous life!
Getting to Valencia from north east London pretty much means flying from Stanstead, which means flying Ryan Air, which means getting up ridiculously early – like 3:30 am, or in my case 4:00. I hate Ryan Air and I hate Stanstead. The only bright side was we are going with friends Paula and Paul, who we are staying with, and they drive to the airport, so not having to face speaking to a taxi driver was quite a bonus.
We arrived at Stanstead soon after 5:00, it was crowded and chaotic already, with few places to sit. Most of the departure area has been turned in to retail outlets – the only good thing about that was being able to buy coffee.
Ryan Air is the most budget of budget airlines, you do not get anything on the flight for free, passengers are crammed in, there are not even pockets on the back of the seat in front, but it is cheap.
The dawn was not too bad as it broke over the runway at Stanstead.
The flight was not too bad, it was uncomfortable, but it was short, and it landed on time in Valencia at 10:30, which was a bonus. As we only had cabin baggage we were off the plane and out into the terminal reasonably quickly. Paul and Paula were going directly out to their house in Llliria so they took our bags, leaving us to head into town on the Metro for a day of exploring. One of the great things about the Metro was being able to buy a 10 ride ticket that we could share, a lot cheaper than getting tickets each. The Metro was pretty good, clean, bright trains, though they seemed to be as efficiently run as the London Overground – i.e. not very. The timetable was aspirational.
Having said that the trains between airport and city seemed to be frequent. We grabbed city maps from the airport and had a bit of a plan to try and see as much of the old city as possible today. It is easily doable on foot (we walked close to 12 miles though !). We left the Metro at Angel Guimera and headed south towards the coliseum. Well it looked like a coliseum on the map, but it turned out to be a modern bull fighting ring. I was a bit disappointed as I was expecting Roman era ruins, and thought that maybe all of the old city would turn out to be not that old after all.
Though I did like the main railway station building – Estacio del Nord. Built in 1917 it is hardly old.
The architecture in this part of town was a little disappointing really, as were the big wide streets and loads of cars, but this was the outer edge of the old town and inside was much more like my expectation.
Heading into the narrower streets of the old town, the things that caught my eye first were the small details on the buildings. These were a feature throughout the rest of our walk. With narrow streets and buildings that were all three of four stories high it was quite difficult to really see, or photograph some of the buildings.
We stopped for a light lunch of huevos rotos and coffee soon after we got into town, consulting the map we found a few things we wanted to see, but not having a guidebook, we were not really sure what to look for, or what we were looking at when found it.
Our first viewing stop was the Iglesia de San Juan de la Cruz. One of the first churches to be built in Valencia in the early 17th century. As seems to be fairly typical in this part of Europe the church was built on the site of an earlier mosque. I liked the doors
We walked up an alley alongside the church, one of many we explore today, and found this lovely little square and I just had to take a photo of El.
I think the lovely building next door is a museum of statuary – I am not too sure. I sort of planned on making notes of things I saw when we got back to Paula and Paul’s house, but I never did….
Our next stop was the church of San Martin Obispo and San Antonio Abad, the only place we went inside during our stay.
It was glorious inside, a massive renovation project was complete in 2010 bring the interior back to its baroque beauty. One of the things I liked about the churches in Valencia is that from the outside they did not look like much.
Vincent of Saragossa is the patron saint of Valencia.
We continued to randomly walk the streets, coming across the main cathedral fronted by a square full of orange trees. Orange trees are to be found growing all around the city and are grown in export quantities in the surrounding countryside.
It seems that Valencia is covered in graffiti, it is just everywhere in the city, in the main it is just tagging and straight graffiti, but there are some more artistic works here and there. I used to hate tagged walls, but in the slightly run down parts of the city and narrow alleys it made much more sense and it almost made it all seem more alive. Almost…
We really liked The Plaza de la Virgen. If it had been a bit warmer it would have been a nice place to stop for a glass of wine and a plate of patatas bravas, though I suspect it would have been very expensive.
Love the little police car! I suspect a number of the coppers I see wobbling about London would not be able to fit behind the wheel…
One of the enjoyable things about visiting a walking town like Valencia in the winter time is that so many of the streets, alleys and squares seemed to be almost deserted.
We stopped near the Torres de Serranos for a glass of wine and a well deserved sit down. A glass of wine outside a small street side bar is one of life’s true pleasures. Like everywhere we stopped the wine was cheap and very nice. The Torres de Serranos were constructed at the end of the 14th century and were part of the ‘Christian Wall’ that surrounded the city until it was pulled down in 1857. Only this and one other gate survived. They are massive, but sadly covered in scaffolding at the moment.
After the wine we strolled around the back streets for an hour so, I loved this part of town and could easily have spent a few more hours just randomly walking down streets that took my fancy. I really liked the emptiness, the narrow streets and lack of cars as well as the old buildings and the gaps between them.
We finally started getting a bit tired so headed in the general direction of the Metro station, though there was still plenty to see on the way – we both liked the wig and moustache shop.
There is not a lot left of the Roman occupation of Valencia, though there are some, what I presume to be, Roman columns standing in the grounds of the medieval hospital.
Our final destination for the day was the other gate the Quart Towers, these were built after the Serranos Towers in the 15th century, and they were not covered in scaffolding either. They are quite magnificent, very tall and very solid looking, and clearly stand out from the surrounding buildings.
Due to some cunning planning we were very close to the Metro station, and gratefully took seats on the train for the forty minute ride out to Lliria. The train was due at 4:08 but as we sat there we watched the time board slowly move up by the minute until 4:13 when it suddenly jumped to announce our train arriving at 4:21. The train arrived soon after, on time at 4:08, before the train that was due before it.
The ride was interesting, underground for a short while and then out into the suburbs of Valencia, before heading up the long valley west of the city and through a string of orange groves.
Paul and Paula and have bought their holiday home just outside Lliria, we arrived late afternoon and they picked us up from the station. The station reminds me a saloon from an old western.
We went for a drive up to the hillside village of Olocau, there is an old Roman house, though it was closed when we arrived.
Olocau is situated on the edge of a national park, and the bluffs on the edge of the hills were fabulous, I am sure they must glow if the light is right. I would be quite keen to do one of the marked walks in the hills next time we are here.
As it was after 5:00 there was nothing open in Olocau, one of the things that frustrated me about Spain when I was staying here in 2012 was that everything closed at 5:00 for the siesta period, something I guess you get used to if you live here. We headed back down to Lliria and finally unloaded at Paul and Paula’s place.
The view from the first floor deck is fabulous…
We settled down for a coffee and a relax before heading back into Lliria for dinner at Tapes y Arros. It was one of the best meals I have had in a very long time, complemented by a couple of bottles of an excellent local red wine, La Tribu. It was a great night. Though after getting up so damn early we were grateful when we finally lay down in bed!
What an excellent day, and only day one. Really looking forward to tomorrow!