Was this the best paella?

Tuesday July 3 2018 – Valencia, Spain.

This is my fourth, and Eleanor’s third visit to Valencia, staying with friends Paula and Paul in their holiday home on the edge of Lliria, a small town at the far end of one of the Metro lines. We are all here for three nights, with not a lot planned apart from lunch on Sunday with an old work mate. My idea for this trip was to relax, drink cheap lager and wine in and round the pool, eat some food and do some planning, photo editing and writing. I also wanted to make a sneaky visit to the abandoned camp ground nearby.

In hindsight I think the trip was pretty good, but in the immediate aftermath I considered it a bit of a failure. I didn’t really achieve any planning, photo editing or do much writing. That was probably good, I needed to make some time to relax. The reason for the lack of photo editing was the cable for the portable hard drive that contains all my photos disappeared somewhere between security at Stansted Airport and the arrival hall in Valencia. To say I was pissed off would be an understatement. It did remind me that I HAVE to do a backup of that drive when I get home and have a replacement cable…

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Sunday we met ex-work-mate, Fran, for lunch. Fran is Valencian, returning from London earlier this year. He has long recommended Casa Carmela for the best paella in town and was keen to introduce us to it, and we were keen to accept the offer.

It is a scorcher of a day, 30 degrees plus, with the clearest sky and not a breath of breeze to speak of. A lot of Valencians were hitting the beach, and it was a very crowded tram ride from the station to the sea front; but so nice to travel by tram rather than car or foot.

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We arrived early and took the opportunity to walk along the beach front, Casa Carmela being at the far end of the beach from the tram stop. The beach was very busy, I should have bought swimming gear with me, I cannot remember the last time I was in the sea, I miss it.

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The walk along the promenade is nice, too hot to be thoroughly enjoyable. Being able to stop for a very cold San Miguel at the far end was a fine reward and made walking in the heat almost bearable. Stupidly (or arrogantly) I did not put any sun screen on my face before we left and I could feel my skin tightening and burning as we walked. There was not a lot of shade till the beach bar. Lesson possibly learned.

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Lunch at Casa Carmela was everything I had been led to believe. We had an extraordinary local white wine and the bbqed squid was just exceptional, I have never had squid that nice, nor expect to again, unless we come back. However, we were there for the paella, not the squid nor the wine, and we were not let down. The seafood paella was massive, unbelievably we all ate till bursting, yet there was still some left at the end. It was as good as Fran had said.

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There was a tiny, tiny space left after the paella, even the dessert stomach had been used up. Fran suggested a cafe bombon to wrap up the perfect Valencian meal. Cafe Bombon originated in Valencia and is a European version of coffee found all over SE Asia, a shot of espresso mixed with sweetened condensed milk. I absolutely loved this drink on my travels in Asia and did not know existed in Europe. It was perfect and a fine end to a very enjoyable feasting experience.

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After lunch we piled into Fran’s car and he took us to a  nearby horcheta bar, horcheta is a non-alcoholic drink made from tiger nut and is a regional speciality. I have had it before and it is very nice, like a mildly sweet milk shake, and over ice was very welcome on such a hot day. The bar had the TV on and a good crowd there for the Spain v Russia world cup game, the other reason for going there. Surprisingly, and sadly Spain lost, so it was a quiet crowd that left after the game.

Late that afternoon I went on a small tour of discovery in the abandoned campground I came across last time we visited. Camping Aguas De Lliria was shut down by the council in 2009 and my next post I will explore it and the nearby fields more closely.

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The following day we did not do much, lots of reading, some eating, swimming, lounging etc.

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Perhaps some watching of football on the telly. The sunset was verging, on but was not quite, spectacular.

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I have seen spectacular here before, and good as this sunset was, it was not up to that standard.

Tuesday was all about packing, cleaning, waiting for a delayed flight back to London and then home.

The answer was yes, that was the best paella….

A night in Valencia

Sunday 30 April and Monday 1 May 2017 – Valencia, Spain.

Today is NLD day. For those not in the know, this is the North London Derby; a football match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur that occurs twice each season and a rivalry that has been going since 1913 when The Arsenal moved from south London to the north. No forgiveness given by the Spurs fans. 

El is a long term and ’passionate’ Spurs fan and I have supported The Arsenal since I was a nipper. We watch a lot of football in our house, but the NLD is not a game we watch together.

Before leaving London we had booked a room in the Excelsior Hotel in Valencia for tonight, the plan was to find a pub in town, break house rules and watch the game together then enjoy an evening in this lovely city. This morning we decided it was best to stick with house rules and not watch the game. Just in case. It was a stunner of a day, so no point in ruining it with sporting results!

We caught the Metro from Lliria into Valencia, I have done this journey a couple of times and am familiar with getting from the train into the centre of the old town where the hotel was located. One of the main streets near the hotel was closed to traffic when we arrived in the middle of the afternoon. I was not sure why, it is the May Day holiday on Monday, and I thought there must be something happening then, but the road was open again on Monday morning. We did find a small parade late in the afternoon, though I am not convinced it was for that. The more roads closed the better in my book!

It was a glorious day today, so we dumped our bag in the hotel room and headed straight out for a walk.

We decided to walk to the Science and Arts Centre; though we had visited last February, it is a lovely stroll down an old river bed; with a pond below one of the ancient entry points in to the city.

I really like this walk, it is shaded and cool, and today the light was playing in the wind blown trees, there were loads of people, but it a big wide area and it was never too crowded, just nicely busy.

The ultra modern sci-fi buildings that make up the Science and Arts Centre are just stunning. Last week’s episode of Dr Who was filmed here. I am going to come back here on my own one evening and spend some time taking photos. I could wander all day, though it was very warm and bright.

We arrived back in the centre of town just as the NLD finished, we had managed to avoid the game and checking progress on our phones. Sadly Arsenal lost, a result I was expecting. At least one of us was happy! It was time to find a bar for a celebratory/commiseratory glass of wine.

On the road up from our hotel we came across this parade forming outside the church of Saint Martin. There were a lot of kids and adults dressed in traditional clothing. Though I am still not sure what the parade was about.

We found an open air bar in the Place de Lope de Vega and decided to sit and relax for a while over a glass of Rose. We were not sitting long when the parade came through the square, we had front row seats!

As the parade passed, unseen by us, one of the paraders set off a of string of very loud fire crackers on the far side of the small square, at the back of Santa Catalina church. It gave us (and most other people) one hell of a fright! I went to investigate afterwards and saw this little sculpture embedded in the stone work on the church. Very cool.

Finishing our glasses we set off again, this time to find somewhere to eat. Lunch, at the science museum had been a disappointment, we had had such good food in LLiria so we didn’t want touristy downtown Valencia to let us down. It was much busier out than I thought it would be; it was still quite early by Spanish standards, but it was a nice evening to stroll and we were not in any rush and we did find a place and did really enjoy the food.

I love the small winding alleys and streets in this section of Valencia, and that it is all a little dishevelled. I could easily live in this town. If I spoke Spanish or the Valencian variation. Bodega de la Sarieta was a nice spot to people watch and the food was great.

With very full bellies; the food was too good :), we sauntered around the cathedral area for a short while before waddling back to the hotel for the night.

There was even a little bit of street art to keep my urban soul happy.

I didn’t have a brilliant sleep, the very small room was either too warm with the air con off, or too noisy with the air con on, I suspect the full belly didn’t help much either… We were in no particular rush on Monday morning, we did have a room with a balcony, though there was no great view or anything; it was still nice to be outside relative peace in the city.

I loved the stairwell in our hotel!

After a late breakfast we were back on the train to Lliria. The mission to watch the NLD in a bar, a complete, yet welcome failure.

I really like the centre of Valencia, it is small, very touristy, very friendly, attractive and fun. One of my favourite cities.

Three relaxing days in Valencia

Wednesday 20 July 2016 – Valencia, Spain.

Arriving home from my trip to Orford Ness early on Saturday evening it was a quick hello to El and then I was upstairs packing and organising myself for a three day trip to Valencia. I had to be at Gatwick Airport at 7:00 am on Sunday, and it is almost an hour long drive. I was not looking forward to getting up at 5:00 after the very late night and even earlier rise at Orford Ness. It was worth it all though.

Our Valencian house owning friends had invited us over to stay with them and some others for a few days, but El has work and as I am currently not working I decided to pop over for three nights – better than moping around the house during the day! El and I have a week booked in Devon this coming Friday so something for both of us to look forward to.

I arrived at Valencia Airport at mid-day after a pretty good flight on EasyJet. The sky in Valencia was a heck of a lot bluer than the sky in London was. One of the reasons for going was to see some nice blue sky!

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I was picked up by Paul and Andy and driven back to the house in Lliria. Paul and Paula, have another couple staying along with various kids and their friends, though the ‘kids’ are all 16 and above, there was seven young ‘uns. Luckily it is a big place!

My plan for the three days was to do not much, fit in with everyone else’s plans and very little else, eat some food and drink some cold Spanish lager in the sun. Unwind now I am not working and, hopefully, before I start another job. For the first two days I very much achieved that – it was very enjoyable, I took no photos and did not write one word in my notebook. I did read a lot.

On Tuesday we went into Valencia for a few hours. I left the group once we got off the metro and just went wandering on my own for a while. I have seen the main sites and was quite keen to get lost in the back streets of the old town again and just lose myself for a while. I surprised myself by not really enjoying it, not Valencia’s fault, I was just not feeling it today. Maybe I have gotten too used to spending time on my own in more remote places than the back alleys of small cities. Not that there were a lot of people off the main Valencian thoroughfares. I did see one piece of street art I liked, that I am not sure I saw last time we were here.

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I did take a few photos, just not anywhere near as as many as I expected. Valencia is very photogenic, even feeling off and unenthused about taking photos the city compelled me to get the camera out. Maybe after the fun of Orford Ness and using the big old DSLR having the pocket camera was not inspiring enough ?

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Eventually I found myself at Torres de Serranos, one of two remaining 14th century gates into the town of Valencia. Originally there were 12 gates. It was the main entrance into the town so was designed to be more ornamental than the other gates, along with its main purpose of being part of a solid defensive wall. The city walls were pulled down in 1865, though this and the Cuart Towers were left behind as they were being used as prisons after the town prison burnt down.

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When we were here back in March the front of the gates was covered in scaffolding so we didn’t have a really good look around. Now it was all clear I decided to head to the top and have a look. There is a 2 Euro fee to get in. Worth it! Just before I went inside I ran into some of the young ‘uns who I am staying with and was informed that this was a meeting point for the rest of the group in a few minutes. Good timing !

There are a lot of steps in the building, they made for some interesting shapes and I started taking a few more photos. I like the cleanliness and symmetry of the lines inside the building, with very little ornamentation left inside the structure itself is allowed to show off.

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I made my way up to the roof, and the view was worth the effort of the walk, there were some other folk really struggling to get up to the top, it was fairly warm and fairly humid inside the walls and well there are some unfit people about! The view north east and out of the old centre of Valencia.

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I have been developing a ‘thing’ for roofs and sky line images, I quite like the mix of line and shape and colour, a counter to the clean and tidy lines inside the gate towers.

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Coming down from the towers I met the rest of the group and we split up again  after agreeing to meet later on at a horchateria for a horchata. I was quite keen to go and see inside the cathedral after talking to those who had been earlier in the day.

I set off on a roundabout walk back towards the cathedral, passing this cool little bike shop on the way.

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The back of the cathedral had some interesting things, some of the detail on the building was really good, even after seeing so much of this ancient carving on the outside of forts and religious buildings all over the world I am still struck by the level of skill that was required to get that detail. I also like how it has faded over the centuries.

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The front of the cathedral is interesting, not a traditional tower with massive doors, but definitely expressing its wealth and power. I liked it a lot.

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The interior of the cathedral was OK, it was not the most amazing one I have visited, and it certainly had its highlights. I particularly liked the 14th century Holy Chalice Chapel and spent a bit of time relaxing in the coolness and semi dark. I also left my hat here 😦

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I wandered around the interior until it was almost time to meet everybody else and walked out just as they were passing – great timing!

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After a bit of misplacement we eventually found the horchateria and settled inside for a cool drink. The building is lovely inside, tiled and cool and relaxing. Horchata is a milk made from tiger nuts and is a speciality of Valencia. It was quite nice too!

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After the sit down and drink we all headed back to the train and on to Lliria, for a cold cold lager and another pleasant evening of chatting in the garden.

The following morning (Wednesday) it was back to Valencia Airport for the flight home to Gatwick.

I really enjoyed my little break in Valencia, it was good to hang out with friends, chat, eat and drink sitting in the sun – with the occasional dip in the pool. Thanks Paul, Paula, Andy and Caroline for having me.

Castillo de Sagunto.

Sunday 28 February 2016 – Valencia, Spain.

With the room nicely pre-warmed last night, along with a late night, red wine and whisky, most of us slept in quite late this morning. Paul managed to sneak out and go to one of the local markets well before anyone else emerged. It was a much warmer morning than yesterday, the wind had dropped and there were hints of a sun peaking through the clouds.

Paul returned soon after we had breakfast and we all set out rather late for today’s adventure. A trip up the coast to the small town of Sagunto and its wonderful old ruined castle.

Sagunto is a port town and the castle sits on a low bluff overlooking the sea and a wide valley. We knew the castle closed at 14:00 on a Sunday and it was after 13:00 when we arrived in town. We drove around for what seemed like ages trying to find the entrance, the first attempt led us completely to the wrong side of the bluff. I had resigned myself (quietly) that this would be as close as I would get to visiting this massive old structure.

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We finally found the way in to the right side of town, but found absolutely no where to park. Paul volunteered to drive off and find a park, so Paula, El and I jumped out the car and went looking for the road up to the gates.

We were dropped off outside The Church of Saint Maria, so I stopped for a quick photo of its magnificent doors. The church was started in 1334 and finally completed in 1730, a rather long build – a bit like the restoration of the escalators at Walthamstow Central! As was common at the time, it was built on the site of the main mosque in Sagunto soon after the Christians under Aragon 1 wrestled rule of the town from the Moors. It was finally finished in what has become the Valencian Gothic style of architecture.

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Just outside the church there was a small road train that took visitors up the hill to the castle itself, for expediencies sake we jumped on the train and took the lazy way up the hill. Outside the main castle is an old amphitheatre, recently renovated and still used as a theatre.

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I was very excited on the final walk up to the entrance, hoping we would be allowed in so late, I am a little boy at heart when it comes to castles and ruins, cannot help it ! Even the outside walls, especially with the un-British sight of cacti growing below had me bouncing…

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We arrived at the gate at 13:30, were allowed in but advised we had 30 minutes. I am going to have to go back and visit another day, it is a big place and worthy of a couple of hours! We did make it in, I was very happy.

There has been a settlement on the bluff for hundreds of years. The Roman settlement was under siege by Hannibal way back in 219 BC, this event was the start of the Punic War, one of the most significant periods of warfare in ancient times, Hannibal’s army was finally stopped just outside the gates of Rome. Any further and the world would be a different place !

In 214 BC the town was retaken by Rome and as you would expect what followed for the next few hundred years was long periods of settlement interspersed with the odd invasion, change of ruler, change of religion when the Muslim Moors ruled this part of Spain for 500 (ish) years, with a brief change in the middle. It was in 1238 when Aragon conquered the area that things pretty much settled down for a while.

All this time the castle on the hill was expanded, modified, knocked down a bit, built up some more, but was never really destroyed. You can see influences from all the different groups who have occupied this vast site.

There is little information about the actual interior of the castle, there are a few signs inside that describe some of the sections, but they were not overly verbose and they were in Spanish so not much use in the short time we had. We only managed to see one side – the far end is over a kilometre away.

The Temple of Diana is pretty much the first thing you see once you are through the gate. There is a lot of renovation work going on, numerous sections are fenced off, and you can tell there is a monumentally large and long project going on to explore and renovate the interior. If it is all done as well as the already completed sections then it will be a fabulous place to visit in the future. There are photos of this building from 1923 and it was looking very similar to what it is like now. It must have been maintained for a very long time.

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As we did not have a lot of time, I left El and Paula to it and nipped off here and there, taking photos where I saw something interesting, there are parts of the castle that can be explored and clambered on, and I am always up for that. I imagine as things become more formally renovated then the clambering will stop, I am not against that of course, but will take the opportunity to explore where I want when I can. Obviously I take as much care as I can, and do not risk either myself or the place I am exploring.

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We explored the eastern end of the castle, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, as you can see the western end is quite a long way away.

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Paula took a photo of me taking the photo….

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I walked around a small section of the perimeter, there were great views down on to the rooftops of the houses below. I really like a good view of rooftops, especially the higgledy piggledy view over a town built on a hillside. Sagunto looks great from up here and the Church really stands out when viewed from this angle, from the ground it is all bunched up in the narrow cobbled streets and much harder to feel the scale of the building.

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The walls are really imposing, and I could see why so much is still standing after such a long time. I also have a thing about walls and trees…

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With time running out I headed quickly back over to the centre of the castle, to try and get a good look at the far end, from a distance it looks even more imposing than where I had just been. I really must come back here and explore again more fully. There is a whole castle up on that hill!

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The walls show building materials and styles from most of the various occupiers of the site, from the Romans, the Moors and the later Spanish.

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There were some great details, in some cases, literally lying on the ground.

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All too quickly it was 14:00 and the gates were going to close, so I reluctantly bade adios to Castillo de Sagunto and walked outside to meet El and Paula.

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We headed back down the hill, through some of the streets and past houses that I saw from the top of the hill. Looking back at this trip, and back further to my time in southern Spain in 2012, these small hillside, ‘white house’ villages are some of my favourite places to wander around. I love the randomness of the streets, the twisting and turning, the ones that end in steps, or just go nowhere, the fact there are few people about and almost no visible cars. Perfect!

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By pure co-incidence at the end of one of the streets we wandered down we found Paul sitting outside Mason el Castillo, a roadside cafe, drinking a beer and waiting for us to turn up. We ordered some food and drinks all round and relaxed there for a while, enjoying the atmosphere and some really nice tapas (again)!

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I went for a quick walk around the area, up and down a few more streets, this part of town is really lovely.

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It was not a bad day so we decided to head back to the car and drive down to sea and hopefully find an ice cream. On the way back we passed this building which looked like it had an old Roman era pillar holding up one corner of a mezzanine. Wonderful.

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On the way to the car, parked in another free train station car park, we passed a real estate agent and was surprised to see that you could by a one bedroom flat in town for 26000 Euros… It probably wasn’t very nice, but that is much less than a car park in parts of London.

We drove down to El Puig, a small beach side town. Sadly, like so many other places in Spain El Puig has its share of failed building ventures and we parked right outside one of them. Liberally covered in graffiti, and broken walls visible through the gaps where doors and windows would have been, this place was a reminder of the failed fortunes of Spain and other places in Mediterranean Europe.

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The beach was still nice, and there was plenty of other far more successful businesses along the strip of beach and the marina nearby. We walked down to the end of the marina and then back again, stopping for an ice cream – just as it started to get cold, before heading back to Lliria and Paul and Paula’s house.

I lit the fire inside, while Paul set up the fire in the outside stove, where he eventually baked a wonderful fresh salmon which we had for tea. It was another evening of wine and The Walking Dead and another quite late one. But we did almost finish season two!

We had another good sleep, before getting up quite early on Monday morning as El and I were flying back to London. Paula dropped us off at Lliria station and we caught what must have been a late rush hour train back into Valencia. It was reasonably full by the time we got in to the centre, though we crossed over to another line for the almost deserted train out to the airport.

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And that was the end of our trip to Valencia. We had a great time, Paul and Paula’s place is fantastic, Paul and Paula are great hosts, Valencia is an awesome city and we are both really looking forward to going back again.

Disappointingly there were no egg cups.

Saturday February 27 – Valencia, Spain.

We were well warned before we left London that Valencia can be surprisingly cold in the night, and we were surprisingly cold at night. We had to use the heater in our room to get it warm for sleeping, but we did have a good night’s sleep. It was needed after such an early start to the day.

We were up by 9:00 and it was cold in the morning too, in fact it remained cold all day and I was slightly under-prepared for the wind and ended up being quite cold all day.

El and I were disappointed that there were no egg cups* so we had toast and coffee for breakfast, keeping it light as we were planning on trying a highly recommended restaurant for a paella lunch later in the day. Eating a lot was definitely on the cards.

The house is about 5 kms from the station in Lliria, and I am pretty sure I would have no idea how to get between them if asked! It is on the edge of the town, has very few neighbours and a nice view over orchard land. It is two stories high, both floors are stand alone, and has a nice pool and garden area. Paula and Paul are doing some renovations and the contents of a new bathroom for downstairs is in the lounge. It does not ‘need’ anything doing mind! Casa de Adams from the street.

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We drove into Lliria with the intention of getting the train into Valencia, but once we got to Lliria the train was only running as far as the next major town. We carried on driving to Perata so we could catch the train from there. At least parking a car in a station car park is free! It was really cold on the platform and I was very glad when the train arrived and we could get in from the cold.

I acted as a guide and we walked from the same station we used yesterday to the central market. We passed a couple of quite nice bits of street art on the way. I will do a separate street art of Valencia post at some stage, once I have had a chance to try and work out who some of the artists are.IMG_3307

The central market was built in 1914 and definitely shows some Moorish design, especially in the use of tiles. I was quite surprised it was not much much older. There are around 400 stall holders in the market and in the main it sells food. I saw more than a couple of people walking around shopping with glasses of wine in their hands, which seemed so civilised to me. Paula, El and I left Paul to his browsing while we went off hunting coffee and a snack.

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We reconvened with Paul and headed off right across town towards the old Turia River bed park, on our walk we passed a couple of quite nice post war buildings. I really like the mix of architecture in Valencia, a very nice balance of old, older and really old.

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As it is Saturday town was a lot busier than it was yesterday, and the area we passed through in the south and east seemed to be the more touristed area with the more expensive luxury brands on sale. One of us stopped for a wee shop, no names will be mentioned, but it was not me!

The old Turia River bed has been turned into a long garden path, bizarrely I cannot find out when this happened! But anyway, the park runs for a few kilometres, under bridges, around ponds and through trees. There a sports fields, cycling and running paths and all sorts of things that make this a wonderful place to walk.

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The park led us to one of our destinations for the day, though sadly after the walk, and with more walking yet to do, we didn’t have time to linger. I would love to come back here for a sunset or a sunrise, as I have seen some spectacular photos of this site.

The Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias – City of Science and Art, is a magnificent, futuristic precinct of theatres and museums and looks amazing, even in the daylight. It was started in 1995 with the last building being finished in 2005. Walking past was brilliant enough but we would have loved to have had the time to explore inside as well. I loved the clouds and the light here.

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We still had almost two miles to go to our lunch date at La Pepica restaurant near the beach. t was a cold and rather dull walk through some inauspicious suburban streets and we were glad when we arrived. Even better was that it was open, they had a table and if we had been ten minutes later we would have been too late, whew ! La Pepica was first opened in 1898, and in the current site in 1923. It has always served traditional Spanish food and we were there for their famous paella. We had one of the fish and one of the meat. I should have taken a photo of the massive paella pans they had there, I would guess over a metre wide.

After an excessively large lunch and a shared ‘champagne’ bottle of cider, we wobbled out for a walk along the beach front. The clouds were still really interesting and I took a few photos of them over the beach.

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And this very cool sand castle, the builder creates two a year and maintains them for as long as possible – asking a small fee for a photo.

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We caught a tram back from the beach to one of the train stations and then the train back out to Perata. We were all pretty knackered, we had knocked off another 10 miles walking around today and after a big lunch, we ready for an afternoon nap.

We could see the sun setting while we were on the train, but the sky went absolutely mad on the drive back to Lliria. I have rarely seen a sunset like it, virtually the whole sky was on ablaze with orange and red, it was utterly spectacular. I snapped a few photos from the car as we sped towards home.

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We stopped at a local Lidl (they are everywhere) and El and I took a couple of final images as the sun finally disappeared well below the horizon.

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There was no room for dinner ! but there is always room for cheese, bread and wine, so after getting a really good fire going we sat down in front of the TV, feet up and watched three episodes of series 2 of The Walking Dead… Paul is slowly indoctrinating us into the series.

The fire place has an ingenious systems of pipes in the ceiling, driven by a fan, that blows warm air into the various bedrooms. Once the fan and fire is going, the air blowing into the bedroom is really hot, and it was a nice and toasty night in bed.

Another fabulous day !

*The no egg cup reference was made because Paula and Paul are going to rent their house out in summer, and had been looking at some other rental properties. Someone had commented on one of the houses that they were disappointed there was no egg cups.

Hola de España !

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.

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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.

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The dawn was not too bad as it broke over the runway at Stanstead.

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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.

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Though I did like the main railway station building – Estacio del Nord. Built in 1917 it is hardly old.

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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.

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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.

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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 Smile

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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.

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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….

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Our next stop was the church of San Martin Obispo and San Antonio Abad, the only place we went inside during our stay.

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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.

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Vincent of Saragossa is the patron saint of Valencia.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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!