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Travel and Tourism

Rediscovering Valencia in one day

Edu Jarque - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Though I have been to the city of Valencia many times since my sister Anafe has resided there for almost 40 years, I have never gone to this region of Spain as a simple sightseer, a true turista.

But my most recent visit was a trip of many firsts – first time to arrive by train from Barcelona, first time to travel with Valencia first-timers, first time to stay for just a single day, first time to experience the area as a tourist.

My sister, my nephew and godchild Alfonso and my grandniece Ana headed to the Catedral de Valencia, and immediately zeroed in on the Capilla de Santo Caliz, the depository of the believed-to-be Holy Chalice. It is currently exposed at the consecrated chapel’s altar, where super bright illuminations may cause temporary blindness if you stare at it for too long.

It attracts faithful devotees on pilgrimages to this relic enveloped by love and lore, devotion and superstition. The agate cup has never been accredited with any supernatural powers, but it has been utilized during papal visits as the official pope’s chalice, to include Pope Benedict XVI in recent times.

We then moved to the nearby Chapel of the Resurrection, which displayed the mummified arm of San Vicente Ferrer, who was instrumental in spreading the good word of the Lord around Europe. The object of veneration is continuously visited by thousands of converted individuals and long-time followers.

Known for his intense dedication, he religiously fasted on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and was lauded for his attachment to the poor. A deacon, he was martyred for his unwavering faith and is considered one of the representative saints of Spain.

Right across, connected by a narrow passageway, is the Basílica de la Virgen de los Desamparados – the Virgin of the Abandoned and the patroness of Valencia. Built above a former Roman temple, the site showcases a Gothic statue of the Virgin. She appears carrying the cross-bearing Baby Jesus in one hand and a lily in the other. A mechanical device allows the image to revolve, to be seen from all angles.

Beside the Basilica was the Plaza de la Virgen, with an elaborate fountain which features Neptune, the Roman God of the Sea, surrounded by eight naked women. An ideal spot to relax and people watch, and come every month of March, it serves as the culminating venue for the Las Fallas, one of the most unique festivals in the country.

I recall a wooden silhouette of the Virgin is constructed in the city center, which will be filled up with bouquets of carnations of different colors, offered by the townsfolk, creating the effect of the Madonna’s garment.

This celebration is likewise marked by ninots  – puppets to you and me – several stories high made out of cardboard and wood but mostly papier maché, representing human failures. On the final night, the falles are burned at bonfires called La Cremà – in Valenciano – around the city, in intersections, mini-plazas and almost anywhere where some space exists.

Upon the urge of my grandniece, we proceeded to the newly-remodeled San Nicolas Church. Awe and breathlessness instantly overtook us by the gilded Grand Altar surrounded by six just as impressive chapels. To make it even more amazing, the wonderfully decorated ceilings contained a sweeping fresco depicting the lives of San Nicolas de Bari and Saint Peter of Verona. It is not to be missed, for it is considered the Sistine Chapel of all the churches in Valencia.

Still feeling blessed by our impromptu Visita Iglesia, we headed to the busier part of town. My traveling buddies and I, without fail, survey the local markets, and Valencia was no exception.

Since our lunch was still scheduled at two, we went to Plaza Redonda – Round Square – with its unusual shape and design with an opening at the center, a circular park. An ancient fountain rests amidst traditional arts and crafts shops, legitimate lace and embroidery emporiums, as well as delicate one-of-a-kind ceramic stores.

What caught our eye next was the La Estrecha, Europe’s narrowest building – just 107 centimeters wide, and only one room per floor! It shares this distinction with another establishment in Amsterdam.

We braced ourselves for the Mercato Central, the titular open-air marketplace built in Art Noveau style with a mix of Gothic and Baroque influences, with the widest selection of foodstuffs. We definitely could not help but purchase some hard-to-find cheese and mouthwatering jamones, to be enjoyed at a later date.

With our bodies refreshed and our souls unburdened, we hit the road en route to El Perello, a quaint maritime barrio situated by the Mediterranean coast, some 20 kilometers away.

Restaurant Bon Aire, a mom-and-pop establishment which has retained its pueblo feel made more genuine by serving authentic comida casera, was our venue for lunch.

In true Spanish fashion, we had choices of aperitivos, which included eels or angulas, spicy patatas bravas, crispy fried baby squid called puntillas and a smattering of octopus or pulpo, jamones. And pan – buen pan!

Paella, the signature Valenciana specialty and even considered by Spaniards of today as one of Spain’s national dishes, was the star of our table.

For our selection, we feasted on the classic Paella Valenciana, believed to be the original, consisting of white rice, chicken, rabbit, snails and green beans, seasoned with saffron and rosemary.

The Arroz al Señoret, on the other hand, contained a variety of seafood which had been shelled and peeled, truly fitting to be eaten by discerning señoritos. The Arroz Meloso, made of creamy rice, and the Bacalao con Ajos Tiernos, infused with catfish, completed our roster of four dishes.

Amply and deliciously fortified, we continued with our afternoon of leisurely mosey to the newest and most modern complex – the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias.

The area where it stands was an old channel of the Rio Turia which, after a major flood in the 1950s, has since been rerouted, converting the landscape into to a verdant sunken garden, passable by pedestrians and cyclists.

This massive 350,000-square meter center is a masterpiece of the controversial Santiago Calatrava, a prolific architect and structural engineer. Family-friendly, it contains several entertainment options fit for any group – big or small, young or old.

For art aficionados, strategically placed large installations and sculptures may be found throughout the nexus.

For music-lovers, the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia is a definite must-visit, for it frequently hosts seasoned artists of various genres of concerts, operas, zarzuelas and ballet.

The Príncipe Felipe Science Museum, which resembles the skeleton of a whale, is a comprehensive showroom with the motto “Not touching is prohibited” – yes, you read that right. It offers a plethora of interactive exhibitions about science and technology, and even informative workshops for the curious.

Who could forget the eye-shaped L’Hemisferic, the very first building to have been constructed? Also known as the Planetarium or the Eye of Knowledge, it is the prime spot for visual shows, as it holds laser light performances as well as IMAX movies all day long.

We went on a stroll through L’Umbracle, an open landscape walk filled with plant species indigenous to Valencia, such as lavender, honeysuckle, bougainvillea and palm trees. 

To cap the day, we had one more stop – a rustic home owned by a dear friend in the middle of the campo – where we enjoyed pitchers of horchata, a milky drink seasoned with cinnamon, and platters of fartons, elongated pastries glazed with sugar.

After the whole-day exploration, we caught the train ride back to Barcelona, and boarded our cruise ship soon ready to sail through various ports of call in the Mediterranean. Photos by Edu Jarque

VALENCIA

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