Sunday, 28 August 2016

Valencia, part three: Dumpster Diving With The Ancients - Valentia’s Ceremonial Landfill

Valencia, Spain (Valencia, España)
December 2015
Still becoming fast-travel weary, we planned only one excursion for the day - the Museo Arqueológico de la Almoina, Valencia's main archaeological museum. 
On our way there, we stopped to capture a landmark: the belltower of the church of Santa Catalina. Baroque in style, the tower was built on the site of an older mosque's minaret.

Also on the way was the Plaza de la Virgen. On one side of the plaza is the Basilica de Virgen de Los Desamparados, which is joined to the cathedral via a small covered walkway above the street. Passing under this walkway, we found ourselves in a smaller plaza where the museum is housed.

It was here that we saw a teeny tiny police car which was unintentionally cute, contrasting with the heavily armed and bearded police officer on patrol.

Always one for models, I took the time to point out various places we had been on a city model in the square. 

Once we managed to fight our way through a sea of schoolchildren who were standing in, lounging around and generally blocking up the whole square, we were in the calm of the museum. Valencia's history is rich and long, starting with colonisation by the Roman Empire in 138 BC, when it was known as Valentia (which is Latin for "strength"). The museum showcased two of the major roads used during Roman times, as well as the courtyard of the city during Moorish times, and a 2nd-century bath complex.
I appreciated the effort that had been put into the displays, which often showed representations of what the ruins may have looked like in their heyday.

Picture for a moment that you are an archaeologist. Think of what it must be like digging in the sweltering heat for years, finding nothing but potsherds, until the day that you uncover not one, but a hoard of coins! That must feel pretty special. These coins were from the days of the Alcazar.
Another interesting tidbit that was far less photogenic was a great big hole that had been dug at the founding of the city. The Roman soldiers who were like "let's make a city!" partied for days, throwing all their trash (pots, plates and animal carcases) into this ceremonial well. Founding complete!

Another model! This was of the city's nymphaeum, which was a religious building dedicated to nymphs (don't ask me why). As we were going to leave, we were deeply dismayed to see that the schoolchildren were still outside. They were slumped all around the entrance and we had to repeat the word "disculpe!" while gently nudging them with the door. Finally free, we fled and considered paying the €5 fee to visit the cathedral, but decided to put that money towards lunch instead.
Back at the Plaza de la Virgen, we waited for fifteen minutes to be seated at the bustling café Saona, where we enjoyed three courses and tried to read a Spanish newspaper. After we had finished eating, a waiter came over holding two plates of extra dessert and looked questioningly at us. Sadly we did not receive second helpings for free. 

Today's post was almost called: Arriba, Arriba! Ándale, Tiny Police Hombre

Friday, 26 August 2016

Valencia, part two: Taming Lions With Pen and Paper

Valencia, Spain (Valencia, España)
December 2015
The carpark for our AirBNB was a ten-minute walk away from the apartment, and we missed Denis so we paid him a visit one morning. (We also needed a few forgotten supplies like a colander that Yannick had fun carrying around the streets.)
That day we set our sights on the old silk market - La Lonja de la Seda. 
A main component of the commercial site is the Hall of Columns, where merchants worked out contracts. Once upon a time, the ceiling was painted to resemble the night's sky. The room is hugely impressive, showing how a city's wealth in the 15th and 16th-century could produce amazing Gothic buildings. For good reason, the market was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 and visitors from all over the globe come to marvel at its impressive columns.

Down a small staircase in the courtyard, we found a partially underground room that looked like it served as a chapel at one point. It felt a bit dank, but I've seen many weirder places to worship (bone church, anyone?).

Taking the stairs upwards this time, we entered a function room that a royal would envy.

The ceiling alone was so ornately detailed and inlaid with gold that I could imagine selling it would raise so much money that one could purchase the country of Liechtenstein.

And that floor? Daaaaamn girl, that's a fine floor you got right there.

The outside featured crenelations that looked like crowns, tiny gargoyles and a thousand different decorative techniques.

As with every other important building in Valencia, the old silk market just had to have an orange tree courtyard. But this one also had some mandarin trees! Good on them for promoting citrus diversity.

With much of the afternoon left, we walked south through the more downtown area, and found a post box with a lion's mouth as a letter depository. It was interesting to see how different the narrow streets of the old town were to the wide avenues of the modern part of the city.

Further south, we strolled through the Russafa district, which is perhaps best known for its throbbing nightlife. In the daylight, however, people come to sip coffee at hip cafés and shop at markets. On a Lonely Planet recommendation, we lunched at a half-deli-half-restaurant, finishing off our meal with little desserts and a bout of people-watching.
The evening was spent watching Inglorious Basterds alongside cava, chocolate and bread. Not too shabby.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Valencia, part one: Plumbing the Scents of Spanish Street Art

Valencia, Spain (Valencia, España)
December 2015
On our way to Valencia we drove through a town called Elche, known for its palm groves that date back to Phoenician rule. Sadly, it was not only Monday but also a public holiday, so everywhere we tried to visit was doubly closed. As we drove, we enjoyed seeing the tall palm trees towering above us, but were unable to enter any gardens. 
Arriving into Valencia, we checked into our accommodation and settled in for the evening. On TV we found a channel devoted to tarot card reading and attempted to discern the fortunes being told. Once tired of that, we flicked onto a sports channel that was airing a 'hand soccer' game between Spanish and Russian teams. Blitznova was too good for even Peña to overcome and Spain lost. Then I found Castel! Castle dubbed into Spanish is one of the best things in life. We finished the evening with dinner and cava followed by Burn After Reading and Finding Nemo.

In the morning we went in search of a bakery. The atmosphere was wonderful, with church bells ringing all over the city and intriguing graffiti on every wall. The bells were tolling because it was the feast day of the immaculate conception of Mary. Pastries in hand, we returned to our AirBNB to zumo wrestle and have breakfast. 

With no specific plan for the day, we decided to go out and get lost, which is a great way to explore a city as you stumble across places you may not ordinarily. We quickly felt that we liked the vibe of Valencia. It seemed laid-back, with people wandering about chatting to each other and busy cafés and bars spilling out over the footpath with daily specials scrawled on chalkboards.
At one point we edged around a group of people clogging the footpath who seemed to be on a street art walking tour. I bet there are fantastic ones we didn't stumble across, and I imagine some of the pieces have interesting back stories. That's one tour I'd consider going on.

The one thing that didn't agree with us was the smell of excrement. Every few steps, a waft of sewerage would wash over you and we didn't acclimatise to it the whole week we were there. Also, nobody would pick up after their dogs and horse-drawn carriages compounded the problem. Not only dogs but people too would urinate wherever they liked, which meant all over the streets. Unfortunately the sewery smell had seeped into our apartment and we had to air it out for a while every time we returned. The building was old, so we theorised that there may have been some problem with the plumbing.

At some point in our strolling we found a fountain with an anatomically suspect sculpture in the middle. Doktor Johnston investigated the scene, and presented the evidence: many oranges were floating in the giant scallop shell, yet no orange trees hung over the fountain. Therefore, people must have thrown them in, maybe in a kind of wishing ritual that didn't include coins.

Our feet had grown tired so we relaxed in our smellhouse for a while before venturing out again for dinner. Our first two choices were shut, so we turned down a few alleys until we found a suitable choice. It was a vegetarian restaurant, and Yannick had the stuffed peppers while I was more adventurous and ordered vegetable mousse. Comprised of mousse made from spinach, turnip and pumpkin, it was very tasty but lost points because it was all the same texture.
Using our city map and Lonely Planet guide, we marked out some sights to see the next day and slept deeply. 

Today's post was almost called: Olé-factory Delights (or 'For Poo the Bells Toll')