Tuesday, November 4, 2014

VALENCIA-Amazing Architecture, Amazing food & wine!

My first stop was Valencia, home of paella. The first glimpse of amazing architecture was the train station, a very interesting design that continued with the government building in the plaza d’ayuntamente. The entire town is filled with architectural marvels that were evident after taking the hop on –hop off bus tour of the city. The America’s Cup, held in Valencia in 2007, has given the city a new marina and livened up the beach area with bars, restaurants and hotels. The city is a kind of summer, beachy kind of place. The beach is about a 30 minute ride from the city centre by local bus which is always good fun. The beach sand is very soft and water very warm and the weather can’t be better for soaking up the summer sun.
Later I walked a bit more, within the old city walls of Valencia with my guide Manuel from Tourism Valencia (with his amazing sense of humour he made the whole trip a lot of fun), there are dozens of old churches all stunning in their own right.
In the centre of all is the Cathedral Basilica Metropolitana de Santa Maria or the Valencia Cathedral. Founded in the 13th century, it incorporates several architectural styles (its exterior is mostly Gothic but the main entrance is lavishly Baroque), and houses a large number of artistic and religious treasures. One of those treasures is said to be the original Holy Grail of the last supper which has a long history. The Cathedral was gorgeous with its bright blue domes. The Holy Grail cup is kept behind the glass but it was definitely worth a visit.
The first thing I did the next morning was a detailed trip to Mercado central with my new guide Amaya (very warm with an in-depth knowledge of everything) in search of jamon and paella pans. The market is known to have a surface area of over 8,000 square meters with over one thousand selling posts and is full of radiant stalls run by local vendors with fresh produce from near and around. In a section on the far side of the market are all the fish stalls with sea-food laid out on beds of ice. Fresh seafood is delivered here every single day. Interestingly the original paella Valenciana does not contain any seafood as it originates from the nearby marshes. Authentic paella consists of rice, saffron, garlic, chicken and rabbit.
As you stroll through the scores of stalls, it is impossible not to be impressed by the selections displayed right in front of your eyes. One can find everything from fresh fruits and meat to a paella pan that serves up to a hundred people. It certainly provides a unique glimpse into the culture and flavours of the city. Tasting an Olive from a vendor or a sweet and juicy orange juice are unforgettable experiences. Obviously one cannot bring home the fresh fruits and vegetables but the Bomba rice (heirloom variety), the spices, and the special pans for making paella are delicious reminders of your trip to carry back with you.
Next took a cab ride till the ‘city of Arts and science’. It was developed by Santiago Calatrava and is an impressive collection of architecture, science and culture. It’s composed of an opera house, IMAX Cinema, Planetarium, Laserium, Garden, Science museum, and an oceanographic park.
The park turned out to be really stupendous, instead of a large building it was housed in a few different buildings. Some were connected underground by huge tunnels filled with fish, sharks, and other sea life. The park is set up like a real underwater city where one is introduced into the different marine habitats so that they can see many different species in their faithfully reproduced natural surroundings. The entire layout seemed like a cleaner and more modern Sea World! There was also a Dolphin show wherein one of the closest Bottlenose Dolphin in the group showed us the backside of his body with a closed blowhole as he kept his nose underwater. Buy a ticket for the Hemispheric too (an original building in the shape of a human eye) for a better deal! For a lunch break try a hamburger joint or fine dine at the submarine restaurant. Back to the Hotel, contended I ate some Paella for dinner and slept well to catch the early morning cruise to Ibiza.
VISA & CURRENCY- Indians require a Schengen Visa to enter Spain and the currency used is the Euro.

MUST DO: Dine at Casa Gijon a family restaurant, Shop at El Corte Ingles, 

Taste original healthy & refreshing Valencian drink ‘Horchata’ at the traditional ‘Horchateria El Siglo’, founded in 1836,

Visit the Bioparc, Visit Albufera lake where the Valencian rice is grown and do not miss a Paella lunch at Finca l’ Estall from Rice Tartana.

published in Travel Span

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