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Trip Report ¡QUE VIVA VALENCIA! Wandering and Eating amidst the Orange Blossoms

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I returned last week from an absolutely stellar 11-night visit to Spain, split between four nights in Valencia and 7 in Barcelona. The original plan was to rendezvous in Barcelona with a friend who is living in London.
Realizing that Valencia was just a couple of hours away by train, we decided to extend our trip with a visit to Spain’s third-largest city, where I had spent a long-ago summer enrolled in a Spanish-language course. We were helped immeasurably with the Valencia portion of our trip by Valenciana Linda Casanova, who enhanced our visit to an astounding degree during the day we spent with her touring the city and environs. Mil gracias, Linda!

I flew from JFK to Valencia via Madrid; it is always a joy to connect in Barajas, as the visually glorious airport, while vast, is extremely well marked. Just prepare for long walks if you are arriving from the US!

Those seated in the window seats were treated to a breathtaking view of the city and the Albufuera lagoon on the descent into the streamlined modern Valencia airport. A taxi to my hotel cost me 22 euro plus a 5-euro airport supplement. (My friend later paid 14 euro plus the 5-euro supplement so perhaps I was overcharged)

After much deliberation, we opted to share a room at the Westin Hotel, a block or so from the Jardines del Turia, the necklace of parkland that occupies the former riverbed, and about a 15-minute walk to the historic district. Our room, #167 on the first floor (second floor in US terms), was large and comfortable. The three-story structure, which encloses a central courtyard shaded with palms and blossoming orange trees, began life as a wool factory in 1917 and has undergone several reinventions since then. Including a stint as a police and fire station in the Franco era. It opened as a hotel in 2006. Through the hotel website, we were able to secure an advance booking rate of 119 euro per night.
Although I had some issues with the service, we were pleased with our selection of this hotel.

http://www.westinvalencia.com/




I arrived about 10am and, after an early check-in, opted for a swim in the hotel swimming pool, located in the basement and part of a full-service spa and health club. There is a 10-euro charge to use the pool and work-out room, as they belong to an outside concession. After my swim, I set out to explore the immediate environs of the hotel. One fantastic feature of the neighborhood is the public Piscina de Valencia swimming pool complex across the street, and I vowed to use this daily for the length of our stay. The day was sunny and clear, and the orange blossoms were in full flower, and I felt exhilarated to be back in Spain!

My friend arrived about 2pm and we set out to explore the city. During this, and other days, we were more interested in wandering and soaking up the city’s considerable charm than visiting museums. We also spent an inordinate amount of time at food markets, including the Mercado Central, which ranks with the most glorious food markets that I have EVER visited (and I have visited a LOT of food markets!) , with a vastness that puts even Barcelona’s vaunted La Boqueria to shame. But I am getting head of myself here…..


We walked from the hotel, across the graceful span of the Alameda Bridge, designed by Architect Santiago Calatrava, a Valenciano who has left his indelible stamp on this gracious city not only with this graceful bridge but with the nearby City of Arts and Sciences complex:

http://www.arcspace.com/architects/calatrava/camino_moreras/



http://www.calatrava.com/


Our first stop in the old city was at Horchateria El Siglo. Just off the stately Plaza de la Reina, this atmospheric café, one of many dedicated to one of Valencia’s signature drinks (the other being, perhaps, orange juice), has been dispensing its signature beverage since 1836. Horchata, a refreshing, creamy concoction made from a base chufa, or tiger nuts, which were introduced to Spain by the Arabs and can be found at all of the city’s good markets. Sugar, water and cinnamon complete the recipe. We both loved it!

http://www.chufa.com/horchata_de_chufa.htm

We also peeked into a another nearby horchateria, Santa Caterina, which is larger and perhaps even more atmospheric than El Siglo. The adjacent pasteleria offers a vast array of local treats, to whose quality we both can attest. The meringues, and the coca, a flat, layered bread that is available in sweet and savory versions and to which I would become addicted during this trip, are both astounding. These two establishments derive their name from the 17th-Century hexagonal Tower of Santa Caterina.

We began to get cricks in our necks during our ambles, as the architecture in Valencia is just outstanding! We were both swept away by the panoply of beautiful buildings and, later in the trip, I could not help but compare the sparkling facades of Valencia with those of Barcelona, that appeared almost grimy by comparison. Valencia is truly a beautiful city. I will not delve into detail here about what we saw, except to point out a couple of highlights. Suffice to say that the city deserves at least three full days. We had four and did not even begin to plumb its riches.

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