Leaving our rural solitude, we had a transition day filled with much needed jobs. After completing these, we braved the busy motorways around Valencia, skirting the city to the north west to find a comfortable stop in a commercial aire that would allow us to later visit the city. We parked up and settled in, remarking on the lazy simplicity of paying fees and slipping back into full campsite mode, with WCs, showers and WiFi all on tap, rather than the Luddite rural retreats we had been experiencing previously. Both have their special moments and particular advantages, whether cost, convenience or location, so it’s good to alternate between them occasionally. We did nothing all day except drink the welcome sangria and enjoy a chat with neighbours in the afternoon sun.
Valencia – Day 2
We didn’t have the most illustrious of introductions to Valencia. Awaiting our metro train into the centre, we were stuck on a dirty platform in a litter and graffiti-strewn dead end road. Local beggars approached us with a half-hearted attempt to squeeze a euro out of us, then other dubious looking locals, all limping slow and stiff-legged, filled up the platform. Some refused to stand still and await the train, but shuffled constantly back and forth, like scruffy, restless zombies. It was a strange and unsettling scene.
Finally the train arrived and delivered us neatly and efficiently to the old town, in around 25 minutes. We hopped off and walked across the road, first to the square with the Ayuntamiento, the town hall. We had really underestimated the city of Valencia. Even on this grubby, wet day with the dull, constant threat of rain it stood grand and tall, with multi-storied neoclassical and baroque buildings and wide avenues emanating a proud, elegant grandeur. Every direction we looked from here was another row of beautiful, regal buildings, impressive and neatly maintained.
Suitably chastised and now with very little preconceptions, we wandered further, finding more detailed, ornate facades and beautiful churches. We passed through squares framed with orange trees and tall palms, with conical Christmas tree sculptures lighting up the centre. Smaller plazas housed cafes and bars, with many locals still sitting outside. They were wrapped up well to deny the weather and still enjoy their coffees, whilst the warmer seats inside remained empty.
We reached the covered indoor markets, looking very seasonal and busy with trade. The detailed ironwork, stained glass and blue and red tiling lifted the market buildings beyond the functional into an inspiring space to browse stalls. We looked briefly around the cathedral, avoiding the large number of guided groups and roaming gangs of school kids who appeared suddenly, filling the air with noise and impenetrable chat.
Valencia has a wide green river of parkland running through its heart, the Jardín Del Turia, from the safari BioParc in the west to the futuristic Science Park by locally born architect Santiago Calatrava in the east. This calm strip, offering respite from the bustling city, is populated by sports pitches, running and cycling routes and many unique elements, such as a giant prone Gulliver (in Lilliput pose) kid’s play park.
Our key aim was to see the spectacle of the Calatrava buildings of the renowned Science Park. We walked the few kilometres east in the parkland strip from the historic centre. We passed under several bridges, observed many differing installations of sculptures and sports equipment before reaching the glass-fronted house of the Palau De La Musica.
Walking on, we reached the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, the first building in the futuristic series by Calatrava. Here we sat a while and ate lunch, watching the long domed white building, like a squat bird, reflected in the shallow pool in front. A large steel statue of a figurative Neptune rose from the water in front. As we ate the weather visibly brightened and we retained hope of blue skies to help frame the buildings for us.
Up close, the huge domed white enclosure was surfaced with random sized ‘crazy paving’ mosaic tiling, the same finish as the shallow pool walls and public benching within the complex. The effect was impressive over both small areas and large expanses.
We passed the winking eyeball of the Hemisfèric building, so beautifully reflected in the shallow pools. We walked the length of the more angular Museu de les Ciències, marvelling at how the change of angle and perspective affected the look of each building greatly. The parabolic glasshouse with giant tiled stars, called the Umbracle, sat high above the lower walkways down at water level. Two road bridges crossed the Science Park, with similar sculpted, angular supports forming interesting shadows and reflections. Cypress trees set in tiled tree pits lined the pools, adding a level of colour and softness to the white edges.
We walked through the Museu de les Ciències, the only open building in the complex, before exiting at another pool with views across to the dark blue Agora building. Beyond this lay the Oceanogràphic park, a series of smaller buildings housing the largest Aquarium in Europe and no doubt all manner of sea animal related fun. We were just here to look.
We continued our walk into more seedier areas near the harbour and back around to the marina, to get a feel of another side of the city. We passed isolated apartment blocks and overgrown development sites selling dreams to any who would listen. The look here was very different, scruffy and tired, like most cities originally born from ports. The wound of losing heavy industry is a difficult transformation for any city, and takes time to heal. The regeneration of the sea frontage was fortunately underway and the area was, slowly it seemed, being reborn into a desirable residential area.
We had walked nearly ten miles through this city full of surprises, and we were tired from our efforts, yet so glad to have seen so many differing facets of the city. A last quick walk to the nearest metro and we returned contentedly on the same efficient train to our base in the north, for a well earned cup of tea.