|Flags of Spain & Valencia|
|City of Arts and Sciences|
The old town
|Northern edge of Plaza del Ayuntamiento|
This plaza couldn’t be a better introduction to the city, what with its tall, white Modernista buildings, colorful Valencian flags, and palm trees.
|La Lonja, the silk exchange|
A few steps across the street is the silk exchange (La Lonja de la Seda in Spanish, La Llotja in Catalan). This glorious Gothic building dates from the 1400s and represents the high point of the city’s prosperity; until the discovery of the Americas, Valencia, like Venice, was one of the key ports on East-West trading routes. Inside, grooved pillars twist like threads, and the whole exterior is decorated with squat pointy arches and stone crowns.
|Lantern tower of Valencia’s cathedral|
Oh, and the Holy Grail is kept in one of the cathedral’s chapels. Sorry, I couldn’t resist—it’s actually what is believed to be the Holy Chalice (Santo Cáliz), or cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper. The relic, after hiding out in the northern Iberian peninsula for hundreds of years, resurfaced in the late Middle Ages and came to Valencia, where it has remained since the early 1400s. The other three competing relics don’t seem very legit compared to the Valencian one, so it’s quite possible this might be the real deal—especially since there’s no wild legends attributed to it. The Holy Grail is a separate medieval tradition about a cup that supposedly caught the blood of Jesus as he died on the cross. Said cup may or may not have been the same one used at the Last Supper.
|Plaza de la Virgen, seen from the Miguelete belltower|
City of Arts and Sciences
Going from northwest to southeast, you encounter one stunning feat of modern architecture after another. The Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía (“Queen Sofía Arts Palace”) is Valencia’s opera house, and just as iconic as that of Sydney, Australia. Although my initial thoughts were, the mothership has landed, the “palace” also reminded me of a giant, hulking pillbug scurrying down the riverbed.
|Hemisfèric, science museum, bridge, and Àgora|
|Fancy restaurant at the aquarium|
Nearby, the Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe (“Prince Felipe Science Museum”) is a three-story, uh, science museum with a bright white
|Obligatory fish picture from the aquarium|
The blade-like, indigo Àgora is a “covered plaza” (Wikipedia’s words) used for sporting events, concerts, and conventions. It takes its name from the ancient Greek public space that was used for trade and gatherings.
|Up-close-and-personal Scarlet ibis|
My favorite part of the whole aquarium wasn’t the fish, though, but a wire dome encasing the wetlands sections. Although the exhibit was built ostensibly to showcase water-based life in marshes and swamps, the birds inside steal the show. Fire-engine red Scarlet ibises and soft pink Roseate Spoonbills hang out among the trees and roots and let you get within inches (yes) of them, making for fun photo opportunities and a great way to learn about and appreciate nature.
|Hortxata & fartons at Horchatería Santa Catalina|
|Paella de mariscos (seafood paella)|
|Street art depicting making paella|
(Side-note: paella is NOT Spain’s national dish, but instead a point of pride for people from the region of Valencia. Tortilla de patatas (potato omelet) or jamón (cured ham) would be more appropriate contenders for a national dish.)
What big cities do you feel deserve more attention on the tourist trail? Have you been or are planning to visit Valencia? Comment below!
For more pictures, check out my set on Flickr here.