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Touring Valencia City with a Rented Car – Jun 18, Thu
I normally enjoy driving a great deal but on this second day, with this rented left-hand drive manual Opel, inside the hotel’s garage, as I watched the gate slowly opened up ahead of the ramp, strong daylight flooded into the dark garage, I said to myself: Here we go again.
Back in Singapore, when the roads are mostly wide, I wouldn’t pay too much attention if I am driving right in the middle of the road at all time (though I am pretty sure I do). Half a meter off the center is seldom an issue. But in Spain, it is. I have no clue why I was struggling with that. Maybe I wasn’t used to the left-hand drive. And guess what happened when I returned to Singapore? That’s right, I have momentarily lost the middle-of-the-road-calibration again! Gasp!
I wonder if Russ Swift could do what he did had he switched to a left-hand drive car instead.
While staying in the middle of the road was still a challenge, I also realized the drive was somewhat uncomfortable. Maybe something to do with my gear-changing timing. Soon I realized that I was driving this small rented car like my 2-litre car in Singapore. Once I went easy on the acceleration, the drive was a lot smoother (duh!). Good thing does come out from this. I now become more patience with the small vehicles on the road. Happy to close this empathy gap of mine.
City drive continued to be somewhat frustrating. It was red lights after red lights. Perhaps I am used to the green-wave in Singapore. Continued to be somewhat expensive – an average of 2€ an hour for parking and the petrol is more expensive than where I come from (which is perhaps the most expensive place for petrol in the region). Continued to be somewhat confusing. Last evening, it took us a long time to reach the car park at Colón. Today, we have decided to park at the outskirt of the old town of Valencia. Turned out to be a good decision as nearly all the tourist spots are within walking distance. As we emerged from the car park, right next to Plaza Porta de la Mar (picture below), I saved the GPS location into my phone. Just in case.
National Museum of Ceramic (Museo Nacional de Cerámica)
For the past few days, I was very much at the back seat of the tour planning activity. I let Cynthia did all the hard work. Increasingly, I felt that I should be more actively participating in what-shall-we-do-today (duh!). So I did. [Under my command,] we headed straight into the Tourist Information Center and I inquired for a list of all the must-see-spots in Valencia, a list of good-to-visit-spots-if-you-have-time, the one spot of where all the good restaurants are, and a list of what-to-see-around-Valencia-if-you-have-a-car. I am a man. Tell me the spots and I will hit them. I am efficient. And I want maximum return.
The National Museum of Ceramic came highly recommended. I would recommend the same too. It is huge inside, with a wide collection of ceramic products and artworks.
When we reached the museum, we were told that it would be closing in an hour’s time. The lunch break in Spain is long. Enough time for the guards to go home and take a nap. We have completed our tour within an hour. The museum has a good range of exhibition. Certainly more than just ceramic. I personally love the paintings on the ceiling a lot, as you can see in the photo album of that day. Just a bit of technicality here, some of the shots took me a few attempts to get the exposure right. Because the light source underneath the paintings could be too overpowering for the overall composition.
Catedral de Valencia and Basílica de la Virgen de los Desamparados
What is a Spanish city tour without visiting the Cathedrals and the Basilicas? So we did. Catedral de Valencia is beautiful. We read that the Church was converted into a Mosque and then converted back into a Church in the course of history. In fact, this happened to quite a number of Churches in Spain. That explains cross-influence of how the structures were built over time.
I have to admit that not all the audio guides are worth renting in Spain. But it does for this Cathedral. We would have missed the bell tower. It was breathtaking on the top overlooking the city of Valencia – the third largest city in Spain. The staircase to the top has a traffic light system. Because of the narrow passageway, it is a one-way human traffic.
We were surprised that at the top of the bell tower, there was hardly a soul. And we enjoyed the serenity. We welcome the gentle breeze, the blue sky, and while I was taking photos of the city, Cynthia was patiently waiting right under the shadow of the bell. At one point, the bell rang. It was loud!
After our visit to the Cathedral, we have visited the Basilica next door. Too bad, no photo is allowed inside the Basílica de la Virgen de los Desamparados even without flash. I find it hard to remember a tourist spot without images of some forms. In my next trip, I would bring along a sketchbook to document what I see. Meanwhile, here is my recollection based on a note written with my phone.
The main altar area was cosy, compares to the Cathedral we have visited moments ago. On the right was a small chapel where we paused and prayed. A staircase leading to another chapel on the second level. The chapel was elaborately decorated in gold. Mother Mary was at the throne with baby Jesus in her arms looking down from Heaven. There was a dove above her, and four angels looking at her from below. Magnificent piece of artwork. We sat down at the bench, admiring the imagery while we prayed. Before long, an old priest entered, sat in front, and spoke into the microphone.
Uh-oh. Shall we leave or shall we stay?
So we walked right into a Rosary session. And Cynthia was happy to stay on. It is hard to walk away from a prayer session that happens right in front of our faces, even when we are on a holiday (and it happened again on another day in Spain!). The Rosary was in Spanish. But since all the Catholics prayers are standardized globally, we were able to follow the rest of the worshipers in English. Half an hour must have passed, as we meditated on the Rosary.
La Lonja and Museo de Bellas Artes
Visiting the Cathedral and the Basilica took longer that what I had anticipated (I was in the driving seat for the tour planning for today, remember?). Time to make a run to “La Lonja” – an ancient commodities exchange center, something different from the religious buildings we have visited thus far.
As I walked from one hall to another, inside La Lonja, I couldn’t help but to imagine I was brought back in time, whereby this place was so full of people, shouting at one another, to exchange goods, and to socialize. I am pretty sure our future generation would visit our financial exchanges one day and think the same.
After the visit to La Lonja, Cynthia navigated through the small roads of Valencia at ease, using the tourist city map, and we reached our car park with no sweat. Close to 8 hours, we have parked; 15€, it cost us; daylight robbery, it was.
We were literally racing to the Museum of Fine Art, at the northeastern edge of the old town. The day of summer may be long in this part of Spain. But the museums do have closing hours. Another frustration of driving in Spain is that back in this part of the world, Australia included, there are car parks right next to a tourist spot. But there are none in most of the places we visited in Spain. We circled the Museum of Fine Art and couldn’t find a parking slot. The clock was ticking. We had become desperate.
We had found a small parking area right next the museum. It was full, as expected. Street parking lots in Spain are perpetually full, we realized. The road into the tiny parking area was, not surprisingly small, not surprisingly busy. I had such a hard time making a U-turn inside and eventually we parked our car right next to someone’s house. I tried so many attempts to get as close to the building as I could until one old man opened his window and stared at me. Sorry sir. It was really hard to park at the roadside of such a tiny road!
The Museum of Fine Art (Museo de Bellas Artes) has two partitions – the permanent wing and the temporary wing. 1 hour before the closing hour (sounds familiar?), we attacked the area systematically [under my supreme leadership]!
Lesson learned is: Always visit the temporary wing of a museum first. The artwork is usually of a higher value. By temporary it really means an exhibition tour by a modern and at times, living artist. Inside the permanent wing, so many artworks were inspired by Christianity. So many. Cynthia was so amazed and she asked, “How do you appreciate art?”
Very good question. I am not a frequent museum goer as much as I wish to. If I was to live in France, I would visit the Louvre every month for sure. But in this part of the world, quality artwork is rare. And art appreciation takes practice, especially for non-art trained people like me. I personally appreciate art that talks to me more than anything else. And I appreciate art that I can understand or begin to understand (like Cubism). I also observe the technique involved, especially the type that I can relate. I am not a detail artist. And I value emotion and genuine expression of feeling over details.
A Very Nice Dinner
If you visit Valencia one day, you really should dine along Calle Caballeros – a street that is near to Plaza Tosal at the northwest of the city. There were so many eating places and we have picked a fusion restaurant at one quiet corner of a side-street. We were early in Spanish standard and we chose a seat outside the restaurant overlooking an open area. A long table was prepared for a party I reckon. And soon, the party arrived. All women, all well-dressed, all having a good time.
I wish I had the N97 with me when we were at that restaurant. A Spanish dictionary would be useful. Nevertheless, we did our best to order the set dinner. “What is this?” I asked in English. The server spoke in Spanish to Cynthia (who obviously did a lot better in the language department) and he turned to me and said, “Food from the sea, food from the sea!”. OK, I would like to have “food from the sea” as the starter.
It was an Octopus dish, in a beautifully delicious orange looking source. Street musicians played music to the party of all women and the servers were busy taking care of a table of easily more than 20. Wine bottles were opened constantly, at that table. When we managed to get the attention of the server, we order our desserts. “You really enjoy the food,” said Cynthia with a smile.
Yes I did.
Check out Saint Miquel at Plaça Sant Miquel, 13. Postal code is 46003 in Valencia. The number to call – if you can speak Spanish – is 96 392 31 29. It is one restaurant we would revisit should we have the opportunity to visit Valencia again.
Tomorrow, we might spend the morning in Valencia. Or we might head directly to another town. According to our plan, we had one night to stay outside Madrid. We would decide where when tomorrow came.
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PS. Thank your for reading our journal and feel free to drop a comment or two. You may wish to view our photo collection for day 5 too.