Tuesday 23 April 2013

Valencia - and a dedication to a very special lady

Today's blog - the last installment about our recent trip to Spain - is dedicated to Mavis, meso warrior extraordinaire, who heard yesterday that her "Mr Nasty" is growing again. Mavis was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2009, around the same time as Steve.  Together with her husband and carer Ray, we have all been traveling the same journey, albeit at different speeds.  

I know that Mavis enjoys it when people are busy and would love to return to Spain one day, so today's post is dedicated to Mavis and Ray with the hope and expectation that you will both enjoy more happy holidays in Spain and getting out and about in the motor home again before too long.

For the second part of our visit to Spain, we journeyed to Valencia on the Mediterranean coast, traveling on the high speed train from Madrid.  When I say high speed, I'm not joking!  At times we were moving through the countryside at over 300 kph (around 187 mph) which is probably the fastest we have travelled on land without taking off.  

We arrived in Valencia late morning and soon found the stop for the bus to take us to the apartment which would be our base for the next few days.  Our host Laura was waiting at the bus stop to greet us and show us the way to our accommodation, a light, airy and spacious apartment in a modern block to the north of the Turia Gardens, the linear park created on a riverbed after the river itself had been diverted to alleviate flooding.

A (very) welcome pack of food had been provided, so we didn't have to worry about shopping first thing. After a quick unpack and lunch in our new home, we set off to the City of Arts and Sciences - an amazing complex of buildings designed by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava. 

The complex includes a "Palace of the Arts"; the Hemispheric IMAX cinema; an interactive science museum; the Agora multi-functional space; a landscaped walkway called the "Umbracle" and the Oceanografico - the largest aquarium in Europe.  And it's stunning!  I won't try to describe it to you - just look at the pictures...

Palace of Arts

Hemispheric IMAX cinema

Science Museum


We didn't go into any of the buildings that afternoon, just wandered around the outside of the arts centre, cinema and science museum and through the intervening public spaces, looking and taking photos...

It was all a bit much to assimilate in one go so, rather than return to the City of Arts and Sciences straight away, the next morning we walked into the historic core of Valencia, bought our tourist cards, had a look around the cathedral area and wandered back through another part of town to the Turia Gardens where we caught a metro/tram to the coast.

The old port of Valencia was transformed into a new marina when it was chosen to host the Americas Cup in 2007. Sadly many of the buildings constructed at the time for the America's Cup teams have yet to find a new use.  However, the Veles y Vents (Sails and Wind) building which housed the race trophy still stands as an eye catching centre piece.  

Veles y Vent home of the America's Cup race trphy
More recently, the port area was transformed into the Valencia Street Circuit which hosted the F1 European Grand Prix in June 2012.  We had fun following bits of the official track as it meandered in and out of the port buildings!

Luna Rossa F1 Team building
For lunch we headed off to the beach - miles of golden sand backed by bars and restaurants. We chose the Menu del Dia, thinking it would be a modest affair until the food started arriving - a tuna salad, followed by deep fried calamares and fish; mussels; garlic bread with crushed tomatoes, then a huge paella with seafood, chicken and rabbit, all washed down with a bottle of wine.  Too full for a "postre", we settled on coffee to finish.  

Toe dipping in the Med
After lunch, we managed to stagger down to the waters edge and took a symbolic dip in the Med - just toes as the water was far too cold for anything more - before heading back to the port and the bus back into town for another visit to the City of Arts and Sciences.  

This time, we had a quick look inside the public areas of the science museum, watched a photo shoot happening outside, walked round the exterior of the Agora and strolled along under the Umbracle, back to the bus stop home.  

The Umbracle

Science Museum, Agora and bridge

The Agora

After such a huge lunch, all we needed to eat that night was one (in my case) or two (Steve) small tapas in a bar in the historic centre before heading to bed.

We spent our last full day in Valencia at the Oceanografic, first taking in the buildings and small islands in a large lagoon connected by decked walkways, where you can see sea lions ducking and diving, then going inside a huge geodesic dome aviary, where you can wander freely among exotic wetlands species birds.  

The "Submarine" restaurant

After lunch we ventured into the underground aquaria, visiting the Arctic with the beluga whales; the penguins in the Antarctic; the Mediterranean which its huge range of fish and invertibrates; Temperate and Tropical waters and finally the Oceans, with the sharks and rays...

Jelly fish

Steve and shark
Before leaving, we visited the Dolphinarium for an exhibition demonstration.  Neither of us felt very comfortable about watching dolphins perform tricks, but decided to take a look knowing that we could leave at any time.  As well as the main exhibition pool, there are four other pools.  It was reassuring to see that the dolphins in these pools - who were not in the show - were happily leaping in and out of the water and "performing" while the music was playing, even though they were not being rewarded with fish.  

Almost as fascinating to watch was the behaviour of several large groups of Spanish school kids (and their teachers!) jumping up and down in unison to "Moves like Jagger" playing over the loudspeakers as we waited for the show to begin - the sheer energy and exuberance was a joy to behold :-)

We're convinced that some of the same kids were on the plane that took us back to the UK the next day.  It brought smiles to our faces to see them so excited that they broke into spontaneous whoops of joy when we took off and loud applause and cheers when we landed smoothy after a rather bumpy approach to a windy Gatwick airport.  Such zest for life is catching!   

I promised that we would pace ourselves on this holiday - after all, we'd had six months in hibernation over winter while Steve was having chemo.  But if you have the opportunity to enjoy life and have fun, restraint seems to fly out of the window until physical exertion eventually slows you down and you have to take a break.  Until then - move like Jagger, as they say!  

But don't forget to chill some times too, like this little chap, dreaming of ice cream - this image is especially for Louis, Mavis and Ray's dog :-)

Ice cream dreams

I am already thinking about our next trip, but in the meantime there is work to be done...

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