Published: September 5th 2009August 23rd 2009
After leaving Barcelona, I headed south along the coast to Valencia. I arrived before noon, and headed past the opulent buildings and into the old town known as the Barrio del Carmen where my hostel was located. It was a great hostel with single beds in each room and a beautiful two story atrium and lounge area that was one of the best ones I had ever seen.
I didn’t stay in the hostel long as I was in town for two reasons. The first was to see La Ciudad de las Artas y las Ciencias (CAC), the most famous work of Santiago Calatrava, The second was to try and see the F1 Grand Prix that would be happening their on the weekend.
I started walking through the city and I immediately enjoyed it. The city is the third largest in Spain, home to over one million people, but it has the laid back feel of a much smaller city. I entered the Jardin de Turia, which is a massive park that was built in the dry riverbed of the Turia Rover. The Turia flooded in 1935, and to avoid another disaster, city planners diverted the river
and turned the riverbed into a park. As I was walking along, I came across what has to be even cooler than the Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana. On the pillars at either end of the bridge were half men, half cougar statues with wings. They were really cool.
I continued through the Park until I arrived at my first view of CAC. It took my breath away. I knew the structures were spectacular, but I was not properly prepared for what I saw. For those of you who do not know, let me explain the buildings that compose CAC. There is the Palau de Reina Sofia, which is a concert hall that looks like a Roman soldier’s helmet. There is La Hemispheric, which is an IMAX theatre that looks like a blinking eye. There is the Museo de Ciencias, which looks like the spine of an animal. There is a bridge that looks like is supported by jai alai handle. There is a theatre under construction that will look like a clam shell when completed and there is the Oceanographico, an aquarium that looks like a series of flowers. The whole site comprises CAC and it absolutely breathtaking to
I stood in awe for what seemed like minutes before heading past it, I would come back later, and heading over to the newer part of town near the waterfront where the race-track for the Grand Prix was. I had already had my hopes of somehow seeing it for free dashed, so I went to the ticket booth to see if anything was still available. Seats were actually still available. There was everything from standing for 100 euros to sitting on the start-finish line for 680 euros. I went for a seat that was 250 euros. It was on a fast corner and a straight on the second to last corner before the finish line. I would be able to see each car for just over 8 seconds a lap which, when they are travelling at over 300 km per hour, is actually quite a lot of time.
With my newly purchased ticket in hand, I headed back to CAC to explore it. I bought a combination ticket, and went to the Museo Oceanographico first. It is the largest aquarium in the world, although every aquarium seems to claim this title, and it had tanks with animals
from all over the world. I enjoyed the Red Sea tank, as I had seen many of those animals when I was snorkelling in Jordan many years ago. I also liked the Arctic exhibit, not just because it was air-conditioned (although that was a big plus), but there were Belugas and walruses and it reminded me a lot of home.
I then headed over to the Museo de Ciencias and wandered around there for a while. It reminded me a lot of science world actually. There were a lot of interactive exhibits include one that fascinated me for a while. There was a straight metal bar affixed on a diagonal on the end of a rod and the rod would rotate 360 degrees and the straight metal bar would pass through a curved piece of plastic. I was entertained for a while. I then found the standing jump measuring device. There were a couple of people in front of me, I’d say they were between 6 and 8 at most, who were stationary jumping 0.3-0.6 metres. Well, I got right up there and I did a standing jump of 2.3 metres and put those kids to shame! I then
wandered back to the hostel where I got a great night’s sleep because I wasn’t subject to anyone in an upper bunk tossing and turning.
The next morning I booked my ticket to Madrid and then wandered passed the market, which is the largest in Spain, to the Cathedral. The Cathedral was very disjointed because it composed many different architectural styles. Like much of Spain, Valencia had been under the dominion of the Moors for a long period of time. So originally, the cathedral had been a mosque. There were Muslim domes, now covered with Christian paintings and the tower where the church bell is now located used to be a minaret. I climbed the large steps of the tower (which you now must be big if I’m describing them as “large”), and got to the top just as the massive church bell started chiming for 10 o’clock. I don’t think I had ever been that close to a bell ringing that loudly and I was trying to find some cover, wishing that it was 1 o’clock rather than 10 o’clock. After it stopped ringing, I was glad I was up there as the views were expansive. I could
see from the mountains to the sea, as well as CAC and the Barrio del Carmen. On the way down, there was a lighting system that you could activate so people coming up would receive a red-light at the bottom and have to wait until to reached the bottom to be able to go up the tower.
I kept walking towards the modern part of town and I kept seeing images of bats on man-hole covers and on the sides of buildings. I could not figure out for the life of me why bats were all over everything so I finally asked someone. Apparently, during the Reconquista, the Christian army that was trying to take Valencia from the Moors was consistently defeated during the day but could not travel at night because they did not no where to go. One night, the Christian king had a dream that he was to follow a bat and he would be victorious. He did, and the Christians took the area from the Moors. As a result, a bat is part of the coat of arms of the city.
I got to CAC because I still had a movie included in my
entry ticket. I went to see one on Dinosaurs, not surprisingly, and we wore these visor-like hat things that translated the language for us. Unfortunately, the Spanish ones were not working so they ended the movie after ten minutes and refunded everyone.
I then walked from there over to the Grand Prix and joined everyone putting on sunscreen and hiding in the shade behind the grandstands as it was 35 degrees. Just before the race started, everyone headed for their seats. I saw Bernie Ecclestone on one of the TV screens, but I did not see him in person so I could not throw anything at him! The red lights went out and the race started!!! The sound that the cars make when whizz past is incredible. I kept my ear plugs out for the first lap, just so I could hear the cars before putting them in for the duration of the race which was a good idea as it was louder than any Metallica concert I had been to. The race itself was not the most entertaining because there was not too much over-taking and Barrichello ended up beating Hamilton as a result of a botched pit-stop,
but it was a really cool atmosphere and a great experience. The whole city itself had been caught up in the fervour of the event and there was a tremendous energy in the city. The event was a great experience that I won’t soon forget.
Things I learned in Valencia:
-The two showers a day and two shirts a day rule is in effect in Spain
-Walruses are massive
-El Corte Ingles stores have the best air-conditioning in Spain