Lladro – a visit to the City of Porcelain

Lladro - not just Grandma's porcelain
Lladró (pronounced “YAH-drow”) is a design house which has been creating coveted works of high porcelain since 1953. The company was founded by three brothers whose combined passion for porcelain has led to the genesis of a ceramic sculpture empire. You may recognize the name Lladro from a friend’s collection, from their stores in major cities across the world, or from browsing your parents’ or grandma’s mantle. That’s not to say “porcelain is for old people,” it’s just that it’s expensive, and perhaps an acquired taste.

A taste I had not acquired.

I was planning a trip to Valencia, Spain and I learned that it was home to Lladro’s infamous “City of Porcelain,” where all their works are designed and created. I decided to go check it out. Why not? Perhaps I could gain an appreciation for something new. The truth is, I didn’t get porcelain figurines. There. I said it. I thought of them as being unnecessarily feminine and dated.

Then I went to the City of Porcelain.

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It’s not so much a city as it is a complex, which has, among other things, an impressive pyramid-like structure where the designers work, a swimming pool, and a serene and humble workshop where the artisans make their magic. If you go for a visit like I did, you can actually tour the workshop — but no photos are allowed, as they must protect their trade secrets. I can’t provide you with pictures, but here’s what I learned about the creation of Lladro porcelain:

A sculpture is first created in clay, then a plaster mold for each piece of it is made. The molds are filled with liquid porcelain, then set aside to harden. Molds are used a maximum of 25 times to ensure that each sculpture is perfect. Using liquid porcelain as adhesive, the pieces from the molds are assembled with artful precision into their designed forms. In the case of complex forms like flowers, they must be assembled petal by petal (or tiny piece by tiny piece).

Next, they are painted. The pigments used to paint the sculptures are transparent, and develop later in the kiln, so the artists tint them (so they can see where they’ve painted). This means you’ll see oddly painted figurines in hot pinks and watery purples; that color is only there to help the painter color inside the lines and isn’t necessarily indicative of the final color at all. After painting the larger portions of the sculptures, facial features are painted, using a mixture of pigment and porcelain, giving extra definition and depth to the eyes, eyebrows and mouth. As I watched the simple act of a woman painting a perfect eyebrow, I began to have a new respect for porcelain.
A Lladro face
After the women assemble and paint the figurines (only women have ever done this role at Lladro), they are fired in the kiln at about 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit, and they shrink about 15%. The pieces are left to cool for 12 hours. And that’s how porcelain is made.

It’s a fascinating process to watch. So much could go wrong, and every single person who handles the items has to be a truly superior craftsperson or they would wreck someone else’s work. After seeing how the porcelain sculptures are made, it was a treat to walk around the showroom and see all the incredible pieces, some of which are so complex, it takes weeks for a whole team of artists to make them.

Lladro is continuing to step up their game by allowing hot young designers to collaborate with them on pieces for special collections. Check out the gallery above for some of the amazing works of art Lladro has created with the other designers, as well as some stunners from their own collections. You might be surprised at how modern and wonderful they are!

Read more about Valencia here!

[Photos by Annie Scott.]

This trip was sponsored by Cool Capitals and Tourismo Valencia, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100 percent my own.

Five things to eat in Valencia, Spain

Eat in Valencia
Valencia, Spain is a beautiful place to be and a wonderful place to eat. From the fresh produce markets to the chic restaurants, you’ll have no trouble finding all manner of delicious cuisine, but if you want to know what you should definitely eat in Valencia, look no further.

Five things to eat in Valencia, Spain

1. Oranges

Obviously, in Valencia, you should eat Valencian oranges. In fact, go to Central Market and you can indulge in all manner of terrifically fresh and flavorful produce. Don’t try to eat an orange off a tree in the city; they may look pretty, as you can see above, but they taste sour. Head out to an orange grove if you must pick your own oranges.

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[Photos by Annie Scott.]

Read more about Valencia here!

This trip was sponsored by Cool Capitals and Tourismo Valencia, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100 percent my own.

What to pack in a carry on – ten things Gadling readers actually use

What to packSo, you’ve got yourself the ultimate carry on for your upcoming air travel. Now, you have to figure out what to pack in it.

For those of us who check a bag, it can be hard to decide what, exactly, to bring on the plane with us. Valuables and documents are a must, for safety, but do you really need that computer cable? Do you need Bandaids? Did you splurge on a stupid gadget you’ll never use? Traveling light is key; it’s no fun lugging a full, heavy carry on around. We asked our readers on Facebook what they actually use during their flights. Take a look at this list before you overpack and weigh yourself down.

Ten things Gadling readers actually use from their carry ons:

1. Kindle – Marsha, Christine, Martha and Max

2. Book and/or magazine – Saadia, Amy, Karen, Despina, Norma and Nicole

3. Noise canceling or other headphones – Christine, Arun, Norma and Shelby4. Knitting – two Nicoles

5. Hand sanitizer or wet wipes – Candace, Saadia, Karen and Anna

6. Lotion – Saadia, Amy, Arun, and Karen

7. Neck pillow – Stephen and Norma

8. Contact lens gear – Max

9. Music device – Stephen, Arun, Despina, Martha, Ben and Max

10. Snacks or gum – Norma and Shelby

So. When you look at that carry on bag and wonder where to start, put in your valuables and documents, then take a look at the list above. Don’t cram it full in dire fear of boredom, and don’t worry about “emergency” stuff like Bandaids. They have those on the plane, you know.

What else do you use? Want to join in the conversation? Visit the Gadling Facebook page!

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Photo by ahhhnice via Flickr.

Night at the Valencia Aquarium – Videos and More

Oceanografic, the Valencia Aquarium
It was a dark and stormy night when I visited the Valencia Aquarium, The Oceanografic in the outlandish City of Arts and Sciences complex. No really, it was dark and stormy. When I arrived at around 6 PM, the sun had set, and it was raining intermittently. I was cold and worn out and definitely ready for a couple of hours of underwater magic.

The Oceanografic closes at 8, but I had a 9 PM reservation at L’Oceanografic Submarino Restaurant, a suprising gem hidden beneath the strange, intriguing building above at the right (designed by Felix Candela to resemble a water lily). I figured I’d arrive at 6 and kill the hour in between, not realizing that meant I’d be visiting an aquarium in the dark. Had I known that many of the exhibits are outdoors, or that natural light illuminates some of the enclosures, I’m not sure I would have chosen to visit at night, but I did — and I’m glad. There was an esoteric thrill to the ambience. As people poured out of the last dolphin show holding jackets over their heads to stay dry, I couldn’t help but feel like I was participating in some kind of secret aquarium lock-in. And, the other-worldly atmosphere of the restaurant at the end of the evening felt all the more exclusive.

The Oceanografic has to be one of the finest aquariums I’ve seen anywhere. It’s beautifully, artistically designed, and I never felt like I was in a preschool, which is what aquariums often feel like to me. Let’s start with a video of one of the most wonderful sights at the Oceanografic: the jellyfish (be sure and select the HD option!).

I’m partial to the jellyfish, but wouldn’t want to underrepresent the aquarium’s other precious marine inhabitants (of which there are over 45,000). Here’s a quick tour of some of the highlights:

The Valencia Oceanografic, which opened in 2002, is the largest aquarium in Europe at 360,892 square feet. It is a center both for education and for research, and has already been privy to over 100 animal births. The aquarium is divided into 10 sections, with 80 percent of the exhibits underground.

There are several restaurants at the aquarium, and one opens up for dinner at 9 PM: Submarino. That’s where I headed, slightly drenched, after killing the in-between hour in the nearby mall, for what turned into a lavish, decadent dinner of inspired modern cuisine on my final night in Valencia. The decor was stunning and the circular underground dining area was surrounded by wall-to-wall windows into an enormous tank of palometa, swimming counter-clockwise all around.

Check out the gallery for images of the amazing Submarino restaurant, and some more of the terrific marine animals the Oceanografic has to offer.

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Read more about Valencia here!

[Photos and video by Annie Scott.]

This trip was sponsored by Cool Capitals and Tourismo Valencia, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100 percent my own.

Top ten cutest residents of the Valencia Bioparc

Valencia Bioparc - lemurs in trees!The zoo in Valencia, Spain, known as Bioparc Valencia, is full of wonderful animals in deluxe, non-depressing enclosures. You’ll find it on the western border of the city, easily reachable by bus or subway (you’ll have to walk about 15-20 minutes if you take the subway).

Bioparc Valencia is a new zoo which opened in March 2008, and its philosophies include sustainable design, scientifically-created habitats to ensure the well-being of the animals, specialized animal care provided by teams of both biologists and veterinarians and a concept called zoo-immersion for guests. Zoo-immersion means that when you enter an area of the zoo, which is divided into geographical ecosystems (currently only the African savannah is open, but Southeast Asia and the Neotropics are next), you will be surrounded by vegetation and landscaping appropriate to the animals you’re viewing, and in some cases, like with the ring-tailed lemurs, you’ll be inside an enclosure with the animals. The lemurs run all around their habitat, jumping over your head and crossing your path like cats.

And that brings us to #1 of our Top Ten Cutest Residents of the Valencia Bioparc: lemurs in trees (above and below)!

Cutest residents #1 through #4 are included in the video above. Here are the rest:

5. Blue butt monkey

Valencia Bioparc - blue butt monkey

So you like a cute blue-footed booby. How do you feel about a blue butt monkey? I feel pretty good about him.

6. Kirk’s dik-dik

Valencia Bioparc - Kirk's dik-dik

This little antelope is only about knee-high. I’m so jealous of whoever Kirk is. (Kidding.)

7. Ostrich

Valencia Bioparc - ostrich

I get the feeling this ostrich thinks he blends in. He doesn’t. He stood very still and tried as hard as he could to make me think he was a tree, but I totally knew he was an ostrich. All. Along.

8. Rhino (I know)

Valencia Bioparc - rhinoceros

You may point out, and you’d be right, that an animal like a rhinoceros is not normally called “cute,” but this guy’s wrinkly muzzle and his graceful, tri-clump feet are adorable. No? Agree to disagree.

9. Aardvarks in a heart-shape

Valencia Bioparc - aardvarks

I spotted these two aardvark lovers sleeping together in the dark, curled around each other into the perfect shape of a heart. My guide told me that some visitors think aardvarks are ugly, but I think they’re tremendous.

10. The mama and baby hippo

Last, but certainly not least — probably best, in fact — are the mama and baby hippo who love to swim together in an enclosure where you could watch their behavior underwater. Click here to watch the video: Mama hippo and baby hippo swimming together – cutest video ever.

Read more about Valencia here!

[Photos and video by Annie Scott.]

This trip was sponsored by Cool Capitals and Tourismo Valencia, but the ideas and opinions expressed in this article are 100 percent my own.