Valencia: Spain’s Third City Offers Culture And Cuisine

Valencia
Sean McLachlan

There’s a well-worn tourist trail in Spain: Madrid for the art, Barcelona for the nightlife and the Costa del Sol for the beaches. All of these are great, but there are plenty of other spots that often slip under the radar. Valencia, for example, gets plenty of tourists from Europe yet seems to not get so many Americans. I hardly saw any in the past three days.The Yanks need to reconsider because there’s a huge amount of history and culture to experience. Valencia on Spain’s Mediterranean coast has been a center of industry and the arts for more than 2,000 years. Founded by the Romans in the second century B.C., it soon became one of the leading cities on the Iberian Peninsula. In the Middle Ages it had a diverse population of Christians, Muslims and Jews who managed to get along most of the time despite the near-constant warfare between Muslims and Christians that ravaged the peninsula and made the city change hands several times.

Sad to say, this harmony was not to last. Everyone in the Jewish community was kicked out or forced to convert during a Christian riot in 1391. The success of the Reconquista in 1492 spelled the beginning of the end for the Muslim community. Their legacy lives on in the city’s art and architecture.

Valencia’s historic center is an architectural jewel with its winding medieval streets, old palaces and churches, and countless little shops and cafes. Here you’ll find the 13th century Valencia Cathedral, which claims to have the Holy Grail on display. This little agate cup is said to date to the first century B.C., although the ornamentation around it is clearly medieval. The story goes that St. Peter took it to Rome after the Crucifixion and it was in the possession of the first 23 popes before it was sent to Spain to keep it safe from persecuting Romans.

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To see the cup itself, check out the Holy Grail Chapel just to the right of the entrance. It’s displayed in surprisingly modest surroundings although that will change if the current Mayor of Valencia, Rita Barberá, has her way. She wants to get UNESCO World Heritage status for the cup, make a large showroom for it, and dub Valencia “the city of the Holy Grail.” Hey, it worked for Turin. Relic hunters will also not want to miss the preserved arm of San Vicente.

You can make a grand entrance to the historic center via one of the two medieval gates, each flanked by a pair of towers. The Torres de Quart are pockmarked by the bombardment they received during the War of Independence against Napoleonic occupation in 1808. The more ornate and less abused Torres de Serranos overlook the Turia riverbed. The river was diverted in the 1950s and now the riverbed is a long, green park that makes for a shaded avenue through the heart of the city.

Summer in Valencia is scorching, so it’s a good idea to take shelter in one of the city’s many museums. Museum junkies will feel at home here. There are dozens of museums on seemingly every subject. The most outstanding one is the City of Arts and Sciences. This ultramodern complex includes the largest marine park in Europe, a huge science museum, concert hall, IMAX cinema and greenhouse.

The Valencian Museum of Enlightenment and Modernity offers a constantly changing set of temporary (and free!) exhibitions. Right now they’re having exhibitions on witchcraft, Siberian shamanism, and photographs from turn-of-the-century Russia. Budget travelers will also want to check out the many other free museums: the Museum of Fine Arts, with its collections of Goya, Sorolla and many other Spanish artists linked with Valencia; the Military Historical Museum; the Prehistoric Museum; and the Ethnographic Museum, among others.

For a rundown of all of them, check out this list of top museums in Valencia, art museums, and more obscure museums – and I do mean obscure. There’s a Rice Museum, and a Tin Soldier Museum that boasts the largest collection of little tough guys in the world.

Valencia has a distinct regional culture. Many locals here speak Valencian, which depending on who you ask is either a dialect of Catalan or its own language. It’s sufficiently close to Castilian, in that this Castilian speaker can mostly understand it, although there are occasional words that are completely different. In any case, signs are generally both in Valencian and Castilian, and often in English too.

When not hiding in a beautiful church or interesting museum, you can keep in the shade by wandering the little streets of the historic quarter. There are plenty of little restaurants and cafes to keep you fueled. Eating and drinking in Valencia offers a regional variation on the Spanish theme too, but that deserves an article of its own, so stay tuned for that tomorrow!

Tin Soldier Museum in Valencia

Tin Soldier MuseumValencia, Spain is home to the Tin Soldier Museum, Museo L’Iber, the world’s largest collection of tin soldiers (they have over 80,000). They have tin dinosaurs, tin designer fashions, tin Iraq war scenes and tin royalty. The museum is actually an amazing historical resource, as important political and international scenes from across the ages are set up and portrayed as accurately as possible in tin and toys. Naturally, Spain gets the most attention. If you’re going for a visit, which costs just €4, bring a guide who can translate for you; they don’t have English descriptions for the exhibits. And, if you’re a collector, bring your wallet — there’s an impressive gift shop with miniature treasures you won’t likely be able to resist.

The Tin Soldier Museum collection belongs to D. Alvaro Noguera Gimenez. The Gimenez family bought the building which houses the museum around the time of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The building has an event space and apartments which the family rents to keep the museum afloat. Pretty smart!

The Tin Soldier Museum contains reportedly over 1 million tin and toy soldiers, though just 80,000 are on display. Here are some highlights from the collection:

General Franco
Tin Soldier MuseumThe Wedding of Queen Isabella
Tin Soldier Museum

Specially-commissioned watercolor backdrops
Tin Soldier Museum

Epic war scene between Spain and Austria
Tin Soldier Museum

Nude toys in the overthrow of a Roman temple (there were more NSFW ones, but I’m “keeping it Disney”)
Tin Soldier Museum

American tin soldiers
Tin Soldier Museum

Hussein, Kennedy and Castro
Tin Soldier Museum

Teeny tiny fashion
Tin Soldier Museum

Special exhibit on India
Tin Soldier Museum

Case after case of tin soldiers
Tin Soldier Museum

The unassuming building in which the museum resides
Tin Soldier Museum

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.

Ten awesome things in the Valencia riverbed

Valencia riverbed - The former Turia River
Once upon a time, the Turia River ran through Valencia, Spain, cradling the Old Town and flowing into the Mediterranean Sea just to the east. The river was prone to floods, and in 1957, a particularly nasty one did massive damage to the city and even killed many of its citizens. The Valencians had had enough and decided to show mother nature who’s boss. They diverted the river out of the city and turned the riverbed into a fabulous eco-park.

Bit by bit over the years, they have added things to the riverbed garden park, from playgrounds to fountains and even major buildings. The influences of the Arabs, Romans and Christians are all present, and the bridges, some of which date back to the 15th century, still cross the river, so you won’t find any cars disturbing the peace.

I took a bike tour through the riverbed in Valencia and encountered all sorts of unexpected and awesome things. Here are ten of them.1. The most amazing jungle gym ever
Valencia Riverbed - jungle gym
It looks like something you’d design in math class but never actually create. I would play all over that.

2. An idyllic bower
Valencia riverbed - idyllic bower
This bower is so classical it looks like a painting, and its benches have a lovely view of a secluded fountain.

3. A cat on a tree covered in graffiti
Valencia riverbed - graffiti cat
I couldn’t resist shooting this cat. Let’s call him Freddy W.

4. A fleshy playground shaped like Gulliver
Valencia riverbed - Gulliver playground
I know, right? Believe it or not, the Valencia riverbed is home to a Gulliver playground, inspired by Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. It’s really weird-looking, and the idea of playing all over some giant’s body makes me sort of uncomfortable. I’d prefer the jungle gym.

5. Bicycles built for four
Valencia riverbed - carriage bike
That’s me in one of the kooky bike-carriage thingies you can rent in the riverbed. They have larger ones for more people.

6. An opera house
Valencia riverbed - opera house
This building is the northernmost one in the infamous City of Arts and Sciences complex, designed by Valencian Santiago Calatrava. I’m not completely certain, but I have a hunch that it can fly.

7. A dinosaur (and science museum)
Valencia riverbed - dinosaur
Brawwwrrrrrr! This dinosaur, advertising a temporary exhibit at the Principe Felipe Science Museum, is enormous. And he moves.

8. A planetarium
Valencia riverbed - L'Hemisferic
The is the Hemisferic, Valencia’s planetarium, also within the City of Arts and Sciences complex. Legend has it that it was designed specifically to look like an eyeball at night when it’s reflected in the water.

9. An event space that looks like a blue whale
Valencia riverbed - event space
This Calatrava building in the City of Arts and Sciences reminds me so much of a blue whale I thought it must be the aquarium, but the aquarium is further south. This is an event space.

10. An aquarium
Valencia riverbed - the Oceanografic
Lastly, the Valencia riverbed is home to the Oceanografic, Valencia’s fantastic aquarium. To read about it and watch some videos of the amazing marine life there, click: Night at the Valencia Aquarium – videos and more.

If you want to rent a bike to tour the gardens in the riverbed where the Turia once flowed on your visit to Valencia, you can find them at ValenciaBIKES.com.

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.

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.

%Gallery-111483%Lladro
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.