It’s two for the price of one in Valencia with the old city and the new city both vying for attention.
I leave Trixie safely tucked up in a secure camperpark and catch the bus from El Saler into the city. The last stop is close to the station and the bullring and this seems as good a place as any to commence my visit of the old city. Armed with a detailed map and a very glossy brochure – courtesy of Valencia Tourism – I pass by the main shopping district to the beautiful central market with its domed ceiling and colourful stalls. My senses are assaulted by the smells of pungent local cheeses and acidic citrus fruits which are as colourful as they are aromatic. In the centre is a Belen which serves to distract the children while their mothers conduct the weekly shop. The market is as beautiful outside as inside with its decorative tiles, but don’t be bedazzled by the architecture and produce because there are street kids waiting to pick your pockets while you pick your wares.
The Plaza de La Reina is a hub of tourist activity. The sightseeing bus is filling up while some people sit and watch the world passing with a cup of coffee at one of the pavement cafes. Others browse the Christmas Market outside the cathedral for although the present giving is over in the UK it is still to come in Spain where the 6th of January is the traditional day for giving gifts. There’s another Belen inside the cathedral and after a quick look I decide to climb the 207 steps of the Micalet bell tower, having carefully waited until after midday so as not to be deafened by the bells. The spiral stone stairway is narrow and seems endless but I finally emerge and have to sit and catch my breath before I can admire the 360° view. The town is spread out before me; ceramic tiled roofs, towering gates, the smooth lines of the modern new city and the cranes of the port beyond. I can see the path of the river Turia which no longer flows and has been turned into a linear park filled with sports and leisure facilities.
But before my 5 km walk to the new city I need some energy, so I stop for lunch at La Naranja (The Orange) Restaurant opposite the Serrano Gate. The waitress/cook is very hospitable but the revueltos (scrambled eggs) are revolting. Luckily the stewed pig’s cheeks with potatoes are delicious and the brownies with chocolate sauce are rich and filling. Now I’m fortified for the walk along the linear park. As well as tennis courts, football pitches and playgrounds, there are enclosed dog parks and between the exhibition bridge and the flower bridge there is a circus, complete with performing lions and tigers, something that you are unlikely to find on the bill of any UK circus, though ironically the trainer, and presumably the lions, come from England. From my high viewpoint along the edge of the riverbed, I can see them in their makeshift enclosures waiting to be fed with a pile of plucked and chilled chickens.
Eventually I emerge at the new city with its modern architecture. The buildings are huge and dramatic but they seem to serve little purpose on a day to day basis. The exceptions are the Science Museum and the Oceanarium which are very busy due to the fact that it’s school holidays. A slight breeze ripples the waters of the ponds preventing the perfect reflective shot of the buildings but their sheer size is inspiring. At one end of the new city is Gulliver Park. Based on the legend of the Lilliputians from Gulliver’s Travels the prone giant body of Gulliver has been turned into an imaginative playground for children. As I watch the kids, and the adults, sliding down his arm, it occurs to me that the new city is all about having fun.