Monday, October 13, 2008

VIsit to Valencia

An early start to catch the 7.30am London coach, and meet my sister June for a trip to Valencia for a couple of days architectural sightseeing. After several years of limited mobility, she feels ready to start travelling once more. Over the past fifty years she has gone far and wide, alone and with friends, looking at great buildings, and visiting art galleries, being cautious at 73 she asked me to accompany her on her 'trial run'. This involved an Easyjet flight from Gatwick, located conveniently on the train line that runs through Wandsworth where she lives.

June had heard about the work of Santiago de Calatrava, a contemporary Spanish architect with some outstanding new public buildings to his credit in Valencia, and this was the reason for our destination. The city has several good gothic buildings, old bridges and couple of covered market halls to see, but the star attractions are modern. In 1957, the Turia river, burst its banks, flooding the city disastrously. As a result, like the Taff in Cardiff a century ago, the curving course of the Turia through the city was eliminated with a canal on the city south side diverting it straight to the sea. This left a 150-200m wide empty river bed running 7km through the heart of the city, land. It is now filled with uninteresting apartment blocks, shopping centres and parks at the west end. But on the east side, the last 3km before the river bed ends in the port area, contains a science park and an arts and cultural centre with must-see new buildings.

Used to flying from Cardiff, Bristol and Luton, I'd forgotten how huge and horrible Gatwick airport is. Signposting is adequate once you're used to it, but got lost on the way through the Departure shopping mall to the Gate. My sister used the transport for those with walking difficulties. It was nearly half a mile's walk, once I'd stopped going around in circles. We arrived within minutes of each other, thankfully. The flight was full, people returning from short breaks, I presumed, having noted last Friday that Spanish visitor guide leaflets that had all been taken during the past few days. Small signs like this show which nationalities predominate in a week during the tourism season - April to October.

After a bumpy descent into Valencia we disembarked under a spectacular threatening sky at sunset. As collected our bags the heavens opened. Everyone getting on to the clean spacious Metro into town was dripping wet. Thankfully it had almost stopped when we arrived at our stop. We walked the half mile to the hotel in between showers, navigating by map as we had insufficient Spanish to identify buses. We passed the huge illuminated expanse of the covered but open Marquet de Colon, now sheltering a dozen stylish bars and boutiques on the surface, and more underneath - a pleasant refuge from the rain. After we'd checked into the hotel in the Grand Via Marques del Turia, we found a modest restaurant cum tapas bar for supper around the corner, before turning in. The rain continued in spates vehemently for much of the evening and the night.

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