Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Valencia visit

It's four years since I first visited Valencia with my sister June to see the architectural public works of Santiago di Calatrava. It's taken ten weeks of being here to get around to making the return visit, to look at the Cathedral, and check on a couple of works in progress. Today I woke up at six thirty and made a supreme effort to get to the station and catch the 7.20 regional express to Valencia Norte. It was still the pre-dawn twilight while I was waiting on the platform. There were a couple of dozen people also waiting, chatting loudly and sociably at this early hour. That's how I could be certain with my eyes shut that I wasn't waiting for a train back in Britain.

We were in the plain south of Alcossebre before the sun came over the horizon. The first colours of day, in the changing soil and vegetation of the landscape were remarkably rich. This serves to explain why Spain's artists and designers  work so happily with vivid colour - it's such a dominant environmental influence on the way they see the world. The train stopped half a dozen times en route, running inland for the most part 5km from the sea. This meant that when we entered the conurbation of Valencia were were close to the large commercial port, with its forest of lift structures for handling shipping containers, and occasional cruise ship in sight. The route then crosses the riu Turia and heads inland on the south side of the city to reach Valencia Norte station, which is more west than it is north.

It's but a short walk from the station into the oldest part of the town, past many high quality 19th century civic buildings which advertise the city's prosperity as a regional capital. I had my sights set on visiting the Cathedral this time around, with its fourteenth century gothic nave, gothic and baroque portals, and a Lady chapel so big it's a separate building close by, linked by a corridor bridge to each other.

I stopped off here to say morning prayer, as I had been too sleepy to read on the train. There was an elderly priest in cassock and cotta (with sunglasses) installed in the place set aside for private prayer, ready to hear confessions. He seemed to be hovering in the background while I read the divine office. I hope I didn't make him nervous, but I did pray quietly, albeit using a book instead of a rosary. Both edifices look out on to handsome plazas. The Cathedral plaza is the more interesting of the two.
I walked from the Cathedral to the 14th century gothic arched gateway the Torres de Serranos across the road from the former river bed of the riu Turia. Once part of the city walls, long disappeared, it stands majestic in isolation, like a monument to some long dead potentate.
Then I went looking for the Gran Mercat, navigating successfully all the while from memory, and homed in on it without difficulty. It's a wonderful building, like a huge temple dedicated to food at its very best, filled with people shopping, sightseeing and enjoying the incomparable buzz of the place, if not all of its smells and riot of colour. Opposite is the city parish church of the two St Johns - Baptist and Evangelist. Last time, it was closed for all but essential pastoral activities during an interior resoration. Also the plaza outside contained a gigantic 20 metre deep hole (and accompaning traffic jam), for the building of a new underground car park.

Four years on, the construction is still incomplete, but work is now going on at normal surface level, and it won't be too long before new street furniture reappears. The two St John's was open to visitors, and its sixteenth century 'renaissance' now looks very good indeed. Apparently there were a couple of earlier churches on the site which burned down. Let's hope the precedent is broken.
I was wondering about getting a runabout bus ticket, but the directions I was given to find out where I cold get one yielded nothing. I couldn't even remember what a Metro station entrance looked like, where I could get a ticket, so I determined to walk for as long as I could, and maybe end up seeing more. I went back to the riverbed park the Jardi Turia and strolled all the way down to the amazing Calatrava bridge shaped like a lyre, past the opera house the science museum and other Calatrava masterpieces familiar from my last visit. Next to the bridge, no longer clad in scaffolding and plastic wraps is a dramatic dark blue building shaped like a clam shell sitting on its edge.
 There's no notice up to say what it's eventual function will be. It's still not open, the interior is being fitted out. In such a progressive city for two major building projects to have taken so long to complete is an indication of the recession which bites hard into the well being of this creative country.
By now I was beginning to tire, so I re-traced my steps to a Gran' Via (a road which intersects the grid street plan diagonally) where I recalled there was a good restaurant for lunch. I had a large cool beer and a paella with snails, rabbit and chicken, a royal treat for a special day. Then I made my way slowly, feeling very tired, back towards the station, sent a postcard to June, and arrived uncommonly early to await the departure of the express back to Vinaròs, arriving just as the sun began to set. The ninety mile journey there and back cost me the same as the fifty mile journey from Cardiff to Bristol.

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