Discovering Valencia on Foot

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Saturday 6 December 2014

Discovering Valencia on Foot

Although we had made a decision not to stay to cycle and hike in the hills around Navajas after all preferring instead to head further south in search of some more warmth, we didn't want to pass by Valencia without exploring Spains third largest city either. There were 2 main reasons for this. Firstly we wanted to experience the city ourselves and get a feel for the atmosphere and secondly we had also been told (by our friend Sarah when we visited her in Barcelona) that Valencia has the highest concentration of organic supermarkets and vegetarian restaurants in Spain. Always keen to enjoy the finest fruits and vegetables on offer we didn't want to miss the chance to have a look round and see what else we might find.

The urban centre of Valencia is home to more than 800,000 people, with a total of more than 1.5million in the wider area so we were expecting the centre to be a little busy as we cycled towards the towering sight of the Valencia Bridge on the distant skyline. This impressive bridge is shaped like a giant harp picked out against the bright blue sky and is right at the hub of the “City of Arts and Sciences” in the south east part of Valencia. Arriving at “The City” having cycled on the traffic free paths direct from our campsite 9km further south we discovered something we hadn't expected to find in such an historic area, a space age collection of 5 buildings, including the Museu de las Ciencias (Museum of science), Oceanographic (marine park), the Palau de les Arts Opera House, , an IMAX cinema and a multifunctional space. Slowly pedalling our way past brilliant white buildings shaped in sweeping curves and bustling with people was rather surreal, but a lovely introduction to the city of Valencia.

Continuing on further north we were further surprised to find ourselves pedalling through a long, lush green park space, not at all like the urban sprawl we had expected to be plunged into. Although we didn't have a map at the time (we picked one up later), if we had done we would have discovered that the urban centre of Valencia is surrounded on almost 3 sides by green space full of playparks, skate parks, flowers and fountains. As we cycled past families playing in the afternoon sunshine we didn't feel at all like we were heading into a major metropolitan zone. For two people that normally avoid big cities it was really quite pleasant.

Of course we couldn't avoid the crowds forever and as we stopped to check a bus map we realised that we had to turn west to head into the centre in search of the old town and the organic supermarkets we had heard about. Sure enough, just a few minutes after leaving the green park behind we arrived in the bustling heart of the city, where the sun was blocked out by the tall buildings and tens of thousands of eager shoppers scurrying from shop to shop in search of Christmas bargains. All the usual brands were on display with McDonalds doing a roaring trade surrounded by branded clothes stores, departments stores and mobile phone shops. It was a little intimidating at first as we locked up our bikes, however, as with any city it also had its own atmosphere despite the presence of so many ubiqitous brands. Unlike Barcelona, for instance, Valencia did feel smaller and although the urban centre and old town were crowded, we discovered we were only ever a few blocks away from quieter streets full of independent stores and smaller chains.

After an unsuccessful search for the organic food shops (we found quite a lot of them but they were closed as it was a festival weekend) we decided to spend the remainder of the afternoon exploring Valencia's old town. Founded by the Romans almost 2000 years ago, the old town of Valencia still contains buildings dating back to both Roman and Arabic times. Our first stop was the cathedral right at the heart of the old Roman centre, a Gothic style building the cornerstone of which was laid back in 1262. Joining the steady flow of people in and out of the cathedral we entered the church to find a very colourful and impressive interior, although we didn't stay too long as the press of people was a little much for us.

Rejoining the streets of the old town we enjoyed a peaceful stroll amongst the sandstone buildings as the late afternoon turned to twilight around us. Taking in sights such as the colourful Mercado Central and the Colegio del corpus Christi we felt a great sense of history all around us. Away from the busiest crowds to be found near the cathedral, the rest of the old town had a much more subdued and calm atmosphere as the sky turned dark behind the spires and towers of the ancient buildings. It was really quite mystical and we would have walked much longer if it weren't for the prospect of a 6 mile cycle in the dark back to our campsite.

Finding our bikes after crossing the city at night we donned our lights and prepared to retrace our steps back to Pinedo and the quiet of our motorhome. Valencia had provided a wonderful afternoon out, seeming to combine the bustle of a major city with the calm and uniqueness of a smaller town and we were very glad we'd made the journey into the centre.

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