It is a little bit of walk, but we just have to leave the direction of Turia behind, go along the street of Carrer de Colón, and we are going to arrive to Mercat de Colón, one of the most important market halls of Valencia, which is like La Boquería in Barcelona, the Központi Vásárcsarnok in Budapest or Hala Targowa in Wrocław.
Here you can buy many different fruits, meat and local products if you want, including a famous Valencian drink, horchata (in Valencian: orxata), which is made of tiger nuts, and it substitutes the milk in many situatons quite well, not to mention that it is healthy, delicious and you can keep it in the fridge longer.
Following the same road one can easily have the impression that they are in Rome or Verona due to a huge, amphitheatre-like building: however, it is not for gladiators, but rather for matadors.
Plaça de Bous de València (or Plaza de Toros in Castilian) is the bull arena of the city built in the 19th century, which is, unlike in some other Catalan territories, functions even today, and besides the famous bullfights (corrida de toros), it provides many different shows and theatre plays and it is also suitable for concerts and further events.
There are plenty of miraculous buildings close to this area, meaning the Xàtiva metro station: another one is Estació del Nord (Northern Station), which is not just the most signiificant railway station of Valencia, but also a very aesthetic and charming gem of the city view an d a real time travel to the classical times of the turn of the century and the Art Nouveau movement, even if it is not the main style of the building.
It is sort of funny by the way that in Budapest the most important railway stations are the Western, the Eastern and the Southern ones, but children and sometimes adults usually wonder what about the Northern one. Well, I think I have just found it!
Take a short walk to Plaça d'Espanya, where you can find the horseman statue of the famous Spanish hero, El Cid, who fought against the Moors during the Reconquista.
Maybe you will be as excited as one of my history fan friends from Hungary, for whom it was a top priority to visit the monument that even I had not known before, but this is a great evidence that we may consider different sights interesting and worthy to check and there are no ultimate traveling guides for that. I can also recommend at least to pass by the beautiful building of the National Museum of Ceramics, even if we do not have a chance to enter.
On your way, you will definitely see the church of Sant Agustí, which is one of the many characteristic clerical buildings of Valencia that typically looks like Spanish; as much, as you would imagine it based on some movies and illustrations.
There are a lot of similar churches with such Mediterranean vibes all laround the city - just to mention some of them without providing the whole list, my personal favourites include Santa Maria del Mar close to the port, Santísima Cruz close to Turia and the old town with a faboulous facade, Sant Miquel i Sant Sebastià close to the Quart Towers, and a monostory, Sant Miquel dels Reis next to Torrefiel, the district where I live now.
You can also find another very gigantic church, Sant Joan del Mercat close to the Silk Exchange (Llotja de la Seda), which is also a sight on its own.
However, the most famous and inevitable religious piece of art is located in Plaça de la Reina, and it is the Gothic cathedral of the city, La Seu de València, which is an enermous building accompanied by a famous bell tower, called El Micalet.
When I myself entered the gloom of the cathedral and looked all the walls, candles and images of saints, I felt that I was living in a far away medieval century, where everyone is small and vulnerable, and where human life is one of the greatest values in the world. I had goosebumps and shivers down my back while thinking about the fact of getting stuck in a reality such alien for the citizens of our modern times.
The other important Christian complex is Basílica de la Mare de Déu, a light red, almost pink, roundish church with much of glory, honour and majesty, which for me could be a true adopted twin church of the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute from Venice.
The sqaure of the basilica, Plaça de la Mare de Déu (Plaza de la Virgen) also waits for the visitors with another surprise: it is the Turia Fontain (Fuente del Turia), probably the most famous art work of its genre in Valencia.
The central character, Neptune, god of sea also represents river Turia and its main channels, although I also heard another explanation by locals, that the small figurines symbolize the most important clerical centres in the province of Valencia.
After so much of sightseeing maybe it is time to grab some food, and there are many opportunities if one decides to explore the hidden streets of the centre, which are also full of many creative graffities and street art besides the lovely town houses and bars.
It is definitely visible that Valencia has a higher avarage number of Italian restaurants than the other parts of Spain and Europe, which may be a fact due to the cultural and lingual similarities; that is why lasagne, risotto, pinsa, pizza, calzone and spaghetti are always on the table.
One of the greatest locations for that is the Ribera street and its neighbourhood, but the old town is full of such taverns (tabernas) all around. If we are nearby anyway, we should go to the Plaza de Ayuntamiento (Plaça de l'Ajuntament), which is the kind of main square of Valencia due to the fact that it is the place where you can find the town hall and many amazing buildings like the central post office (Corrreos); but actually there is no one square in the city that can be considered as the most important above all.
If you watch the facade of the town hall carefully, you will see the statue of a bat: it is not a coincidence, namely, the winged animal is the symbol of Valencia and can be found in the badge of the football club of Valencia as well. You can also find it on the top of the coat-of-arms of the city and on monuments like Porta de la Mar, even if it is hard to notice it at the first sight.
According to the story, Jaime I was fighting against the Moors and a small bat landed on his flag right before the battle which he interpreted as a good sign, and then the Christians indeed won the battle during the Reconquista. The truth is most probably rather the fact that due to the swamps of Albufera the around Valencia was full of mosquitos - the favourite food of bats.
However, there are some musts in terms of gastronomy if one goes to Valencia: first of all, they have to try the famous Paella Valenciana!
Paella in general has many different versions, but they are usually prepared with rice, meat or vegetables and a specific type of sauce, and , what is also important, it is prepared and traditionally served in a huge pan (this is called orginally in Catalan paella).
The paella can be eaten with chicken (pollo), seafood (mariscos) or both (mixta), but there are also versions for Vegetarians and a specific type named fideguay, where some pasta replaces the rice.
Paella Valenciana is special, because it contains chicken, rabbit and different types of beans and vegetables - we may expect some sort of seafood or fish in it with such a name, but truth is that it is called Valenciana because it comes from the (inner areas of the) region, not sepcifically from the city.
The most unforgettable discoveries for me were the calamares (squids), which are first breaded and fried, and then served with lemon as delicious rings. There are two popular ways to prepare them that I know so far: calamares a la romana or calamares a la andaluza, so preparing them in the ‘Roman’ or the ‘Andalusian’ way.
The small shrimps are also extemely tasty in soups, pasta, or when they are fried - recently I think I have tried the most wonderful version of shrimps called gambas al ajillo, which means that the shrimps are boiled in a particular garlic sauce and served in a pot.
We should remember about the best joker food, which can be a great choice in many bars and restaurants: namely patatas bravas, meaning fried pieces of potato with many spices and different sauces. It is one of the best tapas (snacks) in Spain, although we should higlight that there are usually some olives or chips offered as tapas in most of the bars and pubs, usually for free.
Snacks are usually joined by some drinks, although the wines in Spain I have tried so far did not meet my expactations, while it is also quite strange that the labels usually do not inform you about the type of the product (they are mostly dry though).
A one-time adventure can be agua de Valencia, but to be honest it is simply a cocktail of orange juice and some spirits, so if we do not want to commit a mistake, the best is to go for a sweet sangría or tinto de verano.
Maybe everyone knows tortilla de patatas (potato tortilla), but here in Valencia you may also meet other kinds of it: for instance the ones with garlic or peas, while the most interesting and strange invention for me was to see that in some cafeterías you can even buy tortilla placed in a baguette; the only weirder thing was realizing that the same works with the squid rings as well.
Last but not least, we have got bakery products like emapanada, which is a bit similar to Italian ravioli and Slavic pirog/pierogi, and it is available in any shops and bakeries, stuffed with various ingredients.
Besides the plenty of fish and seafood, the continental part of Spain is also famous for its ham (jamón), sausage (chorizo) and cheese, which are, to be honest, very different from the ones we, Hungarians got used to in Eastern-Europe.
There are some other places dedicated for arts and culture: I would like to mention at this point the Museum of Fine Arts, (Museu de Belles Arts) which, when I was visiting it, was totally free for citizens of the EU, and it includes indeed a georgeous collection of paintings and sculptures from many different historical era - I think I had not had such an experience with an art gallery like here since I went to some exhibitions in Velenje, Katowice and Thessaloniki before.
Another breathtaking experience is the Museum of Natural Sciences, which is not only a tribute for the history of science and the development of life on Earth, but it has a large collection of extraordinary shells, minerals, fossils, insects and many other remains of different animals, such as dinosaurs or saber-toothed tigers of course.
The most fascinating, popular and iconic dweller of the museum is one of the mammal skeletons with no doubt: it is a Megatherium, or, with other words, a giant ground sloth, which must have been an enermous and terrifying creature. You may also see the skull of a mastodon with a huge nasal orifice in the middle: it is just interresting, because this clearly shows how ancient people invented such mythological beings like cyclopes or a dragons.
The building of the museum has a mesmerizing blue dome, likely to many churches all around the city, but one can also visit a miraculous garden next to the institute, Jardins del Real. Turia may be long and huge but it is, of course, not the one and only park of Valencia, which is indeed full of green areas: Parc Central, Jardín de Las Hespérides, Parc de Marxalenes are some of them worthy to be noted.
A special park, which is somehow different, but also very memorable due to the way how it was constructed is L'Umbracle, which mainly includes palms and bushes and is a home for many birds as well. It is a half open due to its metal-framed roof and sometimes turns into a night club when the weather allows it.
This garden is located in the edge of Valencia, by the side of an extraordinary complex called the City of Arts and Sciences, that we are going to meet in details during the next chapter of our adventures.
(to be continued)