Discovering another side of Valencia, Spain

January, 2016

In February 2015, I just got a glimpse of Valencia, during a one day trip from Pedreguer. This time, on my way back to the Netherlands, I get the opportunity to stay for two whole nights in this very interesting town. Also, I get to witness the celebration of Los Reyes Magos on the 5th of January. This is the arrival of the three Kings, one of the most important festivities in Spain, especially for the children. The 6th is mainly celebrated at home, where the children will open their presents, received from the Kings. On the 5th, it is celebrated with a Cabalgata or a float parade through the town, where sweets are thrown to the children. Later, the children will fill their shoes at home, with straw for the camels to eat.

I arrive on the 4th by train from Xeraco, a small station, with good connection to Valencia. The final station is Valencia North and very convenient right in the centre and close to Ayre Hotel Astoria Palace, a very reasonable priced hotel and situated on a quiet Plaza, right in the centre of town. From here, I can follow the procession on the main street on the 5th.

In the evening I discover an ice skating rink in front of the municipality building and many people are enjoying this possibility to have some holiday fun, with or without their children. The decorations are beautiful, so many lights on the impressive buildings and with so many people out on the streets and the stores and restaurants all open until late, it is a pleasure to walk around. With lots of tapas restaurants in the vicinity, it is fun to go from one place to another and try out where they serve the best chorizo and cheeses. Oh, and wine of course!

The first thing I visit, on the morning of the 5th, is the covered Market Place, where so many different products are for sale and the smell of all the herbs and sausages are such a treat. Surprisingly, there is also a gorgeous display of Bethlehem village, demonstrated at the entrance of the Market and it is full of tiny beautiful figures and animals and endless sceneries. After taking pictures from all different corners, it is time to buy spices for meat and fish and azafran for the paella. If I would live in downtown Valencia, I would be a regular client of this market! DSC04209Like this lady out on the terrace, in front of the market building……

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This time, I also discover a total different Valencia and so worth it!!! The “Jardines del Turia”, which are situated in an old riverbed, which runs 9 km’s through the city! It is one of the largest Urban Parks of Spain. Here, you’ll find footpaths and sport area’s, cycle and runner’s paths, 18 bridges from the 15th, 16th and 17th century, full of history.

The former riverbed passes the main monuments and museums, among them the Opera Auditorium, the Oceanografic, the Palau de les Arts, Palau de la Musica, Museo de las Ciencias and more. While walking through the Park, you’ll see all kind of Palm trees, Orange trees, Pines and aromatic plants, ponds and fountains and even a Gulliver Park for the children!

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I am so pleased to be able to walk here for hours, on this gorgeous sunny day!  Valencia is worth a visit…….

I thought about going to the harbour, which is nearby the end of the Jardines, but my legs are giving in. Supposingly, the three Kings are arriving in the harbour, but Valencians told me it is not worth to go there. I better have a break and try to recover from hours of walking, as tonight I would like to watch the Parade.

The Float Parade turns out to be endless, first of waiting and then even the procession is never ending. Also, although the whole parade is passing the spot where I am standing, the final embarking of the Kings is right in front of the Municipality building, which is on the other end. The Kings are lifted in an “carretilla elevadora” or a fork-lift truck and after pushing myself through the crowd, I just can get a glimpse with my 50 times zoom camera!

It seems the whole of Valencia town is crowded together on this evening and the faces of the children are hopeful, excited and tired at the same time.

After a short speech from the Mayor and each of the Kings, the show is over and there is an invasion of restaurants and tapas bars and I end up in a small Cuban restaurant of all places……it is called Babalu and it is cozy and warm. The food is so so and the Cuban owner is drinking heavily with some guests, but at least there is wine and ambiente!

On the 6th, Valencia is empty and quiet. Most stores are closed and a good time to wander around a bit more and visit some churches. My plane is leaving in the evening and with the luggage stored in the hotel, I still have time to discover more of the city.

Again, I visit the Botanical Garden and I am surprised it is open today. There is a very interesting tree with grapefruits, as well as oranges……

Later on, some stores for the tourists and more and more restaurants open their doors again. There are always tourists in Valencia and also the locals like to go out for lunch or dinner on their leisure days.DSC01740

On the Plaza de Reina, where the Cathedral is situated, it is a must to have a coffee or a wine and watch all the movement.

Coincidentally, I encounter this lovely authentic restaurant, called Tasca Embrujo del Carmen or the Tavern of the Spell of Carmen on calle Juristas 5. The food is good and the house wine great and often, there seems to be life music in the evening.  I would go there again a next time for sure, also thanks to the great couple, who are running the restaurant and kitchen.

I leave Valencia and Spain with the promise to come back…….

 

 

 

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The market places around Pedreguer, Spain

December 2015

It is just before Christmas and with 20 degrees during the day, it still feels like summer here in Spain. I remember our wonderful holidays in the 70th’s and 80th’s, on the Costa Brava, where my parents used to live. So many December months I spent there, first as a girl in her 20th’s and later as a young mum. My children loved Spain in Christmas time; during the day you could enjoy the outdoor life, while in the evening we all cuddled up around the fireplace. The medieval village of Pals was transformed into a “life” Christmas stall, with the lady of the supermarket as Maria and the bank manager as a shepherd. With the soft yellow street lights on in the evening, it was so enjoyable to walk up and down the cobbled streets, where the whole Christmas story was performed with real people and real animals.

Here, around Pedreguer, it is just fun to visit the market places, where lots of red coloured vegetables and fruits are attracting the customers, who are coming for their Christmas shopping. On Saturday there is the normal vegetable market in the centre of the town, but on Sunday mornings, people from all over the area are coming to the big flea market, which is held on the outskirts of the town. Here you can find all kinds of old and new things, books and clothes, tools and bags and have a coffee or sip a glass of wine, when tired from shopping. It reminds me of the Russian laiki (market) in Greece, which I visited nearly every week, during the 10 years we lived there. There is always such a relaxed atmosphere, when wandering around those places. Locals, as well as tourists and newcomers from all over the world are mixing together and enjoying their day.

Around a 15 minute car drive from Pedreguer you will find Jezus Pobre, a tiny village, DSC03665tucked away against the other side of the Montgo Mountain. Also on Sundays, a very special market is held with artisanal and local produce, tables full of homemade sweets, pies and cakes and much more. I buy some Canabis oil, supposingly very helpful against pains and aches……

Every first Sunday of the month, during the winter months, it will be combined with an antique market as well. It is held under the arches of the Riurau, a place where they used to dry grapes into raisins.DSC03663

When visiting, you can sit yourself at one of the many tables and taste some local wine, accompanied by some fresh barbecued meat, while listening to an acoustic concert.

 

 

A great way to spend a late Sunday morning………..

 

The diversity of Denia, Costa Blanca, Spain

December, 2015

From Pedreguer, it is only a short 15 minutes drive to Denia. Apart from shopping at the supermarkets, I haven’t paid a visit yet to the old town and what a nice surprise it is! Not only the promenade, where the trees form an arch above the street and where you find the nice boutiques. Denia has so much more to offer!

 

The best thing is to start your stroll within the “Bax la Mar” or the old fisherman’s quarter. There, the houses are all painted in different colours, the streets are narrow and around every corner, you will find a small Plaza with lovely smelling fish restaurants and tapas bars. This area is so authentic and from here you are in a few steps in the harbour of Denia.

 

Walking into the other direction, you can follow the Castle wall and climb higher up, until you reach the entrance of the enormous Fortress, where the views over the city, the harbour and the Montgo mountain are impressive.

 

It is a surprisingly hot afternoon for December and around 4.00 p.m, suddenly the sun decides to come out through the hazy clouds. With the light shining on the harbour down below, it is fabulous to sit for a while on the Fortress wall and enjoy all the movement in the harbour. One of the ferries is arriving from the islands. Probably Ibiza, but also the ferries for Mallorca and Formentera are leaving from Denia.

 

While walking higher up the Castle grounds, you will find the Archaeological museum. Although small, it definitely is worth a visit. Denia had so many influences from Iberians, Romans, Muslims and Christians and still their traces can be found all over the city. From the Castillo, it is a 15 minutes walk to the harbour and in between 5.00 and 6.00 p.m, the fishermen are coming back with their boats from the sea and the auction starts right away. There is a walkway, specially for the spectators.

 

From here, you can watch the boats arriving and witness the “catch of the day”, which is impressive! Also, you are allowed to glaze through the window, where people are sorting out the fish, giving it numbers and putting it on the scales. At this point, I wished I had a few eyes more, as so many things are happening and more boats are arriving. In the meantime, the huge ferry is also leaving and the sun is slowly going down. When taking my first pictures of the catch of one of the boats, the captain tells me to take away my camera. His tone is very strict and he asks me in Spanish if I understood him. I nod and after 5 minutes he tells me that now I can take pictures! I am a little bit confused, but probably he caught too much or he caught fishes he wasn’t allowed to catch, as the first crates are suddenly gone………

It is an enormous variety of all kinds of fish, which the boats brought back from the sea. Tonight, you will be sure to eat the “catch of the day” in one of the many restaurants along the harbour or in the old Bax la Mar……..

 

Penyal d’Ifac, Calpe, Altea Vella, Tarbena

December 2015,

Via the N-332 or the tollway A7, it is easy to reach Calpe, a city hidden behind the mountains and right on the coast. I didn’t expect to see such a big city, after driving out of the mountains onto the coast. The Natural Park of Penyal d’Ifac is stretched on an enormous limestone rock into the sea, from where you have impressive views over the town and the back country. In the Park, there are numerous rare plants and over 300 species of animals. It is also a nesting site for colonies of seabirds and other birds. The rock rises to 332 metres high.

It was not possible to walk the trail all the way to the end, maybe due to safety reasons at this time of the year. The path gets very narrow and the ropes, which are used for support on the trails, were taken away. I didn’t mind too much, as I wasn’t too keen in walking on those small rocky pathways, high above the sea………

From Calpe, it is a short drive to Altea and Altea Vella. I always wondered, why so many foreigners wanted to retire in Altea. I also thought it was a fairly small community. Well , it isn’t. Altea is a thriving town, with as main attraction the promenade, where you can go for some extensive “terrace hopping”, if that is your choice…….I could never live there, but for a couple of hours, it is a nice outing. Probably, it is very enjoyable to spend a summer evening there, sipping your cava or sangria, while watching people passing by.

Altea Vella is a short drive into the countryside and it is one of those very small white villages, but even here it is expanding, through the arrival of all the foreigners, who made it their home. The backcountry is nice, with the rough mountains framing it as a picture.

Later that week, I make a tour into the backcountry, behind Pedreguer and drive via the CV 720 to Llosa de Camacho. Then to Parcent and Benigembla. There you have to zig zag, as suddenly the signs towards Castell de Castells are gone. The road is very quiet and beautiful. In Castell de Castells you can find a few hotels and eateries. It is way colder here in the mountains and pretty windy too! After, the road goes higher up in the mountain and gets very curvy and narrow. A challenge for me to drive, but there is no turning back!!! So happy there is no Spanish driver behind me, as they are always in a hurry. There is even barely any traffic from the opposite way…….

Finally, Tarbena is reached and what a beautiful location for a town. High up in the mountains with an sceneric view over the valley and the skyrisers from Benidorm in the far distance, on the coast. A visit to the local bakery is a must, as time has stood still here. I buy some bread and very tasty, but awfully sweet almond cookies, made according to a recipe from Mallorca. According to the talkative baker, people from Mallorca invaded this small village, after the Moors were gone. Until today, their influences are still present.

There is also a famous cute small restaurant “Casa Pinet” in Tarbena, which speciality is headcheese. Too bad that it was crowded with people on this sunny Saturday, otherwise I would have loved to taste it! Of course I have to visit the cemetery, as always wherever I am and from here the view is the best! It seems that nearly everybody on the cemetery has the same name;  Molines…….

I leave Tarbena behind and drive the scenic road down to Callosa d’en Sarria, where the landscape is occupied with Medlar plantations (Nispero in Spanish or Mispel in Dutch).

Finally, the road brings me back in Altea Vella again, from where it is an easy drive back to Pedreguer, over the toll way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In between Denia and Altea

December, 2015

This is my second time on the Costa Blanca. Last February, I stayed for two weeks in the same beautiful house, but the weather was quite a bit different then. This time it is sunny and still warm and it will stay this gorgeous, until I leave on the 6th of January. Also, this time I have the opportunity to explore the countryside, the towns and villages along the coast and the inner country. I even have time to spend two enjoyable days in the attractive city of Valencia.

My first outing is to the coastal town of Javea (Xabia). This town is divided in an older part more inland, with a historical centre, an Archeological Museum and the church of San Bartolome and the coastal part with the fishing port, the walkway and quite some nice restaurants along the beach.

I have a very tasty lunch, just amidst the fishing boats and the parking place! The sun is warm and the sepia, mussels and small fishes (I forgot their name; it’s not sardine) are very fresh and tasty. The restaurant is called; Bar Cantina Lonja.

It is hidden just at the far end of the promenade, right where the fishing boats are situated on the quayside. A meal for two, with a bottle of white wine, olives, bread and coffee costed 30 Euros…….

Later in December, on New Year’s Day, I go back to this town. There was supposed to be a New Year’s dive in the Mediterranean Sea, but maybe I was mistaken in the time, as nothing spectacular was happening. Enough people though, wandering around the pier and the walkway along the sea. By coincidence, I discover a very modern and different church, while having some tapas and wine on a cute, small terrace in a side street. From where I sat, I could see into the narrow alley and my curiosity brought me to this fabulous building, which otherwise I would have overlooked! This church is called “Nuestra Senora de Loreto” and the roof is depicting a ships hull!  Even from the inside it is remarkable, but very bare……..

South of Javea you can find some amazing views from high up the cliffs. Following the road along the coast towards Cap de la Nau en Playa de la Granadella, the road is getting very curvy and narrow. This is a neighbourhood with very pretty and expensive houses and a lot of foreigners are living here! The small Playa de la Granadella is a surprise. Here, the road ends, but there are some nice hiking paths, which are starting from here. You will need good hiking shoes, as it is very rocky and the trails go high up.

On the way back, I get lost in Javea town, take the wrong turn and the road directs me high onto the Montgo Mountain, direction Denia. Just there, where the road is very narrow and curvy, an enormous truck suddenly comes from the opposite direction and just flips its steering wheel on the last moment…….. pffffff, that was indeed a narrow escape and the last time I will ever take this road again!!!

 

 

 

 

From Nerja to Denia, Spain

The 16th of February, 2015

Again, I packed the car and drove to the other side of Spain, to a small village close to Denia, in between Alicante and Valencia. I took the coastal road towards Almeria, to avoid Granada. The first part of the highway is not completely finished, so it took some more time, but soon I entered the new highway and could drive via Almeria, Lorca and Murcia to Alicante and after to Denia. The highway was very quiet and the landscape is like the Wild West, so now I understand why they filmed so many cowboy movies in this part of Spain. It was not a boring drive, although it is also not the most beautiful part of Spain. I passed Benidorm and it didn’t look very appealing with all the huge apartment buildings (skyscrapers more or less), one after the other and all crumbled into a small valley. Right in between Alicante and Valencia, I found the small village of Pedreguer. Here I will be staying for two weeks, but with the home owner present this time. She has three dogs and one is paralyzed from the back, so a lot of work for her and not much time to walk with the other two. Also, she will need a small surgery and could use some help around the house.     DSC01660

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The house where I am staying is spacious with an enormous garden and view from all sides of the hills around. We are amidst the orange groves and they are full with oranges at this time of the year. I can imagine her garden must be colourful and lushy in springtime and summer. The blossom of the Almond trees is nearly starting and soon it will be an oasis of pink colours in the neighbourhoods.DSC07427     DSC07407

My host is originally from the Netherlands and we get along fine. If the sun is out, we can sit on one of the patio’s and have a glass (or two) of lovely wine together. I walk the dogs during the day and help the other one to go outside by lifting her up and putting her down and I finally can watch some Dutch t.v. in the evening, which hasn’t happened for a long time!                DSC01672                     DSC01669

During the first week, we visited Denia and some small villages in the surroundings, but the weather hasn’t been too good for a lot of sightseeing. In the second week, my host got her surgery and I was more needed in the house. Later in the week, I was able to visit Valencia, a beautiful town with lots of history in the old city. I have been to Barcelona many times and also Madrid, in the time my parents lived on the Costa Brava, but I had never been to Valencia.

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To go to Valencia, it is better to take the train to avoid parking problems and it is so much more relaxed. I first drove from Pedreguer to Xeraco. Once there, it is easy to find the station and although the parking place was full of cars, there was plenty space in the small streets close by. The station is very small and you buy your ticket out of the machine, but there was a lady to help out. A return ticket will cost around 12 euro’s and the train will take you to Valencia North, from where you just walk into the old city. On your way you will find one or two tourist information kiosks, with a very helpful staff and they will supply you with a good map and give some explanation, regarding the most interesting sites to visit.

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Valencia has lots of atmosphere. Full with tapas bars and cozy restaurants, lots of Plazas with terraces filled with locals as well as tourists, a cathedral, many churches, an old city wall and many other interesting buildings. Although it is a huge city, the inner old town has an intimate character. One day is just enough to get only an impression of all the city has to offer. I walked and walked, even visited the University Botanical Gardens and once there, you don’t realize that you are in such a DSC01719big city. definitely, worth a visit!DSC01727

After these two weeks, I have to return to Portugal, to hand in my car to the agency at Faro airport. I will stay for my last two days with my former house sit hosts in Gorgoes, the Algarve.  However, before heading back to Portugal, I will meet up with a friend of mine in Malaga and get some more time to explore the city, during the Andalusian festivities.

The Cathedral of Seville

February, 2015

During the time I was staying in Cacela Velha, Portugal, I bought in Tavira a ticket at a Tour agency for a one day trip to Seville. It is only a one and half hour driving from Portugal and I was not too keen to drive myself to a town like Seville, where I never had been before and from what I heard the parking was supposed to be a nuisance, so why not going with an organized tour and relax. Our driver and guide picked me up in Cabanas, close to Cacela Velha around 8.00 a.m. We were just with a small group of around 8 persons and our guide was a very pleasant and knowledgeable person, who informed us all the way to Seville not only about the history of Seville, but also about the history of Spain and even Europe! A lot of information to take in, but that way the journey went very fast! Once in Seville, he drove us a little bit around, showed us some of the Expo buildings from 1992 and other sights of interest and then we got 15 minutes to have a look at Plaza de Espana, which was built in 1928, for the Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929.DSC00641

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Not enough time, as in 6 hours you only can see a part of Seville. After, we were dropped in front of the Cathedral and we had time for ourselves. I decided to visit the Cathedral, as it is one of the most important and third on the list of biggest Cathedrals of the world.

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I spent around three hours there. The grave of Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus) is impressive. There is still a dispute if his remains are indeed in Seville, as the Dominican Republic claims that his remains are in Santo Domingo, but historians say that DNA proves his body is indeed in the Cathedral in Seville.

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You can walk up to the tower with the enormous bells and amazing views from all round. Every corner gives another view of this impressive town.

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Later, I spent my last two hours enjoying a Tapas lunch in one of the small alleys, where people play flamenco to earn some extra money. A last stroll downtown Seville, to soak up the Spanish atmosphere, before joining the others for our bus ride home again. A town, where you easily can spend three days to explore all the churches, palaces, gardens and museums.

Unforgettable Alhambra in Granada, Spain

February, 2015

On my return from Ronda, I met at the Malaga bus station Carlos, originally from Argentina, but living for the last decades in Andalusia, Spain. We kept in touch ever since and when I told him I wanted to go to Granada, he offered his companionship, which I gladly accepted. Carlos visited Granada on a few other occasions and he was able to guide me the right way, as I had no clue where to go to!  So we met at the bus station in Nerja and we drove via the new highway, into the mountains to Granada, which is an enormous city and without Carlos I would have been completely lost. You have to follow the road around the city, direction Jaen and finally take a right into the city. Parking is free at the Shopping Centre “El Campo”. From there you can either take two buses or take a taxi, which will bring you right to the entrance of the Alhambra, our main purpose for the visit of Granada, although there are many more things worth seeing. It is advisable to buy the tickets on line, as even in this time of the year, we were standing in line for more than an hour. Also, there are certain hours that they allow people in. We arrived late in the morning and the next entrance time was 2.00 p.m.DSC01290

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At 6.00 we had to leave again and we needed the full 4 hours to explore all the grounds and the palaces. Carlos had seen the Alhambra on a few more occasions, but he really enjoyed it again, as we took time for every detail during our tour around. There is so much to see and we first let the all Japanese, Chinese and Korean people take all the pictures of each other, in front of every beautiful background and then we had time to take our own pictures, without the whole crowd on it. It is such a special place with beauty all around and even the gardens are well worth exploring.DSC01372DSC01394

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After closing time, we walked down to the center of Granada and I decided I have to come back once, to discover all the other interesting sides this city has to offer. In one of the many small side streets, we found a Tapas restaurant and enjoyed a well deserved glass of wine and lovely food. After so many hours walking, our legs were giving in……alhambra 11

It was late when we got a taxi to El Campo again, which is closing at 10.00 p.m. I still had to drive back to Nerja and even further, to bring Carlos home. A drive of more than an hour, on a road you are not familiar with and in complete darkness, was tiring. Next time, I would stay for the night and enjoy Granada in the evening hours a little bit more!

Carnival in Nerja, Spain, the first day………..

February, 2015

During my stay in Nerja, I was able to enjoy the Carnival and although some locals told me that it was very “Provincial”, I was very impressed with the costumes and all the work the people had put into this event. Only a few places in Andalusia celebrate Carnival, mostly the Southern part. It started at around 5.00 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon downtown in Nerja, around the “Balcon de Europe”, as this area is called, because of the beautiful views over the Mediterranean Sea. It is like a “hanging cliff” over the sea…….Downtown Nerja is where everything is happening and here also the Carnival started it’s tour. On Sunday, around the same time, it is the end of the Carnival and the locals call it “The Death of the Sardine”. This time, it is just a small tour around downtown, of people mourning……….hilarious…………No words necessary, just pictures…………..