Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Valencia, a city of contrasts, old and new, Spain

We're just back from a weekend visit to Valenica, this is an updated version of our post covering our last trip in May 2010 we flew to Valencia to visit our friends Carlos, Jose and Elen and their 3 month old baby twins. Wow, what a really beautiful city it is, a perfect destination for a short weekend break or the starting point for a longer holiday. It is Spain's third largest city, sitiated in the middle of the  huerta, a fertile plain of orange groves and maket gardens. With its warm coastal climate, Valencia is know for its outdoor living and nightlife. Its a perfect city for wandering round with a map in hand, as most of the monuments are in easy walking distance from Plaza del Ayuntamiento, the triangular main square where you will find the town hall.

The Miguelete, the cathedral's bell tower on Plaza de la Reina

Valencia is a city full of traditions and festivities. Among these festivities, the most important is the local festivity of the Falles or Las Fallas, well-known worldwide. Among the traditions, the most important is the Water Court or El Tribunal de las Aguas declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and the traditional Valencian dish is Paella, originated in the Valencia Community. 

The city has a very rich history, which is impressed in the beautiful and extended historic center. Its historical and monumental heritage and the diverse scenic and cultural sites make of the city a great tourist international destination. The most representative Valencian monuments are The Miguelete, the Cathedral, the Serrano's and Quart's Towers, the Lonja de la Seda, and The city of Arts and Sciences. Some of these monuments were declared World Heritage by UNESCO in 1996.

Valencia is also full of museums, among the most representatives we must mention: The Museum of Fine Arts in Valencia, City of Arts and Sciences, Prehistory Museum of Valencia, The cathedral museum, Institute of Modern Art of Valencia. Besides the archeological monuments, Valencia is known as the city of the flowers, it counts with many beautiful landscapes, gardens and parks such as the Turia garden, The Botanic Garden, The Royal Gardens, and The Ayora Garden among others.

Palau de les Artes Reina Sofia
Nowadays, Valencia has grown rapidly becoming an economic and financial leader in Spain; this progress is result of the tourism and the construction industry. One of these constructions was the city of Arts and Sciences that was designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela and constructed by the engineers Alberto Domingo y Carlos Lázaro; it attracts more than 4 million people each year. 

City of Arts and Sciences
If you've read any of our other posts you'll know that we enjoy sampling the food and drink of the countries and cities that we visit and that tapas is high on our "food heaven" list. We came across La Taberna Reina, on Plaza de la Reina and highly recommend a visit, we first found it in May 2010 and hunted it down again in November 2012.

Inside La Taberna Reina
Another great place to visit is the Mercado Central, situated in a huge iron, glass and tile Art Nouveau building. It opened in 1928 and is one of the largest and most attractive markets in Europe. Every morning around 350 stalls are filled with an amazing variety of food. We had a great time taking in all that the market had on display and left wishing that we had something similar in our home town in the Netherlands, sadly we don't.

Valencia's Mercado Central

As well as enjoying the sights and sounds of the city of Valencia during our May 2010 visit, we also took a small roadtrip to enjoy the surroundings of this beautiful part of Spain.

 Lying to the south of the city of Valencia, the Albufera freshwater lagoon is one of the most important nature areas in the Land of Valencia. A slim strip of coastline protects it from the sea, and on this strip of land, sand dunes have formed, plus a curious Mediterranean pine forest growing in sandy soil with rich shrubbery. This area is called the Devesa del Saler, a word derived from a kind of pastureland. Three canals (two natural and a third man-made), connect the lagoon and surrounding wetlands with the sea, and each has its own characteristic flora and fauna.


We also visited the costal town of Xabia (Valencian pronunciation) or Javia (in Spanish), situated behind a wide bay and sheltered between two rocky headlands, the town has become a very popular small seaside resort and market town.

Our final port of call was Altea, a lovely town with winding streets and whitewashed house fronts. In this case photos tell the story best,

Whitewashed streets of Altea

The end of a wonderful day
During our most recent visit to Valencia, we stayed in the Vincci Palace hotel, La Paz 42. The hotel is ideal for exploring the city, close to many of the main attractions. It is about 5 minutes from the Colon metro station which has a direct line to the airport. The metro ride is €4 per person, wich compared to €25 in a taxi is amazing value, it takes around 20 minutes.The hotel itself is great value, around €80 per night per room, about half the price of a comparable hotel in Madrid. One tip, ask for a room away from the front of the hotel, as the street in front can be quite noisy at night.  Enjoy Valencia!

Monday, February 27, 2012

La Serena, Chile (5)

Continuing our 2010 trip to Chile, from Santiago we flew north to La Serena to visit some more family. La Serena is a city and commune in northern Chile, capital of the Coquimbo Region. Founded in 1544, it is the country's second oldest city after the national capital, Santiago, located 471 km (293 mi) to the south. The city is an important tourist destination, especially during the summer, where people go to visit the beaches. The population doubles in the summer months, principally for the beaches, recreational activities, musical festivals, concerts, and Fashion Week. The dry region around La Serena has exceptionally clear atmospheric conditions that makes it ideal to observe stars. As such, there are several observatories in the nearby towns, some of which are opened to the public. We took a midnight trip to one of then, an experience not to be forgotten if you get the chance.

La Serena
We spent a fantastic day at the beach at Morrillos enjoying the weather, the company and of course the delicious barbeque, followed by a long walk during which most of us fell asleep when we stopped for a break.


Preparing for the feast to follow

It's always fun when families get together and on this occasion nothing changed :-)

From La Serena we flew back to Santiago for our last few days in Chile. Having visited Neruda's houses in Valparaiso and Santiago we decided to visit the third of his homes. Casa de Isla Negra  is located at Isla Negra, El Quisco, San Antonio Province about 85 km to the south of Valparaíso and 110 km to the west of Santiago. It was his favorite house and where he and his third wife, Matilde Urrutia spent the majority of their time in Chile. Neruda, a lover of the sea and all things maritime, built the home to resemble a ship with low ceilings, creaking wood floors, and narrow passageways. A passionate collector, every room has a different collection of bottles, ship figureheads, maps, ships in bottles, and an impressive array of shells, which are located in their own "Under the Sea" room. Neruda and his wife are buried their with a clear view of their beach.

So that brought our first trip to Chile together to an end, a great couple of weeks in the Chilean summer (beautiful blue skies in almost every photo), a chance to escape from the winter here in Europe and most importantly a lot of fun with our family.

As I'm ending this section of our Travel Blog we're planning our next trip to Chile,  not long now and we'll be there again.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Santiago de Chile (4)

Santiago also known as Santiago de Chile, is the capital and largest city of Chile, and the center of its largest conurbation (Greater Santiago). It is located in the country's central valley, at an elevation of 520 m (1,706.04 ft) above mean sea level. Whilst in Santiago we stayed in Providencia in the Park Plaza Hotel, close to some good shopping, great restaurants and the metro. The hotel also offer valet parking so you don't need to worry about what to do with your hire car. Chile's steady economic growth has transformed Santiago into one of  Latin America's most modern metropolitan areas, with extensive suburban development, dozens of shopping centers, and impressive high-rise architecture. 

Plaza de Armas
There is a lot to do and see in Santiago, so hop on one of the typical opentop tour buses that you see all round the globe, for a city tour, by far the best way to get around on a lovely hot summer's day. We had a great time doing this during our first visit together to Santiago in 2010.

Perfect weather for a city bus tour

Congreso Nacional

Palacio de la Moneda

La Biblioteca Nacional

Academia des Bellas Artes

View from Cerro San Cristobal

We also visited the Museum of Pre-Colimbine Art which is very interesting and well worth a visit. Whilst enjoying a drink outside the museum we heard a piper playing The Lonely Shepherd . So what! I hear you say. Well for us it's a very special track, it was the music played at our wedding when Susy made her entrance, what were the chances of hearing it in downtown Santiago!

Our next stop was the Santiago home of Pablo Neruda, if you read the previous Post on Valparaiso you'll have seen his house La Sebastiana. His city home is called La ChasconaIn 1953, Pablo Neruda started to build a house in Santiago, for Matilde Urrutia, his secret love in that time.  He called the house “La Chascona” in her honour, that was the nickname he gave her due to her abundant red hair. At that time Neruda was still living with his wife Delia del Carril and it wasn't until February 1955 that he separated from her and moved in with Matilde.

La Chascona

 Within “La Chascona” are kept among other collections, an interesting pinacoteca, with paintings of Chilean and foreign artists from all times.  It also has an African carved wood collection and one furniture and objects from the italian designer Piero Fornasetti, and certainly there are Neruda’s ambient such as dining room with the original chinaware and cutlery.

If you'd like to read some more about Neruda and his amazing life and homes, have a look online at In April 2012, we returned to Chile for what was a really great holiday, what follows is an addition to our original post.

Mercado Central
In 1817, Bernado O'Higgins, the then ruler of Chile ordered the building of a purpose built food, fruit and fish marketplace which lead to the construction of the Mercado Central. The work on the current building started in 1864, including a roof structure manufactured in England in 1872. A drive to exploit the tourist potential of the Mercado has led to a partial loss of its original use. Today you'll find sevarel restaurants in the Market's main hall offering exactly what visitor's want: simple and authentic Chilean dishes with an emphasis on freshness. The stalls around the central hall offer an unrivalled and impressive selection of fruit, vegetables and fish, making this a true "foodie" heaven.

We ate at the Mercado twice during our stay, both times at Augusto's restaurant in the main hall. Without doubt the best known restaurant in the Mercado, the atmosphere is great and the food delicious. My recommendation is a Marisco Empanada to start followed by King Crab Casserole which is full of lovely crab meat. Once you've had your meal, take some time to wander round the market, especially to see an amazing selection of fresh seafood. Some more photos below to show you whats instore for you. One useful tip, try and get there by 1pm as the central hall seems to be full from 1:30pm onwards.

As we aproached the end of our fantastic couple of weeks in Chile, it was time to check out some traditional Chilean Handcraft in the Centro Artesanal Los Dominicos. You'll find this wonderful country style market in Las Condes, located next to the San Vincente Ferrer Church. It is well worth a visit, lots to see in a very relaxed atmosphere with a couple of bars/restaurants to take a break, check out the Pie de Limon, simply gorgeous. Below are some more shots which I hope will show you why this lovely location is well woth a visit.

Our final recommendation from out latest trip to Santiago is to check out the restaurant Como Agua para Chocolate, inspired by the book of the same name the food is great and the restaurant which seems to get full around 9pm has a fantastic atmosphere. Located in the Barrio Bellavista, there are plenty of places to go before or after your meal for a drink or two. Check out Our Favourites section for the website.