Grand Journey – Valencia or the McB’s and the Holy Grail

The seas were a bit rocky on our first night of the cruise. We both passed out pretty early but each remembered some rolling. By the morning we were feeling more refreshed and ready to go after breakfast.

Since Valencia is quite easy to navigate and there was a free shuttle from the port to the historic center, we decided to forgo an official excursion. Thanks to What’s in Port and some other helpful sites, we had a game plan.

We were deposited at Torres de Serranos, one of the twelve gates that were found along the wall that protected medieval Valencia. I believe only two of these are still standing. That’s all we encountered during our extensive walking tour.

valencia_towerstower detailsIn case you don’t already know, I love details. I’m more likely to take some artsy shot than the iconic landscape photo. Compare and contrast my style with Mr. McB’s.

After getting our bearings, we were soon on our way to the cathedral. The walk included a short stop at the Plaza de Virgen.

valencia_plazavirginThe plaza is home to the Turia fountain (below) and the Basilica de Virgen de Los Desamparados (Virgin of the Foresaken). There are no photos of the basilica. We went in briefly but left when we saw how many people were earnestly praying. Neither of us wanted to interrupt such a sacred time with photographs and gawking.

valencia_fountainThat’s Neptune hanging out in the center. The fountain pays homage to the aqueducts that used to irrigate the surrounding farmland in the days of the Roman Empire.

We soon found ourselves at the Valencia Cathedral. The first stone of the cathedral was laid in 1262. It stands on the site of a former mosque.

valencia_cathedraloutsideThe admission charge was five euro and included an audio tour. Since we weren’t on an official tour, I appreciated having the guide.

valencia_ceilingThis is the “Capilla Mayor” or the main altarpiece. The ceiling features a host of angels who are framed by a brilliant blue background. These were added to the cathedral under the direction of Bishop Rodrigo Borgia who later went on to become the infamous Pope Alexander VI and the subject of that racy Showtime series.

valencia_angelsThis little dome looks like a wedding cake.


The main chapel is surrounded by many little side chapels that are dedicated to various saints. This relic below is from San Vincente Martir. After refusing to deny his faith, St. Vincent (or San Vincente) was killed. According to the story, ravens protected his body until it could be retrieved by other believers. This relic makes its way through town during the Festival of San Vincente.


Another chapel is dedicated to Rodrigo Borgia. There you will learn about his wisdom and decorum. Yeah… Even if you don’t go along with the efforts to rehab his image, you can view this Goya painting. It depicts Borgia interacting with a man who refuses to repent of his evil ways. What you can’t see in this image is the red squiggles (blood? fire?) shooting out from the cross or the scary little demons that Goya was so fond of.

This cherub sits at the base of the cathedral’s enormous monstrence. This is the largest example of Spanish goldsmithing.  The people of Valencia felt the need to have this created to atone for their bad acts during the Spanish Civil War. valencia_silverangel

The Valencia Cathedral is also said to be home of the holy chalice or holy grail. Of course there is a great deal of skepticism as to whether this is the grail. It’s interesting to me that this piece is found in a very plain chapel adorned only with intricate stonework. In this way, your attention is on the chalice, not the rest of the room.valencia_holygrailI highly recommend the cathedral. It was inexpensive and lovely. It was also very quite. While many where there to take photos, there was still a respect and solemnity.

Turning away from the peace and quiet of the cathedral, we headed toward the bustling mercado to see how the locals shop. Of course from this photo, you will also see that some tour groups were there as well. Notice the group clustered closely on the left side.

valencia_marketvalencia_paellaPaella anyone?

valencia_clementineAfter navigating the market and putting our Spanish to the test, we stopped to enjoy a lunch of clementines and circular bread. This clementine ruined me for the “cuties” you’ll find in American supermarkets. This was bursting with juice and flavor. It was sweet with a little pucker thanks to a healthy dose of citric acid. This fragrant beauty is the reason that you try the local produce whether it is an apple in Western North Carolina or a delectable citrus fruit in Spain.

valencia_circlebreadUmm, circle bread

valencia_allbranKellogg’s, why are you saving your tastiest All-Bran for Spain? Why is someone ruining their latte with All-Bran? So many questions…

After taking a break and grabbing sustenance, we began the heavy walking portion of our day. This included stops at the Plaza Ayuntamiento (town hall) and the Plaia de Toros (bull fighting ring).

valencia_fountainvalencia_citybldgvalencia_plaiadetorosvalencia_matadorJudging by the bandage on his leg, I believe this poor toreador (torero) has been gored. Mr. McB and I had a little discussion about whether this fella was a matador or a toreador. I’ve since learned that bull fighters are toreadors. You become a matador when you actually kill the bull. In other words, all matadors are toreadors but all toreadors are not matadors.

Our walk continued to the Quart Towers, another of the medieval constructions almost identical to the Serranos towers. This one used to be a women’s prison.

valencia_quarttowerdoorMcB is trying to keep all the other tourists out of the city.

Below, you’ll see the little bat that is the symbol of Valencia.

valencia_batFrom here, we continued on  through the Turia gardens. The site of a former riverbed, this park features lots of green space and pathways. It’s a welcome break from Europe’s tiny, crowded sidewalks. It’s also home to the cafe where we enjoyed churros con chocolate and Coca-Colas. By this point, we’d walked at least five miles and still had a lot of ground to cover. This was a glorious spot for a sit, snack, and bathrooms.

valencia_churroThe last stop on our tour, was the City of Arts and Sciences. This complex features some of the most modern architecture I have ever seen.

valencia_palaceartssideThe Palace of Arts is primarily used as an opera house. It reminds me of a very stylized Spartan helmet. Here’s a view from in front of the building.

valencia_palacefrontNext there’s the Hemisphere (IMAX theater and planetarium) and science museum.

valencia_asIn this shot, the Agora comes into view.

valencia_artssciencesAs you can see, Valencia is not content to rest on the laurels of its historical sites. The city seems to be very forward-thinking by combining historical preservation efforts with these gorgeous new structures.

It was a great day. We both agreed that by touring on our own, we had a “soft,” though not slow, start to the trip.

Our next stop is sunny Palma de Mallorca. Look for more to come.

Traveling Thursday – Behaving in church

St. Louis CathedralWhile visiting St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, I witnessed a fella jackass making a business call inside the church. He was angry and cursing. He was oblivious and disrespectful. Every visitor in the cathedral gave him a dirty look but it didn’t bother him. He was indignant when a volunteer asked him to leave. It’s an extreme, but true, example of how not to behave when visiting a church.

Churches and other houses of worship are a popular stop on both domestic and international itineraries. Those who aren’t visiting for religious purposes are often interested in the art, architecture, or historical significance of the building. Whenever you enter a scared space, it’s important to behave in a respectful manner.

Silence your cell phone before entering a church. If you are waiting on an important call, tour the church later.

– Inquire about the photography policy and honor it.

– Use your inside voice and keep your language clean.

– Be respectful of those who are praying or worshiping in another way. Do not disturb them.

– Do a little research on the best time to visit the facility. You don’t want to be a distraction during services or mandated prayer times.

– If you want to light a candle, pay for it. When touring a mission in San Antonio, McB and I saw a man who used his own lighter to avoid paying to light a candle. Don’t be that guy.

– Dress modestly. In the US we’re a bit more lenient about what can be worn inside a church but tank tops and other sleeveless shirts, bare knees, bare midriffs, and cleavage aren’t likely to make it inside a church in other parts of the world. For the ladies, if you must go sleeveless, take a shawl to cover your shoulders. Keep the shawl on for the duration of your visit.

– Gentlemen, the dress codes apply to you too. One of my passengers was once turned away from a church because his walking shorts fell just above the knee. It’s best to wear pants when visiting a church. You’ll want to have your shoulders covered by your shirtsleeves. Be sure to remove your hat.

– When visiting a temple/synagogue, both men and women may be asked to cover their heads. Yarmulkes would be provided for men and pieces of lace or another fabric would be offered to women. Men who visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem should be prepared to cover their heads with a cap of any kind.

– When visiting a mosque, be prepared to remove your shoes. Modest dress is also very important here. Women should wear a skirt and blouse (3/4 sleeve) or a dress. The length should fall below the knees. Headscarves or hoods should also be worn. Men should wear pants and long-sleeved shirts.

– If a church/temple/mosque official asks you to leave, just do it. Leave quickly and quietly without making a scene.

By following these fairly simple rules, you show respect and ensure that you’ll have a meaningful visit.