Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Valencia by bike

After the steady rain of yesterday Valencia experienced a very sunny day today, but it was crisp and later in the day, downright chilly. I started the day with a bowl of nourishing fruited oatmeal, one of Bruce's specialties. As I said earlier, Rety and Bruce are from a colder climate, Vancouver, Canada of late, and are committed to eating healthy foods. And for the first time on my trip I had my favorite morning beverage, strong black tea laced with honey and condensed milk. Consistent with my focus on the foods I've been eating on my trip, below is the obligatory food photo ;-)    (No, we didn't drink the wine with breakfast. We saved it for the paella Rety rustled up for dinner.)

 I rode a bike I borrowed from Bruce. All in all I rode about 20 miles through the length of Turia Park with a short hop into the old town. There are some pretty cool sights here in this beautiful Mediterranean city and I started out by heading over to the the spectacular City of Arts and Sciences (Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències) near my hosts' apartment. This complex was designed by world famous architect Santaigo Calatrava and it is a striking testament to what can be done with modern materials and a fresh approach to designing a public area. And almost as if to please me, included in the complex is a very unusually shaped tennis center, the site of the ATP Valencia 500 Tournament. The photo below has the tennis center foreground and Calatrava's beautiful single tower bridge, the Agora Puente, called by locals the "ham holder" or, the name I much prefer, the "harp" after its very unique shape. I had thought the new Charles River Bridge in Boston was unique until I saw this gorgeous structure.

In the following image, taken from the other side of the City of Arts and Sciences, you can again see the tennis center but this time it's behind the Agora Puente. Also, although it's too far away to see keep in mind that the bridge is a six-lane highway divided by a double wide combination pedestrian bike path. It's an awesome structure, functional, beautiful and cleverly designed. Valencia native Calatrava has become a popular designer, and is much in demand. He's designing part of the new World Trade Center in New York and has designed bridges and public buildings in many great cities of the world.

Above is a view of the L'Umbracle (left) and its reflecting pool, in the City of Arts and Sciences complex.

Here I am in front of the ultra modern Opera House, (left rear) and the I-Max cinema (right) which are in the northernmost part of this beautiful complex.

I took off from here and began my ride north through peaceful  Turia Park. It was a fine day and there were lots of bikers and runners and kids playing on various structures in the park. I came across this odd looking and quite massive structure with kids climbing all over it, sliding down its smooth sides but couldn't figure out what the hell it was until I got back to the flat where Bruce explained it to me.

Okay, got any ideas?

You must look at it from above to get the picture. Google Earth comes to the rescue again (I just love Google Earth.) Take a look below. BTW, the blue vehicle in the lower left corner is a full size city bus.

How's that for a playground toy?  Click  here for another view of this amazing sculpture.

The Parque Turia is a long, winding park directly in the center of the city. It's peaceful and far enough away from the traffic to give one a feeling of isolation in an otherwise busy urban environment, and makes a great bike ride as well. Plus, it's lower than the surrounding area. And there are these mysterious and almost ancient looking walls along both sides of the park. I wondered if this had been part of a defense system of some sort, a moat perhaps, or maybe a city wall? And it's crossed by many bridges, some new and some old like the walls, spanning its entire width. The explanation for all of this follows.

In 1957 Valencia experienced severe flooding of the Turia River, with water levels reaching 16 ft in some streets. One consequence of this was that a decision was made to drain and reroute the river and it now passes around the western and southern suburbs. A plan to turn the drained area into a highway was dropped in favor of this picturesque 4 mile long park which bisects the city. This is the park, actually the Turia River bed, that I rode through. Atop the wall in my photo you can see one of the many bollards remaining from the time when the wall bordered the river. Notice too the characteristic shape of the bridge pier pictured above. It's wedge shaped so as not to impede the flow of water past it. The park was a hell of a good solution to the problem of flooding that had plagued the city for ages.

I noticed some cats sleeping in the sun. I'm sure they're feral cats. I noticed them in the Olympic Park in Barcelona as well. These two were huddled together for warmth I'm sure and appear to be litter mates because they look identical. If you look hard you will notice a third white and black cat almost invisible in the hedge just to the right.

I took a short detour through the old city, the Ciudad Vieja, and had a cup of coffee in the main square opposite the city hall. As in many of the cities I've visited the central public areas are attractive and in this case, was paved with attractive tiles throughout.

By the time I had finished my ride the sun had dipped low enough that I was riding in the shade. Add some wind due to my speed and my hands began to get pretty chilly. Of course the Valencianos still outdoors were fully suited up, riding or running with scarves pulled up over their faces, long windproof pants, and gloves.

I got back and started chatting with Bruce and Rety. We talk constantly about travel, politics, and our experiences in Spain and like the digital junkies we are, each have our computers open while we chat. Rety and I had walked to the supermarket Tuesday and had gathered ingredients for a seafood paella; fresh calmari, dorado, and smelts, locally known as boquerone and our thoughts soon turned to dinner. The preparation of paella is a special deal here in Valencia. She started by frying peppers and whole garlic cloves in olive oil. These are not included in the paella so after frying she put this in some small dishes, sprinkled some balsamic vinegar and salt on them and we ate them as appetizers. Next she fried the boquarone in the same oil. We sprinkled some salt over them and ate those, bones and all just as I used to do with the smelts I used to catch in Lake Erie as a boy, as appetizers also. The object here is to get all these flavors into the oil.

At the market, the girl at the fish counter had filleted our dorado and packaged up the heads and bones for us to take along. Rety had previously boiled these to make a fish broth. Next to a small pot she added the uncooked rice, enough of the broth to cook the rice (2:1), the oil, some more chopped veggies; carrots, garlic, onion, more green pepper, a packet of mixed spices she got from good neighbor and friend Cote, and the key ingredient, saffron.

This is put on to boil slowly for approximately one hour (she uses brown rice). About 5 minutes before the rice is finished cooking the fillets of dorado were steamed until just done. Bon appetit!

It's a chilly cloudy day again today so rather than go out riding we will meet with their good friends Cote and Ana and have some tapas and a couple of beers perhaps. I head back to Paris on Vueling Airlines tomorrow and thus will begin my withdrawal from this  memorable first European tour.