Sunday, May 06, 2012

wheeling through valencia

Pop quiz.  Books under your chairs.  Take out a pencil and a piece of paper.

Name two Spanish heroic figures. 

Time up.

My best guess is that Don Quixote tops your list.  And El Cid is probably your second choice.  At least, that is how I would answer the question.

Most of us probably know of El Cid because of the 1960s Charlton Heston – Sophia Loren movie.  I loved it.  Probably because I thought Sophia Loren would be the perfect date.

I had forgotten that medieval Valencia was the area El Cid liberated from the Moors.  Well, “liberated” in the sense that he captured it to create his own lordly province.

And, if legend can be believed, it is the city where his wife strapped his corpse on his horse to lead an attack against a Moorish siege.

But, once again, my boy dreams were not realized.  Even though he died here, he is not buried in the city.  And there are no monuments to one of the men the rest of the world considers the emblem of liberated Spain.

I did not head out on another quixotic quest.  Instead, I decided to do a bike tour of Valencia.  It was a good choice because it turned into two tours in one.

Before we were dropped at the bike shop, our driver took us through the historic section of Valencia.  I think I have seen most of them before.

The medieval silk market (La Lonja).  The Victorian central market with its early Sunday morning shoppers.  The cathedral with its former minarets truncated into Catholic bell towers.  The art nouveau train station.  And the two reconstructed towers of the old city walls -- one formerly a women’s prison, the other formerly for locking up nobles.

The van tour was a nice gesture.  Even though we sped by far too fast to get any good photographs, we saw things we would otherwise miss during our biking  trip.

The Turia River once ran through the center of Valencia.  And flooded often enough that after the 1957 flood (and resulting deaths), the river was diverted, and the river bed was turned into a park cinching the two parts of the city together.

Because the river bed is below the surrounding city, it was difficult to photograph the older sights.  But they were all there.  Including the Serrano Towers -- once the main entry to the city.  Until the late 1800s, this was the tower that felonious nobles called home.

The five of us who took this excursion were amazed at how the Spaniards are able to use the path through the park with no conflict.
Walkers.  Runners.  Skaters.  Bikers.  Dogs.  All in one accord.

When we rode through the city on the bike paths, cars willingly gave way to us.  Courtliness.  That’s the word.  And it is a trait I long ago associated with the Spanish.  A trait that has been inherited -- to one degree or other -- in the Mexican culture.

Our major stop in the park was the City of Arts and Sciences (Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències – in the Valencian dialect).  It is one of those architectural wonders that makes a viewer wonder why such a marvelous place was built.

The usual answer would be for a world’s fair or some other exposition.  Not so for these buildings.   They were built to meet the civic needs of the people of Valencia.  Well – and to vacuum money out of the pockets of awe-struck tourists.

The “City” includes an aviary (or “bird jail,” as our tour guide called it).  An oceanic park.  A planetarium/IMAX theater.  An opera house.  A science museum.  And assorted buildings and walkways.

But that is their function. The whimsical Spanish architects Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela designed their buildings to be futuristic.  Forward-looking.  And they certainly are after two decades.

But I often wonder about in-your-face architecture of this style.  What they will look like in another fifty years?

Architecture goes in and out of style.  For example, most of Portland, Oregon’s art nouveau buildings were leveled during “urban renewal” projects because they were outdated.  In their place, developers erected Freudian glass towers often with the character of the occupants they housed.

If history is any guide, they will be preserved along with the other architectural bric-a-brac Valencia has preserved.  But it is hard not to marvel at the mosaic of shapes that are almost everywhere in this city.

The bike portion of our trip was far too short.  I could have easily spent a couple of hours riding through the park.  And stopping for some studied photographs – rather than the snapshots I took on this tour.

If the cost of living in Spain was not so high, this is another city that would go on the “live here a year before you die” list. 


Andean said...

Espana es un pais con historias de amor, corazon y mucha belleza. 
Sounds like a fun bike excursion. Enjoyed the post !

Don Cuevas said...

I hope you ate some great Paella Valenciana.

Saludos,Don Cuevas 

Steve Cotton said...

I wish I had more time to bike around Valencia.  It is beautiful.

Steve Cotton said...

 It was on my list, but we did not have time for lunch in the city.

John Calypso said...

"Courtliness....And it is a trait I long ago associated with the
Spanish.  A trait that has been inherited -- to one degree or other --
in the Mexican culture."

Our differing parts of Mexico must be showing.  We find the Mexican people particularly rude relating to letting the other guy go, giving way and courtesy in lines etc. Our experience is  an every man for himself and harsher conduct here in our parts of Mexico;virtually no refined behavior.

Babsofsanmiguel said...

I will agree with you about the inherited courtliness.  This was a topic the other evening at dinner.  We are all astounded each and every time that traffic stops to let us cross the street or to edge our car into the traffic!  The one by one car rule here is strictly adhered to.  In addition, it always tickles me when a stranger walks by my table in a restaurant, smiles and say "Buen Provecho".  Courtliness definitely.........

Steve Cotton said...

 It is a mixed bag.  And maybe it is because I have become so aggressive myself that I tend to see courtliness in a different context.  Grandmothers seem to be the most aggressive of all in the markets I have attended.  But men, in general, strike me as being excessively polite in Melaque.