When we were in Valencia, we stayed in the old district of El Carme, just within the old city walls. It had its glory days in the 19th and 19th centuries, but fell on hard times. By the 1980s, and into the ’90s, people referred to the area as ‘H&M’ – that’s hashish and marijuana. Anyone with any choices moved out. As dilapidated buildings collapsed – like here….
…. street artists moved in. Followed by other creative people, attracted by low rents and prices. Now El Carme’s narrow streets are vibrant, buzzing, crammed with bars and fashion boutiques.
And yet its wealthy elitist past lives on, in its doors. Why did such tall narrow houses have such magnificent doors? Well, the rich wanted to live here. They needed to express their individual wealth in some way, since spacious grounds were out of the question. Doors then. Doors through which a man on horseback could enter. Maybe a carriage too. Stables and servants downstairs. The noble family above. No two doors were the same. Here’s a small selection.
One of the joys of being in Valencia was walking down streets and through parks lined with orange trees. It’s orange season right now, so they were looking at their best. They’re bitter Seville oranges of course, the ones we use for marmalade. Juicy sweet ones would probably be too much of a temptation for passers-by.
Last Sunday though, when we were walking in the Turia, we spotted fallen fruit under many of the trees. A forager by nature, I couldn’t leave them there to rot. No, we had to gather them, so that when we returned home, we could have a very special souvenir of our holiday. Home-made marmalade, cooked from fruit gathered in Orange Central: Valencia.
Chopped and ready for the final bit of cooking.
I can’t show you the finished article. The marmalade is simmering on the stove as I type.
Yesterday, I showed you a Valencian scene from centuries ago: a man fishing in the River Túria.
No, the water you see isn’t the river. Cooling ponds and watercourses break up the space.
Come with us now to see it as it is today. No longer a river, but a long sinuous public park wandering the northern edge of the old city centre. By 1957, the river had flooded once too often. Too many homes had been lost and livelihoods ruined. The city made the bold choice to move the river, and give the vacated space not to a road, not to housing, but to the people, as a park. At any moment of the day you’ll find commuting cyclists, dog walkers, joggers, families, elderly couples, sporty types – all enjoying this 9 km. long space.
Today, we were there too, walking under ancient 15th century bridges, through cool wooded glades, all the way to the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, Valencia’s iconic futuristic cultural and leisure centre.
This fisherman is trying for his daily catch on Valencia’s River Túria. I found him on the staircase of the Horchateria Santa Catalina.
Horchateria? Yes: it’s a café where you go to drink horchata, a traditional Valencian drink made with dried and sweetened tiger nuts. It’s rather good, if a little sweet.
Anyway, we were just leaving after our break when we spotted this bucolic scene. And it reminded me that we haven’t yet gone for a walk along the Túria, Valencia’s river-that-is-not-a-river. More of that tomorrow.
I’m very keen on Valencia’s central library. It’s situated in a wonderful building founded in 1409 as the Hospital for the Poor Innocents. Astonishingly, it was a psychiatric hospital – Europe’s first. The splendid space shown here was for male patients. Females had the same arrangement upstairs. Suitable ceramic panels showing suitable saints still remain.
In 1979, the hospital moved on, and the library moved in. What a place! It was busy with readers choosing books, students writing essays. Malcolm and I sat and read yesterday’s Times.
We looked round the children’s section. We found a good selection of books in other languages, including a large selection in English. There are two reading and philosophy clubs: one for pre-teens, the other for teenagers.
And look at this list of activities. I draw your particular attention to the last one.
As one of the volunteers at Ripon Library – one of hundreds us working throughout the UK to help keep the library services functioning now that Government funding, or lack of it, prevents libraries employing a full complement of professional staff, I was beyond impressed.
Valencia is paella’s capital city. And l’Albufera is its birthplace. Here’s why.
When I was last in Valencia, I was captivated by Albufera Natural Park, with its dunes, Mediterranean forest, and above all, the immense lagoon of the Albufera. Water is king. I had to show Malcolm.
Once, l’Albufera was open sea. Rivers such as the Turia dragged silt and mud to the coast, and gradually this patch of sea became a lake. A saltwater lake. Aquifers beneath gradually sweetened the water. And over the centuries, man intervened, claiming shallow waters for paddy fields. Rice, rice and more rice grows here. Here’s a paddy field, resting for the winter.
Water both shallow and deep ensures this place is a Mecca for birds. Northern birds fly south to winter here, birds from Africa come too.
Locals spend their summers cultivating rice, and their winters fishing the rich waters of the lagoon for carp, eels and other fish, sharing their catch with the bird life.
We explored some of the park before moving on to the small town at the edge of the lagoon, El Palmar. No need to ask what we had for lunch. There were all kinds of paella on the menu, but paella it was. Eaten in the open air – 18° in January seems miraculous to us.
Then a boat trip. We had to have a boat trip. Restful, restorative…. a wonderful afternoon, shared with herons, egrets, cormorants and all kinds of ducks. A truly special day. Camera photos once I get home. For now, we’ll make do with the phone.