Valencia is Spain’s third largest city. It is a host of a F1 grand prix, famous as the birthplace of paella and recently for the architectural project of Santiago Calatrava. But more than that, it is the beautiful Old City centre that has the most offerings for tourists. Being on the Mediterranean Sea, the city also offers some great beaches.
The first day of the visit was spent in just exploring the Old city centre. The old center has narrow streets, passing through which one can explore the Valencia Cathedral, the market- Mercat Central and the Gothic building-Llotja. It is easy to get lost admiring the beautiful houses along these narrow streets, most of which are lined with cafes and restaurants. The pastel colored buildings offer a picturesque look.
The Valencia Cathedral is a very impressive building. It houses one of the supposed Holy chalices in the world and the interior is similar to some other European churches with a beautiful mural on the ceiling.
The Mercat Central is the largest market in Valencia. There were nice fresh stock of fish and oranges. The dome structure from inside has some fine detailing on it.
After this, headed for lunch to a nearby restaurant and had some traditional Valencian paella, which contains only chicken when compared to the other forms which usually have seafood. It was delicious!
After lunch, visited the Llotja. This gothic building is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is an extremely beautiful building with gargoyles, fine columns in the interior and very intricate detailing characteristic of gothic buildings.
The symbols that one will frequently get to see all across the city are the bat and dragons along with the coat of arms. The symbol of the football club Valencia CF also has a bat. Later found out that the crown of the King who won back the town from the Moors had a dragon. Interestingly, the story goes that when they victoriously marched into the town, a bat came and sat on the flag so, the King replaced the dragon with a bat along with the coat of arms. The dragon symbol was also there at the entry gate of the Llotja.
One thing that impressed me was the very different street lights across the city. Most of them had a crown and they all added to the beauty of the old town.
Visited the bullfighting museum- Museo Taurino in the evening. The bullring was closed when we went so could not see the field but the museum was informative. The museum provided a detailed history of the first Valencian matador. Most of the rules and customs of this gory sport were laid in the 18th century and one could read about them as well in the museum. The suits of the bullfighters were on display. The bullfighting costumes have also changes over the years. Initially, the simple costumes worn served just to distinguish the professional bullfighter from amateurs who used to jump into the arena. Today, the elaborate designs of the suits are artistic works with a range of colors and embroidered decorations.
On the way back to the hostel, saw a couple of forts which were part of the city wall in olden times. Climbed atop the tower to see nice views of the entire city. The walls of the towers seemed to have taken quite some beating over the years.
Second day, the plan was just to visit the City of Arts and Sciences after going to the beach. The main beach in the city was nice but nothing too spectacular. There are more secluded beaches in the outskirts of the city. The number of people there were few owing to a bit lower temperature due to rain the previous day. Also, the visit was in August, a lot of the locals had gone on their vacations leading to fewer people pretty much across the entire city. The entrance to the beach had a nice boat styled fountain. The roads that are converted into a street circuit for the grand prix are adjacent to the road leading to the beach. Stayed at the beach for a while before heading to the City of Arts and Sciences.
The city of Arts and Sciences is located at the end of the reclaimed riverbed. The river Turia that flows through the city was diverted followed by developments like parks,fountains and football grounds on the reclaimed land. When flying out of the city, one can clearly see the blockage of the river and the shining buildings of the City of Arts and Sciences. This ambitious project by Santiago Calatrava was in many ways to bring attention to the city. It is located further away from the old centre. It is comprised of a Science museum, Planetarium, IMAX cinema and an Aquarium. The Aquarium- Oceanografic is the largest in Europe. It has sea life from all the oceans and seas of the world. It was impressive viewing those million fishes. There was a long tunnel way showing sea life of the Mediterranean Sea. In the other sections saw jellyfish, stingrays, squids, seals, walruses, sharks and even penguins.
The most impressive part of the visit to the Aquarium was the Dolphin show. They are held every two hours during the daytime. There are also special night shows along with synchronized swimming during summer.
After this, proceeded to see the other buildings. They were all huge and fine examples of great modern architecture. Went to Hemisferic, to check out the IMAX cinema. They played a documentary of orphaned elephants and chimpanzees due to poaching in Africa. It was not that good. The Hemisferic building is modeled on the human eye. The circle eyeball structure contains the IMAX screen. If one see the building from outside, the exterior surface of the building acts as the eyelids and the reflection of the whole building on the surrounding water completes the eye. A lot of people might have already seen most of these buildings in Rajini’s Style song in Sivaji!
Swiftly, the visit to Valencia had come to an end. I really liked the place, mainly because of the old city center and the scale and ambition of the City of Arts and sciences project. The city is not that big and it still has a metro network. But, it is easy to cover much of the city center on foot and then use the buses to reach other places. I believe, it is just one of many wonderful cities that Spain has to offer!
This city has been described with every possible superlative in a number of works of art, literature and cinema. But, the real love with the city can only develop after visiting it! It is not only the Eiffel tower that makes a visit to this enchanting city memorable , rather it is the entire city itself. Every street has a beauty and story of its own.The perfect compliment to the city must be the opening montage of 'Midnight in Paris'.
Paris has a number of museums showcasing masterpieces like Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Rodin’s Thinking Man. My 3 day trip here spanned a visit to the museums housing these great works in addition to the Eiffel tower and the Notre Dame Cathedral. Since, the visit to the city was in the beginning of spring in early March, there was not the flooding of tourists in the city as in summer which facilitated in visiting a lot more places every day. The night we reached, we enjoyed the stroll down the Champs Elysees. This long road is also the final stretch of the Tour de France and a central location for huge celebrations- for instance the World Cup celebrations in 1998, when a projection of Zidane for President was shown on the arc! It was a long walk as we just kept going on trying to reach the Arc de Triomphe while taking in sights of the shops of major fashion labels, cafes and flashy cars along the way. We reached it finally and saw the flame under the arc burning for the Unknown soldier.
The day began at the Place Saint Michel. The Fontaine Saint-Michel was dry as it was just the end of the harsh winter. The next stop was the Notre Dame Cathedral. This historic Gothic cathedral was the place where Napoleon was crowned emperor and where Victor Hugo’s novel 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' was based in. But, the one sight I was really looking forward to was the gargoyles! Had to walk a long flight of stairs to see it though. The panoramic views of the city from the top along with the grotesque gargoyles was one to behold.
The next stop was the Pantheon. It houses a crypt that has the remains of distinguished intellectuals like Voltaire,Carnot, Braille, Victor Hugo and Marie Curie. The building itself has an impressive facade modeled on the Pantheon in Rome and is beautiful with its dome structure on top. The interior architecture was richly detailed and it also had a huge pendulum.
Next stop- the most visited museum in the world, the Louvre. The museum was true to all the reviews that said it would be impossible to try to see the whole of it. The massive scale of the museum and what all it covers is staggering. There is one wing dedicated entirely to detail the history of the museum. The beautiful glass pyramid greets all the visitors. There were luckily no lines to get in owing to the time of the year we were visiting the city. On entering it, the signboards were all in place for just one masterpiece- Mona Lisa. I am certain that a lot of visitors come just to see it so it is fair enough. But as we made our way through the galleries, I was disappointed to note there were no descriptions in English for most of the works which is the least one might expect for the most famous museum in the world. But, we continued moving around just having a look at the huge galleries with priceless works of art and reached the Mona Lisa. This was in some ways probably the biggest let down of the trip! I must admit I am not an art expert and must be really out of my mind to talk lowly of the greatest piece of art as the experts hail it. I have also read a lot pertaining to the painting and what makes it famous.But, I personally did not find it as breathtaking as what Michelangelo had done on the ceilings of the Sistine Chapel. The scale of that work was incomparable to any other work in my mind.
Note(Above): Mona Lisa, the green light in centre-right is the reflection of the exit sign on the bulletproof glass.
Followed by this, we saw a number of great works like the Venus de Milo, Winged victory monument, Code of Hammurabi. We then proceeded towards the museum shop near the exit when we came across the inverted glass pyramid, below which Robert Langdon found the grave of Mary Magdalene’s grave.
The glass pyramid at the entrance looks even more beautiful at night.
At the end of the long tiring day, we proceeded to see the Eiffel tower in all it’s glory at night. It was very beautiful and a sight worth remembering for a long time.
The day started with a visit to the Pere Lachaise cemetry mainly to see the resting place of Oscar Wilde and JRD Tata. We had a hard time in finding them as it is difficult to get around the huge place but a kind French woman gave us the directions. It was rather impressive that she knew exactly where we had to go. Once we reached the place, we noted Oscar Wilde’s legion of female fans had left their mark on his tomb. Recently, it has been restored.
The next stop was Rodin’s museum. I have seen a lot of images of the Thinking Man in different forms, so it felt good to see the original piece. It was impressive as were the other works housed in the museum, which was actually the house where Rodin lived before.
This was followed by a visit to Napoleon’s tomb. The gold dome structure does feature prominently when one looks at the Parisian skyline. It also houses a museum dedicated to the French army. The architecture of this building was also very impressive.
After this, we started our tour of the Eiffel tower. A close view of the Tower shows names of scientists whose presence has troubled a large number of people in their studies.
The best views of the city are seen from the top of the tower. So with great excitement, we proceeded to the top of the tower and it did not disappoint. Although, I must add that the views would have been more beautiful in summer when the trees are green. The weather also took a slight turn towards the worse as it became very windy and started to drizzle. There were some rooms playing videos and providing more information regarding the tower. There was a brilliant hologram of the Eiffel tower. It was well into the evening by the time we came down. We then saw the smaller version of Statue of Liberty on river Seine.
After dinner, we started walking along Pigalle. It is one of the notorious places of the city and all along the walk, a lot of the strip clubs were very keen on bringing us in by saying: “You’re from India—come in , come in, Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan!” Don’t know how anything was connected with the strip club!
Finally came across the Moulin Rouge…Hopefully someday can go in for a show as well!
Finally, wrapped up the day by going to the Sacre Coeur Basilica. It was another fine building, that also had some gargoyles! The glittering Eiffel tower can also be seen from here up in the hill. It is one of the highest points in the city.
After 2 exhausting days, the 3rd day began with a trip to the Palace of Versailles. This pretty much broke down any energy we had remaining. The gargantuan scale of the palace and its premises took a full toll on our tired feet. It was quite a task to take in all the sights offered by the palace itself. The decorations on the walls, the ornaments on the fireplaces showed just how royal life in a palace would be. The hall of mirrors was beautiful as each window overlooked the gardens. There were a number of fountains and each had a particular story. But, the time we visited none were functioning. There is huge lake that leads to a summer house where the royal palace used to stay after taking a boat ride. The large spread of the place and the neat landscaping being maintained was quite a sight to see. After walking large parts of the surrounding area, we returned to the city still wondering about the excesses of royal life.
The next stop was the Musee de Orsay. This was the museum I liked the most. It was an old railway station building that had been converted to a museum. It housed works from the Impressionism and post-Impressionism era. Some parts of the museum were still being renovated. But, the best part was there were descriptions in English and the layout of all the works made it interesting. This museum houses Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Photographs were not allowed to be taken in this museum, which made me wonder why it is so in places that house works of Van Gogh.
We then saw the Shakespeare&Co. where a lot of writers meet. It was an interesting place, though I did not get any book from there.
The last sighting in Paris on this trip was the Opera house. It was a resplendent building that had statues of the finest composers like Mozart, Beethoven.
At the end of three days, exhaustion set in. The charm and beauty that the sightings in the city had to offer kept us going. The metro network also made all points in the city accessible with ease. Though, the best way to enjoy most of the sights and take in more of the city is by walking. I had some of the best pastries of my life here and there a lot of options one has to sate the craving for these culinary delicacies in Paris.
Describing the city with superlatives will leave one lost for words. Simply put,Paris is majestic! Some of the buildings are regal and the museums house some of the best works of art the world has ever seen. Additionally, knowing a bit of French would help in conversing with the local people, but the map alone was more than helpful in getting around and finding the places we wanted to. So can’t really add much to what a lot of people say: Paris is beautiful but its people are not , as I can only say I had a great time there and would love to visit it again.
I have definitely been blessed to have traveled so many places this year. Looking back at the photos and I can see a spread of memories filled with joy discovering some amazing European cities with loads of history. Be it Paris with its shiny lights, Berlin with its openness or Madrid with its never ending nights, they have all been a delight to explore. I have not updated this blog this whole year, so I thought of putting in all the places visited in one go now..atleast as much as possible!