Milano Week 3

We’ve been heading downhill all week!

Downhill (sadly) towards our departure from Italy and walking downhill(s) during our death marches in Genova and Florence.

As you may know, during graduate school I spent the Fall of 1981 at Clemson’s Charles E. Daniel Center in Genova.

Last Tuesday, I went back for only the 2nd time since then and Mike’s first visit to this historic seaport.

At one point, Genova and Venice ruled the Mediterranean and often fought each other. Remnants of Genova’s walls remain and it’s former palaces are now museums or commercial buildings. Above on the left is the Palazzo Bianco (white) and across the street Palazzo Rosso (red). Originally these were private houses of the wealthy.

They and their neighbors have incredible courtyards, gardens, and terraces as well as intricate decoration on both the interior and exterior.

Even the entry court for the carriages were decorated like crazy-below is an example of another former Palazzo that is now a bank!

After wandering to the main piazza (town square) – Piazza Ferrari (yes THAT Ferrari)

we grabbed a taxi and headed uphill to the Villa. We discussed walking since it was only a mile but as you will see later, it’s quite the mile!

Not much has changed, the view from the villa’s garden of this tower is the same as in that class portrait from 1981. There must be a thousand sketches of it amongst Clemson Architectural Alumni.

At the Villa we had a delicious lunch prepared by Angela, the cook who was there when I was! She is now retired but was back for a few days filling in for the current cook. It was so good to see her and have one of her wonderful hugs. I think she was almost as excited as me to see each other again. I spent a lot of time in her kitchen that fall. Other than her hair she doesn’t appear to have aged a bit! We reminisced in broken English/Italian (her English has been much improved after 30 years) and when it was time to go, she remembered that the last time we said goodbye we had both cried. We didn’t this time…though it was close!

After saying our goodbyes, we started our downhill death march. The second set of steps is at the top of this post, that was preceded by a long, long, Long curved stepped ramp and followed by over a mile of steep streets, stepped alleys, and stepped ramped sidewalks until we again reached the old historic port city.

After a beer and thigh (they was burnin!) break we wandered towards what used to be the docks (and the part of town no one went to) which has been developed into a pedestrian area with a market area, skating rink/event space, an Eataly, and a long pedestrian promenade. We walked along it and then back through the narrow streets to the train station (with a gelato stop along the way!). The European flower show was taking place in Genova so there were umbrellas over some of the streets-not sure how they are connected.

We made it back to the apartment a little after 10 pm WORN out. According to our iPhones we had walked about 6.5miles and almost 20,000 steps. For two fat boys it felt more like 20 million!

After a day of rest (I think my phone showed I walked 42 steps on Wednesday!), we got up really early on Thursday and headed to Florence. For long time followers you may recall that during Mike’s 50th birthday trip we had a great meal in Florence and since this is as close as we are going to be for the foreseeable future we wanted to go back and have another.

Since it was outside our allotted budget, and since it looks like Mike is going to spend his birthday in the Copenhagen airport (have to wait until June to hear how all that goes down) we decided this was Mike’s birthday celebration. I mean come on Queen Elizabeth gets two birthdays so why not Mike?

We arrived in Florence a little after 10 and took the City bus up to Piazzale Michelangelo where apparently every tourist within a thousand miles had also decided to visit. This terraced area across the river and up the hill gives a view to all of Florence including the iconic clay tiled dome of the Duomo (cathedral).

After fighting our way past the souvenir stand (oh come on, the Last Supper isn’t even in Florence) and the hoard of Asian tourist all watching each of the hoard have their picture taken individually and then with their spouse and then with their BFF and then with their BFF and their spouses and then with…..we started downhill back into the historic center. It was tough but not Genova tough thankfully!

We wandered through the historic streets until time for our reservation at Osteria Vini e Vecchi Sapori. This tiny (24 chairs) restaurant is always packed.

It is family run- Mom in the kitchen, Dad (that’s him in the picture above) in the center of the room pouring wine, making salads, and our favorite – hand carving prosciutto-(it tastes different than when carved on a machine) all while son Tomosino greets, explains the menu and takes orders.

Well either due to age or popularity, it appears Dad now supervises a younger guy at the carving station and Tomosino doesn’t have to work quite as hard as unlike five years ago they now make copies of the handwritten menu and the back side is in English. Sorta took some of the charm out of it but who can blame them!

After being seated at the exact same table and chairs as last time we immediately ordered the ham. Yummy!

We were joined at our table (only 24 seats remember) by a nice couple from Maine who spend three weeks a year in Italy. They were up from Rome for the day. We had a great time discussing our favorite travel spots.

For our Primi (first course), we ordered ravioli with butter & sage and a bowl of tomato and bread soup. Both were very tasty!

While we were tempted to order the Parpadelle with duck that we had before for our Secondi we went with new dishes. Veal with tuna sauce (a very traditional dish of cold slices of veal covered with a sauce made of tuna and mayonnaise) and the fried chicken with squash blossoms. This was Mike’s introduction to the veal dish and he really likes it. The other was tasty but we both think the pasta would have been a better choice.

For dessert Mike had Tiramisu with razberries and I had Panama cotta. Both were great! We didn’t know about different types of Tiramisu (remember Mike doesn’t like coffee) until Angela made it with strawberries and no coffee. Sorta like rum spiked strawberry shortcake!

Lunch was delicious and while we enjoyed it immensely it was not the knock it out of the park that we experienced the first time. But is anyone’s second time ever as memorable as your first? But when we are back in Florence we will definitely be going back!

After lunch we rolled ourselves across the river and wandered the Oltro Arno neighborhood which is a little less touristy than the historic center.

There are lots of leather, furniture and art shops as well as beautiful old streets with my favorite old Italian people!

There is of course at least one church worth seeing -in this case Santo Spirito. It was designed by Brunelleschi who designed that big ol dome on the Duomo. It is full on Renaissance architecture on the interior. He died just as the first columns were being installed and hadn’t designed the facade so it was left plain. His students oversaw the completion of the interior based on his completed drawings.

After making our way back to the other side of the river again, we went through the outside market near San Lorenzo and then into the central market. The main floor of the market closes after lunch but since the last time we were last here, they have created a food hall on the upper level where each of the stalls on the perimeter is a different local-ish vendor. And no Jane we didn’t go because we were hungry, but to buy a little something for our train ride back to Milano. They have prepared meals-chicken, pasta, steak, seafood as well as other specialty products. In the center are tables and a big bar with beers, wine and soft drinks.

I bought a cheese tray from a new stall-it was their first day. They specialize in Mozzarella-two farmers had gone together. One raised cows the other buffalo. While I was waiting the buffalo farmer struck up a conversation and invited us to his farm! Next trip I hope. He also gave us a taste of their frozen UNSWEETENED yougurt. Tasted like cold cheese-really good.

Mike bought some prosciutto style (it wasn’t from Parma) ham. We then killed a little time having a beer and then headed to the train station only to find out that our train was 65 minutes late. Ugh.

When it finally left we did high tail it back-top speed was 300 kmh (186 mph) and most of the trip we were at 260-280 kmh.

We walked back in the apartment at 11:30 so another long but fun day. We had walked over 7 miles/20,000 steps. Again we were beat!

I had intended to finish this post out with details of our last two days here in Italy I rambled way too much so I am going to stop here and will post again while killing time in the airport on Tuesday morning before our flight to Santorini.

Advertisements

Milano Week 2

Since our rainy day at the Duomo, we have had nothing but beautiful weather and we have tried to take advantage of it…..well at least until the last couple of days…we have had a lazy weekend!

As noted in my last post, we were on the train to Bergamo, a city about an hour from here.  There is the lower city which is more modern and then up a hill – we rode the bus up and the funiculare down (no shame, we still got in 5 miles of walking!) is the historic village. The hardline picture was taken looking up to it.

Some long time readers may recall that originally we were going to stay in a village outside Bergamo (we couldn’t find an Airbnb in our price range in Bergamo proper) but when we realized that our Ryan Air flights were flying in and out of Milano’s main airport (Malpensa) and not the secondary one near Bergamo, we changed our apartment.  After visiting Bergamo we wish we had of left well enough alone….trust me, we like the apartment here and Cinzia our host is the BEST – we are up to four dishes of pasta from her…but we both said we think Bergamo could be on the list if we decide to live in Europe long term and that Italy is where we want to live.  But that is getting the cart way in front of the horse.

After taking the bus from the lower city railway station to its end at the Citi Alta (upper city), we then took a funicular up to the very highest part of town.  Not much there, a couple of restaurants, a pretty park and what must be high end houses given the cars parked in their driveways – we saw a Tesla and an Audi 8 among others. But the views were incredible.

We then took the funiculare back down to the Citta Alta where we wandered to lunch at a TripAdvisor recommended restaurant. Our dishes were tasty and it was a lovely day in their garden-although we wished we had of gotten the table in the shade but we were beat to it.  Most of the other guests appeared to be workers and Italian so I think we weren’t in a tourist trap.

We half and halfed a penne pasta with ragu and ravioli with butter and sage for our first course and then we both had polenta (Italian grits) which is one of the traditional dishes here.  It was the side to pork cutlets.

We didn’t have dessert at the restaurant but instead bought the specialty pastry here, called..wait for it…Polenta!  It is actually a small cake covered with something to make it look like polenta and then has marizpan decorations supposedly representing the pork that is typically on top of the polenta.  The one we bought was chocolate and orange and was very tasty!

After lunch we headed generally downhill through the upper city’s main square, by both it’s cathedral and basicillca and wandered the narrow picturesque streets.

I was most intrigued by the many decorative tapestries. They were everywhere there wasn’t a painting or gold leaf!

We ended up at the Funiculare which we rode down to the lower city.  From there we walked down the main street back towards the train station where we caught our ride back home.

It was a lovely day and I certainly hope we get to revisit Bergamo and spend more than just a day there.

As mentioned previously, Cinzia our Airbnb hostess (and her helper Isabella) have been great.  Isabella is always available via WhatsApp to answer a question (she is half english and half italian so speaks both beautifully) and Cinzia has brought us dinner a total of four times (so far-fingers crossed).  In addition to the pasta pomodorro the arrival night, she has made us penne with ragu, risotto milanese (saffron) and our favorite, Pizzocheri.

This traditional dish of the mountains is made with buckwheat pasta, potatoes and cabbage.  After they are almost cooked, they are removed from the boiling water and layered in the serving dish with Valapaian cheese – Cessera is the one Cinzia used and placed over the still hot water pot to stay warm/melt the cheese.  While that is happening, you sautee’ a couple of smashed gloves of garlic in butter.  When the butter is almost brown, you take out the garlic and pour the butter over the pasta and serve. OMG, is it ever good….not necessarily pretty but so damn tasty!

Anyway, we talked about cooking dinner or lunch for Cinzia but after discussing with Isabella, elected to take her to lunch in a restaurant here in town.  We had a great meal and great conversation in English, Italian and even a little bit of french at one point! LOL.  The food was delicious.  Traditional with a twist.  Very fresh ingredients.  Mike and I hope to go back before we leave next week.

A salad of roasted root vegetables, asparagus on a smear of goat cheese

Clay’s Pork cheek tagliatelle

Mike’s risotto with chicken ah jus

Mike’s “bbq” sausages and roasted potatoes

Tiramisu

After this day of rest, if hosting a lunch out and if doing laundry is rest (actually it isn’t so bad, throw them in the machine, hang them on the drying rack on the balcony and within a few hours they are dry…..not sure why we have dryers in the US….I swear it doesn’t take that much longer…as long as it’s not raining!) we headed to Lake Como the next day for lunch with Amal and George (the twins were being fully nannied -as it should be, so we didn’t meet them).

It takes about an hour on the train to reach the City of Como which is at one end of the upside down Y shaped lake of the same name.  From there we took a slow ferry (not sure why George didn’t pick us up in his speedboat) to Bellagio the village that is located at the intersection of the two legs of the aforementioned Y.  The ferry stops at many villages along the way.  It wasn’t until we got to Bellagio and were buying our return tickets that we saw the sign (we both swear there wasn’t one in Como) for the day pass which allows you to get on and off.  Oh well, next time.

We arrived at Bellagio and death marched (uphill!) to another TripAdvisor recommended restaurant.  Mike and I split a salad, Mike had a delicious wood fired pizza with schmorza cheese and I had gnocci (tiny potato dumplings – should be cloudlike, these unfortunately weren’t) in a gorgonzola (blue cheese) sauce.  For dessert I had panna cotta…yummy.

We then walked back into Bellagio and wandered through town to La Punta (the very tip of the Y where the two legs of the lake come together.

The views everywhere  (on the ferry, in the village, on the shore) are incredible – The beautiful clear lake surrounded by steep hills leading up to the snow covered Alps.  It is amazing to be sitting having lunch and being warm in the sun and feeling like in just a few minutes you could be in the snow….you can’t, I know, but it feels like they are “right there”.

That’s Amal’s and George’s place on the left

After walking back uphill from La Punta into Bellagio, we caught the ferry back to Como (and the other 14 stops it made).  We arrived there and wandered the older part of the city.  It is lovely.

As it was getting late, we decided to have Apertivo.  This is the Italian version of Happy Hour – around 6 or so, the cafes and bars, offer either a buffet of  small dishes or in the case of the one in Como, bring them to your table.  This is included in the price of your cocktail…in the case of Como, each of our drinks were 5 euro.  So for less than $15 we each had a drink and all that food and got to people watch for as long as we could before we had to catch the train back!

On Saturday we took the train into Milan and explored the canal district – Navigli for a bit.  It has become the young and happening trendy part of Milan.  Lots of bars, restaurants and nightclubs.

My planning didn’t work out quite right so we got there a little too early for Apertivo so we ended up having two drinks a piece…..no harm no foul except to the budget!  Drinks here were 9 euros but the ambiance and people watching was probably better than in Como so it all evens out I guess.

One day…I forget when..oh wait, it was after our restaurant lunch, Mike and took the long (long) way home and discovered a lovely walk along the canal that runs east west through Palazzolo (the village where we are) that intersects another walk along the river that runs north south.  Amazingly, they cross, but do not combine.  Anyway, unlike Valencia where the parks are maintained like crazy, these here are a bit overgrown but still a nice respite from the hard concrete and tall buildings.

We had big plans on Sunday to go to the local Bieriera (beer hall) but low and behold, it isn’t open after 3 on Sunday….unlike the US where a Sunday afternoon if beer drinking is a great way to spend a beautiful day.  Anyway, we both have truly enjoyed relaxing, reading and NOT having to hate Sundays anymore because they are the day before Monday.

Tomorrow we are headed to Genova (1.5 hours by train) to have lunch at Clemson’s Villa where I spent the fall of 1981 (jeez I am old).  The now retired cook, Angela and housekeeper, Andriena are going to come back for lunch so it should be a fun time.  We also are planning a day trip to Firenze (Florence) on Thursday to have lunch at our favorite restaurant in Italy…hopefully it will live up to our memory from Mike’s 50th birthday trip five years ago.  Stay tuned to find out!

ps. Apparently hover-rounds have arrived here too!

Milano Week 1

We have settled into our usual routine-last Tuesday after our hectic travel day from Valencia, we slept late, stocked our larder from not one but both supermarkets nearby-never know who might be cheaper. We have decided the slightly smaller once that is 5 minutes away is no more expensive than the one that is 12 minutes walk. In Valencia we didn’t buy the basics (olive oil, coffee, etc. until later our first week which meant we didn’t use everything up, so here we got all those basics on day 1….probably means we will run out here 😢. The picture above is of our place-our apartment is the one in the upper right with the shutters closed-typically they are open but wanted to be able to point it out to you.

On Wednesday we headed into Milano proper-it is about a 25 minute train ride although due to our ineptitude with working the automated ticket machine it seems to take us longer. We aren’t sure what the issue is-sometimes it will take our credit card and sometimes it won’t and of course since we never seem to have small euros, it doesn’t have enough change. I’m sure by the time we leave here we will figure it all out.

In Milan, we explored the area around the duomo-the cathedral using Rick Steve’s audio guide available for free on his app. We have used it other places and been pleased as we were here.

Milan’s cathedral is a bit different than most Italian cathedrals in that is is wholly a gothic structure whereas most here are of multiple styles with a lot including renaissance architecture. In addition to the entry charge, there was an hour long wait which ended up being in the rain.

It is a huge church, third largest in Europe and the decorations are intense. Something like 123 steeples each decorated to within an inch of its life…including inside corners!

We then walked across the piazza to one of the world’s first shopping malls-the Galleria Victor Emanuel.

It is high end shopping at is finest-Armani, Versace, etc. but it has Dining too so we sat and had a delicious lunch of two traditional dishes from this region -saffron risotto (in a Parmesan shell and ravioli with beef and caramelized onions. Mighty tasty.

It was still raining but we walked by L’Scala-since we aren’t opera buffs we didn’t go in or buy tickets before heading back to the station for the trip home.

On Wednesday we explored our village of Paderno Dugnano. It is spread out and doesn’t have the romantic village ambiance that one hopes to find but it does have everything else we need. It of course has a church and apparently some feel the need to protect their concrete yard art.

On Friday, our AirBnB hostess, Cinzia (that’s her I’m talking to) invited us to join her as she visited the market. It is literally at the end of our street! Beautiful vegetables-who knew that there were both spiny and smooth artichokes.

We bought delicious tomatoes, cheese and some pork chops…and olives, always olives and eggs so fresh they still had feathers on them!

And then Cinzia asked if we would like some of her ragu for lunch…you know us, we never turn down a free meal-and this one was big enough that we got two out of it! And delicious too….we at least made the salads!

Of course we’ve been cooking too.

Those are pastas cut like calamari we put in some fresh store made pesto. Yum.

While in Valencia and doing my research on Milan, I learned that getting tickets to The Last Supper should be done months in advance. Oops. I got lucky and we got two of the last four tickets available in April! So we headed into Milan after lunch at home (trying to watch the Budget!). We wandered the neighborhood around the monastery housing this masterpiece if Leonardo da Vinci and of course you never want to see art without a beer first!

We visited the church at the Monastery which was expanded by one of Milan’s kings during the Renaissance by Bramante- he added the dome and apse.

We then were ready for the big event. The king had intended for the refectory to be repurposed to serve as his family’s moseleum. For some reason which I can’t discover it wasn’t. Anyway he hired Leo to decorate one end with the beginning of Christ’s passion and another painter, Giovanni Donato da Montorfano to paint the end of The passion- Jesus’ crucifixion at the other.

Being the crazy guy he was, Leo didn’t want to paint the wall in the Monk’s dining hall using the proven technique of fresco (paint on plaster) as that led to relatively dull colors apparently. Instead he painted on a dry wall. Unfortunately within five years the paint had started to peel, so you can imagine what it would be like now over 500 years later. There were a number of “restorations” over the years some successful and some not so much. So nobody really knows what if any of Leonardo’s paint is left, but the genius of his composition and his idea of having the painting be of the moment when Jesus announced that someone at the table was going to betray him remain. His painting extends the room and even has its light coming from where the real windows are.

In order to protect the painting, groups of 25 visitors go through two dehumidification chambers and then are allowed 15 minutes in the space.

Unlike the small calendar versions I’ve seen over my years, the real thing is huge-15 feet or so long by 29 high. It showcases Leonardo’s expertise in creating depth using perspective drawing which was one of the new things during this period in the art world. Old Giovanni at the other end may have been smart enough to stick with using a fresco but compared to the Last Supper, his painting is pretty flat.

In addition to the restorations that changed Leo’s masterpiece, some fool decided that going around this wall to reach the kitchen was too much trouble and added the door just below Jesus. In copies made by other art students shortly after it was unveiled, Jesus’ feet were visible. If you want to learn more about this incredible work, just Google and you will find lots of information including discussion as to whether that is an effeminate John at Jesus’s right hand or if it’s Mary Magdalene. Where was TMZ when we needed them?

I’m writing this on Monday, April 16 on the train to Bergamo, a small town about an hour from Milan. It is Greenville, SC’s sister city and I’ve wanted to visit ever since I lived there….and ate in its namesake Italian restaurant there…which is also where I was introduced to a French 75 cocktail.

Anyway, have a good week….I’m sure we will!

Milano.

We made it. It wasn’t pretty (Ryan Airline’s lines, credit card that didn’t want to work for train ticket, user error with google maps, minor hangry breakdown in the rain at “our” station after I mistakenly thought we had gotten off at the wrong one) but we did make it.

Our AirBnB host is wonderful and prepared the delicious pasta pomodoro pictured above for our dinner after she rescued us from the aforementioned train station! Yummy!!

The apartment is nice too although the mini sofa is a bit small for two biguns and the shower even more so! But all in all, it is as we expected so we are very pleased. We are unpacked and headed to bed after a long and tiring day but looking forward to the next part of our adventure!

Our view….

Leaving.

Had a beautiful last day in Valencia. Strolled through upper section of the riverbed Park. It’s the newest section and the most (overly) designed. We then walked back to our apartment. It is amazing that in the midst of the urban development that their is still farming going on. If you look closely you can see an artichoke!

Writing this from the Lounge at the airport -thank goodness for the “free” pass to Priority Lounges I get with my Chase Preferred Card. We arrived about 11 and RyanAir wouldn’t take our bags until 12:15 so we came here. Had my last 2nd Spanish breakfast of toast with tomato and cafe con leche (and a sweet!).

At noon, Mike stayed behind while I went to check our bags. Unlike at 11, there was now a hoard (including a rugby team-at least there was eye candy).

About 30 minutes later I reached the counter and checked my bag but the lady wouldn’t let me check Mike’s. So had to wait while he came from the lounge, toting both backpacks so he could show his passport. Then back through security and then back to the lounge for 30 minutes or so. Just enough time for a well-deserved (at least after that fire drill) gin and tonic and (Bloody Mary for Mike)

Adios España! Benvento Italia!

Valencia Week Three.

We have enjoyed our final week in Spain even though I have nicked named it the week of Death Marches!  Longtime readers will remember that Mike accused me of setting up too long sightseeing days and started calling them Death Marches.  Well it was Mike’s turn this week to do it to me!

Monday, we laid low and walked through the lovely park (pictured above and below) two blocks from the apartment.  It is so well kept and a little oasis.

On Tuesday, we left the apartment about 11 am intending to walk to town to visit the City of Arts and Sciences which is a relatively new collection of buildings in the riverbed of the Turia, the river that was diverted in 1969 after disastrous flooding in the late 50’s.  After reaching the river, which was about a 2 mile walk, I was beat.  (I think it had to do with not having breakfast and not drinking water).  Since our destination was at least another 2 miles and then once we got there we knew we were going to be doing lots of walking, we elected to stop and have an early lunch and then head back home.

We walked back via the Turia Gardens. It is so wonderful that rather than turning the former riverbed into high rise housing or more commercial space, the City instead, left the bridges in place and built a beautiful park.  The park starts in the west at the Zoo and ends at the City of Arts and Sciences about 5 miles away very near the port where we docked three weeks ago.  The park is well used (and loved) and includes ponds, playgrounds, baseball and soccer fields.  Of course, since it is Spain, each of the play fields also includes a bar where you can buy coffee, soda, small bites and beer.  I would probably enjoy taking a kid to soccer practice if I got to have a beer while waiting.

Anyway, we had a lovely stroll along the river and then along the Gran Via (Big Street) that leads back to our part of town.  But the street part became a death march and we discovered when we finally got home that we had walked a little over 6 miles.  Needless to say, we slept well that night.

On Wednesday, we tried again to reach the City of Arts and Sciences but with success this time.  We rode the bus to the park and then walked (and walked and walked – I told you this was a week of death marches!)

The City is made up of the Performing Arts Palace, an IMAX/Planetarium, a Science Museum, a botanical park, a flexible use building and an Aquarium (we visited this as part of our Viking cruise, for more on it, find my post from March 16th or so).  The City was planned and with the exception of the Aquarium all the buildings designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.  Calatrava is both an architect and an engineer and his buildings always are amazing engineering feats.  His buildings typically are organic and heavily influenced by nature.  In some cases, they have huge moving parts – the most extraordinary of which is Milwaukee’s  art museum that looks like a bird whose wings open and close to shade the  interior from the sun.  See a short video of the wings opening here: https://youtu.be/4vXiwpWZ47U

While none of the buildings in Valencia have this dynamic, they are all pretty incredible. The Arts Palace is called by locals, the roman helmet.  This is obvious when the building is viewed as a whole.

The “feather” of the helmet is supported at only two points – where it starts at the ground and at the very top of the building –

the rest of the feather is a cantilever hanging over the entire west part of the building.

But the building also references the sea and nature.  The entire building is bathed in natural light on the interior – most of the paving of the terraces include glass portions which let the below grade levels receive sunlight.  Note too that the building surfaces are covered with broken tiles (Gaudi’s influence?) which combined with some of the shapes of the building reminds me of fish which is an obvious reference in this seaside city.

We toured the building and throughout it is pretty incredible.  There are four performance spaces along with a multitude of rehearsal halls, back stages areas etc.

The various lobbies are available for private events – the lobby of the Opera Hall was being prepped for a large reception while we were there – hence the hightops and some of the screens you see.

There is an incredible cantilevered stair that is used to reach the upper levels of the opera hall.

As part of the tour we also got to visit the Palm Terrace which is the highest point that is accessible.  This space is where high euro donors get to have their champagne during intermission….or the peons get to rent for weddings. The last photo shows it from the ground so you can see where the previous pictures were taken.

Throughout the building there are custom details, such as the ceramic door pulls, in the opera hall they are singers, in another place where the hall is used more for dancing, they are dancers.  All are in the blue tile that is seen throughout Valencia typically as roof tiles.

After our tour, we walked beside the Hemisperic (the IMAX theater) towards the Science Museum.  The theatre was closed and as you can see it appears they were either working on it or cleaning it.  I didn’t notice until late in our walk, that the outer shell doesn’t apparently completely enclose the interior dome – rather it stops just short of the water level of the pool and the pool goes inside the building.

As it is Spring Break here, we elected to not join the hordes of students of all ages lined up to go inside the Science Museum and instead visited the restaurant where we shared a salad and a pizza for lunch.  That got us into the main hall, but not into the upper floors with the museum (and all the kids) itself.  The building references the skeleton of a whale which you can see best in the main hall.  The exterior is also an incredible composition of metal and glass.

We then walked through the small botanical park back towards the Arts building.  The shade structure appears to have been designed with the idea that vines would cover it, but if that is the case, they have not yet done so….only along the edges at some locations are they starting to creep towards the top.

We did not visit the last building in the complex, the Agora – it is the building behind the bridge and covered with scaffolding.  It has been “open” for several years but apparently has “issues”.  I think it is likely an expensive white elephant.  It is a multipurpose space but while very tall, isn’t very big. It hold 6,000 for a tennis match for example, which is a lot, but given its exterior size, I expected it to hold many more.

Both of us remarked that unlike the rest of the Turia park, where you only know you are in a former riverbed because of the bridges overhead, in the City of Arts and Sciences, Calatrava has brought the water back to the riverbed.  The use of water to join the various facilities together not only provides background noise, cools the space but reminds one of the former river.  For anyone visiting Valencia, I highly recommend a stroll anywhere along the Turia park but especially through Calatrava’s portion.

After leaving the City of Arts and Sciences, we walked west beside the park until we reached Gulliver.  This huge sculpture is a well loved play space.  It was great watching the kids slide down his shirt or climb on the ropes holding him to the ground.

From Gulliver, we wandered through L’Eixample (the addition), the beautiful part of town with wide boulevards (Gran Via) that reminded me of Paris and Mike of Buenos Aires headed towards Russafa, the up and coming trendy part of town. Galleries, boutiques, breweries, etc.

My intention had been for us to arrive about 6 pm when the cafes and bars open for tapas, alas we arrived at 5:30 so we HAD to have ice cream instead…So sad.  We split one of Dulce de Leche – delicious and another of tiger nut (the horchata one) and orange – omg, delish!

Since I am not one for ice cream followed by beer or cocktails and because we had blown our daily budget with the tour and the museum lunch, we decided to head home.  At this point we had walked about 5 miles and both of us were starting to feel it so we decided we would take “our” bus home.  Bus 28 runs right beside our apartment and it starts at the Central Market which wasn’t too far away from where we were.  So we headed towards the market….without checking the Valencia Transit App to confirm exactly where the market stop was….remember I said it was a week of death marches?  Well, after walking to the market, we discovered that even though the start/end point of #28 is the market, it in fact starts and ends at Government Plaza, which we had passed back there about a half a mile back.  Dumb Dumb Dumb but who knew?  Anyway, we trekked back (by this time I am at least half a block behind Mike at most points) to the plaza, found the bus (and a Taco Bell!, jeez, can’t we import Killen’s BBQ or something better than that? – we went in but did not partake, though given the line, apparently many spanish do) and finally made it home at 8:15 pm where we collapsed after walking 7.5 miles!

Yesterday, we went to court! Thankfully neither of us was involved in the proceedings. Once a week for the last several hundred years, the Water Court has met on the steps of the cathedral to rule on conflicts between farmers about the use of the canals and water systems. Europe’s oldest continually operating justice system is made up of one judge from each water district and they hear (nothing is written including their rulings) the case and make a decision. Yesterday, after the judges were led by the bailiff with his staff across the street from the water department to their leather and wood chairs, the bailiff hollered something about six times in Valencian (not exactly Spanish) that I suspect was, ” ya got a problem-come on up and tell the judges” and two older gentlemen and a young one (the court’s administrator?) came up. The young one talked (the crowd watching was too big to hear what was said-like I would have understood anyway), a judge or two asked a question and then it was done. I couldn’t tell if the ruling was announced or not-but I think that happens next week. Anyway, the judges’ walk over before and the standing with tourists for photographs afterwards both took much much longer than the proceeding.

After court we visited the basilica and intended to go inside the cathedral but the long line and 8 euro price tag made us decide to have a quick sandwich and beer instead before heading back to the apartment to get ready for our dinner guests.

That’s right after being here almost three weeks, we have apparently become fully settled as we entertained last evening by having the Canucks over for dinner!Nothing fancy, charcuterie & olives with wine, a rotisserie chicken from the take away place, some rice with mushrooms and our version of the goat cheese and strawberry salad we had on Silk Exchange day.  But it was nice to know that even in this small kitchen we can follow Ina Garten’s rules of entertaining successfully – buy something, make something, keep it simple and most importantly have a good time.

Today, we are taking it sorta easy and enjoying blogging and reading while the pictures upload. Tomorrow we think we will walk some of the Turia Gardens between our tram stop and Gulliver and I am hoping it won’t be another death march, but who knows?? At some point I guess we also need to start packing as Monday and our flight to Milano will be here before we know it.

Valencia Week 2

Happy Easter!

We have settled into a routine….usually one day doing something cultural and one day of mostly doing nothing…..boy I am not having any trouble with that part! I am settling into retirement just fine…that’s right, I said it…no more of that pussyfooting around with the “ahem, no longer working” crap…what the hell….

I AM RETIRED!

So for our cultural day last Sunday, we took advantage of Valencia Free Museum Sunday and walked into town (gotta keep the average miles per day up! – currently 2.6 or so…aiming for 5) and visited the Silk Exchange.  This building (and its additions) originally served as the marketplace for not only silk but other traders.  Currently the building serves as a museum, an event space and the location of one of the community council. The huge space with the incredible spiral columns below is the old market space. The pictures below it show the council chamber with the intricate wooden coffered ceiling.

After our visit, we played tourist and enjoyed the beautiful day by siting outside at a cafe, listening to the music of the swing dance club holding court in the nearby plaza and split a delicious lunch of a salad of lambs lettuce (sorta like teeny tiny bok choy), nuts, raisins, bacon, grilled goat cheese with strawberry preserves and a grilled whole fish with potatoes were both delicious..but the real star was the Aqua de Valencia (Valencian water) which is a spiked mimosa.  (5% Vodka & Gin, 20% OJ, 70% Cava (spanish sparkling) and some sugar…very tasty!!  We definitely enjoyed our Sunday siesta after lunch!

Last Tuesday, we had hoped to go to L’Albufera region, an area south of Valencia about 40 minutes  by City bus from downtown Valencia.  A couple of Canucks we met last week after the Free Tour (who live part of the year here in Valencia) invited us to go with them.  Unfortunately, we missed the 11:05 bus and the next one wasn’t until after 1:30 so instead we headed to El Cabanyal, the beach town near here.  It is only 15 minutes by tram or bus from downtown and about 30 minutes from our place. It used to be a sleepy fishing village but has had high-rise housing move in.  Unfortunately, due  to a corrupt mayor, some of the historic tile covered buildings were knocked down to make way for an improvement project that never came to fruition but we were able to imagine what could have been and will hopefully again now that folks are starting to improve the town.

We walked to the beach – too cold for us but some were laying out on a beautiful sunny day and then after walking a bit on the beautiful promenade, we found a great little restaurant and had delicious calamari and beer and then split a HUGE sandwich between the four of us.

After our recovery day, Mike and again (solo this time) attempted the trip south and this time we were successful.  To make sure we didn’t miss the bus, we arrived very early so we ended up having time to walk to the other historic Valenician market, El Colon.

It like the central one is a beautiful building but unlike the other, it is now all small cafes on the main level and they opened up the basement and it now contains restaurants and a couple of specialty stores.

While I had my Cafe con leche’, Mike tried Horchata.  Unlike the mexican version I remember seeing at that fine North Carolina dining establishment, Golden Corral or even that I saw in Texas, Spanish horchata is not a mixture of milk and sweetened condensed milk, instead it is made (much like almond milk) from the tiger nut but of course has some sugar added.  It was tasty…especially with a “farton” (no jokes, Jack), the pastry one traditionally dips into the horchata.  The place we tried them gilded the lily by adding chocolate to them, which made dipping difficult but greatly improved them with coffee!

We then caught the bus to El Palmar where Paella was invented.  The bus drove through the city and then beside the port where we had docked two Fridays ago and turned south where it quickly became suburban/rural until we got to the area near the lake where rice is grown and paella was invented. All along the drive and in the village you could see the fields and the canals which bring water from the largest lake in this part (maybe all) of Spain.

We got there about an hour before our lunch reservation (fancy huh?  apparently it is the only way to make sure you get a seat anywhere in Spain for lunch….we called that morning and Mike did great using his Spanish making it for us) so we wandered the little town.  It is pretty obvious that it is now more of a tourist place than anything else.  The main square was one paella restaurant after another.  However, using my usual resource – Trip Advisor, our reservation was at the #5 Restaurant Mateu (1,2 and 4 were only open on Friday – Sunday and being holy week, we didn’t want to risk them not being open then) and #3 didn’t open until 2 which would make us miss the 3:30 bus back to town).

You may have thought you have had paella but according to the Vallencians, unless it was made with Valencian water, rice, beans and proteins and is more than a single grain thick, then all you have eaten was “Rice with stuff”.  I think they are right….more on the paella later.

We started by ordering a salad and “Tillenes” which my friend Google told me were tiny mussels.  The waitress upsold us to have some Tostata with them.  So our first dish was the toasted bread (think a sliced and toasted baguette) in a basket served with a bowl of crushed tomatoes and a bowl of garlicky mayonnaise.  This same dish (well without the mayo) is the usual “2nd breakfast” spaniards have during their morning visit to a cafe…served with coffee.  The mayo really made it tasty.

Next to arrive were the tellines.  OMG, I have a new purpose in life.  I will forever be in search of tellenes.  They are the most delicious thing I think I have ever eaten.  Simply prepared by sautéing them in a little oil and garlic they are tiny but pack so much flavor…the squeeze of a little lemon and it is perfection.

But wait, the paella was still to come.  It too was delicious and luckily Mike had read about the proper way to eat it.  Only stupid tourists use that spatula to move it from the pan to each diner’s plate.  Real Valencian’s eat directly from the pan!  Which is what we did…..we only used the spatula to scrape up the so very tasty crispy caramelized rice in the center of the pan….Valencian Caviar!  Ours was the traditional Paella di Valencia – chicken, duck and rabbit (snails would have been included if they had of been in season) with flat green beans and another bean that was sorta like a big butter bean.  As you can see we ate it all.

So ok, it’s two or three grains thick but still so much better than anything we have ever had before!

We also had a bottle of red wine and with the tillenes split a bottle of Cervesa de Arroz (Rice beer).  So just like our last lunch out, we wanted a siesta but instead had to catch the bus and head home.

This morning, we got up early and walked (gotta keep the average up!) to the Canuks who had invited us to an American breakfast.  BACON!!! and french toast….  yummy.  Mike and I then headed back to El Cabanyal (the beach town we had visited with them earlier in the week) to experience the final procession of Semana Santa (Holy Week – not some sort of Father Christmas character).

In El Cabanyal, there are a number of “brotherhoods” (I am think maybe these might be the same folks who two weeks ago were blowing up their Las Falles) who process (some might call them parades since there are costumes and bands involved) to and from their neighborhood churches.  Apparently the first is on Palm Sunday and then again on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.  However, those processions are all at night (start after dinner at 10 or later and last until 2 am or so) and they wear masked costumes that bring a bit of fear into this southern boy’s heart.

So we elected to miss those – I couldn’t imagine trying to get back to our place at 2 in the morning, with a bunch of drunk folks wearing hoods and us not speaking their language…it just seemed too good a chance to end up at the embassy eventually.

Instead we attended the Resurrection Procession.  The streets were lined with folks but unlike last year when we were in NYC on Fifth Avenue where everyone was wearing an easter bonnet, the spectators were mostly in casual wear, drinking beer and enjoying the beautiful day.  (Speaking of which, we have been so lucky to have such great weather – other than a couple of overly cool and windy days, it has been glorious…and after the heat of being one level above hell in Houston, we will never complain about cool weather!)

The processional started with a horse mounted group and then each of the brotherhoods typically led by an adult and a child in each groups uniform carrying a banner with a religious symbol followed. After each banner were a couple of rows of unmasked KKK members carrying theirs thankfully.

Forgive me, but I gotta believe that David Duke’s folks got their couture ideas from these folks….after them were typically groups of women some who appeared to have come directly from Miss Universe’s evening dress competition while others were in RuPaul’s Mary Magdalene Extravaganza competition – maybe they were playing Egyptian slaves?.

These were typically accompanied by adolescent and younger girls  and boys in what reminded me of Vandola Baptist Church Christmas Nativity Scene costumes.

Most groups also had a Virgin Mary – she usually was in white and always had a halo!

All the costumed women had bouquets of carnations which they handed to spectators (typically little girls shouting “Guapa”. (beautiful). Reminded me of the kids at Mardi Gras shouting, “hey mister, throw me some beads mister”.

Four of the brotherhoods had as the grand finale of their group, the big guy himself, Risen Jesus (including lipstick in their palms).  It is unclear why some groups got to have a fake Jesus and others didn’t but Jesus always had a bad wig and a couple looked more like Conchita, the bearded woman winner of the Eurovision song competition than who they were supposed to be portraying!

However, the most entertaining part of the whole procession (to me at least) were the shoes/sandals.  Almost everyone in the procession had on the same shoes – men, women, children, but they were each matched (well a couple obviously hadn’t sprung to have them dyed to match exactly…or maybe they had changed brotherhoods?) to their group’s robes.  It was sorta freak but whoever has the shoe concession is making a fortune!

So that was our week….this coming week we intend to visit the remaining places on our “to visit” list, continue to enjoy being in a different culture, and get ready to head to Italy a week from tomorrow.

Best wishes to all for a great week!