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!