Modena. (Or is there ever too much chocolate?)

not sure why (bad Spanish Internet? But all the pictures in this post aren’t loading. So sorry but here is the text.

We left Milan early in the morning and headed towards Modena our next resting spot. But first we had a hilltop town, two more lakes and a castle to see.

Our first stop was Bergamo. Mike and I had visited here last June so when we arrived and found parking near the upper city (Alta Citta) impossible, I dropped Mike, Lowell and Peggy (hereafter M,P&L) off at the upper gate and I drove to the lower gate of this walled city and sat in the car while M,P&L walked through town. They went into the Duomo but otherwise basically did a quick walk through.

From there we headed to Iseo ( on Lake Iseo) for a quick stop on our way to Lake Garda.

Peggy had selected Sirmione as our next stop. This town is on a peninsula that extends into Lake Garda. At the midpoint is the peninsula is Castello Scaligero which was built in the 14th century.

The medieval town and lake surrounding the castle are beautiful and could easily be used for a Disney movie.

We had a delicious lunch. Mike and I halfed and halfed lasagne and a local cod dish with polenta. While tasty I was disappointed that the polenta was grilled and not more liquid. Unfortunately we were both apparently too busy eating to take any pictures. sorry.

After lunch we continued onto Modena. Due to parking issues in Sirmione we needed up leaving later than planned which meant it was after dark when we got to Modena. We had difficulty locating our airbnb (the holiday festival and one way streets only raised my frustration level) but after a couple of phone calls to the host we finally found the right address and checked into our lovely home for the next two nights.

The apartment was located within the historic center which made driving difficult and after that stress of the previous night my passengers suggested and I readily agreed to trashing our plans to visit Verona and some other nearby towns and instead spend the next day in Modena.

Of course, after we discovered that there was a chocolate festival literally at our doorstep with vendors’ stalls for the next eight or ten blocks we knew we made the right decision! For dinner that night we basically had chocolate albeit not shoes or handcuffs!

The next morning we visited the Grande Plaza with the Duomo and the City Hall. We also went inside to the the “historic rooms” of the City Hall. Including a very old organ.

From the main square it was only half a block to the city market. As usual incredible sights, smells and tastes-including porcetta and prosciutto!

It had started sprinkling as we left the market so we headed towards the Ferrari Museum. Along the way we passed the Ducal Palace which was covered in scaffolding-but here it is as well a the view from it across its piazza towards Duomo.

Enzo Ferrari was born in Modena and started his empire in the building below which houses a display about his life and various engines.

The old garage is surrounded by a modern building which was inspired by the boot of a Ferrari.

The main display has cars from all eras. The space itself is very interesting-sloped floor from top to bottom in a curve and with a huge projection system where they show a film on Ferrari’s life and the history of the brand and team.

Of course there is a gift shop and Cafe which was in the curved part of the building looking out on the historic garage.

As always I love the juxtaposition of ancient and contemporary:

After a wet walk in the rain Back to the apartment we called it a day and ate our market purchases for supper.

I am posting this from the Barcelona cruise terminal after a beautiful day. I’ll do a full Barcelona post in the future but here is a teaser of the inside of Sagrada Famila. OMG it’s astounding. What a change from when we were here in the mid 1990s and it didn’t have a roof or windows or full height columns! (Oh, no filter used!)

They had the hole in the ship repaired when we got off this morning and were in the process of painting it but Mike just texted from onboard and the rumor is we may not be leaving until tomorrow. No biggie-what else do I have to do?



You may be saying to yourself, “Self, I don’t recall Clay mentioning Barcelona when he told me about his year of travel.” and you would be right!  We hadn’t planned on visiting Barcelona this trip (well at least once we decided we couldn’t afford to spend our month in Spain there).  But Mike’s brother Chris and his wife Jen along with their daughter Rebecca and her boyfriend Karol (Pronounced Karl – he is polish) decided to celebrate Rebecca’s graduate school graduation with a week in Barcelona.  We had to get from Sofia to Lisbon and that entailed a stop somewhere and Barcelona was just as good as Milan and lots better than Frankfurt, so we modified our Airbnb stays and spend four nice days with them.

We arrived at the Hotel Rec (which Chris found and we loved) around 8 pm on Saturday night and the others arrived around 1 pm on Sunday.  Mike and I spent Sunday morning wandering through the park below the Arc d’triumph (who knew Barcelona had one too?) and got back to the hotel as they were arriving.

We all went and had a late lunch and then the travelers checked in and took naps until that evening.

The hotel has a beautiful rooftop lounge and terrance and we ended up having a Jamon tasting and just relaxing that evening.  Mike bought the ham at a speciality store around the corner and boy was it tasty….but not inexpensive – we had three levels, the most expensive was 199 euros a kilo or about 105 dollars a pound!  Wowzer!  Needless to say we only had a taste of it.  Most of us thought the much more economical $50 a pound ham was just fine….of course his majesty Burton thought we should only eat the good stuff from now on!

Monday we all went to Park Guell together. This was originally envisioned as a residential development in the hills above Barcelona and Saudi (architect of La Sagrada Familla) was charged with designing the common spaces.  Unfortunately, it never took off – I guess just like our neighborhood in Knightdale, the best laid plans don’t always come to fruition.  So at some point the it was all sold to the City and turned into a park.  Most of the park is open to the public but the “monumental” area requires a timed ticket to try to keep the crowds down….notice my use of “try”!

Through our the park there is a lot of decoration done with tile shards. This is the technique that Calatrava uses on his modern buildings-remember the cultural center in Valencia?

The Hyperstyle Hall was designed to serve as a covered gathering space for neighborhood events -that’s it at the top of the steps and its roof as the public plaza. It is currently having repairs made which allowed us to see how the dimes on the underside are made above. So while most visitors were unhappy about the construction fence I enjoyed it!

There is also an interesting area of the park which creates a walkway that has a wave form on the interior and interesting columns on the outside, including one called the wash woman and another reminiscent for the spiral columns of the canopy over the altar at St Peters in Rome.

Gaudi’s work may have influenced lots more architects than I realized-these columns at another spot in the park reminded me of Frank Lloyd Wright’s columns for the Johnson Wax Building. Knowing Wright’s ego I’m positive he would say he was unaware of them!

You will have to make your own decision:

On Tuesday, we continued our Gaudi experience by heading to La Sagrada Familla.  This is the church that Gaudi started and that still isn’t finished as you can see from the construction shot at the top of this blog post. When Mike and I visited in the 90s, they said they hoped to have it finished by 2020, they are now pushing to have it finished by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.  I doubt they are going to make it as they haven’t yet started on the biggest towers…but who knows, with modern building techniques, perhaps they will.

Mike and I had planned on going inside and I “knew” I had bought the tickets – hell we didn’t buy the airline tickets until we were sure we could buy tickets for the same time as Chris and crew were going.  So Monday, I go to find the tickets in my email, hmmmm, not there?  Let me check the credit card…hmmm, no charge?  Did I just imagine it?  Anyway, it appears I dropped the ball, so while Chris et al climbed the tower (been there done that, not gonna do it again) and spent time contemplating inside this magnificent building, Mike and I sat outside and people watched!  Luckily we will be back to Barcelona as our first and only mainland port stop on our Transatlantic back to the USA in November and I am definitely going to buy a ticket for inside this time!

We are also making plans to have lunch at the restaurant around the corner from our hotel where we had wonderful tapas (including grilled octopus better than any we had in Greece) on our last night in Barcelona.  Yummy!

on Wednesday, Mike and I metro-ed to the airport (again arriving too early to check our bags, had a quick visit to the lounge again courtesy of our Priority Pass and then boarded TAP Portugal airlines headed to Lisbon.  While the checkin and boarding process had some of the same issues we experienced in Sofia – again due to contracted airport employees I believe (and so tweeted to TAP), we were pleased with the flights.  On our slightly over 2 hour flight we were served a sandwich and drinks! When is the last time in the US that you saw anything other than a packet of peanuts on a short flight (unless you were seated up front)?

We arrived in Lisbon uneventfully and made it to our Airbnb via UBER after seeing the loooooong taxi line.  Since we have been here we have learned that UBER is easy and cheap here…in some cases, no more expensive than taking the bus!

More on Lisbon coming right up!

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:

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….


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!

Valencia Week One.

What a change from the quiet of Viking Sky – rather than the melodies of the Olga the pianist, or harmonies of the Virginia Gentlemen or even the crash of the waves on the bow of the ship, the first few days in Valencia were filled with firecrackers, explosions and fires. Continuously. They take this Las Falles thing VERY seriously.

I guess the best comparison would be to Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  It’s a party, it’s religious, it has traditions some of which don’t make sense to those of us who weren’t raised with them. For example, in NOLA, they work hard to catch plastic beads only to  to throw them into recycling bins at the end of the parades…..and here, they build ginormas statutes only to burn them down (with tears in their eyes) at the end of the festival.

After settling in last Saturday, we started exploring our neighborhood and ended up walking all the way into the center of town.

All along the way we kept running into groups of Valencianos parading in traditional dress towards the Plaza of the Virgen.

We had seen the wooden structure for Mary when we ported on Friday but each of the groups we saw were bringing their “La Ofereta” to make her dress.  Each year the dress design is different but it is made of of bouquets of flowers each of the ladies and girls bring.  This proceeding went on for two days.

By the time they were done, on Monday, Mamma had a new dress!  And was surrounded by huge flower arrangements that each group also brought.  The whole square smelled like a florist warehouse.  Or at least one that had firecrackers going off in it…yes even in the midst of this pomp, the kids continued to light fireworks. Wandering around downtown was difficult due to the crowds so we decided after we made it out of the center city and onto the tram home, that we would not attempt to go into town for the BIG show on Monday.

We awoke the next morning to clouds, cold and wind and we ended up staying in most of the day.  We ventured out in the evening to our neighborhood’s Falles to see them set the baby one (the second of the two pictures above) afire at 10. I’ve tried to upload video but apparently our internet just doesn’t have enough umph so here are some screen shots…unfortunately you don’t get the sound-sorry.

It was done in the traditional style, one of the young girls, was given the honor of lighting a string of big firecrackers that eventually reached the statue/cartoon/sculpture and set the kerosene, fireworks, and eventually the sculpture itself afire. Apparently being the Las Falles girl is quite an honor, her mother was crying and eventually the little girl was too.  Of course immediately before and after EVERYBODY (well except Mike and I) were lighting and throwing firecrackers at each other, lighting roman candles while holding them aloft, and setting off bottle rockets – preferably so they went horizontal on the street so you had to jump out of their way. It was madness!  But we did have tasty churros and the seasonal specialty which was made with pumpkins from the stand set up beside “our” Falles. Interestingly, rather than the churros being long strips, they make a spiral one and then cut it.

I can only imagine what it was like downtown at 1:30 am when they set the City’s official Falles afire.  We watched that on TV – think of this whole thing like New Year’s Rocking Eve with Dick Clark.  They had Dick on a building high above the spectacle and he called on various reporters throughout the plaza below and across the city to report.  Each neighborhood lights up the infantil Falles at 10 and then the big one at midnight.  At 1 am the winning Falles is burned followed at 1:30 with the City’s official one.  That’s it burning at the top of this blog post and here it was on Friday when the VaGentlemen posed in front of it.

Just as with the crying girl lighting our neighborhood’s baby Falles, the big one downtown was set ablaze by the Queen of Las Falles who had tears in her eyes the whole time it. Maybe the smoke was causing it but I don’t think so.

All in all an amazing festival.  Everyone should see it once, but like New Year’s Eve in Time Square, I don’t feel the need to do it again! LOL

We laid relatively low on Tuesday and Thursday.  Basically exploring our neighborhood, eating lunch out – dinner in most days since we can’t stay up until 10 pm when the Spaniards have dinner but given we are sleeping in later than either of us would like, we tend to get up, have some yogurt, go exploring for lunch at 2 or so, then make our way back home, have something lighter for dinner at 7 or so and get to bed about when our neighbors are eating dinner.

On Wednesday, we ventured back into the center and went to the incredible Central Market.  It is a beautiful building and we got some tasty morsels too!  Unfortunately, unlike the markets in Florence and Budapest it doesn’t have much in the way of prepared foods (its a true market) so we ended up across the street having a not so great meal.

Yesterday, we were up early and took a “Free Tour” (you pay what you think appropriate at the end of the tour).  It went to most of the places we had visited to date but we got to hear about them and learn all sorts of history and stories.

We also got to see Mary being undressed and dismantled….we had sorta figured she would remain in place through Holy Week but apparently that will bring an entire new set of festivities!

One of the highlights was being introduced to Rosita Amores – or at least the mural commemorating her as Valencia’s favorite entertainer.  Note she is on a Paella Pan (invented in Valencia and according to local lore can only be made here – everything else is just “rice with stuff”). And yes they are real….youtube her if you want to see her (and them) in action.

So….so far so good.  We have settled in, we are looking forward to more exploration of the city next week – tomorrow we are going to hit a few museums since they are free, probably going to the area south of town on Monday or Tuesday to see the village where Paella was created and head to the beach later in the week when the weather is supposed to warm up.

Hope everyone is having a good weekend!