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Spain: Day Trip to Valencia

September 20, 2012

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A day trip to Valencia with Linda has become part of our routine when I stay. Spain’s third largest city is beautiful and I love visiting it. From the gorgeous19th century neoclassical buildings in the historic centre to the stunning space-age architecture of the City of Arts and Sciences in eastern Valencia, designed by the city’s famous architect, Santiago Calatrava, it is a visual feast. And this is quite apart from being the home of Spain’s most famous gastronomic feast: paella. Arriving by train at Valencia North (see photo above) you are immediately aware of being in Spain. The station’s architecture breathes ‘Spain’ and in addition, the city’s bull ring sits alongside it. The beautiful decoration inside talks of its heritage, especially the Valencian orange.

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It must be the third or fourth time I’ve arrived at this station, but I still can’t resist taking lots of photos and exclaiming in delight at its beauty. However, there were more plans afoot than admiring the railway station, but after an early start, some coffee and tostadas were required first to set us up for the day. We headed to a nice little cafe we found last year near the station, l’Espresso.

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Then it was on to Mercato Central, Europe’s largest fresh produce market. There’s been a market here since medieval times but it’s recently undergone a facelift. A facelift in fact that I’ve been witness to over recent years and now, in its final restored glory, it’s a truly magnificent market to visit.

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The interior with its bright polished tiles and light pouring in, is a wonder to behold. It’s simply beautiful. At the centre a large space stands under a magnificent dome. Looking up, I was immediately reminded of how much I also love looking up at the Pantheon’s dome in Rome. But Mercato Central isn’t all about stunning architecture, it’s also about 900 stalls selling the freshest and best produce you’ll find anywhere.

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Linda and I wandered leisurely up and down the aisles enjoying seeing all the wonderful food. We stopped by chance at a small stall selling anchovies and dried fish where a man – Rafael Sanmartin – was carefully preparing the anchovies to be steeped in oil flavoured with orange peel and spices. Matt, an English student studying in Valencia, who plans to be a chef, told us these were the best anchovies we’d find anywhere in the world.

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Soon we were in deep discussion with the two men and sampling wonderful anchovies (I don’t know if they’re the best in the world, but I don’t think I’ve tasted better).

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And then there were amazing sardines to try and wonderful dried tuna.

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We were having such a great time chatting happily and tasting dried and marinated fish such as I’ve never enjoyed before, but we had to move on. We had a table booked at well-known tapas bar, Casa Montana (www.emilianobodega.com) where Linda and George had eaten before and thought I would enjoy. Out of town near the beach, we had a little bit of travelling to do on the Metro.

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We entered a wonderful old part of the city – threatened Linda told me with destruction to make way for rebuilding – that reminded me of Havana. We interestingly entered Casa Montana through the bar and had to duck under the counter to go through to a room at the back. Something Linda had warned me of.

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We ordered red and white wine by the glass which were excellent and then an array of fabulous tapas came.

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My little bowl of salmorejo was thick and gorgeous. If we weren’t eating tapas, I could have quite happily eaten a full-size bowl.

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There were delicious broad beans stewed with a ham bone, chorizo, herbs and spices, explaining their unusual dark colour.

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The patatas bravas were surprisingly large but crisp on the outside,light and fluffy inside with a very spicy tomato sauce and garlicky alioli.

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I had a croqueta de bacalao and, after tasting Linda’s, had to order a stuffed pimento.

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And then there was the hot codfish cream.

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When you indulge so happily with such brilliant tapas you soon find yourself surprisingly full. However, we thought we’d share a plate of dessert selection with coffee.

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Then we had a chat with manager Alejandro Llinares who gave us complimentary glasses of muscatel as we talked. Everyone was so friendly and it was such a relaxing and great place to enjoy lunch apart from serving some of the best tapas you’ll find anywhere.

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Being so near to the beach, we decided to head there for a bit of sea air and open space before going back into the centre and home. It was a gorgeous hot sunny afternoon and great to sit quietly for a short time enjoying a little sun and peace.

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Then, via tram and Metro we headed into the centre, did a little shopping, and then caught the train home. What a lovely day! And what a beautiful city Valencia is.

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