Friday, September 27, 2013

Plaza de la Virgen

One of the most prominent historical places in Valencia is the Valencia Cathedral with Bell Tower dedicated to St. Michael (El Miguelete).  The Cathedral was built from the 13th to the 15th century.  Somehow, we end up in the Plaza de la Virgen almost every time we head in to the Old Town.  Around the plaza are three the buildings emblematic of the city: the Valencia Cathedral (also called Cathedral of St. Mary) , the Basilica of the Virgin of the Homeless, and the Palace of the Generalitat.  In the center of the plaza is Turia Fountain.  There are also cafes that line the square so it is a popular spot to hang out.  We have been in the plaza at all times of the day and it is always very busy.  One of my favorite times in the plaza was watching Mass let out as the people dressed very nicely spilled into the square to socialize.   
 On September 21st, we went to the plaza to specifically go into the Cathedral and climb the Bell Tower.  On our way, we had a slight detour by a playground in the Turia Park followed by a delicious pastry snack seen pictured below.

Amelie and Liam playing in front of the main entrance to the Cathedral while waiting for Bobby to chain up the bikes.
The Door of Irons (the Puerta de los Hierros) is seen in the background.
Climbing the 207 steps of the Bell Tower in a narrow spiral staircase. 
Amelie and Liam loved playing under the large bell.
Looking out over the city from every vantage point possible.
Bobby and Liam exiting the Cathedral through the Door of the Apostles (Puerta de los Apostoles).
Amelie and I sitting enjoying the square next to the Turia fountain.
Liam had to be rounded up frequently as he would run through the crowds of people without looking back at us.  He loved chasing the pigeons too.  He would change his approach as he chased the pigeons going from growling to doing karate chops saying "hi-ya!"
Amelie received lots of smiles as she ran around in her Valencia jersey.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Oceanographic Valencia

I am teaching Oceanography again this semester, so part of my job requires that we visit every aquarium possible, right?!  (I wish that were so so I could be reimbursed!)  I have loved being able to visit the different oceanariums and provide extra points of interest and facts for my students.  The Oceanarium in Valencia is very close to our apartment so we have been eyeing it since our arrival.  With a surface area of 110,000 square meters and 42 million liters of water, it is the largest aquarium in Europe so it is hard to miss.  The Oceanographic has more than 45,000 examples of 500 different marine species - amongst which can be found sharks, Beluga whales, walruses, sea lions, penguins and manta rays - inhabit nine underwater towers that, structured in two levels.  Here is a map that shows you how expansive it is:

We are watching the sea lions being fed.
A Dolphinarium showcased 8 dolphins doing various tricks.  When asked for participation from the crowd, Amelie and Liam were begging for the chance to be picked.  However, speaking Spanish was essential.  They were able to watch other 3 and 4 years old touch the dolphins right in front of us.  
The shark tank was a lot of fun.  We spent a lot of time watching the sharks swimming all around us (including overhead). 
They had a couple of Sunfish in the Shark tank.  This is turning into one of the most fascinating fish to me. 
Bobby does such a great job of explaining and talking to Amelie about what we are seeing.  Here he is teaching her about trash and how it ends up in the ocean. 
Amelie and Bobby enjoyed playing "I Spy" where they looked at the descriptions of the fish in front of the tank and then found the fish inside the tank.  She had a lot of fun playing this.
Can you tell what this fish is called?  If you guessed pinecone fish, then you guessed right.  I always marvel at God's creativity when observing so many different species of organisms. 
A tunnel led us from America all the way to Africa.  It was very neat seeing the different species in the different tanks along the way.

Learning more about symbiotic relationships watching this crab and anemone.
Liam fell asleep for a good 2 hours.  

After spending all day at the Oceanarium, Bobby remembered the Valencian soccer team was playing that evening.  We rushed to the ticketing office located in a nearby mall to find out they had closed just 20 minutes prior.  Luckily, he found out that buying two jerseys would include two free tickets.  So, for about the same price as the tickets he was able to also buy Amelie and himself a shirt to wear to the game.  We rushed home so they could change and pick up the bikes.  

Amelie had a fun date with her dad.  The seats were located in a prime part of the stadium and the crowd was raucous for the match versus Swansea City from the British Premier League.  Plans to eat dinner in the stadium were squandered once they realized that only snack food was offered from vendors and food stands.  However, what four year old wouldn't enjoy a dinner of popcorn and Fanta? The singing and chanting continued without stop during the entire match.  Being in espanol, participation by Bobby and Amelie was limited to clapping and loud whistling.  Although Valencia lost 0-3, they still had a great time at their first European soccer match.  The popcorn dinner was followed up by dessert at an artisan gelato shop on the way home (which might have been the highlight of the match for Amelie).  

Fine Arts Museum of Valencia

Museu de Belles Arts de Valencia (Museum of Fine Arts of Valencia) was founded in 1913 but it is housed in the College of St. Pius V dating back to the 1600s.  The building is a composed of 4 wings that are arranged around a cloister.  Two towers on the facade overlook the old channel of Turia giving it some appearance of a castle and allowing us to admire frequently as we ride past on our bikes.  With this museum housing a very large collection of 14th-19th century art, we knew we had to make the attempt to see it.  On September 17th we entered what turned out to be the most strict museums we have been to as far as child vigilance goes.  We had to hold Liam's hand (or hold him) the entire time.  We always stay near him during museums, but any time we let go of his hand for a second we were being prompted by the guards.  Liam wanted to "do it himself" which made it a difficult visit to really appreciate the artwork as much as we would have liked.  However, Bobby was able to get some good photos of art by one of his favorite artists.  Amelie was happy that there was no modern art present.  

Amelie and Liam waiting at the entrance.
Bobby securing our bikes.
Amelie's new fan bought at the market.  She loves it and loves seeing woman around town using them as well as in paintings using them.
Liam being silly as he climbed up and down the steps at the entrance.
Liam didn't have to hold our hand if he was sitting on the benches provided.

Symbol seen around Valencia.
After we were finished at the museum, we had plans of doing something else.  However, the lock securing the bikes would not unlock.  Bobby worked with it for a while and we determined that it was broken and would not be loosed.  He sprinted into town to find wifi so he could determine the closest location of the Do You Bike store that we rented our bikes from.  I took the kids to a nearby playground while we waited.  Bobby was successful in locating the bike store and was given a hacksaw to cut off the lock.  He cut through the chain and no one stopped him...not very comforting as we leave our bikes all around town.  We then had a delicious pastry snack to refuel us and set off towards home again (with a new lock in tow).  We never made it to whatever we had planned...I can't even remember.  The kids were happy with the playground stop.  I was happy that we didn't have to walk home and were able to unlock our bikes!!

Learning about Valencians

Since we are not in Valencia for Las Fallas, we went to the Museum of Las Fallas on September 15th to learn more about this annual festival. This festival is unique to Valencia and so spectacular and strange.  Every year one ninot (a figurine of a falla) is saved from fire and placed into this museum. These figurines are so well made, that it reminded me of the wax museum of Madamme Tussauds.  However instead of being life like in Madamme Tussauds, these figurines are much stranger and more amusing (the fallas are traditionally humorous). It is also an interesting insight into the Valencian psyche, as the figures are saved by the popular vote. We were able to see the representative figurines from the last 80 years of Las Fallas, as well as atmospheric posters, pictures of the best fallas, and portraits of Fallera Mayor.  The portraits were Amelie's favorite part as to her they were like pictures of modern day princesses.   We were also able to learn how to the figurines were made both traditionally and present day.  At the end of the Las Fallas every year there are fireworks and the night of burning in which all of the figurines and floats are burned.  It seems like a very interesting custom. 

There were some very odd ones for sure.
Amelie and Liam found one of Lion King characters.
After we went to the Museum of Las Fallas, we rode our bikes to the Lonja de la Seda (Silk Market) in the historic center of town.  On our way we happened by two jump houses that were set up in a square.  Since it was free to play, we hopped off the bikes and let the kids go crazy.  They jumped for about 30 minutes before the event ended and everyone was asked to leave.  It was the perfect amount of time to allow them to burn some energy.  We have no idea what the event was for, but every time we pass the square Amelie is on the look out for the jump houses.

The Silk Market was built during Valencia's golden age, the 15th century, when the Kingdom of Valencia was at its economic and cultural peak.  We entered the forest of palm-tree-shaped columns that span the magnificent main hall and were awe-struck.  We also noticed carvings that hold the secrets and mysteries of this society throughout the main the hall.  We enjoyed roaming the four main parts: the main Tower, the Consulado del Mar room, the Patio de los Naranjos (Orange tree courtyard), and the Contracts Room (with many spiral columns).

Amelie taking a break from running around the Main Hall to pose for this picture.

Amelie and Liam in the Orange tree courtyard.
Inside the Consulado del Mar (Consulate of the Sea) section that has forty medallions containing busts of Roman emperors and other famous people around the ceiling.
Amelie and Liam laying down to be able to scrutinize the ceiling
 (and probably because the floor was cool and it felt nice).
On the steps leading up to the Consulado del Mar that also overlook the Orange tree courtyard.
Walking the streets back to our bikes.