Valencia 2013

Music in Valencia (by Peg)

For a long time I have been intending to write something about the symphonic bands of this region.  They are quite special and provide everyone here with an opportunity to hear wonderful music, excellently performed.  Almost every Sunday morning at the Symphony Hall you can hear a 90-minute concert by a regional symphonic band, playing the quality of music in the video links attached below.  These concerts are always free, unless they are a benefit for a local charitable organization, in which case you will pay 2 to 5 euros to attend.  Please cut and paste these three selections into your browser.  I can’t seem to get the links to work right.

This video was made at the Palau de la Musica during one of the regional competitions.  This small band is from Benimaclet, the part of town just north of Valencia’s historic center.  You’ll see what I mean about the mixed ages.

This video is Dance #2 , a piece by Arturo Marquez, a Mexican composer born in 1950 whose music is popular here.  It is performed by the Federation Band of Musical Societies of the Province of Valencia.  It’s a fun video to watch, as you can see the faces of the young musicians and how they are concentrating and enjoying what they’re doing.  Lots of percussionists as well, always fun to watch.  The band is so large they barely fit on the stage, which is in Rafelbunyol, the northernmost stop on the subway.

Paris Valencia 2013

¡Hola de Valencia!

Unlike last October 1 when we arrived in Valencia by train late at night during a flood, this time we arrived again from Paris but on a plane earlier in the day and to the dry conditions you normally find in this area.  The sun was shining and the skies crystal clear blue.  We splurged on a taxi from the airport so we would not have to drag our heavy bags up and down stairs on the Metro, and soon found ourselves in our old apartment overlooking the Torres Serrano in the heart of historic Valencia, dating from Roman times.



view from our place pen ink
Here’s what we see from our balcony (pen and ink by Gary)


The cleaning lady was finishing, so we had lunch around the corner near the Torres.  It was a bit warm so we ate inside.  The ‘menu’ of the day was the usual 3 course affair.  I had the vegetarian paella and a tuna steak for the second course.  Not a bad lunch at all, and only $13 including a bottle of a decent rose wine.

Afterwards we threw our clothes into the closets and our other stuff here and there and did some grocery shopping to get us through dinner.  Then we took the rest of the day to recover.

Valencia 2013

Daytime fireworks today (May 12) in Valencia

We had lunch with a friend and had this great place to watch these fireworks.  They are in connection with a holiday honoring Mary, Jesus’s mom.



Valencia 2013

Notes from Santiago de Compostela

Santiago (St. James) was one of the original cast of 12, not the James referred to as the brother of Jesus in Mark.  The story goes that James, whose martyrdom is the only one recorded in the NT, was executed by sword.   Afterwards his body was delivered by a stone ship (or row boat- I read that somewhere)  to the place now bearing his name, Santiago de Compostela.  The pilgrimage to the cathedral is among the most if not the most popular pilgrimage for Western European Catholics, starting in the early middle ages.  In 2008 125,000 pilgrims claim to have completed the final 100 km of the trail.

A few drawings from the trip:

Photos from the trip:

This small city is in Galicia, in the northwest corner of the Iberian peninsula, where the rain in Spain falls plainly too much. As of this day, the 11 of April 2013, it has rained at least part of each day for the last 38 days in a row and significantly at that, I take it.  My unimpeachable source, the waiter at a cafe, would not have said so unless it were true.  After all he served very good and generous free tapas with our drink.  Impeccable logic, no?  As it turns out, this generosity is the norm here, but I digress from my misery.

Yesterday when we visited the fabulous Cathedral we had to pass through the vast plaza.  The wind blew rain into our faces and made our umbrellas totally useless. I’d imagine that the Cathedral was worth it without doubt if I were on a religious trek of some sort.  This is not the case.  I am here because I’ve been here before and wanted to see it again.

This turned out to be a good thing.  It was not at all how I remembered it, which is as a Gothic structure. It is Romanesque, at least the Cathedral itself as originally crafted, but there are Gothic, Baroque and who knows what in the various sections and the connected and surrounding structures are probably another story.

For more info on the legend of Santiago see the wiki, which I deem to be reliable, having just mentioned how generous the tapas are here, which is proof positive that the wiki is indeed reliable.  More impeccable logic.

This legend itself is of course entirely true, having been told by some waiter or waitress in the region at some place and some time.

While in the cathedral we climbed the passage which takes you behind the statue of Santiago his own self. Millions of visitors have filed past over the centuries and of course if you touch it you get some special deal from the padre upstairs via James- what would expect from someone whose body was transported in a stone ship? So of course we were treated to the sight of a woman rubbing rosary beads on the glowing shiny gold icony thing. She took each one out, rubbed it on the gold, kissing each one before returning it to her now magic plastic bag. She mumbled something to us, I suppose a word of explanation as in, “I prayed to Santiago and he petitioned the Lawd successfully.” Or perhaps she was about to engage James in yet another mission to the almighty.

After a day and half of rain we finally got a break and went around to the market, composed of plump looking stone structures which unfortunately we did not photo. Besides the charming look of the small buildings laden with local produce, I noted two things. One- they eat brocoletti here (aka brocoli rabe as it is called in the US). Apparently the cool rainy climate if perfect for this, my favorite of veggies. Second, there is at least one restaurant that takes your purchase and cook it for you. They provide the veggies and beverages for 3 euros a head plus 10% of the cost of your purchase. Pretty neat idea.

On the Friday we took the bus south to Muros and Noia. Both are on the coast, which in this area is as far west as you can get in Europe.  You are due south of Ireland!   So far west you can just see the top of the Empire State Building. Noia has an old area which I did not see in its entirety as I spent the time sketching an old church tower from the garden in front. Muros is a lot more interesting, as the seafront is developed, unlike that part of Noia and besides ‘A Noia” which means ‘To Noia” which is how the ticket seller phrased it, sounds an awful lot like “Annoy” with a terminal aspiration (the ‘a’).

In Murose we had a mighty fine lunch. I did not have any seafood- I know, what was I thinking?- but I did have a delightfully tasting but excessively fatty ‘churasco’- the charred flavor from the barby was truly a delight. Peg had some cod- bacalao- that was good and Susan had some gigantic shrimpy things that they call langostinos but really what’s the difference between them and big shrimp? They were grilled with garlic oil and were super. We had a bottle of white Rebeiro, the famous wine of the region, or I think so as the bottle came already corked.

Speaking of wine bottles already corked, on our first night in Santiago de Compostela we had dinner in the cheapest place we could find. It was 7 euros for the menu- a menu being the the 3-4 course meal of the day. 7 is mighty cheap, especially considering we were in the most expensive part of town where a seafood dinner for two was 38 euros, about $50, plus wine and whatever else they could trick you into ordering while thinking it was included. This was an exercise in suppressing the flight/fight response. The place was run down looking as soon as you walked in. It got worse. The stairs to the dining area were lined with clutter. The dining room was last decorated in the 1950’s and had family photos on the wall. Some very old man was escorted up and down the stairs twice to be taken to the bathroom by what may have been his equally ancient tiny woman- must have been mama the chef.  He was finally escorted into what we could see was a bedroom opposite the dining room.

But the food was very good – the best potatoes I’d ever had! They were cooked in broth which probably included some of the ham I had with them. Peg’s collard greens soup was totally wonderful. Susan’s lentils were a bit bland and my mussels were a bit stinky and perhaps that is where my current bowel issue comes from but who knows- they were steamed, I am just not sure if it was that day or a few days before and then reheated.  And we had a pre-corked bottle of white wine labeled Ribeiro.  In the end it did not turn out that cheap unless you count the experience as entertainment.

Oh, and back to the generosity thing, near our hotel (which featured a queen size memory foam mattress, huge fluffy pillows in a nicely appointed room with an excellent shower and lousy wifi) there is a bar with the aforementioned waiter who piled our table with goodies for the price of a beer/wine/soft drink (for me). Wow! And the same thing at the cafe in Muros we stopped in before lunch- for a euro’s worth of coffee you got piles of little cakes and croissants and I forget what else. Astounding!  And they say that the food of Galicia is the best of all Spain!  Maybe I’ll be back then, rain in the face being a small price to pay.

Valencia 2013

Video slide show of Fallas through March 17, 2013 with a compendium of street bands

Photos of many of the fabulous sculptures (called ‘fallas’) that are the principal attraction of the Fallas Festival.  It starts every year around March 1 and ends every year on March 19.  There are also huge fireworks every day (at least two major ones) but that is another video.

The sculptures are up to 25 meters in height and are made from wood and foam.  They are burned the night of March 19.

Valencia 2013

An evening at L’Hermita

I had fun last night though, at the little conversation group at L’Hermita.

I talked to a youngish woman from an aldea, I think is the word, a tiny town it means.  In Galicia.  She taught me the word for bagpipe.  I wrote it down.  They play them in Galicia-  which comes from Gaul, you prolly know.  They were/are Gauls/Celts.  She was really sweet, a pleasure to talk to.  Then I moved on to an even younger woman.  By they way they were assigned to me, I had no choice.  This one is Morrocan and just moved here from France.  Really sweet.  Must be in her early 20’s.

It felt like I was talking to an angel, her voice was so child like.  English not bad, Spanish not bad, we spoke a little in French too.  The French coming out of my mouth was a bit sprinkled with Spanish, not so much the words as the pronunciation.  “Un po'” instead of un peut-  that sort of thing.  Her mission is to acquire languages apparently.  Her’s is a Berber family.  She learned a little of that at home on the Atlantic coast of Morocco.  I had my large water color pad with me to finish a drawing of L’Hermita and I realized I put a column in the wrong place.  I showed her my drawing.  She liked it.

The woman who leads this group has bright red hair.  She looks very Celtic. more than I do.  I sat next to an Italian guy and we talked about the new Papa- which means potato in Central America.  I joked that they chose an Argentinian since there are no Catholics in Italy anymore.  He laughed.  We spoke a little in Italian too.  He was deep in conversation with a few others so we did not talk much.

Valencia 2013

Fallas has begun!

Fallas has unofficially started in Valencia. This huge festival doubles the city’s population for about three weeks.

Here is a video the first Mascleta oif Fallas this year. The Mascleta is an enormous fireworks display. It is more about feeling it that seeing or hearing it. The deep vibrations shake you to the bone! This happens every day at 2pm for three weeks.

Satruday night March 9 they brought in the expo of one of the larger fallas, Na Jourdana, which is our neighborhood fallas (these are responsible for organizing and funding their ‘fallas’ which consists of truly marvelous sculptures).  They erected a 25 meter tall Trojan horse.  I am not sure what the exhibit is about but will keep you posted.

The streets are full of people and vendors selling churros and bunuelos (deep fried also but made of pumpkin or squash of some sort).

Here is a link to some photos:





Valencia 2013

Fallas March 15, 2013

Here are photos from Fallas March 11, 2013.  There were major efforts to erect the largest sculptures.  Here are photos from the one in the main square (the bus) and  the one at the Mercado Central.  The Trojan horse is near our place at Na Jordana.




Valencia 2013

Our first restaurant meal in Valencia

Spanish restaurants can be disappointing, despite having some of the best ingredients to work with.  But today we were certainly not disappointed with our experience at Peregrino (the Pilgrim).

The meal started with a complimentary appetizer.  Today it was a small bowl of a kind of beef stew with a few potatoes.  I know it does not sound like an appetizer, but it worked.  It was excellently and uniquely spiced.  It came with some very good bread with a bit of olive oil sprinkled on.  Some Spanish bread tastes stale no matter how fresh it is, and is very dry as if they use no oil, and there is little or no salt to boot.  This was nearly as good as the best French baguette.
The offerings here are quite ambitious, especially for such a small place.  For today’s specials (menu of the day) we could choose between a soup from Gallegos or a mixed vegetable plate for the first course, and  between a beef joint with fried potato slices (not french fries) and a selection small fried fish for the second.  (Note- Gallegos refers to the region of Galicia, which is a variation on Gaul, the Roman word for Celtic).  The soup had greens in broth, and tasted like the collard green soup we’ve had in a Cuban restaurant in Tampa.  My veggies were wok-cooked  but tasted like a ratatouille.   We enjoyed both ‘primeros platos’ a lot.  The portions were ample.
We shared the stew and the fried fish, some of which looked like sardines.  But don’t think of canned sardines.  These are much bigger and generally milder.  They were breaded lightly and deep fried.  They must have used very hot oil as they were not too oily.  Though not as small as canned sardines generally are, they are still a bit of a challenge to eat.  They were not de-boned and the small spine was nonetheless to big to eat.  They were kind of fun if you like that sort of thing, like eating crawfish.  The meat was braised and tender. with a delicious light sauce.  The side potatoes were well cooked.
The menu comes with a really good house wine, their own blend of 3 tempranillos.   I think this grape is only or mostly grown in Spain.  Nice body, good fruit.  It went well with everything.
I was full before it, but the menu included dessert.  They make a bunch of them here but the menu includes a choice of an almond cake, which is very Spanish, and a brownie with peanuts, which isn’t- in fact I’ve never heard of it before.  Both were fabulous.  The almond cake was moist and almondy enough and came with a (briefly) flaming sauce.  The brownie was dense and chocolatey but I could not taste the peanuts.  They were finely chopped.
For 2.45 euros, you get a delicious Segafreddo (our favorite, an Italian brand) coffee and after dinner drink.   We got an alcoholic one called “Yerbas” (herbs) and another made of raspberries, but no seeds and no alcohol.  I liked both.  The former was a bit strong for Peg.
The service was very good.  The waitress (the daughter who was filling in for the waiter who was off sick) and the mom, then later the dad, all were right on top of things.  They talked to us, saw to it everything was as it should be, and said a friendly hello and goodbye.
All of this came to 15 euros each.  We’ll take friends there and probably go on our own as well – it’s only four blocks from our apartment, very close to the supermarket we use.