Museo des Bella Artes
I wasn’t actually planning to go to Valencia, the original idea was to go direct from Barcelona to Madrid. But that proved impossible (apparently there was some kind of football match on in Madrid that evening?), so I decided to follow several recommendations to try Valencia. Because I’d done no research, I had really no prior knowledge of the city or pre-conceptions as to what it would be like.
And I was very impressed. While Barcelona is magnificent, Valencia actually felt like a city I could live in. Barcelona – or at least the bits I visited – gave the impression of a city built around tourism, while Valencia seems to have its own raison d’etre, to be a living, modern city that just happens to have some beautiful buildings.
In terms of architecture it can’t hold a candle to Barcelona. It’s an attractive city with some lovely buildings but nothing extraordinary. It also doesn’t have the architectural consistency that Barcelona has in both the old town and the golden quadrant. There’s also a limited number of must-sees in the city – I reckon I saw all the big attractions in one (busy) day. But there is a lot of charm there too.
I started at the Museum of Fine Art. From outside, the building looks an impressive old building, but within its all very compact and modern. The art is pretty good, certainly better than the stuff I saw in Barcelona. After you get through the 15th Century pieces (rather heavy on the gold leaf, but not bad) you get to the baroque and things really get going. Some good works from Francisco and Juan Ribalta – although the latter’s otherwise brilliant Preparation for the Crucifixion is slightly undermined by the apparent moment of communion between Christ and the horse.
I also liked Pedro Orrente’s Mary Magdalene. She’s apparently “penitent” in it, but it looks more like she’s gone back to the old job to me.
After that you get on to the real giants of Spanish art: El Greco, Velazquez, Goya, plus a couple of nice ones from Murillo. All good.
Then, a wander around the old town. Again what I liked was that it was unshowy, a city that takes its attractions for granted rather than whoring them out. But equally there wasn’t anything particularly stunning. The best view was the cathedral
, though an impressive gothic original structure was undermined by a largely unsuccessful neo-classical overhaul. A couple of Goya’s were the pick of some unremarkable artwork, but basically I just love cathedrals, any cathedrals.
I accidentally paid for an audioguide here after a misnuderstanding over whether I was paying just to get in the building. First thing it said was that the cathedral was open to “believers and people of good will.” I decided that my goodwill towards cathedrals was sufficient – plus I’d just shelled out 4 euros for a guide, so I wasn’t going anywhere.
From the old to the very new, and Santiago Calatrava’s futuristic development, the Ciudad de les Artes et les Ciencias
, just out of the city centre. The architecture is pretty impressive but I got there too late to go inside where they have all sorts of interactive multi-media stuff going on. Actually, having trekked down there from the city centre, I’m ashamed to say that the highlight of the experience was soaking my feet in the cold, cold water that surrounds the buildings.
The hike back to the hostel was much less arduous as I went back via the Jardins des Turia. The river that used to run through Valencia has run dry and imaginatively been turned into 11km worth of park, including gardens, football pitches, skating rinks and plenty of other stuff.
The overall effect is great. It’s basically created a huge inter-generational community space in the centre of the city, which families, adolescents, young adults and the elderly can all enjoy. Of course I was there on a sunny early evening, presumably later on it gets taken over by marauding knife-wielding gangs/alienated and disillusioned youth, delete as appropriate.
Yeah, I like Valencia. But in the interest of balance, I was talking to a couple of Austrian girls in the hostel and they thought it was “a bit boring” after Barcelona. So, recommended, but maybe don’t come with your expectations too high.