February 27, 2012

Fallas 2012 Has Officially Commenced!: Videos and Important Terms and Dates

As of yesterday, Fallas season has officially started! Sunday very early in the morning falleros from all over the city congregated at Carrer de la Pau to toss their hand fireworks for the first "despertà". At 2PM the Valencian Ayuntamiento hosted the first official "mascletà". (Starting Thursday, March 1st there will be a mascletà every day all week long at 2PM in the Plaza de Ayuntamiento up to and including March 19th!) And then Sunday late afternoon there was "la cridà" ceremony, including sky acrobats and fireworks, formally inaugurating Fallas.

The 2010 Na Jordana falla, which you can see burned below.

I've already given you a rundown with photos of many of the different elements of Fallas (part 1 and part 2). If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many words is a video worth? Here I include three videos I recorded back in 2010 of major Fallas features.

• Mascletà, Day 2 of Fallas 2010, Valencia:

We enjoy going to the mascletàs (an aural fireworks show). This video was of Day 2 (March 2, 2010). If you are wondering why the video starts to shake towards the end, that is a combination of the vibrations from the gunpowder explosions, and my hand shaking as I tried to determine which was more important, the video or my hearing!

• Pre-cremà fireworks show, Torres de Serranos Falla:

Every falla does a pre-burning fireworks show. Imagine, within the fifteen minutes after midnight there are 700 near simultaneous miniature fireworks shows! (Well, actually, many casals coordinate their schedules, staggering the cremà of nearby fallas so that you can tour around and see more than one burning on the final night.)

Rather than show you the 5-minute Na Jordana fireworks show, which was admittedly pretty impressive, I've uploaded this shorter video of the fireworks show that the falla next to the Torres de Serranos gave shortly after the Na Jordana cremà. The show itself was not as elaborate, but it is pretty cool to see it next to Valencia's iconic Towers.

• La cremà de Falla Na Jordana, midnight March 19, 2010:

This is the video I took of the burning of the Na Jordana fallas, one of the top ten biggest fallas in Valencia that year. According to Valencians' high standards, it was not a "successful" cremà, since it took almost two minutes for the flames to really envelope the falla. Still it was quite impressive.

Author's thoughts: One problem with watching the burning of these large fallas (as opposed to smaller more local fallas), which you may notice, is that there are more foreigners than locals in the audience. On the van are a bunch of rowdy Americans. And note the moment around minute 3, right when the firemen aim their water hoses, when the crowd almost bolted because the inexperienced people thought that the bonfire had gotten out of control.

I highly recommend you check out my posts on Fallas at The Spain Scoop.

I've been guest posting at The Spain Scoop a four-part series on Fallas. Two posts are already up, and I include here for you some useful information from them. The first entry has a dictionary of Fallas terms:

Fallas dictionary of terms: 
Falla: The festival Fallas is named for the large papier-mâché art statues called a “falla”, a Valencian word whose latin roots link back to fire. These art displays originated as piles of old furniture that were set out on the streets and burned as part of spring cleaning. They have evolved a lot since those modest 19th-century roots.  
Ninot: This is the Valencian word for each paper-mâché puppet or figurine. A large falla might contain hundreds of ninots. They will all be burned on March 19th except for one ninot from the 1st-place falla, which is saved and placed in the Fallas museum.
Fallero/fallera (mayor, infantil): These are the people who make it all happen. You will see them in tents nearby the fallas during Fallas, celebrating with their families and neighborhood friends, and parading through the streets in traditional attire on their way to the Virgin with their flower ofrenda. There are two females, falleras, chosen each year to be the main representatives for each casal faller, a young one about 8 years old who is the fallera infantil, and another around 20-30 years old who is the fallera mayor. 
Casal faller: This the local neighborhood committee of "falleros" who spend the entire year preparing their street’s falla. There are hundreds of these casals, each with their own independent falla and neighborhood festivities. 
Mascletà: This is what I've taken to explaining as a "sound fireworks show", since it is more about the noise it makes than lighting up the sky. (Indeed, they are usually done during the day.) The city will do an official mascletà once a day during the festivities, but each casal faller will also have a neighborhood one at least once during the week of Fallas. 
Petardo: This is the Spanish word for hand-fireworks, and you will be hearing a ton of them throughout the week of Fallas. It is not uncommon to see groups of kids in plazas setting them off. Masclets are the very, very loud ones, which resemble (in sound) a bomb going off and can set off car alarms and wake the whole neighborhood. 
Traca: This is the word for those strings of fireworks where you set off one and it triggers a series of small snapping fireworks. On la nit de la cremà, the burning of most fallas will be initiated by a traca string of fireworks. 
Castillo: Though it literally means “castle” in Spanish, this is also the word for a fireworks show in the sky. There is at least one official castillo each night the week of Fallas, normally around or just after midnight over the riverbed. Again, each casal will have its own castillo in the neighborhood, usually the last night.
Calendar of important events: 
February 26th (last Sunday of Feb.)La despertà (“the awakening,” a collective hand-fireworks event with all the city’s falleros) at 7:30AM on Calle de la Paz, and La Cridà (which means “the call”, the opening ceremonies with all the falleras mayores, followed by a fireworks show) at Torres de Serranos early evening… These two events formally open the Fallas season.
March 1–19th:   Each day at 2PM, in the Plaza de Ayuntamiento, a public mascletà is held.March 15th:  La plantà, when each neighborhood mounts its falla, officially inaugurating the public viewing and street festivities.
March 16th & 17th:  La ofrenda, falleros from different neighborhoods, at different times and places throughout the afternoon, parade to the Plaza de la Virgen to place their “offering” to the Virgin Mary.
March 16th, 17th, 18th: Castillos, a.k.a. fireworks shows, at midnight to 1AM, or so. The show on the 18th is the big one, called La nit del foc, the night of fire.
March 19th: La nit de la cremà, the night of the burning, when all the falleros across town burn their falla. (In a later entry I’ll explain the traditional procedure and schedule.)
The third and fourth posts at The Spain Scoop, not yet up, will direct you to the best fallas to see and give a day itinerary. I'll post that information for you once they come out.

Things are heating up, people are feeling festive, and fireworks are going off all the time and all over the place. It's exciting. It's Valencia. Hail Fallas 2012!

February 24, 2012

Music: "D'un temps, d'un pais" by Raimon... La Nova Cançó, music for a cultural revolution

"Los libros son nuestras armas" (Books are our weapons).
Brilliant counter march on Tuesday, February 21st,
following Lluís Vives incident on Monday
Here I've been posting about how wonderful Valencia is, and meanwhile things have gotten ugly here in local politics. There has been an escalation in confrontations between a group of student protestors, mostly from Lluís Vivesa secondary school located in Valencia's center, and horribly incompetent riot police. The high school students have joined their teachers in protesting the "recortes" (budget cuts) in public education. Here in Valencia this has been a particularly bitter affair, given that the PP regional government has repeatedly implicated itself in a number of corruption scandals involving the embezzlement of public funds or the extravagant use of public money on frivolous and elite spectacle events instead of public infrastructure and services. This past Monday things turned violent. The police manhandled and then beat some of the students during a protest, and apparently also in the process beat teachers, parents, and onlookers nearby. Shedding light on how out of touch the police are, video of the police chief shows him talking about the students as "el enemigo" (the enemy). Everyone is quite naturally worked up about it, and some have taken to sensationally likening this "Valencian Spring" to the Arab Spring. (To follow these "Primavera Valenciana" events more closely, go to this story-feed page.)

I remind you that, "La corrupcion, como la paella en ningun sitio, se hace como en Valencia."
"Corruption, like paella, in no place do they make it like in Valencia.")

A whole series of suspicious and disturbing things have surrounded all these events. For example, on Monday evening, if one were to tune in to one's Catalan-language news, one would have seen two _very_ different stories on Canal Nou, the Valencian-run TV station, versus on TV3, the Catalonia-run channel, about the events at Lluís Vives. TV3 showed the images of the police beating teenagers in clear disproportion to the protesters' actions. Canal Nou, in what was clear ideological bias in favor of the local government, showed no video of the violence, just the protest, and then mostly showed video of various government officials talking about the incident with their predictable spin of "protesters shouldn't recur to violence". This form of media distortion on Canal Nou is no real surprise. The channel has been manipulated by the PP government for years. But it is sad that it would carry to the extent of attacking an idealistic and active youth in the self-interest of protecting a jaded and decaying political class. 

You can see a slideshow of powerful images of the police attacks on protesters at Public.es

Yet, let's not disparage the actual workers at Canal Nou, who Tuesday held their own protest about the station's media manipulation of Monday events, complaining that the Canal Nou's directors changed the story: "Se ha criminalizado a los jóvenes presentando a los policías como víctimas" (It has [falsely] criminalized the youth [while] presenting the police as victims). All of this stinks of the usual Valencian PP paranoia and persecution complex reaction to any legitimate criticism and popular complaint. (While I love most everything about Valencia, I find the politics here —PP and PSOE alike— to be one of the city's few shortcomings.) One wonders what economic miracles the PP government here could produce were they to invest this energy they waste on pageantry and the _show_ of success on the actual foundations of success in a modern society: education. (If only the PP would apply some of its neoliberal reforms to the political class, and make it easier to fire incompetent political leaders.) Kudos to the Canal Nou employees, as it now (as of Wednesday) appears that that Channel is taking the protests seriously. Score one for 'speaking truth to power'.

Canal Nou's webpage on Wednesday, February 22nd, the day after the station's workers
protested the directors' manipulation of the news coverage of the Lluís Vives students

It wasn't just students. Parents and teachers, enraged at the
police's treatment of students, also got involved
As it turns out, I first learned of the Monday protest because one of my co-workers had a teenage daughter who was involved in the protest and whose leg was badly scraped Monday as she was dragged on the street by some of the police. Needless to say, she was worried about her daughter, but also furious at the police and eager to see all of this bring about some kind of change in the local Valencian government's handling of public protest and complains about the "recortes". In our brief conversation about it, she and I were talking about the need for student protestors to keep positive, despite this infuriating turn of events. Keep positive as both a tactic, to shame the government, and also as a legitimate source of their youthful strength and social authority, since they are the future of the country and any government would be foolish to ignore them or dismiss them (as the current government seems to currently be doing). 

For a wonderfully playful, if also a bit depressing video montage and critique of this Valencia problem, 
I highly recommend you watch this music video, which uses a song written a while ago by Jaume Sisa, 
"Qualsevol nit pot sortir el sol" (transl. from Catalan: Any night the sun might come out), and foregrounds 
images of the many ways that Valencia's government squandered its wealth on special events 
rather than on basic public institutions. (It certainly provides a contrasting perspective on many of the
spectacular tourist highlights I've been showing of Valencia's capital.)

Forgive me for what may seem like a total change of subject, but as it happens I've been listening a lot recently to a Catalan-language song which I think really nicely encapsulates these issues of reform, hope, but also social critique. "D'un temps" by Raimon was, in its day, music for a cultural revolution, and I think it's worth taking a look at it here both for its importance to Catalan-language culture, as an example of La Nova Cançó, and as a timeless message for advocating change and reform without falling into bitterness about the seemingly intractable nature of political corruption and the indifference of power to real justice. (Without, in other words, ceding the debate to the powers that be, who would want us to get frustrated and give up our complaints.) 

Here I've embedded a copy of the song for you to listen to, and below you will find the lyrics:

I had been listening to some songs by Raimon, Ramon Pelegro Sanchis, and others of La Nova Cançó movement, as part of my usual language-acquisition trick: listen to music in a language, in this case Catalan, as a way to get a twofer, new language phrases _and_ cultural insight. This song in particular really got me. Raimon wrote "D'un temps, d'un pais" way back in 1964, and I like if for how it is at one and the same time incredibly critical but also incredibly empowering and forward-looking. It jibes with a line I read from Reinhold Niebuhr many years ago, that we must have "hope without optimism." In other words, we should not be surprised if the future doesn't meet our high expectations, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't hold those expectations; because in being fervent in our hope that the future _could_ be better, we ourselves will take actions to make it so.

Raimon is a great starting place for learning about Catalan-language music and culture. (I can't help but note that he is Valencian, since he's from Xátiva. Yes, (many) Valencians speak Catalan, too.I think of him as a kind of Valencian equivalent of Bob Dylan, though admittedly not quite so prolific. Like Dylan, Raimon was part of a cultural movement in the 1960s which used folk music to address political concerns. Many of his songs therefore have a transcendent style and message. Maybe the parallels end there. While Dylan was "the original vagabond," "like a rolling stone," and a rebel's rebel, it wasn't like his singing in English was illegal or anything. Raimon's very act of singing his music in Catalan was. Speaking Catalan in public was illegal during the Franco dictatorship, and it took some real class and "collons" for him to do it. He faced legal sanctions and was blocked from certain events by the Regime, again, just for singing in the Catalan language.

The sixties in Spain. Catalan language as a cultural heritage worth fighting (peacefully) for.

Raimon's experience was characteristic of the movement la Nova Cançó, the name for the resurgence in Catalan-language in music during this period. He rocketed to fame and is probably most famous for his ballad, "Al vent" (1962), popular in the early 1960s and marking him as a serious song writer. He got a boost career-wise by collaborating with Els Setze Jutges, an important group for the movement whose members read like a who's who of important Catalan singers. Some prominent members are still famous today, especially Lluís Llach, whose song "L'estaca" (1968) is another of these iconic classics of the period, and Joan Manuel Serrat. (The name Els Setze Jutges comes from a Catalan tongue-twister ("trebalengua"): "Setze jutges d'un jutjat mengen fetge d'un penjat." Much of their music was playful, and used symbolism and humor to skirt around the Franco censors.) In the 1970s, during "la transición," Raimon and other Catalan musicians' music resurged in popularity, becoming a kind of soundtrack for the new Spain and its hopes for an open and diverse society. (When my wife first heard me play this music, she said: "That's what my parents used to listen to!") For a longer, more detailed discussion of the movement, its critics and legacy, read this web entry in Spanish. Among a future generation of Nova Cançó figures, you can find none other than Jaume Sisa, author of the song featured in the video at the beginning, and like Raimon a "cantautor" (a musician who writes his own songs, usually with some protest or critique content).

All of this is just some historical context for understanding the import of Raimon's lyrics in "D'un temps". He was writing at a time Spain when was growing, economically flourishing really, and yet paradoxically was still a political dictatorship. In other words, the seeds for social and cultural reform were taking root in the streets even while political institutions sought to constrain and repress many ideas, groups, "threats". Take a look at the lyrics, and you'll see how he rises above the frustration to put forward the argument that we already own the moment and have control over the future.

D'un temps, d'un pais (1964)

D'un temps                                   Of a time
que serà el nostre,                        that will be ours,
d'un país que mai no hem fet,        of a country that has never been made,
cante les esperances                    I sing about the hopes
i plore la poca fe.                          and I cry for the little faith.

No creguem en les pistoles:           We don't believe in guns:

per a la vida s'ha fet l'home            it is life which defines man
i no per a la mort s'ha fet.              and not death that has made him.

No creguem en la misèria,             We don't believe in the misery,
la misèria necessària, diuen,          the necessary misery, they say,
de tanta gent…                             of so many people...

D'un temps                                   Of a time
que ja és un poc nostre,                that is already a bit our own,
d'un país que ja anem fent,            of a country that is already being made,
cante les esperances                     I sing about the hopes
i plore la poca fe.                           and I cry for the little faith.

Lluny som de records inútils          Let's leave behind useless memories
i de velles passions,                     and old passions,
no anirem al darrere                      we will not march behind
d'antics tambors…                        the ancient (war) drums…

D'un temps                                   Of a time
que ja és un poc nostre,                that is already a bit our own,
d'un país que ja anem fent,            of a country that is already being made
cante les esperances                     I sing about the hopes
i plore la poca fe.                           and I cry for the little faith.

D'un temps                                   Of a time
que ja és un poc nostre,                that is already a bit our own,
d'un país que ja anem fent.            of a country that is already being made.


Having thought about these lyrics a lot, what I'm most struck by is the hopeful progression they offer. While in the first stanza he talks of "un país que mai no hem fet", very quickly he is already talking about "un país que ja anem fent" – from a country that has never been made, to one that is already being made. Or a shift from "un temps que serà el nostre" to "un temps que ja és un poc nostre" – from time that _will_ be ours, to one that already is a bit ours. And there's the subtle but poignant rejection of what "they say" about "necessary misery". Again, this in 1964, a decade before the end of the Franco Regime, and in a banned language!

Another topic which didn't make the cut this week: the "Golpe de estado de 
1981" or "23-F". Thursday marked the 31st anniversary of a famous failed military coup,
when Spain's young democracy was tested and many feared, even if only for a few hours,
that the country would fall back into a dictatorship. I think expats, in their armchair
commentary over the Garzón case don't appreciate how recent democracy is in Spain. The
still oh-so-controversial Amnesty Law of 1977 was only four years old when all of Spain
watched this coup unfold onscreen and wondered whether that was the end of the
experiment. In retrospect, with a firmer, healthier democracy, some are now
wondering whether the Franco regime abusers got off too easy in "la transición".

I've noticed a lot of "rencor" (bitter resentment or rancor) recently about the turn to the right and "no holds bar" politics in Spain... Camps miraculously acquitted. Garzón sentenced. (This post was originally inspired by all the buzz here and abroad on the recent verdict in the Garzón case. I won't dissimulate. I'm incredibly disappointed in the outcome. In systems of justice, sentences send messages. And it is the _wrong_ message to send that Baltasar Garzón, a judge, is the first and, I believe, so far _only_ person to be convicted for the Caso Gürtel.And now the so-called "Valencia Spring" in my hometown. It's enough to break a Left-leaning politico's heart. Surrounding all of these happenings is a lot of, "See, I told you the Spanish are intractably corrupt" in the expat blogosphere, or "Of course the political class doesn't care about the public" among the locals. Now I can understand this sentiment as a knee-jerk reaction from the angry and disenfranchised. But I actually think this sentiment, though human and understandable, is not the right way to direct anger and disappointment over injustice. Somehow we reelected this corrupt Valencia government, and it is hard not feel frustrated with how a political class so clearly corrupt and out of touch with the economic needs of its electorate is not fired for its incompetence. But I try not to let it get to me, and to instead think of the long road (not just the next election cycle). What these kids at Lluís Vives are showing people is that it is not about how we feel now, it is about what we do now for our futures.

Back in 1981, the King Juan Carlos interceded on behalf of the public, and helped diffuse the
coup d'etat by going on television and asking that the military return control to the Congress.
This irony, that it was the king who helped save Spain's democracy, is why many, including
even me, are so loyal to the royal family even though it's criticized as an anachronistic institution

I take this as the deeper wisdom of Raimon's song. It is about not ceding _any_ ground, not even the terms of the debate by succumbing to bitterness, cynicism, or defeatism. I'm hopeful that as people take to the streets to protest the injustices of this economic crisis —the pigheaded, untested and probably foolish ideology of "austerity"— we are all able to hold on to that positive spirit. (Consider this an extension of my earlier soapbox rant manifesto to willfully ignore the economic crisis negativity.) To not let the negativity of the powers that be —who keep telling us about "la misèria necessària", necessary cuts and economic misery— convince us that our future is not defined by us. Spain continues to be a country that is being made, and I'm hopeful that its future will be brighter than its past.

February 20, 2012

Valencia, Spain's Third Largest City: Part 4... El Río Turia

This locally famous fountain in Valencia is not a
Greek god, but rather an embodiment of the Turia River.
The 8 female statues surrounding him represent the main 8
"acequias" (irrigation ditches) in the historical medieval
Turia River (thus the water flowing from their jars).
So there are many ways to slice and dice Valencia so as to best present it to the newcomer... by its historic center (part 1 and part 2), or by its diverse neighborhoods. But in this four-part series on my beloved city, I've decide to feature one aspect of Valencia, its natural beauty, which often gets overlooked in other guides. Valencia has some incredible greenery. Sure, Valencia has those oh-so-classy natural touches like orange tree groves in city squares and along the streets all throughout the city, evidence of its great climate ("el clima") and regional pride and joy, L'Horta de València, the surrounding fields of delicious and fresh produce. Like many other elegant European cities, you will find little plazas throughout town with nicely manicured gardens and beautiful trees. And yes, as I discussed in the previous entry Valencia has its Port and Beaches, which are clearly also prominent natural features of the city and popular tourist spots (discussed in the next entry).

Probably the most widely planted tree in the city of Valencia is the orange tree.
If you visit around January you can take plenty of photos of the trees bearing fruit
with classic local landmarks in the background. (But don't eat the fruit, it's inedible!)

Even more than the orange trees, I love all the huge and old Ficus trees, a kind of
fig tree, that you can find all over town. This one, which must be one of the largest
and where there are always kids playing on it, is in Parque Parterre near Colón.

This pretty plazita in the median of the Gran Vía del Marques de Turia has four Ficuses,
one in each corner, with a statue to Poet Teodoro Llorente in the middle.

But what I'm talking about when I say that Valencia is one of the nicest cities in terms of parklands is El Cauce del Río Turia, the vast emptied riverbed ("cauce") where the Turia River once flowed, which cuts through the middle of the city and which has been converted into a multi-use park of incredible splendor and tranquility. It is a gem, and I dedicate today's entry to it. The River Park, itself an incredible city treasure, is also home to or adjacent to four major tourist attractions, all must-sees when you come here: el Bioparc, el Jardín Botánico, los Viveros (a.k.a. los Jardines de Real), and the famous Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. (It is for this reason that I always encourage my visitors to rent a bike for a day, so that they can tour the River Park in style, stopping at each of these locations.)

This Google Earth shot of Valencia shows you the new actual Turia riverbed to the south,
but also the old riverbed which is now a large park with numerous impressive attractions along it.

Photo of the Oct. 14, 1957 flood of the Río Turia in VLC
Amazingly, according to my in-laws, the park almost never was. The riverbed was first cleared in the late 1950s, after a 1957 flood devastated the surrounding center of town. The river was rerouted to the south of Valencia where it still flows today. (Or at least in theory flows, since drought and overuse by farmers often leaves the river dry at its end at the sea.) In the 1960s, the City explored possible uses for the empty riverbed, and initially favored introducing a major highway (urban planning of the midset of a Washington DC Beltway or Boston Big Dig). Valencians (including my in-laws) protested in typical Spanish style, holding large "manifestaciones" (political street marches and protests), arguing it was public space and should be put to better public use. The result was to transform it into a park... and in the last twenty years, to repurpose relatively wild parts of that park into spectacular (though admittedly also very costly) tourist attractions.

Another kind of tree that you will find throughout Valencia, curious because of its
"chubby" base. You can find this grove of them in the Riverbed Park, in an area
where there are always plenty of picnickers and friendly stray cats.

The Riverbed Park has lots of quiet trails and is green most of the year.
(For example, I took this photo in January!)

And the river has most certainly been put to good public use... Over six kilometers in length from the CAC to the Bioparc, the Riverbed Park has exercise stations and muscle machines sprinkled throughout, many soccer fields, a track and field arena, even a baseball field and separate rugby field. These along with 15+ kilometers of running paths and bike paths (a.k.a. bike lanes: "carril-bici") make it an incredible spot to get fit while enjoying Valencia's almost-always great outdoor weather. Of course, you can also just take a stroll through it to enjoy the beautiful manicured garden areas and fountains. There's a rose garden ("rosaleda") on the east end of the river, in an area with numerous impressive metal statues. And the bridges you will walk under are all impressive —some historic, others new— but most adding an incredible aesthetic touch.

One of several soccer fields in the River Turia as seen from the Pont de Fusta.
Saturday mornings you can watch the future of Spain's incredible soccer culture play.

The Alameda Metro stop is located in the Turia Riverbed near an open space
set aside for special fairs, such as visiting Circuses or the annual Food and Wine Festival

The Pont del Mar pedestrian bridge is very picturesque, connecting
the City Center with the University of Valencia campus area

You can see the beginning of the City of Arts and Sciences in the distance, from the Pont del Mar

You can always find people strolling around the Palau de la Música.
They often play classical music on speakers outside, and in the summer
there is a film screening series outside just next to it.

The "Puente de las Flores" is a particularly striking example, always lined with seasonal flowers, something which has recently invited criticism because of the expense of it (half a million euros per year by one account!), but which is beautiful and adds an undeniable element of romance and charm to the city.

For the Christmas season they planted Poinsettias along the bridge,
which was especially bright and beautiful. 

About a week or two ago they planted Geraniums,
which should be spectacular once they're in full bloom.

Is this too expensive a frill for a Community in crisis?
Hard to say. It is a beautiful frill.

And above all, there is the amazing Gulliver Playground, very, very popular with the kids, but I suspect equally popular with parents who are looking for an excuse to climb the fallen giant's arms and slide down his waist. It is based on the Jonathan Swift novel, Gulliver's Travels (1726), and in particular the scene when Gulliver is capture by the tiny residents of Lilliput. On this playground, Valencia's kids become the miniature Lilliputians.

The Gulliver Playground as seen from the ground...

But a Google Earth view of Gulliver reveals its incredible craftsmanship and realism.

In case you didn't have an idea of the scale, I include this slightly zoomed out Google Earth image.

As if this was not enough, there are those four spectacular sites you can visit on or adjacent to the river, all of which feature nature in its many forms and values. Here I'm going to follow the path of the river from West to East, and offer you mostly photos rather than textual explanation (that I'll save for another day). I think the images will convince you more than I can that El Río Turia is a gem, "un lujo"... further evidence that Valencia is a magnificent place to visit, if not to stay, settled down, and live the rest of your life here.


Last summer I bought a "Entrada Berde! Básica" pass, which for 34€ let's me go in to Valencia's Zoo, Bioparc, all year long at no (additional) charge Monday through Friday. (The regular "Berde!" card, which includes weekends, is 51€ for the year.) This is an incredible deal. I like to visit zoos. You could almost say I'm a zoo connoisseur. I've visited San Diego's, Washington's, Chicago's, Barcelona's, among many others. Valencia's is incredible, easily on par with the best of the above. Since it is located at the opposite (west) side of the Río Turia as the City of Arts and Science, we start or tour here.

After you enter the Bioparc Entrance, you cross a bridge over the old Turia riverbed.
On the other side is the zoo. Here you can see the view of this new Parque de Cabecera
public park area as seen from the Bioparc entrance bridge

I'll keep my introduction here very lite, since I can alway give you a more detailed description later. Highlights of the zoo include it's incredible (breathtaking) landscaping, that it is focused around two regions of Africa (split into Equatorial Africa and the Savanna) [sorry, no Asian animals in this zoo], the usual lions and tigers and... well, no bears [again, Africa-focused], an excellent avian show (a.k.a. "exhibición de aves y mamíferos"), and a walk-in lemur exhibit... a walk-in lemur exhibit! I repeat this last feature because it is the coolest zoo thing on earth. (Forgive my hyperbole, but trust me, you gotta try it!) Here you can find the zoo's floor plan, including the animal exhibits they have.

Lemurs! While you're not allowed to touch them, you can watch them run
back and forth right around you (or above you on the branches). It is incredible!

As amazing as the animals are, sometimes I think the protagonist of Valencia's
Zoo are the designed habitats. Some of the views are magnificent.

There are tunnels and cave-like spaces, such as this one where you'll find the hippos

In the tunnels, you never know what animal might peer back at you from around a hidden corner

One day I caught the elephants taking their late-afternoon bath. (Maybe some
day I'll upload the video I recorded of it.) Check out those faux Baobab trees!!!

Always a fan of cats, it was a special day when I saw the black panther resting on a tree

The Savanna section with rhinos, zebras, and ostriches. 

I take it as a sign of the zookeepers' hard work making the animals comfortable that last summer (2011) they had an incredible number of newborn animals (hyena, lion cub, baby giraffe, baby chimp, baby monkeys, baby lemurs, to name only a few).

Last summer this guy was the star of the year, the newborn giraffe.

Here was another newborn baby. The summer of 2011 was the year of the zoo baby in Valencia.

Jardín Botánico:

There is too much to say about this Botanic Garden (for now I'll just direct you to this person's post on it), so I'll summarize. It serves several functions: It's didactic (to educate children who regularly visit on school trips). It's research (run in association with the University of Valencia as an agricultural station for university students to train with). It's home to a colony of cats who, in a wonderful example of social conscientiousness, are looked after by volunteers and thus probably live like kings (and queens). (A while back fellow Valencian blogger Chic Soufflé wrote a great post in Spanish about it, and Travelocafe just posted about it here.) And it's incredibly peaceful, a wonderful spot to come when you want to be surrounded by quiet and nature.

An herb garden marked with signs for you to see what common (and uncommon) herbs look like.

"La huerta" – a garden area where they grow typical produce of the season and from the region

They have a series of posts like this in Catalan for kids. (Hint: "Pista" means "clue".)

And they have a series of great greenhouses with more exotic plants,
including this one with "carnivorous plants"!

Here on the left you can see the main "Hivernacle" (greenhouse)
and on the right the "Umbracle" (threshold or covered area)

Plenty of shade and places to sit and contemplate life's beauty

Cool trees!

Hundreds of kinds of trees, some familiar, some not, all amazing.

And an impressive cactus garden. Made more impressive by all the friendly cats roaming around.

Perhaps the best thing about the Jardín Botánico is that its exhibits are alive, so with each season it is an entirely different place to visit. Trees and cats, what a wonderful combination!

Viveros (a.k.a. "Jardines de Real"):

While it is called "Jardines de Real" on the map, because it was once just that, royal gardens for a palace there, locals call the rectangular park that juts out north of the riverbed, "Viveros". This manicured garden park is at one and the same time a city park, in the sense that it hosts special events (e.g. the City's annual book fair, a summer concert series), and yet also an over-sized humble neighborhood park, in that it is where neighbors will go for their late afternoon or Sunday stroll, and where dog owners walk their dog (particularly on the northside of the park, where pet owners congregate and dogs, often running off the leash, meet and greet other fellow dogs). One fun, albeit unplanned for feature of the park is the large flock of wild parrots that live here, whom you can regularly hear chatting it up in the trees above.

Among its more notable features are the following: a pond with ducks and swans on it, a miniature traffic zone for kids on bikes (designed for them to practice learning the traffic signs and roadways), an incredible rose garden ("rosaleda"), a large bird cage where dozens of exotic birds are kept, various verandas where you'll regularly see wedding couples and falleras being photographed, and several cafes which, when the weather's nice, are excellent places to chat with a friend and relax.

You'll see plenty of people walking their dogs, or walking their kids at this park.

The Rose Garden is spectacular in late April, early May, though it is amazing
how many months in the year there is some kind of rose in bloom here.

Lots of manicured hedges

This tree, next to one of 2-3 park cafes in Viveros, turns an
incredible purple color around late May.

Here you can see wide-open space in the south center of Viveros,
where the City holds fairs and summer music concerts.

One of the wide "avenues" of the park on the southeastern corner.
On the right you'll find the ruins of the 19th-century palace,
a popular hangout spot for the many stray cats who live here.

La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciéncias (City of Arts and Sciences):

If anything, I probably need to say the least about this place, since after paella it is probably now Valencia's most iconic tourist feature. (One of my Facebook followers —and fellow expat Spain blogger— shared this excellent architectural and historical profile of the complex she wrote last fall, which I recommend you read.) But, again, very schematically... the City of Arts and Sciences is by Valencia's most famous architect, Santiago Calatrava. It is composed of 6 principle elements, each a cultural center:
1) El Ágora: a public space so far mostly used for sporting events, most notably the Valencia Tennis Open ATP 500 in November, but also this week it hosts Valencia Fashion Week,
2) El Museo de las Ciencias Príncipe Felipe: a Science Museum (more kid-focused),
3) L'Hemifèric: an IMAX theatre,
4) Oceanogràfic: Europe's largest Aquarium,
5) L'Umbracle: which translates to "threshold," it's an open air exhibit space with sculpture garden, and
6) El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía: an underutilized art museum and exhibition space.

Different angles on the CAC: Here you can see the Google Earth of the complex,
though Google's clearly out-of-date, since the Ágora doesn't appear on it.

Different angles on the CAC: Here you can see a fisheye lens picture of the complex,
because let's face it, it's way too big to snap a regular photo of.

Different angles on the CAC: Here's a 2D angle... the City of Arts and Sciences'
schematic map explaining the layout of all the buildings.

While I could spend several days writing numerous entries on these different buildings and spaces, let me just get to the point, they are amazing to see even if just from the outside. The buildings have Calatrava's signature style, looking oddly natural, like enormous fossilized animals. (The science building is said to resemble an ankylosaurus, while the Ágora clearly looks like a venus flytrap. The Hemisfèric is an eye.). The entire area around the buildings utilizes the broken tile style, "trencadís" (made famous by Gaudí).

You can find all the pretty, standard images of the City of Arts and Sciences
that you could possibly ever want here at the CAC gallery of photos

One of my favorite things to do, self-therapy when I'm trying to shrug off the dire mood
caused by the economic crisis, is to ride my bike through the river right around
late afternoon or dusk. That is right when you have "magic light", which any
photography geek will tell you is when there is the most even depth focus.
This is also when you'll see the most people out for a stroll. The City of Arts and
Sciences, seen from the seat of a bike, is breathtaking at this time of the day.

Christmastime at the City of Arts and Sciences

L'Hemisfèric lit up at night, when the hemisphere casts a reflection on the pool
outside to form this eye.

As for actually going into any of the museums, all I can say is that they are expensive, so you should choose wisely factoring in your own budget. Indeed, even Calatrava has been quoted as saying:
"I am proud of the fact that people can walk through and around the main buildings without paying. It is a city to be discovered by promenading."
However, you _must_ see the Oceanogràfic. It is currently the largest Aquarium in Europe and features a lot of the Mediterranean sea animals. So it makes for a great compliment to a beach visit to the city. What's more, as with all the Calatrava-styled facilities, the Aquarium space is quite impressive to walk around and through on the inside, so the aquarium space itself adds to the visitor's experience.

The Ágora as seen from inside the Oceanogràfic's Seabird Aviary

Half the fun of the Oceanogràfic are the maze-like facilities, including underground
tunnels like this shark tunnel.

And there you are. These are all probably, more than anything (except food), the reasons why I love living in Valencia. It's natural beauty, it's lush, serene public spaces. All of this make Valencia a jewel of the Mediterranean and a place I'm proud to call home.

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