Of all the places we visited in Spain, Valencia bore the greatest similarity to an American city – albeit one with a distinct European accent. Its wide, often bustling, avenues lined with an array of modernly functional buildings could easily drop into someplace like San Diego and feel right at home. After nearly a month of continuously touring the Iberian Peninsula, we were understandably happy for this dose of familiarity, regardless how tenuous.
And yet we somehow managed to resist the temptation of Valencia’s largest and newest of New World attractions: the ultra-modern City of Arts and Sciences. Housing an aquarium, a terrarium, a stadium, a planetarium, a “laserium,” an IMAX Cinema(rium?), and an opera house, it’s a one-stop shop for all your entertainment needs. And we totally skipped it.
I guess we weren’t really that homesick after all, favoring instead the art and architecture of Valencia’s old world past while still reveling in the notion that we weren’t in Kansas anymore – or anywhere remotely close, for that matter.
The Valencia Cathedral
Our first stop was to the Valencia Cathedral, a place that might have saved famed archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones from both booby traps and Nazis during his quest for the Holy Grail. Unlike him, we didn’t find the Last Super Chalice protected by the Knights Templar in a subterranean room filled with deadly anti-grail decoys. We saw it on open display in a chapel dedicated to the artifact. Maybe if Indi had simply ponied up the €5 admission charge like we did he could have skipped all the theatrics.
Had he done that, he’d have also been treated to a Gothic cathedral that is remarkable even by Europe’s high standards. It’s safe to say that we’ve seen our fair share of fabulous churches. And while they’re all similar, each has some unique flourish that sets it apart from the others.
Surprisingly for the Valencia Cathedral, the Holy Grail isn’t, well, the holy grail of awesome church artifacts. We were honestly more captivated by the amazingly vibrant Renaissance frescoes adorning the main chapel. Hidden for more than 300 years behind a false ceiling, the masterpieces were only rediscovered in 2004.
It took about eight years to restore the works, removing ordinary grime and even penis-shaped graffiti that had been etched into an angel’s wing, but they’re now back on display in all their original brilliance.
The Palace of the Marquis of Dos Aguas
Somewhere inside the Palacio del Marques de Dos Aguas is Valencia’s National Ceramics Museum. You’ll be excused for not noticing. The palace completely steals the show.
Even if you don’t go inside, it’s worth the effort to swing by just to see the elaborate Baroque façade.
But for a mere €3 (or free on Saturday afternoons) you’ll really want to spend some time strolling around this 15th century palace and maybe even see some ceramics.
The Central Market
If you’re hungry, you can stop by Valencia’s famous Central Market. Underneath the attractive iron, glass and ceramic dome, you’ll find a variety of merchants hawking everything from craft beer to, well, more exotic fare.
We picked up enough meats, fruits and cheeses for a hearty picnic in the Royal Gardens.
The X Door
Having never encountered anything like the X Door before Valencia, we’re starting to see more of these kinds of games pop up in cities around the world. The concept is simple. You enter a room and all you have to do is walk out the same door through which you entered. Unlocking that door, however, is anything but simple.
Behind The X Door lies a room decorated with an eclectic collection of vintage items and electronic equipment, all of which may be tools or clues needed to open an array of locked cabinets and chests. Somewhere behind all those locks hides the secret to solving the final puzzle and winning your release.
It’s escapist entertainment in the truest sense of the word.