Friday, August 1, 2014

Favorite Images of Valencia

Valencia's Plaça l'Ayuntament

As our month in Valencia winds down, we thought we'd simply share a handful of our favorite pictures from this Spanish city on the Mediterranean. Having taken several hundred pictures while we were here, it's hard to whittle it down to a handful, but these seem to be the ones that we like the most and that we got the best response from our family, friends, and followers online. We hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoyed taking them. In this blog we'll give you our favorite overall images; in the next 2 day's blogs we'll focus on the people of Valencia.

(Above) Valencia's Plaça l'Ayuntament is the main plaza in Valencia. We walked through it almost daily. The classical mediterranean architecture, marble sidewalks, palm trees, and fountain make it a splendid place for a picnic on a bench or for an al fresco dinner at a café.

Valencia's City of Arts and Sciences

Valencia's City of Arts and Sciences is a masterpiece of modern architecture. We visited only the one day and never actually went into the museum. It was still memorable.

The Ballroom of Valencia's El Palacio del Marqués de Dos Aquas

This palace is the better site to see than the ceramics museum it now houses. Lori and I danced--waltzed--in the opulent ballroom, if only for a few moments.

Twisty Columns in La Lonja de la Seda

A battery of these twisted columns supports the arched roof of this grand room in Valencia's La Lonja de la Seda. Once upon a time, more than a handful of centuries ago, this room was used for commodities trading.

Distant Cousins at Valencia's Mercado Central

Speaking of trading, Valencia's central market (Mercado Central) is one of the top sites to see in Valencia. If you're a foodie, it's one of the top sites to see in all of Europe. We have lots of great images from the market, but none quite so endearing to Chuck as this encounter with long lost relatives.


Ah, nothing felt quite as Spanish to us as our night at a flamenco show, as captured in the photo and its accompanying water color rendition above. Images can't do flamenco justice, so be sure to watch our YouTube video:

Bull Fight in Valencia

Another quintessentially Spanish was a bull fight. Read Chuck's blog for a full account of his night at the bull fight:

Valencia's Plaza de Torros Bull Fighting Arena

We (Chuck, actually) only attended a bull fight one night. But this was our view of the bull fighting ring every night.

Our Amigo in Valencia

There was a café near the cathedral we frequented several times, and each time we saw this friendly Valencian. He spoke little English, and we spoke even less Spanish, yet somehow we were friends. The first time we saw him, Chuck complimented him on his hat. The next time we saw him he noticed Chuck's hat, which looked surprisingly like his. His smile was infectious.

Chuck and Lori in Valencia

Ah, Valencia. What a great city to be in love in!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Why There Are So Many Churches in Europe

The Gold-Adorned Ceiling of Valencia's Iglesia Parroquial de San Martín

It can be said that it's hard to see Europe through all the cathedrals.

It's true: every time you turn around in Europe, you find another cathedral. Well, technically, you find another church: a cathedral is supposed to be the home of a bishop. Here in Valencia, we've visited about a half-dozen churches, and the only place outside the old town area we've journeyed to is the beach. In one particular spot, if Lori and I were to join hands and stretch arms out, we could just about touch both the Cathedral of Valencia and its next-door neighbor the Basilica de la Virgen de los Desamparados (the Basilica of the Virgin of the Homeless).

Valencia has a pretty typical density of grand churches, but for a true overdose of churches you only have to spend a few hours in Rome: we know of at least one Roman square where you can visit three great churches without leaving the square. If you were to set out to attend mass at a different church in Rome each day, it might truly take a few years to accomplish the task. It's not uncommon to hear an American tourist whining to a family member, Oh, no! Not another church!

 Someone once asked me why there are so many churches in Europe, and in such close proximity to one another. I'll try to answer the same question for you.

Stark Stone and Beautiful Altarpiece of Valencia's Iglesia de San Agustín

First of all, there are true-blue cathedrals, the home of a bishop. Most people think of a bishop as the head of a diocese, a regional or local collection of parishes, which of course is the typical pastoral duty of a bishop. But as the fundamental role of a bishop is to teach church doctrine, and there are organizations with a doctrinal mission that aren't dioceses, some organizations are lead by a bishop without a diocese, yet he needs a cathedral to call home. This can lead to some cities--like Rome--having multiple cathedrals.

Another reason a church can be built is to act as the spiritual home--either the headquarters or the regional home--of a religious organization, such as an order of priests or an order of nuns. Here in Valencia, for example, only three blocks from the Cathedral of Valencia is a Jesuit church, the Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús la Campañía (the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus the Companion...we think). And as every Catholic organization requires a nod from Rome, their world headquarters, replete with their own church, is often located in Rome.

But it's not just their headquarters or regional offices that require churches; religious organizations, particularly the holy orders, that operate in a community often provide their own church. Hence, monasteries and convents alike--even if they're not headquarters--often have their own basilica or church. 

Sometimes a church was built to house a specific relic. As we recently blogged, there are no shortage of religious relics in Europe, and in some cases grand churches were built to be part of the pilgrim's attraction to come see the relic.

On occasion a church was built to honor a specific saint, often by the followers (also known as their cult) of that saint or their rich benefactors. The church might have been erected on the spot of a miracle associated with the saint, it might have been built to house relics of the saint (including the saint's remains), or it might have been built as a pilgrimage destination for devotees of the saint.

Speaking of rich benefactors, monarchs and rich families throughout European history--and there were no shortage of them--sometimes built churches with their own fortunes or bequeathed money for the purpose. There was no better way to ensure your personal or family name's good reputation than to have a church associated with it. It was also a great way to endear yourself to the local community and even to help ensure your place in heaven.

Finally, churches were even sometimes built as simple parish churches: built by a local community of hard-working Christians who pooled their resources, and with the blessing of their diocesan bishop, established a parish for themselves and built a church the good "old-fashioned" way.

The Altar and Madonna of Valencia's Basilica de la Virgen de los Desamparados

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Our Top 5 Favorite Foods in Valencia

Our Favorite Valencian Wine!

As our profiles say, we're dining, wining, and dancing our way through Europe. We've really enjoyed the food and drink in Valencia, and here's our countdown of our top 5 favorites.

5. Wine, Sangria, and Beer...Oh My!

It's tasty, cold, and inexpensive!

Muy frio cerveza! Chuck's favorites: Mahou and San Miguel

NOBODY makes Sangria like Valencians!

4. The Seafood

It's great being on the Mediterranean and tasting the fruit of the sea!

Steamed Mussels - Lori's Favorite!

Fresh Fish at the Market

Captain's Platter Spanish Style!

3. The Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Fresh from the market every day.

Just-Picked Fresh!

2. Paella

The local Valencian paella with chicken. I can always pick out the beans!

1. And of course, the tapas!

Yummy bits of meats, olives, fish, veggies...the choices seem endless. Variety IS the spice of life!

Patatas Bravas - Fried Potatoes with Hot Sauce and Mayo

Tosta with Egg, Blood Sausage, and Grilled Peppers - Chuck said it was scrumptious (I wonder about him sometimes!)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Europe's Church Relics: A Matter of Faith

The Holy Grail
(Courtesy of Our Friends at

A few weeks ago we laid eyes on the chalice that Jesus used at the Last Supper, more commonly known as The Holy Grail. In Bruges, Belgium we've seen a cloth soaked with Jesus' blood, collected by Joseph of Arimathea. In Rome, we saw the steps Saint Helen removed from the front of Pontius Pilate's palace, upon which Jesus stood as he was accused and condemned and on which drops of his blood can still be seen to this day. Even back home in the states we've seen splinters of what many believe are Jesus' cross, also taken by Saint Helen from Jerusalem.

And then there are the saints. We've seen everything from toes and fingers and hair of the much lesser-known saints to the bones of a few of the apostles, including Saint Peter himself.

It seems every church, every cathedral in Europe has a relic: a body part or some sacred object touched by one of the saints, apostles, the Holy Family, or even Jesus himself. This is for good reason, but to understand why, you have to wind the clock back a few centuries. You see, tourism today is pretty easy compared to that of the middle ages: it's relatively inexpensive for us to take a long weekend, jump on a plane, and zip to somewhere fun and exciting. But this has only been a modern phenomena.

Leisure travel hardly existed more than a century-and-a-half ago. If you traveled on a regular basis, it was because of your line of work: spice trader, merchant marine, solider, or sailor. To go somewhere was often a (literally) once-in-a-lifetime event. And if you were going to go somewhere, you had to make it count.

That was the purpose of a pilgrimage: travel to make it really, really count. A few hundred miles is nothing today, but not so long ago (in European time) it was an expensive, often perilous, journey. The church encouraged pilgrimages, both for the religious value and for the economic impact, and churches and cathedrals across Europe competed to be the pilgrimage destination of choice. That often meant they had to have something exciting and interesting to see.

So is the chalice so prominently on display in Valencia really the cup Jesus used at the Last Supper? Are the bones buried beneath Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome really those of Saint Peter himself?

It's only logical that, with the economic pressure to attract the throngs of paying pilgrims to their towns and cathedrals, church and civic officials overlooked the provenance of certain relics at best and, at worst, fudged what was truly known about the object they claimed as a relic. This certainly means that some of the relics still on display today are of questionable authenticity.

Yet some objects have interesting provenance and are worth consideration. Stepping into the chapel in Valencia's cathedral where the purported Holy Grail is displayed we found a stack of flyers about the relic (in English, fortunately for us). While we can't vouch for the accuracy of the information, the history of the relic is documented back to the 3rd century. That's still a couple of hundred years of gap: imagine trying today to gloss over a two-hundred year gap in provenance on an early American piece of federalist furniture. There'd have to be pretty solid physical evidence instead to land you an appearance on The Antiques Roadshow.

Even better provenance might be attached to the presumed remains of Saint Peter. They were, after all, exposed only in the 1930's through an archaeological excavation after having been buried for about 19 centuries prior. True, the remains being "about the right age" doesn't mean they are definitively those of the apostle. The relics of some saints, on the other hand, are most definitely authentic as their remains have been put to use specifically for that reason. I imagine a certain way for your remains to be exhumed and put on display was to live and work the life of a saint in Europe and die and be canonized between the years 1000 and 1500.

Notwithstanding the remains of certain saints, in the case of most of these relics--which I realized as I peered into the glass vial containing what thousands of pilgrims to Bruges have assumed is Jesus' blood--it comes down to faith: either you believe the relic is what it might be displayed as or you don't. Faith is a bit elusive to most of us that way, isn't it? And I think that's probably the way it should be.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Valencia's Mercado Central

The Dome of Valencia's Mercado Central (Central Market)

Anyone who reads our blog regularly or who knows us knows that we love the markets in Europe, and in Valencia we've found the granddaddy of all markets.

Now I'm talking about fresh food markets, not a shopping center. Sometimes the markets are permanent installments in their community, sometimes they are morning markets on a certain day of the week. They are usually bustling, exploding with sights, sounds, and smells, and full of local people selling (mostly) locally-produced products. Here in Valencia, that makes for an awesome confluence of sun-drenched fruits (yes, like oranges), hams and sausages, and fresh-from-the-Mediterranean seafood. Oh and let's not forget the incredible breads that they are very adept at across the Iberian peninsula.

The Central Market of Valencia (aka Mercado Central) is a permanently installed market near the heart of Valencia's old town, just blocks from the cathedral. It is the largest market of its kind in Europe, which makes it a top destination in Valencia. We've been a half-dozen times now, and there are always tour groups marveling at its size and diversity. The market even has a dome--like a cathedral--topped with a statue of a parrot, apparently the mascot for the market and no doubt a nod to the parrots we've seen nesting in high perches in the neighboring blocks. Even European markets need branding.

Long Lost Cousins

Fresh Butcher Shop

Iberian Hams

According to the market's website, there are 400 vendors at Mercado Central. To put that in perspective, Perimeter Mall in Atlanta, the second largest mall in the state of Georgia, has 200 stores. Granted the stalls of Valencia's market are considerably smaller on average than a store at Perimeter Mall, but you can imagine it's more than enough to keep the thousands of people who visit each day quite busy and well-supplied with everything from cherries (the best anywhere) to octopus (we haven't bought any, mainly because we have no idea how to prepare it).

One of those vendors is Ros Frutas y Verduras (Fruits and Vegetables), a family operation run by Juan Jose Ros. We ran into them on our first visit and even though our Spanish is sorely lacking, we got across to the lady waiting on us that my last name is Ros, I'm from Atlanta, and my great-grandfather came from the nearby island of Ibiza. She "introduced" me to Juan Jose, and they managed to get across to me that his last name is Ros, that he knows some family went to Mexico and Cuba, and that the name is more prevalent in southeastern Spain than in Barcelona as I had been brought up to think.

It might be an odd way to do some ancestry research, but on a subsequent visit I brought Juan Jose a piece of paper with my name and the names of my father, grandfather, and great grandfather. I added birth years and death years and indicated next to my great-grandfather's name that he came from Ibiza around 1865. I used Google Translator to (try and) say, "Maybe someone in your family knows more" and "You can email me...I can translate written Spanish." They nodded understanding of the family tree--and in fact Juan Jose introduced me to his father, who happened to be working with him that day--but in regards to the request that maybe someone knew more, they just shrugged. Perhaps I'll hear from them one day.

Fresh Eels for Sale


Chicken Feet 2 Kilo Special!

It's become one of our favorite activities to stroll over to the market in the mornings a few times a week to pick up some fruit or sandwiches for a picnic. This market alone should put Valencia on the radar for any traveling foodie. The market is open Monday through Saturday, mornings until 2:00pm.

On Sundays until 2:00pm, though the Mercado Central is closed, the surrounding streets come alive with an open-air market. It's not quite the same as the indoor market open the other six days of the week, but it's still a fun way to spend a few hours. We'll leave you with a few images from the Sunday afternoon market.

Sunday Afternoon Open Air Market

Colorful Display of Thousands of Phone Covers

Lori: So Many Choices!