In the Mercado Central.
Allegedly, the city of Valencia is home to some 810,000 souls with over a million and a half in the greater metropolitan area. But it never felt that way to us. The downtown area was curiously sedate and when we arrived last Tuesday, we even guessed that the country was enjoying a public holiday. It wasn't.
Our hotel overlooked one of the city's main hubs - the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. Although only a two star establishment, our fourth floor room was both clean and equipped to a good modern standard. There was even a little private balcony above the side street next to the hotel. Breakfast was included with the room charge and it was okay - spanish omelette, frankfurters, cheese slices, ham, tuna fish, fresh fruit salad, croissants, fresh coffee and bread. My only gripe was that guests were expected to pay an extra euro for a glass of fresh orange juice. I have never come across such an irritating supplementary charge before.
Established by occupying Romans in 137BC, Valencia has experienced a long and colourful history. This is reflected in its old town architecture which evidences various cultural influences as well as the city's economic might in past centuries. Previously, the north and eastern flanks of the original walled city were protected by the Turia River which had different moods and was crossed by several stalwart stone bridges. Ruinous flooding in 1957 led the city fathers to make a daring decision to divert the river's course.
Where once zillions of gallons of water danced to the sea, the old riverbed is now home to luxuriant gardens, jogging tracks, football pitches, children's playgrounds and the breathtaking architecture of the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences complex conceived by the innovative Valencian architect - Santiago Calatrava.
While we were there we visited three museums. There was the Gonzalo Marti National Ceramics Museum housed in a beautiful old Renaissance palace. It showcased the finest ceramics commissioned by the city's ruling aristocracy but seemed oblivious to the everyday ceramic-ware of the ordinary working classes. A second museum visit was to the Plaza de Toros - the bullfighting museum next to the city's Colosseum-like bullring.
The third museum involved a metro ride to the northern suburbs. It is called the Museo Fallero and it celebrates the city's Fallas Festivals. "What?" I hear you asking. Each March, huge papier mache statues or scenes adorn various streets and plazas. Over the years they have become ever bolder, ever more professionally finished. Unfortunately, on the night of March 17th or 18th each year the Fallas figures are burnt in a carnival atmosphere with dancing, wild singing and firecrackers bursting. The museum houses many "ninots" or models of those vast sculptures and tells the story of this unique tradition.
It used to be that British people saw Spain as a bargain basement holiday location with cheap accommodation and low-priced drinks and meals, making holiday pounds stretch further. Not any more - I can tell you. On the Thursday night, we visited an unexceptional city centre bar to watch, on TV, Atletico Madrid play Valencia in the Europa Cup and were charged nine euros for two beers - that's over eight pounds. The city's lovely botanical gardens were much better value at only a euro each and we passed two happy hours there amidst various exotic palms and spectacular cacti.
City breaks like this can often involve a great deal of walking and should you choose to visit Valencia, Rome, Berlin or any other inviting European city may I humbly suggest a stout and comfortable pair of walking shoes or, if wheelchair-bound, an Olympic athlete to push you round. I could go on and on boring you to death with more intricate details of our mini-adventure but I sense it's time to plant the following full stop.
"NO FOTOS!" at the Fallas Museum but I took this one anyway.