On our first visit to Barcelona we missed the chance to visit the Picasso Museum and a few other sites. The advance time-slot tickets were all gone by the time we realized we needed them. Because the next leg of our adventure involved a flight from Barcelona to Vienna, we planned a one night stop-over - this time with museum tickets pre-arranged. What we encountered was a very quiet city just coming to grips with COVID-19. In fact, our visit was on the very last day the museums would be open.
Our Valencian friends Dan, Hop, and Douglas encouraged us to pay a visit to the neighboring sea-side city of Alicante, a short train ride south of Valencia. On a particularly beautiful Saturday in March the train wove through an interesting countryside with tall mountains in the distance. Orchards of olive and fruit trees alternated with copper-tinted fields waiting for spring plantings. As we neared Alicante, the terrain turned sandy with vineyards and ancient stone farmhouses next to sprawling solar panel farms. Stone mesas emerged with contrasting colors: bright white, deep terra-cotta, copper, gold, and grey - reminiscent of the American southwest.
Armed with Hop’s list of “must-see” attractions, we set out to take in as much as we could of Valencia (pronounced “Ba-LEN-thee-a” by the locals). Here are just a few of the highlights.
Another stroll through the riverbed Jardí del Túria park brought us to the Museu de Belles Artes (Museum of Fine Arts). They have a great collection of works by Joaquin Sorolla - who was born in Valencia and has become one of our favorite artists. They are exhibited along with paintings by those who influenced him and those whom he influenced. Not quite as captivating as the museum in his Madrid home, but a great take nonetheless.
On our first full day in Valencia we set out to explore the Jardí del Túria where the City of Arts and Sciences was built. Admittedly when we first heard that Valencia had turned a dry riverbed into a park, our expectations were pretty low - perhaps a dusty bike and walking path? Were we ever surprised.
We love to open ourselves up to serendipity and stumble upon great things that we never expected. The coastal city of Valencia Spain was added to our itinerary at the last minute - for very practical reasons - and it turned out to be one of our favorite places in all of Europe. In this and the next few posts we'll share what makes this an absolute must-see city, especially in March.
Saturday (February 22) began with a trip to the beautiful Parque de el Retiro that was alive with locals and tourists. Over 300 acres in the center of the city, the park is filled with pavilions, fountains, art exhibits, a manmade pond with boat rentals, and all variety of flora. At one point we ran into a group of swing dancers enjoying the fresh air and music. After a quick lunch, we trekked over to the nearby Royal Botanical Gardens, but it was clear looking through the fence that it was too soon in the season to be worth the price of admission.
February 19, 2020
The high-speed train glided us across the Spanish countryside - through the Andalucian mountains, olive groves, vineyards, and hill-top villages on our way north from Malaga to Madrid, Spain's capital city. The Renfe AVE had us in Madrid in 2 hours and 30 minutes where we hopped onto the city's extremely efficient Metro to our AirBnB "Hogar Dulce Hogar (Home Sweet Home)". We tried something different this time and chose an apartment outside the city center, but convenient to public transportation. This one was literally steps from a Metro station. We purchased the 10-trip rechargeable card and used it a lot.
Sometimes our visits are influenced by the cheapest flights, and flying to Málaga in the Andalusia region of Spain was our best way to get back to the mainland from the Canary Islands. The fact that it was the birthplace of Pablo Picasso made the decision easier.
The streets were ablaze in preparation for Carnaval and we heard more non-Spanish speakers than ever in this lovely city on the Costa del Sol that is a surprisingly popular cruise ship stop.
Week two on the Canary Islands was in Santa Cruz de Tenerife - the second of the Canaries' “shared” capital cities. The hour-long ferry ride was pretty choppy but otherwise comfortable. We had sandwiches and drinks at Comics Food&Drinks just after getting off to set us up for the short walk to our AirBnB apartment - “Casa Chica” - where our host Cathrina met us for the check-in. (She greeted us with kisses on both cheeks and explained that there was an “h” in her name because her mother was Irish.) The place was definitely “chica”...spacious and airy. Around us were parks, hills, blue skies, and fresh air - perfect for vacation!
We approached the 4-month mark in our "home free" adventure and decided on a couple of "kicked-back" weeks on the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago in the Atlantic, 100 km (62 mi) off the west coast of Morocco. Weather on the Canaries is described as the "Eternal Spring", with high temperatures averaging between 61° in February to 73° in August - not at all a tropical paradise, but pleasant shirt-sleeves / jacket temperatures and very rare rain. First stop is Las Palmas ("The Palms") de Gran Canaria, the largest Canarian city and one of the two "shared" capitals.
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Nancy McCabe &