Saturday, June 8, 2013

Valencia & Sagunto

We drove for about 5 hours from Granada to get to Valencia, which is on the very southern edge of my parents' mission. We chose the highway that ran closest to the sea (there were 3 ways to get there, all in about the same time) and the drive was beautiful. The closer we got to them the more castles and fortresses we saw on top of hills that we passed, similar to the way the Alhambra was situated. There were lots and lots of tunnels through mountains. It was gorgeous.

We stopped at a gas station to fill up the car and get some snacks. It was one of those service stations where you don't have to actually leave the highway, you just pull off to the side and then you can hop right back on. In my broken Spanish reading comprehension, I thought the sign said to pre-pay your gas. When we went inside to speak with the attendant, who, coincidentally, spoke no english, it took us a few minutes to sort things out. Turns out we didn't have to prepay, ha ha. But we ended up with some chocolate for me, some chips for Chris and some gummy candies to share.

The drive went by quickly because we were just SO excited. And it was the first real chance we'd had to sit and talk about everything we'd seen so far in our whirlwind four days. We talked about our favorites and what we'd do again if we could do it over.

We were supposed to meet my parents at the Valencia airport where we were to drop off our rental car. As we got closer, we kept texting them with our ETA and they were already there waiting for us. As we got to the heart of Valencia's freeway system and their giant spaghetti bowl, we missed the airport turnoff three different times in a row. Gah! It was like the fates were laughing at us. We were SO excited to see my parents but we just couldn't ever get there! And I think Chris was super frustrated with me, because I was navigating after all.

Eventually we got to the right exit and followed signs to the car rental drop off. As we turned around the corner towards Hertz, there they were! Standing on the side of the curb in their missionary garb, looking fabulous. I started to cry before we even got to say hello. They followed us into the parking garage to return the car and we got out to give big hugs. Perhaps the biggest ever. They just looked so good! A year is a long time to go without hugging your mom.

We hastily dropped off our keys and threw our bags into my parents car. It was a silver European wagon-style car, with a fancy navigation system that can speak over 50 languages to you. It felt fairly small but it's a boat by European standards. Chris hopped in the front and my mom and I hopped in the back, and we headed off to our hotel for the night.

It was a fancy place -- the place my parents always stay when they come to Valencia. It had fabulous walking-street views just like our hotel in Madrid. It also has parking, which is rare for Valencia, so it's a nice perk. This is the first place we thought to take a photo together -- on the balcony of our hotel. Duh.

They look so good!

The rooms were amazing and lovely. They had chandeliers, for pete's sake!

The Spaniards have the balcony thing down. So delightful!
View left.
 View right.

We rested for a few minutes, unpacked a little, and headed off to dinner at my parents' favorite restaurant -- Solomillo. It was here that I discovered my dad's talent for communicating in another language. When his steak came back a little too under-done for his liking, he asked the waiter to butterfly it by using hand motions because he didn't know how to say it properly in Spanish. Hilarious! The waiter thought so too.

(My mom, on the other hand, is so good at Spanish that she can often correct my dad when he misuses a word or there is a better one he could be using. Spanish was his first language when he was born and he also spoke Spanish on his mission. My mom has only been speaking Spanish for 18 months! Very impressive.You go, mom.)

My dad and Chris went for some big ol' steaks. My mom and I, on the other hand, split the Paella Valencia. After all, we were sitting in the very city that Paella was invented! It just seemed like the right thing to do.

I'd had it once before when some friends from Spain came to stay at our house many years ago. I don't remember loving it back then especially, but I definitely loved it this time around. It was really good. Sometimes the Spaniards get a little creative with the proteins they throw in there (rabbit, tentacles, etc). This one was chicken & beef I think, and it was fantastic.

We had to pose for a picture by their jamon's before we left. I heart jamon.

By this time it was pretty late. We walked to a square in the center of town and my dad showed us the layout of the city on a map. Then we headed back to our hotel, stopping for ice cream along the way. We crashed pretty hard that night after a long day of walking through the Alhambra and driving.


The next day we had planned to all go see the city for the morning. Unfortunately, my dad had gotten a call about a disobedient missionary (who happened to be assigned to Valencia) and he had to take a cab over to their Piso to lay down the law. The longer we were with them, the more we came to expect these sort of surprises. My dad's work is never done!

So that morning we all ate breakfast together in the hotel, complete with churros and hot chocolate, and then my mom, Chris and I set off to explore while my dad hopped a cab to the missionary's piso.

The architecture of the town was beautiful, with fancy moldings just like Madrid.

Every pastry shop we passed just kept looking more and more amazing.

We took a tour of the Valencia Cathedral which was gorgeous and huge. They had an audioguide that we listened to as we walked.

It was here that my mom first gave Chris and I the history lesson about how you can tell how old a church is in Spain just by looking at it. Any cathedrals with eight-sided knaves or domes were built over the top of a Muslim Mosque, and therefore date back to at least 1200 or 1300, usually earlier.

And let me just tell you, they were all built on top of mosques! This one was no exception.

Inside this cathedral they had the arm of St. Vincent the Martyr, which is considered a relic. Eww and eww. It's the brown thing in that case below. It looks like they just cut it clean off below the elbow! Blech.

They also had some amazing original artwork that they tried to remove from the walls of an older cathedral and transfer here but it got damaged as it came off.  We came to learn that some of the most amazing art in Europe are still located in the churches they were created for.

This church also had the chalice of the holy grail. THE holy grail, y'all.

The paneled carvings on either side depicted bible stories and they were amazing.

After we finished touring the cathedral we walked around town for a bit, and stopped to take a picture by Pinocchio at this cute wood-working shop.

It was actually hot that day -- almost the only day that was bonafide hot while we were there. So we went back to one of those bakeries to split a neopolitana postre and chug some horchata. Fun fact: Horchata was invented in Valencia! Theirs is amazing, very smooth compared to the horchata I've had in the states.

My dad met back up with us at the bakery after finishing his dirty work and we headed back out to see a few more things.
We walked to the city's edge to where a big river circling the city had been drained and turned into a giant park. It was amazing and beautiful. A great spot for biking and running and picnicking with no cars.

On our way back toward the hotel we passed the Valencia bull ring. Bull fighting was outlawed in Barcelona and the surrounding areas but not in Valencia, so many of my parents' missionaries have been to a bullfight here on p-day. Eek!

After getting our fill of Valencia, we hopped in the car and headed about 30 km north towards Sagunto to hike up to the ruins.  We parked down near their public square and walked up through the narrow, car-less streets toward the fortress on top of the hill.

We stopped a cute outdoor cafe for lunch. I had jamon and melon. Yum.

Then we kept on trucking up the narrow streets toward the fortress.

As we got higher we could start to see out over the city.
And finally the fortress on top of the hill became visible. So we kept on trucking. It was a LONG, STEEP hike. And it was like 90 degrees that day! I even came away with a tan line from it. (Okay, okay, it was more of a sunburn line...but I'll take it.)
The city below started to look like a huge jumble of houses & buildings with no rhyme or reason -- just stuffed in there as close as they could fit.
When we got to the top, this is what we found. And I guess it's time for a little Sagunto history lesson.

This hill was first settled in the 5th century B.C. by Celtiberians and by 200 B.C. was surrounded by a wealthy, prosperous Roman town. In the 8th century it was overtaken by the Moors but became less and less prosperous around 1300 as Valencia became more and more prosperous.

Today, the ruins atop the hill are what they are. There is no entrance fee to enter, no glass or fences to bar you from touching (or destroying) anything up there. There are simply so many fortresses like this one in Spain that the country can't afford to restore them all and preserve them as historical sites. They do the best they can.

There is a small museum at the top of the hill where a few of the significant pieces have been housed and preserved, and the ampitheater (we visited at the end) has had some restoration done, so they're making progess slowly.

At any rate, these are the bases for ancient Roman columns, dating from about 200 BC. You know, just laying there on the ground. As much as I wanted to touch everything there, I couldn't bring myself to do it.

Some original ancient Roman writing on some large pieces of stone. (Looks suspiciously like the Times New Roman font on your computer, no?)
Some more stones with writing, and a tower in the background that has been capped with cement to prevent further deterioration.
The top of the hill in Sagunto was sort of oblong. This is standing at one end and looking to the other far end.
From the tower we had a great view of the city down below.
Some original pieces of ancient Roman wall down near the bottom, topped by more modern additions and capped by cement up near the tower.
Chris and I standing in an original archway. (I promise I'm not pregnant, just wearing a fat moneybelt under my shirt!)
From the top of the tower, looking down at ruins below.
Here's a view of the amphitheater that has been restored.

My mamacita and myself.
We climbed up some old stairs and walked along the ramparts of the tower.
Deep discussion happening here? Or perhaps forecasting of the Utah Football 2013-2014 season. You be the judge. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was important.
It couldn't have been a more beautiful day to hike. I kept commenting to Chris how amazing the clouds were in Spain. But they were, they were amazing!

At first I didn't understand why someone would want to build a fort here, other than that is was on top of a hill. But here is the reason -- the sea! You could see incoming ships (or attackers) all the way from this fortress. Seems like a pretty legit place to build a fort.
More cloud amazingness. And some cool ruins. Oh, and the Mediterranean Sea.
A few sweet panoramic pictures of the whole shebang.

An ancient Roman outhouse! Apparently the "drain" goes down into the ground and shoots out the side of the hill. Smart.
Some more ancient Roman column segments.

We hiked all the way to the other end of the fortress for some more great views. It was actually a little steep in a few places, and still 90 degrees outside. My mom made it all the way up in her Dansko missionary shoes and my dad made it all the way up in a wool suit! My heroes.
Chris on top of the world.
Another panoramic view.

El Presidente y Hermana Pace.
The end-all shot before we headed back down the hill.
On our way down we stopped in at the amphitheater. Here's a cool panoramic of the three amigos taking a load off.
And one of the stage.
Here's a show showing how they capped off the steps to prevent further deterioration, but everything is built upon the original stone.
Chris was our official water-bottle carrier. We'd fill two bottles and hand them to us, and he'd shove one in each of his back pockets on days we didn't want to carry a backpack. This worked great until we hiked a giant hill on a 90 degree day and had nothing to drink but body-temperature water, ha ha! But it worked.
After we left the amphitheater we headed down the hill towards the city and stopped at a little shop with handmade pottery, jewelry & textiles from the region. It was by far the best place for souvenirs that we found! They man who owned it was born in that very house and raised his children there. It was cool to hear about his life. I bought two amazing Spanish scarves for $10 euros a piece, and my mom bought some amazing hand-painted nesting pottery bowls for her dining table.
After we finished our souvenir shopping we noticed a church with a blue domed top and I wanted to see it. So my dad led the way and we wound our way down toward it.
It turned out to be closed so we couldn't go inside, but it was cute from the outside.

We kept on heading downhill back toward the city center where our car was parked.

When we reached our car we stopped for some ice cream to cool down and then hopped in the car and headed back to Valencia, which was about two and a half hours away.  It felt like Chris and I just asked question after question non-stop of my parents. At home when we get to call or facetime with them, it's usually 30 minutes here or 45 minutes there. I finally felt like we were able to get a good handle on the geography and the size of the mission, their responsibilities and tasks, and hear some of their amazing stories. It was just the best.

As we got close to Barcelona, we stopped at a grocery store to buy a few things to eat for the next few days, as well as some unscented laundry detergent to Mr. Sensitive (Chris). I had to take a picture of the jamon (ham) section of the grocery store. The beef & poultry were like one aisle each but the jamon was like three!
And also a picture of the amazing melons that are so yummy. I don't know what they're really called because they simply call them melon in Spanish, but they're green inside like a honeydew and taste amazing.
Then we headed to the mission home for the grand tour, to unpack and do some laundry. We ate bocadillos (sandwiches) for dinner and then we crashed pretty hard for the night. (Seems like we crashed hard every night!?)

To be continued in Barcelona & Cardona...

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