In the hall of Valencia’s North Station, visitors are greeted by the sounds of rolling suitcases, whining children and the familiar smack of a two-kiss greeting. Just outside the station – which has a feel that’s half-hangar and half-modernist – the sidewalks overflow with the same hurried bustle. It is nighttime when I arrive, and the streetlights reflect the pale buildings, giving them the appearance of shy, opaque marble.
Before arriving in Valencia, I really had no clue as to what the capital of the region – also named Valencia – had to offer, besides oranges. Then I read that the cathedral in Valencia claimed to have the Holy Grail. This was something I just had to see – it would add a whole new dimension to owning the Indiana Jones trilogy on VHS.
The cathedral, although donned with awe-inspiring Gothic and Romanesque elements, offered standard cathedral fare – saintly tombs with red candles and brown, withered flowers and parishioners who get in the way of sightseers. The exception was a Goya painting with colors rivaled the stained-glass windows at Chartres.
Valencia is the third-largest city in Spain, with a population of about 790,000. MONTAGE PHOTO/VICTORIA BEKIEMPIS
Admittedly, the most rewarding part of the cathedral was watching pilgrims – as well as bored pensioners on a weekend excursion – react to the grail, which was tucked away in a glass case several feet from the chapel’s walkway.
One man broke into laughter and playfully nudged his friend in the ribs when he saw the grail in real-time: “Es pequenito … it’s so tiny.” Others also acquiesced to the grail’s diminutive size. The Spanish equivalent of “I thought it would be bigger” seemed to be the going standard.
Sure, there were the few show-offs who sat in the chapel’s pews to contemplate the grail, but I suspect they were probably just trying to bide time before moseying through the half-museum of church artifacts, as it was pretty hard to meaningfully look at the grail from such a far distance.
When I left the grail, I made my way to the cathedral’s tower, the Miguelete. The kid in me paid to climb the tower’s 207 odd stairs without thinking of all the huffing and puffing that would go along with it. Nevertheless, the view from the belfry was well worth it. Rocky hills blended into the horizon until they faded softly into the sea, encircling my perspective of Valencia’s charming old-city, while the cooling shade of the iron bell gave me a sense of contact with the history of the place.
Museums abound in Valencia. A dried-up riverbed, which has been revamped as a recreational area that winds throughout the city, is pleasant to walk along. There’s also a spectacular new opera house, whose shape can best be described as that of slightly unopened white flower bud. What I can’t highly recommend, though, is the botanical gardens – because I visited them during the winter, the only things in bloom were the scabby feral cats that lazily roam the grounds.
To complete my trip, I tried the region’s specialty, Paella Valenciana – yellow rice sautÃ©ed with chicken, vegetables and rabbit. It really tasted like chicken.