Tarragona and Valencia, ancient and modern

Tarragona I scooted down the coast from Figueres in the rental car, past Barcelona, and on towards Tarragona. Described in the books as an old city, full of Roman ruins, it seemed like a good place to go after the insanity of the Dali Museum. The first spot was an excellently preserved aqueduct on the outskirts of the city, which I took a good hour or so wander around. I'm particularly happy that I took this break after the long drive down - I subsequently got lost trying to find my hotel, and spent a good hour exploring the motorways, industrial zones, and dead end lanes before finally arriving at my destination. Fortunately, the beach was only a five minute walk away, the sun was still shining, so I got a headstart on my sunburn... The old city in Tarragona is very neatly defined in the typical way of Roman towns - most of the original city wall still stands, containing ancient buildings, churches and lanes aplenty. On my first amble around the streets, I turned a corner to discover the cathedral - and a large crowd surrounding a group of people on military dress, clearly performing some kind of traditional display, which included them firing muskets into the air! A peculiar find, indeed. The compact nature of the old city lent itself nicely to aimless ambles through the streets, up the walls, into the excavated Roman circus (chariot racing venue, no clowns) and through the fairly impressive cathedral in the centre of the city.
Roman aqueduct outside Tarragona

Roman aqueduct outside Tarragona

The Amphitheatre

The Amphitheatre

Tunnel under the Circus (chariot races, not clowns)

Tunnel under the Circus (chariot races, not clowns)

The castle walls

The castle walls

Sunlight through a door in Tarragona cathedral

Sunlight through a door in Tarragona cathedral

Valencia First off, the street art. Valencia is full of it - seemingly on any building that isn't shiny and brand new, or ancient and (presumably) protected. It varies from the completely abstract, through the derivatively cartoonish, through to (again presumably, I do guess a lot of this...) sociopolitical comment. There's so much, I decided to post a totally separate page of it - no descriptions, just pictures of the chaos. Anyway, to the rest of the city... The Old The hostel offered a free guided tour of the old city, so I decided this would be a good intro to Valencia. Being free, it was a tad amateurish, with a fairly thin slice of info about the city, but it did give me a basic idea of the place - essentially a complete maze of narrow winding alleyways, random squares next to ancient churches, copious numbers of bars (the locations of which I filed away for later football watching), and tourist traps aplenty. One particular delight was a churchy building, but with very unreligious gargoyles surrounding it, including a variety of characters... enjoying themselves, shall we say ūüėČ Apparently the owner was a bit anti-religious, so decided to wind up his neighbours with the choice of highly sexualised stonework - I liked his thinking. A quick visit to a horchata cafe (an odd ground-almond based drink) and a tapas lunch featuring some potent Agua de Valencia (cava, vodka, gin, orange juice) set the morning off nicely before I began a solo retread of the tour route at my own pace for photo ops. Naturally, I got lost, but that's part of the fun of these old ramshackle cities - having no real idea where you are, and finding random gems where you least expect.
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The New In the late 1950's, the city of Valencia was devastated by a huge flood, originating from the river Turia. After this disaster, the river's primary course was diverted into a safer, deeper route - which left the original course of the river a long semi-circular sunken valley. Most of this was turned into a city park, and has cycle paths, children's playgrounds, sports fields, and gardens along much of its length. The best sights, and best seen after a long stroll through the park, are found at the far end of the old riverbed - the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències (or City of Arts and Sciences). This area contains a collection of very modern buildings, all designed on an epic scale, and some more relaxed (but still modern) park areas. Four of the buildings look like crashed alien spacecraft emerging from the ground (huge arcs and spines, bold colours), each serving a particular purpose - science museum, IMAX cinema, opera house, concert venue. At the far end of this collection is an aquarium - with equally extraordinary (albeit smaller) buildings on the surface, but with all of its aquaria below the surface, leaving the main grounds a tranquil collection of ponds and gentle protuberances above ground.
El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía

El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía

L'Àgora

L'Àgora

Oceanogràfic - the aquarium

Oceanogràfic - the aquarium

L'Hemisfèric - supposed to be an eye, but looks more like something from Space 1999...

L'Hemisfèric - supposed to be an eye, but looks more like something from Space 1999...

I wandered through this area for several hours, continuing on through half-built residential areas, an industrial zone, and finally to the beach. My grand plans for a seaside picnic (baguette, chorizo, cheese, orange juice) were thwarted by strong winds whipping sand into my face (and half-constructed sandwich), so I trudged back to the hostel. I joined a bar crawl that night, but my heart really wasn't in it, and I dipped out by the fourth bar - I was eager to move on to my next destination - Granada. (Not where Coronation Street is filmed...)
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