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About A Week: Valencia

Peter Hinchliffe goes walk, walk, walking in Valencia.

Valencia in April. Clear, blue Spanish skies. Seventy degrees. And I’m wearing a t-shirt.

For an Englishman, newly emerged from the dark days of winter, this is like being let out of prison.

Not surprising really that scores of thousands of Brits - many of them in their senior years - have opted to live permanently in Spain.

The difference between Britain and Spain can be summed up in a single word. Sunshine.

We Brits are human moles. In dreary December, when the daylight switch isn’t turned on until almost 9 am, and darkness comes back to envelop us before 4 pm, we turn up our coat collars and hurry indoors, there to sit close to a cosy fire.

No wonder we are world-famous for our pubs. Denied by a stern northern climate the daily right to perambulate, to congregate and chat in city squares, on street corners, outside village post offices, we have been forced to seek communal conversation and jollity under the roofs of public houses.

In Valencia, along with other Spanish towns and villages, folk promenade. They enjoy the morning and evening air, pausing to chat and argue. And the sun shines upon them.

If you go to Valencia be sure to take your best walking legs with you. it’s a city made to be enjoyed on foot. It’s one of the best cities in the world for the exploratory walker.

The key to this ambulatory paradise is the river that no longer is where it was. The Turia river was diverted. Its old bed was planted with trees, lawns, flowers. In now forms a miles-long public park through the centre of the city.

It’s a perfect place for walkers, joggers, roller-bladers. There are benches - places to sit and talk through the warm Valencian mornings and afternoons.

You can walk for an hour, and more. Eventually you reach the City of Arts and Sciences, with its spectacular parade of modern architectural wonders, including a new opera house (not yet completed) which will become a world icon of modern design, a rival to Sydney’s famous harbour-side opera venue.

Part of this complex is L’Oceanogràfic, aquariums a-quiver and a-swirl with shimmering multi-hued fish from every ocean. It offers the nearest most of us are ever likely to get to a round-the-globe underwater journey.

At the heart of this watery world is a grandstand, looking down on a large pool where dolphins perform astonishing tricks.

They scoot along like jet-powered boats. They rise up out of the water, four of them, then, as if they were Guardsmen intent on maintaining barracks-square precision, swim backwards. They catch hoops and return them to the thrower, seemingly as enthusiastic as any floppy-eared spaniel.

How do you train dolphins? How do you convey a wish to see them behaving like Guardsmen, or pet pooches?

Of course, they are intelligent creatures. They “talk’’ to one another. A dolphin’s brain is comparable in size to that of a human being. Perhaps there was a “discussion’’ before they agreed among themselves to be the stars of a water-world circus.

“Not at all dignified, standing on my tail, moving backwards,’’ says Dolly Dolphin.

“But think of the fish,’’ says Dan Dolphin. “Every time we do a trick, they give us a fish. A very nice fish. Tasty! Saves us having to chase after our own dinner.’’

Wouldn’t it be delicious if humans, with all their conceits, are eventually found to have the second-best brains on the planet?

Back to Valencia. Sunny, sunny Valencia. After the Turia walk, there’s the rest of the city to explore, the old part and the new. In the old part is the Cathedral, a satisfyingly proportioned church. In an ancient side chapel, preserved above the altar, is the Holy Grail. It’s been in that hallowed place for more than 600 years. (So how about that Dan Brown?)

We left Valencia last Friday. The sun was shining. The afternoon was warm.

Back at Manchester airport, there was the usual greeting. Rain!

Rain, rain, and more rain, getting into our hair, our eyes, making the car’s windscreen wipers work overtime as we drove back to Yorkshire.

And the following morning, on our lawns….snow!

In the fourth month of the year. Snow.

Ah well! Six days of solid sunshine is a fair share for an English mole.


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