On our final night in Valencia we decided to head down to the bullring and check out what the local custom/sport of bull fighting is all about. I have never really thought too much about it, but I had a rough idea of what took place, but Imelda was not really up to speed. “They just tease the bull round the ring with a red cape, don’t they?”
Well that was a small part of it, but with the teasing came a whole lot of stabbing in a series of bazaar ritualistic patterns that over the course of the evening eventually led to the death of six bulls. Without going into too much detail, each bull is finally dragged out of the ring by its horns by a couple of horses and the entire process is repeated over and over.
For all the foreigners in the crowd (which wasn’t that many by the end) this was a very strange and quite cruel insight into Spanish culture. We stayed for the whole spectacle, but even after two hours neither of us could really understand the point of it all.
Now I enjoy watching pretty much all sports, but I can’t say that bullfighting is one of them. This is of course not the case for the locals who are totally mad about the whole affair. There was much cheering and jeering, as you would expect from any rugby game on a Friday night. The matadors themselves are superstars and got mobbed for photos and autographs outside the stadium at the end of the evening and there are many magazines in the book stores dedicated to bullfighting.
If you’re ever in Spain, I would still recommend you head along for the experience, but make sure you know what you’re getting into. The stadiums are fantastic venues and I would hate to think how old the one in Valencia is. The whole spectacle was a small window into what life must have been like in the gladiatorial days and certainly a contrast to the sailing we have been watching.
We now have a bit of a gap before we head back at the end of this month to Valencia for the Americas Cup final. The original plan (I use the word “plan” in a very loose sense) was to trip round Germany, Austria and Switzerland during the gap. Unfortunately we had to bin that idea when we realized how much it would cost and that all we would have time for is a hop from city to city. I am gutted not only because I really wanted to go there but also because I had read the entire sections of the Lonely Planet for those countries. Kel has used this to prove his point that reading ahead is a waste of time and that random traveling is far more fun. Plan B was to head up to Barcelona and Northern Spain until we discovered that every single budget bed in Barcelona was taken that weekend (I mean really, what are the odds when you try to book the day before). Plan C was made in desperation and involved flying to Paris and working our way down western France and Northern Spain. We are just lucky that some airfares in Europe are insanely cheap… even when booked one day in advance.
Because I hadn’t anticipated going to Paris until much later I hadn’t really thought about what it would be like. We ended up wandering round like country kids that had never seen the city before, it blew us both away. There was of course far too much to see and far too little time, but we got some absolutely fantastic highlights including a trip up the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre museum and the Notre Dame Cathedral.
Paris was by far the most touristy place we have visited so far, there were thousands of people there, but with all the history and architecture it is easy to see why. We will certainly have to come back again and spend a lot more time there.
TOURS AND NANTES
After Paris we headed down to Tours in the Loire Valley. Tours and the surrounding area is just delightful. It is exactly how you would stereotype France - cobbled paths, old stone buildings, vegetable and flower markets, chateaus and cheese.
My highlight would be the day we hired bikes and cycled out through farmland and a tiny village to the Villandry Chateau. It is not the most magnificent chateau in the Loire Valley but it has gardens to die for and real character. The cycle followed a river for 21 km, so after the ride there and back and walking around the gardens all afternoon we were both pretty tired.
We then headed over to Nantes (pronounced “Nanties” by me and “Nance” by the rest of France). We have managed to make the most of Nantes but it is not exactly awe inspiring. It has had a very varied history and reminds me a bit of Malacca in Malaysia in the sense that it is a bit of a hotchpot of everything which makes it interesting but not great in any one particular sense.
We have had a few “technical difficulties” with the Two Kiwis tour and managed to get stuck in Nantes, unable to find a way out within our budget by train, plane, car or bus. We have now realized that Europe does not operate like Asia where you can arrive at the bus station at 2.25 to find six people trying to sell you a bus to the place you want to go for 2.30. We are sorted now though….off to Biarritz near the border of Spain on the west, then to San Sebastian just below there in Spain, then to somewhere else we haven’t worked out yet, Barcelona and then back to Valencia.