Valencia
Family Holiday
Wednesday 22nd May 2019

We flew in to Valencia Airport at about 11.30am, whizzed through Immigration, and our bags were both amongst the first to arrive at Baggage Reclaim. It got better! We arrived at the Europcar hire car desk before everyone else, and, although Gill had booked a Vauxhall Zafira or equivalent, we were given a great big, BRAND NEW, 7-seater VW Caddy! This will make it a very much easier when picking up Sarah, Carly, Tony and Ailis back at the airport on Saturday night.

The drive into Valencia city centre was a bit hairy, and I had to drive one and a half times round one roundabout because I missed the exit on the first attempt. But when we arrived at the Plaza de la Reina we spotted the signs to the underground car park immediately. We were soon parked, determined not to move the car until we leave on Saturday, whatever the parking fee!

We had to haul our heavy bags up three flights of stairs but after that it was only 100 yards to our boutique B&B and a lift to the second floor. We almost immediately went out again and had a light lunch in a nearly restaurant. We shared a plate of antipasti that turned out to be more filling than we expected!
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Our apartment
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View to the street below
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On the Hop On Hop Off bus
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Plaza de la Reina
Then, in the Plaza de la Reina, we bought tickets for the Hop On Hop Off bus service, paying only 19 Euros each for a full 48 hours covering two routes! Straight away we set off on the route that covers the city centre.

In 1957 Valencia suffered catastrophic flooding following very heavy rainfall (a year's worth of rain in 24 hours!) in the mountains higher up the river Turia. The city council resolved that this must never happen again, and subsequently the path of the river was completely diverted to the west of the city. The now-dry river bed was then converted into an award-winning urban park, with many trees and recreational areas.

To the east of Valencia, on what had been the right bank of the Turia and overlooking this new park, a series of brilliantly designed buildings have been erected, including the Science Museum and the Aquarium. We’d booked a meal at the Aquarium for 9pm, and realised that our bus ticket gave us the perfect means of getting there later in the day. The 90 minute bus journey finally concluded back in the Plaza de la Reina, and we went back to our room for a cup of tea.
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Aquarium and the
'Restaurante Submarino'
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Down in the restaurant
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Fish as entertainment
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Get your Horchata here!
We later travelled back to the Aquarium, getting there at 8pm, where, because it had now closed for the day, we could find no means of entry to the Aquarium restaurant.At 8.30 the gate was opened, but we still weren’t allowed into the restaurant until 9pm. We were the first down the stairs into one of the most striking restaurants we have ever seen.

It’s a large circular space, with floor to ceiling glass all the way around, forming a continuous fish tank that’s about a metre from front to back and about 2.5 metres high. Fish that we couldn’t identify were constantly swimming in one direction all around the restaurant, with the occasional ray and dogfish. It was immediately stunning, but after a while it started to feel a little creepy. We shared an enormous seafood paella, Valencia’s signature dish, and we couldn’t get through it all, to the apparent surprise of the waitress.

When we left we went to a bus stop that we’d spotted earlier took a bus that went back in the general direction of Plaza de la Reina. We got off on what had been the left bank of the river, and crossed over on one of the city’s many bridges. We passed through a square where hundreds of people were waiting in a snaky, airport-type queuing system. We subsequently discovered that the were waiting to kiss the hand of a statue of the Virgin as part of the religious calendar.

It was nearly midnight when we got ‘home’, absolutely exhausted by our day!
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In the middle is the world's narrowest building!
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Valencia's wonderful market
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Valencia's wonderful market
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Our third stop
Thursday 23rd May 2019

We must have been tired - we slept until nearly 9am!

Breakfast was nice if unusual - cheese omelette in between two slices of light, toasted bread, with a chopped fresh tomato side dish, followed by chopped mango with natural yogurt.

We set off at 11am and had a quick look around the Plaza de la Reina before heading to the meeting point for the food walking tour that Gill had booked. Marcos was our extremely pleasant and knowledgeable guide, and we started straight away in the cafe outside which we had met. We had Horchata, which is a milky-looking cold drink made from only three ingredients - ground tiger nuts, water and sugar. Sounds odd, but I really liked it. Gill wasn't at all sure, but being a polite girl she drank it all ;o) Marcos said that he’s sometimes apprehensive at this point because Horchata isn’t to everyone’s taste. He once had a group of seven Dutch girls on a hen weekend, none of whom would drink it, because it was too sweet. So, a good start, for me at least!

We then went into the enormous Food Market, which with its wrought iron and glass ceiling looked a bit like an old-style railway station. All of the food on show looked absolutely wonderful. With over 1,000 stallholders it's said to be the largest fresh food daily market in the world. Here we had freshly-sliced Serrano ham and local cheese and we adored it, to the delight of the stallholder.
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750 * 1000
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Here we had 'Aqua Valenciana'
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Valencia's Silk Exchange
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Valencia's Silk Exchange
At the next stop we had fresh bread, sardines and garlic-flavoured mash potato that we spread on the bread, with sardine on top. I took one for the team here, because I was far too polite to decline an essential component of the snack. Mind you, Gill spotted a chunk of garlic in what I’d spread on the bread at one point and helpfully removed it! Here we had our first alcohol of the day, with white wine for Gill and Amstel beer for me.

In between stops Marcos showed us the history of Valencia from Roman times to the 20th century. It seems that Sagunto was key to the development of the city. The invading Romans established a military town at Sagunto, but later realised that there was money to be made through developing a trading centre nearer to the coast, hence Valencia.

At the next stop we were promised ‘Aqua Valenciana’. We already knew that Valencia’s water is very hard and heavily-chlorinated, so knew that the name meant something else. It was a cocktail, developed post WW2, consisting of 25% fresh orange juice and 75% Cava, with the addition of splashes of vodka and gin. Delicious!

We would have lingered much longer here, but Marcos had his eyes on the clock, knowing that the final stop was back in the market which closed at 3pm. At a stall here that had stools, so at least we could sit down, we had wine (White for Gill, Red for me) with delicious croquettes. By the end of the tour we had spent over three hours with Marcos and really enjoyed his company. When we parted, he said he would sent us some tips and links to places we might enjoy, and within the hour, true to his word, we received a long list of things to do and places to visit or eat at.
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Valencia's Silk Exchange
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Cathedral, with 'The Holy Grail'
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Museum of Fine Arts
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Museum of Fine Arts
We went to the medieval, church-like building that housed the city’s Silk Exchange at the time of Valencia’s prime in the 15th and 16th centuries. Work started in 1483, when the Moors were still the rulers of most of Spain, and was completed in 1498, six years after they were finally expelled by Ferdinand and Isabella. It’s a remarkable building both inside and out. From the outside it looks ecclesiastical, but apart from the odd bit of run-of-the-mill imagery it was built for secular purposes. Inside, there are eight carved stone pillars with a spiral design that seem to spread out like tree branches when they reach the vaulted ceiling. This used to be painted blue, with golden stars, symbolising heaven, or rather the nobleness and good intentions of the silk trade that was conducted there.

We then headed for the bus again, grabbing white chocolate ice creams on the way. We took a bus on the other, ‘maritime’, route that headed to the coast. The most striking aspect of the beach area where we disembarked was the beautiful, long, wide, sandy beach where artist Joaquin Sorolla often used to paint. We walked along the seafront, enjoying the ambience, but there wasn’t much else here, apart from bars, cafes and restaurants, which didn’t appeal to us because we’d already eaten well on the walk! So, after an hour, we caught the next bus back to ‘home’.

We’d decided on one more place to visit today, which was the Cathedral. This houses what is said to be the genuine Holy Grail, i.e. the chalice used at the Last Supper. Marcos said that it had been dated to the first century BC and that the stone was typical of the Jerusalem area. Also, the Vatican had expressed the opinion that, of all the candidates, Valencia’s was the most likely to be the real thing. It didn’t take any account, it seems, of how poor subsistence farmers could have had such an object.

Then it was finally time to return to our rooms and that very welcome cup of tea!

Friday 24th May 2019

We woke to rain that didn't really stop all day.

After breakfast we walked to the Museum of Fine Arts. Gill had spotted that there was a major retrospective of paintings by Joaquin Sorolla, whose home town had been Valencia. We had to wear rain capes as we walked there - the rain in Spain etc. etc.

There was a reasonable amount of his work on display, but, for context, works by his predecessors and successors bookended the exhibition. This made it clear just how much better the National Gallery's current exhibition is in terms of breadth.

On arrival we had been given a map of the gallery showing the contents of the various rooms, but none of these were named on the map. After plodding through room after room of medieval religious stuff and finding no Sorolla we went back to reception and were told by sign language that there was another building next door! There was no signage to indicate this. Still, entrance was free, so we'll let them off.

We killed a little time in the cafe with hot chocolate drinks, waiting for the rain to ease off, but it didn't, so we carried on with our plans. We went to the church of San Nicolas (yes, Santa Claus!) where the ceiling has been compared to the Sistine Chapel. There was an entry fee, but this included an audio guide, whose content assumed that listeners would be deeply interested in the minutiae of doctrine displayed in the decorations. The interior painting was interesting up to a point, and the rest of the Baroque interior did catch the eye.

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The C
hurch of San Nicolas
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A lovely Italian meal
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A last look at the market
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A last look at the market
We returned to our room to dry out a little and change footwear. At 2.15pm we took our last Hop On Hop Off bus journey to get to a restaurant near the hotel where Laura, Lee and the boys would shortly be arriving. We blew our dietary regime on a lovely Italian meal before setting off for Laura and Lee's hotel, where we waited in reception until they arrived.

They checked in, and the plan was then to take a bus journey back to Plaza de la Reina where we could look around with them and they could have an evening meal. Unfortunately, we chose the wrong bus and ended up back where we'd started, so we cut our losses and joined them for a Tapas meal near to their hotel - we ate very little, of course. The boys were exhausted, so afterwards they all retired to their hotel and we went 'home' in a taxi.

It was a shame about the rain.
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Sagunto villa
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Sagunto villa
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Sagunto villa
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There's something about a blazing fire
Sagunto
Saturday 25th May 2019

Before checking out of our B&B we went back to the Market and bought cheese, ham and fruit to take to our villa. We wanted to go to the stall that Marcos had taken us to on Thursday where we tasted Serrano ham and local cheese, but the market is so huge that this was a challenge! But we did track it down, and there, to our mutual amazement, we bumped into Marcos with his latest walking tour! We also stocked up with large, sweet Perella tomatoes, cherries, apricots and strawberries.

We then checked out and headed for Sagunto. First of all we found our way to the villa, then went looking for a nice restaurant. The streets of the old town were so narrow and our car so wide that we gave up and headed for the local Carrefour hypermarket instead, where we stocked up ready for the week. By the time we'd finished it was time to go back to the villa and check in at 4pm.

The cleaners were still there, and even though they had no English they did their best to explain where everything was and how to use the induction hob and the oven. Laura, Lee and the boys arrived at 5pm and Daniel and Lourdes and the girls rolled in at 8pm. The flight bringing Sarah, Carly, Tony and Ailís was delayed for an hour and finally landed at 22.02, and I was there to meet them. Negotiating the local motorways and minor roads in the dark was quite a challenge! It was about 23.30 when we finally got back to the villa and our family party was complete.
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A congregation of cousins
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Ailís constantly entertained!
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Ailís with Sarah
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Ailís with Nanny
Sunday 26th May 2019

We had a leisurely morning before setting off to the beach, a 30 minute drive away. Sarah, Carly, Tony and Ailís came with me, and the Tully family went separately. We found a nice bar near the beach and had drinks, and then the Tullys and Daniel's family also joined us, minus Mali and Nanny, who both elected to stay at the villa. We had a long relaxed lunch before returning to the villa in the late afternoon. Meanwhile, back at home, Charlton were beating Sunderland at The Valley (again!) and getting promoted to the Championship! I missed an extraordinary day out!

The day entered with our now-traditional evening board games, with Ana and Leon very eager participants :o)
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Sunny, but the water was chilly
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A lazy family day
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There's always a cousin to entertain
Ailís
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Sagunto Old Town
Monday 27th May 2019
The water supply in the kitchen and the bathroom had been very poor, and Gill had pointed this out yesterday to the property manager who had called by. Early this morning a plumber came round and put things right. After breakfast, Gill and I went back to Carrefour with Sarah, Carly and Tony for them to do their own stocking up for a barbecue tonight, and the Masons went back to the beach for a few hours.

The rest of the day passed lazily, until early evening, when Tony and Lourdes cooked a monster barbecue for everyone!

On our three evenings here I've managed to light a nice log fire in the fireplace of the enormous kitchen/lounge/dining room. On the first two I gathered kindling and small logs from the property's grounds and nursed a blazing fire into existence. Tonight was simpler, with barbecue firelighters speeding things up.
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Sagunto's Jewish Quarter
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Sagunto's amphitheatre
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Lunch in the sun
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Quiet time back at the villa
Tuesday 28th May 2019

All three groups of us headed into Sagunto in the morning. Gill and I took Carly, Ailis and Sarah (Tony stayed behind to do some work), and we went to the Tourist Information booth where we picked up a town map. Nearby was the Market, which had only about a dozen units, all selling very appealing fish, meat and vegetables

Then we set off for the Roman amphitheatre, passing through the former Jewish Quarter on the way. The amphitheatre had been extensively renovated, with not a lot of the original structure still to be seen. As we approached, to our surprise we met Daniel, Lourdes, the girls and Sarah coming towards us! They'd parked high above, near the castle, whereas we'd parked on the flat in the town centre.

We'd spotted a nice, small restaurant on our way up the hill and we agreed to all meet there for lunch in half an hour. We got there first and couldn't make head nor tail of the menu, so we ordered Sangria while we waited for Lourdes to arrive and save the day ;o)

Under her guidance we chose from the 10.90 Euros three course menu. Half way through the main course we saw Lee, Laura and the boys coming towards us. They'd abandoned their day on the beach due to a strong wind whipping up the sand, and it was purely by coincidence that they headed for Sagunto and bumped into the rest of us.

Back at the villa it was another barbecue evening, all of us at a long table on the balcony, followed by the usual board games as the sun went down: Articulate and Bananagrams.

Wednesday 29th May 2019

All four groups went their separate ways. I drove Carly, Tony and Sarah to Sagunto rail station whence they took a train into Valencia while Ailís stayed with Gill and me. The Tullys went with the Masons to see the nearby caves and travelled through them by boat, then returned to the villa, with the Masons carrying on back to the beach.

Gill and I had also gone to the beach with Ailis, but didn't stay very long as Ailís didn't seem very keen. We'd treated ourselves to ice creams when we arrived, and on our way back to the car we paused at the same Heladeria to get hot water to warm a bottle of milk for Ailís. I took advantage of the stop to have a large Horchata :o)

We were first back to the villa, and at 2.30pm I set off back to the station to pick up Carly, Tony and Sarah, who'd had a nice time in Valencia and found all the places we'd recommended.

Once everyone returned to the villa Daniel and Tony managed to connect a Nintendo to the TV, which meant that the children could play games and the grown-ups could watch films.

We had another fine barbecue, prepared by Lourdes and Tony, and more Articulate and Bananagrams before bed.

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Family outing to the beach
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We came here for sun and sea!
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Ailís is growing quickly!
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Seafront hotels
Thursday 30th May 2019

Gill was keen to get the cousins together and go to the beach, so we loaded up Mali, Ana, Leon and Reuben and drove back to the beach we've been visiting all week. It has several nice bars and restaurants, as well as public toilets, and also showers on the beach.

There's a nice hotel as well, with outdoor tables and white tablecloths, and most of us gathered there at lunchtime, ordering a series of starters as if they were tapas and drinking Sangria.

The children loved playing in the sea. There was a strong on-shore breeze that provided surf for them to enjoy the thrills of bodyboarding, and the lovely sandy beach was just right for digging.

By late afternoon we were back at the villa, and the others had bought three whole chickens in a supermarket on the way back to barbecue for dinner. After eating and washing up, everyone gathered around the enormous wall-mounted TV, some watching, some reading. As things wound down, it seemed that everyone had been tired out by today's sun and sea, and before long the villa was dark.

Friday 31st May 2019

We had a quiet morning at the villa, with the children playing together and the adults reading or playing games.

Lourdes had booked a restaurant at the beach today for 2pm for a family lunch to celebrate her 50th birthday tomorrow. The central dish was a huge Seafood Paella, with prawns and crayfish - no snails by special request! After a long, leisurely meal we moved to the beach again, making the most of our time together.

Back at the villa there was one last meal together as we attempted to consume as much as possible of the remaining food and drink!

Tomorrow we leave the villa and go our separate ways. Sarah, Carly, Tony and Ailís fly from Valencia at about 1pm, Lee and Laura fly later in the day to Paris for an overnight stay, and Daniel and Lourdes are staying in Valencia for a further night. We're heading south to Gandia, where we're booked into a nice, rural B&B for three nights.

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Glorious weather for the beach
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'You may have stopped believing in unicorns but they have not stopped believing in you'
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Pool at the B&B in Gandia
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Pool at night
Gandia
Saturday 1st June 2019

We had to vacate our villa at 10am, so there was a fair bit of tidying up after breakfast. In fact, everything looked pretty much as it had when we arrived by the time we were finished.

Sarah, Carly, Tony and Ailís were booked on a flight out of Valencia just after 1pm, so I drove them to the airport then returned to collect Gill and our luggage, then set off southwards to Gandia.

Even using Google Maps for navigation it was difficult to find our way around in Sagunto. Motorways seem to have been planned and built first, with connections from smaller communities added as an afterthought, but when we were using just the motorways things were much simpler.

It took about an hour and a quarter to drive south to Villa Florencia, our B&B, where we arrived shortly before 2pm. We were greeted at the gate by three hugely excited huge dogs, closely followed by Nigel, one of the co-owners. We unloaded the car and were immediately offered drinks - we chose tea ;o)

Nigel's partner, Mark, sat with us as we drank it in blazing sunshine under an awning in a beautifully-tended garden by a very tempting-looking pool. Mark is South African, and some of things that he told us about the country of his birth dulled any appetite I might have had to go there.

However, when Gill asked him about Botswana he lit up and spoke of it with warmth and enthusiasm. He said it was a lovely place and an example of what South Africa could and should have become post-apartheid. And he hadn't heard of Alexander McCall Smith's books about Mma Ramotswe :o)

Pre-arrival we'd booked to have dinner, which started with a large plate of fresh salad that we absolutely loved. Unfortunately, as well as being delicious it was quite filling, and when the main course arrived we knew immediately that we wouldn't get through it all. Mark had prepared turkey, onion and mushroom kebabs with couscous, and we did our best. When we apologised for leaving some Mark reassured us that with three dogs nothing was ever wasted :o)

We stayed at the table chatting with another English couple, Mark and Nigel before retiring, exhausted, to our room at 10pm - we'd obviously used up a lot of energy in the past week!
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Gandia Playa
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Xativa is closed on Mondays!
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Gandia's Ducal Palace
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Gandia's Ducal Palace
Sunday 2nd June 2019

After breakfast we drove to Gandia Playa and managed to find street parking without too much difficulty. There was a fairly extensive street market nearby that took us a while to negotiate, and then we went looking for an ATM. We ambled back to our car to leave our purchases and pick up the folding chair that Gill had bought at Carrefour in Sagunto, then headed for the beach.

Like Sagunto's beach, Gandia's consists of lovely soft fine sand, but it was packed with locals, all crammed together at the water's edge. We sat in comfort a little way back and spent a very pleasant hour or so enjoying the clear, blue skies and bright, hot sun.

Back at the car, it was apparent that the locals were heading in large numbers to the beach, with street parking hard to find. In fact, when we were spotted getting into our car a dispute arose between two drivers, both who claimed to have seen our space first!

We had a relaxing afternoon by the pool back at the B&B, reading in the sun, and we had dinner there again as well.

Monday 3rd June 2019

We set off after breakfast, as planned, for the nearby town of Xativa, about 45 minutes away by car, using the scenic route. It was a twisty, hilly, narrow road, running through fairly uninhabited countryside, until Xativa suddenly appeared, with its castle on a crag over the town. It was like lifting a stone and exposing an ants' nest.

Xativa has a place in history through being the town where Rodrigo de Borja was born in 1431, a member of the notorious Borgia family who later became Pope Alexander VI.

We were hoping to catch the little train that carries tourists up the steep hill to the castle. The problem was that today was Monday and the castle was shut, so, no castle no train. And not much else on offer either - even the Tourist Information Office is closed on Mondays, as indeed is most of the town. We sat outside the Collegiate Church as we pondered what to do, noticing that at least here the door was open, and then a man came out, closed and locked the door and the outer gate. We had to laugh :o)
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Gandia's Ducal Palace
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Gandia's Ducal Palace
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Gandia's Ducal Palace
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Gandia's Ducal Palace
So, we took the fastest route back to Gandia, found the Ducal Palace and decided to pay to go in. It was now nearly 1pm, and it closed at 1.30pm, re-opening at 4pm. However, the lady who sold us our entry tickets assured us that 30 minutes was the average time spent looking around. The Palace was in fine condition, even though, in its long history, it had been abandoned for a century until the Jesuits took it over.

We left and picked up a roll and a fruit tart to share for lunch back at Villa Florencia, before settling by the pool. After a couple of hours the heat became too intense for me, so I withdrew to our air-conditioned room, with Gill staying out until nearly 6pm.

Tuesday 4th June 2019

Well, that's it; the end of our Spanish fortnight. We fly home late tonight to Gatwick, having had glorious weather, apart from one day of intermittent rain early on, and we've eaten well throughout.

We've arranged to spend today at Villa Florencia, having lunch here and keeping our room until 5pm. We'd recommend this place to anyone for the beautiful setting, comfort of the beds, ease of access by road and the warm hospitality of the hosts, Nigel and Mark. Their dogs are a joy; friendly, excitable and fun. We've only seen a couple of their cats, including a Siamese that was rejected at birth by its mother and then hand-reared by Mark.

To be fair, there isn't a lot to attract visitors to the area, except for the fabulous beach at Gandia, but the villa is perfect for a relaxing break. We might even come back one day :o)

On Friday we're off again, taking our friend, Jane, on a three night cruise out of Venice to Slovenia and Croatia, sailing with Azamara, our favourite cruise line. We're looking forward to that immensely.

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