One of the joys of cruising is visiting cities along the way when the ship docks and passengers can head off on shore excursions.
The new Costa Toscana offers so many shore excursions that it is difficult to make a choice. For example, in Naples, passengers can visit Capri or Pompeii or Sorrento or so many other tours.
In Barcelona, passengers can do a Gaudi tour, ride a Segway, see a flamenco dancer, take a foodie tour, plus even more choices. Prices are reasonable, as well. To take part in the Barcelona in a Click tour costs 40 euros per adult or about $42 in American currency.
Big tour buses are waiting in the parking lot when Costa Toscana docks and it is easy to have a passenger keycard scanned by a crew member as passengers leave the ship. The same cards are scanned again when passengers return so ship officials know that all passengers are aboard.
My favorite stop so far has been Valencia, Spain. The City of Arts and Sciences is an amazing place. Hometown of famed architect Calatrava, the city is a work of art itself. At first sight, the City of Arts and Science seems almost otherworldly.
When Costa Toscana docks, passengers have the option of shore excursions. (photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch)
The rest of the photos are of the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, Spain.
With its glistening white and shiny glass, it looks like the legendary city of Atlantis floating on a sea of blue. Or it might be a gigantic eyeball in a basin of water. Or a flying saucer that has landed in the midst of a city pool.
It could even be a helmet that some mammoth warrior dropped.
The City of Arts and Sciences is a work of art itself and can make the imagination soar just by looking at it. I had heard about it, seen many photos and knew the design was supposed to be fantastic. I had admired other work by the same architect but it almost stopped me in my tracks when I saw it in person.
In his hometown of Valencia, the great Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava has created a masterpiece. It is a fitting symbol for a city that has been reborn like a giant phoenix rising from what it used to be.
“Valencia is shining again. From great ruin, the city has come back even stronger than ever,” our tour guide said.
Located on the Mediterranean coast, Valencia is the third largest city in Spain with a population of about 800,000. Its rich history dates back to AD 138 when a group of Roman legionnaires were granted land.
The word “Valencia” means brave or variant. Originally, the city by the river was a place for retired Roman soldiers. At various times, Valencia has been ruled by Romans, Visigoths and Arab Muslims, among others.
Symbol for City is Bat
Although it may seem strange or spooky, the symbol for Valencia and the logo for the Spanish soccer team is a bat. Why? When King James I was fighting against the Muslims to take back the city of Valencia in 1238, a bat was said to have sat on top of the tent where the king was sleeping.
That meant that King James was going to be victorious and he was. King James put the bat on his coat of arms in tribute.
Valencia’s golden age was in the 15th century when it was one of the Mediterranean’s great trading powers, exchanging olive oil, rice, saffron, wool and wine with much of Europe. Valencia was already blessed with much natural beauty.
Surrounded by orange groves and rice fields, it sits at the mouth of the Turia River on the Mediterranean Sea and rises out of a rich agricultural plan known as the huerta. With more than 300 sunny days a year, the city is fanned by natural breezes and has an average temperature of 64 degrees.
It is famed for its beautiful light and has often been called the City of Light. But Valencia had been slowly declining. It took the catastrophic flood of 1957 to spark the city’s modern renaissance.
Diverting Turia River to Revitalize Valencia
What changed? When the riverbed was considered to become a highway, people said they didn’t support that. Instead, people wanted the riverbed to be a beautiful garden where there used to be a river.
As a result, the Turia River was diverted south of the city. A three-mile stretch of parks and lovely landscapes was planted in its place.
At the southern end of the riverbed garden lies the crowning glory of the new Valencia – the stunning 87-acre complex of cultural attractions known as the City of Arts and Sciences.
One of the Twelve Treasures of Spain, the City of Arts and Sciences is composed of six buildings, each with its own unique experience. Started in 1996, the first part of the City of Arts and Sciences was the Hemisferic. Designed to look like a human eye, it represents the eye of wisdom.
Then came Prince Felipe’s Museum of Science which opened in 2000. The science museum has an unusual concept – it is forbidden not to touch.
The Umbracle, a covered garden view promenade with thousands of trees and plants, joined in 2000. Constructed to look like a water lily, Oceanografic is the largest aquarium in Europe, housing species in pavilions named after their home oceans and seas, including sharks and beluga whales. Part of the aquarium was designed by architect Felix Candela.
The Palacion de las Artes Performing Arts Centre opened in 2005. Resembling a Roman helmet, the center has four auditoriums for all kinds of opera, musical and theatre performances.
Opened in 2009, the Agora is a multi-purpose covered plaza that looks like a breaching whale. It’s meant to resemble two hands with intertwined fingers symbolizing a meeting place where people can come together.
Between the science museum and the Agora is the highest point in Valencia, an impressive 410-foot-high bridge that was completed in 2008. Depending on a person’s point of view and imagination, the bridge is said to resemble a harp or a ham.
A unique city that has reclaimed its place in the sun, it’s no wonder that Valencia has become a popular destination for Costa Toscana cruise ship passengers.
Many thanks to Costa Cruises for inviting All Things Cruise editor-at-large to the Costa Toscana christening that I got to take part in on her behalf and on behalf of All Things Cruise.