Holland America Visits the City of the Future in Valencia, Spain

A cruise to Spain on Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam showed us there are many contemporary reasons to consider the ancient city of Valencia as a top-notch vacation destination.

Since the time of El Cid – over the last thousand years or so – Valencia has seen Christian and Muslim conquerors come and go. Its history also includes being the birthplace of three European kings and two Catholic Popes. However, for the most part, Valencia played a quiet role in Spain’s colorful history – until the decade of the 1990s.

We walked from the cruise port to the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences

If Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry (1921-1991) had lived to see the creation of the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias by renowned Valencian architect, Santiago Calatrava, he might not have selected Marin County, California as the 2161 building site of the Starfleet Academy. Instead, he may have asked Senor Calatrava to design it for him in Valencia.

Construction on Calatrava’s amazing complex of otherworldly buildings began in 1998 along the old bed of the redirected Turia River at a reputed cost of more than $2.5 billion dollars.

The main structures

The Umbracle is the huge promenade entrance to the City of Arts and Sciences. Numerous lofty arches are covered in verdant vines that protect a garden and several species of tropical plants and trees. Along the colorful walk you will also find the ‘Stroll of the Sculptures’ an outdoor gallery of nine unusual figures by contemporary artists.

The Prince Phillip Museum of Sciences opened in 2000 and its design is often said to resemble a whale’s skeleton, or a dinosaur’s spine. Whatever your muse, this magnificent exhibit is actually an interactive museum that will prove fascinating to anyone interested in the scientific disciplines that study everything from questions about The origin of the universe to contemporary issues like the enigma of climate change.

The Queen Sophia Palace of Arts sits amidst a setting of Mediterranean blue reflecting pools. When it opened in 2005, it became the signature performing arts center in Spain for opera, theater, and dance. At 248 feet, it is the tallest opera house in the world. The site encompasses four multi-purpose auditoriums and the smallest hall seats 400, the largest 1,700 people.

Proudly, the Queen Sophia Company hosts the Centre of Perfeccionament Placido Domingo, which is a celebrated program for young talented opera artists. As the name indicates, the program honors Spain’s most famous tenor, Placido Domingo.

The Oceanographic is like an underwater city and is the largest aquarium in Europe. It features over 500 species of fish and mammal inhabitants collected from the world’s oceans. The oceanographic compound covers some 20-acres and includes an unusual aquarium restaurant with floor to ceiling glass walls where curious fish can watch you savor the catch of the day along with your paella.

The Hemispheric is a visually striking eye-shaped Planetarium in the midst of a stunning turquoise pool. This popular attraction has a computerized astro-projector that shows the night sky with all the planets and stars on a screen so large you feel like an astronaut.

There is also a laser show displayed on a 900 square foot screen, and visitors can watch IMAX and 3-D journeys through space. It is no wonder that the Hemispheric Planetarium is now one of the top five buildings visited in Spain.

The Agora is the latest structure created by Calatrava’s architectural genius. This surrealistic multi-use sports arena is 262 feet high and seats over 5,500 spectators.

The combined images

The various buildings of the Valencia City of Arts and Sciences have been called ‘techno-palaces’ and they certainly live up to the name. The scope of this unusual complex is breathtaking and an architectural marvel. The light, reflecting waters, shapes, and structural designs are a photographer’s dream. This is an intellectual Disneyland and could be a megalopolis base in the Galactic Empire in Star Wars. Speaking of which, do the views of the Palace of Arts remind you of Darth Vader for any reason?

Don’t miss the rest of Valencia

Visitors to Valencia will want to tour other attractions in the ancient city, like the Barrio del Carmen. Our bet is that your most cherished memories of Valencia will include both Calatrava’s brilliant gift of a glimpse of the future right along with the historic monuments of the past.

If you go

Valencia is 220 miles south of Barcelona on the sunny eastern coast of Spain. Valencia is easy to reach by all means of transportation.

We flew to Barcelona from New York, with a stopover in Dublin via Aer Lingus. We enjoyed the Irish hospitality in the air. Check out their flight schedule *here*.

 

We then boarded the luxurious Nieuw Amsterdam for a wonderful trans-Atlantic cruise back to the United States. For more information, or to book a cruise on Holland America, click *here*.

Happy travels!

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

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The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© 2017 Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

A Table Rendezvous with Italy’s Chef Ottavio Bellesi on the Golden Princess

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Dining at a Chef’s Table should always be a titillating treat of tantalizing tastes. Traditionally, a Chef’s Table is located in the kitchen – where the guests can watch, and “ooh” and “ahh” as the Chef and his/her team work their culinary magic. That was not how it was at the Table of Chef Ottavio Bellesi aboard the Golden Princess – and here’s why.

From the beginning

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Soon after boarding the Golden Princess in San Francisco, we had a meeting with the ship’s Maître d’ Hotel, Neville Saldanha, to discuss our dining preferences.

After learning that we were writing about the cruise, and knowing that food is always a popular subject with prospective passengers, Mr. Saldanha suggested that we make reservations for one of the two Chef’s Table events planned for the sailing. We quickly agreed, and a few days later our invitation was in our stateroom mailbox.

A dining we did go

On our assigned night, we gathered just outside the galley entrance with the four other lucky couples that would share our table. There we donned freshly laundered white lab coats and were led into the sparkling kitchen.

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Our first stop was the sink, where each guest was required to wash his/her hands before proceeding into the galley’s inner sanctum.

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After the salubrious ceremony, the Maître d’, Neville, introduced us to our grand host, Ottavio Bellesi, the Executive Chef of the Golden Princess. Together, they described how the evening would unfold.

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First, a toast of Nicolas Feuillatte Brut to celebrate the event.

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Then appetizers like Lobster Margarita with Avocado and Mango, and Fontina Cheese and Black Truffle Mini Quiche.

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While noshing on our hors d’oeuvres, we will watch the artistic galley staff create ice carvings, and ingenious fruit and vegetable table settings.

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Followed by a brief tour of the kitchen to look over the shoulders of the culinary crew preparing and plating the meals for the sitting dinner passengers.

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All the above will culminate in a procession into the main dining room where our specially prepared, multi-course dinner will be served.

Chef led tour

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Right on schedule, Chef Bellesi began to lead our walking tour of his vast stainless domain.

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During our sparkling wine toasts, we realized THIS Chef’s Table was not to be like any other we had previously experienced. Not only would it be conducted by a great Italian Chef – but one who was also an extraordinary entertainer with a gift of contagious laughter.

Chef Bellesi’s cheerful laughter was so genuine, and totally disarming – that there was no escaping his charm. Within minutes, he had all of us wrapped around his little finger, and totally absorbed in his every word.

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To make the situation even more hilarious, Neville, the Maître d’, was the perfect comic foil for Ottavio’s Italian-accented antics. He was Martin to the Chef’s Lewis, Abbott to his Costello, and Hardy to his Laurel. The ad hoc comedy team of Bellesi and Saldanha had us in stitches throughout the evening.

We learned and we laughed

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Our two hosts exhibited a high-knowledge of food and wine. The chef added to the group’s understanding of the evolution of Italian cuisine from the basics of simple fresh ingredients to contemporary flavoring techniques.

Italian chefs often work with fewer ingredients and less elaborate preparations than others, making the quality of the ingredients of paramount importance. Chef Bellesi explained how the composition of Italian-style grand cuisine becomes richly enhanced when blended with traditional Italian techniques of “cucina casalinga,” or home cooking.

On to the table

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A notable aspect of Italian dining is that the first course is frequently a filling dish like risotto or pasta. So it was at our table as we were presented succulent marinated poached Halibut atop a generous portion of Porcini Mushroom Risotto.

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Soon after an Amalfi Lemon Sorbet…

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came the Lobster Thermidor…

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and a Filet Mignon Rossini, accompanied by a delectable truffled herbed Rack of Lamb, Mustard Hollandaise, Rosemary Jus and Lemon Butter Fondue, Roasted Parisienne Potatoes, and Sautéed fresh market Vegetables.

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The above preceded Potted Stilton with Port Wine reduction and Walnut Bread, and all was finished-off with a delicate Marble Chocolate Semifreddo with a Raspberry soft center, topped off with a meaningful coffee and Chef Ottavio’s…

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home made Biscotti & Amaretti. What an incredible feast!

Not an easy task

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A Chef’s Table is an elaborate undertaking that puts a strain on a kitchen’s resources and staff. In restaurants, the event often takes place after the nightly kitchen rush.

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In that regard, we found our lavish affair to be a testament to Chef Ottavio’s ability to create, organize, and coordinate the serving of our event – while his galley team was seamlessly providing superb service to the main body of 1,000+ passengers in the busy dining room around us. Amazing!

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Abetted by many of his key staff, Chef Bellesi personally crafted our special Chef’s Table menu, and remained involved in the preparation and presentation of the feast from appetizer to desert.

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Along with the ship’s Maître d’, the head Sommelier was there to describe the exactly paired wines that were selected for each of our courses.

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At the end of our fabulous gourmet adventure, each participating couple received a hard-cover copy of, “Courses – A Culinary Journey,” autographed by Neville and Ottavio, along with a group picture – and the ladies departed with a rose. This was an affair to remember.

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Considering the investment in food, wine, supplies, and key staff time, we cannot fathom how Princess could make a profit on what each of the ten guests paid for the evening’s Epicurean enjoyment.

We rarely mention prices in our articles because prices change, but we found it amazing that our 3-hour gourmet spectacle cost less than US $100 per person. Certainly, all the participants will talk about their bon vivant adventure with friends and family for years – and that may just be what Princess has in mind.

If you ever have an opportunity to participate in a Chef’s Table on a Princess Cruise ship – by all means, take it!  Seating is limited so apply early to avoid disappointment.

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And if the uber-funny pair of Bellesi and Saldanha should happen to be on your ship, absolutely do not miss their afternoon cooking demonstrations.

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There is so much more to them than cooking.

For more information about Princess Cruises click here.

Happy travels and bon appetit!

Suggested reading regarding Princess Cruises by Wayne and Judy:

The Sweetest Suites for Two Aboard the Golden Princess

Luxury Cruising from San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess Cruise Lines

Three Great Reasons to Book a Cruise Out of San Francisco 

Saved by a Princess on the Tasman Sea

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

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