July 26, 2010
Both Saturday and Sunday, we took public buses to our destinations. On the buses there were little TV screens with GPS maps of our location and the stops on the route, interspersed with ads. The ads were informational, telling kids to get exercise to be healthy, and encouraging people to be “green” by recycling and not littering. When a stop was announced, it was first stated in Valenciano, a regional version of Catalán, then in Spanish. It was the same thing in Barcelona when we went there a week later.
Sunday was better spent, at least in my opinion. A few people elected to go back to the beach the next day but we didn’t want the hassle of having to get back to take a shower before check out time. Besides, one trip to the beach was enough for me. We went to see the complex designed by Salvador Calatrava – the same architect who designed the Milwaukee art museum. The Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias is an incredible place, wonderful for families to visit – there is a sort of park with mechanical dinosaurs that make noise, an aquarium, a planetarium and an Imax theatre. There is also a concert hall. The whole place covers several city blocks. SM had been there the day before, having opted out of going to the beach, and told us what was best to see. The group of us that went together decided to go to the aquarium and skip the rest. That was expensive enough and there was a lot to see.
We went to pay and Dale used his credit card. I grabbed the credit card when they were done swiping it and it accidentally fell out of my hand and dropped to the ground. Dale put his foot on it, but when he lifted his foot, the credit card fell down into a gap in the sidewalk!! I told the woman at the ticket counter what had happened and she said it was “no problem” to get it out of the gap, that we just had to wait for someone to come and get it out for us. Meanwhile, the rest of our group wondered what was taking us so long and one of them came over to ask what had happened. I explained the situation so the rest of them went on ahead of us.
I was really upset – it was very hot and I wondered how long it would take someone to get there and whether they could actually retrieve the card. Maybe it would be better to just leave it there and cancel the card once we returned to Madrid. However, within a very short time – 5 to 10 minutes – two guys came with the appropriate tools for the job: tape on the end of a bent hanger!! One of them maneuvered the tool while the other guided him. I could scarcely believe it when they actually pulled the card out of there, its blue surface glistening in the sun!! Dale said this sort of thing probably happened often.
Finally we were on our way and the rest of our group was nowhere to be found.
The aquarium actually consists of several buildings around a central outside area, which has a lake with birds, fountains, a wetlands area and restaurants. However, we didn’t know this at the time. Dale got a map but I had trouble reading it and eventually realized why – the three languages it contained were Valenciano, German and French! The one with English and Spanish we eventually picked up at the end (I admonished Dale that you have to look at the flags on the front of the map to see which languages it contains. English always has a British flag, Spanish a red and yellow flag).
While orienting ourselves we probably backtracked some but eventually managed to see most of what we wanted to see. The dolphin show had started already so we didn’t get to see dolphins. However, we saw many other marine animals.
The aquarium complex is arranged by ocean or sea habitats. So the Mediterranean contains animals found in the Mediterranean Sea. We headed there first. It was very interesting. Basically you are underground looking into large, continuous tanks in which the animals are swimming or whatever they do. Plaques identify what fish or other animal you might see.
The shark area has a long tube that you walk through where the sharks and other fish are swimming all around you – on both sides and above. One of the ocean habitats also had a long tube tank like this. We also went to the Arctic-Antarctic and saw penguins on shore and diving. They were very cute! The largest marine animal we saw was the beluga whale. We also saw cool looking crabs, many varieties of starfish, coral, anemones, fish in many shapes and sizes, and separate tanks with seahorses (including some that were only a centimeter long!) and another with jellyfish, shimmering white as they gracefully floated through the dark blue water. Very beautiful!
I took many pictures of the aquarium and the whole complex, which was really incredible. Once we ran across some of the other chicas, but by the time we went back to the hotel, we were alone.
I kept track of where we were going on the bus, looking at the map. I was sorry we didn’t have more time to explore some of the expanses of park, but anyway it was really, really hot. Valencia had a river that was redirected, either intentionally or not, and the former riverbed was made into one huge long parkway, traversed by a series of bridges, some very old, others very new and modern.
We were very tired and hot from walking and standing, so we wanted a place that was easy for a late lunch. The hotel had a two course meal with drink, bread, and dessert included for only 11 euros each, which seemed like a great deal, so we had a very relaxing and excellent meal right there. Once again we had warm, fresh bread, cold mineral water, a large salad (1st course) and I had solomillo, which is pork tenderloins, for a second course. It was very good. By the time we were finished, many other members of our group were gathering, playing cards, checking their email or reading. Our luggage was locked up in a special room until we were ready to leave. We got the train back to Madrid, another three hour ride, then took the Metro back to our Madrid neighborhood. Altogether, a satisfying trip, but it was actually kind of nice to get back to our routine of classes and eating (for free) at Barradas.