Friday, April 22, 2005

Postcard from Valencia

As you fly in towards Valencia Airport from the Mediterranean side, you're fortunate if you have chosen a window seat on the right hand side of the plane.

It is where I got my first view of the extraordinary 'City of Arts and Sciences' which has been built on a former river bed that itself is a 10km-long park through the heart of Valencia.

Begun in the late 90s, the project is almost complete, as they are putting the finishing touches to a new Opera House (the furthest building in the picture above) that not alone will rival Sydney's in visual impact, but is expected to be the best such building in the world when it opens on October 9. It will include four auditoriums, which between them will cater for many of the performing arts simultaneously.

Other elements of La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias include an IMAX cinema, a Planetarium, a Botanical Garden which was built on top of the underground car park, a Science Museum (above), and a mind-blowing aquarium, the Oceanografico (below).

It was this last that I had a chance of a short visit to this week in the course of a pretty hectic overnighter to drive the new Peugeot 1007.

Opened in 2003, it is built as a series of tunnels in which you can 'walk through' different types of oceans and be right amongst the denizens of many parts of our 'waterworld', albeit with 25cm of acrylic between us and them.

Everything from Spider Crabs (above) — which can live 40 years and weigh up to 20kgs and look quite horrible — to Beluga Whales (below), one of which is claimed to be in love with one of the establishment's cleaners and goes wild whenever they meet ...

Shark, of course, and far more other species of fish than I had a chance to note down, or even take enough time to look at.

This Horshoe Crab, not actually a crab at all, must take the award for being the ugliest resident of the aquarium — he also represents one of the oldest species on the planet.

The Moray Eel has a nasty reputation, mainly because he is a an eater of all kinds of rubbish, and it is infection from the bacteria in his mouth that will kill you more than a bite itself.

There's a representation of a famous underwater kelp forest off the coast of California, which happens to have the most species of starfish in the world; in the Oceanografica exhibit, only the algae themselves are false, as they are hard to keep — but they have among their starfish the sunflower one which is the fastest moving of its kind.

Most of the fish life in the Oceanografico have been imported from Florida, which is apparently the world's 'fish factory' for this kind of operation.

If you wonder, as I did, how they keep the insides of all these tunnels clean, as they must be both for viewing and for the hygiene and health of the fish life, well, they have divers who do the job every day.

Outside, there are other types of habitat, including a special 'wetlands' area which has birds and other creatures from swamp and marshlands around the world. The deep red Scarlet Ibis from Suriname, in the domed area above, are an amazing sight.

Some of the figures: the entire City of Arts and Sciences is 350,000 sq mts, the largest complex devoted to science in Europe; it attracts 2.2 million visitors a year; there is 97 million litres of water involved.

And my short time there only whetted my appetite: I will return, and soon, and with enough time to see the lot.

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