Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sightseeing in Valencia - with Cardiff in mind (2)

After breafast, a repeat journey to the 'Oceanographic' to take the tour. There are surface pools with aquatic mammals, and one whose sole residents seem to be a family of five pelicans, occasionally stretching their wings photogenically in concert together adjacent to a cafe-bar. The underground aquaria are well stocked, with everything from sharks to sea horses, medusa to manta rays. It was all beautifully laid out and informative as befits a prestige educational resource of the region. I was glad we arrived early, as I could imagine it getting very busy when the school and tourist buses arrived. Inside the white sphere of the aviary above ground, was also special, as the birds were used ot being close to people, as well as being colourful. The most attractive were the spoonbills, and a scarlet coloured bird with a curlew-like curved beak. Before leaving we booked for supper in the exclusive restaurant. No possibility of a spontaneous dining out experience here.

We then made a briefer visit to the Palace of Sciences - the cost of which was included with the special deal ticket we obtained. The vastness of the building can be understood if you imagine a full sized Mirage jet fighter, a Montgolfier ballon and an early bi-plane were all suspended in mid air above the upper storey at one end of the interior, and looked small from the middle distance . The first floor was dedicated to a Sci-fi comic exhibition, art, special effects, science present and future all explored for kids of all ages. Atop the second floor exhibit cases were representations of portions of the human genome, with a 5m tall DNA spiral suspended nearby. There was a replica of an earth orbiting satellite with solar panel plumage extended over the space technology section, and from an earlier age, a Foucault's pendulum replica on the first floor plaza, suspended from the roof 50m above. Wonderful to have so much space to use and sufficient floor area to build temporary exhibit halls and conference facilities under the same vast roof - a building with much spare potential to be realised. A bit like science itself.

After our long morning, we decided to skip lunch and siesta to prepare for our grand evening meal. In true Spanish style, doors don't open for meals at the Oceanographic until 9.00 pm. After a couple of hours, boredom drove me out for a walk up to the old town. Finding my way around was not as easy as I'd imagined. I'd left the best map behind and the guide book I was carrying didn't give a useful overview. There are groups of interesting ancient buildings, separated from each other by less ancient streets and tall buildings. It's easy to lose direction in the absence of landmarks - and in the absence of street signage designed to help visitors and tourists. If it was present, I failed to pick it up and use it. That's something Cardiff must be sure to get right next year.

From the station, I followed my nose up a long street with an imposing tower in the distance. This turned out to be the Ajuntamento, City Hall, a grand old style Spanish palace of administration set in a large piazza. From here I set off for the Grand Mercat, finding some older University buildings en route. Eventually I came out into a large open area with a church under building wraps at the far end, and next to it an entrance adorned by mosaics identifying it as a covered market. The open area was a vast construction site, being excavated. Mechanical diggers were down seven metres or so. A model of the work to make a new car park, on display in a nearby kiosk, showed that it was due to descend six levels, around thirty metres deep. The market was closed after business, but at least now I would be able to find my way back here to show my sister.

A custodian was on duty admitting parents with children to the church. It was catechism evening. A plaque on the wall announced it was the Royal Parish of the two St Johns, but at first I misread it, and asked which St John it meant. I asked if it was St John Baptist or St John the Apostle. I just didn't understand that the real answer was 'both', and thought my respondent said just the latter. If I'd looked carefully at the picture I later took of the east facade of the church, I'd have seen this clearly in the two statues surmounting it, with their different identifying symbols. Clear urban signage from another age when few could read plaques on walls.
Opposite the church was the Lonja de Valencia, a 15th century palatial building with a beautifully vaulted hall in Spanish gothic style, two large rooms, and an enclosed garden with orange trees. It had at one time been law courts. A modern plaque announced it to be a World Heritage Site. Not surprisingly, as it was in immaculate condition, with free guided tour. In this vicinity was also an ancient library building and a ceramic museum, but there was insufficient time to visit them. I set off back to the hotel photographing the amazing exterior of the Marquet de Colon before the sun set below the building line. After my brisk tour it was time to wake June and prepare to dine.

We made our way back to the restaurant by bus, had our names checked off the list by a steward at the gate of the Oceanographic, and were admitted to the zone of privilege. Punctual, we were among the first to arrive. Within the hour, sixty people were being served. The place was full. I found the experience of dining next to a towering wall of water (the tanks were all four metres deep) observed impassively by thousands of passing fish disconcerting, as I was eating fish. The menu was nouvelle cuisine in style - food as entertainment - good to look at and taste, small in portion size, large in cost. June was happy. I am less of a tourist than she. The buses had stopped running by the time we left, so we took a cab back to the hotel, both ready to turn in for the night.

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