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City of Art and Science (Cuidad de las Artes Y las Ciencias) – Jun 19, Fri
As we drove in and out of Valencia (Spain), in the past two days, we couldn’t help but to be captivated by a set of ultra modern buildings so totally stand out from the rest of the historical structures inside the city. This cultural-educational complex – Cuidad de las Artes Y las Ciencias – is the largest of its kind in Europe. It reminds me of a mini version of La Défense in Paris.
This modern complex comprises of a science museum (Museo del las Ciencias Príncipe Felipe), a large-screen IMAX Dome cinema (Hemisfèric), and Europe’s largest marine center (Oceanográfico). Next to it is a major center for the performing arts (Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía). At the time of our visit – 2009 – the Ágora is still under construction. When the building is completed, it will be holding one of the Professional Tenis Association’s 500 Tournaments. As well as other sport events I reckon.
The two buildings you see on the photo above are Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía and the nearer one, Hemisfèric.
Cynthia and I have decided to take an easy morning, enjoy our breakfast in the Silken Hotel (very good selection of food and drinks by the way), and plan our next destination.
Cynthia is not big in marine centers. I, on the other hand, love to admire the sea creatures. Besides, L’Oceanográfico is the largest marine center in Europe. It is a must-see, right? Cynthia gave in (yay!) and penguins here I came.
It was an exceptionally warm day. And we took a slow drive to the “City of Art and Science” at the southeast of Valencia. Reached the complex before noon, there was a huge car park (something not to take for granted in Spain), and it took us some time to absorb the out-of-the-world architecture. The buildings are so futuristic. Maybe one day our space stations would look something like this. As we walked along the Umbracle – a connecting structure within the complex where the car park and bus stops are – a train of local tourists went pass us and they waved and screamed, “Konichiwa!”. It was not the first time the Spanish people have mistaken us as Japanese. But we are really cool with it. Where else in the world would the locals so happily greet the tourists? We waved and screamed, “¡Hola!”. And all of us laughed.
If you really want to tour the “City of Art and Science” thoroughly, you would need a day. But we only have 3 hours. So we zoomed right to the marine center. For 23,90€, you get to tour the Oceanográfico. For 31,60€, you get to tour all. If we had time, I really would like to tour everything. That would make a bored Cynthia. But hey! Relationship is all about you-give-I-take, right? Hehehe.
L’Oceanográfico is huge. There are animals under the sun, there are sea creatures inside the aquariums, and there are even birds inside the aviary. If statistics mean anything to you, L’Oceanográfico has nine thematic underwater habitats, containing 42 million litres of water. Flash is not allowed inside the marine center. So, if you are into photography, bring the appropriate lenses. Also, I would highly recommend you to bring a zoom lens as well. I didn’t. So we gave the aviary a pass. And we have also skipped the marine performance show due to time constraint. I personally love the photos taken in and around the marine center. Something so different from the rest of our photos. Do check them out when you have time.
The 6 Hours Drive to Toledo
It was not meant to be a six hours drive, let me tell you up front. All we needed to do was to get onto a highway in Valencia, take the highway A-3, join the super highway AP-36, and exit at the small road N-400 instead of heading straight into Madrid. In fact, we were toying at the options between Cuenca and Toledo right before we joined AP-36.
“So which city are we going to visit, Cuenca or Toledo?” asked I as we were on the Spanish highway doing 120 km per hour. “According to the guidebook, they are both similar. Old cities,” said Cynthia. If we had time, I would love to tour both cities. Of the two, I picked Toledo because the city sounds cooler (I know!). It turned out to be a good pick as Toledo was the capital of Visigothic Spain and it is nearer to Madrid, our next destination.
By now, I was more or less comfortable with driving in Spain. Or I thought I was. Keeping right on the highway seems natural to me. Because in Singapore, most cars keep right until we reach our destinations and take the left lanes for some exiting undercutting opportunities (hmmm … not a good thing to say but that is the reality). Unlike UK whereby I could see a variety of international car models, here, I could see mostly European cars. The Japanese doesn’t seem to make any headway into this part of Europe. The only Japanese car I saw was the tiny hatchback Honda Civic Type-R sport car. Being small is a big plus in Spain. The roads are small and the parking lots are limited. I too would get one of those Honda sport cars had I lived here.
Back to our road trip, we were supposed to return our car in Madrid with an empty fuel tank. And according to my calculation, we shouldn’t need to top up any fuel at all. At the crucial exit to the smaller road N-400, we were greeted by some incomprehensible roadsigns. OK, we do know a bit of Spanish but at 120 km per hour, we didn’t have much time to think. Same goes to all the speed trap warning signs that took us a while to understand (thankfully no speeding ticket!). Apparently, the exit was closed. So we overshot, heading into Madrid and scrambling on what was our next course of action. While waiting for Cynthia to ‘re-calculate’ our route, we missed a few more exits. Like a computer overloaded with requests, Cynthia simply shutdown and spaced out! Uh-oh. I can’t possibly read map and drive at the same time!
So I pulled into a patrol station, topped up some gas, and made a U-turn. Maybe the exit was closed on one side of the highway but not on another. As we approached the same exit, we saw the same road sign – more comprehensible this time – telling us that the exit of N-400 to Toledo is closed. But the N-400 to the opposite direction is open. Perhaps we could do a U-turn in N-400?
Turned out to be a lot more complicated than that. We ended up in a small town called Ocaña. Followed the road sign to N-400 Toledo only found ourselves ended up at the exact same road that took us into Ocaña. Onto our second failed attempt, Cynthia said, “I’ve made an excutive decision.” “Uh-huh.” “Let’s stay a night in Ocaña instead.” “But what’s in Ocaña?” I asked. Ocaña is a small town built in between Toledo and Cuenca with a splendid – according to guidebook – main square. Right. We drove pass Ocaña and the town has one straight road with a few 3-star hotels. The main square looks kind of small. No way we were going to stay a night at Ocaña. Cynthia exclaimed, “Is Toledo quarantined or what?! There isn’t any road going into Toledo!”
So, onto our third attempt, stopping at the exact same spot, I too have made an executive decision. I took out my Nokia phone, turned on the Nokia Map, and looked for a GPS reading of where we were. I made some intelligent guesses on which direction we should take (a compass or that new N97 with an internal compass would have been good), we re-entered another highway as I passed the phone to Cynthia and said, “Just make sure that this red dot is heading to Toledo.”
Reaching Toledo at 8.30pm
What a contrast between the ultra-modern “City of Art and Science” in Valencia and this Visigoths capital built in the 6th century AD called Toledo. The city looks ancient and very warm (close to 40 degrees by sunset). The city center looks charming. And we were ecstatic when we finally reached Toledo. What a long journey the day has been! There are roadsigns in the town center pointing us to the various hotels in Toledo. Finding our hotel was a breeze (at least for me). The car park was full but there was a room for us. Hooray! The hotel staffs don’t speak English at all but we have our language specialist a.k.a. Cynthia to take care of that.
Looking back, I think we were over ambitious in trying to look for a decent restaurant in Toledo. Just when I thought I was comfortable driving in Spain, the roads in Toledo are tiny, and hilly. By the time the day was ended, my legs were so tired with all the ‘clutching and gassing’.
We found an open car park. Free. Walked up the hill and dived into the first eating place we found. Except, it didn’t look like a restaurant. More like a pub. I approached the counter and asked, “Could we order some food please?” The waiter gave me a puzzled look and explained, “The tapas is free. You just need to order drink.” So I did, two bottles of fruit juice for the two of us. The tapas was delicious. The local style. But it was hardly enough to fill our stomachs. And we didn’t feel like drinking four or five bottles of fruit juice just to have a decent meal. So we left and found another rather forgettable Italian restaurant. We were dead tired by the time we reached our hotel. The planning of what to do in Toledo would have to be done tomorrow morning, over breakfast.
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PS. Thank your for reading our journal and feel free to drop a comment or two. You may wish to view our photo collection for day 6 too.