Budget budgie at the Aquarium

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been to two different aquariums in two different continents (yes, I am indeed bragging). The first was in Lisbon, Portugal, and the second in Monterey, America. As I was walking around the second yesterday and observing how packed it was, I began to wonder about aquariums as tourist destinations and thought I’d write a post and share some photos.

Firstly, I’m a big animal lover – I have never eaten meat or fish and when I picture my future I picture a cat and not a partner or family. As a result, for me a zoo or aquarium in this day and age has to be about conservation and not money. These boxes are ticked with these two aquariums:

“The mission of the nonprofit Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the ocean.” And Lisbon’s website says that “As a modern aquarium, it is committed to continuously developing educational activities aimed at encouraging people to learn more about the oceans and marine species. The Oceanário also focuses on its mission and seeks to draw people’s attention to current environmental issues. In this sense, it collaborates with several institutions with a view to promoting ocean sustainability, by supporting scientific research and marine biodiversity conservation projects.”

Essentially, they do good work for conservation and education and remind people who have watched finding nemo that these are great living things to look out for, and not to look at in a tiny bowl on our side tables. Rant and moral speech over. Onto the tourism side and some pretty photos!

So, are they worth going to on your days of leisure and on your travels? Well, seemingly many of us believe so. Like I said in the opening, they always seem to be packed! According to Wikipedia Monterey has an average attendance of 1.8 million a year and Lisbon has a million. These are big numbers- for example the iconic stone henge apparently gets around 1.3m a year! But anyway, yes, why are they nice visits?

Well, for one thing, they’re inside. So whilst the fish are wet, you can remain dry on a rainy day. Like the final day budgie al and I were in Lisbon – it was raining heavily and this contributed to our decision to go and visit the indoor aquarium instead – incidentally, this is apparently the biggest indoor aquarium in Europe.

And, as for seeing the fish, there are so damn many of them. Again returning to Wikipedia, Monterey aquarium apparently has 35,000 animals and over 500 species, whilst Lisbon has 16,000 and 450.

This isn’t limited just to fish, however. There are all sorts of water based critters to see, including mammals (like sea otters) and reptiles (like sea turtles).

And, whilst some of the animals are viewed in the way we perhaps more picture zoos and the like with a single viewing space looking at one type of interesting critter like this

for me, the main attraction of aquariums are the larger tanks with multiple viewing sections and a plethora of different things to look at. At the best aquariums these tanks are huge and you can spend an age gazing into them. At Monterey aquarium the largest tank of such a type is their ‘open sea’ exhibit which has a huge 90 foot window and a raised seating area so you can just sit and watch the sea go by. In the tank are majestic turtles, the dumbly evolved looking sunfish, stingrays and lots lots more.

Meanwhile, the Oceanário de Lisboa is centred around their huge central tank which the other sections lead off of. This 5 million litre tank has around 100 species in and can be viewed from all sorts of different windows – both large scale and individual little views and from different heights allowing you to see those that prefer to laze on the floor, those who sore high and then those who think the middle is just right. A particular favourite of mine in this tank are the sharks, including the Sandbank and the sand tiger, and when these starts swimming straight at you you can’t help but hear the jaws music in your head.

Monterey’s website has a few live cameras on offer so you check out for yourself what I am on about. http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals-and-experiences/live-web-cams/open-sea-cam

Yes. Well, as it’s off hours as I’m writing this it played me a prerecorded video instead which reminded me of a negative of Monterey aquarium: the bloody music!! It’s on a constant loop with each area having a different annoying bad instrumental track going on and on and on and on and on. Whenever I go alone I will always have headphones in. Even if I’m not actually playing anything. So far anyone who sees me and judges, I am not being a dick walking around listening to music and not taking in the place, I am simply attempting to block out the constant annoyance of the music!

And as we are talking negatives here, a biggy is the vast numbers who go. For one thing this means the prices can be pretty steep – why charge less when people are willing to pay? But secondly, it means that there’s a chance you won’t get to see everything in the zenful manner you may wish with children running around and people bumping into you as they try and push to the front of the window or elbow you as they take a selfie. Though this can offer some entertainment. For instance I once watched a gentleman with an expensive camera and VERY expensive lens lean forward and zoom in to take a photo of a jellyfish and smash his lens and then his face into the glass because he was so focussed on his photo he forgot where the glass was. That was fun. But yes, overall, like with pretty much everything in life, the people make the experience worse.

But ignoring them and focusing on the animals and the zenful calmness of the water and the peacefully moving critters I fully recommend everyone to visit an aquarium at least once in their life and I am very pleased to have gone to the lisbon one with Al as it was his first time. It’s always good to pop Al’s cherry on a trip and widen his eyes.

Anyway, here are a few more photos. I hope you have enjoyed the post and will come back soon to read more of our stuff :).

Take care, Matt.

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Bordeaux: The Wine City

I lived in Bordeaux for 9 months as an ERASMUS university student, back in 2012/2013. I was 20, and scared to be honest with you. I didn’t want to think about moving during the summer, and come 4 September 2012, I was very unhappy to be going. I had no idea what awaited me. My only previous experience of Bordeaux was the summer before – BB Matt and I were stuck at the station for a while, en route to Paris.

9 months later, on 11 June 2013, I returned home. My dad had very generously driven to collect me, and my belongings. Car full, I remember telling my dad how the last 9 months had been the best in my life. Yes, it had been difficult – 4 hour exams in French law and teething problems at the start in settling in – but it was an incredible experience. I saw some beautiful places, met some great people, and learnt a lot about the French legislative and judicial system. I won’t bore you and talk about how the French legal system differs to the English. Instead I will concentrate on the former – the beautiful places I saw – and memories I made.

Oh, and whilst I enjoyed some great weather – it rains a lot there! Bordeaux was the first place I ever owned an umbrella. It quickly became an important part of my attire, along with my scarf. The French love their scarves, year round.

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A Day in Bordeaux

I think the best way to condense my experiences is to take you on a virtual tour of the city. The centre of Bordeaux has recently been given a face-lift, and is now a very smart mix of classic infrastructure and new.  The historic part of the city is now on the UNESCO World Heritage list as “an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble.”

11:00

After a lie in, and having grabbed a café au lait and pain au chocolat from a Boulangerie head to a tram stop. The city has a very efficient tram network, 3 lines linking the city centre and its suburbs. The trams run late into the night, and start early in the morning. This was a godsend for me as I lived 7km from the centre, and enabled me to get home when I may have been a little inebriated!

Grab a tram to Place de la Victoire, hope off and walk down Rue Sainte-Catherine – often billed as the longest pedestrian street in Europe at 1.2km. Enjoy a nice mix of local and international commerce on the street. At the end of the road you’ll come to Place de la Comédie where the impressive neoclassical Grand Theatre stands. Grab a coffee and macaroon, and drink in the wonderful architecture around you. You might fancy heading for an early lunch at this point, and you are blessed with choice. Le Quatrieme Mur, Le Café Opéra, La Table Bordelaise are all highly recommended. Try frog legs, they’re very nice (like chicken with the consistency of squid!).

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14:00

With a belly full of little frog legs, carry on north passing the Grand Theatre, towards Place des Quinconces. This is one of the largest city squares in Europe and was originally laid out to prevent rebellion against the city. Now the square hosts travelling circuses, Christmas markets and other public events. Head right, away from the Monument aux Girondins towards the quays of the river Garonne. In the autumn the trees will glisten in oranges and reds, making the square truly beautiful.

The quays were my favourite place in Bordeaux. Look left and you will see the striking new bridge, Pont Jacques Chaban Delmas. This was under construction when I lived here, so I must return to see the finished article! Apparently it is Europe’s longest-span vertical lift bridge. Bordeaux seems to have a number of ‘European firsts’ doesn’t it?!

Miroir d'eau

Besides the new bridge, there isn’t much going on left up the quays, so head right! Watch out for the joggers, cyclists and skate-boarders, particularly on a warm autumn day, who will be out in numbers. After about 500 metres you will come to my favourite part of the quays, the sleek chic Miroir d’eau, with the Palais de la Bourse acting as a backdrop. The ‘mirror of water’ looks truly gorgeous in the sun, but even better on a moody dark day (see above), or at night. I used to like sitting on the steps of the quay here, enjoying my surroundings, so I suggest you do the same. To your right is Pont de Pierre, Bordeaux’s first bridge over the Garonne. 

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16:00

After a break – and perhaps another coffee (when in France…) continue south along the quays, and soon after turn right onto Rue de la Cour des Aides. Continue straight and you’ll come to l’Église Saint-Pierre, just one of the city’s imposing and impressive churches. Walk left along Rue des Bahutiers, and follow it as it forks right into Rue du Cerf Volant / Rue du Loup. At the end of the road you will come to Tour Pey-Berland, a Gothic bell tower offering jaw-dropping panoramic views of the city.

After you’ve climbed and descended the tower, head left along Cours de’Alsace-et-Lorraine. You will cross Rue Sainte-Catherine after about 200 metres. Carry on and  turn left up Rue du Pas Saint Georges. Walk straight for about 600 metres and you will come to Place Camille Jullian – a buoyant plaza with lots of restaurants and bars. Perhaps it’s time for an early dinner and then some drinks?

01:00

Stumble back the way you came to Hotel de Ville and Tour Pey-Berland, you don’t want to miss the last tram back to your hotel! When you’ve safely boarded (and ensured the tram is the correct one – mistakes happen when your brain is swimming in the red grape) you can sit back and relax thinking about what a great day you had in a city full of history, striking architecture and fantastic wine.

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The Rest of the Region

If you’re in Bordeaux for a few days you may wish to visit the below. All are easily accessible by train from the city’s main station.

 

  1. Saint Émilion

St Émilion is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason. It is a lovely Romanesque town, with many vineyards. The town is one of the main red wine areas of Bordeaux, and you can enjoy an informative tour of one of the many wine companies, and learn how your favourite red is made. I was pleasantly surprised by the complexity of the wine-making process; I thought it was just stamp on some grapes, and then let them ferment for a while!

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  1. Arcachon

I spent my 21st birthday here, and it was wonderful. 30 degrees celsius in April, me and my two friends took the short train from Pessac to Arcachon. Arcachon Bay is a popular get away, and the closest beach from Bordeaux. The town’s crowning glory however is the Dune du Pilat. Nearly 2 miles long, reaching over 100 metres in height, the dune is Europe’s largest. At the top of the dune you feel like you are in the Sahara, sands stretching out either side of you, with the sun beating down. The views are truly spectacular, and definitely warrant the testing ascent. I enjoyed a romantic sunset with my two friends, watching para-gliders take flight off the dune’s banks, watching the sun melt into the rippling waters of the Atlantic.

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  1. Blaye

A pretty little town with impressive city walls and remains of a medieval castle. Certainly worth seeing if you’ve got half a day to spare.

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BB Al Rating: 5/5 (I’m very nostalgic, and this article is definitely tinged with bias!)

Bordeaux, tu me manques ❤