27th June 2022: One unexpected Aquarium visit. Zaragoza (Spain)

Because life is strange sometimes, I found myself travelling to Zaragoza in a super-slow train that took three and a half hours (while the high-speed train takes around one hour). It was somewhat of an emergency so we had to leave on Sunday in the late afternoon, and came back on Monday. We booked a hotel next to the station, one that had been built for the Expo 2008, and it goes without saying that the hotel had indeed seen better times.

My company was not required on Monday morning, so I walked towards the area that had been the Expo’08. I crossed river Ebro using the bridge Puente del Tercer Milenio, the longest concrete bow-string bridge in the world, designed by architect Juan José Arenas de Pablo.

Several views of Zaragoza's Millenium Bridge. It is white, arched in form, and the middle is held by a zigzag of wiring.

The north wind was blowing and it was a bit uncomfortable. Furthermore, the area where the Expo used to be was creepy. A lot of it was abandoned and / or fenced off, and even if they had tried to make it a park it just looked derelict and forsaken.

A collage of the parks, buildings and decorations from the former Expo 98. Everything looks derelict, with dry weeds growing where there used to be fountains. Interestingly, no windows are broken.

I looked over at the river Río Ebro. To both sides there were bridges – Pasarela del Voluntariado to the downstream to the left, and Pabellón Puente upstream to the right.

A panoramic from the river bank. There is a bird flying, the sky is blue and there are several clouds

Then I went to the river aquarium Acuario de Zaragoza, which prides itself in being the largest freshwater aquarium in Europe.

The aquarium is divided in five areas or rivers, organised surrounding a central freshwater tank called “World River”, where there are no sharks, but there are several arapaima (Arapaima gigas), one of the largest freshwater species of fish, up to 2 metres long.

Huge Amazonian fish swimming about.

The first river is the Nile (Egypt). It included (obviously) a bunch of fish, a couple of Nile crocodiles (Crocodylus niloticus), a Nile monitor lizard (Varanus niloticus, which had somehow by the way figured out that it lived in an enclosure with a sliding door and… was trying to get it open), a couple of lungfish, perches…

Collage: a Nile monitor lizard, Nile crocodiles chilling, and colourful fish.

The second river is the Mekong (China), which is known for its giant fish – as a matter of fact, the largest freshwater fish ever was recently found there. There are also an insane amount of catfish – in the river, the aquarium has them under control. The most interesting thing about the Mekong is the freshwater rays.

Collage: Big orange-and-red fish, and a freshwater ray, which is black with white spots. It looks a bit like a pan.

The third river is the Amazon (Brazil), which is the largest river ever, so there are three separate areas – the blackwater-flooded forest or Igapó, the forest itself, and the mangrove. The displays included Knysna turaco (Tauraco corythaix), which is the “only true red and green bird”, green iguana (Iguana iguana), catfish, red-bellied piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri), electric eels (Electrophorus electricus), anaconda (Eunectes notaeus).

Collage: black and white fish with whiskers, a green and blue bird silendly judging the photographer, brightly-coloured fish and something that looks like a rock but it's actually a weird turtle.

Then there is the Darling-Murray river (Australia), which must be saltier than I had expected, because apparently clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris) and anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor) packs, and seahorses, along Pearl arowanas (Scleropages jardinii), tree frogs (Litoria caerulea), and the supercute (I think it was a) nobbi dragon (Diporiphora nobbi)…

Collage: A lizard, quite unamused; a clown fish hiding behind an anemone

Finally, there’s the Ebro river, the local one. There are the endemic barbs (“barbo de Graells” Luciobarbus graellsii), the local otter (Lutra lutra) and sturgeons (Acipenser sp.).

Collage: a turtle, an edible fish, and a blurry otter that would not stay still for a picture

Throughout the whole run there are hundreds of turtles – the aquarium runs a turtle rescue scheme in order to get abandoned pet turtles out from the rivers, mostly the pond slider (Trachemys scripta).

I saw some of the old Expo’08 mascot, and some people diving in the central tank – I don’t think I’d go into a tank with the arapaima, even if they were swimming near when I was feeding the manatee in Faunia. There were also some animals that had been rescued from illegal trade and donated to the aquarium.

After the aquarium, there was only coming back in yet another train that took over three hours. It was the weirdest trip I have ever taken…