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September 17, 2006

A trip to the CretAquarium

Last week we made a three day trip further east along the northern coast of Crete to pay our first visit to the island's capital, Iraklio. The bus from Chania departs every hour, and with a short stop at Rethymno, the journey takes between two-and-a-half and three hours, depending on the rush hour city traffic at either end.

Iraklioseahorse We'd decided that the first thing we'd do when we got to Iraklio was head straight out to the CretAquarium, which involved another bus ride. The CretAquarium is one of the island's newest tourist attractions, officialy opened in May this year. Set on an old military base, it is home to a sea life research centre, with a brand new public display area.

We'd kind of misunderstood how close it was to Iraklio. When people say it is in Heraklion they mean the prefecture, rather than the town itself, so actually we had to get the bus to Gournes. This was a bit late, and whilst waiting we nearly got killed by another KTEL bus that just wasn't going to accept that people standing where it was intending to park was any reason to slow down. In the end, not only was the journey a bit longer than we expected, we compounded it by getting of the bus prematurely, when we mistook a sign saying CretAquarium this way for the main entrance. We had an extra fifteen minute walk for our troubles.

When we got there we stopped for a coffee before going in - and were really a bit disappointed by our first impressions. Considering the aquarium is a new attraction, it was still being "renovated", and to sit down with our coffee we had to slide past rows of stacked up chairs, and over broken floors that looked like being nowhere near the 'snagging' stage, let alone being finished.

Irakliotank The aquarium itself featured some very modern tanks, including some low-level peep holes designed with children in mind. There was also a high tech centre where visitors could control cameras inside the tanks with a joystick and a couple of zoom buttons. We had to hang around at the start for a while looking at the same tanks over and over again to let this really annoying couple get ahead of us. She was insisting on camcording every movement within the tank, which meant literally barging us out of the way at every opportunity in order to get her shot. Her skirt was so short that I swear every time she crouched down to get a close-up shot of the tanks she was doing psychological damage to the fish.

We were let down by a lazy octopus that didn't do anything at all, but the sea horses were quite excitable. I was disappointed that there were not any turtles, since they are one of the most important and endangered marine creatures in the local environment.

Irakliojellyfish_1 The aquarium as a whole wasn't anywhere near as big as the pre-publicity had led us to expect, and so although it was very modern and the tanks were all of a good side, we did feel a little bit let down. Our favourite bit though was probably the jelly fish tank, where in a circular tank equipped with a handful of spotlights and some mirrors, you really got to see how amazing translucent they are.

Having got off the bus a bit early on the way there gave us an advantage though. There were only 3 direct buses a day between Iraklio and the CretAquarium, but we knew how to get back to the main road where we could simply pick up any passing KTEL bus going back towards town. At €1.40 each way the bus fare was good value for money. By catching a bus this way we were back in town by 4 o'clock, when the next direct bus hadn't been due for another two hours.

We found our hotel, the Marin Dream, which was only a few steps away from the bus stop and the old harbour, checked in, and then freshened up ready for our first night out on the Iraklio razzle.

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