It didn’t take us long to lean the very important phrase, una cerveza, por favor as it’s been so lovely and hot here, all we’ve been doing is one big bar crawl, or so it feels like. There’s nothing like enjoying a cold beer in the sunshine after a long walk exploring a new city.
We arrived in La Coruña last Wednesday, and after a verrrrry early night (it doesn’t get dark here until 11pm, but I certainly haven’t let that stop me going to bed at an almost shameful 9:30pm some nights…) we took a leisurely walk into La Coruña town. Neil had been managing our expectations of this rather industrial port- he came here some twenty years ago and warned that, although it was pleasant, perhaps it didn’t necessarily have the Spanish character and charm that we might be after. Well, what a difference twenty years makes! Although there is plenty of evidence of its more industrial side- on the other side of the river there are cranes galore- the old town is as charming as you could wish, with a lovely big central plaza, off which run a maze of pedestrianised laneways full of shops, bars and restaurants. A wide, paved area, obviously new, and with pockets of attractive landscaping and seating areas, wraps around another marina in the centre of town. This area is so new that there’s large parts still under construction, which would be disappointing if you were staying in the central marina, since you’d hear nothing but the sound of drilling all day. However, it is good for the town, which obviously has money being invested in it- great to see, given Spain’s poor economic situation over the past 7 years.
So, Neil has revised his previous assessment of La Coruña, and we couldn’t have been happier with our introduction to sailing in Spain. One of our first stops (after the bar, of course) was the supermarket. I’m pleased to report that Spanish supermarkets are definitely on par with French and Italian supermarkets, and once again I am flummoxed as to why we don’t have a better standard of produce in the UK. God knows what people coming over from the continent think on entering Asda’s.
As one would expect, Nick and Neil became quite obsessed with the idea of buying a cured leg of ham, which hang enticingly around the meat section of the supermarket. Viv and I were (purely for practical reasons, you understand) rather against the prospect of having a leg of ham hanging in the galley/ dragging it back to the UK to hang in their charming but small kitchen. Needless to say, the ladies won that argument. For now.
Saturday was Viv’s birthday and we decided to go to Santiago de Compostela for the day. We went to the information desk the day before and got the train times, delighted to discover that it was less than 30 minutes away. Perfect! What we failed to factor in was the hour long walk to the train station. And then the 30 minute walk from Santiago station to the town centre. Not to worry, all the walking did us good, and we certainly made up for it with a fantastic lunch served by a rather surly waiter. Oddly enough, the food looked unpromising when it arrived. One dish was pork (we think.. jury’s still out), pale strips of it covered in a sauce that resembled watered down soy sauce. Another was… pork? Again? This time covered in a red sauce that looked like something you got out of a jar (in Asdas). Bloody delicious, all of it.
Santiago de Compostela is of huge historic and spiritual importance to the Catholics and a UNESCO world heritage site. Apparently the remains of Saint James were found at Compostela in the 9th century, everyone got very excited because it was assumed the remains would still be in Jerusalem where he was martyred, and pilgrims started making their way to the site in droves. Saint James soon became a figurehead for the Christian struggle against Muslim domination in the area. A basilica was built in the 12th century- but that apparently wasn’t enough to demonstrate the Christians’ devotion to Saint James, because soon enough hospitals, churches, chapels, cathedrals and hospices also sprung up around it, and in 1139 a guidebook was published for the benefit of would-be pilgrims. It was obviously very persuasive, because the Christians continued to flock to the site over the centuries, and still do today. Thanks google, I couldn’t have done that without you.
We walked around in circles for what felt like HOURS before finally finding the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. There’s a lot of cathedrals and churches around, but only one that matters, which is the one where Saint James is apparently buried. And when we got there, it was covered in scaffolding! So you get pictures of other gorgeous buildings around the old town, but what their historical significance is, I don’t know.
Although I’m sure there’s still the odd cripple hobbling their way to Santiago in the hope of a cure or something (when they really should be chilling out at home and just taking the bus), I think most people on the pilgrimage route these days are doing it more for the enjoyable challenge of walking between France and Spain. Certainly that was the impression I got. My father in law has actually done portions of this walking trail before, purely for the enjoyment of it rather than any hope of spiritual enlightenment. Certainly it would be a fantastic experience (apparently the Spanish route includes 1,800 buildings of historical significance), but that might have to wait for another day. Or decade.
So, we loved Santiago de Compostela, and I can heartily recommend it. You could spend days exploring all the historic buildings, but we only had an afternoon, so after the aforementioned birthday lunch, we headed back to La Coruña. I’ll take this opportunity to praise the Spanish train system. National Rail could learn a lot from a weekend in Spain, I’m telling you. Punctual (like, down to the second), comfortable seats that you can adjust, air-conditioned, allocated seating, foot rests, folding trays, luggage racks, clean toilets… and cheap.
Sunday was going to be our lazy day. However, upon waking, ‘doing nothing’ turned into ‘doing all those chores we’ve been putting off for days’ and while the men did manly things like… do you know, I have no idea what they actually did. I know they, at some point, collapsed in the cockpit with a shandy, complaining of a long morning of work, but apart from that, nothing. I’m sure it was important. I, on the other hand, was elbow deep in bleach for much of the morning, and I also did the ironing (yes, Mum, Nick even took a photo if you need evidence of this!), and the laundry. I’m not a particularly domestic person normally, and the feminist in me is not happy about doing all the tasks traditionally assigned to women, but the fact is that it’s one of the main ways I can contribute to the running of the boat. Perhaps next time Nick announces that he needs to service the engine or whatever, I’ll offer him a swap? Can’t be that hard, can it? I’m sure google will tell me what to do.
After a morning of hard yakka, we went into town for lunch. We found a street crammed with seafood restaurants and took a seat. None of us could decipher the menu (even the English one was confusing), so we just said, “Set Menu, por favor!” Well, we still had to choose our courses, and, like a lot of Spanish people, our waitress couldn’t (or didn’t want to) speak English. So we managed to steer away from the goose barnacles for the starter, instead opting for a spider crab, but the mains were beyond our comprehension. So we just got one of each, hoping for the best.
Well, we had a 50% success rate. The spider crab was delicious, and my main (a type of flat fish) and Neil’s main (veal chop) were fantastic. Nick (fish of some kind, possibly dried?) and Viv (steak, I think?) were less impressed with theirs. But it didn’t matter, the atmosphere in this narrow shady lane full of alfresco diners eating seafood was fantastic, we only wish we’d discovered it sooner.
This morning Neil and Viv said adios and went back to the UK. We’ve had such a great time with them. Not only did the extra crew make sailing very enjoyable and relaxing, but we’ve also loved their company. Neil is joining us again for the Atlantic crossing, and Viv will be waiting for us in Saint Lucia, so we look forward to our next holiday together!
Tomorrow Nick and I intend to make the 50 mile passage to Camariñas, but fog has been rolling in all afternoon, so we’re hoping for a clear day tomorrow. If not, we wait. We’re not in a rush!