Category Archives: A Coruña

¡Mas Galicia… y Roberto!

A Coruña

Thursday-Saturday, July 25-27, 2019

On the 25th I took the bus to the train station to meet a childhood friend whose family has been intertwined with mine since my mom and his had met in college many moons ago. Someone recently told me of seeing both of our pregnant mothers slowly walking down the street in our neighborhood. That image has stayed with me, collected along with many others from over 60 years.

So, watching him push through the turnstile brought back our shared history as well as anticipation of more adventures, starting with a great way to memorialize his arrival…

yet, my pleas for a snapshot keepsake were laughingly refused in spite of my stating “Max would do it”.

Once aboard Robbie assured us his overnight in Madrid had helped diminish some of his jet lag caused by flying from San Diego to Spain. Which was great, since we whisked him off to experience a taste of the Medieval Festival beginning with a sampling of those mohitos Max and I imbibed the night before.

This being one of the most celebrated holidays in Galicia, we quietly entered one of A Coruña’s medieval churches. Here in the Church of Santiago is a revered wooden statue of that apostle that thousands of pilgrims have touched since the 13th century. Unfortunately I only captured it from a distance.

Throughout the evening Max and Robbie graciously sat

and stood for photos

until we eventually landed back on JUANONA.

The next day entailed a long walk to El Torre de Hercules, a.k.a., the Tower of Hercules built by the Romans in the 1st century A.C.E. Max and I had visited this site before but wanted to show Robbie this remarkable piece of working architecture. Interestingly, the Statue of Liberty and Cuba’s Lighthouse of Morro became ‘twinned’ with this lighthouse in 2008. Wouldn’t happen today, I bet.

Designed by a Lusitanian architect named Caius Sevius Lupus*, this lighthouse is the oldest Roman one still working. Throughout the ages documents have cited this structure, testifying to its early fame, as noted by: Roman historian Ptolemy (4th ce.); the Burgo de Osma Beatus (10th ce.); General Alfonso X (13th ce.); navigation charts (16th ce); and ‘Atlas del Rey Planeta: A description of Spin and the coasts and ports of its kingdoms’ (17th ce.).

*A stone tablet dedicated to the god Mars and placed at the base carries his name, the only ancient Roman lighthouse whose builder is known.

We purchased tickets allowing 30 minutes to see the original construction

now encased and reinforced in a shell after renovations took place in the 18th century.

On each floor signage provides factoids, such as:

Romans used concrete, a low cost material and one not requiring really skilled labor (you can see the hole in the ceiling which enabled the overseers to drop a plumb line);

This port, originally called Brigantium, served as an important commercial port (part of the tin route) and strategic location (it supplied provisions for troops attacking and conquering Britannia in 43 A.C.E.);

And, this lighthouse made a great watchtower as well as stronghold:  six soldiers in May 1589 defended it, holding off Sir Francis Drake’s attack for nine days. (This is also the battle where A Coruña’s famous heroine, Maria Mayor Fernāndezde Cámara y Pita– of whom you’ll see statues– and other women, fought the English.)

We climbed the 254 steps to the top, where a full-sky view of the city and Gulf of Atabro lay before us.

It’s also where Max saved a family from trying to fit in a selfie,

and where I captured one of Robbie :)

The lighthouse’s name comes from a legend created by King Alfonso X the Wise around 1270:  Hercules ordered a tower built over the buried head of a giant named Gerión, whom Hercules had defeated.

But, two earlier stories exist… Irish monks in the 1100s wrote the ‘Invasions Book‘ (now viewed as a compilation of myths about Ireland’s history). Their tale attributes the tower to Breogan, the Celtic chieftan of Ireland and founder of the city of Brigantia…. And a myth a century earlier involves a monk named Trezensonio who visited the city and climbed ‘the tower’.

Whatever the legend, it’s called the Tower of Hercules, which is good enough for moi.

The lighthouse is part of an outdoor museum created in the mid-1990s and includes 20 sculptures. Several caught my eye:

the Compass Rose (see from the top of the lighthouse) with its eight directional points and references to the seven Celtic nations and the Tartessians who lived in SW Spain 900-600 B.C.E.

Charon, the ferryman of Hades who helped Hercules capture the hound Cerberus

and, Breoghan (mentioned above), the founder of A Coruña.

As most of you know by now I really search out this type of art. Not sure if due to its tactileness or just the three-dimensional aspect. Whatever. I love it.

Camariñas

Saturday-Tuesday, July 27-30, 2019 

Saturday we headed off into rolly seas, covering 48 miles with a mix of sail and motor. Not the smoothest of rides for Robbie’s first on JUANONA. But, we made it to our next anchorage without the crew getting too nauseous. Luckily the captain generally has an iron stomach. Me, not so much.

We turned into the Ria de Camariñas and headed a little past the main town, anchoring off the beach enjoying calmer waters yet still with a bit of rocking.

The next morning, with a forecast of strong winds and rain we decided to head to the marina. Being at a dock makes it easier to explore ashore, which is what we did for two days. The first day we hiked towards the coastline where Max took the opportunity to do a head soak. We found these water fountains throughout our walks, probably servicing many pilgrims on the caminos to Santiago. They certainly came in handy as demonstrated below.

The next day we strolled in the opposite direction, and after verifying our heading like all good navigators,

we landed on the beach we had seen from JUANONA when anchoring the previous night. Unable to resist the water, we headed down to toe-test the temp. And, found it still a bit chilly.

Outdoor cafes offered plenty of opportunities for local feasting, which we enjoyed as did some local wildlife.

But, no one really seems to mind as we later saw in another town a similar clientele.

When in a foreign country we attempt to learn, at the very least, some basics such as ‘hello’, ‘please’, and ‘thank you’; and, of course, an initial inquiry:  ‘do you speak English?’

So, when someone approaches and catches our eye we typically say, ‘hola’. Which we planned to do as an older lady headed towards us. Well, either we didn’t get our ‘bueñas días’ out soon enough or she was already tired of touristas because this fireplug of a woman spat out two ‘¡bueñas días!’ seemingly with a scowl as she passed us.

Thankfully we didn’t take it personally. Although, maybe we should have? What it did do is provide a mantra among the three of us. And, a strong encouragement to practice our Español greetings.

One of the biggest pleasures of cruising comes from meeting other folk, and in Carmariñas we had the good fortune of meeting Anna and Arthur from Sweden and Leoni and Steve from England. And, what else do you do but invite them aboard for evening conversation and libations? :) Always a pleasure and a highlight of our travels.

Fisterra and environs

Tuesday-Sunday, July 30-August 4, 2019

With calmer seas (thankfully) we exited the Ria on Tuesday, heading another 23 miles south.

(FYI:  the dangling rubber snake upper left is to keep seagulls off of JUANONA.)

Our destination serves as one of the most prominent points of land in Spain:  Finisterra or, as the Romans termed it, the “End of the Earth.”

This point’s fame also comes from pilgrims continuing beyond Santiago de Compostella to end here. And, indeed, we did see a lot of these pilgrims. Some looking fresher than others, but all happy to have no more camino (road) in front of them.

Often we’d spot a scallop shell, indigenous to Galicia, dangling from their backpacks. I looked into why this was so emblematic of St. James and the pilgrimages to Santiago. It comes from the story associated with his return to Galicia where he had spread the work of Jesus.

This time he wasn’t here to proselytize. He couldn’t, because he didn’t have a head. James made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (not too smart) and King Herod Agrippa I (nephew of Herod Antipas, the guy who dealt with Jesus) had him executed in 44 C.E. His followers decided to take his headless body back to the Iberian peninsula (allegedly on a rudderless, no-sail, stone ‘sailboat’). When the boat landed it frightened a knight’s horse who then bolted and plummeted into the sea along with said knight. St. James saved him (sure thing) and the knight and horse emerged un-drowned, covered in scallops.

But, I prefer the earlier association:  pagans used to travel the Janus Path (named after the Roman god) to Finisterre as part of a re-birth. And, they began at the Temple of Venus in the Pyrenees. Venus, we all know, rose from a scallop shell, a perfect reason for a pilgrimage badge. A lot more pleasant of a tale, I think.

We anchored off another white sand beach of which these rias abound and dinghied to shore. We rinsed off our feet at a convenient water spray* before starting down a lovely stone walkway towards the town of Fisterra.

*Galicia takes care of their beachgoers because almost all of the public beaches also feature fresh water sprays for feet and body. And, no, we did not take soap in order to use them as our shower source. As tempting as it may be.

Along this trail exercise stations appeared, which, of course, meant the three of us had to check them out…

I seriously doubt anyone would have taken us for pilgrims. Or, at least, not the kind of pilgrims who were on a spiritual quest.

After a night off the beach we upped anchor and moved just a mile over to Playa de Estorde, around the corner from the town of Cee.

Not only was our new anchorage more remote, but also meant we could see Anna and Arthur again :)

That’s definitely one of the best features of cruising:  not only do you meet some great people but also arrange to rendezvous in later ports.

Hearing a town three miles away was scenic, we motored onto the beach

and proceeded to walk to Corcubión. By the second mile mincing our way along the narrow shoulder we thought hitchhiking might not be a bad idea.

But, then realized who the hell would pick us up for we most likely would look like cheating pilgrims. Or, maybe smelly, cheating pilgrims.

So, we continued grunting our way and, upon reaching our destination, rewarded ourselves with some excellent refreshments at a friendly sidewalk cafe.

And, if you’re wondering, we took a bus back…

The next day Robbie and I tried our luck with the bus going back to Fisterra to pick up some groceries. Hah. Not only was it difficult to locate the schedule online; once we did, we ended up waiting one hour and 45 minutes from the time indicated. And, we proved that hitchhiking was futile because we tried with no luck.

But, we did make it into Fisterra, picked up some provisions, walked down to the harbor,

and shared a lunch amidst yet more pilgrims.

San Francisco

Friday-Sunday, August 2-4, 2019

The next morning we motor-sailed under a gentle breeze

accompanied by more playful dolphins

the short distance to one of the prettiest beaches yet:  Playa de San Francisco.

Having read about some petroglyphs, the three of us dinghied to shore to search them out. After wandering around we located the chiseled rock designs at the top of a hill. Several days later I found better photos to use here.

Supposition is that they represent the sun’s movement through the sky. But, like most prehistoric art, it’s an educated guess at best.

The next day Max served as our taxi and Robbie and I took a long walk from town, heading off the main road through a pine forest

to the lighthouse on Monte Louro where, turning the corner, an amazing stretch of sand and tourquoise sea came into view. A Wow-ie view.

We had passed this on our way into the Ria and it looked as enticing now as it did then.

Another long walk back found us searching for an outdoor lunch spot. We managed to find one but, after a disinterested waitress took our drink order and delivered the large bottle of agua frio and a waiter dumped a basket of bread on our table, we sat for 15 to 20 minutes as others arriving after us had their orders taken and whileother patrons were served.

We tried to catch her eye but she wasn’t having any of that. So, we waited a bit more then decided to pay for our what was on our table and leave. As Robbie said we should have taken the last piece of bread… Definitely a rare experience in this country.

Our taxi awaited us

only to return with the three of us decked out in our swimsuits for a dip. Because there was no way I was going to let Robbie leave this beautiful water without getting in it.

We weren’t the only ones out enjoying the sun and sea. The beach was packed. And, when back aboard, some boisterous teens paddled toward us and posed for a group photo.

Muros

Sunday-Tuesday, August 4-6, 2019

After two nights on anchor we headed further up the ria to the marina in Muros, where we filled up with water, did laundry,

took showers (FYI:  we ensured Robbie experienced the joys of a cockpit shower :), provisioned and explored the town.

One of the sites turned out to be an old tidal milll.

Hardly any signage alerted us to this former industry, but once we located the entrance a smiling and knowledgeable guy at the front desk explained how it worked. Between 1820 and 1967 this mill ground corn and other grains.

The receptionist also provided an intriguing bit of information:  with a lot of time to kill during the milling process the Galicians created their traditional dance and music called ‘muiñera’.

The exhibit featured diagrams associated with the mill

as well as the early history of the region. (This exhibit area is also where I found those better photos of the petroglyphs we had seen on our hike in San Francisco.)

On our way back to JUANONA we looked for a larger grocery store indicated on Google Maps. After several mis-steps, we ended up at what appeared to be a dead end. However, we heard a voice overhead, which turned out to be an older señor who had seen us looking around for a road to the store.

Apparently he’s seen confused walkers before, and he pointed to a path through the field.

Feeling a bit like we were trespassing, we tentatively started out and with more encouragement from our window guide we became more confident as we strode across the land.

With fishing boats delivering seafood on a regular basis, it seemed a crime not to buy some. Not knowing the Spanish names of the fish we generally eat, Max managed to identify something similar. Fortunately the woman filleted it for him. Max also assisted a Danish cruiser (the guy standing next to him with his daughter) who was buying a lobster –his first ever!– to try.

After dinner Robbie performed his usual boat chore,

followed by a game of Oh Hell (yes, Robbie is now a member of that ‘club’ with Max showing him how to score).

Santiago de Compostello

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Muros would be our last port of call with Robbie, but we decided to accompany him to Santiago de Compostello where he’d board the train to Madrid for his flight home. And, where we’d take advantage of forecast inclement weather to check out potential marinas for our wintering.

We took the bus after a feast of custard doughnuts (the last one I gave to my seatmate, a young pilgrim from Barcelona who was ravenous),

and in less than two hours found ourselves in THE pilgrim site.

Max and I checked into our hotel located right around the corner from the main plaza, and soon the three of us found ourselves heading to the cathedral.

On the way some displays immediately caught my eye, and I thought, this is PERFECT for commemorating our visit here.

But, then we found they were 3.50 euros each total a photo (!). We kept going but to this day I regret not convincing my fellow travelers to stick their heads through those holes.

A few steps further we arrived to where so many others had walked:  the Cathedral of Saint James, and his bones. The latter had been discovered in 814 in the forests of Libredón by a hermit named Paio. King Alfonso II built a church and, voila!, let the pilgrimages begin… along with a bigger and more glorious church.

As we walked around the large open plaze filled with pilgrims and tourists alike, it felt in many ways like a carnival.

No doubt echoing centuries’ worth of such fare.

We snapped photos of one another in the plaza,

and, on the other side of the cathedral.

I felt dwarfed by the immensity standing in such close quarters to this building. Obviously those who ruled wanted to provide followers with a feeling that they were being looked after by their religion. Either that or showing who’s boss.

Throughout Max and my travels this summer we’ve come across numerous references to St. James (‘Santiago’ in Galician). And, You didn’t have to be a believer to feel awestruck when standing in front of a cathedral which has drawn so many pilgrims over the centuries. I mean, even my sister is going to be doing a camino with a friend this September.

We joined the line (miraculously short) and climbed the steps to enter.

Noticing four pilgrim-like young men directly behind us I asked them when they had arrived. They hailed from Canada and had just finished their pilgrimage exactly 30 days from when they started.

Unfortunately, they were turned away at the entrance because of their backpacks. But, the guard told them they could store them for 2 euros each just down the steps and to the left. Robbie had read that prior to our entering, and we all had stashed our bags before touring.

Although under major renovations,

visitors could see the famous botafumeira (incense ball), which is swung by eight men on special occasions. Imagine getting konked on the head with THAT thing. Talk about an MDT!

Supposedly the reason for the incense was to counteract the stinkiness of unwashed pilgrims flooding into the building. No kidding.

Around the corner we opted to join others who slowly made their way through a roped path to the High Altar in the Apostle’s chapel to touch the silver back of St. James.

No photos were allowed of the silver bust, but here’s a peek of it through the gates. He sure looks like a happy guy. Who wouldn’t with all those people coming to see you?

We visited the crypt underneath, about which Max wanted to know if anyone had opened it to ensure it was headless…

and then rejoined the human snake as we all existed through the gift shop back to a plaza.

While Robbie and Max looked over some brochures I went next door to our hotel to use our head. Which turned into quite an experience when I couldn’t unlatch the door from the bathroom. Realizing I truly was stuck, I began kicking and screaming. Just our luck, the room was soundproof, as advertised.

Finally, after 15 minutes a maid working in another room, heard my even louder shouts (interrupted by my laughing at my predicament). After she, then the manager, then Max who arrived with Robbie, tried and failed to open the door, the manager’s mom (family-run business) succeeded in freeing me from the bathroom.

With only some bruised thumbs to show for my exertions,

the three of us found a place for lunch indoors (it was starting to sprinkle). FYI: In Spain it’s less expensive to eat indoors than out, but that’s not why we ate indoors. Honest!

Not able to put off our good-byes any longer we walked Robbie out of the old town towards his train.

All I can say is thank god, St. James, and all the pagan deities, memories remain of wonderful times. For that they were :)

 

Starting to cruise Galicia…

Tuesday-Thursday, July 16-25, 2019

Remember when I said we basically glided for two days and nights down the Bay of Biscay to Gijón? None of the traditional rock ‘n rolling due to the ocean rollers that can ‘knock your head right off your shoulders’ (from a Schooner Fare song). Well, our east to west sails along the north coast of Spain made up for our smooth north to south passage.

For 60 miles we slipped and sloshed our way through water throwing a liquid temper tantrum.

Occasional dolphins created a welcome reprieve during our roller-coaster motor-sailing.

With relief we turned into Ria de Ribadeo for the night.

Not so fast. Not only did a weedy bottom in places force us to re-anchor, but we continued to roll up, down, and around on swells. After a sleepless eight hours we upped anchor as soon as it got light and headed for the Ria de Viveiro.

But after reading that this anchorage can be rolly, we said let’s keep on going, which is how we ended up anchored in a lovely bay off of Cedeira late in the afternoon.

So began our cruising the Galician coast of Spain.

CEDEIRA

July 17-19

We explored the town, enjoying lunch in a little square where the town had smartly planned an activity playground for kids while adults sat at tthe outdoor cafes enjoying local fare.

A path along the river took us behind the town where we passed senior citizens out for their morning stroll and, when returning to town, spotted a father and son walking the exposed river bed at low tide.

Besides a blissfully calm surface in which to sleep this town gave us the gift of meeting Pam and Mark, two Brits heading in the same direction. When dinghy-ing back to JUANONA from town, we headed near their boat but with enough space to turn off in case they didn’t wave back (our litmus test for how receptive others are to two cruisers disrupting their peaceful solitude). Fortunately they were as glad to meet other English speaking cruisers as we. They invited us aboard and conversation flowed :)

ARES

July 19-22

After our stay in Cedeira, we headed to the Ares, the next Ria south of us with Pam and March appearing later in the day.

Over the next three days we relaxed off this small beach resort,

where we joined other locals and visitors in slowly walking the boardwalk

and, of course, sampling local seafood :)

Tucked amidst some trees at the far end of the beach we found a cafe with some decent WiFi and across the street a few blocks away a fantastic laundramat. Unfortunately the WiFi only really worked that one day at the cafe but clean bedding and clothes offset that inconvenience.

With Caribbean-color water tempting us, we dinghied to one of the beaches for an evening swim.

Our ‘swim’ ended up as a quick dip instead for the water temperature resembled Maine’s more than any tropical warmth.

With the start of summer holidays beginning in full force we’d been a bit concerned about crowded harbors and anchorages. But our fears were unfounded. We discovered plenty of space along this coastal region, an assurance other sailors had mentioned.

And, it appeared some cruising boats never left as witnessed by the tatters of a country flag…

A CORUÑA

July 22-25

Our next rendezvous put us in A Coruña, a port whose history included…

the world’s oldest working lighthouse (more on that latter)…

…and a landing for those arriving from sea to continue their pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

A misunderstanding put us In two different marinas. Pam and Mark moored at the Darsena located in the town center while we turned into the first marina when entering the harbor. Although even on the outer part of the city it was an easy, five-minute walk into the old town.

Generally it takes us a bit to become accustomed to the quicker tempo of a metropolis after the peace of a quiet village.  But, with an afternoon of walking through the old town we settled into the city’s pace. Which picked up, as did we, when learning we had arrived just as one of the largest parties was beginning: the Medieval Festival :)

Beginning Tuesday night and continuing through Sunday, locals outfitted in medieval dress manned booths selling wares of non-edibles (headscarves to amulets)

and edibles (Iberica jamon to honey), some appearing mighty odd.

But, the best offerings of the festival appeared in the form of acrobats,

Strolling troubadours,

Ogres,

who didn’t seem to faze some kids despite in-your face ‘greetings’,

walking vegetation,

and, a fire-breathing dragon, which did cause at least one child to scream in holy terror (check out the video, pretty horrifying for a kid).

I fell under the spell of this festival with its blending of GAME OF THRONES + LORD OF THE RINGS + WIZARD OF OZ. Not what I was expecting in a region known for its Catholicism.

Delicious street food served as our lunch and dinner fare for most of our days there where we partook of kabobs, actually MANY kabobs. It’s also where we learned the importance of vigilance against theives.

As Max stood in front of a booth deciding what food to order three women, grandmotherly in appearance, crowded around him. He felt pressure where he kept his wallet inside a Velcro-closed pocket, and when he realized it was gone quickly grabbed the woman’s arm. Suddenly a young man standing nearby pointed and yelled ‘the thief went that way!’

Well,s he hadn’t gone that way. In the confusion all the thieves got away. Within 15 minutes the police ‘discovered’ and returned the wallet, minus cash but with credit cards intact. How they knew where to find the wallet so quickly made the entire episode seem a bit suspicious, but Max was relieved to only have lost some cash. He now pins that pocket closed with a safety pin.

A Coruña also where we found a perfect retreat from the street melange:  a cafe with great WiFi, peace for writing all accompanied by good java.

I discovered even more relaxing hours during two glorious massages by Rita at the Oriental spa located right on the main plaza. Now that’s a true luxury.

We met up with Pam and Mark

for some amazing mojitos (while learning of some special rum)

then joined the stream of happy revelers navigating the narrow lanes with Mark encouraging Max to demo a head scratcher.

The days were hot under the sun but really pleasant in the shade. By afternoon an onshore sea breeze kicked in, providing free A/C to all. In the late evening the air cooled off a bit more, warranting a blanket for sleeping. With most of Europe experiencing acute heat waves, this part of Spain was bathed in cooler temps. Talk about luck.

We explored beyond the old town gaining an appreciation for this Spanish city.  Just walking out of the main plaza placed us amid modern life, including seeing a peaceful protest against the local telecommunications company.

Walking further on we saw an evocative photography display, ‘Castaway Women’. With over 10 portraits, the photographs captured the terror, exhaustion, and relief experienced by these migrants. In the image below Olmo Calvo caught a group of immigrants found in a rubber dinghy next to the Libyan coast. The Spanish NGO, Proactiva Open Arms, supplied the life vests and later rescued 60 people also attempting to cross to Italy. 

The expression ‘there but for the grace of god go I’ seems appropriate.

Crossing to the other side of the peninsula we prominaded along a boardwalk rimming a pristine beach, a feature of many of these coastal cities and towns.

And, where one beach goer would possibly rue her time in the sun.

A cool sculpture at the end of the beach reminded us of the popularity of surfing

and always of my brother and nephews’ love of the sport. So, I just had to pose (as seen in cover photo :)

The Spaniards definitely appreciate their ocean access. In all of our stops along this coast kayakers, paddle boarders, divers, jet skiers, and swimmers joined sailors and power boaters on and in the water. But, nothing beats the pure joy of seeing kids leaping off land and splashing down in the ocean, which occurred frequently along the city’s harbor.

By Thursday A Coruña had become a familiar face. Having adjusted to city living we settled into an easy routine of visiting favorite haunts (roaming the old town, running miscellaneous errands, and provisioning as needed).

Additionally, Thursday, July 25th is one of the most popular holidays of the year:  the Feast of St. James, the patron saint of Galicia and of Spain.

He’s the reason (well, at least way back when) why all those pilgrims make their way to Santiago (‘Saint James’ in the galician dialect) de Compostello where he’s (supposedly) interned. And, why the Festival’s spirit reached an even higher pitch. Which is truly interesting considering how joyfully pagan we felt.

Yet, aboard JUANONA we had highlighted this day for another reason. With that, I’ll close with something I never got tired of during our time in A Coruña: