We slipped out of Ria de Viveiro early on Thursday morning, while the girls still slept. The dolphin accompanied us for a few hundred metres until it abandoned us for a fishing vessel returning from a night at sea. Fickle dolphin!
We sailed west, feasting our eyes on the Spanish coastline for the first time, as our arrival in Spain had been before dawn and in light fog. The coast is lush and verdant, with small towns dotted along, and wind farms peeking out between the hills in the distance. We passed clusters of small boats, each with one or two fishermen, and I was reminded of summertime in Arviat, hanging around, waiting for beluga whales to arrive.
We rounded Cabo Ortegal and were back on our summer southerly course again. After twelve hours of sailing we arrived in La Coruña, the largest city in Galicia, with a population of 250,000. We have been here for the past two nights, and are having a wonderful time.
La Coruña is home to Torre de Hercules, the oldest still-functioning lighthouse in the world. Built by the Romans in the first century AD, it still lights up the night sky to warn sailors of the dangerous rocky shore. Myths about the lighthouse link it to both Hercules and to the Irish Tuatha de Danann.
Torre de Hercules is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the paths leading to it are lined with modern artworks. Underneath the lighthouse, we walked through the archaeological works that reveal layers of history from the Romans onwards, and then we climbed the lighthouse to the top (Of course we did! Did any of you imagine that we wouldn’t!). Wow, what views from the top, of the city, across the bays that surround the city, and far out into the Atlantic. From below we could see and hear a lone piper on the Galician pipes (yet another Celtic link), and looked down on a huge tiled compass rose on the ground, bearing the names and symbols of the seven Celtic nations.
Yesterday evening we walked through the old town, savouring the Friday evening atmosphere. Lily and Katie had never been out in a city after dark before, and they were agog at the twinkling lights. We were surprised to see so many children out with their parents and extended families, walking the streets or sitting in restaurants, at midnight. So different to a Friday night town or city centre in Ireland or the UK.
We strolled through the huge and beautiful Plaza de Maria Pita, and learned about the city’s heroine for whom the plaza is named. She defended the city walls from Sir Francis Drake’s men, when the English attempted to sack the city in 1589. Evidence abounds of a prominence of heroines in the city – statues of women are ubiquitous and one of the legends surrounding the city is that is was named by Hercules for the woman he loved, La Cruna.
Off the Plaza, we feasted our eyes on restaurants and cafes offering incredible arrays of food. I was particularly taken by El Rey de Jamon – the King of Ham! The ceiling of his restaurant was obscured by hundreds of hams hanging down. But by far the most common food comes from the sea – octopus, squid, lobsters, crabs, razor clams, mussels, and myriad other creatures whose names I don’t know. Shop and restaurant windows are filled with them, and inside and outside, diners fill themselves on a mind-boggling selection. The girls enjoyed watching the live lobsters and crabs in the window of the little restaurant where we stopped for some squid and tortilla and a bottle of the house red.
La Coruña is a beautiful city. There is so much to see and do, and we haven’t even ventured outside of our little corner of it yet. We have found the people so friendly and helpful…and kindly helping correct our woeful attempts at Spanish! Time to go explore some more now!