We arrived in La Coruña, Spain this morning under beautiful, calm blue skies. This Galician outpost is in the northwest corner of Spain. The big attraction in the area is the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, located about 60 km south of this city.
Several months ago I was researching private tours here and found recommendations for a company owned by Brendan Lowe, a transplant from Australia who lives in this part of Spain with his family. The company, Guided Galicia, is very popular. Brendan already had a tour booked for today (and this was more than seven months ago), but he does have some secondary tour guides that he calls upon. He said we would be doing our private tour with Diego.
We got off the ship shortly after clearing the port authorities and had to take a shuttle bus over to the main port terminal. We then saw a young couple holding a sign with our last name. Apparently, Diego was not feeling well, so two acquaintances of Diego were there to take us on our tour (Ines and Javier). Javier is an unemployed lawyer from the local area and Ines is his girlfriend. I was a little dubious initially about this arrangement, but these two did a great job and we certainly got our money’s worth today, although we are both exhausted and glad we have a bonus day at sea tomorrow.
Ines drove and we headed south to Santiago de Compostela first, to see the massive cathedral that is considered the second most important Catholic church in Europe after St. Peter’s at the Vatican. Every day, pilgrims arrive here, many after walking for days, weeks or months along the Way. Paths of the Way originate all over Europe, some from as far away as Moscow. We saw the start of a path in Bruges, Belgium.
This cathedral was built at the location of the discovery of the supposed relics of James (Santiago) the Greater, one the twelve apostles. The discovery is a tale of strange lights, a hermit and the sighting of angels pointing to where the relics were located.
Ines dropped us off near the main entrance to the church, which is massive and done in several styles, including Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque; the main spires are very ornate and reminded me of the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City. Javier walked us around the exterior of the church; we stopped for a break, at my request, in a sidewalk cafe on the back side.
An aside: My new knees are doing well and demonstrate surprising strength and increasing resilience every day. My stamina is a different story and I have some continuing hip pain and foot pain that I’m contending with. After flying over, running around London, getting to the ship and doing a lot of stuff in a port every day for the last week, I felt absolutely slammed today. I think the bonus day at sea tomorrow will be fantastic – we will happily get to Oporto another time. Also, it was hot today, for the first time on the trip.
Anyway, back to our saga. We finally entered the church, just in time to be caught in the chaos of a noon mass. The place was packed, with many visitors and quite a few pilgrims sitting on the the floor with their backpacks. We quietly walked around the periphery of the church, or at least we tried to be quiet, until I leaned back to take a photo and my sunglasses fell off my head, loudly clattering on the floor while the priest was droning on in front of several hundred people only a few steps away. Well, Barb commits another sacrilege to go with my foolishness in Bruges – doggone Protestant :-). The church was spectacular, by the way, with a gilt altar area and many beautiful side chapels and dozens of confessionals for the pilgrims offering different languages.
We exited the church and Javier recommended we head to our next destination, the quaint town of Betanzos, on our way back to La Coruña. We drove there and worked our way into the town center. We looked around at this quiet place, then Javier found us a local tapas bar that served octopus and tortillas, the specialties of the area. The octopus or pulpos are Atlantic Cephalopods, much larger than their Mediterranean cousins. Tortillas in this part of the world are like an omelette. We also got some calamari and local cheeses. What a terrific repast, complete with local wines from the area.
We drove back to La Coruña and had a city tour, stopping for photos of the Tower of Hercules (a lighthouse built by the Romans in the first century), getting a bird’s eye view of the city from a viewpoint near town, and ending with a visit to the main square in the old town. We enjoyed our day with Javier and Ines.
Galicia is an interesting area of Spain – it looks a lot like the Central Coast area of California, with hilly areas and lots of trees, including invasive eucalyptus. The inhabitants trace their ancestry to Celts that came to the area and they speak their own language, which is more like Portuguese.
We had dinner tonight on the ship in Toscana, the specialty Italian restaurant, and had a lovely experience. Tomorrow is a vacation day on our vacation! We have a culinary class at 4:00 pm and plan to relax before then. Steve will post photos tomorrow.
On to Lisbon…