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|Marco Polo 2013-14
A Christmas Cruise from Tilbury to the Canary Islands & Madeira - part 4
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Brochure route is in red, actual outward journey in green and return in blue
The Canary Island of La Palma is just 80nm to the west of Tenerife. We last visited it in 1988 on the Orient Express cruise and had enjoyed our visit. We had then taken a tour into the centre of the island and admired the volcanic craters, so this visit we wanted to explore the city of Santa Cruz instead. There are no direct flights from the UK, and the best route is to fly to Tenerife and catch the ferry to Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is said to be the second largest city of the island, and is the capital. The city was founded in 1493 and by the 17th century it was a flourishing commercial port and the third most important in the Spanish empire. Famous fortifications include the Castillo de Santa Catalina and Castillo de la Virgen on the northern end of town.
The Tourist Information Office provided a walking map of Santa Cruz and gave a lot of useful advice on what to see and what to visit during our walk, the gentleman seemed to want to talk and keep his English up - he was Swedish but had spent a lot of time in the UK and wanted to make sure we got as much as possible from our visit - by the time we had left there was a queue stretching into the distance! Although Santa Cruz is recommended for shopping, we were more interested in visiting the historic sites and churches he had told us about, and admiring the old buildings. The weather was perfect. We strolled slowly along the main street, O'Daly Street, named after an Irish merchant. Recommended sights were the Casa Salalszar then the City Hall and Cathedral in the Plaza Espana but our advice was to look at other buildings and if anything was open to go and look inside, we followed his advice and did not actually get ejected from anywhere.
We continued past more historic houses and shops to the junction at the Placeta del Borrero. It was already quieter as most people don't walk too far from the ship, and the cobbles made it difficult. Continuing towards the end of the road, and noting a supermarket for shopping on the return route, we made the detour to the Castillo de Santa Catalina but it was closed. There was more success when we crossed the bridge and climbed up to the Castillo de la Virgen, where there was a good view from the top. We started to regret wearing jumpers and carrying jackets; the weather was just as we hoped in the Canaries.
Below us the concrete and scumbled (wood grained) copy of the Santa Maria was open, and we paid 3 euros each to go inside; it contains the Maritime Museum. Each 5 years there is a festival with a procession of "Dwarves" and we purchased a CD of festival music which celebrated 100 years of these festivals in 2005. We have no means to play it until we get home, so hope it is OK. There was a convenient ice cream parlour in the Plaza de la Alameda outside, where there was a large statue of a Dwarf looking down on where we sat.
After a short stop in the supermarket we looked for the other museum. The Church of St Francis of Assisi and the Immaculate Conception was in a Square which included the Chapel and the Insular Museum. Again there was a charge for Museum entry, but we were getting short of time and spent too long looking at the Church and Chapel, which were free, we had an excellent 'tour' of the chapel by the gentleman who was keeping an eye on the valuable artifacts - he had spent 20 years in Nottingham and was keen to keep his English up as he also teaches English. The statue of St Francis, dating from 1593 and behind the altar in the church is carried through the streets on a large silver canopied bier which was stored in the chapel.
The original walk then passed the Plaza de Mercado (market) and we looked into another church with a super stained glass window. We missed out the final climb of 155 steps to a viewpoint overlooking the port but we had to choose between that and a short stop in a café. The café won, and refreshed with a glass of local beer we were ready to go back on board for a late lunch.