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La Coruna, Spain - Tuesday 20th December 2016

 

We like La Coruna very much which is fortunate as this was our fifth visit to to La Coruna in four years. La Coruna is located on the top left corner of Spain, in Galicia. It is the port closest for tours to nearby Santiago di Compostela. La Coruna is smaller than nearby Vigo, and is the second largest city in Galicia. It was the capital of Galicia from 1563 to 1982. La Coruna is called the 'Crystal City' because of the glass-enclosed balconies, miradores, of the 19th century buildings facing the harbour and in the old town. Overall it is a pretty city and the people are friendly. We still remember when the Port was opened for us on Christmas Day in 2013 after a slow and rough trip across the Bay of Biscay in the Marco Polo. Looking back all our visits have been in December so it says a lot that we have such fond memories.

The Queen Victoria berthed in the usual place, so we could admire her reflection in the glass of the Palacio de Congresos. The Centro Commercial seems to have even fewer shops and we walked around to reach the gardens of Mendez Nunez and the bandstand Kiosco Alfonso where we sheltered from an unexpected shower. It was raining and early so there were not many other people out. A local lady asked for us to choose her numbers for the lottery, to bring her good luck. We wished we had brought one or two postcards of the QV out with us as a gift.

It was early and the shops in the narrow streets leading to the beach were just opening. It was only 400 metres from the port side of the town to the beachfront promenade at the Playa del Orzan. It was clear but windy, with a view of the tall pointed Millenium Obelisk in the distance to the west, and the Museo Domus in the other direction. The Torre de Hercules lighthouse was beyond, and around the headland. We visited these in a previous visit, when the weather was better for walking.

A short walk along the coast blew away any cobwebs and then we turned inland to the Museo de Belas Artes da Coruna. This would be a good place for our next visit, with a collection of European paintings from the 16th to the 20th century, and a scarce complete collection of the engravings of Goya. Then onwards to the Plaza Campo de la Lena and down to the Palacio Municipal and Plaza de Marie Pita, all decorated for the Christmas celebrations. Maria Pita, full name Maria Mayor Fernandez de la Camara y Pita, is the symbol of the defence by the citizens against the attack by Drake in 1589. She seized the English standard and raised the alarm. In the corner, the Church of St George was open so there was time to look inside. There is a useful market in the Plaza de San Agustin, accessed from Juan XXIII at the side.

The opposite side of the Plaza has a Tourist Information Office and we asked about the Nativity model which we remembered in the church of Saint George but which was not on display. Instead it was suggested we should visit the Belen in the Palacio Municipal. We did so, and it was an enormous tableau, constructed in 2001, and stretching around three walls of a conference room. The detail of the people and animals was really excellent with several local personalities incorporated. These famous personalities had cards prepared so they could be spotted in the scenes. It inspired us to seek out Belen tableau in other places, in other cities.

There is a short route back to the QV and the red funnel was visible directly below but we headed into the Old Town, using a brochure provided by the Tourist Information Office. There are narrow cobbled streets and traffic is rare. The Collegiate church of Santa Maria del Campo translates as "in the fields" probably because it was originally outside the city walls. It dates from the 13th and 14th centuries with very fine portals, capitals and statues of the Virgin Mary and archangels on the columns. It is dedicated to the fishermen and the trade guilds. Straight ahead, the Convent and Square of Las Barbaras date from the 14th century, when the convent was founded. The small convent chapel is a peaceful and quiet place to meditate. Finally the garden of San Carlos once contained a stronghold, built outside the city walls. After its arsenal exploded it was abandonned until it was restored in the 18th century as a garden. In this garden is the tomb of Sir John Moore, the British General who fought a rearguard action against the forces of Marshal Soult in the Peninsular War. He featured, on horseback, in the Belen in the Palacio Municipal.

It was still raining as we emerged along the Avenida de la Marina which is full of tall 19th century houses whose frontage is almost entirely miradores and glazed balonies. The street is the first seen when arriving in the port and it is easy to see why La Coruna is called the Crystal City.

An Introduction to La Coruna for New Visitors

This is an amagamation of previous visits to save new visitors having to seek out information in several places. Overall we have had five visits and have always spent our time on foot. The usual mooring is very close to the town and one can in the nearest shopping centre within a couple of hundred metres from the gangway and one can admire the marina and, in particular, the glass-enclosed balconies and miradores, of the 19th century buildings facing the harbour and in the old town from the deck and Lido - it is easy to see why it is called the Crystal City as the sun comes up on a clear winter morning at about 0900. The weather is not always perfect however, when we visited on the Queen Victoria in 2013 we suffered memorable cold and windy weather and it was great relief just to arrive on Marco Polo on 25 December 2013 having been in the Bay of Biscay in ferocious weather for days - we should have reached the Canaries for Christmas. We normally leave once the sun is up and stroll around the old town, using as an excuse the need to find some local cheeses and even wine to stock our fridge and take home. One crossed the deserted gardens of Mendes Nunez, by the Kiosko Alfonso and La Terraza, then strolled from the Avenida de la Marina into the narrow streets.

 

It is now nice to walk to the San Carlos Gardens to see the tomb of the British General Sir John Moore, who died in 1809, is in the walled San Carlos Gardens, and is reached by climbing up the road from the Castillo de San Anton. The Archive of Galicia, set up in 1775, is the building behind the tomb. Our map showed a row of churches, St Dominic, St Barbara and St Mary, which we successfully found and could look inside. St Dominic's church provided a leaflet in english, and we were reminded that the first Dominicans arrived in La Coruna about 1280. The present church was built between 1763 and 1787. The chapel of the Rosary was started in 1676 and finished in 1684. The carving of the Virgin and Child dates from the 16th century. The church of St Barbara was hidden nearby -- it is a Nuns convent.

Looking over the coast is a park area and the Military Museum Without going into the museaum you can have a quick look at some of the old guns which used to protect the fort area and looked at the foundations of an old convent which had moved into what is now part of the museum complex.

Following the city wall led quickly to the Churches of St Dominic, St Barbara and St Mary, the church of the sailors and traders guilds. In 1494 it became an Abbey. The next interesting area was the Plaza de Maria Pita, which was reached by descending lots of steps. It is a large square, presently full of children rides and a large conical Christmas tree with the Town Hall at the end as well as St George's church.

The map showed that it was not far to walk north to the beaches on the other coast, and see the Stadium on the far side of the Playa de Riazor. Again one can go straight to beaches at the Playa de Riazor or then go back into town. If one returns into town one can visit the church of the Capuchins. There is a useful supermarket in the same street, which is also within sight of the Market of San Agustin. The supermarket is open all day (not Sunday) but the market is not, so we purchase our cheeses early to make sure we had them. Everywhere in Spain closes from about 1230 until 1500 or later.

On a pleasant day it is better to first walk to the Torre de Hercules lighthouse. It is best to approach along the Calle de Torre. There were orange pylons for the tram system along the road, but no sign of any trams. Entry is from a large car park, on the edge of a public park, and by a gentle ramp. It was only 3 euros, and half price for seniors. The entry is at the basement level and explains the building of the original foundations; it is important to pass through this part slowly because the tour route ends elsewhere. As the leaflet explains: Built by the Romans in the 1st century AD, it is the only lighthouse of Antiquity that is still in operation today. The remains of that lighthouse were incorporated into the present building in 1788. It is large and dominates the hill, each of the four sides measures 11.4 metres and the tower is 59 metres high. The lantern room was built in 1804. Climbing the internal steps to the top is a significant climb, but at each of the three floors there are rooms to halt and admire the views. Above, the Round Room, topped with a dome, was built in an original roman rotunda and retains the original roman floor.

The views from the top were good, and we planned our route back to the port by a different route which continued along the promenade, towards the the two long sweeping beaches, the Playa del Orzan and Playa de Riazi which are almost continuous even at high tide.

They seem to be building up the beaches with additional sand. One is now only just the other side of the Peninsular to where the ship is mored and one can go straight into town from here. However if you are still full of energy one can continue along the wide promenade, popular with joggers and cyclists and with kilometre markers in places. If you come straight here from town you will find there were good views across to the tower of Hercules. It is now a nice walk on as far as the 'Millennium Obelisk', a slim spike we could see from the ship and we also wanted to take a look at the interesting looking funicular to the top of point and the Plaza Eliptica. On the way we passed the football stadium. The funicular looks like a globe but was not in use. We had a close look at the 'spike' which looks as if it is paneled in glass fibre on a metal frame so the sun can shine through and it can be illuminated at night. Further research showed it has 147 rock crystals panels brought from Holland over a steel frame. The bottom 13 metres (of 46) has carved into it the history of the main events and characters of La Coruna,. It is illuminate from within by 142 powerful light bulbs with a total power of 50 kwatts. The night pictures we found show it as a spectacular glowing column whilst the daytime appearance is somewhat dull with the scenes difficult to distinguish.

On the way back we stopped at the new (mid 2012) Museo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologia (MUNCYT). We must admit we had not heard of it and initially thought we had found the Science Museum and Planetarium which is actually in Parque de Santa Margarita. It was very modern and spread over 9 small floors in what seemed to be a larger custom building. To our surprise it was free entry although a ticket had to be issued, perhaps because it is a National Museum. There was an unusual area at the bottom with tools so small hands could disassemble common items such as mobile phones and disk drives (under supervision one hopes). There seemed to be a certain randomness in the selections of the items on display - there was no overview of the museums 'mission' in English so we may have been missing something as most of the relevant descriptions were in Spanish with short English translations which did not always seem to closely match the Spanish and sometime seemed totally unrelated - but quite interesting.

Some research when we got back onboard showed:

After a short stop to once more admire the surf and the two long sweeping beaches, the Playa del Orzan and Playa de Riazi there should still be time to ambled through the centre of town where one can find many extra streets with some magnificent building, mostly from the start of the twentieth century. It is time for a last walk through the Plaza de Maria Pita and then along the Avenida de la Marina to the Cruise Terminal.

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Content revised: 14thJanuary, 2017