| Cunard Queen Victoria 2017
Canaries Christmas Voyage
We like La Coruña very much which is fortunate as this was our sixth visit to La Coruña in five years. La Coruña is located on the top left corner of Spain, in Galicia. It is the port closest for tours to nearby Santiago di Compostela. La Coruña is smaller than nearby Vigo, and is the second largest city in Galicia. It was the capital of Galicia from 1563 to 1982. La Coruña 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. Looking back all our visits have been in December so it says a lot that we have such fond memories.
The journey to La Coruña was, once again, interesting. When we left Lanzarote the Commodore warned us that the weather was forecast to be bad as we approached La Coruña and then we got a further announcement that the forecast had deteriorated further and he was going to run at top speed to try to reach La Coruña before it hit with swells of 9.5 metres shown on the NOAA GRIB data. And he meant high speed. The Queen Victoria has Azipods for drive with their electric motors driven by a number of available Diesels and we understand all 6 were in use and it was even hinted that the air conditioning might be turned down to make more power available, however the torque limits cut in anyway so it was not required. We did most of the run at 23 knots, possibly the longest sustained run ever at that speed after her trials, certainly far faster than normal. The accountants must have had fits. It certainly paid off and the ride was surprising good the whole way. We arrived early afternoon instead of the next morning slightly ahead of the strong winds and were safely moored before they hit. It did remind us of the differences from the QE2 where the service speed was usually 27 knots to keep the accountants in check although she was capable of over 31 knots without any special measures and I have picture of the GPS reading over 33 knots, 10 knots faster than we reached in the QV - times change.
The on-board highlight during the journey was the wine pairing lunch in the Verandah. There were 8 wines paired with a special lunch, most of the dishes were 'standard' in that they came from the existing lunch and dinner menus and the wines were available from the wine list but the combination, along with a well done presentation was well worth attending and we will keep an eye open for them in the future.
The Queen Victoria was berthed in La Coruña in her usual place, so we could admire her reflection in the glass of the Palacio de Congresos. The ship was cleared and we had disembarked by 1500. The Centro Commercial seems to have even fewer shops and we walked past to reach the gardens of Mendez Nunez and the bandstand Kiosco Alfonso before turning across towards the Palacio Municipal planning to visit the large Belen and also go to the nearby information office. The Palacio Municipal is in the 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 is the Church of St George. There is a useful market in the Plaza de San Agustin, accessed from Juan XXIII at the side which we planed to visit the next day. The opposite side of the Plaza has a Tourist Information Office and we asked about the Nativity model whether there were any more local Beléns as well as the magnificent Belén in the Palacio Municipal. They advised that there was another interesting Belén at the Grande Obra de Ataocha which was nearby but did not open until 1800. We obviously had plenty of time and we first went into the Belén in the Palacio Municipal with its 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 was the original inspiration which led us to seek out Belén tableau in other places and in other cities.
We still has spare time and it is only 400 metres from the port side of the town to the beachfront promenade at the Playa del Orzan so we had a quick walk across before the rain started. It was very windy but we had a view of the tall pointed Millennium Obelisk in the distance to the west, and the Museo Domus in the other direction. The Torre de Hercules lighthouse was beyond, out of sight and around the headland. We have visited all these in previous visit when the weather was better for walking. See Introduction to La Coruña below.
By now the weather was worsening and we were quite glad when 1800 came and we could go into the Belén at La Grande Obra de Ataocha de La Coruña which seems to be a Catholic School. We found it on the North East side of the Praza de Espana (Rua don Baltasar Pardal Vidal) which had a lot of Christmas Illuminations. This Belén was again large and comprehensive and the staff were obviously very pleased to see that some foreign visitors had found it. Despite the language barriers we got a lot of information from them and we got big hugs when we left. It was designed by Camilo Díaz Baliño and there are boards showing his original drawings for its construction. Camilo Díaz was the most important set designers and one of the most outstanding graphic artists of Galicia. It was not opened until 1953, well after his death, and was fully restored in the year 2001. It covers an area of ~120 square meters and represents the Jerusalem area. There are 150 handmade figures. Camilo Díaz Baliño (1889 - 1936 ) was a Spanish writer, graphic artist and intellectual Galician who was shot by the insurgents at the beginning of the Civil War because of his declared Galician nationalism.
It was then a quick walk back to the ship before we got too wet but we did have time to take some night time pictures of the Christmas decorations.
We returned to the town in the morning which was again wet so we made our visit to the market first to buy some more cheese to take back to the UK and have a general look round. There is a useful supermarket under the market. By the time it was time to leave the market it was raining stair rods and we only had lightweight umbrellas so it was time to go and see the Museo de Belas Artes da Coruña with it's collection of European paintings from the 16th to the 20th century, and a scarce collection of the engravings of Goya. It is on the East Side of the Rua Zalaeta level with the Plaza Juan Nay and a modern building that sits in the old convent of the Capuchins. We had been putting it off until we had a wet day which this certainly was! The museum is free to those over 65 and fortunately they did not want proof as we had both left our driving licences on the ship. It has numerous works from the Prado Museum, Spanish and European paintings from the 16th to the 20th centuries, and Galician painting from the 19th and 20th centuries. To quote the Telegraph "it is an underated nugget visual wonder which boasts sketches by the Spanish Romantic Goya". It is very proud of it's extensive collection of Goya engravings. Goya's Los Caprichos are a set of 80 prints in aquatint and etching created in 1797 and 1798, and published as an album in 1799. The prints were an artistic experiment: a medium for Goya's condemnation of the universal follies and foolishness in the Spanish society in which he lived. The criticisms are far-ranging and cutting as we found - they were a precursor to the Modernistic movement and the iconic "The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters" in particular has attained an iconic status and led to the title of C. P. Snow's The Sleep of Reason, tenth book in his "Strangers and Brothers" series which we have somewhere at home. Unfortunately we did not realise the significance at the time. We spent a pleasant couple of hours looking round. It did bring home that little Spanish art is seen outside Spain, with a few exceptions such as Goya - most of the artists were completely unknown to us. It also brought home the regional differences - everything was in two languages, Spanish and Galician!
There is a short route back to the QV and the red funnel was visible directly below but the rain had stopped so we headed East and walked back the long way on the coastal parade which took us round and below the old town. The Old Town is interesting but we have been there several times using a brochure provided by the Tourist Information Office as a guide. There are narrow cobbled streets and traffic is rare.The area is covered in the general introduction to La Coruña below. It was raining again as we reached the Avenida de la Marina which is full of tall 19th century houses whose frontage is almost entirely miradores and glazed balconies. The street is the first seen when arriving in the port and it is easy to see why La Coruña is called the Crystal City.
This is an amalgamation of previous visits to save new visitors having to seek out information in several places. Overall we have had six visits and have always spent our time on foot. The usual mooring is very close to the town and one can be in the nearest shopping centre within a couple of hundred metres from the gangway. The berth also overlooks the marina and beyond to the glass-enclosed balconies and miradores of the 19th century buildings facing the harbour. 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 a 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 were in La Coruña for Christmas on the Queen Victoria in 2016 and we did comprehensive write-ups of the Christmas and the various Beléns (Nativity Scenes) which are not included in this general introduction.
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. The easiest path is to cross the gardens of Mendes Nunez, by the Kiosko Alfonso and La Terraza, then stroll from the Avenida de la Marina into the narrow streets.
The old town is interesting to explore. It is nice to walk to the San Carlos Gardens to see the tomb of the British General Sir John Moore, who died in 1809, which 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 Coruña 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. St Mary's is the church of the sailors and traders guilds. In 1494 it became an Abbey.
Looking over the coast is a park area and the Military Museum. Without going into the museum you can have a quick look at some of the old guns which used to protect the fort area and also look at the foundations of an old convent which had moved into what is now part of the museum complex. 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. In bad weather the Plaza de Maria Pita can be reached directly from the Avenida de la Marina.
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 moored 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 Coruña,. 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 amble through the centre of town where there are many extra streets with some magnificent buildings, mostly from the start of the twentieth century. It is then time for a last walk through the Plaza de Maria Pita and along the Avenida de la Marina to the Cruise Terminal.
|Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 12th January, 2018