Monday, November 09, 2009

La Coruña

Some photographs of an August weekend trip to the city I shall call, in the interests of linguistic diversity, (L)a Coruña. Amazingly, considering the amount of travelling I've done in the rest of the country, this was my first visit to Galicia since my first ever time in Spain - the same journey that took me to Navia. I guess this is because it is just not easy to do a short trip from Madrid to this region - unless you fly and you can get a good timetable. On that first visit to the country I ended my fairly random wandering in Coruña and to be honest the place didn't leave much of an impression. This time I was far more impressed, things have changed for the better and it is not a bad place to consider for a weekend trip. I even took the gamble of travelling without anything to protect me from the rain and it paid off. After a cloudy but dry Saturday, the following day saw Riazor beach packed with people for what seems to have been the first day of summer in the city this year, at least according to the taxi driver who told us it was the worst summer he could remember in 35 years.

Inside that stretch of the city bordered on one side by the beach and the other by the port there are some pedestrianised streets, one of which is full of bars and restaurants and which leads to the Plaza of Maria Pita, a heroine of the resistance against an unsuccessful English attack on the city in 1589. This isn't the only English connection to the city. Starting from the small old city a bit further down from Maria Pita, we soon arrived at the park where the remains of General Sir John Moore lie in a shady garden overlooking the port.

Wellington seemed to have a feel for the diversity in Spain with his message "Españoles, dedicaos todos a imitar a los inimitables Gallegos". A message which the web tells me has travelled as far as the Centro Gallego in Buenos Aires. Down below this memorial is the Castillo de San Antón and from there you can begin to walk the 10 kilometres of paseo maritimo that the city possesses. We walked it all, some bits more than once.

Overlooking the ria it was strange to find a muslim cemetery for the North African troops who fought with Franco's forces in the Civil War. Obviously had they fought on the other side then their bones would just have been tossed into a hole beside the road somewhere!. The cemetery itself has ceramic decoration from which you learn the Arabic origin of so many Spanish words.

The open land nearby was used as an execution site by the Civil War victors and a "stonehenge" style monument now marks the spot.

One thing you won't be able to ignore is the fact that there is a tower in Coruña. La Torre de Hercules, recently declared to be a World Heritage site, is the oldest active lighthouse in the world. Most of what remains of the original tower is still said to be of Roman origin, in spite of successive remodelling operations throughout the ages. You can ascend most of the way up the tower and the views are worth it provided you can put up with the wind. Before you see the tower itself you will see it engraved on the paving stones, on the city shield which appears everywhere, and on the numerous posters supporting the campaign for it to be listed by UNESCO.

Over on the other side of the beaches there is the hill of San Pedro. Like many hills overlooking Spanish cities this was under the control of the military until they finally surrendered it to the municipality in the 1990's. It is now a public park and provides excellent views over the city as well as in both directions along the coast. As a reminder of its past usage there are still bunkers and two enormous guns which were imported from Barrow in Furness at the beginning of the 1930's. These weapons were never used in anger but apparently their 35km range protected German boats that wanted to stop in the ports of Coruna or El Ferrol during the second world war. Isn't the arms trade a wonderful thing? The paseo maritimo continues some way past San Pedro and out of the city, and it's possible to do the ascent of the hill from the end of the paseo too. Alternatively, there is a strange space capsule funicular to save you the climb.

This trip was never just going to be about walking, and Operación Pulpo was declared to be a great success. We tried a couple of the pulperias, unpretentious places that specialise in the tentacled beast to the exclusion of almost everything else. One was not far from the Torre de Hercules itself, and the other was somewhere near the railway station, located in ugly new Coruña. Perhaps not surprisingly, what Madrileños know as Pulpo a la Gallega doesn't seem to exist under this name in the region itself. The pulpo is almost always served without the ever present potatoes you see in Madrid, unless you get some as a side dish. Although we lived mostly off octopus during the weekend we did manage to squeeze in a mariscada on the Saturday night. For lovers of seafood the mariscada is heaven, and there are people who like nothing more than setting to work with their nutcrackers to get a thin string of meat out of a crab's leg. Personally I'm not a big fan of meals where the energy expended in getting at the edible parts is greater than that gained from eating them. Apart from anything else, I just don't see the point of eating percebes (goose barnacles), which are rubbery, tasteless and hugely expensive. I concentrated mostly on the gambas and cigalas. Tough life, tough choices.


Colin said...


I'm forced to report you to the language police for even bowing in the direction of the imperialist suppressors of our culture. (L)a is simply not acceptable and marks you out as wishy-washy, liberal fence-sitter.

You can now expect a lot of abuse for being a Spanish nationalist who has come out of the closet.

Whether you really are or not is immaterial. Perception is truth here as much as anywhere else. At least for those whose capacity to think is severely limited by their pain, their victimhood and their zealotry.

An apology will do you no good at all. Your sin is mortal and impervious to cleansing.

Sorry but such is life awqy from your spohisticated metropolism.

But, with your innate sympathy for the underdog, I'm sure you'll be able to empathise with we downtrodden of Galicia. Even if your flat is fire-bombed.

Colin said...

On the other hand, you are spot on when it comes to percebes. Though you might well have established, at least for yourself, the truth as to the (inevitable for rubbish) claim that they are an aphrodisiac.

PS. Your dismissal of percebes will have done you no good at all with the guardians of our cultural heritage. Who can't bring themselves to accept that percebes were just animal food 50 years ago. Albeit only for undiscerning animals. Pigs mailnly, I think.

Xoán-Wahn said...

Hey there! Nice post. Judging by the photos, you were blessed with lovely weather; lucky indeed that far north! I am sad to say that I haven't been to Coruña, despite the fact that I am now living in Santiago and have travelled all around the coast. A few of my friends have, though. They were not at all pleased. Of course, it rained on them all day long.

Graeme said...


Anyone might think, reading your comments, that the nationalist issue is a bit of a sore point with you these days ;) I trust my appreciation of the pulpo will help to offset my dislike of the things that should be left hanging on to the rocks.


I'm in the opposite situation to you - I've been to Coruña but Santiago is still on my list.

Colin said...

Well, you'll get more lenient treatment than me. I don't like either of them. And am sick to death of paprika sauce, the only one which seems to be available throughout Galicia.

Graeme said...

Don't like pulpo, percebes or paprika - are you sure you wouldn't be happier as one of those metropolitan spohisticates Colin? We have searched down the few remaining genuine Gallego restaurants in the centre of Madrid so that we can get good food at decent prices instead of crap canapes for €5. I've even added octopus to the fairly small list of things I can cook well - not that it's particularly difficult but they all count.