We pulled into the port of La Coruña around breakfast, had our foreign 'face check' assuring the Spanish government we were indeed who we claimed to be, then disembarked for our city tour.
The shoreline went on for miles, as it snaked around the city. It was difficult to tell what was beach and what was port. No wonder this became the largest port on the Northern Iberian Coast, launching not only commercial ships, but warships (the Spanish Armada) and expeditions—ships exploring new routes and lands.
La Coruña is also known for its 2,000 year old structure, the Tower of Hercules, the oldest functioning Roman lighthouse in the world. Originally it had a ramp oxcarts used to bring wood up to light the warning fires before electricity was invented. Unfortunately it was on the other side of town, and, since we left port later than expected, we never had the chance to see it.
Supposedly, Hercules fought a giant, cut off his head, and buried it with the monster's armor close the shore, and built the lighthouse on top. Which is why, according to myth, Hercules is attributed with the founding of La Coruña. To my best knowledge, it means crown. Whether that means the kingly sort, or the top of the head, I'm unsure.
The first thing we noticed were the apartments lining the shore, having many glass paned windows facing the sea. When Caesar first came to La Coruña, he found a small fishing village, but, due to the rich minerals in the area, it became a thriving commercial port. The fishermen lived in these apartments and would pull their boats up under the arches at night, since the water came up to the building in those days.
Since the area was very humid and rainy, they enclosed the porches, inside and out (beginning in 18th century), where warmth and humidity built up during the day. At night when it was cooler, the inside porch windows were opened to let in the warmed air. Ingenious!
And here is a fancy version in the downtown area of La Coruña. . .isn't it gorgeous??
We visited a church who's bell tower was slightly off kilter. Not because of the architects supposed drunken state, but, to allow the sun in its zenith to enter the tower and reflect down on the alter below. I'd say he had his head on straight!
This statue commemorates Maria Pita, a brave woman who, after losing three husbands in the battle when Francis Drake returned to fight the Spanish, refused to lose the fourth. So, she entered the fight alongside him, found the emblematic flag bearer and speared him to death. Thus, Maria ended the conflict, saving the life of her sweetheart, and all the other Spaniards along with him. Hmmmm. Could be another historical fiction brewing . . .
We stopped in a sausage/ham shop where we were given a taste of the national treat: simply called jambon (ham). Raised in the country, these pigs are slaughtered, the back legs (having more meat) are buried and dried in salt for a year, then hung up for a time to lessen the fat content, then sold in shops as a snack. You see it on the left of this plate, and also hanging from the ceiling in shop in the photo above. . .
Through the years, the church has had a fast or ceremony for women who wished to conceive, since large families were important in this farming community. A few hundred years ago, they found corn to be the best crop for the cool but humid climate. Curiously, still today, engaged couples bring eggs and flour to the nuns so they can make a wedding cake to bring them good luck. Wealthy families years ago would bring their young girls to the nunnery to protect them from unwanted pregnancies before they were of marriageable age.
I was thrilled to visit La Coruña because my MG Historical novel in progress is not only set in this city, but also on a Spanish galleon, similar to the one we were sailing on. Time for research! Via our guide, I discovered there was an orphanage run by nuns that would have been standing in the early 1700’s. Good news! But then, he was told the building no longer existed. I was disappointed to say the least, but decided to visit the neighborhood anyway, to see what would have been standing when my character existed.
I found a street named after the orphanage . . .
A staircase leading up . . .
And down from the street. . .
And it would have been overlooking the bay and beach. That was good enough for me!
All in all, it was a good day . . .
Today was another stellar day for touring—this time, by motorcycle and sidecar. Our guide for Porto was John, who came promptly at 9:30am. We introduced ourselves, put on our helmets, and got ready for a more than ordinary ride. We liked John immediately with his kind, informative and humorous ways. He gave us the usual safety talk, along with one other warning— by riding in a sidecar vehicle, we would be instant celebrities. And he was right! People everywhere of all ages waved, smiled or gawked at us. And I followed suit by giving them my best royal wave.
Up and down the hills we rolled, first along the river's edge and expansion bridge, then back into the city to see churches and government buildings. . .
When the explorers brought back ceramics from China centuries ago, the Portuguese created their own version of the tile as seen on the church above.
The following are a few Porto city views . . .
I enjoyed Porto much more than Lisboa. It was smaller, more navigable, and somewhat less hilly.
Finally across the river to Gaia, where the fishing boat industry and wine preservation continues.
It's also where J.K. Rowling lived while she wrote the first two Harry Potter books. We ended with a trip up past the military base and to the highest point of the city where an old Catholic Church is situated.
Many come here to take wedding or engagement photos. We had our anniversary photo taken!
We returned to our hotel with time to eat at the Majestic Café, known for serving and inspiring authors and poets, including of course, J.K. Rowling. This was where she had the inspiration to write her series, and name one evil character after Spain's former dictator—a slippery sort of person!
Then, a taxi took us to Leixôes (pronounced something like: Lee-shoines, believe it or not), where we caught our first glimpse of our home for the next four days. Breathtaking! Tomorrow, we visit an off-the-beaten-path location known for its natural beauty. . .
André and his wife own the 'Portuguese for a Day' tour company. Not only do they make a great couple, but they are also dynamite business partners. Filipa generally takes care of the reservations and business end, and leaves the touring to André (most of the time). He's been driving since he was a teen, never had an accident, and was born in the old Alfama section of Lisbon. So he knows his way around. We also discovered he is a professional Jazz Bass player, and has performed all over the world with the likes of Elton John and Michael Bublé. He has also played all over Lisbon, which is why he knows the roads so well. Last year, he decided to stay close to home and begin a tour company with his wife. And we are glad he did!
Our first stop was the Pena Palace, built by Ferdinand II (a Saxe-Coburg and Uncle of Queen Victoria) who married Maria, the Queen of Portugal. In the mid-1800’s, this artist-king built the Pena Palace in the Romantic style at the site of an old Monastery on the tip-top of a mountain in the historic town of Sintra, a half hour drive from Lisbon. Dan and I agreed it was the nicest and most livable palace we have seen to date-which is quite a few! The roads, although winding and extremely narrow, were not an issue for André. He was a master at getting around (or making way) for tour buses and other vehicles which had no business being on the road.
Each view of the palace was more stunning than the previous. It was hard to take a bad photo. We wound in and out of the rooms, looking at the incredibly intricate ceilings, which, in the last few rooms, became faux-finished works of art. One could barely tell they were two dimensional!
The one below is a faux-finish!
There were a few oddities, like their first telephone, pictured below:
And this Asian-looking desk. . .
And this rather uncomfortable looking chair!
When we arrived at the end, this enormous kitchen came into view-one I would covet even today. All the pots, pans, and space one needs to make a meal fit for a king and queen.
Here are a few more shots . . .
Then, we wound our way to Quinta da Regaleira, the summer residence of wealthy businessman Carvalho Monteiro, built in the neo-manueline style by the country's best artists. I would call it a small palace. What do you think?
Here were some of the interior views . . .
We had only ten minutes to tour, since we spent most of our hour and a half on the winding, tree-covered paths, leading to Lake of the Waterfall. . .
Towers and turrets. . .
Next, we had a lovely meal at a local restaurant, suggested by our guide, André. I tried a national dish of salted cod mixed with onions, egg and 'chips' or tiny bits of French fries. Yum! Then we strolled around for a few minutes, walking up (of course), the narrow streets to window shop.
Dan bought a tasty pastry known as the 'pillow of Sintra'. André explained when the kings would come to towns around Portugal, they requested a special pastry made, similar to the pastis de Belem in Lisbon. It all began with monks who spent their time making wine, and discovering the barrels were rotting inside, found a way to seal them with egg whites. What was left after painting the interior of the barrels? Egg yolks! Thus, custard came into being, which bakers used in their delicacies.
Then we ventured to the Westernmost point on the continent of Europe: Cabo Da Roca. Talk about wind! Well, I suppose it's a good thing on a Windjammer cruise. . .
We had a grand tour with André- it couldn't have been better! Our every need was attended to, including a drop off at the Oriente Train Depot, where we thought we had tickets for a 6pm journey to Porto. Not so. It was a mere promise of a ticket. Come to find out that ordering an paying for a specific train trip and having it shipped overnight to the States doea NOT a reservation make. So, we missed our train, and took the intercity route which arrived in Porto at 11:15pm. By the time we made it to our Hotel, it was almost midnight. Dan pointed out we didn't miss our destination. True. And for that I was grateful. He takes the laid back approach at all times. It must be his Italian roots. Me? I'm stil working on patience and trust!
My MG Biblical fiction "The Heart Changer" debuted in 2019 with Ambassador International.