Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Day 3 - La Coruna (Santiago de Compostela)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Symphony arrived in La Coruna ahead of schedule at around 7:00 am. Temps today are supposed to be in the 60's to low 70's. We ate breakfast while the ship was still docking and had a nice view of the harbor. La Coruna is known as "the glass City". It was built in the "modernist" style in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The galeria design, which are enclosed balconies, was popular during this period. The original fisherman's houses that lined the harbor were built with galerias and where eventually replaced with new structures continuing this tradition. You can see many of these structures along Marina Avenue and the harbor area. We could view these buildings easily from out on deck.
Galerias along Marina Avenue

La Coruna Harbor
The digital display leaves no doubt what time we need to be back on board.

As promised, I received the map from shore excursions with the location of the train station last night. We walked outside the cruise terminal and had a five minute taxi ride to the train station. Crystal did not provide a shuttle because we are docked very close to town. I purchased train tickets for Santiago de Compostela online prior to the cruise but decided to forfeit those and take the earlier train at 8:40 am. The new tickets cost 14 euros each. I will still use the tickets purchased online separately for the return. We were originally supposed to dock at 8:00 am and I did not think we would be cleared and at the station in time for the 8:40 am departure. Nonetheless, very happy that we arrived early and will have more time to visit Santiago de Compostela.

Map from Crystal Shore Excursions

The train station is not large and was also not crowded. There was a group of Chinese passengers from the ship also taking the train today to Santiago de Compostela. Besides our Chinese "friends", I think we may have been the only Crystal passengers taking the train today.

Coruna Train Station
Battle of Clavijo

Today is May 23rd and is a Galician holiday. It celebrates the Battle at Clavijo. In 844 near Clavijo there was a reported battle where the Christians appeared to be outnumbered. St. James known to the Spaniards as Santiago Matamoros, aided the Christian army and they were subsequently victorious over the Moors. There are about ten holidays when the Botafumeiro is swung in the Cathedral in Santiago. The Battle of Clavijo is one of these holidays. The other option is to pay 250 euros.


The Botafumeiro is a brass and bronze incense burner that was created in 1851. It weights 80 kg and is one of the largest incense burners in the world. It is five feet high and is filled with 40 kg of charcoal and incense by using a shovel. It is suspended from a pulley mechanism that was installed in the cathedral in 1604. When the Botafumeiro is swung it can reach speeds of up to 68 km.


Eight men in red robes known as Tiraboleiros swing the Botafumerio. There have been a few accidents reported. One of the most renowned took place during a visit of Princess Catherine of Aragon. She was on a journey to marry the heir to the English throne in 1499 and stopped by the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. While it was being swung, the Botafumeiro flew straight  out of the cathedral through a high window. No one was reported to have been injured though.

Santiago de Compostela

The cathedral is the final stop on the pilgrimage of "The Way of Saint James" or Camino de Santiago. This is a 800 km journey across Spain and/or France. There is also a southern route from Portugal. Along the way there is a "passport" which gets stamped. As the resting place of the Apostle St. James, Santiago de Compostela ranks third in importance among Christians after Rome and Jerusalem. The recent movie "The Way" directed by Emilio Estevez and staring his father Martin Sheen, has many scenes along the Camino and also in Santiago de Compostela. I saw the movie recently and highly recommend it. You can also see the Botafumeiro swung in one of the scenes.

Santiago de Compostela was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status many years ago. There are many tourists, visitors and several pilgrims in town. It was thought that the Botafumeiro was swung to get rid of the smell from all the pilgrims who decamp here. However, since they don't swing it that often that is probably just a myth. Perhaps the cleansing incense may be an early form of detox?

North side of the Cathedral
My mother visited Santiago de Compostela about 20 years ago with a colleague. They left their husbands and kids at home and took a 10 day bus tour across northern Spain. They talk about this crazy adventure to this day. What they did not know when they booked it was that this tour was for people to visit the place of their ancestors. There were citizens from Argentina, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Mexico. With the exception of the couple from Puerto Rico, everyone only spoke Spanish including the guides. Each time they would reach a sight or place that was "mas importante" my mother and her friend were left to their imagination. My mother and her friend became known by their fellow travelers as "the two English Ladies without their Husbands".

Cathedral South Side

Today I promised my mother an English speaking guide if she so desired. We walked around the Cathedral to the south side and walked through obradoiro square. We climbed the impressive granite staircase and entered through the Portico de la Gloria archway. We spent some time admiring the vaulting, intricate stone carvings and elaborate altar. It was starting to get crowded so we found  good seats so we could see the swinging of the Botafumeiro (or so I thought!). We also noticed at least two groups from Crystal walking around the Cathedral.

"Bowling ball" is where the Botafumeiro hangs from.


It became very crowded in the cathedral. There were four different sides where people could watch. A woman started the service by speaking in Latin and then in Spanish. Another woman sang and it was very relaxing listening to her beautiful voice. Eventually a priest was moving about and said some prayers. He was followed around by some men in red robes. They read the countries of those individuals that had just completed the pilgrimage. I remember hearing Canada, Korea, Slovenia, France, Germany and Spain. There were several others. It was at this point that it sunk in that the Botafumeiro appeared to be missing. I had mistaken a large ornamental hanging piece for the Botafumeiro. There was a "bowling ball" hanging from a rope where the Botafumeiro is supposed to be. We stayed for entire service but I probably would have left earlier if I knew the botafumeiro would not be swung. The Mass ended and we decided to do some window shopping before our lunch reservation at 1:30 pm. [Disclaimer: I emailed the Santiago tourist board after our visit and learned that they did swing the Botafumeiro later in the day, at 7:00 pm at night!]

Municipal Building

Main square in front of cathedral and municipal buildings

Old Town Shopping Area
The shopping was not impressive. We walked down a few streets but the offerings were not too interesting. I was looking for Jet jewelry or silver. This area of Spain along with parts of France, Russia, Poland, Germany and the USA are where you can find Jet Stone. Jet is actually not a stone. It is fossilized wood that has been immersed in water over millions of years. Some people call it black amber, but it isn't amber either. Confusing? Yes, I agree! Jet is supposed to ward off evil and it is a popular gift for new mothers in Spain . Jet jewelry became fashionable during the reign of Queen Victoria. She wore Whitby (England) Jet as part of her mourning dress. Apparently they have some Jet in the Museum but we didn't make it there.

Parador Reis Catholicos

After about 40 minutes of wandering and no purchases, we went back up to the square and entered the Parador Reis Catholicos. This is rumored to be the World's oldest hotel but I am not so sure about that. My mother stayed at this hotel when she was one of the two infamous "English Ladies" many years ago. While not as intricate as the cathedral, the facade is still very impressive. The hotel is large and is comprised of no less than four interior courtyards.


One of the Parador Courtyards

We were still early for lunch so we went to the bar area and had a drink and made a "happy stop". While leaving the "facilities" there was a woman who appeared to be trapped behind the one of the 2 inch wood paneled door with heavy metal latch. I had images of a chainsaw being required but after a lot of yelling in Spanish, a fellow traveler was able to spring her to safety. Feeling now that I needed a drink and something much stronger than the hot chocolate that was a waiting for me upon my return, I glanced at the wine menu. The hot chocolate was delicious and I decided to wait and order the wine with lunch.

Lobby area
The bar and lounge area (sorry no photos taken) was very relaxing. In hindsight we would have been better off having a snack here instead of the main restaurant. The bar has an "old world" feeling which I guess is appropriate considering the history and provenance of the Parador. It was soon time for the restaurant to open at 1:30 pm. A few moments later we went downstairs to Dos Reis.

Dos Reis
Service was a little slow but we managed to get menus and place our order. I was not in a good mood having missed the Botafumeiro and the lack of retail therapy didn't help either. I chose a dish from the Celliac (gluten free) menu. I don't have this ailment but the description of grilled white asparagus and salmon seemed enticing. My mother selected the baked scallops.

We were served a complimentary starter of shrimp in a yogurt like sauce. It was cold but tasty. We both also each had a glass of Cava (rose and white). The mains arrived and I was sadly disappointed in the quality of the white asparagus but we were running short on time so I had a nibble. It was much too tough and didn't appear cooked enough.

I was saved by the dessert which was excellent. It was three flavors of ice cream (chocolate, caramel nougat and chocolate mint) with raspberries. We had a challenge trying to get the check and pay. There were only about six other tables but some of them were large and getting what appeared to be better service. Bill finally in hand, we quickly paid and requested a taxi which we were told would arrive in 4 minutes.

We went upstairs and checked with reception. They gave us the taxi # (140) and sure enough we walked outside and the taxi was there. I was getting nervous about our timing as it was now 3:00 pm and the train was due to depart at 3:25 pm and the Symphony would sail at 5:00 pm. Definitely did not want o miss the ship.

Originally I wanted to stop at the City of Culture (only about 8 minutes away) but we had run out of time. This is a controversial structure with some liking it and many more detractors. It is $292 million over budget and 8 years behind schedule. The museum, archive and library are now open.

City of Culture as viewed from the train station

City of Culture using camera zoom

Located on Mount Gaias, the City of Culture was hoped to provide the same cache to Santiago de Compostela as Bilbao's Guggenheim and Valencia's City of Arts and Sciences.   While austerity is the talk across most of Europe, this project may eventually cost a staggering 400M euros at completion.

Architect Peter Eisenman won the project over other notables such as Rem Koolhaas, Daniel Libeskind, Jean Nouvel and Cesar Portella.  The design of the buildings was a challenge. They are said to resemble rolling hills with some forming a scallop shell. Nearly every window is a unique shape which helps explain some of the cost over run. With only 3 buildings open and the performance hall on hold it may be a while before the project is celebrated in the manner intended. When we were in Iceland I noticed the singer Bjork (the one with the swan dress) would be performing her in June.

Image from Eisenman Architects of the City of Culture at Completion
We boarded the train for our 35 minute ride back to La Coruna.

We passed the pretty countryside again and arrived on time at 4:10 pm. After a quick taxi ride we were back on board Symphony at 4:20 pm.

However, there was not rest for the weary as we had an invitation to attend the Virtuoso cocktail reception at 5:00 pm in the Palm Court. So after a quick refresh in the stateroom we were off to meet our fellow Virtuoso members.

The reception was well attended which was surprising given the scheduled time at the end of a port  day. However, we learned very little about Virtuoso. Eileen was the Virtuoso representative on this sailing and was accompanied by her husband Jim. While Eileen was talking to some other people, Jim wandered over and asked if we had any questions about Virtuoso. I asked him if he could explain it. He said he was a tax attorney and that he didn't know too much but was just lending a hand. Nuff said, we did learn that there are about 3000 affiliated members and that we would receive the Virtuoso magazine but no other information. At least we did get some wine and a little snack.

We went back to our room and showered and prepared for dinner in Silk Road at 7:30 pm. I have been looking forward to this meal for a long time. We have visited several Nobu Matsuhisa restaurants before (NY, Dallas and Miami). I started with a yellowtail handroll. It more closely resembled a maki roll. There was very little yellowtail and the nori was bit soggy. Not a good start.

My main course was the bento box which I had before at Nobu in Dallas. It had rock shrimp, miso black cod and beef. It was good but it didn't ring any bells. The presentation was nice though. The maitre'D came by and asked how everything was. I asked if there were items not on the menu that were available to order. He said that toro and abalone were available at an extra cost. I asked about shabu shabu or something similar and he said he would ask the chef but he did not come back.

For dessert I had the lychee sorbet with fruit. It was light and refreshing.

Overall I was not overly impressed with Silk Road. I am very familiar with Japanese cuisine. Perhaps I should have ordered more sushi and sashimi but the yellowtail hand roll deterred me from that.

After dinner we went to the show at 8:30 pm. Tonight they had the duo of Scottish musicians, Craig and Brian MacDonald, known professionally as The MacDonald Brothers. Craig is 24 and Brian is 23. I first heard about them after they performed on the 2012 World Cruise.aboard Serenity. Craig and Brian were 2006 finalists on the British X Factor. They have since released 5 albums in the UK and one in Australia.

Since they are both so young, they present a very youthful and energetic demeanor. Brian played several instruments during their performance tonight including the piano and accordion. Craig appears to be the lead singer of the two. They ended the show with two well known Scottish songs. However, my mother was not familiar with any of their music. They are both very talented and we greatly enjoyed their performance.

It was a long day but we had a very good time even with all the running around. Tomorrow we are looking forward to our arrival Bilbao and our visit to San Sebastian, Spain.

1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to your day in Bilbao and San Sebastian as we have visited both places. Your entry today was great and it sounded like you had a very busy day!

    Regards ~