28 June on the Camino de Santiago
Wednesday 28 June started well. After quite a bumpy night in the marina (every fishing boat enters port at full speed and executes a handbrake turn to come alongside: the impressive resultant wash enters the corner of the old port just by our berth and sets up a complicated series of wave forms that remind me of a physics class at school. The visitors berths - for we are all lumped together - are consequently a mass of screeching berthing lines and mystified Liveaboards wondering how such a calm sea can deliver such chaos...) we escaped to enjoy churros con chocolate in the Old Town (don’t bother before 10am as everyone here is still in bed) and then got on the road to Santiago de Compostela.
Coruna Old Town. The shorts made it rain…
The weather forecast was always going to be miserable and no matter which website we checked, we could not find much room for optimism. Nevertheless, as our Norwegian neighbours would observe, ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes’ so we donned our anoraks and headed for the religious sites. The old part of the city is truly impressive: unlike many other historic centres, they have resisted the temptation to introduce modern architecture into the key areas and the result is like time travel. The heavy rain kept most people off the streets, but we surfed along impervious. The main cathedral is undergoing some serious refurbishment, so a combination of heavy rain, scaffolding, dust sheets and plastic did deflate some of the magic. The market was a bright, vibrant antidote though, not least as it was under cover in some beautiful old buildings.
A brief sunny spell in the main square
Lunch was a highlight of the deployment so far. We visited the Parador de Santiago, formerly the hospital for sick pilgrims and now beautifully converted into a hotel and high quality restaurant. We dined in the old stables, with a fine Romanesque ceiling, tasteful decor and suitably fawning staff. The food was as impressive as the price and I would thoroughly recommend it. I wondered what the two priests sat at an adjacent table were paying?
Happy diners… and how could you not be in this setting? Note two chaps in black…
After lunch we visited the cathedral. I did not join the queue of people waiting to hug the statue of St James, only because I’m not convinced that it is he who lies in the cask below. If I could be persuaded, I would certainly want a piece of that, but the provenance is so flimsy that I need to control my cynical streak. Combined with the dust and the darkness (I wondered if the money for the lights was going on the percebes that my two priests were dining on just a few yards away) it wasn’t the same uplifting experience that you get from – say – Winchester cathedral, Durham cathedral, the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, the Reclining Buddha in Bangkok, the chapel at the Naval College at Greenwich, or watching the Pope address the world from his balcony at St Peter’s. I wondered what the pilgrims thought who had walked for hundreds of miles to be there. Judging by the euphoria in the square outside (especially when the rain lifted and the sun came out) I suspect I was the one missing something…
Anyhow, it’s a lovely place to explore. Around each corner, there’s an enchanting square, a church, a convent or a row of ancient terraced cottages and despite the tourists, it does feel special.
An unhappy diner immortalised in stone!
We planned to spend the night at a small hotel in nearby Padron – the home of the ubiquitous pepper and the site where St James apparently came ashore from the Holy Land. So off we set in the trusty Ibiza and followed the satnav into the middle of nowhere. Padron was a mile or so away, but we found ourselves in one of those constantly narrowing lanes with smaller and smaller houses and angrier dogs, before we found our splendid 2* Pension. An impossible turn up a vertical path to one of those huge electronic gates into a covered car park – I wasn’t sure if it was the set for ‘The Long Good Friday’ or simply the wrong place. But it was the right place and our lodgings could not have been better: a modern house built to look like a sixteenth century farmhouse with a collection of relics strategically placed around the gardens and a commanding view of the motorway and power station, the rooms were great, the place was immaculate and the Mother Superior was spot on. She directed us to the nightlife in Padron and we set off in search of the definitive roasted pepper.
What a dump. Padron is a place to avoid, I’m afraid. The car park was encouragingly full, but all the people were hiding. The few bars were deserted, all the shops were shut and the whole place reminded me of one of those dusty, deserted Mexican towns you see in a spaghetti western – but with graffiti, concrete cancer and boarded up 1960s tower blocks in place of the film set. Apparently the botanical gardens were the place to go. Sure enough, it was a source of greenery, but little else. At 8pm the night was still young and the thought of returning to our lodgings for a night of Spanish chat-show TV was unappealing. We cursed the ‘Back Roads of Spain’ but, in the absence of anything else, trusted it to take us half an hour further down the coast to the seaport of Cambadas.
Surely you can’t go wrong in a seaside town?