Sacred Seas – Porto to Coruna

The three main ideas you get sailing from Portugal to Holland is that the Galicians have a dreadful sense of aestethics, the Britons build the most Romantic villages in Europe and that the beaches of the North Sea are the ghastliest of the solar system. But they all have in common to be true people of the sea.

Some say Portuguese fishermen discovered America before Columbus, and it’s certain that when John Cabot sailed the Grand Banks he found them there indeed.  So while the coast of Lusitania is as boring as an interstate, the ports along the coast are jewels. Porto, Viana do Castelo, Peniche and Povoa are not simply delightful havens where you can find crabs as big as helmets for 5 euros, but places where the fishing culture is still unchanged and overwhelming. Where else can you see a church with a lighthouse? And the English influence is not to be discarded because the Gin Tonic here is considered sacred. Come to think of it, all here is sacred. The sea, the fish, the churches and the gin and tonic. There is not much else indeed.

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There is a big change when you step into Galicia. Basically where Portugal ends, the coast gets interesting, full of inlets (Rias for the natives), islands (which you cannot visit) and fishing villages (where you cannot find much fish). Finally here things get lively even without swell, with plenty of things to see and even… other boats!

The locals and sailing books speak highly of a fishing village called Combarro so we invest largely (Rias are deep) to reach this hamlet on a sunday afternoon to have a good look at the local sights, and I am afraid to say that the place is somewhat disheartening. True, the baker family is a marvel, the alleys of the village fascinating and the Galician houses spectacular, but… why do they treat all this so badly? Well kept ancient houses are just a tiny fraction and when it comes to the main feature of the area, I mean windows, well, they are putting on aluminum ones! It’s a ghastly crime, like painting yellow a greek statue or covering Persian eyes…  Galician villages, like some ladies, are charming seen from afar. Or in the dark under a full moon. Preferably both.

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Finisterre… the end of Camino de Santiago, the End of Europe, the beginning of the Death Coast if you sail north. If you wonder if the effect of waves is more pleasant on a straight coast rather than on a kinky one, here you have your answer. And the weather helps. Squalls, rain, waves and wind all race towards the dark and november coast, a Transylvania-by-the-Sea, where sailing is always challenging, never funny and seldom comforting. Swell race in from the northwest for most of the time and has more or less a full Ocean to get excited, but even an ugly wave finds this coast unpleasant, therefore hits and bounce back for good peace of the local fishermen who deserve all my respect. No wonder they went slaughtering pods all over the planet… I’d do the same rather than bubbling like a cork out of such an intriguing coast. Which, I am sure, could be charming on calm and sunny day, but I’m not willing to linger around until one arrives. Together with Godot. The place is so colorless that even cameras need less megabytes to take a shot!

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If you want to take a break from the swell one needs to reach the elegant La Coruna. Elegant, that is, if you stick between the harbor and the old town, because the rest of the city looks fairly unassuming from the distance, and I think I made it clear enough that distance should be a plus for Galicia. Marinas should be judged by the boats they shelter, and La Coruna with Cambria inside deserves top marks. Same marks for the octopus by the way.  La Coruna is the only place I know where they have pulperias, literally octopus eateries. They are far from fancy here in Galicia: while in Trieste you can have around 50 different versions of pizza, here pulpo comes only in one fashion – boiled, cut and sprinkled with paprika. Gosh even americans found different ways to make hamburger. Then of course all your skepticism goes away the moment you taste it. Keep it simple stupid, there’s no way to spoil perfection.

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For a big town Coruna’s alleys are tiny, even for European standards. And the ever-present galician carelessness for urban details reaches new heights around the square. Which fortunately balances all the rest with a royal display of perfection in proportion, light and beauty of the windows. They are so worringly bright… I sincerely hope they are not in aluminum otherwise I’d blow the place to smithereens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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