Wednesday 2 December 2015

In and Around A Coruña

Spain, 27th – 30th November 2015

When we woke up on Friday at our clifftop spot at Praia de Os Castros, we found ourselves looking out on a different landscape to our arrival.  Gone were the huge waves assaulting the coastline beneath us, and in its place, a beach.  All of a sudden the fact that the place was called Praia made a little more sense.  A couple of brave locals attempted a morning swim while the tide was out, but we didn’t quite find the motivation to get out there and join them; whilst the skies were holding off from raining for the first time in a while, the sun was still nowhere in sight and jumping in the sea doesn’t quite have the same appeal when the skies are dim.

We did find it interesting that it was called a praia—the Portuguese word for beach—rather than the Spanish equivalent, playa.  It turns out that this area of Spain, starting at Ribadeo and stretching down to the north Portuguese border, is an autonomous community known as Galicia and it comes with its own language, Galician, the same way that Basque is spoken in the area around San Sebastian and Catalan is spoken around Barcelona.  Galician shares a lot in common with the Portuguese language (which explains praia) and is slightly more wide spoken than Spanish.  I’ve just about given up trying to learn the local language since we hit Spain—it seems that every time we cross into a new region the language changes again!

An old sports car made into a statue 
A nice development opportunity perhaps?

Meeting with new friends in Foz
We found ourselves quite taken with our first array into Galicia, which was the coastal path between our clifftop spot and Foz.  It was a much less developed coastline, mainly fields with a few clifftop holiday homes looking out over the water rather than huge blocks of flats.  There were numerous parking areas within sight of the sea, not many of which having any motorhome regulations (although at this time of year I doubt the police really care either way, with many of the winter motorhomers having already moved south).  We stayed the night in Foz (GPS: 43.56396 -7.25730, free inc. service point), which was much more built up with flats (at dirt cheap prices – you can pick up some real estate here for upwards of €30,000!) and as a town not particularly interesting to us – we went for a walk around but everywhere felt much too quiet and closed up.  The Aire was nice enough however, next to the port with views looking out over the estuary which at high tide was home to fisherman and kayakers and at low tide revealed another long stretch of beach.

All over Foz we kept finding brand new builds right next to ruins like in the above shot
I sense it's been a while since this shop was open...
Above: Carino
Below: Ferrol Aire
We continued along the coastline between Foz and Ferrol, but found it altogether a bit disappointing.  There were quite a few free Aires with a couple having sea views that would have been perfectly reasonable places to stay, but I think we’d already spoiled ourselves with the coast before Foz and this next stretch of coast just felt very bland by comparison.  After a lunch stop at Ortigueira (not to be confused with Ortiguera where we stayed a few nights ago), we moved on to a town called Cariño.  We went for a wander and found that it was full of closed and disused buildings with very few shops, and the only things really open were a couple of local bars.  There was a nice beach hidden behind the sand dunes and accessed by boardwalks, but it wasn’t enough to convince us to stay so we carried on travelling to get a bit closer to A Coruña, stopping for the night in the Aire at Ferrol (GPS: 43.49361 -8.24025, free inc. service point).  To be fair to the area we might not have been seeing it in its best light (literally; the sunshine we’d been promised for the weekend had yet to appear, resulting in everything having a dull grey tinge), and maybe it’s got a bit more going on outside of winter that would give it more appeal.

The next day it was onwards to A Coruña, stopping on the way to get fuel at a station where diesel was advertised at €1.009/L but discounted by a further €0.02 to €0.989/L – that’s about 70p.  Coming back to the UK is going to be a big shock to the system!

Just a few km south of A Coruña is a free Aire at Port of San Pedro de Visma (GPS: 43.37162 -8.44436) at the start point of the Paseo Maritimo, a 13km promenade with a walking/cycle path that runs all the way to the western edges of the city.  As well as the designated Aire we also found several other car parks in the vicinity looking out to sea - we originally parked in one of the other car parks as the view was better but ended up moving to the Aire later in the evening as it was more sheltered and we felt more comfortable about getting the levelling ramps out in a designated motorhome parking area, which were needed with the terraced area having quite a slope to it.  Other than us, the path to A Coruña was mainly the territory of runners and power walkers, but the views were pretty great.  As an added bonus, the sun made a rare appearance during our walk!  The sea was rough but fascinating to watch, crashing into the rocks beneath and sending spray that reached us up on the cliffs above.  Eventually after walking the headland you get to a point where you have a view across the bay of A Coruña.  We went as far as the Millenium obelisk, beneath which we noticed some huge slabs of loose concrete that we couldn’t figure out the origin of.  Walking to the base of the obelisk, we figured it out; the monument itself is in good condition, but the building beneath it that makes the foundation is crumbling away under the force of the sea, and they’ve had to reinforce the structure with huge metal rods and bricked over what used to be windows.

The following day (Monday) was our last day of exploring before we had to start making the journey back to Dunkirk.  We’d have liked to have gone as far as Vigo so we could finish this corner of Spain off and stay at a spot in Arcade we’d heard was nice, but decided it wasn’t worth the extra time & miles of travel.  Instead, we moved to a parking area more central to A Coruña to have a look around the city.  Matt spotted a hand written sign that said something in Spanish with the gist of banning motorhome parking there 24 hours a day; he decided not to tell me as he thought I’d be panicking about it the whole time we were in town (which to be fair is an accurate assessment).  Luckily no-one arrived to tow us away (nor our neighbours, an older Spanish motorhome with some BMW car wheels—tut tut (Vans should have heavy duty wheels and tyres to take the extra weight – Matt) —and a converted British horsebox), and we got a couple of hours in looking around.

A Coruña in the times of Napoleon was the sight of the 1809 Battle of Corunna, where the fleeing British army found themselves trapped whilst awaiting boats to take them home away from the pursuit of the French army.  Today, it’s an important port city for produce leaving the region, home of the fashion brand Zara, and a cruise ship destination.  At the start of our wander into the city we saw a map close to our parking area and in an error of judgement we didn’t take a photo of it, leading to a long period spent wandering the streets trying to figure out where all the sights were.  After eventually stumbling across another map and examining it, a passing local approached us and started giving recommendations on where the best areas of the city were.  Our first thoughts when he started talking to us was that maybe we looked too much like we’d just stepped off the nearby cruise ship and he was going to try and get money out of us somehow, but after giving his advice he just carried on his way again; he seemed like a fairly genuine chap, so I’m going to remain optimistic about the world and assume he was just a helpful local.

Slightly bigger than our Poundland tinsel tree.
The Tower of Hercules
Someone in the town planning department must be really into flower arrangements to keep this maintained...

After a bit more exploring (passing the shops and the street where Pablo Picasso held his first exhibition) we came out by the beach, where a few surfers were braving the end of November waves.  We then followed the promenade back along to the thankfully untowed/unticketed van.  We could have gone back to the Aire around the headland for the night, but there was still a little daylight left so we decided get an hour or so head start on our return to the UK, cutting inland to stay at Guitirez (GPS: 43.17737 -7.87935), where as well as the free service point, amazingly they also have free electric hook-up!

Another British van rolled up after a while, driven by a couple with a newborn and a young toddler, who popped by our van to ask if we had a spare 2-pin adapter we could lend them (which unfortunately we didn’t).  Matt had a chat to Sean; they were on their way down to Portugal to look for some land and were intending to not return to the UK. Talking amongst ourselves afterwards we decided we’d offer them use of our hookup when we went to bed, and found ourselves glad we made the offer, discovering they were otherwise intending on running a generator through the night to power their electric heater!

After what was one of our coldest nights of our travels (the heating made an appearance, as did an extra blanket over the duvet), we woke to a 2 degree start with a frost outside.  Whilst most of the other people we’ve spoke to of late are heading south to the Algarve through the winter, we’ve now got a trek up to Dunkirk for a week in the UK.

- Jo

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