Monday, 10 November 2008

Galicia - Day 1, fishing villages & beaches

In August we began to worry about the rising price of oil and the downturn in the economy and became nervous that this might be the end of cheap flights to Europe. In a mad panic one evening I scoured the web sites for what I feared might be the last of the travel bargains and identified a few alternatives. We had liked Galicia so much in July that when there was a cheap flight opportunity to return just a few weeks later we didn’t need much convincing. The flights were booked and this time the travel club was coming along as well.

We travelled on a Saturday and had to go one member down because Micky suffered an unfortunate last minute domestic diary clash that meant he had to attend a wedding and rearrange his flight and make alternative plans to join us the next day. It was clear all the way down as we crossed the tip of Brittany and then over the blue waters of the Bay of Biscay and finally over the port city of A Coruňa, which was where, in 1588, the Spanish Armada, set sail from. Flying in to northern Spain is a fabulous experience and quite unlike the approach to southern airports. The countryside is so green and fertile with forests, rivers and lakes that I found that I had to keep reminding myself that this was indeed Spain.

I had booked a hire car with Hertz and found the desk and went through the tedious booking in process. The clerk told me that I had a brand new Fiat Bravo and then she tried to sell me the additional insurance, which I consider to be a real rip-off. ‘Only fifteen Euro a day’ she purred, which sounds reasonable until you realise that this is the equivalent of about €5,500 for a year, which, let’s be honest, is a bit steep. Generally when I have a hire car abroad I drive like Mary Poppins so I was fairly confident that by being excessively cautious I could get it back in one piece but having regard for the unnecessary this induces we all agreed that on this occasion we should pay up.

We drove west but hadn’t gone very far when it was nearly a very good job that we had bought the insurance because we had a near death experience when at a junction I misinterpreted the intentions of another driver, moved forward too soon and nearly took the side of his car off as he made a totally legitimate left hand turn. An accident would have been completely my fault and I wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on. Probably quite literally!

We passed through the busy little town of Noia and then through the picturesque village of Porto do Son where we parked the car at the side of the road and went down to a deserted beach and walked among the rock pools in the company of a flock of seagulls. It was mid morning and with a clear sky it was getting very warm and after a while our thoughts turned to food so we returned to the car and made for our lunch time destination of Corrubedu.

There were no more driving dramas and half an hour later we drove into the unspoilt fishing village that had some new properties under construction but at its heart was a port and a backdrop of traditional houses and pavement restaurants that probably hadn’t changed very much in years. Perhaps this was what Benidorm was like before the barbarian hordes from the north invaded fifty years or so ago and spoilt it. In the port there were a collection of small colourful fishing boats, some had been left to rest but on others men were still working gutting and filleting fish accompanied by flocks of excitable seagulls in expectation of a good lunch.

The restaurants that we expected to find were all closed now that the season had finished and all that was open was a busy little bar with a good view over the harbour and we joined the local people and the fishermen who were enjoying a drink or two before going home for lunch and siesta. We had a couple of beers and a complimentary little tapas dish and when we were finished we explored the back streets and the traditional houses with their elevated granite grain stores in the gardens, called borreos, with their distinctive Celtic crosses and elaborate carvings.

At a small beach on the edge of town the girls rolled up their trousers and went paddling in the sea and Christine took on an unexpectedly large wave and soaked herelf right through. By now we were all hungry and it was time to look seriously for food so with no signs of anywhere opening we left Corrubedo and headed south and luckily after only a kilometre or two came across a restaurant that looked busy and interesting. We ordered a selection of dishes, only a few of which Sue and Christine could manage, and after another beer and enough time in the hot sun for Christine to dry out we left and set off for the beach.

We were heading for the Dunes of the Corrubedo National Park, which is an unspolt beach park with large sand dunes and unique wild flora and fauna. It was hot and at the car park the girls all stripped off and changed into appropriate summer clothing and I smirked because Micky wasn’t here to see it. There was a long walk to the end over a wooden walkway and when we got there we couldn’t get to the beach because there were signs prohibiting access to the dunes for fear of disturbing the unique natural environment. I was ready to respect this but first Christine and then the others ignored the signs, climbed the fence and walked over the sand towards the sea. It turned out to be quite a long way further than we expected so after a few hundred metres we turned back and it was a good job that we did because on the way back we passed a park ranger who, if he had caught us, probably wouldn’t have been too happy.

We moved on to the next beach where people were welcome to walk on the sand and arrived at a picnic area where we parked and walked through pine trees and dunes and arrived on a magnificent sandy beach with its blue flag fluttering proudly in the breeze. There was miles of it, lush golden sand dipping away into the sea where the gentle breakers were rolling in and crashing onto the beach. And the best thing was that it was practically deserted with plenty of personal space available for everyone. This was as far away from Benidorm as it is possible to imagine, no beach bars, no watersports, no sunbeds or umbrellas. Galicia is keen to encourage tourism but I hope that they do it in a sensible way and places like this don’t get swept away in a package holiday tsunami. We swam in the still warm waters of the Atlantic and dried out while sitting on the rocks and after a really pleasant afternoon we left and decided it was time to drive to the hotel.

Without a map we inevitably got lost almost immediately as we attempted to negotiate the busy town of Santa Uxia de Ribeira, which is a fishing town and famous for the quality of its shellfish. The reason for Galicia's seafood reputation, and this goes especially for the shellfish, is the unique flavour that results from the fresh water from the rivers that create the rías and it is claimed that the cockles, mussels, octopus and squid have a taste that is unrivalled anywhere else in the world.

There was a brand new motorway all the way from the coast to the town of Padrón (EU money I expect) and while I enjoyed the open road and the drive all of my companions took the opportunity to catch up on lost sleep. After half an hour we were in Pontescures and we pulled into the hotel car park and presented ourselves at reception. This was where we stayed in July and I had fully recommended this hotel to the travel club but we were in for a shock. The owner explained that there was a problem with our rooms and the plumber was on his way but for tonight we would have to stay in alternative accommodation. This was a pack of lies of course and he was simply double booked but this didn’t concern me because I was sure that alternative accommodation surely meant an upgrade. How wrong I was.

He drove us to an edge of town truck stop hostel and after promising a complimentary meal as compensation drove away and left us in at the side of the busy highway. The place was a complete dump and within a few minutes I knew that the Sue and Christine were not very happy. I thought a beer or two might improve the situation and we found a little restaurant next door but they only went for the orange juice option and I knew that without alcohol this was most unlikely to improve their mood and it was a forlorn hope. I phoned the original hotel, explained that this was unacceptable and requested something more appropriate to our status.

The restaurant, by the way, was an interesting little place and provided us with a plate of mussels as an appetizer in the hope of tempting us to a full meal later but they were cold and inedible and no one was in the mood anyway so I had to surreptitiously wrap them in tissues under the table and the only place I could find to dispose of them was in the bin in the disabled toilets and then we left. I really hope that they emptied that bin the next day because believe me it was really going to stink!

We didn’t check out of the place in the conventional way, we sneaked down the stairs, left the keys on the desk and made as quick a getaway as we possibly could. This was like the great escape and we selected tunnel Enrique, got to the car without detection but then got held up by traffic and the hotel owner came to the door and caught us just as we hit the road and speeded off back to Pontescures and the double booked hotel. The owner didn’t want us hanging around there too long in case we exposed his faulty plumbing deception and he took us immediately to nearby Padrón and to a much more acceptable hotel with spacious rooms and clean linen and we were all happier about that.

This had spoilt the day a little but we went into town and found a very nice bar with pavement tables where after beer and wine the situation began to improve and we started to see the funny side of things and at least we had a free meal to look forward to tomorrow. We stayed out longer than we had planned and it was late when we went to bed and we were all so tired that we didn’t really get to appreciate the really nice rooms in the alternative hotel.

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