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Day 3 - April 30, 2010 - La Coruña And Santiago De Compostela, Spain

By Chris Cutler, Naturalist

Co-ordinates: 41º11.2 N, 008º41.9 W
Weather: partial clouds, light rain
Air Temperature: 15º

The Prince Albert II continued north through the night and in the morning we enjoyed a gentle following sea and light winds. Small fishing boats plied the waters as the occasional gannet flew by.

Gordon Corrigan delivered a fascinating lecture entitled “War to the Knife: The War in the Iberian Peninsula 1807-1814”. Napoleon’s bid for domination required excision of what he called “The Spanish Ulcer” and the French invasion of the Iberian Peninsula was thought to be the solution. What the French encountered was a steadfast, if at times rag-tag, resistance of Spanish guerrillas, Portuguese cazadores, and British conscripts, all less well-trained and equipped, who nonetheless put up a strong resistance that in the end thwarted Napoleons’ plan. The battles were many and brutal, requiring close-range combat with inaccurate muskets, and in the case of the Portuguese, uniforms made from the robes of monks.

Guests new to the ship were treated to a First Timer’s Cocktail Party in the Observation Lounge where Christian Sauleau welcomed them and they met the Expedition Team. We arrived to Spain’s second most important fishing port, La Coruña, Province of Galicia, by midday and after lunch, embarked coaches for the one-hour drive to Santiago de Compostela.

One of the most significant sites in the world for Christian pilgrimages, Santiago de Compostela is, according to legend, the place where the apostle Saint James the Greater was entombed. He had introduced Christianity to the Celts and was later to be killed in Jerusalem in 44 AD. We visited the attractive city and strolled its cobblestone streets, to the central square and spectacular cathedral, a granitic Romanesque edifice whose construction began in 1075. The remarkably ornate facades on the outside reflected the detailed and elaborate sculptures on the inside, many of them depicting important personages and stories in Christian history. With the aid of whispers, our guides provided us with interesting stories about the history of the region and specifically of Santiago.

Along the long axis of barrel-vaulted cruciform cathedral interior, the massive Botafumeiro, (largest incense-burner in the world), is swung by eight men now and then as it lets out plumes of smoke from burning charcoal and incense. In the good old days a vast number of pilgrims sheltered in the building, a structure lacking in “facilities”, and the resultant aromas were perhaps somewhat masked by the burning incense.

As this is a holy year, when the 25th of July falls on a Sunday, a steady stream of pilgrims arrive on foot, by bicycle, or on horseback, having spent anywhere from days to months traveling, and coming from around the world, to pay homage at the site. At the Hotel of the Catholic Kings we enjoyed refreshments and listened to some fine Tuna music. The players (Tunos) carry on the tradition of university students inspired by 10th-century troubadours with their mandolin, lute, and bandurria and dressed in festive period costumes. Our afternoon at Santiago de Compostela gave us a wonderful glimpse of this fascinating place.

We arrived back the port just before dinner and several of us enjoyed walking around the city before we departed at 2300.

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