Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Ah... Coruña

I got a good feeling from Coruña from the moment I stepped off the bus. Greeted with bright blue skies and a sense of excitement brought about my arrival in civilisation, I headed for the centre with the sun on my ruck-sack laden back, and a spring in my step. Wide avenues cutting through the city on one side, shiny yachts bobbing about in the harbour on the other, the whole world and their designer dog out for a Saturday morning stroll. The mix of bustling pavement cafes, modernist grandeur in the buildings, and vibrant street culture was quite a change to the farms I'd been used to. This is great, I thought to myself, soaking up the scene in the town square, it's just what I imagine Buenos Aires to be like. Which sort of made me wonder why I didn't just go to Buenos Aires. Bet they don't kill pigs with their bare hands there though, do they!

Coruna, or A Coruña, I should say - or even The City Formally Known as La Coruña, perhaps - has got a bit of everything. A huge sandy beach, a fancy marina, good nightlife, great architecture, a few decent museums, and some of Galicia's most dramatic coastline just a short hop away. Up until recently, it's also had a few problems deciding on what to call itself, although for the time being at least, the city seems to have settled on A Coruña.

Despite the inclusion - or not, as the case may be - of the 'L' becoming a not insignificant political issue in recent years (it's all to do with Galician nationalism, and therefore not something I'm really qualified to poke fun at), it's good to know that the city hasn't been held back. Quite the opposite: Coruña has gone from strength to strength economically, culturally and politically. The post-regency grandeur is now accompanied by a striking contemporary trim.

It's an unashamedly bourgoise city, which makes it very unlike the rest of the province. The locals seem to enjoy nothing more than their evening paseo. Come seven thirty, everyone of Coruña's inhabitants take to the pavements, all dolled up in their snazziest clobber, not a hair out of place, like they're trying to collectively break the record for the most designer labels per capita in Europe. It's by far and away as glam as life gets in Galicia. In fact, this lot could give the England WAGs a run for their (extremely conspicuously displayed) money.

Thankfully all this posing is fringed by some rougher edges. It's not only the boutiques that do a roaring trade around here. There's also a very healthy tapas scene. Ok, maybe healthy isn't the right word, but there's certainly plenty of opportunities to eat a lot of it. I've been staying right in the centre of the 'tapas zone' where making the decision to stop eating can be a demanding exercise in self control. As with the other cities I've visited, each bar specialises in a different dish. Guided by adopted Coruñian John Barlow, who's appetite I first encountered in Santiago, I've visited the bar that's known for tortilla, the bar that's known for roast ham, the bar that's known for croquettes, the bar that's known for chorizo, the bar that's known for chiparones (baby squid), the bar that's known for zamburiñas (tiny scallops), the bar that's known for its home-made liquor (see picture above - inviting, eh?) and the bar that's known for just being very, very cheap.

Normally I tend to avoid places that adorn their walls with huge neon signs, but Meson do Pulpo, on the street of pulpo, in the city that specialises in the stuff... Well I couldn't resist. It tasted a lot better than it did out of a tin!

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