Posted on Saturday, September 8, 2012 by Peter Knego
Peter Knego continues his eight night voyage to four western European ports from Southampton aboard Star Clippers’ four masted barquentine STAR FLYER with a day in the Bay of Biscay and a visit to the Galician port of La Coruña.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2012 unless otherwise noted.
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Our second day in the Bay of Biscay began rather calmly, although the view from our porthole was looking a little tempestuous, with white caps hovering at the end of dark blue troughs. Somehow, the little STAR FLYER was holding her own, albeit with a pronounced starboard list due to the wind in her sails.
There was no sight of land ahead but we were only some 58 nautical miles away from our next port of call, La Coruña. As if to confirm that, an exhausted dove hitched a ride on the foredeck, doing her best to blend in with the myriad of ropes and capstans.
A crew member expertly stripped and sanded down the giant mahogany steering wheel before applying a coat of stain and varnish. I had just been looking at the same wheel the day prior, thinking it looked rather splendid, but apparently, not quite splendid enough. This entire ship is a spotlessly maintained masterpiece of sanded teak, polished brass, varnished woodwork and painted bulkheads.
I had a chance to sit down with Klaus Franz, STAR FLYER’s meticulous, all-knowing, and wickedly funny hotel manager. Haling from Ommersheim, Germany (a town near Luxembourg “that is not even on the map”, according to Franz) and now living in Fortaleza, Brasil, he oversees everything from moving seasick passengers to alternate cabins to helping arrange private parties, buffet set-ups, housekeeping and just about every imaginable facet of STAR FLYER’s passenger experience. His staff is intuitive and well-trained and apparently very happy to be working on the STAR FLYER. “I see those giant cruise ships and it reminds me of Copacabana with all those crowds. You need binoculars to just see the ocean.”
Mr. Franz has been with Star Clippers since 2001 and has worked regularly on all three of its ships. He loves the ROYAL CLIPPER for her unique features and luxurious atmosphere but is equally smitten with the STAR FLYER and STAR CLIPPER for their intimacy and yacht-like quality.
He first went to sea with Hapag-Lloyd’s EUROPA. When I asked which one, he laughed, “The real one.” (For ocean liner fans, that would be the 1953-built ship that was originally SAL’s KUNGSHOLM).
Meanwhile, back up on deck, an entirely new adventure was in full swing. The ship’s two Swedish fitness instructors, Tim and Victor, were hosting a mast-climbing event. STAR FLYER’s hardy passengers, many of whom are bona fide sailors, were climbing the rope ladders up to the mast platform. Rob, apparently far less daunted by heights than this blogger, donned the harness, got hooked onto a safety cable and steadily made his ascent.
Once on the mast platform, climbers are hooked onto a second safety wire, so they can enjoy the view with relative fearlessness.
As I watched Rob climb back down, I was more convinced than ever that this was probably best seen and not done by yours truly. Not yet, anyway.
The winds and seas picked up later that afternoon, giving STAR FLYER and her adventure-seeking guests a corkscrew-style ride for the rest of the day and evening.
An Italian-themed dinner ensued, beginning with a dreamy insalata caprese.
A light, soothing and crunchy pineapple sorbet cleansed the palate before the main course was served.
Both of us went with the vegetarian lasagne, quite possibly the best either of us has had in ages. STAR FLYER’s Jamaican chef did Italy proud, using only the finest, most flavorful cheeses and a savory tomato sauce.
Lulled by all the motion and an early call at La Coruña, we retired early.
Thursday, September 6, 2012
I parted the curtains shortly before 8:00, just as STAR FLYER pivoted towards the passenger terminal. Quickly, we ate breakfast and headed out for our own self-guided tour of the Galician town.
The sun was still low enough that most of the nearby monuments were hidden in shadow. Still, maybe because we really did not know what to expect, La Coruña was having a magical effect on us. Its narrow stone streets were reminiscent of Genoa, often leading into vast city squares with Baroque halls and Neo-Classical cathedrals.
We crossed the narrow peninsula to Paseo Maritimo, a wonderful seaside walkway that leads past two beautiful white sand beaches and up a promontory overlooking the city, past the aquarium and several museums to the Tower of Hercules.
The Tower of Hercules is a massive stone lighthouse built by the Romans in the Second Century. Although the structure has been rebuilt several times over the ensuing millennia, it still retains its original stone foundation.
We climbed several stairtowers to reach the observation platform where we gingerly took in the view and even hunched down a bit for a pose alongside the wall.
In the shadow of the lighthouse on the promontory fronting La Coruña, there is a compass rose representing the different Celtic peoples who once colonized the region.
La Coruña is brimming with marvelous public artworks and sculptures, both classical and modern.
Working our way back along the other side of the peninsula, we stopped at a cafe for a mandatory bowl of Spanish olives, some water and a cappuccino.
And the people-watching was sheer delight. The Galicians are a friendly, high spirited and colorful people.
In the old quarter of town near the cruise terminal, there was so much to see but so little time. Stone cupolas; parks shaded by craggy trees; balconies bustling with bougainveilia; colorful stucco facades and architecture that ranges from Roman to Medieval, French Colonial, Spanish Mission, Modernist and everything in between.
As we neared the cruise terminal, the sunlight was beaming down on the manifold gallerias, 18th century steel and glass facades built to accommodate La Coruña’s ever-changing weather. A little bit Genoa and a dash of Barcelona but with its own unique flair, La Coruña is at the top of my list for another visit — soon.
At 3:00 PM, STAR FLYER cast her lines and sailed back into the Bay of Biscay for a final, frantic fling, before rounding the outer edge of Cape Finistere and heading south on her course to Vigo.
End Of STAR FLYER To Iberia, Part Three
Much More To Come…
Very Special Thanks: Buck Banks, Martin Cox, Rob Di Stefano, Julie Ellis, Klaus Franz, Captain Jurgen Müller-Cyran