Day 1 in Galicia: A Coruña

23 Aug

I just arrived back in Barcelona this afternoon after 5 nights on the road in Galicia. I didn’t have internet connection much of the time, so I’ll be posting 4 different blog entries, one for each city I visited, over the next several days. Here’s post 1 (with a picture of the harbor in A Coruña, at top).

My journey was suppose to begin on Thursday, August 16 in the morning. However, Wednesday night, I ate a bad mushroom (no, not the psychedelic kind, although that might have been preferable to what I went through) and ended up in bed for 24 hours. I had some horrendous intoxicación alimenticia = food poisoning. After 6 hours of rapidly expelling the contents of my system and then moving into the “I can’t walk because all my muscles are severely cramping in my legs” phase, I decided to call a doctor. This was a great idea as the hand and arm cramps started shortly thereafter.

So, some folks in the U.S. tend to hem and haw over socialized medicine, but I’m here to tell you I think that was some of the best medical care I’ve ever received. It surely beats the care from most of the yahoo doctors I’ve seen in Hawaii (save 1 or 2).

I Called. Doctor arrived within 30 minutes. We talked. He decided the offending food was likely the mushrooms and he gave me 4 ccs of something potent in the butt. Whatever the contents of the shot, it stopped the barfing within 30 minutes and took away some of the stabbing pain in the stomach. The next few days were still rough as I would have random spasms, bathroom runs, and long lasting cramps in my legs, but I decided the best thing to do was to “just get over it”, as my mother says and always has done.

So, Friday, I boarded a train to Madrid. About halfway through the 3 hour journey I was thinking I had made a mistake, but then I just kept thinking of my mom and how tough she is and I decided to stick with the day’s journey. I got off in Madrid as planned, transferred to the other Madrid train station, and I was off on another 6 hour train ride to A Coruña. From the A Coruña train station, I taxi’d straight to my hotel and went to bed that night, to awake to a fabulous day and me feeling a bit better.

Here’s a map of Galicia for a reference point:

A Coruña is in the north of Galicia on the Atlantic Ocean. And, the region of Galicia is just north of Portugal, so it’s on the opposite side of the country from Barcelona.

My hotel in A Coruña was fabulous and the best deal ever. For 38 Euros, which included a bad looking breakfast which I passed on, I had a beautifully clean, modern and very large room. It had a mini bar, fabulously quiet and efficient A/C system, modern t.v. and great wifi. The bonus: super quiet. The hotel is called Attica 21. It’s a bit outside of the ciudad vieja (old town), but for the accommodations and the peaceful sleep, I would have expected to pay double, at least.

Here’s a pic of the room:

I checked out early and asked the front desk if they could hold my luggage so I could explore the town. The woman at the front desk motioned for me to just put my luggage behind the front desk. No tags, no nothing. It took all I had to not ask for a receipt, but I didn’t want to seem rude. I definitely could’ve been more cautious considering I left my computer and peripherals in my suitcase, but I decided to trust the hotel staff as I wasn’t really up for carrying any extra weight that day.

So, I caught a taxi to Plaza de Santa Maria Pita. It was 10:00 a.m. and I was the first and only one there. Huh. Guess people sleep late in A Coruña.

Here’s a pic Plaza de Santa Maria Pita:

And here’s a picture of the lady herself:

She’s simultaneously beautiful and a bad as_, too right?

After snapping some photos, I went to the tourist office in the plaza to get a map and ask: if I have 5 hours only, what should I do? I was directed to tour the old town, walk to the lighthouse, and eat some pulpo gallega, the last part of which I had already planned. So, I toured the old town. It was a gorgeous little town, and again pretty deserted for the hour, I thought. Here are some pics:

Here’s a pic of a convent:

Here’s a picture of the front of a closed cafe. I just thought it was cute:

Then, I started to walk along the pier to get to the lighthouse. Bless the good Spanish people who always try to estimate distances and always underestimate them. A woman told me it was a 30 minute walk from old town. Well, I walk extremely fast (got that from my dad) and at 30 minutes, the lighthouse was nowhere in sight. I was predicting it was at least another 30 minutes from where I was, and my legs were not quite back to my normal running/walking shape. Plus, I was getting hungry and everyone who knows me knows what that means… if I don’t get food in me quick, I’m going to ruin someone’s day.

But, along the way I was temporarily distracted from my hunger by the darling art on the lamp posts that are about every 100 yards along the walkway. They were each hand-painted, all with an ocean theme. Here are a few of my favorites:

And, a picture of the lampposts along the ocean walk:

I loved them! We should do that in the U.S.!

After several minutes of picture taking, I turn back because I want to be sure I can make it back to my eatery of choice before I have a meltdown. I go to the famed “street of wines”, which is a narrow alley, lined with restaurants, in front of the Plaza de Santa Maria. I took a clue from my hit or miss Lonely Planet guide book and stopped in at a pulperia (a restaurant specializing in octopus), called Meson de Pulpo.

Okay, so here’s the part about good food. I ate the best octopus of my trip and of my life at this restaurant! The octopus was done in the traditional Galician fashion, which is sautéed in olive oil and sprinkled with hot paprika and a touch of maldon sea salt. It was incredibly tender and fresh. It was a perfect dish. It didn’t seem fussy, but I’m here to tell you after having worked with octopus that either you have to be a bit fussy with it to get it that tender or there’s some secret I’m missing.

Here’s the pic of the dish:

My waiter was awesome and served me a great glass of Albariño wine because I asked for one since I was in Albariño country. Albariño is the grape and it’s used to make a dry, white wine that can either be fairly complex or really simple and something close to a Portuguese vinho verde. I guess this makes sense, since Galicia is just north of Portugal.

Also, requisite with the pulpo is crusty bread to dip in the olive oil. Me encanta! I loved this meal, so far. I should have stopped there, as I was pretty full after the ½ racion (1/2 portion) of pulpo, but another popular dish in Galicia is the fried calamari. I thought if the octopus is this fresh and this tender, I should definitely try the calamari.

Well, the calamari had perfect breading on it. It was super delicate and light and the seasoning and salt was subtle and proper if you want to taste the fresh calamari. But, it was tough! Darnit! I don’t like tough, unless it’s a quality in my friends and family 😉

I told the waiter I was a cook from the U.S. and asked him what was the secret to their perfect pulpo? He told me to go ask the chef. So, I did. She – yes, she (awesome, since I don’t see very many if any female chefs in restaurant kitchens in Spain) – looked at me weird. What do you mean, she asks? My reply: How is it not tough? Her answer: We get it in fresh, we massage it a bit. Then we drop it in hot water for a bit and then we fry it in hot olive oil. Then we put paprika and salt on top. Me: ummm, okay. Can you be more specific? Her: no. That’s what we do. Me: Vale, gracias. (okay, thanks).

Well, by this time, I’m a bit drunk off of ½ of my glass of Albarino, as I have 0 tolerance for alcohol right now and I’m thinking my liver is still a bit in shock from the toxic mushroom. So, I go to sit down in a plaza for a bit before I catch a cab back to my hotel to grab my luggage and take another train to Santiago.

While I’m smiling and thinking that I have the alcohol tolerance of a 10 year old, I’m also remembering the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and a quick snapshot of one of his apprentices massaging octopus in a white liquid. I’m wondering if it is cornstarch, although I’m not sure that’s used in Japanese cooking. It didn’t look like daikon, as it was a smooth white liquid and I tried massaging my octopus with daikon which I don’t think did a thing to tenderize it as some chefs have suggested. Hmmmm, I’ll have to do more research on that.

I don’t know why I’m so stuck on making the perfect octopus dish right now. But, I have been ever since I came to Barcelona. Someone told me it was cruel to eat octopus because they’re intelligent. Really? Is it more cruel than eating pigs? Isn’t their DNA very similar to that of humans? How about what we do to baby cows in the name of eating veal, or how about force feeding birds so we can eat foie? These are all moral choices and those of us who have the choice probably should contemplate these things more often, as that means we’re lucky and wealthy enough to be eating them.

Maybe it’s because I don’t want to limit what I eat right now in the name of culinary research, but my current thought is everything in moderation. Cop out? Maybe. But, I do make choices along the way, such as eating vegetarian some days (or for 8 years, at one point in my life). It’s mostly for health reasons, but I also want to believe that what we eat – en masse as people who have choices of what we want to eat – affects what commercial farmers choose to grow, which in turn affects mother nature’s ability to restore depleting clean water supplies and to rejuvenate abused terra.

Okay, back to the travels. I picked up my suitcase and backpack and boarded another train for Santiago de Compostela in the late afternoon. I checked into a hotel converted from a darling 18th century home on the outskirts of old town called Virxe de Cerca. It oozed charm. Here are a few pics:

My room:

The garden:

The tables in the cute bar nook:

Instead of going out that night, I decided I was satiated from the terrific pulpo I had eaten earlier (plus my system still was a bit wrecked from the offending mushrooms) and all I needed was a few pieces of fruit to restore some vitamins, some water and a comfortable bed. Since I had no wifi connection, I decided to watch a campy, cult classic on the tube: Stripes. It’s basically Bill Murray, John Candy and Harold Ramis being goofballs. Just what I needed.

Night 1, and full day 1 in Galicia were a huge success!

Stay tuned for more excellent food reviews and pictures of Santiago de Compostela in the next post!

One Response to “Day 1 in Galicia: A Coruña”

  1. janet draman August 31, 2012 at 4:22 am #

    What a lovely place and wonderful adventure. Glad your search for the perfect octopus was a success. I know how you are when you are on a mission!

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