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Santa Cruz de La Palma - Wednesday 28th December 2016

The original itinerary had been changed and the visits to the two Canary islands of La Palma and Gran Canaria had been swapped. We berthed before dawn and then waited until the day had warmed up. Saga Pearl II was berthed ahead of us. Santa Cruz de la Palma is a small and delightful capital city with good tourist shops for duty free and local crafts. Our usual plan is to stroll along the main street, visiting the Nativity scenes in the shops, churches and public buildings. The Plaza de Espana is said to have the best collection of Renaissance buildings in the Canaries. It has the Monteverde house, built after 1618 and renovated between 1922 and 1935, the Lorenzo house built in the 18th century and re-modeled in 1900, the pubic fountain built in 1588, the church and bell tower of El Salvador built in the early 16th century, the Massieu house from the 18th century, the Pereyra house built in 1864 and the Town Hall whose construction stretched from 1559 to 1587. It is possible to visit the Caja Canarias which was constructed as a family home between 1779 and 1785 for D. Juan Massieu Fierro, and then damaged by fire in 1990. The facade was restored but the rest of the building has been rehabilitated and is an art gallery. The Town Hall always has a nativity scene downstairs and the upstairs floor can be visited by climbing the wooden staircase. This also gives the chance to admire the carved wooden ceilings and painted walls.

As on previous visits, we continued to the Mercado Municipal next to the Teatro Chico where we bought more cheese, and then to the Maritime Museum where we were disappointed to find our favourite icecream shop had no scoop icecreams, just a warm freezer. The original intention had been to walk up to Las Nieves, 5 kms, to see the Church of the Virgin of the Snows. This idea had then been modified to catching a local bus, which runs hourly, instead of walking. Eventually we only walked to the Fortress of the Virgin, across the Barranco de las Nieves. It was built in 1820 as a wooden stage castle for the festivities in honour of Our Lady of the Snows which take place every five years. There is a battle between the castle and the ship, for which the 21 small iron canons are useful. The views from here towards the QV were good and she looked enormous, especially compared with Saga Pearl II. The SPAR supermarket provided alternative icecreams which we consumed inside the Fortress of Santa Catalina.

The Plaza de San Francisco was designed as a courtyard for the Royal Convent of the Immaculate Conception, founded by the Franciscans in 1508. It is surrounded by various buildings - the convent and its church, as well as the Chapel of the Third Franciscan Order. Remembering the Belén in the chapel we wondered why the doors were closed. We tried to enquire what had happened in the Museo Insular which is inside the convent but we spoke little Spanish and the ticket office spoke no English. Later we asked the Tourist Information Office about the tableau, and the schoolteacher whom we had met in previous years and who was responsible for constructing the tableau. They did not know.

There were many opportunities for shopping although we had no need for wines, spirits or cigarettes and cigars - the usual duty free purchases here. Instead there were unsuccessful visits into shoe shops looking for something black for evening wear. Refreshed by a large draught Tropical beer at our usual corner cafe it was time to stroll back for lunch.

It made a pleasant change to have an easy day, doing familiar things, and in the Canarian sunshine.

A general introduction to Santa Cruz de La Palma

The Canary Island of La Palma is just 80nm to the west of Tenerife. We first visited it in 1988 on the Orient Express cruise and had enjoyed our visit. We had then taken a tour into the centre of the island and admired the volcanic craters, and on other visits we wanted to explore the city of Santa Cruz instead. Santa Cruz is said to be the second largest city of the island, and is the capital. The city was founded in 1493 and by the 17th century it was a flourishing commercial port and the third most important in the Spanish empire. Famous fortifications include the Castillo de Santa Catalina and Castillo de la Virgen on the northern end of town. Our most recent visits were on the Queen Victoria Christmas Cruise in 2014 and the Queen Elizabeth Christmas Cruise in 2015 and this general introduction draws heavily on those two visits.

The Tourist Information Office provides a useful walking map of Santa Cruz and gave a lot of useful advice on what to see and what to visit during our walk, a real enthusiast who gave us a lot of advice and information whilst a long queue built up. Although Santa Cruz is recommended for shopping, we are always more interested in visiting the historic sites and churches and admiring the old buildings. We start by strolling slowly along the main street, O'Daly Street, named after an Irish merchant. Recommended sights were the Casa Salazar, the City Hall and Cathedral in the Plaza Espana but our advice from the tourist office had been to also look at all the other buildings and if any door was open to go and look inside, we followed this advice and never got ejected from anywhere including the City Hall.

The town hall was completed in 1567. The main facade on two floors is held to be the best example of civil Renaissance architecture of the Canary Islands. The interior was renovated in the mid-twentieth century has a mural in the stairwell due to Valladolid Mariano de Cossio. We admired the magnificent paintings up the stairs and we even got into the 'Council Chamber' which seemed to have two functions run from different ends and had some magnificent carvings on the old woodwork and doorway. Moorish patterns decorate the ceilings and staircase of the the lobby and outside round the courtyard.

We have also worked our way into the Casa Salazar where we found a reception desk hidden inside and they were happy for us to look round the courtyard and some exhibitions. The Casa Salazar was built by Don Ventura Salazar Frias, field master, Knight of the Order of Calatrava and ruler of Palma Council between 1631 and 1642. It exhibits some of the most characteristic elements of Baroque including helical shafts in two pairs of columns and friezes both decorated with rosettes, a central balcony with wrought iron railing and and many magnificent wood ceilings. Today, the Casa Salazar is owned by the Cabildo Insular de La Palma, who restored the building to provide the cultural center of the island. Conferences, meetings and exhibitions are held throughout the year.

One year we spent time looking at a temporary exhibit featuring Delft Blue tiles. The main trade in La Palma 500 years ago was sugar and molasses and the, otherwise empty, ships brought back luxury goods, sculptures, paintings and Delft Tiles to decorate the mansions and haciendas of the exporters and the churches. They were also used to decorate the bell tower of the Dominican Convent to give a splendid finish with flashes of light reflecting of the shiny white porcelain. Some of these are still in place and feature in the exhibition. We later went to see the tower and without the background information would not have noticed the few and very damaged remaining tiles.

One continues past more historic houses and shops to the junction at the Placeta del Borrero. It was already quieter as most people don't walk too far from the ship, and the cobbles made it difficult. Looking down from either end of O'Daly St it looked as if all the tourists had settled at the lowest point where a number of bars and cafés had opened to exploited the phenomenon. Continuing towards the end of the road, and noting a supermarket for shopping on the return route, we made the detour to the Castillo de Santa Catalina. There is usually not very much to see but the views towards the ocean are good. On one occasion there was an enactments by the local historical group of soldiers who practicing their drills in the Castle. The road continues towards the Castillo de la Virgen, where there had been a good view from the top. Below is the concrete and scumbled (wood grained) copy of the Santa Maria which contains the Maritime Museum. There is a festival every 5 years, most recently in July/August 2015, to the patron saint Our Lady of the Snows. Her statue is 14th century and is kept in the village of Las Nieves, just 5 kms from Santa Cruz. She is carried down into Santa Cruz in procession. The replica of the Santa Maria wooden boat is a traditional part of the festival with thousands of people participating in the area of the Barranco and the castle opposite.

The dwarf (enano in spanish) with a tricorne Napoleonic hat is unique to La Palma and there is a statue in front of the Santa Maria. In mid-July in festival years there is dancing by a troupe of 24 dwarves, in the park by the McDonalds, and short videos can be found by searching on YouTube. The first reference to dancing dwarves was in 1905. In 2013 we purchased a CD of festival music which celebrated 100 years of these festivals in 2005. There was still the ice cream parlour in the Plaza de la Alameda and a large statue of a Dwarf looking down on where we sat.

After a short stop to buy some of the local goat cheeses and taste the refreshing sugarcane juice in the market we looked for other museums.

The Church of St Francis of Assisi and the Immaculate Conception was in a Square which included the Chapel and the Insular Museum. Again there was a charge for Museum entry, but it was free for old folks and there was a lot to see inside. The church was free and we were glad we had visited it first; after we left the museum there was a funeral taking place. Unfortunately the chapel was closed; we remembered an excellent 'tour' of the chapel by the gentleman who was keeping an eye on the valuable artifacts - he had spent 20 years in Nottingham and had been keen to keep his English up as he also taught English. The statue of St Francis, dating from 1593 and behind the altar in the church is carried through the streets on a large silver canopied bier which was stored in the chapel.

The narrow road continued uphill towards the Hermit church and the viewpoint over the port. It was then the walk down the 165 steps to the main road and back towards the ship, resisting the temptation for a beer like on route. On the way down we once more found an open door and went into the Royal Cosmological Society and saw some of the original maps and an exhibition on Esperanto and its translation into Spanish. The building was originally a granary dating to 1646 and the Cosmological was founded in 1881 and is the most enduring and important scientific institution in La Palma.

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Content revised: 17th July, 2020