Whenever I visit a European city, I am on the look out for museums. Of course, nobody should bypass such prestigious institutions as the British Museum in London or the Louvre in Paris, but what I enjoy most are smaller, more picturesque places â€“ in short, museums where you can get close to the exhibits and preferably crawl around among them. Thatâ€™s why I was thrilled when I heard about the replica of the sailing ship â€˜Pintaâ€™ anchored in the port of Baiona in Galicia. If you have a chance to visit this wonderful province in the Northwest of the Spanish peninsula, donâ€™t miss one of my favourite Galicia attractions.
Baiona is located on Galiciaâ€™s Atlantic coast about 2 hours drive from the important city of Vigo. Dominating the town, sitting on a rocky promontory is the Castillo de Monte Real which is also an elegant Parador. The views from the fortress walls stretch far into the Atlantic, the Islas de Cies and the Ria de Vigo.
Itâ€™s also from this vantage point, that you spot the yacht harbour below and, nestling forlornly among all the big, white yachts, the historical highlight: a replica of the caravel â€˜Pintaâ€™ which is permanently anchored there.
Walking along the promenade you really have to watch out, because, surprisingly, there is no sign indicating the way to the â€˜Pintaâ€™.
The â€˜Pintaâ€™ was one of the three sailing ships (caravels) with which Columbus set out on his first voyage to discover the New World in 1492. The other two where his flag ship the â€˜Santa Mariaâ€ and the â€˜Ninaâ€™. Although the â€˜Santa Mariaâ€ being Columbusâ€™ command post, is better known, it was the â€˜Pintaâ€™ which made history.
Rodrigo de Triana, a crew member of the â€˜Pintaâ€ first spotted the New World on 12th October 1492. Again, it was the â€˜Pintaâ€™ under her captain Martin Alonso Pinzon, which first brought the news back to Spain. Having been separated in a storm southwest of the Azores, Captain Pinzon and his men made it back to Baiona on 1st of March 1493, beating Columbus my several months. A lot of enmity between the two followed, but thatâ€™s another story.
When you walk along the planks leading to the â€˜Pintaâ€™ you canâ€™t help but be amazed by how small she is. Itâ€™s hard to believe that a ship which is all of 20 meters long and 7 meters wide has withstood storms and waves and made it across the Atlantic and back without the help of radar and other nautical instruments of modern times.
I came on a rainy day and rather early which meant that I was the only visitor and had the whole ship to myself. There is a guide who accepts your â‚¬1 admission and is happy to tell you all the history.
But the most fun is below deck. Greeting the visitor, hunched over his charts and looking decidedly grumpy is Captain Pinzon, carved in wood.
Behind him are the quarters of the crew and then you descend into the depth of the hull via a very small and steep wooden ladder which can only be navigated backwards. The replicas of sailors, provisions they carried with them and the treasures they brought back are so vivid and brightly painted you can imagine hearing them mutter and curse.
Whilst in Baiona make a small detour to another sea-related monument. Already from the distance you notice an enormous statue of the Virgin Mary on another promontory overlooking the sea not unlike Christ of Rio.
Drawing nearer, you realize that the statue is hewn out of the rock with only the face and hands added. Maria de Afuera stands in the middle of a nature park, Parque de La Roca and the base can only be approached by foot. A small donation of â‚¬1 is requested and then you can climb up a spiral staircase in the statueâ€™s interior which is so narrow, that only one person is allowed at a time.
At the top, you step out onto a sailboat which Mary holds in her hand and, windblown, enjoy another spectacular view of Baiona and the ocean beyond.
A visit to the â€˜Pintaâ€™ provides a unique insight into the hardship, courage and spirit of adventure of those explorers who roamed the seas centuries ago.
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