Day 23 Santiago de Compostela

We have spent today wandering around Santiago de Compostela, a welcome break from driving for Howard. First thing though, we went to check on Oscar, and say good morning to the boys (or to clarify, to the ridiculously large canvas photo print of the family that Thomas gave us for Christmas). It was a chilly morning, it had been raining again overnight, and we set off on foot to explore the old part of the city. Our Lonely Planet guide book states, ‘locals say the arcaded streets of Santiago de Compostela are most beautiful in the rain’, and if that’s the case, then we saw it at it’s best – since it showered on and off all day long. When the sun broke through, however, the old stone buildings and squares glistened from their thin covering of water, and did add a certain atmosphere to the place.
First thing, there were few people around except locals going about their daily activities. We walked along to the cathedral, which is famed for it’s magnificent facade. Unfortunately, this facade is currently covered in a mass of scaffolding, so it is only the side towers that are clearly visible. We sought out a side entrance and had a quick look around. There was a mass going on, and the sound of organ music resonated round the building. This is the final destination of the thousands of pilgrims who walk the Camino de Santiago every year, a 783km trek if walked in toto, from France, across the Pyrenees, through Rioja, Castilla y Lyon and Galicia. Pilgrims have been making this trek for more than a thousand years to walk to the tomb of St. James the Apostle in Santiago.
Our first visit was brief, since we had left the hotel without breakfast. So we sought out a tiny cafe in one of the lanes, and enjoyed a coffee and croissant surrounded just by locals enjoying their first coffee of the day whilst reading the newspaper.
Feeling refreshed after our caffeine-burst, we set off with map in hand to explore further. We returned to the cathedral, by now getting busier, to have a proper look around, and see the remains of St. James in the crypt. Rather disappointingly, if you wanted the light a candle in the cathedral, you had to insert coins into a form of slot machine, which would then light up an electronic candle on the display. So not quite the same atmospheric effect as real flickering candlelight, and a touch commercial too! Outside the cathedral was a Galician bag-piper busking – the pipes quite similar to Scottish bagpipes, but with a slightly higher pitch. It reminded me of one of our friend’s son, who often busks in Dundee with his pipes. We crossed the grand large square in front of the cathedral, criss-crossed through narrow passageways into beautiful little squares, lined with camellia trees in bloom, and had a walk through the park. I was surprised to see so many familiar birds in the park – blackbirds, robins, blue-tits and coal-tits, as well as a few less common ones such as black-caps. There were daffodils in bloom, and catkins on the trees – signs of spring many months away in Scotland. We came across the statue of ‘the two Mary’s’, built to commemorate two local eccentric women who took delight in walking through the park every day to taunt the local students.
We stopped again in a brief spell of sunshine, and sat outside a cafe. Howard decided to go native and sample the Spanish delicacy of churros – warm lengths of sugary doughnut and gloopy hot chocolate. Yummy!
By now some walkers had started to arrive outside the cathedral, most carrying a shell and a staff, which is apparently de rigueur for a pilgrim. Our last bit of culture for the day was to visit the Benedictine Monastery and it’s museum. I’m not generally great on museums, but this one was actually quite interesting. The monastery had it’s own printing press, consisting of intricately carved wooden blocks used as stamps. The workmanship involved in producing these was extra-ordinary. They also had a pharmacy, natural history section and human anatomy section, the latter displaying a hand-made anatomical model of the human body built in 1879. Another joy of the museum, was that apart from one other soul, we had the whole place to ourselves.
My general impression of Santiago de Compostela is generally favourable. I loved the old city, but perhaps found it more commercial than I had hoped. The wonderful old buildings and arcades were definitely marred by a collection of souvenir shops selling tacky religious memorabilia, but I guess you find that the world over. The local people though are charming – very friendly and accommodating, and the city has a vibrant vibe about it.
For now, though, I am Santiago de Compostela’d out! Howard has certainly exceeded his step count target today, so perhaps I will be spared his constant jigging tonight!

One thought on “Day 23 Santiago de Compostela

  1. Loving all of your photographs and daily blog. Feel as though I’m almost there with you – it’s so entertaining.
    When you eventually complete this epic tour in another 11 months, in your retirement you should become an author. You would be splendid because you write so well. Liz x


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