As I mentioned yesterday, Santiago de Compostela was one of the highlights of this trip for me.
Where to begin? I learned so much, and really wanted to stay several more days to explore the modern side of town, the water, the beautiful park that we only managed to stroll part of, and speak to more pilgrims. A funny observation about the people is that it is not common, at least in my European travels, to see shorts and casual clothing on the people strolling about, and here, because of the pilgrims, I suspect, there was a lot of that. And, as you would expect, plenty of pilgrims with backpacks and walking sticks!
You’ll find many articles online about the pilgrims, the camino (the pilgrimage way), the city and more. While there are many personal blogs written during and after individual pilgrimages that speak to each person’s experience, I think that the spirituality inherent in the location is often lost to those reading and certainly being a tourist there. The small old town is so filled with people and movement, and history to think about, that it is easy to forget that this is a final destination for thousands of people over thousands of years who took a very long walk upon themselves to learn something. Whether they wanted to learn to know God or themselves, those who got to the front of the cathedral, knelt upon the ground in front of it to celebrate in their hearts, achieved something many more thousands of us never will — and that is what I found very moving. There was so much evidence of the pilgrim as a “sight” to see on a tourist’s agenda, that I think many people forgot to appreciate this moment that was happening all around us.
First a bit about the Parador where we stayed for two nights – didn’t I mention it was too short a stay!
“Also known as Hostal dos Reis Catolicos it was originally a Royal Hospital and dates back to 1499. It provided lodging and shelter for the numerous pilgrims making their way to Santiago, an age old practice which continues to this day. Considered to be the oldest hotel in the world it is also one of the most luxurious” We were very pleased to learn on our tour of the Parador that up to ten pilgrims are given free room and board each day to carry on this tradition (apparently the first ten to arrive each day). We imagined that that was once a well kept secret, but suspect with the internet that those almost there walk faster to get there first! During our afternoon leisure time, we did see the side entrance with the pilgrims enjoying their long deserved rest on a side patio for them.
Here is a picture of our room and our view:
On our first day in the city, we were given a nearly three hour tour with a local guide. Odysseys Unlimited local guides are excellent. Incredibly knowledgeable, excellent English skills and well versed in managing 24 people! During the tour, we, of course, had to stop for the never ending small cups of coffee!
After the tour, we had the afternoon to ourselves, and we walked about many of the lovely streets. The afternoon that we had arrived, we had found a lovely park and we had hoped to get back to it, but this is one of the few days that the rain did eventually catch up to us and so we didn’t get back there.
We did manage to find some beautiful locally made jewelry gifts for self and friends. We always try to find something made in the country to return with. It is silver filigree type work with a black stone called jet.
During our shopping for souvenirs, we stopped to try the local specialty soup called caldo gallego (a kale and sausage soup) and a plate of anchovies. Marvelous! On our walk we had spotted a shop serving churros and chocolate, so we had to go there for our dessert! We were stuffed, but as it turned out it was the only really authentic looking churros I spotted the for the whole trip – so it was worth it!
The rain had now begun in earnest and even with good rain gear, it wasn’t going to be pleasant to walk any further. So we returned to our room for a much needed nap and to read. We had time before dinner – at 8 – to tour the Parador and read the museum cards more closely and have a cup of tea in the cafe. The parador has four patios, with posted signs about the history of the parador as well as a really wonderful photographic exhibit on the walls of one of the patios.
Dinner was at 8 – lots of small plates – too much food of course – but we somehow managed to eat it! Good thing we were doing so much walking! We were up until almost midnight repacking. We don’t usually move hotels so often when we travel, so I found it took me quite a few days to get the hang of what to unpack, and how to organize the dirty, rewear and clean clothing selections.
I went to bed sad that I wouldn’t get more time to visit this beautiful city.