Santiago de Compostella:
The big drawcard in the very north-west of Spain is the city of Santiago de Compostella.All the way since Santander we had past pilgrims on the roads walking towards the city.Mostly with day packs on, it was obvious that they were on an organised pilgrimage and had warm, dry, comfortable beds for the night.Only the occasional one had a full backpack with sleeping bags and mats on board - doing it the hard way. The closer we came to Santiago, the thicker the throngs on the road.If the idea of the pilgrimage is solitude bringing with it reflection, then that quality is in short supply.
We found the campsite on the edge of town, checked in quickly and headed for the bus into town.The old city is a worthy destination even if you are not a pilgrim.It is a beautiful tangle of narrow lanes with ancient houses in pale yellow stone reaching above to three stories.The main square with the cathedral is expansive and surrounded by grand buildings and palacios.
The cathedral is jaw-droppingly magnificent.It is huge and incredibly ornate and dominates the square.Unfortunately the carved entrance portico is undergoing restoration and is hidden behind scaffolding and hessian sheets but in the crypt there were two short films on it which showed its history and its extraordinary quality, so we did not feel too disappointed.What little we could see was indeed superb and executed with the highest level of the stone masonery.Inside the cathedral it was a hive of activity.This is the focal point for the pilgrims and they have come from far and wide on their journey to worship here.Interestingly the pilgrimage was very popular hundreds of years ago but had fallen into decline.It is only since the 60s or 70s that it has been taken up again enthusiastically by the masses - can one be cynical enough to speculate on the marketing abilities of the Catholic Church??The town is certainly very prosperous as a result...
The cathedral was certainly the busiest we have ever been in on all our cathedral-visiting over the years.Many a side chapel was filled with groups having their own special services.In fact many were quite pushy when it came to getting a good seat!
As the afternoon wore on we wandered the streets of the old town. Once away from the cathedral and the tacky souvenir shops we found the locals' part of town.Ordinary shops, cafes and a theatre and the citizens of the town going about their business.There were many university students out for a drink and some tapas and the place was buzzing.We found a small bar in a quiet square and had to race to get a seat when some people stood to leave - we might never have sat down otherwise! We ordered a couple of beers and some 'rationes', literally 'rations' - a bigger version of tapas: octopus Galician style (tender as), mussels (a big plate and delicious) and a common favourite here, potato croquettes.
And so back to the campsite.An old lady took a shine to us at the bus stop and chatted away.We managed to make ourselves understood as did she, but after a while, with no language in common, conversation got a bit difficult.She made sure, however, that we got off the bus at the right stop.