Days 43-45, 29th – 31st October 2015, Santiago de Compostela.
It’s me again. I bet you thought you had read the last of me, now that I’ve reached Santiago didn’t you? No chance, there are always more stories for me to tell. For example, I neglected to mention where our motley band of pilgrims went after our colossal pilgrim meal. We toddled off to a place called Bar La Croquette, which is a blues bar, where, as the name suggests, we enjoyed some great music and vibes! Mind you, I couldn’t tell you how to find it though as I struggled to orientate myself among the narrow cobbled streets (no, I wasn’t legless thank you very much and I made it safely back to the Hotel Real B&B, before midnight too).
I was looking forward to a few lie-ins on these precious rest days, but could I manage to stay asleep beyond 7am? No, not at all and I think I was the first one down for breakfast, and it was a healthy one too (muesli, fruit and yoghurt, hurray!) Afterwards, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt a tad de-mob happy but I found it hard to stop walking. I decided to enjoy a leisurely bimble around the old part of the city and absorbed the energy of this magical place.
As I walked around I reflected on the meaning of Santiago de Compostela. There are several different stories or translations. ‘Santiago’ is a Spanish derivative from the Hebrew word ‘Jacob’ and was first used to denote Saint James the Great, which is straightforward. ‘Compostela’, could mean ‘burial ground’ or the ‘well composed one’ but I actually prefer ‘the field of the star’ don’t you? To me this conjures up images of the profound connection we all have to nature and the cosmos and reminds me of the numerous mornings when I rose early enough to begin my Camino walk for the day out among the fields and under the stars. I also feel in my heart that the stars symbolise auspicious moments in our lives. Certainly my pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago has been exceptionally auspicious so far and I pondered whether this would continue, when I set off on the next leg of my journey in a couple of days time.
The vibes from this amazing place felt quite different to me compared to those of Leon, Burgos, Logrono and Pamplona. There was a lightness and effervescence about the city, which I had not noticed in the other urban centres. Could the atmosphere have been created through centuries of prayer and pilgrim celebrations? Or were the vibes heightened by the Galician music and song, weaving tapestries of sound and providing a portal to other dimensions? Galician folk music reminded me of the celtic styles of folk music from Ireland, Scotland and Wales that I love to sing and play so much.
Later on in the morning I headed over to the Cathedral to attend the 12 noon pilgrim mass. I arrived early enough to find a seat with a good vantage point to observe the mass. First of all a nun with the most exquisite, angelic voice came out to lead the congregation in a spot of worship practice and we got stuck straight in with a wonderful, uplifting Taize chant called “Laudate omnes gentes”, which I’m very familiar with. As I joined in the rising throng of voices, I felt the tears well up in my eyes and a lump came to my throat. How humbling it was to be a part of co-creating these moments of sacred worship with other pilgrims from all over the world. And so we sang on…
“Laudate omnes gentes, laudate dominum,
Laudate omnes gentes, laudate dominum”
These phrases translate as “Sing praises all you people, sing praises to the Lord”. Meanwhile the Cathedral filled up quickly and the service began. I did my best to follow the mass in Spanish. I noticed Owen among the other priests in front of the altar, who participated in leading the service. What a special time that must have been for him.
Towards the end the service, priests lit the ‘Botafumeiro‘, the famous, large incense burner, traditionally used for cleansing and purifying the pilgrim congregation in the past but is now used more symbolically in pilgrim masses. Several people are required to pull on the ropes in order to swing the ‘Botafumeiro’ higher and higher, forwards and backwards above the congregation. It is a magnificent sight as clouds of fragrant smoke curl upwards towards the ceiling arches, building to a crescendo.
After the ceremony, I wandered around the Cathedral and visited the shrine of St. James, down in the crypt. When I came back out, Sven came running up to me waving his smart phone. He eagerly showed me a photo taken of him outside the pilgrim office in St. Jean Pied de Port, he pointed to Janie and I standing by the wall in the background. Apparently we had begun our Camino walks at the same time and we hadn’t realised this until now, because we hadn’t met until Sahagun, the half way point.
I am not one for pomp and circumstance or ornate adornments and icons. However, the Cathedral still held a certain mystical atmosphere, compared to the Cathedrals I visited in Pamplona and Burgos. The cloisters were peaceful and did not possess the uncomfortable and spooky cold spots of the Parador de Leon.
At dusk, I joined several other pilgrims, including Martin for the Cathedral roof top tour, which is well worth doing if you are not afraid of heights. Although, I’m not actually afraid of heights as such, I am afraid of standing too close to the edge of a tall building without anything to stop me from falling off! However, the rooftop, covered in granite, felt sturdy and safe and the guide, captured my attention, regaling us with historical accounts of the Cathedral building and its occupants, including a bellringer, who lived in a hut on the roof with his whole family. I wondered if they ever got any sleep! We stayed on the roof to watch the sunset over the rooftops.
Over the next couple of days, I filled my time with more walks absorbing all that the older and newer parts of the city had to offer , visiting churches, monasteries, gardens including a couple of mazes, several gift shops to search for suitable and special mementos for Brett and my Auntie Josie and plenty of watering holes and eateries!
Here are a pick of my favourites:
Cafe de Jacobus – a great place for an excellent first or second breakfast;
O Dezaseis – hidden away in the old city, this restaurant is a real find. I enjoyed the tasty and incredibly generous portions of ‘Cordero’, with seasonal vegetables;
Pez y Palo – a quirky and funky cafe, which provides a good fresh, varied and delicious alternative to pilgrim menus so give it a go for a lunch stop;
Pub Momo – now this is a hidden treasure, eccentric, atmospheric, great music and if the weather is good you can sit outside in the lovely, garden terrace at the back and admire the views across the city;
Cafe Casino – is a posh establishment with high ceilings, leather arm chairs, impeccable service and a naughty menu to boot. I dare you to indulge in the hot chocolate and chocolate brownie and ice cream! Go on, I dare you! You deserve it!;
Garigolo – and last but not least, this restaurant is a must. The guy who runs it lovingly prepares healthy and tasty dishes from a varied, ayurvedic menu. Fiona, Martin and I enjoyed a wonderful evening meal here to celebrate Fiona’s arrival in Santiago. All courses were delicious and the atmosphere was totally relaxed and zen.
Stay tuned for another exciting episode, when I share my stories from my Camino 2, the sequel, Caminos Finisterre and Muxia in the next few days.
Peace, love and light,