Day 36, 37, & 38: Santiago De Compostela, Galicia Spain
And then there was one…
So Santiago was originally gonna be my gateway to Southern Spain for the teaching gig, which unfortunately recently fell through. I guess the program lacked the number of students needed to warrant me. Who knows. My friend told me this kind of stuff is “the Spanish way.” I just wished they had told me of this possibility from the get go. I was a bit pissed by the news at first but everything happens for a reason I suppose. Since I was\am running low on funds I changed my return flight to the states from August to mid July and decided to travel a bit more. Originally I was planning on flying from Northern Spain back East to check out either Latvia and Lithuania OR Romania, which is supposed to be very interesting on the historical side of things and also features some stunning natural beauties in Transylvania and the Carpathian Mountains. Since planning this leg of the trip was last minute all flights, even on budget airlines, were expensive and in both cases called for a stop over in a random city like Frankfurt, Germany. SO, what I ended up deciding was to stay on the Iberian Peninsula and check out Portugal, another country often overlooked by tourists. But let’s get back to beautiful Santiago.
I arrived to Galicia fairly beat from the rough night at Stansted Airport. Santiago is one of the oldest cities in Spain and is famous as being the mecca for European pilgrims who take part in the “El Camino de Santiago” walk. This massive hike traditionally begins in Southern France in the Pyrenees Mountains, weaves through northern Spain and ends in Galicia either in Santiago or on the coast. I have always had an interest in the camino ever since I studied in Spain and hope to do it someday.
It was nice being back in Spain, the country that I truly fell in love. My hostel was located in the heart of the old part of town, minutes from the Catedral, which according to legend holds the remains of the apostle, Saint James the Great.(check it out here http://www.caminosantiago.com/way_of_saint_james/index.htm) The city, which UNESCO deemed a world heritage sight in 1985, is small and reminded me of my former stomping grounds of Salamanca due to beautiful stone architecture, stunning plazas, and a theme of shells running through the city (scallop shells and gourds are essential items for pilgrims and can be seen\bought all over the town). The lingering smell of Spanish pastries and empanadas throughout the city, the small stone streets, the people with their cafe con leches in the plaza-all constant reminders of the Spanish culture.
The first night I explored a bit but crashed on the early side since I was behind on sleep. A nice Swedish girl named Anna was sharing the dorm room with me. She had just finished a shortened version of the camino, starting in Leon, Spain, however, a pilgrimage is considered such if it exceeds 100km. She had many stories to tell and all of them increased my desire to someday do the walk. Pilgrims walk during the day (Anna told me she averaged roughly 25km a day) and at night they find refuge in a string of small monasteries along the path, usually for a small donation. Above all the camino, according to Anna, provides spectacular views of the mountainous N. Spanish landscape.
The second day I walked a path around the outskirts of the city, which included some beautiful and fairly secluded city parks. Also on the agenda was the Santiago contemporary art museum, which resides in a cool and rather unique modern building nesteled near the older university campus. The main catedral is quite stunning to visit but also welcomes the most tourists. A line to see the supposed remains of St James wrapped around the Cathedral’s main façade. Was it worth the 25 minute wait to walk by and kiss the ornate resting place? I’m not quite sure but everyone seemed to be doing it so I jumped on board. Visiting the supposed remains is the pilgrims final destination for the el camino and on both days I visited the cathedral it was flooded by pilgrims from all over.
On my third day I decided to daytrip to neighboring city A Coruna, which lies on the coast. A coruna is another beautiful Spanish gem of a city. A Coruna’s most visited sight is the Tower of Hercules, a 1900-year-old lighthouse that was supposedly built by Hercules to honor his defeat of Geryon, a mythological giant tyrant. Supposedly the tower resides over a burial ground for the heads of Hercules’ slain enemy. The tower overlooks the Atlantic and A Corunas breathtaking rocky coast.
Back in Santiago I was fortunate enough to be visiting during one of the city’s many summer music festivals. On the third night I introduce Anna to Spanish Tapas (Santiago’s staple food item is a delicious local cheese that is creamier than Spanish Manchego, which is found around the rest of Spain) and afterwards we stumbled upon an outdoor concert setup outside a catholic church and a monastery. We later found out that the concert was celebrating gay rights, which was pretty cool considering the show was outside two catholic monuments in a country known for their strict Catholicism. It’s safe to say that Santiago is probably one of the more liberal cities in Spain as the people seemed very welcoming of all the pilgrims that enter the city throughout the year.
I also spent some time trying to figure out what to do in Portugal and read up on some of the northern Portuguese cities. The plan: from Santiago I bussed to Braga for two nights, then Guimares for a night, then a bus down to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, which is also a good hub for day trips. Then I fly from Lisbon to Dublin where I catch my flight back to Chicago. Then I find work and build up some more income.
So of course there are more stories from Galicia but alas my internet cafe computer is almost out of time. Braga, Portugal is next.