I’ve now been in Santiago for about six days. I can’t decide if it feels longer than that, or shorter.
In my first 24 hours, I ran into more friends than I had any right to expect, given that a) I was relatively slow compared with them and b) the majority of pilgrims in Santiago have come, of course, from the Camino Francés. So I hung out with some of them for a while (and one absconded with my chocolate bar—you know who you are). But since those first few days, I’ve only seen one person I know.
I’d planned to walk to Finisterre, but as with last time, when I walked into Santiago I felt like my journey was over. I thought about changing my ticket and visiting my English friend again, but I couldn’t get hold of her and when I finally did, it turned out she was busy. I decided I should just go to Finisterre, but lagged in making preparations because I didn’t really want to do it.
(If anyone is actually planning to go to Finisterre, here’s a helpful tip: You can leave anything you’ve accumulated in Santiago in the pilgrim office for €1. Anyone can check their bag for any amount of time, but I didn’t know until I asked that they’ll hold it for days at a time.)
I arrived on Sunday, and by Tuesday afternoon was wandering around watching happy pilgrims and feeling friendless. I told myself I was being ridiculous, but it didn’t help. I kept thinking I saw people I knew out of the corner of my eye, but when I turned to look, the person would look nothing like the friend I thought I’d recognized. At one point, I was even hallucinating friends from my previous Camino.
I was staying at Mundoalbergue, which is on the expensive side but less than five minutes from the cathedral, and has a wonderful hospitalero. I went back there on Tuesday afternoon, planning to read the English book I’d bought for the plane. That would, of course, have been bad. I haven’t read a book in a while, and if I’d started reading, I wouldn’t have been able to stop. And then of course I would’ve been book-less for the trip home.
So when the hospitalero invited me to share his lunch, I jumped at the distraction. And I told him that I’d like to find something useful to do in Santiago until my flight.
And that’s why I’m still at the same albergue, helping out in general (I’m finally learning to mop properly) and especially with English matters. It’s not the end to my journey that I was expecting, but it’s quite nice seeing Santiago from a slightly different perspective.
I still feel part pilgrim, sleeping in a dorm room and living out of my backpack, but mostly not. After all, I bought some underwear, so I no longer have to do laundry every day, and of course I’m not doing any serious walking.
When I was walking, I kept hearing that Santiago would be crowded and awful. It is crowded, but even though I’m not a crowd person, I rather like it. It’s fun to be back wandering streets I remember.
There’s also a fiesta on at the moment, with a big fair and concerts and entertainers roaming the streets. It makes things even more crowded than usual, but is rather fun.
So … here are a few things I’ve done that you might want to consider doing if you find yourself in Santiago. It’s really not so much since I mostly just amble around taking random photos.
Of course, it’s fun to watch pilgrims arrive at the cathedral. But once they’ve taken off their packs and boots, they’re somewhat harder to spot. So one of my favourite pastimes is playing spot-the-pilgrim.
Ever since someone recognized me as a pilgrim in Salamanca solely on the basis of my pants (that’s trousers to the British) with the zip-off legs, I’ve noticed them as a probable indicator of pilgrim-hood.
Not that all pilgrims have zip-off pants, but anyone who does have them is likely to be a pilgrim.
Boots and backpacks (or bicycles) are also a good indicator, of course, but most pilgrims get rid of their packs and bikes as soon as possible and put on sandals, so that’s not terribly helpful after the initial arrival. Polar fleece, quick-dry t-shirts and broad-brimmed hats are also likely signs, and anyone who winces as they walk or sports a serious beard is particularly likely to have walked to Santiago.
I suppose this goes without saying. There’s the Pilgrim Mass at noon every day, and hugging the apostle, and visiting the crypt where his bones theoretically rest. And the rest of the cathedral is pretty impressive too.
And I suppose I think of the Praza do Obradoiro/Plaza del Obradoiro as an extension of the cathedral&mash;it may be full of protester’s tents, but it’s a great place to people-watch.
Cathedral Roof Tour
It’s on the expensive side (€8 for pilgrims), but for me at least, very worth it. The history was fascinating, and the photo opportunities are marvellous. And you can peer through windows to see inside the cathedral from the very top.
I’d been here before, so I skipped the (very interesting) regular exhibit and went to the photography exhibition. It’s currently displaying Emocions e Rostros Peregrinos, an exhibit featuring Jacobo Remuñán’s photos of pilgrims who’ve just arrived in Santiago. The emotion on the faces is wonderful.
And the whole thing is free.
Museo de Pobo Galego
I went here kind of randomly today. The staircase alone made it worth the €3, and I’m not being facetious. It’s actually three spiral staircases, one on top of another, and seriously cool.
Apart from that, of course the information is in Gallego, but the artifacts are interesting, and there’s currently an interesting photo exhibition with photos by Alberto Martí of emigrants leaving Galicia.
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If you’ve enjoyed this, you may want to read more of my Live from the Vía de la Plata posts.