Cycling Spain’s North Coast – Day 8

Arrival in Santiago

As a cyclist, I’ve been focusing on the riding, the countryside, the people, the culture…and trying not to focus on the pain.  An additional aspect that is unique to this trip that we’re all allowed to adopt is that of being a pilgrim.  In the group, there are varying levels of enthusiasm for the age-old pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.

The Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James) is a large network of ancient pilgrim routes stretching across Europe and coming together at the tomb of St. James (Santiago in Spanish).  The pilgrimage to Santiago has never ceased from the time of the discovery of St. James’s remains, though there have been years of fewer pilgrims, particularly during European wars.  The main pilgrimage route follows an earlier Roman trade route, which continues past Santiago, to the Atlantic coast, ending at Cape Finisterre.  Going all the way to the sea has mostly been abandoned, but its significance is related to the story of St. James’s arrival.  After his death, his disciples shipped his body to the Iberian Peninsula to be buried in Santiago. Off the coast of Spain, a heavy storm hit the ship, and the body was lost to the ocean. After some time, however, it washed ashore undamaged, covered in scallops.

So, the scallop shell is a symbol of pilgrims on the camino.  We saw it attached to many, many backpacks.  Shar bought one and attached it just below the seat on her bike.  Here’s what one of the route markers looks like.

The oldest route to Santiago de Compostela, first taken in the 9th century, is referred to as the Original Way or Camino Primitivo, which begins in Oviedo.  Pilgrims walk for weeks or months to reach the city.  Some Europeans begin their pilgrimage on foot from the very doorstep of their homes, just as their medieval counterparts did.  Remember the nuns on cycles from Poland we saw early in the trip?

There are many routes (any path to Santiago can be considered a pilgrim’s path), but the most popular is Via Regia and its last part, the French Way.  Historically, due to the Codex Calixtinus, most of the pilgrims came from France.

Another popular route is the Portuguese Way, which starts either at the cathedral in Lisbon (for a total of about 610 km) or at the cathedral in Porto (for a total of about 227 km), crossing into Galicia at Valença.  Here’s an easier way to visualize the major routes.  We’re blue and lime colored.

Anyway…pilgrim or not, the energy of the many who are is inescapable.  Our final riding day, our arrival in Santiago day, was relatively short (30 km), but very hilly.  On this day we encountered many souls on the route, most walking and carrying walking poles.  Given the myriad opportunities to photograph pilgrims, I totally blew it.  There’s one and you can see it in Shar’s posting.

The crowds thickened as we entered the city, all converging on the cathedral.  It was a big deal!

We got a tour of the cathedral, museum and neighborhood after hotel check-in, shower and a rest.  A knowledgeable local gave us the two-hour show, including the St. James bones fly-by room.  I call it that because the silver box in which the bones lie is in a tiny alcove off a narrow, one-way corridor, with many people filing by.  Even craning my neck to gain an extended view, I didn’t see anything remotely like a silver box in the 3.5 seconds it took to file past.  Oh well.

In some spots, pictures were not allowed, not appropriate or inadequately lit, so my choices of images to post are limited.  Here’s one of the main church, looking towards the altar, with folks waiting for the 7 PM mass to begin (it was about 10 min. prior).  It was a little odd to be gawking around with a live narrator, while the congregation was settling in for a reverential event.  We got a few semi-hostile stares, but the deal was to be out of the church by 7, and we were.

There are many (12?) side chapels around the perimeter.  Here’s an impressive one…as in ornate.

The neighborhood tour included one tidbit that, if nothing else did, made it all worthwhile.  There’s an avenue (read ‘pedestrian alley’) called Rue Franco that had the greatest concentration of restaurants; we had a late lunch there.  We wondered about an area named after the late dictator.  Did he name it after himself?  Or what?  Well, it turns out that it has nothing to do with him.  It’s much older.  It’s named for all the French pilgrims and traders, and the shop owners who catered to them.

The tour went past 8 PM, at which time there was a general rebellion to replace feeding our brains with feeding our stomachs.  Geoff provided a farewell dinner for 11 at the hotel.  The two additional places were for Maggi and Ariella, Geoff’s wife and 9-yr old daughter, in from their headquarters near Granada.  It was a delightful evening that can’t be shared because I have no talent for describing warm camaraderie.  Good food, too.

That event essentially completed the trip.  We met again for breakfast and more-or-less-final goodbyes.  I say that because four of us stayed another night in Santiago; Kim and Mark being the other two.  We had dinner with them on the largely imaginary ‘Day 9’ and we had dinner with Kira two nights later in Porto.  But I shouldn’t get ahead because I’m so far behind.

As I write this, we’re just passing the west coast of Europe, heading out over the Atlantic on a 747, on the way home.  It seems a fitting time to end this narrative.  We did spend two full days and three nights in Porto, Portugal, before boarding our flight.  I’ll leave all that to your imagination.  But I will say that we both found Porto, and Portugal in general, if Porto is representative, to be absolutely delightful.  I don’t think we’ve ever been treated so nicely by so many people.  Additionally, everyone, seemingly, speaks near-perfect English. The feel of the place is quite different from Spain and elsewhere in Europe, so it’s a place of its own.  We’ll be back, for sure, for a longer stay.  We heard good things about Lisbon, too.

It’s time to focus on our own boat.  We have half a summer to continue our exploration of points north on the Pacific Coast.  We won’t make it as far north as usual, but that’s OK.  There’s lots to see and do, lots of remote anchorages to discover, and lots of fish, crab and prawns to catch.  But it won’t be quite the adventure this one has been.  It will take a lot to top it.  Adios.

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