And so to Santiago de Compostela
After a stop-over in Ribadeo, a ‘frontier’ town between Asturias and Galicia, we arrived in Ferrol, the end of the line for the FEVE narrow gauge train. We had completed the journey in 5 sections, but to do it as a continuous journey (not recommended) it would take about 14 hours from Bilbao to Ferrol. Jenny was mesmerised throughout by the views on both sides of the train. I lazily read newspapers keeping half an eye on the changing scenery, jumping out of my seat from time to time to grab a photo. The FEVE is a beautiful, gentle way to travel the north coast, so long as you are not in a hurry!
I have been to Santiago de Compostela many times before, twice as a cycling
pilgrim. For Jenny it was 30 years since her last visit, a time before the re-inauguration of the Camino, and when there was only a relative trickle of pilgrims arriving at this ancient medieval city. Today, hundreds of thousands walk, cycle or horse-ride their way to Santiago, and many millions more come by other forms of transport. It is a huge, and growing, business, and the Compostelanos are well organised ‘y sacan máximo provecho de tanto turismo’.
You can spend hours on the Plaza del Obradoiro (in front of the Cathedral) and be entertained by the stream of pilgrims arriving in a constant procession. Even in early October, there are over 1000 pilgrims arriving daily from the Camino. After they have collected their Compostela (certificate of completion) many will go to the Pilgrim Mass at noon in the Cathedral, the principle attraction being the swinging of the huge censer (botafumeiro) after the service. If you like the smell of incense, this is the place to be. If you enjoy unusual spectacles, this is one of the most unusual, and it has its
origins in the deep medieval past. Whatever spiritual or religious significance you care to attach to the use of incense, an important function was its ability to mask the appalling smell of thousands of pilgrims in medieval times. Remember, these people had spent many months on the Camino, and they would arrive unwashed, lice- infested and carrying an untold number of infectious diseases. Incense may not have been the cure, but it raised the senses to higher things!
When we opened the curtains of our hotel room, we were left speechless. I normally manage to book rooms overlooking car parks or noisy city streets, but this time we were able to feast our eyes on the soaring spires of the Cathedral, and when the moon was up and the illumination on, the sight was magical. For your information, it was the Hotel Pombal.
After a couple of nights in Santiago, we left to stay with some friends in deepest rural Galicia, who have thrown all caution to the wind and taken on the all-consuming project of restoring an ancient Galician farmhouse. Read on…………