Santiago de Compostela and my own pilgrimage

Hello…it has been awhile since I have posted anything and it is definitely not for the lack of content. I think I’ve been trying to understand my place in this blog and what I can bring not only to readers of this blog but to myself as well. So after two months, here I go and see what words spill out during our journey.

I will continuously update the missing links of our trip up until our present location later on. To summarize a little of what happened since I last wrote, we spent July exploring the north of Brittany from St Malo until Brest where we prepared to cross the Bay of Biscay (Golfe de Gascogne in French, Golfo de Vizcaya in Spanish). We successfully arrived in Spain in the rias Muros. I can’t say enough how impressed I am by how well Yves managed single-handedly our 4 day crossing. I think his praises deserve a whole post so more about that later.

One of the best things about being in Spain other than eating delicious seafood and local delicacies like tarta de Santiago and pimientos del Padròn, is to be able to explore places that I had read about and seeing it in person. One of the many places that I had often heard about is the famous city Santiago de Compostela (in French, St Jacques de Compostelle) which just happens to be an hour away (by bus of course!) from the port of Portosin. In the 3 months that we started traveling, I haven’t really explored places that were far from the port and by myself. Well, there is a first for everything!

So, I packed my backpack (who knows what goodies I might want to pick up in Santiago?!), counted my change for the bus ticket and headed out to the bus stop. Portosin is a very small port with only one bus stop with no sign indicating that it is truly a bus stop. Fortunately, Yves and I had previously taken the bus to go to a neighboring village so I was sure that I wouldn’t miss the bus. Once the bus arrived, I was able to ask for a ticket in my embarrassingly limited smattering of Spanish. I had to change buses at Noia (the neighboring village) and from there, the bus ride took approximately one hour. During this ride, who would have guessed that there would be any other tourists heading to Santiago. I figured that I would be the only one on the bus…anybody else would do the typical thing and walk to the mecca city. Interestingly enough, during the bus ride, a couple boarded the bus and sat right in front of me. As I took in the beautiful Galician countryside, I couldn’t help but overhear French. French?! What?!? I was pretty excited at the thought of being able to converse more fluidly than my grade school Spanish. But I stopped myself…how annoying would it be that someone would just come up and say “hello! I speak your language!”. Yet, as we approached closer to the periphery of Santiago, a Spanish woman addressed the French speaking couple asking them if they were planning on going to the famous cathedral. The woman replied back informing the Spanish lady that they only spoke in French. Ding! The little voice in my head urged me to offer my translation services. I decided to make sure that I was indeed heading to the right place (i.e., this famous cathedral that the Spanish woman was inquiring to the French couple) so I mustered up some courage and timidly asked to the Spanish lady if the bus would take us to the cathedral. I was so touched by her reaction with her face lighting up at the chance to help somebody out. She excitedly replied that she would direct me. As the bus entered into the city, I realized how long it had been since I was in a city (well, technically the last city we were in was Brest, but we were no where NEAR the city). You may ask me how did I realize that I was in an actual city? Simple. If you see an Apple store and I do NOT mean a store that sells apples!

Anyhoo, the Spanish lady gesticulated to me that we arrived at the correct bus stop and I surprised the French couple when I informed them if they wanted to get off to see the cathedral, I was heading in the same direction. We all got off and started following this complete stranger who graciously spent 20 minutes of her time so that 3 tourists could discover what was so great about Santiago. She directed us to a main street that would take us directly to the cathedral and the old town. I thanked her for her help and the French couple and I started trekking up the street. I must specify however that the French couple were not French but Belgian. I told them that I knew Belgium since we had lived right next to the border (Dunkirk) and the man retorted “Dunkirk is in France!” I thought to myself…duh! But we were 10 minutes away from the border! We exchanged pleasantries during the walk up and I started thinking to myself…euh, what do we do when we get there? Now that we started talking, does this mean we are going to spend the ENTIRE day together? how do I say goodbye?!? As we arrived into the old town, we oohed and ahhed over the various shops and restaurants that displayed typical and delicious looking Galician delicacies.

I have to say that when we arrived at the cathedral, it was very impressive. The gothic architecture and details reminded me a lot of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. I wished the Belgian couple a good day and wondered whether or not we would cross each other on the return trip.

I started my own tour of the old town beginning with the tour of the cathedral. I sometimes joke “if you see one church, you’ve seen them all”. This was not the case here in Santiago. The interior of the church was just as majestic as the exterior if not all the more sumptuous! There was an extremely long line of people waiting to enter inside the altar area in order to examine more closely the ornate decorations. As much as I admired the decorations, I decided that it wasn’t necessary to see it up close.

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela - front view

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela – front view

After the cathedral, I started meandering in the surrounding old town. The streets are paved in cobblestone and traces of past were everywhere. I am not posting ALL of the photos that I took…here are some and the rest you can find in the gallery “Santiago de Compostela”.

DSC_0388DSC_0382DSC_0381After walking around, I started getting a bit hungry and decided to look for a place to eat. I am not a huge fan of eating alone but the need to eat something and even more, drinking sangria!! I came across a restaurant with quite extraordinary wooden details.

DSC_0392 DSC_0393The sangria was up to par and the croquetas were exactly what my stomach needed!

DSC_0396During my meal, I realized I was just across the office of Pilgrims. For the non-Catholics who don’t know the significance of Santiago de Compostela, Santiago is the endpoint of many many possible pilgrimages that Catholics (and any trekking aficionados) embark on. For example, one can take the French route which starts at St Jean le Pied, France and takes about 33 days to arrive at Santiago. Once you arrive at Santiago, you receive a stamp that validates the journey. Of course, you are not at all obliged to do so but many do. I arrived at Santiago mid-morning and I saw some “pilgrims” but after my lunch mid-afternoon, the cobblestone streets were filling up with more and more backpackers.

Pilgrims waiting in line at the Office of Pilgrimage

Pilgrims waiting in line at the Office of Pilgrimage

Observing these backpackers, a strange sensation came over me looking at their relieved and joyful faces…relieved to be able to finally take off their hot and stuffy hiking boots, happy to finally arrive at their destination, proud of their achievement. You can even do a pilgrimage to Santiago from the neighboring village of where we were, needless to say, I decided NOT to do this. So…this strange sensation gradually grew into a sort of guilt…I came on a bus…I didn’t walk miles and miles…what am I doing here?! Then, a sort of epiphany hit. My own pilgrimage isn’t happening on foot…but on water. I heard many stories of pilgrimages to Santiago where people were ready to quit at any moment during their trek or questioning themselves why the hell did they decide to take on such a journey. I realized that this journey I embarked on…with Yves…with La Nomade…well, this is my own pilgrimage. There are good things (surviving the Bay of Biscay) and bad things (trying to endure the rolling swells)…and I discover and learn day by day things about myself (I do not become used to the sea after 48 hrs nonstop at sea), about Yves (he doesn’t mind cooking and doing the dishes when sailing), about La Nomade (we need at least two automatic pilots if we sail more than 24 hrs)…

I ended my day at Santiago picking up a couple of local delicacies…mainly sweet stuff before heading back to Portosin. As much as I loved visiting Santiago de Compostela, the best part of this day trip was the epiphany of my own pilgrimage aboard La Nomade.