Jen and I “slept in” until 8am today and headed to Santiago de Compostela to see the cathedral. The Catedral de Santiago de Compostela is the burial site of St. James the Apostle, and as result, pilgrims from all over Europe make the trek and have been doing so since the Middle Ages. The cathedral itself is built in the Romanesque style; construction started in the 11th century.
Although I am not the most religious of people, seeing the pilgrims’ dedication and devotion, with nothing more than their backpack and walking stick as personal belongings, was both moving and inspirational. Here I am, some brat who took the air conditioned Renfe to Santiago, and these pilgrims have bandaged feet, sunburn, a 20+lb backpack strapped to them. Proof that if you believe in anything strongly enough, you will make the sacrifices and do whatever it takes to get there. It doesn’t matter if it’s religion, what you do for a living, or a hobby that you have – just make sure that you have something that gives you meaning.
The ambiance of the cathedral sent chills down my spine. First of all, it is HUGE. In addition to the cathedral itself, there is a museum with relics, paintings, statues, and other artifacts from the church. Secondly, when in the crypt, vying for a spot to view the remains of St. James, a rush of second grade Catechism class memories came to me. It also strikes an emotional chord to see people crying, praying fervently, so intense in all of their actions. (I did not take many photos of the inside of the cathedral, as Masses were underway and I wanted to be respectful of this.)
And to turn the truly profound and spiritual experience for these pilgrims on its head – there are a million and one souvenir stands hawking everything from magnets to shotglasses to t-shirts to jewelry. (“Santiago de Compostela Hottie” t-shirt, anyone?)
It was interesting – I was reading an article in “El Pais” (Galician edition!) this morning about the sheer number of shops in the Santiago area but locals complain that most of the goods sold, with the exception of a few baked goods such as Tarta Santiago (which shopkeepers will hand-feed you and then pressure you to buy, almost like the way you’re ambushed with counterfeit handbags on Canal Street), are made in China. On the other hand, without the influx of pilgrims and tourists, the area would be fairly desolate and undeveloped and other business owners, such as restauranteurs, would struggle.
(Tangent: Another interesting article I read in “El Pais” this morning: young professionals, fresh out of college, are now eligible for rent assistance if their salaries are below a certain threshold. Can we have this law enacted in NYC?!)
So it was back on the Renfe to A Coruña. I meandered over to the Castillo de San Antón, which was built in the 1500s as a fort to defend the city. When the British attacked in the late 1500s, the castle provided defense for the city – many of the weapons are on display within a neat little museum. Up until the 1960s, the castle served as a prison. After the prison was closed, the site was dedicated to housing archeological finds, which there are plenty of. The view from the top of the castle is beautiful. One can stand as close to the edge of the wall of the grounds surrounding the castle as possible and see all of the aquatic life swimming in the clear blue water.
I walked around town for a bit and found a feria, which is the equivalent of a festival or street fair. Some are huge productions, others are small in scale. This particular feria was an international steet fair, with a band performing in the center of the square and vendors representing many countries selling their products. Most of the people were flocking around the Peru tent, interestingly enough. It was an unexpected, yet much-welcome, twist to my walk.
Before you know it, it was time for dinner and I ate like a queen. So much seafood – shellfish, lobsters, crabs, merluza, bacalao…you name it, they brought it to my table. All of it caught a few hours ago. My stomach was in a state of euphoria – I don’t know if I have ever eaten food this fresh before and if I ever will again (unless I find a reason to be back, of course!). I am going to miss my Galician diet.
As promised, here are some photos from the Torre de Hercules (yesterday’s adventure). More photos of Galicia tomorrow, it’s 1am and time to get the party started:
Yes, the empanada came up the tower with me also.
Overall, today was a fairly tumultous day in that I felt many unexpected twists, similar to my encounter with the street fair. It’s amazing how certain sights, such as seeing the line of pilgrims wrap around many street blocks, or interactions, can invoke such feelings.