Today is the most anticipated day of our camino journey. Our destination is the Cathedral at the heart of Santiago de Compostela.
The 20 kilometres breeze by, barely noticeable. We pass alongside the runway of Lavacolla airport and climb the modest Monte del Gozo with its monumentally-scaled monument commemorating a visit by Pope John Paul II. More importantly, the hill offers the first glimpse of the twin towers of the Cathedral. We head down the slopes and into the suburban fringes of the city. Straight streets lined with modern buildings give way to the medieval centre of narrow, twisted passages.
Rain has followed us on this last day and it seems to intensify as we near our goal. Now in the winding streets of Santiago, we see many pilgrims huddling under stone colonnades. One waves to us, cheering us on. It is a fellow we met early in our journey – a portly man from Toronto who fell in with a several other men, all starting out as individuals but eventually forming a troupe that would complete their pilgrimage together.
That is life on the camino, individuals lives winding in and around your own orbit along this 800 kilometer path across Spain. Some would disappear from your field of vision, either on a different schedule or forced to stop due to health concerns or time constraints. Others would suddenly reappear, such as our friend from Toronto, members of a small community tenuously linked together by a long walk.
We arrive at the Prazo Obradoira, the handsome square fronting the Cathedral. It is a bittersweet moment. We have successfully crossed an entire country on foot. Yet there is yearning for the trip to continue. Standing here in the shadow of the largest of many large cathedrals we have encountered on our journey, it is clear that the journey is more important than the destination. Walking, with its gentle rhythmic motion, is not too dissimilar from the recitation of a chant. It releases us from the rush of our everyday modern lives and forces an intimate examination and understanding of the small worlds we pass through.
Our journey will continue. We have already decided that this plaza is just another stopping point in our walking lives. After a day of rest in Santiago we will continue westward, walking to Finisterre and then to Muxia. And after that? We are already fomenting ideas of future long walks. In 2014, we would complete a 600-kilometre walk between Prague and Vienna and, in 2015 we will be starting a 1,100-kilometre pilgrimage around the island of Shikoku in Japan.
But today and the next, we plan to relax and enjoy beautiful Santiago. That starts with checking into to our luxurious Parador. This is another wonderful conversion of an historic building into a high-end hotel. It was born as the Hostal de Los Reyes Católicos in 1501 to serve as a badly needed pilgrim hostal and hospital. Later, it added orphanage to its list of functions. In the Franco years, it was converted to its current use, but with a light touch that maintains almost all of its historic fabric. It is nicely located, facing onto the Praza Obradoira and the Cathedral. The hotel’s front façade is a beautiful Plateresque (think Spanish Renaissance) wall emulating the finely detailed decorations found on a sliver platter. To my mind, it’s architectural style outshines the Cathedral.
Our tour of the Cathedral does not start with the requisite pilgrims’ mass at noontime – that would happen the following day – but with an unusual tour. We tourists are well-used to the typical climb up a church’s bell tower for the magnificent vista. This one ups the ante. The tour deposits you on the actual roof top, on which you are allowed to scamper willy-nilly, seemingly without regard for any safety concerns. It is a fascinating way to see the Cathedral, the city below and, off on the horizon, our next landscape where we will prolong our pilgrimage for several more days on our way to the west coast of Spain.
This is the twenty-first of a number of planned posts to my on-going Walking the Camino de Santiago, A Photo Essay. If you have any observations or your own Camino experiences to relate, feel free to use the Comments section below.
If you are interested in purchasing prints for any of the photographs in this series of Camino de Santiago blog posts, they can be ordered directly from my website at www.firmangallery.com/camino-frances