Day 11 Santiago!
We have arrived in Santiago! We are now at our albergue where we have a double bed and a door that slides shut. We have both showered and are getting ready to arrive and see the cathedral and to get our compostellas.
Back from a busy afternoon. We got our compostellas and arrived at the cathedral. It really is a sight to see. The exterior is grand and beautiful. We weren’t allowed to touch the Tree of Jesse or touch our heads to the Maestro guy, as is custom for arriving pilgrims, because they were rope off (I did get to touch his forehead thanks to my long arms). I did get to lay my head on the shoulder of the statue of St. James, I gave word for José, as promised, and made my wish – A happy marriage- and I said, if I can have two wishes- A healthy child. I also got to pray at the remains of St. James. We ate lunch, got some train tickets, attended the mass at the cathedral at 7:30 pm, got chocolate and churros, stopped at the albergue and into Roger!!! (our English friend), if I could have seen one more pilgrim that we met on the way again, it would have been him. Paul and I got some pastries (we are out of control), left one on Roger’s bed and are now looking for a hotel for Madrid for the next two nights. I am excited for the train ride to Madrid tomorrow, it should be a blast. I guess this is the last day of the journey/ camino, so…
Once we started walking this morning we were giving it everything we had. We estimated that we had about 6 miles to Santiago and though we planned to have plenty of time to get there, we really wanted to make the pilgrim’s mass at noon. The morning walk was nice and through forests and soft ground. We stopped at the first café at a small city before Santiago to get some breakfast and walked on. Shortly after leaving the breakfast spot, we had some trouble finding our arrows, it took a little while to spot where to go next, but we found it and walked on. As the morning went on we noticed where we were in regard to the map and where we wanted to be and we needed to go faster to get to the mass on time, so we booked it. There was no place to get a stamp in the town we slept in and we needed two stamps in our credentials before we got to the city of Santiago. It seemed that the closer we got to Santiago, the less excited people were to give us stamps. The last day or so, people would unenthusiastically walk over to get their stamp out and just give it to us to fill out our credentials ourselves. I had a mild panic as we were just outside the city limits with one stamp for the day and no public place in sight, then we found a bar and I’m sure the man behind the bar lived us for not ordering anything and just asking for a stamp. The closer we got to Santiago this day, the arrows became more difficult to find. When we actually got to the city we got to an intersection with like 5 different ways you could go and there was no arrow in sight. We searched every inch of every building and light post we could see and could not find it!!! We now had about 15 minutes before the noon mass and no clue where to go. We made 150 miles with limited problems and now the timeframe and frustration got to us. We walked down a road for a bit hoping to spot an arrow, not find one, turn around, and try another. We finally just started walking towards the center of the city thinking we’d be able to spot the peak of such a famous cathedral and could see nothing other than the tall buildings surrounding us. It was the worst feeling. We stopped someone who looked like they may be able to help us and he pointed the general direction of the cathedral. We walked at a frantic pace and finally found what we were pretty sure was the Santiago cathedral. Was this the place though, the sight didn’t take my breath away, I didn’t fall to my knees in awe of the magnificence, but we were there. It was about 5 after 12 and we hoped that being a little late to the pilgrims mass wouldn’t be a problem and walked up to the door only to be stopped by security and told that you cannot bring a backpack into the cathedral. At the pilgrim’s mass?!! How do they think we all got here? Oh well, it wasn’t meant to be, plus we were crabby from being rushed and lost, this was apparently the side entrance to the building, so we didn’t even approach it the way we were meant to. The new plan was to check into our albergue ‘The Last Stamp” – I love the name of it- freshen up, lighten up (literally and figuratively) and go back to the cathedral from the main entrance.
I was very happy to find that the albergue had a double bed available in addition to all the bunk beds, we snatched it up right away. I wasn’t happy to pay for a private albergue after the inexpensive government run ones, but this was a luxury in comparison. Since we had a double bed instead of bunks, there was a sliding partition that gave us a little privacy, a window that overlooked the busy city street, and the bed was memory foam! Another huge plus for the room was that it had a locking cabinet for all of our stuff. We hadn’t worried much about our stuff being stolen the whole trip and could never lock it up, but this city was so busy and had a ton of tourists and it was just nice to have that extra little piece of mind.
We also got a map of the city and knew where to go to enter the cathedral properly. First, we needed our compstellas. This is what we came for, the certificate that said yes, we walked 150 miles to get to this place and were real pilgrims. The line to get in and check in to get our compostellas was fairly long. Even though we had freshened up and left our packs behind, it standing on our feet any longer didn’t feel good. While one of us stood in line, the other would walk around a bit and explore. There was a vending machine there that sold non-alcoholic beer which I found to be very strange. In line we saw the crazy German lady and her grandson. She took cuts in front of a lot of people and waited in line behind us. We hadn’t seen them in several days and we chatted about the last few days of the journey. There was a sense of pride mixed with my anticipation of going in to get my compostella. I was excited to add one more American to the registry and I was happy that I had officially done the Camino de Santiago. The line was outside, so I didn’t know what to expect when I got in. It was a long counter with about 6 people working it and one at a time you go in and show your pilgrim’s passport (credentials) as well as our actual passports and they made sure that we had the required stamps. Then, they write your name, in Latin, on the official compostella, which is also in Latin, and put it into a cardboard tube to keep it from getting smashed in your pack. The pilgrims office, where we got our compostella, was near a place that we could buy train tickets, so we stopped in to get our tickets to Madrid for the morning. The ticket machine here happened to be down, so we would check back in later. Now that we had our compostellas, we went to the cathedral.
Seeing the cathedral from the front, it really is incredible. That is where I felt my moment, this was what we came so far to see. How much work that went into creating something so magnificent blows my mind. The cathedral is huge and has so many things to see, as well as other little chapels decorated in their own way that were off shoots of the main area. One of them had a service going on at one point and there was a choir singing beautifully. This service seemed to be an Asian service as the people and priest were Asian and were singing in a language I did not know (take the nationality with a grain of salt that I am horribly inaccurate when guessing people’s nationalities). In the center of the cathedral is what I could describe as the stage, where the priest performs the service. It was beautiful and elaborate. Near the top was the statue of St. James where tradition has it that you lay your head on his shoulder and make a wish. I was surprised at how short the line to get to it was, just a short walk up the stairs and there you were in a tiny room with a priest guy (not sure if he was a priest, but he was dressed like one) and the giant statue of St. James. Directly underneath this area, after a short flight of stairs under the main floor, is where the casket is and where the remains of the Apostle St. James are said to be buried. This is also a small room which has a window to view the casket and a small velvet kneeler to pray at. We saw that there was going to be a mass at 7:30 pm and decided to come back later.
We walked along the city streets and bought a couple of small souvenirs and searched for the best place to eat. We could be picky for once this whole trip and window shopped our food choices. Several places had a whole octopus (pulpo) with it’s head in a glass in the window- no thank you, we’ve had plenty. We settled at one place and ordered some white asparagus with mayonnaise, croquettes (which was Paul’s favorite at this point) and tortilla (which is not a tortilla at all, but a very thin omelet). We checked in at the train ticket place and the machine was still down, so we walked to the actual train station which was at the edge of the city – more walking. We had some trouble trying to get our train tickets due to us not speaking Spanish and not understanding what the man was trying to say. He finally pointed to the first window which was the one that had someone who spoke English. We still had a heck of a time trying to understand what this guy was saying because he was trying to get us to buy four tickets instead of two and said it would actually be cheaper, why wouldn’t we do that? It turns out that it is not less expensive than just two seats, but rather the cost of three, but either way the price was still significantly less than it would have been had we purchased our train tickets online in advance of our trip.
We now had to book it back to the cathedral to catch the 7:30 mass and we wanted to drop some stuff off at the albergue. When we walked past the shared bathroom, I noticed a shirtless man brushing his teeth with a rabid looking foam toothpaste mouth. When he looked up into the mirror we shouted “Roger!”. I can’t believe he was there. He had suggested this albergue, but he was two whole days ahead of us and I thought we wouldn’t see him again. Unfortunately there was a limit to how tough he was and he had gotten shin splints and his ankle and lower leg were swollen. We caught up with him for a little bit and invited him to go to mass with us. He was exhausted and was shortly going to bed so he passed.
The mass was all in Spanish, but it is easy enough to follow the crowd with the standing up and sitting down and taking communion. After mass, we walked around for a while and explored the city. We wanted to get commemorative tattoos when we were there, but couldn’t find an open tattoo parlor. We did find more pastries though and we got one for Roger that we brought back to the albergue (he was asleep, so I placed it by his feet with a note from us). For some reason I was really excited for this train ride we would have in the morning.