Where We Be
Santiago de Compostela, Spain
WE MADE IT!!! Relief washed over us as we
strode up the steps and touched the ancient
walls of the Cathedral of Santiago for the first
time (because you simply have to touch the
walls to feel like your journey is complete). After
a look inside, we, like many pilgrims, dropped
our packs and sat right down on the main plaza,
soaking up the atmosphere of being at the very
center of the city of Saint James ("San Iago" or
"Santiago" in Spanish). Medieval pilgrims once
flocked here to pray to the apostle whose
bones are reputed to lie within, and modern
pilgrims still come, each for their own reasons.

Without doubt the highlight of our Santiago visit
was the evening pilgrim mass. The botafumeiro
(censer) was swung into action by eight priests.
The censer almost hit the ceiling they swung it
so high! The cathedral was packed, literally
standing room only. We arrived too late to get a
seat, but we found the base of a pillar that
offered a great view. The evening service
marked the official end of our journey, with the
hike to Finisterre being an unofficlal bonus.
This ceremony has stood the test of time. The botafumeiro ("smoke belcher")
first swung into action in the 11th century and is still fascinating to watch today.
During this stretch we hiked three days from Melide to Santiago, with distances as follows:
9½ miles to Arzua, 11 miles to Arca (O Pedrouzo), and 12 miles to Santiago de Compostela.
Hiking Day 40: Melide to Arzua
Outside the cathedral there was a concert about to start,
and pilgrims gathered in the hundreds to enjoy it
The 12-mile hike was a mix of forested and flat and hilly
After 42 days of hiking and only 3 rest days,
we found ourselves at Santiago's doorstep
After so many days of hiking, 12 miles didn't seem
like such a big deal -- we completed it in the morning
At Monte do Gozo (Hill of Joy), medieval pilgrims used to fall to their knees and weep at finally seeing Santiago's cathedral spires.
Unfortunately it was too foggy for us to see them -- but we liked seeing this monument commemorating the pope's 1993 visit.
Entering the city limits, we paused at another interesting monument
at Plaza da Concordia celebrating famous pilgrims from the past
This was our first glimpse of the cathedral spires up ahead.
One was covered in scaffolding, but hey, what can you do?
Eventually we did a little walk-around. This cathedral archway
is a popular spot for musicians with its echoing acoustics.
We climbed the steps, touched the walls of the cathedral for
the first time, and breathed our thanks for making it here
Back outside, on the Plaza de Armas, we watched pilgrims reconnecting with joy with other
pilgrims. To the left, off camera, is the cathedral. Straight ahead is Santiago's city hall.
Even the manhole covers have Camino symbols
Just down the street from the apartment is the Monastery of Saint Francis. The monument out front
celebrates its founder, Saint Francis of Assisi, who actually completed the Camino back in the day!
Next morning we returned to the cathedral for a closer look around.
We started with some of the ancient looking statues on the outside.
The cathedral has some over-the-top decor within, and if you visit in
the morning before the pilgrim crush, you have it largely to yourself
On the day the "Brexit" happened, we spent our time enjoying the
details of the cathedral and forgetting about the rest of the world
We paid our respects to Saint James in the crypt below and enjoyed all the ornate religious art above.
This is technically the largest Romanesque church in Spain, although it felt pretty Gothic to us.
Peeking inside, we found the cathedral filled to bursting with pilgrims attending
the noon service. We stayed for awhile, then decided to come back later.
We can't say enough about sharing in this experience. It's one-of-a-kind. The botafumeiro nearly hit the ceiling they swung
it so high, and the priests actually had little smiles on their faces afterwards like even they realized they'd overdone it a bit.
Our late dinner with friends was the icing on the cake to an amazing
journey. How better to finish it than in the company of good friends?
This is one of the apartment's two bedrooms. The Airbnb rental is
located at Rúa de San Francisco 28, right above Bar Sonemberg.
Many pilgrims have made their mark on this sign -- at this
point you can feel Santiago getting closer with each step
Quaint buildings like this notwithstanding, the 11-mile hike to Arca (also known as O Pedrouzo) wasn't
the most scenic, but the sheer pleasure of watching the milestone markers count down made it fun
Here's the 20 km marker --
just 12 miles to go!
The small church of Santiago de Boente has a rustic appeal that's
in complete contrast to the Cathedral of Santiago soon to come
We hiked 4 miles to breakfast in Boente. Pictured here is my favorite
Camino breakfast -- chocolate croissant and cafe con leche.
The day's hike to Arzua was only 9½ miles long -- something we much appreciated.
These shorter days (by Camino standards) were like partial rest days in disguise.
Pension Begona (€45) had blinds that raised and lowered at the
press of a button -- giving us a perfect west-facing sunset view
We ate our big meal of the day at 3 pm at Restaurante Teodora. The meal included pig’s
cheek stew with roasted potatoes (a local specialty) and flan and cheesecake for dessert.
Arzua's flower-filled plazas made for a pleasant stroll after dinner
Hiking Day 41: Arzua to Arca (O Pedrouzo)
In the evening we returned for the pilgrim mass. This is a can't-miss event! The swinging incense was said to have begun
as a way to cover the stench of so many unwashed pilgrims back in the 11th century. Perhaps it's still somewhat true today.
Hiking Day 42: Arca to Santiago de Compostela
We checked into our lovely Airbnb apartment (€80) just 50 meters from the cathedral.
We loved its classy living room -- not to mention its kitchen with washer & dryer! Score!
Here is the religious version of the Compostela, in Latin, with both of our first names showing as
"Robertum." Santiago's Pilgrim Office is where you get your Compostela (certificate of completion).
We also received this non-religious form of the Compostela that indicates we began the journey
in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, with the total distance and the start and end dates showing.
Finally, this is the most fun document of all. It's the "Credential" you get stamped
all along the way to prove you completed each stage of the journey. Nearly every church,
hostel, and restaurant you visit will have a stamp that you can collect during your journey.
This well-worn sheet of paper was handed to us when we started the Camino in Saint-Jean.
It shows the elevation gain and loss during each (French-determined) stage of the Camino.
Here's the back side of the paper. As you can see, it's literally torn in pieces from so much use
and abuse. We found its elevation information more accurate than that provided in our guidebook.
Pension Arca (€45) recommended Galaicos Restaurant, where I thoroughly enjoyed this
salad with two generous medallions of warm goat cheese and thin slices of salmon on top
Success! As you can see, the cathedral is undergoing significant
renovation, but we were still ecstatic to see it in any way, shape, or form.
These packs covered a lot of miles with us, but we had
to leave them outside the cathedral as we headed in
The historic center is replete with statues and monuments
Later that evening we ventured out for some dinner. It was the Festival of San Juan and there were bonfires and
people eating sardines and drinking wine all night -- definitely our kind of scene! By sheer chance we ran into our
friends Fiona and Roy at an outdoor cafe. Later we got to see the cathedral lit up at night in all its scaffolded glory.