A multitude of pilgrims on the plethora of official camino trails, whether starting in France via the north or central route, or any of the other southern variations up western Spain or Portugal, are all ultimately heading to the city of Santiago de Compostela. After our brief exposure to the camino life, having both cycled and walked parts of the trail and glimpsed a part of the inner world of the pilgrims, we felt it appropriate to see the culmination of their journey.
We arrived in a nice spacious aire close to the city centre, a multi-use car park in reality but with several other motorhomes already parked up, it felt safe and secure. It was located in what looked like a decent area and well lit, although proved to be a little noisy outside until around 11pm. For a short while there were guys running neat, consistent laps of the car-park, specifically around the parked motorhome bays, passing our window every 55 seconds or so, making it (we guessed based on their speed) about a 300m jaunt for them.
We walked to a nearby busy road and caught the frequent local green bus service into the town centre. We then proceeded to the main pedestrianised centre through small, winding medieval streets, all surprisingly free of other tourists, until we reached a large square to the side of the cathedral where the crowds suddenly appeared. A long queue of visitors lined the square, heading for a small doorway, which on inspection led into the side entrance of the Cathedral de Santiago and to the tomb of the saint. We avoided the queue and continued around to the front of the cathedral and in the main doors, where we caught up with the same pilgrims still forming an orderly queue inside.
We sat for a while and watched passing pilgrims await their opportunity to hug or place their forehead on a gaudy statue of the saint, this process reportedly imbuing them with wisdom. It was a strange sight to witness, as from our position we could see only different sets of hands appear then disappear around the neck of the saint, like repeated attempts at strangulation.
After all our expectations, we felt it was a rather disappointing visit to the city. Maybe this was borne from too much expectation, or a dislike of the crowds, the commercial nature and over-busyness of the walking path the previous day, the dull grey day, or the extent of unprotected scaffolding encasing the cathedral and impeding any clear views; who can say? It could also be due to cathedral fatigue, as almost every day of our tour so far has included an historic monument, castle or church to visit and maybe we’d seen so many that they all began to blur into one as our interest finally waned.
We caught the same green bus back home to Benny, this time as the only passengers. We arrived at our car-park aire and embedded ourselves for the night. We had a short post-dinner walk around the local area, spotting a useful launderette that we planned to utilise in the morning, before settling in to sleep.
In the morning we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before we walked down to the laundry and completed a large load, washed and dried beautifully in around an hour, before leaving to explore the West Galician coast. The sky was back to its best blues and wispy white clouds, with our moods lifted to match as we made our way west to meet the sea.