Sunday, June 14, 2009
Santiago de Compostela: friends and pilgrims
Predictably, life right now has been interrupting my blogging about life two weeks ago. Bachelorette party, house cleaning prep for guests, and a lovely drive through Black Earth to Mazomanie for brunch with friends: all completed weekend tasks. Now to rewind back to Spain. I've been enjoying these daily summations, but was starting to freak out about how long each one was taking. Luckily, Paul has been stepping up on the posting front! You can read recaps of Sevilla and Portugal (Braga and Lisbon) on his blog. There's not a lot for me to add, other than how much I enjoyed Lisbon. (LeezhBOa, that is.) I love a city you can absorb by wandering.
Originally, we'd planned on taking a 10-hour bus ride from Lisboa to Santiago de Compostela. A few days into the trip, we decided that wasn't going to cut it. We already had an all-day train ahead from Santiago to San Sebastián. Did we really want to waste another full day in transit? The convenience of a flight was worth the expense. So on Monday morning, we flew to Santiago de Compostela. This gave us a bonus afternoon and evening, so we could actually see the city. Good decision.
My philosophy of sightseeing for this trip was simple. I knew we had limited time in each city. We could have done exhaustive research, meticulously scheduling the absolute best destinations for the time allotted. But I had a feeling that would be a recipe for disappointment. Did I really want to spend hours reading up on things I knew we wouldn't have time for? No. Instead, I glanced at a couple of websites and books to find two or three goals for each place. Then I stopped. Done. Paul's familiarity with some of the cities helped a lot, but this worked surprisingly well. It gave us some clear directives. Granada: Alhambra, parador. Sevilla: bull ring, ajo blanco. Santiago de Compostela: cathedral, walk around old town.
Done, done, and done. Santiago de Compostela was one of the major pilgrimage destinations in medieval times, along with Rome and Jerusalem. Many Christians today still walk the Way of St. James. The (tourist) shops of the old town, as well as random carts and stands in plazas, offered shiny clusters of walking sticks for sale. We saw plenty of pilgrims in Santiago - a surprising number of Germans, actually. The cathedral was our first stop, and it was very impressive. Legend has it that the remains of St. James the apostle are located there. We tried to maintain a proper level of apostolic respect before the crypt, though our fellow visitors were not very observant of the "silencio" signs.
After thoroughly exploring the cathedral, we set out rambling through the streets of old Santiago. Santiago de Compostela had some of the more entertaining store windows I saw on the trip. Small enough to have interesting things in them, and not all for tourists. Of course, there were plenty of tourist shops. One of my favorite spotted items was a t-shirt with the MTV logo and a somewhat inexplicable caption. Ah, English-language t-shirts in foreign countries.
We chose a random restaurant for lunch, and though I think Paul had one of his more disappointing meals (always have a backup plan!), the courtyard setting was pleasant and picturesque. For dessert I sampled a tarta de Santiago. I hope Paul enjoyed his Magnum. After lunch we resumed our walk, branching out to the university area. Eventually we wound our way back to the cathedral square, and took a taxi to the hotel.
Santiago marked a turning point in our trip: we were meeting up with friends there. Dunja and Rob had come from Germany, and we met Bea and Juan, in from Asturias. Aside from the obvious fellow travelers, Paul and I had been on our own for over a week. We were looking forward to spending time with our international comrades.
After a nice drink and some conversation on the hotel patio, our sextet headed over to the night's concert venue. (A short jaunt through an open gate and some shrubbery to the Palacio de Congresos e Exposicións de Galicia.) We had a bit of a wait outside before doors opened, where we noticed the only way into the theater seemed to be through the front door. Later we saw equipment being loaded out that way too. Strange.
The Palacio was enormous inside, and we visited the roomy bar for another beverage before the show began. (Foreshadowing San Sebastián?) The concert was fun, if a little odd in setting. Essentially, it was a huge lecture hall. Some of the seats had foldaway desks. Once again there was a notable difference between the main set with everyone sitting down, and the encores when everyone stood up and moved toward the stage. Both Kingpin and Side with the Seeds made their Spanish tour debuts, although Jeff seemed at a loss for a good, pandering replacement for Pekin during the former. "Livin' in Santiago de Compostela" must not have had the rhythm he was looking for. I'd put in a good word for I'll Fight earlier that afternoon, and was hoping it might pop up in the setlist. That didn't happen, but I still had hopes of hearing it before the tour was through.
After the show we just managed to sneak into the bar of a hotel across the road before closing, squeezing in a few bocadillos de jamón and beverages on the terrace before they turned the lights out. We said goodbye to Bea and Juan, but only for a day! We'd be seeing Dunja and Rob bright and early for the train to San Sebastián.