Notes from Santiago de Compostela

Santiago (St. James) was one of the original cast of 12, not the James referred to as the brother of Jesus in Mark.  The story goes that James, whose martyrdom is the only one recorded in the NT, was executed by sword.   Afterwards his body was delivered by a stone ship (or row boat- I read that somewhere)  to the place now bearing his name, Santiago de Compostela.  The pilgrimage to the cathedral is among the most if not the most popular pilgrimage for Western European Catholics, starting in the early middle ages.  In 2008 125,000 pilgrims claim to have completed the final 100 km of the trail.

A few drawings from the trip:

https://plus.google.com/photos/101879261292066437674/albums/5867412943039029489

Photos from the trip:

https://plus.google.com/photos/111993279450383941292/albums/5866611483355349585

This small city is in Galicia, in the northwest corner of the Iberian peninsula, where the rain in Spain falls plainly too much. As of this day, the 11 of April 2013, it has rained at least part of each day for the last 38 days in a row and significantly at that, I take it.  My unimpeachable source, the waiter at a cafe, would not have said so unless it were true.  After all he served very good and generous free tapas with our drink.  Impeccable logic, no?  As it turns out, this generosity is the norm here, but I digress from my misery.

Yesterday when we visited the fabulous Cathedral we had to pass through the vast plaza.  The wind blew rain into our faces and made our umbrellas totally useless. I’d imagine that the Cathedral was worth it without doubt if I were on a religious trek of some sort.  This is not the case.  I am here because I’ve been here before and wanted to see it again.

This turned out to be a good thing.  It was not at all how I remembered it, which is as a Gothic structure. It is Romanesque, at least the Cathedral itself as originally crafted, but there are Gothic, Baroque and who knows what in the various sections and the connected and surrounding structures are probably another story.

For more info on the legend of Santiago see the wiki, which I deem to be reliable, having just mentioned how generous the tapas are here, which is proof positive that the wiki is indeed reliable.  More impeccable logic.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_James_the_Great

This legend itself is of course entirely true, having been told by some waiter or waitress in the region at some place and some time.

While in the cathedral we climbed the passage which takes you behind the statue of Santiago his own self. Millions of visitors have filed past over the centuries and of course if you touch it you get some special deal from the padre upstairs via James- what would expect from someone whose body was transported in a stone ship? So of course we were treated to the sight of a woman rubbing rosary beads on the glowing shiny gold icony thing. She took each one out, rubbed it on the gold, kissing each one before returning it to her now magic plastic bag. She mumbled something to us, I suppose a word of explanation as in, “I prayed to Santiago and he petitioned the Lawd successfully.” Or perhaps she was about to engage James in yet another mission to the almighty.

After a day and half of rain we finally got a break and went around to the market, composed of plump looking stone structures which unfortunately we did not photo. Besides the charming look of the small buildings laden with local produce, I noted two things. One- they eat brocoletti here (aka brocoli rabe as it is called in the US). Apparently the cool rainy climate if perfect for this, my favorite of veggies. Second, there is at least one restaurant that takes your purchase and cook it for you. They provide the veggies and beverages for 3 euros a head plus 10% of the cost of your purchase. Pretty neat idea.

On the Friday we took the bus south to Muros and Noia. Both are on the coast, which in this area is as far west as you can get in Europe.  You are due south of Ireland!   So far west you can just see the top of the Empire State Building. Noia has an old area which I did not see in its entirety as I spent the time sketching an old church tower from the garden in front. Muros is a lot more interesting, as the seafront is developed, unlike that part of Noia and besides ‘A Noia” which means ‘To Noia” which is how the ticket seller phrased it, sounds an awful lot like “Annoy” with a terminal aspiration (the ‘a’).

In Murose we had a mighty fine lunch. I did not have any seafood- I know, what was I thinking?- but I did have a delightfully tasting but excessively fatty ‘churasco’- the charred flavor from the barby was truly a delight. Peg had some cod- bacalao- that was good and Susan had some gigantic shrimpy things that they call langostinos but really what’s the difference between them and big shrimp? They were grilled with garlic oil and were super. We had a bottle of white Rebeiro, the famous wine of the region, or I think so as the bottle came already corked.

Speaking of wine bottles already corked, on our first night in Santiago de Compostela we had dinner in the cheapest place we could find. It was 7 euros for the menu- a menu being the the 3-4 course meal of the day. 7 is mighty cheap, especially considering we were in the most expensive part of town where a seafood dinner for two was 38 euros, about $50, plus wine and whatever else they could trick you into ordering while thinking it was included. This was an exercise in suppressing the flight/fight response. The place was run down looking as soon as you walked in. It got worse. The stairs to the dining area were lined with clutter. The dining room was last decorated in the 1950’s and had family photos on the wall. Some very old man was escorted up and down the stairs twice to be taken to the bathroom by what may have been his equally ancient tiny woman- must have been mama the chef.  He was finally escorted into what we could see was a bedroom opposite the dining room.

But the food was very good – the best potatoes I’d ever had! They were cooked in broth which probably included some of the ham I had with them. Peg’s collard greens soup was totally wonderful. Susan’s lentils were a bit bland and my mussels were a bit stinky and perhaps that is where my current bowel issue comes from but who knows- they were steamed, I am just not sure if it was that day or a few days before and then reheated.  And we had a pre-corked bottle of white wine labeled Ribeiro.  In the end it did not turn out that cheap unless you count the experience as entertainment.

Oh, and back to the generosity thing, near our hotel (which featured a queen size memory foam mattress, huge fluffy pillows in a nicely appointed room with an excellent shower and lousy wifi) there is a bar with the aforementioned waiter who piled our table with goodies for the price of a beer/wine/soft drink (for me). Wow! And the same thing at the cafe in Muros we stopped in before lunch- for a euro’s worth of coffee you got piles of little cakes and croissants and I forget what else. Astounding!  And they say that the food of Galicia is the best of all Spain!  Maybe I’ll be back then, rain in the face being a small price to pay.

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