Suitably replenished and revived by delicacies from the International Cafe, I sit watching the coast of Spain as we sail away from Vigo. It is 5.15pm, and the sun is shining and the sky is very blue. In many ways it looks like any coastline which is battered by the Atlantic Ocean, with the white and terra cotta houses snuggled into folds in the hills, and not much building any higher. There is, we have been told, a small microclimate here, and from the coach to Santiago Compostela I was envious to see that almost every house had an extensive vegetable garden, a small sweet corn patch, often a large poly tunnel and a double row grape vine. Sadly given the Spanish economic difficulties at present, I suspect the populous fortunate enough to have such a piece of land around their houses, will be glad to harvest all the above in the months and years to come.
We were on our way to Santiago Compostela in this province of Galacia. It is a most famous city of pilgrimage as the magnificent cathedral holds the remains of St James, so it seems. To be considered a true pilgrim, and to receive the certificate, one must have walked a minimum of 100kms, and/or cycled, ridden a horse for 200 kms ! I must say the latter would do it for me ! Quite how one proves this to the cathedral authorities other than displaying blisters, I don't know, but such you must do for a signature on the ecclesiastical dotted line.
The cathedral was very beautiful, and five minutes after our arrival Mass started. I chose to stay and listen even though in Spanish I did not know exactly where I was - oh for the days of Latin, when everyone in the world said the same thing at the same time ! It was a calm and quiet service with only a Benedictine sister singing the responses and the communion anthem. There was a large congregation of local folk so it seemed, with a few tourists like myself thrown in for good measure, and yet nobody sang a single note, only the lonesome nun. No hymns, just the plain service, and the prayers spoken in Spanish and German, clearly a visiting father ! The alter end had much of the baroque gold one finds in more Southern European countries, but the body of the cathedral had a much more austere feel. The stone was granite, and the faces of the monks taking confession from 15 confessional boxes (!!! Do they have so much to confess in this part of Spain?) we're also quite granite like.
The first folk to arrive on this far edge of Spain were Celts, and the national music revolves around the bagpipes ! There were two young pipers playing for all they were worth outside the cathedral. I could have been in Portree Square, had it not been for the profusion of Tapas Bars ! Each year there is a piping convention here, and Scottish pipers feature heavily on the programme. Small world or what.
I finished my 'Santiago on Your Own' trip with a welcome pot of tea in the Paradors Hotel, now exquisitely chique and with much use of Middle Ages memorabilia, but the original building was a hospital for pilgrims who mostly, it seems, died after their arduous journey. Our group was to convene in the square outside the hotel, so it seemed like the natural thing to do ! 2.50 € for the tea, plus Spanish Fancies and a deep sofa seat. Bet real pilgrims think that's a bit on the wussy side !