I wrote earlier about my arrival in Santiago de Compostela as a Camino pilgrim and the activities related to the end of the pilgrimage (getting the Compostela certificate, Pilgrims’ Mass, etc.). Though my stay in Santiago was brief (less than 24 hours due to needing to bring the group back to Madrid), there were some noteworthy things to share about my brief second visit to this incredible city in northwest Spain‘s Galicia…
As ANYWHERE in Spain, food is spectacular. In Santiago, I had a quick lunch at a local tapas bar before going to meet relatives. I love tapas bars. These are not the unreasonable facsimiles in many U.S. cities that offer tapas. I loved sitting at the bar and looking at the tapas on display (salivating at, to be more accurate) and then making my choices. That and an adult beverage made for a quick and delicious lunch.
Later that evening, after dinner with my group, a couple of us took off in a chase for some hot chocolate and “churros” (fried sticks of dough and sugar; a favorite of mine from my childhood). Let me tell you, this hot chocolate is not of the watery style. It is THICK – and delicious.
Great vibe to the town – charming architecture and streets
The great Cathedral of Santiago is not the only main architectural piece in this city. I love its side streets with or without arcades and the many small and big plazas all around. In fact, it is the whole town, not just the Cathedral or the plaza in front of it that is a World Heritage Site!
The grand plaza in front of the Cathedral is named Praza do Obradoiro, which best I know means plaza of the workshop. It is large and pretty plain except for the buildings around it: the Cathedral, a palace, and a hostel built by the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand, back in 1492!
From here, once can admire the façade of the Cathedral (which was undergoing repairs/restoration) and then go into town in any number of directions. The site of the Cathedral has been the site of a church since the 9th century. Construction of the current church began in 1075 (!) and the church was consecrated in 1211 – THAT is patience! Of course, it has been added to in the many centuries since. It looks like a massive complex.
We stayed at a monastery-seminary called Hospedería San Martín Pinario next to the Cathedral but not within the Praza do Obradoiro – great location! The rooms, as can be expected, are spartan but clean and functional. Aside of the massive size of the building, I was surprised at the VERY wide hallways. I wonder why they made them like that?!
And the family connection
I mentioned meeting relatives earlier. The story behind that is that my great-grandfather was born right outside of Santiago in a rural village named Bastavales (made famous in Spain in a song). I had visited the hamlet 20 years earlier but, unprepared and not having a car, I got to see the church where he likely was baptized and walked past houses in which he and other relatives likely lived. Years later, I made contact with the parish to see about getting a copy of the records of his baptism, etc. and got some good information, courtesy of the local priest. I guess he told some of my great-grandfather’s local relatives about my inquiries – years later they reached out to me and we got to meet by letters, email and a phone call. So, I made it my purpose to go meet them in this trip. After the tapas lunch, I headed to a house in Bastavales using a taxi. Back in 1994, I had taken a bus and had taken a while. Now, with a brand new highway, it took about 15 minutes to get there. Sweet.
It was really neat to meet one of my grandmother’s younger cousins (only two were alive at this point; my grandmother had been born in Cuba and never got to go to Spain so she never met any of her Spanish relatives), a lovely lady with blue eyes named Flora.
I also met one of her sons and two of her grandchildren. She shared some family history and showed me some photos. Also, she pointed at a distance at the house where my great-grandfather had been born. I only had a couple of hours to spare and they did not have a car readily available so I had to be satisfied with having seen the house from a distance. I also saw the church I had visited 20 years earlier and noticed that I had walked in front of the houses she was pointing to after I got off the bus and walked a few kilometers to get to the church…
This week some other relatives have contacted me and have sent me photos they scanned of my grandmother. Apparently, she kept in touch with them (though her dad died in Cuba when she was a toddler) and sent them pictures of her as a young woman. They actually sent me a copy of the little “souvenir” with her baby picture issued when she was baptized; her dad must have sent it to Spain! I realized with the info they gave me that she had been sending pictures and writing to them because her grandparents were still alive. I was glad to hear she had some contact with them.
This was a special way to end the Camino: a pilgrimage to meet relatives my grandmother never met. I love Santiago de Compostela and now I must return to meet these other relatives that have given me such a wonderful gift. And this will give me more time to explore Santiago more and keep enjoying tapas, hot chocolate and churros!