Thursday May 12: Santigo de Compostella
Last night was a challenge temperature-wise. It was hard to adjust the temperature in the room, because all we could do was open the window and hope for the best. They didn't have the dreaded comforter, but they had a sheet and a blanket or two. My problem was that under the blanket, I was too hot, and under the sheet, I was too cold. Eventually I got up and put a tee-shirt on. With that on, under the sheet I was mostly OK. The bottom side was hot and sweaty, but when I rolled over it could cool off while the other side heated up. On the plus side, however, there were no sleep incidents.
Today was a series of minor adventures.
We left the hotel around 8:45. At last night's dinner, I thought it said "drinks not included". I asked the waitress how much I owed, and she said that I could pay tomorrow after breakfast. I figured that she meant that I could pay when I checked out, but when I checked out, the guy said that I didn't owe anything, so I just thanked him, left our suitcases with the other suitcases in the lobby, and left.
We retraced our steps to where we had departed the Camino the previous day. We could have taken a shortcut to the Camino, but then we couldn't say that we walked the whole thing.
I was trying to retrace our earlier steps in reverse. At one point, there was a sort of alley that didn't look familiar, so I took a different route. Then we heard a woman on a balcony behind use yelling to us in Spanish. I couldn't follow most of it, but the gist was that if we were looking for the Camino, we were going the wrong way. We were supposed to go up that alley like thing. It was nice of her to redirect us. When we got to the other end of the "alley", it looked familiar and I thought "of course we were supposed to go this way".
The Camino did an admirable job of staying in forest/parkland for most of the way to Santiago. At one point, there was a fence where many people had woven two twigs into the fence to form crosses.
At one point, we were passing some fellow Americans, and so I chatted with one for a bit. It turns out that he was doing what I thought might have been better--his days were about half the length of our days--only about 10-15km per day. So he would get to his destination just about lunch time or a bit after. Then they would have time to wander around town and explore. That would make for an easier Camino, with more time to relax and enjoy oneself, but the cost is that he was walking for 10 days rather than our 5. While it might have been nice to have the time to have a leisurely start, and to make multiple stops on the walks for refreshments, I think that before 10 days were up, Sam would be going more bonkers than he already is. Also, time spent lounging around a first class resort would probably be fine, if the accommodations were just average, and the town was small and not too interesting, it might get boring. Additionally, twice as many days would mean essentially costing about twice as much. So while that approach might be better than our more hurried pace, perhaps it would not.
Later on, we met two women in Santiago that had biked the Portuguese route. They said that it had been great. Maybe something like that would have been better--the distance is twice what we walked, but if your speed on the bike was more than twice walking, you could perhaps also end up with a less rushed journey.
At the top of the hill, where you first see the spires of the cathedral, the online map directed us off to the side to apparently view some other cathedral. This detour was not part of the normal Camino. We went along far enough to see some well-known statues, and then we returned to the Camino and continued on our way.
Our goal was to get there in time for the 12:00 Pilgrim's Mass. That was the point of doing the extra 10km yesterday, leaving only 10km today.
Eventually we entered the city proper. The hustle and bustle, the noise, and the crowds were very different from what we had been experiencing for the past five days.
In general, I find the Camino to be less well marked in the city. Outside the city, there is a well-established path, and you only need guidance when there is a junction. In the city, you are going along sidewalks, and there is a junction almost every few yards.
We got to the cathedral around 11:40. It took us a while to figure out where to go for the Mass. (It was of course on the only side we hadn't visited yet.) We had plenty of time to go in and find somewhere to sit. We went around the cathedral, found the door, and found that they didn't allow backpacks.
We certainly were not going to just dump them on the ground outside, so we began a mad dash to find our hotel, which was fortunately right next to the cathedral. Unfortunately, the name outside was slightly different from the name on our itinerary, so I went past it and started to get really flustered. It was going to kill me if we did everything properly to get to the end in time for the Mass, and then miss it because we had backpacks and couldn't find the hotel.
I asked a woman who appeared to be local where the hotel was, and she pantomimed that it was the hotel that I had bypassed. We hurried there and started the check-in process. I could hear the bells announcing that it was noon. Then I asked the girl that we were trying to get to the noon Mass, and could we leave our packs there, and pick them up when we came back to check in. She said yes, we dumped them in a room for that purpose, and we hurried back to the cathedral. Of course, I could not run in my hiking boots with sore feet.
There was a barricade across the door, but when I told the guard that we wanted to go to the Mass, he let us through. Mass, of course, had already started. The seating area was cordoned off, and there was a reasonable crowd (like us) standing next to the rope.
I could catch a few words every few sentences. I had no problem following what portion of Mass we were at, although I could only understand tiny snippets of what they were actually saying.
After the Mass, we wandered around, looking at the inside of the cathedral, seeing as we wouldn't be inside again. A lot of pictures were being taken, so I took a few with my cell phone camera (I had left my other cameras with my pack). I felt guilty doing this, but later on I noticed that they said no flash pictures, and no pictures during the Mass. So after the Mass, pictures were OK. If I had known that, I would have brought my real camera and taken more pictures from the inside.
Afterwards, we went back to the hotel (really close now that we know where it is) to check in. It was about 1:00, and the room was not yet ready. So we just got our daypacks (and camera) and went off to do the paperwork.
What I mean by this is that during the Camino, we get stamps in our Camino passport, and then at the end we can get a certificate of completion. The process was rather confusing. We were told that we could speed up the process by going online and filling out a form. That said that when we got there, we would flash a QR code and be given a time to return. When we got there, there was a sign to fill out the online form, which we already did. But I couldn't figure out how to get the time. So we went to the web site on our phones and did the process again. We got new QR codes, and so we just went in and showed them. They didn't really look at it, they just gave us each a ticket with a number. I was 499 and Sam was 500. It was sort of like a deli--there was a sign saying essentially "Now serving 476". He was guessing that we would be served in 10-15 minutes.
We waited in a courtyard. There was a hallway to the processing room, and there seemed to be a line there. I was wondering how that was going to work. Did the number indicate when you got in line? Or did you get in line and hope that your number would come up before you got to the front?
I went back a while later, and saw that they were now serving 493 or something. A security guard asked to see my number and then said that I could get in line. I got Sam and got in line. Except that it wasn't a line; it was more a mob. At the end of the hallway was a display. There were 15 windows (sort of like at the DMV), and the display said that number X was being serviced at window Y. This meant that I would go to one window, and Sam would go another, so she would be on her own.
Strangely enough, the guy serving me was from Brookline, and his wife (one window down) was from Woodstock (NY). It was only his second day doing this, so he was rather slow, and Sam finished long before I did.
After this, we passed by a place that caught Sam's eye, so we went inside for lunch. We managed to just miss the crowd. When we went in, we were the first ones to occupy a table. By the time our food was served, the place was full.
They were offering a fixed price lunch. For 11 euro, you had an appetizer, a main course, a dessert, and beverage. I decided to go all in for seafood, and ordered fried squid for the first course (they didnít have any octopus) and seafood paella for the main course. I ordered a glass of wine, but I was surprised when the waiter brought over a glass, poured it from a bottle, and then left the bottle behind. I was wondering if I bought a bottle again.
When the paella came out, there was a large shrimp like thing on top. I think if you straightened it out, it would have been almost 6 inches long. It still had its shell, feet, eyes, everything. I wasn't exactly sure how to eat it.
Since it was apparently an option, I had a second glass of wine with the end of my meal. At the end, it was only 22 euro, so there were no added fees or taxes. Apparently tipping is not the norm here, which I find much preferable to how the US does it.
After lunch, we checked in. We said that our suitcases should have been delivered, so the guy brought us back to the room where we had put our packs.
Our luggage was not there.
"Ahhhhh," they guy said. Then he took us to a second room with luggage.
Our luggage wasn't there either. We checked the first room again, but nope, it wasn't there. At this point I'm thinking "No...not again."
We went up to our room without our luggage. The two main things that I wanted at that point was to be free from my boots and to take a shower. Even though we were in our room, I could do neither. I could have taken my boots off, but then I would have had to put them on again when eventually our luggage turned up. Similarly, there was no point in taking a shower unless I had clean clothes to put on.
Once again, I called my good buddies at the travel agency, and the woman handling our trip said that she would look into it and call me back at this number in just a few minutes.
A long time went by with no call. At this point, my phone was down to 15% battery, and I couldn't charge it because the adapter was in my suitcase. I called them again from Sam's phone, and they said that our luggage should be arriving in 10 minutes.
(I have to wonder where our luggage is, that it can be delivered after we call, but not before. Is it sitting around the taxi office? If so, I would think that they would see the travel agency tag on it and call them. If it is sitting around the travel agency, why isn't it being delivered to the hotel?)
I told Sam that we should head down to reception, so that we can be there when it arrives. Sam is more observant than me. I was looking for a bench to sit on and wait, but Sam said, "there's our luggage!" Apparently it had just arrived, and they were in the process of trying to determine which room it was for. I don't know if they were planning to call us or deliver it, but we just walked up and said, "That's our luggage. Thanks." We took it, went upstairs, and I could finally take my boots off and then take a shower.
This is a really old building that used to be among other things an orphanage and a hospital (to tend to the ailments of pilgrims who had just made the trek). But is was rather modern on the inside. It is the first hotel on the trip to have an elevator, and it had A/C.
We got our luggage around 4:45, so it was fairly late by the time I had gotten cleaned up and changed. My feet were so much happier with sneakers than boots. Sam wanted to just veg out in the hotel room, so I left to explore for an hour or so.
I found that if you want to take people's pictures with their phones, just walk around a tourist area with an SLR camera on your shoulder. Two or three people asked me to take their picture with their phone. Presumably, they figured that someone with a camera like mine must have at least half a clue as to how to take pictures.
There was a guy playing bagpipes with great endurance. He was doing that at 11:30 when we first arrived. He was still playing after the Mass, after lunch, and while I was wandering around. When we left for dinner around 8:15, he was finally gone, but when we returned, he was playing again.
During my walk around, I saw a couple guys with really fancy cameras. They looked like steady-cams with fancy video cameras. One guy had a fancy tripod. A bit later a pilgrim came through. He looked like a typical college student walking the Camino. He walked slightly oddly. He stood at the top of the stairs and paused a bit, then he walked down and across the plaza without pausing or looking around. I noticed the fancy cameras following him. I realized that he was an actor playing a pilgrim, and that they were making a professional video or film.
I saw a few people begging. One, which was somewhat typical, just was there kneeling, her head bowed, holding out a little cup, and with a note in Spanish and English explaining her condition. She was essentially motionless. I can't imagine what it would be like to kneeling upright like, motionless, for an extended amount of time.
I saw a shop that offered milkshakes. These were the first milkshakes I had seen on the trip. I had really wanted one on past days, when I was really hot and tired. I debated whether I should get one or not, as I wasn't hot and sweaty then, but in the end I got one.
It turns out that it was really different than what we have in the US. I'm used to something (often called a frappe) made with milk and ice-cream, and maybe some syrup. This was half milk and half ice with some syrup added. That resulted in a much more watery taste.
Going back to the hotel, I was almost run down by the high school group that had been shadowing us. Apparently they stopped for the night before the airport, had a full day getting to Santiago, and were just on their way from the cathedral to wherever they were going to stay.
We had dinner at the place selected for us by the tour company. They had a fixed menu already picked out for us. Unfortunately for Sam, it was mostly seafood, and Sam doesn't really care for seafood. They made substitutions for her, but it looks like Sam ended up with less than a full meal.
On our way back from dinner, Sam really wanted an ice-cream, perhaps because she had had a smaller meal. Unfortunately, about the only places that we could find open were bars, and they didn't serve ice-cream. The place where I had gotten my milk shake had ice-cream, but they were not open.
I think that this is my second favorite hotel after that other place. It is an interesting coincidence that my two favorite hotels are the only two that had problems with luggage not being delivered.
I had brought rain gear (tops and bottoms), so that if we had to walk in the rain, we could have. It turns out fortunately that we did not need them. There was no rain at all; rather our problem was more sun and heat.
Knowing how much of a pain walking 25-30km, I have to think that walking that distance in a cool rain would have been an order of magnitude worse. On the other hand, I imagine that being on a bike under those conditions would be worse than just walking.