Travels - Links to each trip

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Camino 2016: Via de La Plata Days 35-36 - Santiago de Compostela

Wednesday/Thursday May 4/5, 2016
This time a wrap up since tomorrow I start my journey back to the US.
These two days have been a time of forced rest and relaxation since I haven't been able to take long walks and have tried to give my body rest for healing. It seems to have worked since today (Thursday) I have stopped using the crutches and just used my hiking poles, mainly to keep me steady on the cobbled streets and many, many steps and stairs.
I also tried to take a few photos of some of the city but since I didn't stray very far from the hotel and cathedral area and the buildings are generally very close together except for the many small squares and the big plaza in front of the cathedral.
I think I have already posted a picture of the Western facade of the cathedral but this one is taken from across the square and includes part of the extensive cloisters on either side. The cathedral was built in the 11th/12th centuries in the Romanesque style with rounded arches, while the baroque western facade was added in the 18th century.
Here are some other details of the North facade of the cathedral. It may give an idea of the amount of detail one can find on the cathedral.
Across the square and facing the cathedral is a building that is now Santiago's City Hall.
There are many small squares with shops and cafés around them and since the weather has been beautiful it is very nice to sit outside for a coffee, a snack or dinner since sunset is not until about 10pm.
It has been a great place for forced relaxation!
Sometimes I have sat beside the narrow street where the pilgrims arrive as they enter the city and approach the cathedral. I have been surprised how often there are some that I have met along the way and we always enjoy seeing each other again and catching up on our latest news. Feelings are mixed on arrival since some are relieved the journey has come to an end and some are disappointed and have not prepared themselves mentally for the arrival after a couple of weeks of walking each day with an open agenda.
Thursday May 5, 2016
Ascension Day and one of the pilgrims I knew suggested we go to the 12:00 noon Pilgrim Mass in the cathedral. I readily agreed and it was even more beautiful than when I went on Monday. The huge cathedral was packed, many more than on Monday, perhaps because Ascension Day is a public holiday with schools closed etc. They had a school choir instead of a cantor to sing some of the mass using plainsong chants in Latin that I knew from my childhood growing up in a high church Anglican parish. I was very nostalgic. They also had about 10-12 priests, several from different countries, and each said a short prayer in their own language during the prayers.
At the end of the service I once again was able to witness the "performance" of the incense thurifer even though its regular schedule is only for the evening mass on Fridays, but it can be "ordered" by making a donation to cover the cost of the 7 extra people it takes to make it happen.The celebrant explained that the origins of this go back to the Middle Ages when pilgrims arrived in large numbers after months or sometimes years on their journey, often stopping and finding work along the way to finance their pilgrimage. The pilgrims would not be down in the nave but up on the upper level of the cathedral and it was necessary to swing the incense burner high up to their level to cover the unpleasant smells that would emanate from this generally unwashed large group. Hygiene was very different in those days! This time the choir rather than a cantor, sang the accompaniment to the music. The priest explained that today it is used to symbolize and encourage the arriving pilgrims to take God's message back out into the world when they return home, like the smoke drifting out from the cathedral.
After a small lunch I made my way back to the hotel. This will be my last night in Santiago. I want to organize things a bit so I am ready to leave in the morning. It doesn't take long since of course I don't have much but I will have a night in Madrid before I catch a plane on Saturday.
I then went down to the garden to start on my final blog and enjoy a cup of coffee in the garden. I was under a glass cover and soon it started to rain lightly as forecast. There were some men working in the garden laying turf on an area that had just been dust where the children had fun playing. The sun umbrellas were closed so I took another picture of the empty garden. I really enjoyed this quiet peaceful space while I was here this week,
Later, as planned, I went back down to the cathedral and met briefly with the family who had helped me and offered to do so much more. They start their return home in Australia tomorrow and I hope we can stay in touch. I had also arranged to meet with Mike and Ruth who I had travelled with for much of the Via de La Plata portion of the journey. I hope we will meet again in Richmond (they have children and grandchildren in Norfolk, VA) or in Denver. That was so nice and we had dinner together along with two girls from Germany.
I have seen so much on this journey starting in Mérida where the trees were laden with oranges and the streets had palm trees, and traveling north to Galacia where even the grape vines are not yet showing any buds of spring.
So for some final thoughts I quote from a book I found in the little library in the hotel. It was written by a Dutch author who quoted another Dutch traveler in Spain in the early 20th century and reflects in many ways the spirit I felt on the Camino this year as I travelled slowly from town to town and region to region.
"Reader, you have accompanied me on a long journey. Together we have marveled at treasures, churches and cathedrals, landscapes and museums... I could describe at length all the emotions that came over me...but that would take too long...too much have I seen..."
It has been a wonderful journey!
Thank you for sharing it with me.
Quote of words of Louis Couperus from "Roads to Santiago" by Cees Nooteboom

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Camino 2016: Via de La Plata Days 34-35 - Santiago de Compostela

Monday/Tuesday May 2-3

My last blog told about my arrival in Santiago but there is more. Later that evening I received an email from the family I had met in the cathedral offering to take me back to the point where I had stopped and go with me helping me walk the last 60km to Santiago over the next 4 days since they also had time before their planned departure. I was not in a condition where I could have walked the 15km per day necessary to complete the Camino on foot but their generosity was incredible. The Camino community and their support for each other has to be experienced to believe.

Having gone down to the cathedral using hiking poles for support on Sunday I realized that that was not a good option and that what I really needed was crutches to minimize the weight I was putting on my legs, in particular the right one. One Monday morning I asked in the hotel where I could get some. After some thought the manager of the hotel said "I think a colleague of mine might be able to help. There were some previously used by his mother. I will find out if he still has them. Give me one hour". An hour later he came with these old but perfectly usable crutches for me to borrow!

We adjusted them for length - I must be much taller than the old mother, and they have made a huge difference. Monday I went down to the cathedral again for the 12:00 noon pilgrim Mass which included the use of the large incense thurifer (Botafumeiro") at the end of the service. Here is a video. It is a performance that has to be seen to be believed.


The cathedral is still under renovation and much of the front is still covered by scaffolding. The part that is finished however gives a good idea of how it will look when the work is completed.


Inside I find it much more friendly than most of the other cathedrals I have visited in Spain in the last few weeks. The center is open, not blocked by a massive choir section. The altar area however is so full of statues and decorations that one almost loses sight of the actual worship area. At the top of the decoration there is a statue of St James riding a white horse representing his miraculous appearance at the legendary battle of Clavijo in 844 AD fighting on the Christian side against the Muslim Moors and ensuring victory over a vastly superior army. There is also another statue of St James the Apostle above the tabernacle on the high altar.

With the crutches I was better and felt that I was not damaging my knees much so I went to a couple of the souvenir shops to look for a few things to take home. I have a small very light backpack that I use for carry on items on the plane and for shopping on the Camino that I use when I am out on the crutches since I need both hands free.

Found a nice salad for lunch and back to the hotel for a rest. I sat in the "library" for a while reading an interesting book I found there and chatted with a couple from Texas who are touring in Spain and Portugal.

My room is tiny but big enough and I can reach almost everything with just one step so perfect for me at this moment. Nice view from the skylight, not of the cathedral but of one of the many churches in Santiago and of the hills beyond in the early morning light. Room is too small for a photo.

Outside there is a very nice garden café where I can sit.

That was Monday May 2

This morning (Tuesday May 3) I woke up feeling much better physically. My legs were definitely improved and I was even able to get make the three steps to the bathroom without using the crutches. I can walk up and down stairs just using the handrail but I need the crutches for anything more than a couple of steps. However I feel that I am on the mend and that by Friday I will able to manage the train with my backpack and possibly with assistance from other passengers.

After a good breakfast in the hotel I made my way down towards the cathedral and sat for a while in the sun. Pilgrims who I had walked with and were just arriving came by and we chatted for a while. They were all disappointed to hear my situation since we had spent so many days walking the same paths.

After lunch I decided to go to the pilgrim office and ask if I was entitled to a certificate of distance walked. There are two certificates that can be awarded. The major one is the "Compostela", a certificate which declares you to have completed the requirements to be considered a faithful pilgrim, the other is just informational to record the distance.

I showed all my documents and said I knew I was not entitled to the Compostela since I didn't complete the distance on foot. The person started writing an d said, yes I was entitled to a Compostela since I had walked so far and clearly was only unable to complete the last few km due to a medical condition.

Tears welled up in my eyes again since I had already made peace with myself that I had not earned it. I left the office with two certificates, written in Latin as has been the tradition on the Camino.

The Compostela

The Certificate of Distance

As I headed back up the hill, past the cathedral towards my hotel I had to go up some steps which go under a part of the cathedral cloister and there are often musicians there hoping for donations. This afternoon as I approached there was a lady who was clearly trained as a professional singer singing first The Lord's Prayer and then the Alleluia song. I had to sit down on the steps to listen because both of these pieces were perfect for expressing my feelings at that time. I hope I can rember what I have learned in the last weeks on the Camino. "Be humble and you will be delighted with what you receive." A lesson on the Beatitudes

I got back to the hotel and sat outside in the garden with a glass of wine marveling at unexpected blessings I had felt this afternoon.


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Camino 2016: Via de La Plata Day 34 - O Coto to......Santiago de Compostela

Sunday May 1, 2016
Today's blog is not quite what I had hoped it would be. Yesterday I wrote that my legs were getting tired with almost 800km behind me in 30 days. In fact they were more than just tired. My right knee was hurting and my left thigh was very painful with each step. Ibuprofen helped for a couple of hours but was not going to get me the remaining 60km to Santiago. I had hoped that a night in the hotel in O Coto would let them rest but they were no better this morning. As I considered all the alternatives I concluded that waiting another day was not going to solve the problem, but only tempt me to do something foolish resulting in possible more permanent damage.
Options were to take a bus or a taxi for a few km or all the way to Santiago. In the end I chose the latter. The nearest major hospital would be in Santiago anyway if it came to that which of course I hope it won't. In the morning I sat in the garden of the hotel and watched the pilgrims walk past as I had hoped to do and wished them well. The people in the hotel were very helpful and gave me the bus times and even helped me to the bus stop which was very close. They also recommended a hotel and made a reservation for me.The bus to Santiago took a little over an hour with stops along the way. From the bus station I took a short taxi ride to the hotel which is very close to the cathedral and has a very nice garden at the back which is also a café. One side of the hotel and the wall at the back of the garden are part of the old city walls.
The people here are also wonderful and helpful. After I settled in I admit that I got rather emotional about having to stop short but so close to Santiago, but already I have looked back at what I have achieved, the wonderful experiences and people I have met and am full of thanks rather than sadness. The sun is shining and life is good. The Angels were always there to help me when I needed them - so many lessons and opportunities to strengthen my faith.
I sat in the garden at the hotel with a beer for a while and then at about 4:30 I went to a garden restaurant a few houses down the block for a meal since I had not had anything to eat since breakfast. I felt stronger and hobbled down to the cathedral which would normally take only 5 minutes but took me much longer of course using my hiking poles as crutches.
As soon as I entered the cathedral I ran into the family from New Zealand with the 6 month old baby who had just arrived. That again made me emotional but they understood fully. I felt a need to say a prayer of thanks for arriving safely even if not as planned and to kneel in front of the tomb of St James. As it has on previous visits that made me emotional once again but helped me realize the blessings we have received through the sacrifices of the saints.
Probably no pictures today but if I get out in the next couple of days I will post some later.
My plan now is to stay here until Friday when I will take the train to Madrid to catch my flight back to the USA on Saturday May 7.
God bless and thanks to all for your support and prayers. Life is good even when things don't always go as we would have wished!