Santiago, A Pilgrim’s Trophy

Home to the famed Catholic pilgrimage site – the shrine of St. James, the Great (allegedly still guarding his ruins)  – is the old city of Santiago de Compostela. Channelling the almost Northern-Portuguese Galician vibe with its street pavement stones and architecture, Santiago shows a very different facet of Spain. Maybe I would have an entirely different picture of the city if I have not seen most of Northern Portugal before visiting; but I did, and so this city came easily to me as Portugal-adjacent. It is not a bad thing though, since I guess, it combines the best of Portugal and Spain. The streets may scream Portugal but there’s a clearly imposing Spanish-Romanesque beast of a cathedral overlooking the city’s old quarters… or maybe let’s just call it uniquely Galician to be politically safe.

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Clockwise from Top Left: Tourist-filled square by the Pratarias facade, side-view silhouette of the cathedral showing Romanesque and Gothic outlines, octopus on a cup, anyone???, and a giant ferris-wheel erected for some festival.

The cathedral also culminates the Way of St. James or Camino de Santiago which could start all the way from France, Spain, and Portugal, even as far England and Italy. Driven by a firm Catholic faith, pilgrims walk for miles from various cities – spanning weeks and months. Most of the paths are already organized because most of them have already existed for centuries but still, it is a lot of walk. I wish I could have tried, at least the one from Porto which is probably the shortest. Apparently, you need to invest a lot of time for it. Maybe soon on a long break I would, because I heard from the accounts of many successful pilgrims that the way to Santiago is indeed a very transformative experience. In fact, blissful pilgrims with their color-coded shirts, walking sticks, and man-sized backpacks are very happy to greet you at the main plaza upon the St. James’ marker, having survived days on the rough roads and finally seeing the rewards of their toil.

Food is also a pleasant way to enjoy the city with a wide range of seafood offerings especially the exotic octopus. Aside from the Cathedral, there is really nothing much of a must-see except to just probably enjoy the old town feel from the well-preserved structures that surround the cathedral. Well, I think hanging out and sunbathing by the open space in front of the main facade of the cathedral with the happy pilgrims full of interesting stories from their journeys would already be enough to satisfy your craving for a unique experience.

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