Tag Archives: Scenery

After the Camino, part I – Santiago

Sunday 1 October 2023 – I hope you’ll forgive a couple of days of not posting updates, but I haven’t had a lot of time, what with having Nice Lunches and that. After finishing the Camino last Thursday, we had three nights’ stay in Santiago before moving on. The first day we had a guided tour of the city; the second was spent on a day trip that included two other key Camino destinations. This post is about our time actually spent in the city. The photos are selected from pictures taken on the evening after we finished walking, during our guided tour and after it; no particular order, no particular theme, but I wanted to try to give some impression of the city.

Which is quite overwhelming. Getting back to dealing (a) with life in a bustling city after six weeks in the wilderness and (b) the sheer amount of detail, history and massive religious buildings was quite tricky. But here goes….

Let’s start with some statistics. These were reeled off by our guide, Joaquin,

among a vast gout of information which meant that our brains were full after only about 10 minutes.

Despite its feeling of huge size, Santiago is by no means the largest of the cities we passed through. Burgos has 350,000 residents, and León has over 122,000. Santiago has just 90,000 residents, but receives 2 million overnight stays each year, of which over 300,000 are pilgrims. The resulting crowds, buzz and ubiquity of great lumps of religious masonry means that Santiago felt much the largest of the three to me.

At the heart of the city is the cathedral. It is massive, a very imposing presence across the city.

The above video shows it mainly from the west; in front of it you can see a large square, the Praza do Obradoiro, which is where today’s pilgrims tend to end their Camino. There are also squares on the other three sides: North, the Praza de Inmaculada, the historical end of the Camino, where we bade farewell to Susan and Bob;

with its stunningly intricate façade;

and Praza da Quitana, to the East (pay attention, now; we’ll be returning here later).

To the south of the main bulk of the cathedral lies Praza das Praterias and the cloisters, which we visited as part of our time with Joaquin.

One interesting fact came out of the welter that Joaquin deluged us with – atop one tower is a pyramid shape influenced by the architect’s visit to Mexico where he saw Mayan pyramids. The other tower around the cloister is similarly Aztec-influenced.

In the centre of the cloister courtyard is a huge stone bowl, made in the Romanesque style,

which used to stand in the square to the north of the cathedral – the historical end of the pilgrimage. Its purpose was to enable pilgrims to finally wash and purify themselves as part of their pilgrimage. There were four parts to the ritual:

  1. Wash and purify
  2. Burn the old pilgrim’s robes
  3. Don fresh white robes
  4. Finally wear the cockle shell that the pilgrim had acquired from shell sellers (in the city, rather than by the sea shore)

This then granted a “plenary indulgence” – forgiveness for all past sins. I’ll return to this topic later as well, so better keep paying attention, here.

The cathedral was built between 1035 and 1211, which is a pretty impressive feat of building when you consider the vast size of it. It has been renovated in the 17th and 18th century with the last titivation being in the baroque style. This means that if you look at the building through the eyes of an architect you can see a great mixture of styles: medieval, romanesque and baroque.

Inside the cathedral is probably the most impressive of the three great Camino cathedrals – Burgos, León and Santiago – at least to my eyes.  The nave is large

whereas in Burgos, for example, the huge number of fancy chapels around the nave actually served to reduce its area and thus its impact. Notice the hortizontal organ pipes – these are are used for sound effects rather than musical notes.  Horizontal pipes were once very common, but almost all other sets have been discarded over the years.

Behind me, as I took the above photo, is the Portico of Glory, the original, and very imposing, entrance to the church. Entrance to the cathedral can be free, but if you want to see the Portico, which has been very carefully and beautifully restored, you have to pay extra and join timed groups of a couple of dozen at a time to stand and marvel at it. That’s all you can do, since the buggers won’t let you take photos of it, or touch it (the sculpted Tree of Jesse bears the marks of millions of pilgrims in the form of the deep imprints of fingers and thumb – but one can no longer place ones fingers into that piece of history).

Another way that the cathedral parts punters from their money concerns the eponymous St. James – Santiago, you’ll remember. His statue forms part of the altar piece, and for an extra consideration, people are allowed to file down into the crypt to view the actual tomb of the Saint, then queue up

and climb up behind the altar to “hug the saint” and whisper their problems to him in the hope of getting inspiration, resolution or absolution.

There is, of course, a wealth of detail in the endless architectural flourishes inside the cathedral. A couple of things stood out for me: some of the original windows at the back of the church,

which predate glass – they are actually wafer-thin slices of alabaster; the original medieval baptismal font, the oldest item in the cathedral, which survived the destruction of the original medieval building by the muslim hordes;

and some of the various chapels around the side of the nave are used for taking confession in various languages.

In my post about Villafranca, I mentioned the concept of Holy Doors – special doors passing through which (along with other flummery) confers a plenary indulgence. The one in the Santiago cathedral is not hugely imposing.

However, if you look at it from the outside, there’s an impressive portal.

Peering through the bars of this portal reveals a dark secret – the portal is kind of a fake.  Through the bars, you see

the back end of the original church building! This was deemed to be not impressive enough, and so the façade was put in place to gussy the whole thing up to give it more gravitas.

Another thing the cathedral is famous for is its thurible, which is vast – it weighs 60kg.

On holy days and religious festivals – and, yes, if one is prepared to stump up the necessary moolah – this incense burner, called the Botafumeiro, becomes the centre of a spectacular piece of theatre after communion has been taken at mass.

We were lucky enough to see this twice in one day – from the side, as above and, earlier in the day, from the back, by the Portico of Glory, which was better musically but not so impressive to see.

Joaquin got us into the cathedral early on in the day, which was good because one could take photos without there being too many crowds around. He also took us into the cloisters and the museum, where, as ever, he drowned us with fascinating facts which neither of us can easily remember. Taking of photos in the museum is not allowed (yawn), but I managed to sneak one shot of a prized item,

an alabaster-and-wood altar piece depicting the life of St. James. This is a pilgrimage offering from the 1456 Holy Year of Compostela carved in Nottinghamshire at the behest of “Johanes Gudguar” (thought to be the English priest John Goodyear from the Isle of Wight).

Outside the cathedral, as you can imagine, there’s an ongoing hive of activity, particularly on the huge western square, with pilgrims arriving, sometimes en masse, like this bunch of schoolkids who had just been on a one-day “pilgrimage”

There’s often a piper.

Bordering this western square,

are the Town Hall (on the left above) and the Hospital Real de Santiago de Compostela. This is now a posh Parador Hotel with an impressive entrance with bouncers an’ everyfink

but once it really was a hospital intended for pilgrims.  It’s a regrettable fact that around half of pilgrims never made it to Santiago, having died en route, or been killed, or any one of a number of causes. Having arrived in Santiago, a surprisingly large proprortion of them fell sick and many of them died, too – hence the need for the hospital. Originally pilgrims might sleep in the cathedral – women upstairs, men downstairs – but this became intolerable (I’ve heard it said that the huge incense burner was a defense against the smell!) and the hospital took over the brunt of this care.  Not all of them survived this care, so, conveniently next door to the Hospital is the Igrexa de San Frutuoso, which is where the bodies went – a funerary church.

Another interesting nugget from Joaquin was that pilgrims who had arrived safe and well often simply stayed in Santiago – I had assumed that they would just go back to where they came from, but this was apparently not the case. So there developed language-based communities of pilgrims across the the city, with French pigrims congregating in one part, Germans in another and so on.

One final piece of cathedraliana: the lightning conductors. There are three in the squares around the cathedral, and at street level they are lead into concrete posts.  In the Quintana square (remember that one?) after dark, the street lighting leads to an interesting illusion:

called the “Secret Pilgrim”. See?  It was worth paying attention, after all.

Other religious buildings that we noted included the Franciscan Church, just down from our hotel.

To the left in the picture above, you can see a remnant of the old city walls, with the church

therefore being outside the walls – no room for Franciscans in the city, it appears. On the other hand, just outside the cathedral and hence inside the city walls, is the Benedictine Monastery, Mosteiro de San Martiño Pinario.  This is so huge that it took me some time to realise that the front, by the cathedral

and the side, considerably nearer our hotel

were actually both parts of the same complex. The monks were once very rich and influential. so between 1835 and 1837, a series of decrees from Juan Álvarez Mendizábal was published, which confiscated, without compensation, monastic land estates. Well, if the dissolution of the monasteries was good enough for Henry VIII, it’s good enough for anyone, that’s clear.

Another subject that Joaquin covered was the pre-Roman history of Santiago, which means Celtic.  Something I hadn’t appreciated until walking the Camino was the extent of Celtic population and culture in Spain. Celtic presence may date back as far as the 6th century BC, until their influence was subsumed by the Roman Empire, starting from about the second century BC. There’s still evidence of Celtic culture in the presence of decorative materials (particularly jet) showing Celtic symbols

including a particular Celtic protective gesture to ward off evil.

Other things we saw included the market, Mercado de Abastos

the courtyard of the city library, which has a lovely cloisters

and features a statue of Alonso III de Fonseca, a Galician archbishop and politician and a major supporter of the university of Santiago de Compostela. He is depicted in a pose of deep thought

and not on his mobile phone, after all.

We wandered around other parts of the city, which is handsome

and quite busy in all the areas around the cathedral.  We even tried some shopping, as we wanted to buy for friends some of the so-called “Santiago Cake“, the almond cake with the St. James cross outlined on it, which is ubiquitous in these here parts. Seeking out an artisanal shop, we were spoiled for choice

but were allowed a taste test, which was nice of them.

This has only scratched the surface of our time in the city. For example, we had two Very Nice Lunches (a major factor in me not posting before now), at Asador Gonzaba where they served us 95% of a cow, and Casa Marcelo, where they served us what they chose; both very fine meals from very fine establishments. And we walked around for some 12km, almost none of which was on the straight and level – it’s quite the uppy and downy place.

As well as wandering the city, we had, as I mentioned earlier, a day trip to, inter alia, two important Camino destinations. It was an interesting trip and I’ll post about it in the next thrilling instalment. I bet you can’t wait, eh?




Camino Day 27 – Astorga to Rabanal del Camino: start of the climbs

Thursday 14 September 2023 – Today’s task: get to Rabanal del Camino, some 21km away and halfway up the first of two hills we must climb in order to reach Galicia, the province wherein lies Santiago de Compostela. This first climb is not a particularly steep one; that comes in about five days’ time, but we will have a rest day to gather our energies beforehand. For today, with cool but sunny weather forecast, there didn’t seem to be a need to rush out early. Accordingly, we took advantage of a decent breakfast buffet and left at about 0815, with an extra layer to keep us warm in a temperature of around 11°C.

As usual, you can see a summary of the day – route and photos – in a Relive video.

A short distance from the hotel we came across another wonderful mural.

I suppose the technology to put this kind of display up must be digital in some way – I can’t imagine an artist painting it by hand – but however it’s done, it looks spectacular.  Just by it was another trompe l’oeuil mural, much smaller, but nice to look at and quite possibly hand-painted.

The Camino route took us past the Cathedral, where I managed to get a photo of the whole building, in a lovely morning light.

So when I said yesterday that it wasn’t possible to get far enough away from it to take a photo of it, I was wrong; what I should have said was that I wasn’t paying attention because I was distracted by the Gaudi Palace which is just to the right of the picture above.

As we walked out of Astorga, we passed a modern church building, Iglesia de San Pedro de Rectivía.

When we travelled around Iceland, we collected photos of many Interesting Churches there, and the architecture alone of this one qualifies as Interesting; what is more Interesting is that the front is decorated in mosaics – possibly a nod to the Roman roots of the city.

It’s fantastic piece of work and a delight to see.  I suspect that the interior is Interesting, too; the side windows looked as if they had modern stained glass in them.

We moved on into open country, with very clear visibility,

emphatically not a usual characteristic of Walker holidays, passing the Ermita del Ecce Homo

and stopping for coffee in Murias de Rechivaldo, whose church had a stork’s nest fit to bring down the church bell tower.

The main Camino route carries basically along the road, but we took a detour, as suggested by both the Brierley book and our WalkTheCamino online map, so took a side track

that led to Castrillo de los Polvazares, a village that has been rebuilt by artisans in the traditional Maragato style.  It’s very photogenic, so I, erm, took lots of photos. To save you from having to look through them all, I put them in a Flickr album, which you can view by clicking this image.

Castrillo de los Polvazares

Here’s a little taster for you.

It’s photogenic and it’s attractive; but it was also stone dead. There are loads of restaurants but nothing open for the thirsty pilgrim, and there’s a largish car park outside, so I guess it’s a destination for meals out and tourists. So it felt a bit weird; slightly fake in some way, even though the buildings are real buildings and people really live there.

As we carried on, we could see the next village, Santa Catalina de Somoza, in the distance.

Whilst not as pretty, it was not unattractive, and also exhibited the Maragato style,

but, more to the point, had a (open) coffee stop

in an albergue which had an attractive courtyard inside.

Refreshed, we carried on on a track which basically followed the road to our destination

and was littered with pilgrims and various retail opportunists.

The official Camino route led round the periphery of the next village, El Ganso; but we Jane had read that this was a crumbling village that was gradually being brought back to life on the back of Camino business, so we instead walked through on the road in search of refreshment and an opportunity to spend our tourist Euros.

Indeed there was a shop and bar there and we treated ourselves to a proper tourist ice lolly of a sort not dissimilar to, and just as messy to eat as, a Magnum. That’s four whole Euros in the pocket of the lucky proprietor and we felt better for our support for the local economy.

The track passed a section of wire netting which pilgrims had adorned with makeshift crosses, just as we had seen some three weeks ago as we headed into Navarrete.

There was a short, sharp and rocky ascent at one stage but for the rest of our walk we followed the roadside track to our destination, which is an attractive place, albeit quite a steep walk up the main drag.

Our accommodation, El Refugio,

offers a restaurant as well as decently-sized and organised bedrooms, so we availed ourselves of a lunch there

which was not only enjoyable, despite being quite simple, but also gave us Jane an idea or two of culinary things to try when we get home.

Which is in less than three weeks, by God! We have the first climb to finish, which we will do tomorrow as we head to Molinaseca, the longest of any of our Camino segments, at around 26km, with a further 400m to ascend and then, probably more demanding, 900m to descend. After a few days we do the Difficult Climb to O Cebreiro and into Galicia, at which point we will be less than150km from Santiago.

For today, though, our stats. We walked 22km and climbed nearly 340m.  Our total distance covered so far is therefore 550.8km, just over 340 miles. Our knees and quads will likely be suffering at the end of the next stage, so please feel free to come back and have a laugh at our expense once I report in these pages, won’t you?



Camino Day 17 – Castrojeriz to Boadilla del Camino. A short one before The Long One

Sunday 3 September 2023 – We exploited the facilities at Emebed Posada mercilessly to make many, many mugs of Twining’s finest Earl Grey before retiring for a comfortable night and a relaxed start this morning, given that we have a shortish walk of “only” 20km or so. Margarita was as charming as ever, despite having been awake since 3am to see whether her son’s girlfriend – Miss Bogota! – had succeeded in her quest for election. Sadly, no, but still Margarita oversaw a nice breakfast – excellent croissants – and, of course, more of Twining’s finest. So it was 0800 before we started out on a cool morning.  Yesterday we had worn shoes (Merrills) for the walk because of the threat of rain, and neither of us found them as comfortable as Tevas, so we decided to revert to sandals and hope that any rain would not be overwhelming. (Spoiler alert – it wasn’t).

Having done our homework, we knew that the route today involved a reasonably stiff, albeit not overly long, climb.  It wasn’t long before we saw what we were in for:

and, indeed, it was quite steep – 12% –

and it was quite gratifying that neither of us found a couple of kilometres of this gradient to be particularly challenging.  The views on the way up were decent,

and it was interesting to note the terrain; it looks as if at one stage the escarpment was terraced.

We reached the top, as one does if one keeps going,

and could just make out the castle on the top of the Castrojeriz hill.

There’s a short level stretch at the top leading to a mirador.  We wondered if we could see a decent view from  it, and the answer is, of course, “Yes. We. Cairn.”*

The descent, at 18%, is even sharper than the ascent

and leads down to a trail across a level plain

which, I suspect, is going to be the default scenery for the quite some distance as we head towards Léon. In a previous post I questioned whether this might be boring, but our experience so far is that, while the scenery might be unvarying, it’s not dull; furthermore, walking in it is not tedious, as we get pleasure from just the exercise and mental benefit from being outdoors. I should also add that our preparation for the Camino involved us walking the same 10km of Surrey roads and paths multiple times, so we’re accustomed to unvarying landscapes whilst still enjoying the exercise.

The winding path ahead gave me a chance to attempt more photos to convey the idea of “the path ahead”

but it wasn’t all unrelieved wheat and sunflower fields. We found alfalfa and turnips, too, for example.

OK, yes, there were other landmarks, too:

Ermita San Nicolás

Puente Fitero, a nine-arch 17th century bridge ordered by Alfonso VI of León

Nice view from the bridge

Shortly after the bridge one approaches a possible coffee stop, Itero de la Vega. (This prompted me to wonder what “vega” translates to in English; the answer seems to be “meadow”, which means that possibly the most ironic city name in the world is Las Vegas.)  You can tell in the Meseta when you’re aproaching a village, as the landscape changes – in this case, to woodland, some of which is not wild, but a formal plantation.

We were walking past this with a Canadian chap we’ve encountered and chatted with on occasion; he declared that he was going to whizz his drone along the lanes between the trees, in an Ewok kind of way. We wished him good luck and left him to it!

We had another encounter with Moaning Minnie on the bridge, where she was sure to tell us all about the art gallery she was going to be staying in that night in Frómista, and again in the coffee stop, where she managed to gather no fewer than three other people around her (including Jane whose generosity of spirit is to be commended) to help her with a foot problem. She’s beginning to sound like Louise the Limpet, a similar sort of character that another hiker and kayaker that we know has promised to Tell All About Soon.

As well as a bar, Itero de la Vega has a couple of interesting corners.

As we entered the village, some pale sunshine was beginning to throw our shadows in front of us.  When we left after coffee, however,

it had clearly rained quite heavily and was indeed still raining a bit, so we adopted rain jackets for a while until it became clear that life would be more comfortable without them; the wind had changed from foe to friend, in that instead of being uncomfortably chilling in cool termperatures it was now nicely cooling as the day warmed.

We were passed on the next stretch by another Pilgrim Under Sail,

though the wind direction and strength meant that this chap was heading downwind and was therefore in danger of an accidental gibe, which, as any sailing person will know, can be very uncomfortable.

Other notable sights included:

evidence that no-one really knows how  long the Camino Francés actually is or how much of it still lies ahead – this sign occurred about 4km after the one saying 455km; a canal,

the Canal del Pisuerga, part of a network of 18th century canals which helps feed the immense agriculture of the area; and the occasional Nice View.

Soon after that we saw our destination for the day, Boadilla del Camino,

a small village which might be more extensive than San Juan de Ortega (almost everywhere is) but still boasts (apart from the inevitable church, of course) only one bar, one hotel and one albergue – and they’re all basically the same place.

At a distance, we were a bit puzzled by the construction second from left in the above photo. It turned out to be some kind of ruins of a mud construction,

perhaps the forerunner of the buildings that now surround it.

Boadilla looks like a fairly random collection of ramshackle buildings as you approach,

mainly because it is, largely.  It has its quirks, though,

a charming Ayuntamiento (Town Hall),

huge church

with, engagingly, at least one stork’s nest on its tower

and a rollo which is definitely in the lead for the prize of Top Camino Rollo 2023.

Our hotel, “En El Camino” – “On the Camino” – is behind the rollo.  It also encompasses an albergue off to the left of the picture; together these comprise the entire eating and drinking  Scene of the town.  I had expected of the hotel something a lot more basic, but we have a comfortable room, were able to have a decent (not Nice, but nice) lunch, and could get gin and hot water for tea at the bar. What more could one ask for?

There was one moment of abject terror, as I sat in the hotel bar to start writing this page – Moaning Minnie Checked In!!! Maybe her foot problems had meant a change to her original plan for the day. Whatever, I was reduced to the Very British Problems approach – keep the head down in the phone and tablet and hope not to be clocked. It seemed to work, and I think she’s in the albergue. I know I’m being craven but I simply can’t face the idea of talking having to listen to her.

In the restaurant over lunch we saw today’s mystery object.

I’m tempted to run a quiz, but I’ll save you the agony.  It’s a horse-drawn threshing machine; sharp fragments of stone embedded in a wooden structure to be dragged over a harvest crop, it collects the wheat and allows the chaff to blow away in the wind.

The stats for the day: we covered 20.0km, therefore 343.4 in total, or 213 miles. We climbed 238m and descended 274m, by the way.

Tomorrow is the most challenging day since our 27km walk into Burgos. We have to cover about 26km to get to Carrión de los Condes. The challenge is longitudinal, not vertical, and it would be good to get there without being quite as tired as we were on reaching Burgos.  The weather prospects are uncertain – as I finish writing this a thunderstorm is thunderstorming outside! For the morrow, Accuweather says that rain will die down from 8am, others are less sanguine. So I suspect we’ll see what’s actually happening outside the window when we wake to decide how to handle the day. In any case I will report back; I’m just not quite sure when.  Stay in touch and you’ll see how things develop.


* Sorry, Mr. President. Couldn’t resist it.