Fear and loathing/happiness and pleasure in Santiago de Compostela


I owe you an apology Santiago de Compostela.
Well, half an apology anyway.

I wasn’t altogether fair on Santiago in my blog post when I finally walked into the city after having walked over 3,000km from Prague: https://mycaminosantiago.com/2014/06/27/arrival-to-santiago/

Santiago is one of the most expensive cities in Spain and any pilgrim arriving low on funds at the end of their pilgrimage might probably share my previous blog post view that Santiago is a cold and pilgrim-unfriendly city.

With its cathedral being the ultimate destination for thousands of pilgrims per year, I am sure that it can also be a huge disappointment at the end of a magical journey only to arrive and find yourself being promptly escorted out of the cathedral (like I was) because you entered with your backpack:

No backpacks allowed in Santiago de Compostela cathedral

(click on any photo to enlarge)

Plus the amount of pilgrim-related tourist tack on sale in what seems like an infinite number of tourist shops all selling pretty much the same tack and designed to make money off the pilgrim dream is also disturbing; here a slice of the pilgrim dream can be bought by anyone with more money than sense in the form of pilgrim/Camino branded t-shirts, key rings, tunics and staffs, fleeces, hats, etc.

The cathedral was also being renovated when I arrived, draped in imitation robes and caressed in construction scaffolding:

Santiago cathedral renovations

It’s true of course to say that any city would be a disappointment if arriving with limited funds, but I can’t help but wonder how very different Santiago de Compostela was back in the day when pilgrims arrived to a hospitable and charitable welcome at the end of their often dangerous and demanding long journey.

As I wrote though, I wasn’t altogether fair on Santiago in my blog post and I did luckily manage to see and experience another side of the city which left me wanting for more.

With available funds Santiago has a lot to offer the pilgrim celebrating the end of their pilgrimage achievement and everything seems better anyway after a few glasses of (albeit relatively expensive) Rioja and a plate of seafood tapas. On my return to Santiago from Finisterre I had funds sent to me and I had a completely different experience in the city than I did a week previously with hardly a cent in my pocket.

Even though the cathedral is undergoing renovations currently it is a large complex and walking around the grounds you can still witness the understated majestic beauty of this holy of places:

Santiago cathedral towers

Saint James statue

Also, I was told by another pilgrim that you can freely enter the cathedral with your backpack before 9am. I went there at about 8am with backpack and guitar and this time was left alone to walk around the cathedral interior without any interest from the cathedral security.

Regarding nightlife I recommend hitting up the tapas bars on Rua do Franco:

Santiago de Compostela

This street is plastered with eating and drinking nightlife options and although you will be paying a significantly higher price than say tapas in Leon or Burgos, the quality and atmosphere is here on this street. My favourite was Taberna do Bispo:

Taberna do Bispo Santiago de Compostela

Like most of the tapas bars along this street the Bispo specialises in seafood and one of my favourite tapas dishes was the seafood scallop shell:

Scallop shell seafood tapas

During the day I liked to sip espresso and soak up time and atmosphere in Cafe Casino, located at 35 Rua do Vilar:

Cafe Casino Santiago de Compostela

Cafe Casino Rúa do Vilar, 35

So from my perspective I would recommend not to place so much emphasis on Santiago de Compostela as a destination point of the Camino – after all the Camino is all about the journey and not the destination – and I wouldn’t recommend arriving with the expectation of fireworks and a warm, hospitable welcome.

Well that is not unless you have a healthy amount of funds when you do finally walk, limp, or stumble in at the end of your incredible journey across the milky way walking route.

If you have any questions about Santiago de Compostela or if you wish to add information, then please feel free to leave a comment or question in the Reply box below.

Neville David Thomas

Categories: Camino ArticlesTags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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