September 6, 2019

When You Get to Santiago de Compostela

I have never been to a place quite like Santiago de Compostela.


The overwhelming majority of people walking around are pilgrims. They have huge backpacks with neon sleep mats and they clickety-clack with their walking sticks. There are sounds of bagpipes wailing from the buskers in the parks. The damp raininess lends a greenish tint to the vegetation and the buildings that somehow have tufts of wildflowers growing out of the stone on even the fourth or fifth floor. There are scallop shell symbols on the ground, on the walls, and on the signs. There are sounds of cheering in front of the cathedral, and also around the town as groups even sight the cathedral for the first time.


I think this is something akin to the Catholic version of Mecca. Maybe it would be similar for a Protestant Christian in Bethlehem, or at Golgotha. I can relate it to when I first saw the Eiffel Tower, perhaps.


It's also incredible because Santiago de Compostela has been a tourist destination for over a thousand years. Pilgrimage tourism literally built this city.


It has been a very interesting place to spend six days. I don't know if I will be able to return, or for how long, but I know that I would be curious to talk to more people, both locals and visitors, the next time. There is a common ground with nearly everyone here, but it would still be an interesting compilation of stories and trails to listen to what brought every individual along the Camino to end up in Santiago.


This is my list of sights, food and coffee places, parks, stores, and services that I found useful and helpful during my time here.


I really loved my hotel, the PR Plaza de Galicia. You can use my Booking.com referral link to book and we will both get a discount! I had views over the square and of the cathedral, all complete with my own double bed and full bathroom. Very private and I got a ton of work done during my down time. The Plaza de Galicia is also where the airport bus stops, and I found the location to be both central and also a little bit away from the extremely touristed areas.


I rented a car from the Hertz dealership in town at La Galuresa where there is also a gasoline station. The lady working the desk was British and, of course, fluent in English and Spanish. She was so helpful! It is also possible to rent cars from the airport, too, but I only needed it for one day (trip to Padrón and Ribeira) and it was so much easier to just walk to the rental location than to take the bus to the airport again.


The post office "Correos" on Rúa do Franco had some of the nicest postal service staff I have ever met. Very understanding of tourists wanting to send postcards to various countries!


I recommend stopping by the bookstore, Re-Read Santiago, to find or turn in used books. I found They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie there and was able to enjoy reading it on a sunny day in the nearby Parque de Alameda.


On the other side of the Parque de Alameda is a great viewpoint to take pictures of the cathedral, at the Miradoiro da Catedral. Another interesting park with maze-like walls and hedges is the Parque de Belvís on the east side of the center. This park leads you to the Convento de Belvís and is also close to the large local Mercado de Abastos de Santiago.


Other sights to take in are the Praza das Praterías on the way to the grand Catedral de Santiago de Compostela. Both of these locations deserve at least a few minutes of reverent quietude to observe how meaningful this destination has been for the majority of the people present.


The University Library is also worth a walk through, and hopefully the gorgeous Biblioteca América section will be open to enjoy.


For meals, my absolute favorite place to eat in Santiago was at Valentina Taquería. The Argentinian lady who is cooking these awesome tacos, tamales, and quesadillas is Rosa, and she is the main friend I made during my week here...mostly because I ate here once every day! It was really easy to place my order on the computer screen, I could pay immediately, then enjoy my meal at my leisure, either in the passageway where the taquería is located or take it out to the park. Rosa also let me practice my Spanish with her and her niece when I went over to her house for her niece to give me a manicure and pedicure! She is an A+ person, who also happens to make really delicious food! I recommend the carnitas and the guacomole, plus a mani/pedi!!!


The other place I ate a few meals at was Antollos pinchos e viños. They have a solid menu of classic tapas, and also a tapas bar where you can just select the ones you want from sight. For breakfast, coffee, snacks, etc., the places I liked the most were Cafe Iacobus, Cafetería La Flor, and Café Tertulia. I also had some delicious ice cream from Xearte Brigitte (which is along the main Camino and makes for excellent people watching!) and Smooy (although this was a little pricey). I am not just listing off all the places I went to; there were other locations I ate and drank at as well, but they were mediocre and are not worth mentioning.


A special note about Cafe Iacobus; it ebbs and flows with crowds, so it's good to just wait a few minutes and then take a seat. I sat at the bar and ordered one of the many coffee + chocolate drink options, the traditional Tarta Santiago cake, a Spanish tortilla omelette, and fresh orange juice.


Both of the older men working the coffee bar on the different days I went were kind and attentive, and even supplied me with a complimentary pastry toward the end of my breakfast! This was the only cafe that felt traditionally personable and effortlessly charming; I think I can say that this cafe has duende.


There are plenty of other religious sights and decent places to eat in the city center, but these were my favorite and contributed to my very wonderful first time in Santiago de Compostela.

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