Sunday, February 6, 2011

Weekend Trip #3- Santiago de Compostela

This past weekend was the BEST! It was the first free weekend our group had to do whatever we wanted, so of course we all planned weekend trips outside of Madrid. Most people went to Paris, some to Lisbon in Portugal, and another group to the Canary Islands. Although I had the opportunity to go to all of those, I along with my friends Becca, Katy, and Ashley went to the Northwest coast of Spain, to a little place called Santiago de Compostela.

I had heard about this random little city from 2 of my friends who had been on this study abroad previously, who had told me that I needed to go there if at all possible. Other than knowing that it had a beautiful cathedral and was the ending destination for pilgrimages, I had no idea what Santiago had to offer, but I was willing to find out.

So to help you understand Santiago, here's a little background history:
  • it's on the Northwest coast of Spain, north of Portugal, and in the region of Galicia, which has a lot of Celtic influences
  • they don't speak Spanish--they speak Galician, which although sounds like Spanish and is a dialect, is almost a completely different language. For example: instead of "montaña" for the word "mountain", they use "monte", and "praza" instead of "plaza". They also like to use the letter "x" a lot.
  • Santiago means St. James in Spanish--appropriate, because St. James' (as in the apostle James) crypt/remains lie in the cathedral
  • the cathedral in Santiago is the holiest in Spain, and one of the holiest in Europe and to the Catholic religion
  • the city is the end destination for many different pilgrimages that start all over Europe
  • a scalloped shell is the symbol of the city for a couple reasons: legend has it that when St. James' remains were sent to Santiago by his disciples, there was a big storm that hit the boat, therefore losing his body to the ocean, but after a while his body washed on the shore of the coast, unharmed and covered in scalloped shells. The shell was also a way that pilgrims from as early as the 8th century could prove that they had made it to Santiago because the city is so close to the ocean, and so the shell later became the sign of the pilgrims. Today there are metal shells that are set in stone on the Camino de Santiago (the main pilgrimage road), leading and guiding the pilgrims to their final destination. The shell is also a symbol for the pilgrimage because the grooves on the shell represent different pilgrimage paths that ultimately lead and connect to one destination point at the bottom of the shell, Santiago.
  • there are still pilgrims today who travel different pilgrimages to make it to Santiago--in 2005 there were over 90,000 registered pilgrims who made the trek.
We flew Thursday afternoon from Madrid to Santiago (which took roughly an hour) and arrived in Santiago in the late afternoon. One of the coolest things we saw Thursday was the sight outside of our plane window--the terrain and area of Santiago was so different from that of Madrid. Instead of smog and skyscrapers, we saw rural countryside dotted with random forests. Just stepping off of the plane was an experience--for once, it was actually warm, yet you could feel and smell the cool breeze of the ocean, which made me think of home.

The city of Santiago had a completely different feel and pace to it than any other city I've been to in Spain. Because Santiago has been such a holy city for the past x-many centuries, the city has a certain spiritual feel to it. What I loved most about it was that although it's hard to mistake us for foreigners (especially when we butcher their language), every person we ended up talking to asked us if we were pilgrims, assuming that since we were obviously not from the area, we must be pilgrims. So cool--the locals see so many people go in and out of their city that they just assume that the reason why people visit Santiago is because they're on their own personal spiritual journey, which in a way we were. In a way we didn't even need to go on the pilgrimage Friday because we were already on our pilgrimage by coming to Spain. Needless to say, the pilgrimage on Friday was the highlight of my weekend.

Day One:
First Encounters with Galician Beauty

An amazing statue we found in the little park by our hostel

Hands down the best statue I've seen

Beautiful sunset our first night in Santiago

This is the view of the cathedral from our little walk through the park on our way home. We all saw this with jaws dropped, and then commenced to snap hundreds of photos.

Day Two: Mass, Pilgrimage, and Opera

The path through the parkway we'd cross to get from our hostel to the city, and back again.

If you look closely, you can see Becca running out of the mist, like she's being launched out of a portal

getting closer, but wait for it...

BAM! Sexy beast in your face!

Side facade of the back portion of the cathedral in the Praza (Plaza) da Quintana

Mosteiro e Igrexa de San Martino Pinario (a monastery)

Praza do Obradoiro

Catedral de Santiago de Compostela
We took a look around the cathedral and saw St. James' crypt, saw people kissing the back of Jesus' head (it was a statue and everyone was doing it), and then stayed for mass. As we were walking around the cathedral, we saw that a session of afternoon mass was going on. We weren't really thinking of staying more than a few minutes because we had come in late and we didn't want to interrupt, but then we heard one of the nuns sing this ethereal, haunting hymn full of tradition and ancient ritual that pulled us in--Becca and I looked at each other with tears in our eyes once she started singing, and without saying anything, sat down and settled in because we knew we were staying the entire session. So not only did I attend mass, but I attended mass in the holiest cathedral in Spain, and one of the holiest cathedrals of the Catholic religion. I love my life.

I call this one "Nuns in Snow". I was actually messing with my white balance meter on my camera and ended up with this picture on accident.

This is what it should actually look like.

This is one of the many shells that line the Camino de Santiago leading the pilgrims in the right direction to the cathedral.

After mass, we started on our pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago. We stopped to have lunch at the Monte de Gozo, or Mountain of Joy along our pilgrimage, where we all took a break and tapped into our creative juices. Becca water colored, Katy napped (which is a very delicate art form), Ash did some photography as did I, and then I wrote. A perfect way to spend 1 1/2 hours.

Rustic giant loaf of bread and local cheese for lunch=heaven

Collares de maíz (necklaces of corn) seen on our way back home

Praza do Obradoiro right as the sun was setting--btw, there are repeats of some pics just because I love the colors and angles of the shots

These are the 2 men that made me cry. We heard their voices as we were returning to the cathedral's plaza after our pilgrimage, but we all thought they were playing a cd because their vocals were too good to be live. As we left the plaza to make our way back home, we ran into them and realized that they were playing the background instrumental music on their ipod while singing with the music--their beautiful voices were sensational. I was floored at how well they sang. Just as we were about to leave after having listened to them for a while, they began singing this one song that was so moving and full of heartfelt emotion that I immediately started to cry. I thought my day couldn't get better after mass and our pilgrimage, but their song was so moving and spiritual that it was the cherry on top of an already perfect day.

Day Three: Morning Market and Cathedral Courtyard Tour

Misty morning in the market (I've got this alliteration thing down!)

Cool-looking potentially edible vegetable

My first reactions when I saw the bunnies for sale:
1: They're so cute!
2: Oh no! They're in a small little basket cage and can't move!
3: AHHHHH! They're going to be someone's dinner!!!!
4: Bye bunnies! I would totally buy you if I could :(
5: I'm sure you'd taste yummy in stew. I should talk to Pilar about this...

Random gnomes for sale, which I'm kicking myself for not buying. But are they happy gnomes....

....or creeper gnomes?

Taking a tour of the cathedral's museum as well as the outside courtyard made me a very happy girl. My love affair with arches continues:

On a random side note, Santiago is full of interesting statues. I'm not sure why these statues exist, but they do, and I'm happy to say that I've documented all that came across our path. Examples follow:

Odd statue #1
I'm not sure why this is in Santiago, but seeing her first thing in the morning was possibly the best way to start my day, you know, other than eating the breakfast of champions: churros and thick hot chocolate.

Odd statue #2
Yeah, I have no clue.

Odd statue #3
This is actually a mailbox we saw on the way out of the Monte de Gozo park that looks to be a Picasso cyclops. The inscription on the side says, "Los humanos derechos estan desnudos" which means "Human rights are naked". Alrighty then.

Odd statue #4
So not only do Spaniards love Star Wars, they apparently love Lord of the Rings as well.

Odd statue #5
When I first saw these two ladies, I actually thought they were really really small street performers (like taller midgets), but realized they were just statues, and odd ones at that.

Odd statue #6
The man that captured Becca's heart. I think it might have been the beard.


KirstieBirstie said...

gorgeous pictures!

Rebecca said...

Also, my lips were totally frozen at that moment in my life. The things you do for love...