September 20 - Visit to Combarro and Transit to Santiago de Compostela
With a last look (339) at the view from the ramparts of Baiona in the sunlight we were off for the trip to Santiago de Compostela. We drove past Vigo and up along the south shore of a deep inlet (the Rias Gallegas) from the Atlantic to Pontevedra where we crossed the estuary on a modern bridge (340) and observed the barges (341, 342) for mussels aquaculture. Galicia is the largest producer of mussels in Spain and Spain is the largest producer in Europe. The mussels are grown on ropes that hang down from the barges. Then we drove west on the north shore of the inlet to the small fishing village of Combarro. We stopped there and walked along the shore past a series of horreos, or granaries, (343) for which the village is famous, and which are a common sight in Galicia. We stopped at a tourist area (344 - 345) for a little shopping (t-shirt for FDB) and the standard view of a small boat and then proceeded on to Santiago de Compostela. As we drove into town we saw pilgrims on the road and passed a huge parking area for busses. Then we arrived in the huge main square of Santiago which is shared by the huge cathedral and equally impressive Hostal se los Reyes Catolicos, our parador (347 - 352).
The Hostal de Los Reyes Catolicos, a five star hotel declared by UNESCO as part of Humankinds Patrimony and also considered the oldest hotel of the world. It opened in 1509 as a Royal Hospice. The Catholic Kings decided to build this new hospice in Compostela when they came here in their Royal pilgrimage just before completing the Reconquest and uniting their Kingdoms, in 1488. Santiago in those days was a center of devotion and recipient of generous gifts from European nobility and monarchs, and therefore, strategically very important to the emerging Catholic Empire. The Royal hospice had the best and most advanced means available at the time. It was a hospital and a hostel at the same time, for the enormous amount of pilgrims that walked into Santiago from thousands of kilometers to worship the Apostle believed to be buried in the Cathedral which is in front of the former Royal Hospice, today, a luxurious five star hotel with the original courtyards, fountains, railings, paneled ceilings, statues, altars, etc. It took an army or artists and craftsmen to build in over ten years of uninterrupted labor. In this Parador you can book the Royal suite, in which the king of Spain usually stays, for less than four hundred dollars a night!
We went directly in for lunch, which was delicious (small melon soup with a small sandwich, mussels with spaghetti, salmon, fresh fruit and lemon sherbet). We got ourselves into our room, very plush but lacking usable windows, At 4:30 we went out to the square for a walking tour of the Cathedral and the town. As we started a group of people at the center of the square began cheering and a group of bicyclists (from Germany?) came around the corner and completed their pilgrimage.
Then we went up to the North Portal and entered (monastery opposite 355) went through the Cathedral with the statue of Santiago on the altar that the people can hug by walking up the steps in the rear. Saw some side altars and the Portico de la Gloria (362). At the bottom of the central pillar are the places where pilgrims place their hands on entering, and on the other side, where they place their foreheads for wisdom,. Figs 362a nd 363 show the cloister of the Cathedral, where we would spend a good deal of the next morning.
Then we took a walk around town and returned to the hotel. that evening we had a free night for dinner and we joined up with the McClellands once more for tapas and wine at a small restaurant, forced out about 9 by the arrival of severla very large, very noisy groups. Food ok but not great. Began to rain as we left. When we got back to the hotel we stopped in to see an exhibit of local artists there.