Many dedicated travelers make pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela. The cathedral is believed to have St. James’ remains buried within its crypt. This holy city is also the capital of Galicia. There are several ancient routes that one can take spanning across France, Portugal, and Spain. These various paths – also known as “Camino de Santiago” or The Way of St. James – end at the center of the square right in front of the cathedral. The square is called the Praza do Obradoiro, technically the heart of the city.
We climbed the steps into St. James Cathedral, built between the 12th and 13th centuries. The large Gothic building has high ceilings and is shaped like a cross. Some people were sitting and praying, while many ventured towards the rear of the cathedral where St. James’ tomb resides. His crypt is actually below the main altar and there was a long line of people waiting to enter its depths. At the exit, there were many people wiping their eyes. The emotion in the place was tangible and for those that made the pilgrimage, this is their final spiritual destination. We briefly paid our respects and moved along.
Across from the cathedral is the city hall, to the side is the hotel/hostel, and further back is the university. The university was built in the late 1400s and is considered one of the oldest and best in Spain. Off the southern side of the cathedral, there is a charming fountain and smaller plaza. From here, we took one of the many alleyways to explore. Shops, cafes, and bars lined the narrow stone streets. Wandering around, it became quite evident that a comfortable pair of shoes is a must. The old stones below our feet were uneven and could easily twist an ankle. Also, be sure to pick up a local map. It was easy to get turned around in the maze of various passageways.
Nearing lunchtime, we perused several menus. Fish was the main culinary thread. We stopped at a small café on Rua do Franco and shared a rather large Spanish omelet. The majority of eateries were well prepared for tourists and had menus in a few different languages. Although the English menu stated egg and tortilla as the main ingredients, a Spanish omelet is actually egg and potato. With a sprinkling of pepper, it was very good and very filling. An espresso on the side made for a lovely, late breakfast. Our café did not accept credit cards, only Euros. Always have at least a little of the proper currency in your wallet.
I suggest passing on the souvenir shops and wandering further to the more cultured retailers. Hat-makers, clothiers, and shops with a variety of goods revealed more of that relaxed chic Spanish style I enjoyed seeing in Malaga. I purchased a handmade purse here for roughly 15 Euros.
Across Rua do Pombal, is a large park worthy of a short walk. We briefly sat and watched a stray dog bathe in the fountain. The Spanish streets were buzzing with cars around us. This city has an interesting vibe. The university draws in a very youthful crowd while the architecture speaks of a much older time.
Before we ended our wandering for the day, we stopped at Café Casino on Rua do Vilar. This vintage café used to be – one guess – a casino. Quiet with good service, this spot appeared to serve the locals. I always love finding locations that the locals enjoy. It’s the hint that you’ve found a good place to dine. Tall ceilings and beautiful woodwork, the room had a pleasant atmosphere. Here, we purchased a couple of churros and a mug of melted chocolate. The simple pastry came alive with every dip. After hours of walking, it was a well-deserved treat.
Whether you come on a spiritual mission or you merely wish to see a beautiful old Spanish town, Santiago de Compostela is a great place to eat and wander.