From the National Geographic Explorer in Europe
Oct 3, 2012 - National Geographic Explorer
La Coruna and Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain
In the early morning light we departed the north western most port on the edge of Europe. The pre-dawn market was over, choicest shellfish and prime Atlantic fish were on their way to the gourmands of Madrid.
Blinking on the headland is a Roman lighthouse. Our guide through semi-darkness pointed out the many museums of the city but our goal was the pilgrimage centre of Santiago de Compostela.
We celebrated the warming sunshine in this medieval and vibrant university city. Tasters of cake and almond biscuits were offered as we approached the main square. First focus was a tour of the cathedral in its multi-period glory. Romanesque at core, with Gothic and later Baroque additions, figures animate porticos and entrances. The relics of St James are the focus of the devout. A golden age in the 12th and 13th centuries drew thousands of pious pilgrims from across Europe: Santiago being third in status following Jerusalem and Rome. Later many of us joined the congregation for the noon mass when the magnificent and massive silver incense burner the ‘ botofumeiro’ swings the width of the transept. We took a sharp intake of breath as it almost reached the ceiling. To the medieval pilgrim this was another unique experience to mark on their spiritual journey. Doubtless it’s deodorizing effect was of, at least a short term, blessing.
The hotel of the Los Reios Catolicos became our base. This former hostel, built for medieval pilgrims is now a sumptuous hotel, and even today offers the first six pilgrims a free breakfast. For us music, dance, food and wine was shared. Our post-coffee event was witnessing the flaming of a cauldron containing the ‘Queimada’ concoction. Some of us tasted this hyper strong spirit, coffee beans, sugar and lemon as our guide delivered an incantation ‘owls, frogs, toads and witches…’ said to keep witchcraft at bay!
Back on board we toasted with sangria the blessed sunshine. Dinner closed our own pilgrimage to this Galician corner with a Spanish feast of food.