Days 2-3 in Galicia: Santiago de Compostela

24 Aug

Overall assessment: this is a MUST see visit if you’re in Spain.

So, I decide to get up early and go see the famous cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and the plazas surrounding it. I’m glad I did. For anyone visiting, go early, as the crowds start forming at around 11 a.m. and it gets packed.

Here’s a pic of the enormous, breathtaking, and somewhat haunting cathedral:

One of the reasons for the large numbers of people is that it’s a famous pilgrimage destination. Here’s my summary of the summary from Lonely Planet, describing why it’s famous:

The faithful believe that St. James the Apostle preached in Galicia and that after his death in Palestine he was brought back and buried there. The tomb was supposedly rediscovered in 813 by a religious hermit named Pelayo who followed a guiding star (name “Compostela” comes from the Latin “campus stellae” meaning field of star). The grave became the rallying symbol for Christian Spain and Compostela became the most important destination for Christians after Rome and Jerusalem. Lonely Planet, pages 37 and 502.

Today, people from around the world make walking pilgrimages along any one of the 4 marked routes. On the train 3 days after I left Santiago de Compostela, I met a new friend whose name if Beth. Beth did 5 days of the pilgrimage, doing anywhere from 18-29Km per day walking. She lent me her book about the pilgrimage to peruse on our train ride and I learned that the pilgrimage is about walking and the spiritual journey you’re suppose to enjoy on those long, silent walks (they encourage no cameras, phones, or music – basically to tune out the modern world and tune into yourself). Most pilgrims end at Santiago de Compostela. But, from there you can make another 100km journey to Finisterre.

It was fascinating to hear her perspective and also to see hundreds who made the pilgrimage, descend upon the cathedral. Most had walking sticks and backpacks on. Many were limping. We met some young girls on the train who had to quit 2 days into the trail because it was too difficult for them. I won’t divulge Beth’s age, but Beth is at least 3 decades older than these girls and in phenomenal shape. Go Beth! You’re inspiring.

I know what my friends and family are thinking right now: for someone who is not religious, she sure seems enamored of cathedrals, churches, and monasteries, and has taken an interest in religion in Spain. From a pure architectural standpoint, I think the churches and cathedrals are some of the greatest marvels of Europe. How much time and money went into these is crazy, and sometimes egregious when you learn the history of how the money “came” to the churches and cathedrals. This history of just how intertwined religion and politics have been through the ages fascinates me, as well.

Below are a few more pictures of the cathedral, inside and out, as well as of the different plazas surrounding the cathedral. There are 3 entrances to the Cathedral and each one is very different.

This is a picture of me looking up at one of windows of the cathedral from “Praza do Obradoiro”, as they call it:

This is another view from Praza do Obradoiro, where you can see some pilgrims in front:

And, another view of Praza do Obradoiro. I’m on the steps of the cathedral here, using my zoom so I can capture the trees that surround this town. It is really beautifully green there.

Here’s a view of a fountain and building looking at Praza Das Praterias from the steps of the cathedral entrance at Praterias:

So, what does the inside look like? Wow. The ceilings are all done in domes. There are at least 10 different shrine rooms, 3 smaller chapels in addition to the main mass room, angels everywhere, gold everywhere. It’s pretty hard to describe. The art and architecture is a melding of different ages, for sure. Below are just a few pictures to give you an idea:

This is one of mass in the main hall:

This one really shows the arches, domed ceilings and the ornate carvings with gold plating:

This one is for my mom and grandma who love angels:

This is a very interesting piece of stonework that was surrounded by tape so you couldn’t get close to it (other than by camera zoom). This is what I’m talking about when I say there is very different art/sculptures from different eras in the cathedral. I really loved this one in particular:

As is typical of the climate, it was a bit rainy and overcast, but the temperature was perfect for me. After wandering all sides of the cathedral and plazas surrounding it, I decided to wander through a park not too far from there called Alameda. I’m so glad I did. It was such a darling park, extremely well maintained and I met some new friends and smelled some lovely roses.

Here’s a picture of a new friend I met along the way in the park:

Here’s a close up of some beautiful roses in the rose garden. It reminded me of the rose garden in Golden Gate Park, and it made me miss it, San Francisco, my husband, my friends there, etc. more than a little bit:

A statue of another lovely woman in the park:

Finally, a view from one side of the elevated park:

Isn’t this place gorgeous?

In addition to visiting Santiago to learn about the cathedral, I also visited to eat more great Galician seafood! Since I had a great experience at a Lonely Planet recommended eatery in A Coruña, I decided to see if their suggestions about food in Santiago were also good. Nope, one wasn’t. I went to a restaurant called Meson de 40 that was suggested for good seafood. Unfortunately, it was rather disappointing. The pulpo was tough. The Albariño, a little sour and grassy. The only thing that was worth eating was the fried calamari and it still wasn’t even close to the best I’ve ever had. The breading was falling off, as it was too thick, but it was indeed tender. So, I powered through it because I was hungry. The waiter (maybe owner?) was very nice, though, and the service was great.

After my less than stellar lunch, I decided to go in search of the famous almond tarts they produce in Santiago. I went to one empty shop in which all the person sold was tarts. She asked me if I wanted to try some and explained all her offerings. I chose to try 3 different ones. I ended up buying two, with the intention of sharing them with Diana, Martin and Marianne in S’arago later this week (too bad I got food poisoning yet again and missed the dinner).

Then, I went to buy the famous Tetilla cheese because it’s shaped into… well, tits (that’s what the Spanish word means!). I stopped in another shop where I tried 4 cheeses and decided on the one most fuerte (strong). I also bought a jar of fig preserves to go with it, a jar of pulpo pate, and a jar of picante paprika.

Okay, so now I’m thinking: how am I going to carry all this stuff back, and will the tarts make it through 3 more cities, 4 more bus rides and 3 more train rides? I’ll worry about that later. Time for a siesta.

Here’s a pic of one of the famous almond tart (it is delicious):

After an afternoon rest back at the hotel, I asked the receptionist at the front desk where she would go if she wanted excellent, very “clean” and very fresh seafood. Without hesitation, she recommended Fornos, which is in the “newer” part of town about a 10 minute walk from the hotel.

At 8:00 p.m., I set out for the restaurant. I was the second person there, as 8:00 is early to be eating dinner. Great for me! From the moment I sat down, I had excellent service. My waiter was in his late 50s/early 60s and was a former military captain (I heard him say to a table of 4 that sat next to me later). He asked if I wanted him to speak English and I said no thank you. I want people to speak to me in Castellano. So, he did and quite rapidly after that. But, it was great. I understand Spanish food-speak now. Whew! It took a while.

Anyway, he explained the different seafood specialities from this part of the world and I decided on their famous Zamburinas, which is a fresh water scallop, and a freshwater crab called Buey de Mar (ox of the sea). Buey is usually the name for beef in this part of the world. Yep, this meal knocked my socks off. Fantastic. Pure, clean, simple, fresh, some of the best scallops I’ve ever eaten. Both the crab and the scallops were perfectly cooked.

Here are some pics:

The dining room of Fornos is a bit dated, but it is still very Spanish as are the plates food was served on:

This is happy me with my crab:

Here’s a pic of the crab close up, with the roe all mixed up:

I wasn’t so sure I wanted to eat the roe and coral in the crab, but the waiter insisted he mix it all up for me into a sort of paté and that I spread it on the bread and eat it. Que rico! Wow, that was rich and lovely. I ate only about half as I was a bit nervous about my stomach and liver, still.

He asked me how I wanted the scallops prepared and I said a la plancha with just olive oil and garlic. Good choice by me. They were super sweet and cooked perfectly. The tenderness was amazing. The red part of the scallop (I think the foot of this particular scallop) was the most delectable part and you are encouraged to eat that part, here. It was nearly like biting into liver paté. At first, I wasn’t so sure by looking at it, but I would’ve missed out on a fantastic part of this little creature had I not eaten it.

There’s a picture of my plate with a few scallops on it, as the feature picture at top. And, here’s the serving plate of scallops (it’s missing the 3 scallops that were on my own plate by this time):

The scallops were definitely in the top 5 dishes I’ve eaten in Spain and Catalonia and likely the best scallops I’ve ever eaten, period. They were that good. The crab was probably within the top 10 dishes I’ve eaten since I’ve been in Spain and Catalonia. Mind you, I’ve eaten at 100s of places and 100s of different dishes.

The restaurant has a Michelin star and, finally, I’ve eaten at an establishment other than Alkimia that I think deserves it.

I asked for a glass of Albariño, and when I was ¾ of the way through it but still had scallops left (second course), the waiter came over with the bottle and poured in another half glass, explaining that I must continue to have them together. Nope, he didn’t even charge me for the extra wine. Nice touch.

Finally, although extremely full and happy at the moment, I couldn’t pass up the tulipa de helado mandarina = tulip of mandarin ice cream. Essentially, it was a cookie-tart shell that housed delicious tangerine ice cream. I couldn’t finish it, but it was a great palette cleanser – a little sweet and a little tart.

Here’s a pic of the cute dessert:

You’d be hard pressed to find any fresh and delicious seafood dinner half as amazing as this was for 41 Euros. I wish I could go back!

I went to bed extremely happy but also knowing I would never be able to get these scallops in the states. Boo hoo. But, as always, I was looking forward to tomorrow. It was Albariño wine country for me, so I was thinking that should help ease the pain of leaving the scallops behind. Ha 😉

2 Responses to “Days 2-3 in Galicia: Santiago de Compostela”

  1. Diana August 24, 2012 at 8:58 pm #

    Santiago de Compostela is really a must.

  2. Bee Leng Chua August 25, 2012 at 10:34 am #

    Rachel – amazing photos of the cathedrals and about the pilgrims. It reminds me of the movie “The Way” starring Martin Sheen “as the American ophthalmologist who goes to France following the death of his adult son, killed in the Pyrenees during a storm while walking the Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James), a Catholic pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. Tom’s purpose is initially to retrieve his son’s body. However, in a combination of grief and homage to his son, Tom decides to walk the ancient spiritual trail where his son died”. Its a sad story and does have a hopeful ending. Thanks for sharing and through you, I appreciate Spain more and more through the travels and food.
    Travel safe! Bee Leng

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