for much of our time in Spain we, along with the other peregrinos, operated on a clock wholly our own — up before sunrise and on the road, lunch between 11 and 1 and dinner between 6 and 8, at the latest. most of the time this proved a non-issue; most of the places we traveled through operated on peregrino time as the main industry of many of the towns was serving peregrinos. in the big cities it wasn’t problematic, but it did mean we missed some of the more exciting things Spain had on offer. staying at an albergue the day after León, we met some Australians who’d gone out with friends while in the city and regaled us with stories of the music and food and nightlife they got to experience while there. we, on the other hand, were back in our hotel, enjoying a bottle of wine on the balcony, watching the Eurovison song contest until the satellite cable went out and we went to bed. before 9:00 p.m. I can’t imagine being out late on any night of the Camino, then getting up to walk the next day in any state of fatigue beyond what we already put up with. in Santiago, we had lunch so “absurdly” early (around 1:30p.m., after the end of the Mass) that the restaurant wasn’t prepared to seat us right away. we had the dining room to ourselves for a short while, but a group of English-speaking tourists in town for shopping filled up a large table after a while.
after our celebratory lunch, we wandered around the Old Town — designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, the fifth of our trip. the town was destroyed in the 10th century and entirely rebuilt in Gothic, Baroque and Romanesque styles; the Cathedral anchors the old town and is one of the oldest sites in the city. that majestic Cathedral helped make Santiago the third most popular medieval pilgrimage site, after Rome and Jerusalem. the streets, not surprisingly, wind erratically and take you unexpected places. if you try and follow the may to get from one point to another, you will likely prove unsuccessful; once we got a sense for landmarks, though, it wasn’t too hard to get where we intended.
we headed back to the hotel after a good wander, nabbing snacks from a corner store just at the edge of Old Town, and spent the remainder of the afternoon and much of the evening relaxing, reading, and watching Euro 2012 matches. when we ventured forth again, twilight was settling, and I wanted to see what the Cathedral looked like in a different light.
under the balcony of the Pazo de Raxoi (Palacio de Rajo, the seat of Galician government) a string quintet (sextet? quartet?) was performing and had drawn a group. not as atmospheric as the gaita gallego as we entered the Praza de Obradoiro the first couple of times, but pleasant all the same. the building was commissioned by the archbishop of Santiago in 1766 as a seminary for confessors. it previously housed a prison and the western wall of the city and ownership of the proposed building was disputed by several parties, all of whom had an interest in the land and its future uses. the facade is graced by a depiction of the Battle of Clavijo, topped by a sculpture of Santiago Matamoros, and plays a pivotal role in the conclusion of Sharpe’s Rifles.
in the middle of the plaza, serenaded by the strings, stood a group of cyclists having their triumphal photo taken. it’s staggering to think they’d just arrived in the city — it was after 10:00 p.m. — but they had all their gear on and had that elated, just-arrived air. quite a dramatic time to arrive, though on the whole I’m partial to an earlier arrival that allows more time to contemplate what you’ve just achieved and soak in the ambiance.