Of course Santiago is what it is because for over a thousand years Christian pilgrims have walked the Way of St James across Europe to the tomb of the apostle at the heart of the cathedral, it's still the same every day in rain or sunshine – a snaking line of weary walkers and cyclists, believers and those just curious to experience gently hugging the silver shoulders of St James.
We chose not to join them, satisfied with wandering the cobbled lanes, up and down the steep flights of glistening granite steps and through archways and shadowy colonnades; although by complete fluke one evening, we were swept inside the cathedral with the flow of people (there are signs about 'no tourists during services' but no-one seems to bother!) and realised the mass was in progress – we found ourselves standing next to a pillar with a thick rope tied around it. As the congregation finished receiving the sacraments, six men dressed in burgundy robes appeared and proceeded to untie the rope – they were the Botafumeiro swingers – if a cathedral is going to have a party trick then make it a big one! What follows is a mix of incense, smoke and gasps of surprise from onlookers as the dust-bin sized silver thurible sweeps past in a 65 metre arc across the heads of the congregation, almost reaching the ceiling of the trancepts to either side.
In the squares surrounding the cathedral, St James gazes down from countless vantage places, dressed in his wide brimmed hat with a scallop shell pinned to the front and holding his wooden walking staff as similarly dressed pilgrims trundle along the narrow lanes of shops where they can buy scallop shells made from every material imaginable.
Spanish baroque architecture in all it's curly swirly magnificence, encrusted with lichen and moss, towers all around and older medieval statues and gargoyles peep out of archways and from under balconies.
But that's enough of pilgrims for now . . .
We looked around the Museo Do Pobo Galego (Museum of the Galician People), full of very thorough displays about the local culture. I particularly liked the exhibits of traditional trades which were beautifully displayed. The museum is housed in a 14th century convent and it's worth visiting just to see the triple helix staircase.
From the airport bus we'd spotted a large construction site on the skyline just outside Santiago, it looked like a large dry ski slope was being built, but later we discovered that it is the new City of Culture of Galicia, we'll have to make a another trip to Santiago when it's completed.
On one of our longer walks through the parks and hills around the town we spotted this building, again we wrongly guessed its use – thinking it was a sports centre with a climbing wall! In fact it's the HQ for the General Society of Authors and Editors (SGAE) – somehow I think that dinky urn on a plinth in the foreground isn't part of the architect's concept, or is it meant to be ironic?
Inside the curved 'box' is a vast smooth wall with cleverly disguised doors in it (we peeped in one and there was an office inside). Can you guess what the wall is constructed from?
It's made of stacks and stacks and stacks of empty clear plastic CD jewel cases – now, there's an idea for recycling!
November 25th 2014 - Winter's grip
3 hours ago