Portosin and Santiago de Compostela

Fri 27 Jul 2012 13:18
42:45.92N 08:56.69W

As we were so close, we decided to take a bus ride inland to Santiago de Compostela so we nipped across the Ria to Portosin, as there was a marina we could safely leave Lochmarin in and we could catch a bus to the top of the Ria, Noia, then change to catch one to Santiago. 

The bus was due at 9:25 so we joined the few locals waiting by the bank - the marina had told us that was where we could catch it. Whilst we waited (it was 20 minutes or so late, which didn't seem to worry the local folk at all), the town woke up around us, people out to do their market shopping, or to walk the dog, or just to pass the time of day. Everyone had a word for one particular old chap, and a touch on the shoulder or a shake of the hand. Once we were aboard he sat near the front and greeted every new passenger, young or old. Two older gentlemen got on and sat in the seat behind us, their growling voices a testament to a lifetime of smoking, just as the rich aroma rising from them was testament to their now widower status, as clearly as the black dress of the lady in front of us proclaimed her widowed state.

It was a beautiful ride: patchworks of little fields on the hillsides surrounding the houses, each with their stone grain store (horreos), although the ones here were panelled in wood instead of stone. Vibrant colours flashed past the windows: green in every shade littered with flashes of purple morning glory, bright reds and oranges in the gardens, trees topped with soft clouds of burnished orange or bright pink bottle brushes, or hanging yellow trumpets swinging underneath the canopy.

Santiago de Compostela is beautiful. The old town is delightful, high buildings give shade to the winding streets and everywhere you look there are little interesting features - shrines in alcoves, convent bell towers, ornate ironwork. 

Then there's the cathedral and all the magnificent buildings surrounding it, with open plazas and formal gardens. Just the scale of it all takes your breath away. There's more gold in the Cathedral than the total I've seen in my whole life so far. Giant golden cherubs hold up huge golden platforms.... 

Like the other two centres for the Christian Church, Rome and Jerusalem,  it is definitely worth having seen it in your lifetime. But I couldn't feel at ease with all the splendour, all the statues of Saints, the bones of St James in a golden casket under the alter.... Perhaps its partly because I've been reading a book about Cromwell, advisor to King Henry VIII. Clearly, Henry had his own agenda with regard to splitting from the Roman Catholic church, but equally it was the time of Tyndale's translations of the Bible, making it available to the people for the first time, contributing a general uprising of the people against the corrupt church, resisting the ideas of purgatory, praying to Saints, buying your way to salvation and the 'Hocus Pocus' of latin services (from Hoc est corpus meum -"This is my body"). So to be in the midst of so much Catholicism whilst reading all about the Reformation made me see it with different eyes, not just marvelling at the opulence. 

What was great to see was, everywhere you looked, the pilgrims. People who had walked the many routes to the cathedral, often for over a month. They do it for many reasons, some as a religious pilgrimage, some for the beauty of the route, some for the challenge of the journey, some to raise money. But they all end up there, following the shell signs and yellow arrows, footsore and triumphant, at that Cathedral. The aisles were carpeted with backpacks and carry mats, walking boots peeped out of confessional boxes, every language was in the air around us. My Aunt Chrissie is going to be doing the same, walking for 40 days from the French Pyrenees, next month. You can read about it (and sponsor her!) at  http://heslop-allen.vpweb.co.uk/

We were sleepy in the bus returning to Portosin, it had been a hot long day (33 degrees), and we felt like we'd walked for miles, but as we came over the hills to the coast we were greeted by the spectacular sight of the Ria filled with fog, a bowl half full of cloud. You could see the hill tops clearly either side, each with a table cloth of cloud, hanging over the edge then disappearing into the bright sunshine, whilst below the fog lay thick, obscuring the fishing boats and islands we knew were there. When we got back to the boat we watched the grey forms of sails gradually appearing as boats carefully made for harbour. All were shades of grey, dew drops coating everything on deck. A dramatic contrast to the bright sunshine and golden splendour we'd been immersed in all day.