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After a poor night’s sleep in the albergue (a dorm mate was snoring, it was hot, the light in the corridor was on all night…), we got up and left before kicking-out time and didn’t stop for breakfast, partly to get into Santiago de Compostela quicker, and partly because we’d almost entirely run out of cash, only having a few coins. We found throughout the walk that paying by card is pretty much the exception – on the Camino, cash is king.

On the way into the city we stopped and were able to withdraw cash and have breakfast in a neighbourhood bar. It was obvious as we walked through the suburbs towards the centre that the city had grown over time and absorbed surrounding villages – we saw little churches and old houses that looked like they properly belonged in a pueblo deep in the Galician countryside rather than forming part of a large modern city.

Santiago was quiet when we arrived – maybe because it was still early, or because it was Easter Sunday, but I later read in the Voz de Galicia that the pilgrims’ office had awarded around 1,000 compostelas each day during Easter week.  Continuing to follow the Camino (although here in the city, the yellow arrows are replaced by golden scallop shells embedded in the pavement) we both felt our excitement build as we left modern buildings behind and entered the casco viejo with its first glimpse of the cathedral towers. We were here – we’d done it!

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Our Latin compostelas.

The first stop was, naturally, the pilgrims’ office to collect our compostelas. We got slightly confused finding it, but if you’re in Praza do Obradoiro with your back to the cathedral, find some steps in the right-hand corner leading down from the Parador. At the bottom of this flight of steps, you turn right and the pilgrims’ office is a little further up the street. The queue for compostelas wasn’t large, and they’re also free, although we decided to buy a little tube printed with golden scallop shells to transport our compostelas home safely.

We were concerned we’d be given the third degree about our journey and where we’d stayed each night, but it seems our credenciales spoke for themselves.  We filled in our names; where we came from; where we started our journey; and our motivations. When my sister-in-law completed her camino about 7 years ago she got her compostela in Spanish because she didn’t complete the pilgrimage for religious reasons. Apparently it also specifically noted that her sins were not forgiven. Those who had completed the route for devotional reasons received their compostelas in Church Latin, complete with absolution. This two-compostela rule has now been done away with, and everyone receives the same Latin compostela. They even translate your name: I became Christianum and Carlos became Carolum.

Afterwards, Carlos was keen to go to mass to see the botafumeiro in action. Because it was Easter Sunday, the pilgrims’ mass was at 11.15 rather than 12pm and the atmosphere in the queue for the service was decidedly unholy with people pushing in and attempting to enter the cathedral via the exit. Not being one of the faithful, I decided not to attend. Instead, I stayed outside and watched the final Semana Santa processions. They came much as they did last year in Seville, with mournful music and clouds of incense, although both the nazarenos and onlookers were fewer – which made for a both a better experience and better photos. There were trumpets and drums, and both Jesus and Mary rocked side-to-side with each of the nazarenos’ steps. I saw Cristo Resusitado (Christ Resurrected) and two different versions of the Virgin, one in a black mourning veil and then another in a green veil embroidered with stars.

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Cristo Resusitado

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The black-veiled Virgin and nazarenos.

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The Virgin from the steps of our hotel, San Martín Pinario.

Once I seen my fill of the processions, I went out to buy a dress. This proved pretty tricky as all the large shops were closed for the holiday, although after much fruitless wandering through the modern city centre I found a tiny boutique open not far from the cathedral where I was able to buy a simple long-sleeved dress. Despite laundry facilities on the way, I had nothing in my pack that wasn’t crumpled, dirty, or dusty, and I wanted something nice for our few days’ holiday. We also planned to visit Carlos’ aunt in A Coruña and I didn’t really fancy turning up at her place looking a state.

As a treat, I booked us a two-night stay in the fancy Parador. However, this first night we were staying at San Martín Pinario. Incidentally, San Martín Pinario is also a gorgeous medieval former pilgrim hostel just metres away from the cathedral- just like the Parador. However, in keeping with its monastic history, it eschews the Parador’s luxury and accommodation is simple and facilities basic. What that means in practice is that you can stay in this fabulous historic building without spending a fortune – just don’t expect a TV or a minibar. Incidentally, the lunch we had there was the best of the whole Camino. For just 12 euro a person we shared a bottle of red wine and another of mineral water, and ate local speciality pulpo gallego, delicious fish, and torrijas (recipe) – a kind of custardy French toast that’s eaten at Easter in Spain.

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Pulpo gallego – Galician octopus, normally served with spicy paprika, potato, salt, and olive oil.

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Torrijas – like a few Spanish desserts, this goes a bit too heavy on the cinnamon for me.

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Yummy cheeses seen, sampled, and purchased at the Mercado de Abastos.

We did it – we’d completed our Camino. While my motivations weren’t religious ones, I did take the time to embrace the statue of Santiago, as well as light a candle and make a promesa in the cathedral. And Santiago de Compostela is, in my opinion at least, one of the most impressively beautiful cities in Spain.