I wake up because of Neil Diamond ‘s”I am! I cried…” is being blasted throughout the whole building. It takes a moment to surface and get my bearings and looking around every one seems to be as disconcerted as I am. The rule is that everybody has to be out of the Albergue at 9 o’clock in the morning for cleaning and to make sure that they get you out, they literally blast you out of bed with music. (There are probably worse ways of waking up it’s just that I can’t think of any at the moment.) Slowly we get up, pack up our things and before 9 we are out of there.
Today, I have a new spring in my step and in no time we are in the old town and our sleeping place for tonight. We have arranged with them to leave our bags there early so that we can hit the town foot loose and fancy free. As we walk in they are busy with breakfast and for an extra few Euros we join the feast. It is a full-on buffet with all kinds of cakes, breads, cereals, yogurt, cold meats and cheeses, juices and coffee. A real treat and enough sustenance for the day of sightseeing ahead.
We have two things on the agenda today, one is to go to the pilgrims mass at 12 o’clock and the other is to get our ‘Compostel’ (certificate) at the pilgrim office. We first head to the pilgrim office but the queue is already so long that we might not make the mass if we have to stand and wait. We decide to book our train to Madrid for the next day as there is a travel agent inside the pilgrim office and of course doing it here we get discount for being pilgrims.
Train booked, we head into town for more sight-seeing. Not long before we run into the German guy from Andaina and he asks whether we have been “through the hole” yet. “No”, we haven’t. The “hole” he refers to is the crypt of St James inside the cathedral. They only open the crypt every couple of years and it seems we are very lucky that this year, it being a special year (don’t ask me why), they have opened it and everyone can go up the steps, then descend down into the crypt and back into the church. Evidently this ritual cleanses you from all sins. Although I am not catholic I am, of course, not without sin. I am not going to pass on a chance to clean the slate, so to speak. So, he takes us to the door and the queue and a few minutes later we pass through. It is quite spectacular to see and it is as if you can feel the presence of centuries of people that have passed through before you.
By the time we get out into the sunlight again it is time to find a place in church for the mass, so we go into the church and settle in. I try to take a few photos, but as you are not allowed to use a flash inside and I only have a simple little camera with me, the photos are not a great success.
As 12 o’clock draws near the church is getting fuller and fuller and eventually it is jam-packed from side to side with people having to stand all over. The service is conducted in Spanish and they first start out by reading the list of all the pilgrims that have arrived in Santiago the morning, where they have walked from and from which country they originate. We haven’t booked in at the pilgrim office yet, so are not mentioned. The nun that leads the service has a truly angelic voice and I am once again being carried away to a tranquil and peaceful place. I use the time during the service as a time of reflection, taking stock of one’s life if you may. All in all the service is a truly memorable experience and one, in this beautiful big church, that I won’t soon forget.
After the service we head straight down to the pilgrim office and although there is still a queue it seems to be moving faster now. We meet a South African couple in the queue that has done the Portuguese route and swop stories on our experiences while waiting. ‘Compostella’ in hand and a real sense of satisfaction, we head outside overcome by thirst. We sit down for a beer and get a whole bunch of delicious tapas with it (that sorts out lunch).
The rest of the afternoon is spent walking from one corner of town to the next and then criss-crossing again. We thought to go up to the roof of the church, but was told (in a very off-putting manner) that the tour is only in Spanish and costs €12. I must admit that by now I am a little bit fed-up with the Spanish way of not really caring about their tourists as long as you pay and we decide to give it a miss, a decision I’ll probably regret later.
We head back to the monastery and enjoy a glass of wine out in the courtyard garden next to the fountain. I feel like I’m in a dream and wouldn’t have minded if this was my own garden to enjoy every day.
For supper we decide on an Italian restaurant “Gambrinus” as I’m really missing home and just want to be somewhere where I can at least communicate in a language that is more familiar to me. Our decision is richly rewarded and I have gnocci that is (almost) as good as my mother-in-laws’. We are getting really spoilt by our host and when we eventually leave we get sent off by Paulo as if we are long lost friends.
Getting into my bed in my little priest’s cell overlooking the towers of the church, I am content. I am grateful to be in Santiago having had the opportunity to walk the Camino and to have spent a whole day just enjoying the city. I know what a privelege it is and definitely something I will never forget… but I am also ready to go home now.