30 August 2009

Santiago de Compostella

It is done. After a painful ride through never ending hills of the provinces of Cantabria, Asturias and finally Galicia I reach Santiago de Compostella with its dozens of churches and convents. Once the most popular Christian pilgrim destination (apparently surpassing even Rome and Jerusalem in the 11th to 13th century) it still bustles with religious pilgrims as well as non-religous long-distance hikers who just use the trail as an intinerary for their travel. The pilgrim trail is really not just one single trail but consists of a vast network of trails that all converge at Santiago. Some of the trails originating as far as Norway or southern Italy... The road entering Santiago is literally packed with "packed" people, many carrying a scallop shell and a wooden stick as signs of identification.
Throughout the city the shell - the symbol of St. James - appears everywhere. Santiago is a beautiful town well worth visiting. The historic center is free of motorized traffic and thus a very pleasant experience. It is easy to get lost in it maze of stone plated narrow alleyways...
Everywhere jolly (but often limping) people who just finished the trail. In earlier times (maybe still) pilgrims used to burn their clothes on the roof of the cathedral as a symbolic act that their sins have been washed away and that a new life is about to begin.
Honestly, when I smell my own clothes and take a closer look at them it feels like it's high time to do so as well. And even if it doesn't wash away sins, a good shower is definitely up high on my to-do-list :)

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