Santiago de Compostela

My husband, Karl, and I took a long weekend trip to Santiago de Compostela in the far northwest corner of Spain, April 29-May 2, ’06.

Santiago is a wonderful city, filled with red-faced and sweaty pilgrims from all over Europe. They come alone sometimes or in groups of 30 sometimes, singing and chanting as they walk, but they all carry walking sticks. We didn’t know that Santiago is the third-most-visited Christian destination in the world, behind Rome and Jerusalem.

We scheduled our itinerary around the opening times of the museums. All of the museums were closed on Monday, and the cathedral museums were closed on Sunday afternoon, although the cathedral itself was open, except for services.

We anticipated setting aside one evening (Saturday) for the Pilgrim Museum and the Museo do Poba Galego (both open till 8 p.m.); one day (Sunday) for the cathedral and its three museums, and one day (Monday) for a bus trip to a small coastal town to get the flavor of the Galician province. Our final morning we expected to spend at the market.

This worked out about right, although we didn’t think the market was as interesting as we expected, so we went back to one of the museums on our last morning.

We were able to get a cheap flight with Ryanair (phone +353-1-8121212 or visit from Frankfurt-Hahn Airport to Santiago for €74 (near $95) per person.

And we got an Internet special for the 4-star TC Santiago Hotel at €64 per room per night. The hotel is located about a mile downhill from the Old City, but we were able to take a city bus (€0.85 per person) uphill into town every morning from a stop just down the street. The bus went by every 15 minutes. In the evening, we walked back as it was all downhill.

The best restaurant was O Dezaseis (16 Rúa de San Pedro, 15703 Santiago de Compostela; phone 981 564880 or visit, across the street from the Museo do Poba Galego. We ate dinner there twice. Both times the total bill, including wine or beer but not dessert, was about €24. Every dish we ate was excellent, but the grilled octopus tentacles were absolutely fantastic — charcoaled, and basted with olive oil and red peppers.

Of course, because this was Spain, we were just about the earliest diners, arriving about 8:30 both nights. By the time we left, around 10, the place was full and more people were still arriving.

The Museo do Poba Galego (Museum of Galician People), where entry is free, was a real find. We had set aside an hour for this museum but went back on our last morning because it was so interesting. Exhibits about life in Galicia showcased fishing, boatbuilding, pottery, mining, music, clothing, shoemaking, tinsmithing and just about every type of occupation occurring in the province. The agriculture and housing exhibits were especially fine (but, then, I am always interested in buildings).

There is an architecturally interesting triple winding staircase in one corner of the museum that we went up and down several times just to see where each of the stairways went.

The Cathedral in town is granite Baroque on the front, but much of the building is far older, dating back to the 12th century in some parts. There is a “must do” list there for the pilgrims. First they stop at the scallop shell in the center of the Praza do Obradoiro in front of the church. Then they each climb the stairs and go to the column with the genealogy of Jesus, place their hand on the column and bow their head, then they put their hands into the hollows at the base of the column. (This is supposed to give them as many good things as there are fingers.)

Next they go to the silver sepulchre containing the bones of St. James the Apostle (Santiago, in Spanish), kneel and ask for forgiveness or give thanks (or whatever the main purpose of their pilgrimage is). Finally, they find the statue of St. James and embrace it. There are long lines of pilgrims waiting for each of these sites.

On Monday, May 1 (a holiday in Spain), we took a bus (€4.45 per person, one way) from the main bus station downtown to Cambados, a small town right on the water. We sat in a sunny terrace restaurant and drank albarino, the local white wine, and watched the tide come in and the people go by. We were able to stroll around to see the highlights in about two hours, including time for photos and to explore the fascinating cemetery, which is located actually within the ruins of a 12th-century church.

We found this was one of the most interesting and inexpensive weekend trips we have made and would highly recommend it. Even though few people spoke English, we had no trouble with our traveler’s Spanish. And while there were other Americans there, we were in a distinct minority compared to the Spanish and other European tourists.


Knopp-Labach, Germany