The cathedral rooftop

The cathedral rooftop

We’re going on a tour today. In Santiago. A tour of the cathedral rooftop.

I’d been wanting to take this tour for a while. I was finally able to do it a couple of months ago and I was not disappointed. It was fantastic and I highly recommend it.

 

About the rooftop tour

Let’s start with the practical stuff.

You can book your entradas (tickets) online in advance (up to 60 days), from the cathedral’s website. There are several visits available here. The rooftop tour is the one called ‘Cathedral museum, decks and Carraca’s tower’ in the English version of the website.

 

The visit includes access to the museo (museum), Pazo de Xelmírez, Torre da Carraca and a guided tour of the cathedral rooftops. You need to choose a date and a time slot. This is for the guided tour. You can visit the museum in your time, either before or after the guided tour.

 

When I took this tour, it was available in Spanish only. I heard there used to be English tours in the past, but I don’t know if they’re coming back.

 

Pazo de Xelmírez

The visit starts in the Pazo de Xelmírez (or Palacio de Gelmírez, in Spanish). You enter through the door that is located between the cathedral’s main staircase (in Obradoiro) and the arch to the left. 

 

This building is named after the archbishop who ordered its construction and it’s one of the main civil constructions of the Romanesque period in Spain.

 

One of the highlights of this visit is the big  ceremonial hall, on the first floor, built in the 13th century.

The stone carvings on the arches depict a banquet. 

part of the cathedral rooftop tour

From this room you keep going up to the rooftop. There’s a total of 105 steps. La escalera (the staircase) is not super narrow, but the steps are higher than usual.

You finally come out on the tejado from one of the towers, the one on the left as you face the cathedral from the square. 

I was lucky to do this on a clear, sunny day. The views of Santiago are amazing! And you can also see all the plazas that surround the cathedral.

 

A couple of interesting stories

Did you know that the cathedral’s bell ringer used to live on the cathedral rooftop?

Yes! Up until 1962, bell ringers and their families had a house in the area next to one of the towers, the one with the bells.

 

The last bell ringer lived there with his wife and 3 children. They had a vegetable garden, 3 goats and some chickens too. That’s right, a family of cinco (5) with their goats and chickens living on top of the cathedral and growing their own vegetables up there too. Can you imagine?

The house is no longer there but I would have loved to see it…

 

The rooftop is made of stone slabs. There used to be ocho (8) torres (towers) and battlements. Out of those 8 original towers, only 2 are left, although you can still see where they used to be. A balustrade replaced the battlements. 

 

What else is up there, apart from the amazing views?

 

A big stone basin with a ram a a metal cross where apparently pilgrims used to burn their clothes.

Some scholars think this may have originated during a plague, as a measure to prevent transmission of the disease. There are no records of how common cloth burning was or when it stopped.

 

Berenguela

The clock tower is known as Berenguela after Archbishop Berenguel de Landoira, who ordered its construction in the 14th century to defend the cathedral. That’s the reason why the lower part of the tower is quite sturdy. The upper part, where the clock is, is finer. It was added 3 centuries later.

 

This top part has 3 main elements:

  • the main campana (bell).
  • the reloj (clock).
  • the lantern.

The bell in this tower is also known as Berenguela and it’s the biggest in the cathedral. It weighs 7 tonnes. The bell we see nowadays is not the original. That one had to be taken down in 1990 because it was cracked. It’s kept in the cloister. 

The clock was added in the 19th century and has one peculiarity: it has one hand only.

The top part had a light that was kept on at all times to guide pilgrims to the cathedral. Nowadays, the light is on during Holy Years only.

You can see the light at the top of the Berenguela tower on this picture. 

Berenguela guiding pilgrims

Torre da Carraca

After the guided tour of the cathedral rooftop, you go up to the Carraca tower. If you stand on Obradoiro square, facing the cathedral, this is tower on the left.

The one on the right has bells. This one has a carraca (rattle) instead. This huge rattle is used on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, instead of bells.

From up here, you truly have a 360 degree view of Santiago. 

 

You know what they say… am image is worth 1000 words. So, I’ll let the pictures speak. Enjoy the views!

 

Today’s Spanish words

 

*entrada means entrance too, as well as ticket.

For the pronunciation of plaza, check this post on Santiago de Compostela.

For the pronunciation of cinco, check this post on the Holy Year.

 

 

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¡Buen Camino!

The Camino with no Spanish

The Camino with no Spanish

I often see questions about whether it’s OK to walk the Camino with no Spanish or whether it’s a good idea to learn some before your Camino.

The answers range from “no need, a smile is enough” to “the more your learn, the richer your experience will be”.

As you can imagine, I don’t agree with the first group. If that’s how they want to do their Camino, that fine. It’s their Camino. And their loss too.

The most common reasons people give to learn at least some basic Spanish:

  • it’s the polite thing to do and it makes the locals more receptive to your needs. True.

 

  • it reduces the chances of feeling frustrated when you need to communicate and you can’t. Also true.

 

  • it also reduces the chances of of feeling lonely and isolated if you happen to have no English speakers around you. Again, true.

 

Let me add another reason. It is not mentioned so frequently, but it’s equally important, in my opinion.

  • you learn so much about Spain and broaden your mind.

 

You’re going to spend some time in the country. A few días (days) at least. A few semanas (weeks) in many cases.

And you don’t learn anything about the country you’re walking through?

A silly example:

I can’t believe how many people think these are mausoleums… or chicken coops! 

They’re called hórreos and they were used to store mainly maíz (corn), but other food too.

They vary a little depending on the region. But they are all elevated from the ground to keep the crops dry and to keep rodents out. 

Combarro, on the Variante Espiritual

More serious examples

I’ve witnessed this many times:

People post on social media about their Camino. They share pictures, as well as their general comment about a number of things.

The kind of stuff I read sometimes… let’s just say there’s a lot of eye-rolling and head-shaking coming from me.

You can tell that these people came to Spain with a mochila full of stereotypes and preconceived ideas. Everything they see, they interpret it through those stereotypes and misconceptions.

They speak no Spanish.

They don’t talk to any locals.

So, they go back home with the same incorrect beliefs they had when they started.

They learn nothing about Spain. Their wrong beliefs are reinforced.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

 

 

People with no Spanish at all

Not too long ago, I started following someone’s daily posts on a Facebook group about their Camino Portugués. The reason I started following was the captions of some of the pictures: any resemblance to reality was pure coincidence.

Clearly, these people had this idea of Spain as a deeply Catholic, very traditional country. And that’s how they saw it.

A random building was, in their eyes, a church.

A mural, in a fishing village, depicting fishing scenes, was a religious painting.

A person begging outside an iglesia (church) was someone dressed in traditional clothes.

A couple of other things they said, I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about.

 

According to their own comments, these people did not speak a word of Spanish, they didn’t interact with any locals, other than to try to get food and accommodation. They completed their pilgrimage and went back home having learned nothing about Spain. A missed opportunity.

 

 

People who know better than you

But there’s another type of pilgrim that totally baffles me. The one who arrives with their mochila full of stereotypes and misconception… and refuses to accept that they are wrong.

A couple of weeks ago I had to make a huge effort to not be rude to someone on social media. This person shared their thoughts about their recent Camino experience.

Among other things, they said that supermercados (supermarkets) in Spain have small puertas (doors) to protect the front of the building because ‘these people have lived with civil war in their country up until recent times’.

I replied that the Spanish civil war ended more than 80 years ago (it took place between 1936 and 1939) and that the size of supermarket doors have nothing to do with it.

Well, apparently I know nothing about my own country. This person went on to give me a lecture on Spanish history.

I ‘learned’ that we were having civil wars in Spain up until the mid 70s. Maybe we weren’t as affected in my area, that’s why I don’t know. Really?

I don’t claim to know everything about Spain. I know I don’t. But not knowing if I’m living in a civil war?

Excuse me while I roll my eyes again.

 

And I won’t get into the siesta comments because I get very triggered by those and I could be ranting here forever. If you want to know more about the truth behind siesta, you can check this other article I wrote a while back.

But can anyone truly believe we sleep up to 7 hours in the middle of the say? A recent post I saw reminded people that ‘most towns have siesta from around 12.30pm to 5 or 7pm’. I love my sleep but seriously?

So, please, don’t be like these people and don’t waste the opportunity to immerse yourself in the Spanish culture. You don’t need to be super fluent. But make at least an effort. You will be rewarded for it.

 

 

Today’s Spanish words

 

 

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¡Buen Camino!

Flan

Flan

nWho hasn’t come across flan as one of the dessert options on a menú del peregrino or a menú del día on the Camino de Santiago?

Flan is a very popular postre (dessert), and it is in fact an ancient dessert. Its origins go back to the times of the Roman Empire, although the old recipe was little different: there was no sugar back then, so miel (honey) was used instead.

Another difference was that the old version was sprinkled with pimienta (pepper). Today, flan is covered in liquid caramel.

The name flan first appeared in the Middle Ages and it could both a sweet and a savoury dish. In those days, people ate flan during Cuaresma (Lent), when carne (meat) was not allowed.

So, as you can see, flan has been around for a very long time and it’s always been popular, either as a dessert or as part of the main meal.

You can buy ready-made flan in any Spanish supermarket but a homemade one always tastes better.

It’s actually quite easy to make and it only needs basic ingredients that you can find anywhere. In fact, you only need 3 ingredients for the basic recipe: huevos (eggs), leche (milk) and azúcar (sugar). However, it is common to infuse the milk with vainilla (vanilla), canela (cinnamon) or limón (lemon).

 

Let’s make flan!

You will need:
  • 4 huevos (eggs)
  • 1/2 litre leche (milk)
  • 4 tablespoons azúcar (sugar)
  • vanilla, a cinnamon stick, lemon peel
  • caramelo líquido (liquid caramel). In Spain, you can buy this, ready-made, in any supermarket, but you can also make your own. You just need sugar, water and a pan. Two parts sugar, 1 part water.
So, put 6 tablespoons of sugar and 3 tablespoons of water in a heavy-based pan and place over a medium heat to dissolve the sugar. When it starts bubbling up and taking a golden colour, reduce the heat and stir. Keep stirring until it becomes the colour of honey. If you like it more runny, you can add at this point 2 or 3 tablespoons of hot water. But be careful! The caramel is extremely hot and it can spit when you add the water.
 
 
 
Let it cool down for a couple of minutes and then pour on your flan mould(s), making sure you cover the base and the sides.
 
 
Now you can prepare the rest:

– Preheat the oven at 180ºC

– Infuse the milk with the flavour of your choice: bring the milk to the boil with a cinnamon stick and some lemon peel. When it starts boiling, remove it from the heat and let it cool down.

If you’re using vanilla extract, you can simply add a teaspoon to your mixture.

For a classic flan de huevo, skip this step.

– Combine the eggs and the sugar together until the sugar dissolves. The final result should have a jelly-like texture, wobbly and smooth. That’s why you should simply stir the eggs and the sugar together, not beat them. Beating them would add air to the mix, which would result in your flan being full of little ‘holes’ or air bubbles. Not what we’re looking for.

– Add the milk to the egg and sugar mixture and pour everything into your mould. You can use 6 individual moulds or 1 bigger one.

– Place your mould(s) on a baking tray with hot water (bain-marie). The water should not cover more than half of your moulds. Cover with foil and put into the oven.

Cooking time will depend on the size of your mould. If you’re using a bigger one, your flan will need around 45 minutes. If you’re using individual moulds, 30 minutes might be enough. Just check that the mixture is set.

– Take them out of the oven, remove them from the hot water and let them cool down at room temperature. Once they’re cold, you can put them in the fridge.

– When you’re ready to eat them, run a knife around the edge of the mould and flip it onto a plate. Your flan is ready!

 

Flan variations

You can also make the classic recipe with condensed milk. In that case, you won’t need sugar. For a 4-egg flan, you will need a small tin of condensed milk. You can use the tin to measure the milk: you will need 2.5 tins of milk.

 

Apart from being delicious, this is also a very versatile recipe. You may come across many different variations: chocolate, coffee, cheese, coconut, berries…

 

I like to make flan de manzana (with apple). You peel and cut 4 apples in pieces and place them in a pan with a very small amount of water, a cinnamon stick and lemon peel. You let them cook until the apples are soft (I like to find apple chunks but if you don’t, you can let the apples cook longer). You then add this apple compote to the egg, sugar and milk mixture and follow the rest of the instructions for the classic flan.

If you prefer a chocolate one, you warm up the milk and melt some dark chocolate into it. For a coffee one, add a couple of espressos. You get the idea…

 

So, which one are you going to make?

 

Today’s Spanish words

For the pronunciation of huevos, azúcar, canela and limón, check Tarta de Santiago.

For the pronunciation of menú del día and menú del peregrino, check Eating on the Camino.

 

 

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¡Buen Camino!

Camino Portugués: Milladoiro-Santiago

Camino Portugués: Milladoiro-Santiago

We finally make it to Santiago! After several Sundays of walking the Camino Portugués, we finish our pilgrimage with a very short stage: O Milladoiro-Santiago de Compostela.

 

If you’ve been following the previous posts you’ll already know this, but in case you don’t:

I walked part of the Camino Portugués (central route) between October and November 2021, with a group organised by the Asociación de Amigos del Camino Portugués. Every Sunday, a bus would pick us up in Pontevedra and take us to our starting point for the day. From there, we would walk a stage of this route; and then the autobús (bus) would take us back home.

 

This particular Sunday we walked the final 7-8km into Santiago, from O Milladoiro. A few more people than usual joined us for this last stage, so we had 2 buses instead of one.

We were again very lucky with the weather: another bright, sunny day. In fact, the weather was unusually good for most of noviembre (November). Since we didn’t have to walk that much, we left Pontevedra a bit later than usual.

 

We gathered outside Capilla de la Magdalena for the prayer and group pictures.

 

Milladoiro-Santiago group

Group picture before we started walking, as usual. Outside A Magdalena chapel.

 

O Milladoiro

There is not much to see in O Milladoiro, apart from this chapel. A few years ago, O Milladoiro was just a small aldea (village). But high housing prices in Santiago pushed many (young people, mainly) out, looking for more affordable options. O Milladoiro is quite close and well connected through  the N-550 road, so it has experienced tremendous growth.

 

There are 2 theories about the origins of the name of this town.

  • According to one theory, it comes from Latin humilliatorium, which makes reference to the fact that pilgrims used to kneel down here, when they could finally see Santiago, and the cathedral, in the distance.
  • The second theory says it comes from the Galician word miradoiro (mirador in Spanish, view point in English) because from this high point you can see Santiago and the cathedral for the first time.

Either way, the name of the town is linked to Santiago de Compostela and its cathedral. 

 

O Milladoiro-Santiago de Compostela

I was familiar with the routine by now. But there was something new this time: they brought the association’s banner that had been created for the 1993 Holy Year.

This banner was carried by different people throughout the stage.

The short stage and the banner meant that the group didn’t spread out so much this time. We also walked at a slower pace than usual, because the idea was for the whole group to stay behind the banner. And the constant change of standard bearer meant lots of stopping and picture taking.

 

Apart from that, the stage was quite uneventful: walking through small villages and some forest areas, with no important climbs or descents and Santiago getting closer and closer. We soon reached the Alameda, where we stopped to regroup and take some pictures before we marched, together, to the cathedral.

It was my first time back in Santiago in a very long time. First time inside the cathedral since they finished renovating it. I would have loved to see the Pórtico de la Gloria or do the rooftop tour, but they’re not open on Sunday evenings. What a great excuse to go back to Santiago!

You can see some pictures of this O Milladoiro-Santiago stage in the following video:

The Pilgrim’s office

I didn’t get a credencial or collect stamps for this Camino. I started walking in Porriño, which is right at the 100km mark and qualifies for a Compostela. But I knew I was going to skip a couple of stages that I had already walked before. So, I didn’t bother.

 

When I walked the Camino Inglés in 2019, the waiting time at the Oficina del Peregrino (Pilgrim’s office) was at least 2 hours… and I didn’t feel like waiting in line for so long. So, I didn’t collect my Compostela back then. But it occurred to me that being November, the waiting time would be short. And so I took my old credencial with me, to see if I could get a Compostela for my 2019 Camino.

 

After a few pictures at the Praza do Obradoiro*, some of us headed to the Pilgrim’s office. The old ‘join the queue when you get there’ system is gone, partly due to covid, partly to avoid long queuing times.

So now there is a QR code outside. You scan it and it opens up a page where you can register your details. After you complete this step, you receive a message with a code. You show this to the person at the entrance and they give you a piece of paper with your number.

There were not many people around that day, so I was able to enter the building straight away.

 

Most of the people in my group were older (in their 70’s, on average) and not very tech-savvy. They were struggling with this new system and the security guard standing outside wasn’t very helpful, to be honest. There was a man, for instance, who didn’t have a smartphone. There was someone trying to help him, I hope he was able to get his Compostela. I managed to help a lady who did have a smartphone, but couldn’t scan the QR code to start the registration process.

 

In short, lots of frustration for these people who were looking forward to receiving their Compostela, and probably some were not able to. Not having to wait in line for hours during busy times is good. But making it almost impossible for those who are not so tech-savvy is not so good.

 

Anyway, I managed to get my Compostela. It has 2 fechas (dates) on it: I day I collected it and the day I finished my Camino Inglés (they added this by hand, under the other date).

 

Hostal dos Reis Católicos

There were a couple more activities organised for the day: a guided tour of the Parador, lunch (at the Parador too) and misa del peregrino (pilgrim’s mass) at 7.30pm. I couldn’t stay that late, due to family obligations. But I did join the visit to the Parador before I returned home.

Paradores are part of a chain of luxury hotels, managed by a state-run company. They are usually located in historic buildings such as castles or convents.

In Santiago, we have the Hostal dos Reis Católicos**, right beside the cathedral. It was built at the beginning of the 16th century by Isabel de Castilla and Fernando de Aragón, los Reyes Católicos (Catholic Monarchs) as a hospital that cared for the pilgrims arriving in Santiago de Compostela. It’s built around 4 patios, all of them different. Construction began in 1501 and lasted 10 years. The Hostal dos Reis Católicos is considered the oldest hotel in Spain.

You can enjoy a few pictures from my visit:

 

Today’s Spanish words

* Praza is the Galician word for plaza (square). You can listen to the pronunciation of plaza in Santiago de Compostela. You will also find misa del peregrino there.

** Reis is the Galician word for reyes (kings or monarchs). 

For the pronunciation of autobús, check En autobús.

For the pronunciation of Alameda, check Pontevedra.

For the pronunciation of credencial, check ¿Cómo vas a hacer el Camino?

For the pronunciation of noviembre, check Samaín.

 

 

Have you read about the previous stages?

Padrón-Milladoiro

Caldas de Reis-Padrón

Pontevedra-Caldas de Reis

Redondela-Pontevedra

Porriño-Redondela

 

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¡Buen Camino!

Camino Portugués: Padrón-Milladoiro

Camino Portugués: Padrón-Milladoiro

A new domingo (Sunday), a new stage of the Camino Portugués: Padrón-Milladoiro.

 

Again, I walked with a large group organised by the Asociación de Amigos del Camino Portugués. We could have walked to Santiago. In fact, most people do that.

 

But the Asociación had some things organised for the arrival in Santiago and a shorter walk suited those plans much better. That’s for the next post. Today we focus on Padrón-Milladoiro.

 

After several stages, I’m familiar with the routine now: we get on the bus early in the morning; we’re dropped at our starting point; we gather in front of an iglesia or capilla, where one of the organisers says a prayer; we take group photos and start walking. It was a chilly morning but there was not a cloud in sight and 0% chance of rain.

 

We covered a distance of around 19 km, mostly flat with some ascent in the final part.

 

Padrón-Milladoiro

Group photo outside iglesia de Santiago borrowed from the Asociación’s blog.

 

A strange stage

This was kind of a strange stage for me. My dad is from this area and I grew up going to some of the places we passed through. In fact, we walked in front of 2 of my tío (uncle) and tía‘s (aunt) houses; we also passed the cementerio (cemetery) were my paternal grandmother is buried and the church were I attended several family occasions like bautizos (christenings), bodas (weddings) and funerales (funerals).

But that was a long time ago.

My uncle and aunt have long been muertos (dead); there’s a big age gap between my primos (cousins) and I, so we were never very close; I lived abroad for 15 years… in other words: I’ve lost contact and haven’t been in the area in years.

And then, there’s also the fact that I always went to those places by car. Walking there gave me a totally different perspective.

But let’s talk about the stage.

 

Padrón

Our starting point was Padrón. When we got there, people were setting up the Sunday market. Lots of activity there, but obviously not crowded like the previous Sunday, when the market was in full swing.

 

As I mentioned in my previous post, about the Caldas de Reis-Padrón stage, Padrón is a very relevant place in the history of the Camino. According to legend, the remains of St. James first arrived by boat here, when they were brought back to Spain by his disciples. The stone they used to moor their boat, called Pedrón, can be found today inside the iglesia de Santiago.

 

At the tourist office or municipal albergue you can obtain the Pedronía, a certificate issued by Padrón’s town council stating that you have visited the place where St. James’ remains were brought ashore. More info on how to get the Pedronía here.

 

If you have time, cross the Santiago bridge to the Convento del Carmen and, from there, the 132 steps up to Santiaguiño do Monte, another significant location in the history of the Camino. According to tradition, St. James was preaching there in the year 40 a.C. There is a cross and statue of St. James there now.

 

There are also other things worth checking, not related to St. James or the Camino.

 

You will see many references to Rosalía de Castro (1837-1885), one of the most important writers in the Galician language. She was from Padrón and one of the first to write in Galician after centuries of the language being banned from public life. Her house has been turned into a museum. You will see signs for it as you walk out of Padrón.

 

Padrón also has a beautiful botanic park with more than 300 species and a nice walk along the river.

 

And last, but not least, I must mention the famous pimientos de Padrón (Padrón peppers). As the name suggests, they come from here. And, as the saying goes, uns pican e outros non (some are hot and some are not).

 

 

Padrón-Milladoiro

Right after we left Padrón we passed the church of Iria Flavia. Iria Flavia is the birthplace of Nobel Literature Prize Camilo José Cela (1916-2002).

 

Lots of walking through villages in this stage, some of them familiar to me, as I mentioned earlier.I walked mostly with the same people I met on my first day walking with the group (Porriño-Redondela).

 

But many other faces were becoming familiar and I also got to chat for a while to a couple of ladies who volunteer at the albergue in Pontevedra. They were sharing stories about different pilgrims who stayed there and caught their attention for one reason or another. This led to a very interesting conversation about cultural differences between different countries.

Miracles

Five or 6km into the stage we came to a very familiar place for me: Santuario da Escravitude. Despite the unusual name, this church has nothing to do with slavery. In 1732, a man was on his way to the hospital in Santiago, looking for a cure for his health problems. He stopped at the spot where the church now stands, drank from the fountain here and asked the Virgin Mary for help.

 

According to legend, he was cured 3 days later and expressed his gratitude for being freed from ‘the slavery’ of his disease. This started to attract other people looking for miraculous cures and, eventually, the church was built.

 

Getting to Milladoiro

After this, we kept walking mostly through villages, some forest areas too, chatting about all sorts of things. We were so engrossed in our conversation that at some point we missed one of the yellow arrows and went the wrong way! Luckily, there were people behind us who saw us and alerted us.

The hardest part of the stage came in the final part, before Milladoiro. Nothing difficult, really. But not what you’re looking for at the end of your walk, when you’re tired! But we made it, with time to spare before the bus brought us back home.

 

Today’s Spanish words

For the pronunciation of domingo, check Está cerrado.

For the pronunciation of iglesia, check Finisterre.

For the pronunciation of capilla, check Redondela-Pontevedra.

 

 

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¡Buen Camino!