We only needed to add 50 kilometres to our account today. Only a few climbs (nothing as hard as in recent days). 80% of the route went over beautiful country paths. Galicia is for us the nicest cycling environment we have seen. Worth considering as a destination for a seperate cycling holiday in the future.
We had our last peregrino lunch, some 15 km away from our goal. A strange feeling indeed to realise that one hour later we would reach the end of our journey. You still wish ´Buen Camino!´to the different walkers or cyclists around you, but the weight of this wish becomes weaker when so close to Santiago.
As expected, the number of pilgrims increased further on this last day. 5 km from the Cathedral in Santiago there is a final climb up to Monte do Gozo. In the past, pilgrims would get their first view of the Cathedral down below from the top of this hill. Not anymore. All sorts of buildings obstruct the view. When arriving at the top of this ´Monte´we saw an entire busload of tourists being delivered to the top. From there they walk the last 5 km to the Cathedral. Bus-pilgrims, a category we have not mentioned yet.
Cycling into Santiago was easy. We expected a sort of Burgos or Legrono situation, where you have kilometre after kilometre of very dull industrial/commercial areas to pass through before reaching the centre. Not in Santiago. We entered historical part of the city and immediately felt that this was a different kind of city. A bigger but cosier place. Nice squares. More people (and many of them pilgrims).
We took some traditional pictures on the square in front of the Cathedral where you see a continuous coming and going of newly arrived pilgrims. We arrived at around 18h00 but still there were hundreds of pilgrims hanging around. Most try to arrive before 12h00 so they can attend the daily Pilgrims´ Mass in the Cathedral. We went to the office to get our Compostela, and had to fill in some forms for statistical purposes (Where did we start? Nationality? Means of transport? Where do we live?). We received a certificate in Latin (including our names).
Our first night in Santiago coincided with the St John celebrations. On this occassion all the locals gather late at night in the streets, Galician folk music is played, bonfires are lit, and you are supposed to jump over a small bonfire. The bottles of wine we had at a restaurant beforehand did much to increase our enthusiam to join in. We jumped with all the strength left in our legs after 800+ kilometres of cycling (811 kilometres is our final count).
This morning (Sunday, the day after) we woke up and went to the Pilgrim Mass in the Cathedral. We found places to sit at the end of the church (arriving half an hour before Mass started). By 12h00, there were hundreds of pilgrims standing around us. Even with 1,000 places, the church was too small for all to sit down. The mass started with the priest reading out a list of all the pilgrims who arrived in Santiago the previous day (nationality and place of departure on the Camino). Under Roncevalles he mentioned a Dutchman, Englishman and a Belgian. No one noticed but we straightened our backs a little.
Later in the Mass, a number of priests of different nationality read out short prayers. Each in his own language. A Flemish priest covered the Dutch and Belgian communities. An English priest the English speaking world. And, to our surprise, there was also a Romanian priest. The first Romanian words we´ve heard since we started our trip.
We are staying here until tomorrow. Then we head for Madrid. On Wednesday we will fly back to Bucharest. An amazing experience the richer. Harder than expected. But worth every second, every gust of headwind, every drop of rain, every church tower covered by stork nests, every country road cycled, every siesta-sleeping village passed through, every stamp received in our credencial, every ´Buen Camino!´ wished and received. Words don´t do it justice. Why not come and experience it for yourself?
See you around
Jan, Richard, Sam