• Theresa Fersch

Got Our Compostelas - On to Paris!

This morning I slept in until around 9am. It was the first time I could wake up naturally in over 2 weeks. Vegemite had a flight to catch at noon so he already went to the Pilgrim’s Office and got his Compostela. We said goodbye to him in front of our Airbnb and parted ways. It will probably be a long time before we see him again. 

With a mild hangover, Brian and I headed to the Pilgrim’s office to get our conpostelas which are certificates of completion. When I was here four years ago, we waited in a long line for 45 minutes before entering a room of about 5 people who issued the Compostelas. I heard the lines can now take four hours so we went before having breakfast hoping the line wouldn’t be too long that early in the morning. Well, they changed the location and the process. Now you take a number like you’re at the DMV and you wait until your number is shown on a large screen. We waited under 10 minutes before our numbers were called and when we entered the room, there were nearly 20 people issuing the certificates. The woman reviewed my Camino Passport carefully trying to determine if I truly hiked the Portuguese route. In the end, she gave me two certificates. One from the cathedral and a certificate of distance. The Asian man next to me apparently took a bus for part of his Camino Frances and they would not issue him the second certificate. I felt bad for the man. He walked a long way but skipping a section that large meant he wouldn’t get credit for the entire hike. As he argued with the man behind the counter, I began to understand why they also now have security here. By the time we left, the line was four times longer than when we first arrived. I heard they are issuing up to 1500 certificates a day!!!

Brian and I got a few more pictures in front of the cathedral because I’d like to use one for our Christmas card this year, and then we went for an early lunch. 

The cafe we chose was very cozy and we finally had a chance to try the traditional Santiago Tart which is an almond flavor cake. It was pretty good! We also got freshly squeezed orange juice which always tastes amazing.

Once we were properly caffeinated, we walked through the many touristy gift shops that I avoded so much the last time I was here. We bought lots of camino paraphernalia - tshirts, keychains, jewelry’s, bags, etc. Most of the stores had essentially the same things but with slight variation. I found a store that carried a hoodie I really wanted in smaller sizes and it was on sale so I was pretty psyched.

Brian wanted to see the inside of the Cathedral but they didn’t allow packs. Since we already checked out of our Airbnb, I waited outside with our packs while he went inside. There are a lot of beggars here in Santiago and a man with one leg kept asking me for money for food. It was very uncomfortable and I wasn’t sure what to do except say no thank you. When Brian came out of the cathedral, the man called him a red devil in Spanish and walked away. 

I didn’t go inside the cathedral because Brian said it’s all covered in plastic and is under construction. He said there is nowhere to sit and there’s no way the botofumario can even swing. I saw it swing for my first Camino. I feel bad for people who hiked all this way for the first time and can’t even experience a mass with a swinging botofumario.

Not having much else to do in town, we returned to the plaza in front of the cathedral, sat in the warm sun, listened to the bagpipes, and soaked in the emotion of all the pilgrims coming in. 

I still can’t believe I’m here again. I keep looking at the cathedral and conjuring up the emotions I had when I arrived here four years ago. I was so torn with different thoughts but this time, I felt total satisfaction and joy. My first trip was spiritual and life shaping. But this journey has represented an arrival. An arrival of who I am, the person I want to be. 

As I sat there taking in the day, a woman sitting beside me was FaceTiming with a loved one and as she talked about her experience arriving in Santiago, she began to weep. This is such an intense moment for so many people. And it happens here every day of the year. 

Since we wouldn’t have a chance to have dinner tonight, we had lunch around 2pm at Maria Castana which is a well rated  seafood place in Santiago. We got Padron peppers, octopus, grilled squid, and razor clams. I’ve had so much octopus (pulpo) that I’m becoming something of a connoisseur, or at a minimum, a really picky eater. A well prepared octopus is of medium size, dunked in boiling water for no more than a few seconds, chopped into one inch pieces, and seasoned with olive oil and a liberal portion of fresh paprika. This pulpo was larger than most I’ve had which I was excited about and it was very tasty but I think because of its size, they let it cook just a second or two too long. It was still tasty and we had it all but I was expecting better from a place with such great reviews.  The squid was excellent though. It was served in white wine, olive oil, and roasted red peppers. We may change the way we make it at home. The Chef came out and asked how it was. We told him everything was great but the octopus was a bit overcooked and he refunded us that part of the bill! So we gave it back as a tip. 

It’s finally cold here. I think the combination of slowly walking north, it getting later in the season, and the fact that I’m not over exerting myself anymore finally amounted to noticing the cooler air. Everyone is wearing heavy jackets now. 

We walked around the beautiful park for a while which I enjoyed because I entered town from a different direction last time and never saw it. We then used the bathroom and hung around in the lounge area of the Parador which is a castle that was converted into a five star hotel. Brian and I stayed in it the last time we were here. 

Our ride to the airport was uneventful. We found where in Santiago the taxis line up and we were charged $21. 

I was shocked at how easy airport security was. We scanned our digital tickets, pulled out our liquids, put everything through the X-ray and walked through a metal detector. Super easy, no line at all. I guess because we’re staying within the EU, there’s no need for customs in every country.

Boarding was an adventure. We had priority boarding and were the first ones in line because we wanted to ensure there would be overhead storage room for our large packs. Brian reminded me of how difficult it was for people to respect lines the last time we were in Spain. Sure enough, the moment they called for group 1 to board, even though I was the first in line, four people came out of nowhere and pushed their way in front of me. One by one, the gate agent sent them away. Such a waste of time.

We also began boarding before the previous passengers even fully got off the plane and I wondered how they would prepare the plane for our flight and swipe the flight crew. Well they made us wait in the jetway while they brought vacuums onto the plane and brought mounds of trash bags off. It was a bit of a mess but it worked. 

During our two hour flight I did some simple math and determined, between Brian, And I, we have hiked over 3,200 miles just counting long distance hikes. 

The first thing I saw when we touched down in Paris was a Concord! It looks like such an impressive plane!! We exited the plane onto the tarmac and were taken to the terminal via shuttle. Most signs were in French and English and we had no trouble finding our Uber. 

As we were riding to our Airbnb, I felt a bit nervous about being in France. Although I hiked the Camino Frances, I only spent one day in the Basque territory of France. From a young age, I was told the French are not kind people and I had vivid memories of my mon’s stories from when she accompanied my dad to France on a business trip. So from a very young age, my internal narrative was that France was not on my list of places to visit. By intentionally planning several days here, I will be forced to rethink my stereotypes. 

It was dark and I was tired but I looked for anything notable on the car ride. Negative ghost rider. Nothing to see here. We passed an IKEA and apparently there is a Disney Land Paris. Who knew? Brian texted me, “So far this looks like Chicago but smells like cologne and cigarettes.”

 On the 30 minute ride Brian and I discussed that it would have been way cheaper to take the train but seeing as how we arrived in this place for the first time late at night, neither of us were up for an adventure. 

As we neared our home for the next few days, the scenery became more lively and “French looking.” It occurred to me that although we’ve only traveled a slight distance from Spain, this is an entirely different culture I’ll have to learn! I was getting excited. We passed a cinema filled with French movies I’ve never heard of. 

It looks like Paris is a bit star shaped and dividend into numbered districts. I’ll talk more about that tomorrow. 

The start of our Airbnb experience was a tad terrifying but it’s clean and safe and we got here ok. More tomorrow! 



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