21.12.2014 - 22.12.2014 10 °C
I was hardly off the train and I was already lost. I had a carefully hand-drawn map of where I needed to go, complete with landmarks near the station, but I could find neither the street I needed nor the landmark. An older couple, taking an evening stroll hand-in-hand, were dubious - either I could not make the street name I needed clear to them or they just didn't know - but when I mentioned my destination, they pointed up the one street that was not named. About a couple of blocks up it (and I mean that literally, it was a steep uphill climb, lugging my significantly heavy possessions) I finally saw a sign confirming it was the street I needed, but then after another couple of blocks, it terminated. This was at a very nice looking cafe, so I went in for a drink and to ask for further directions - I had to go up the pedestrian walkway which went past the cafe; they warned my that the path bifurcates several times but told me how to navigate each branch, and so further on up I trudged until I had convinced myself I was well past my destination. I noticed a chocolate shop and bakery which had the same name as the square I sought, so for a third time asked for directions: I had to go straight out of the shop, through a narrow alley and I'd be there. Luckily the Hospederia Tarela was worth the agony: one of the nicest rooms I've had so far, and a very cool bar downstairs where the beer was cold and the tapas were very generous.
In my wanders around town, I came across the most delicious thing - it is called a Rosquilla de Alcalá, and is doughnut shaped but made from delicate layers of flaky pastry, bathed in egg yolk and then covered with a sugary glaze. They are rather more substantial than a doughnut, but although I was only in town overnight, I managed to down a couple. Of course, the big deal here is the Cathedral, because it holds the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great and is at the end of the Camino de Santiago, a walk of about 800 km (although there are several starting points) so as a sort of penance I spent some time taking a look around. It is so big and the surrounding area is quite built up that I could not get far enough away to get a photo of the whole Cathedral. First I found the back entrance, then wandered around its main side, but the main entrance was being renovated, so had to go in through a side entrance.
Inside, I actually found there was a service - it probably did me no harm to sit in for a while, and it gave me a chance to notice that while there were signs saying "photos not allowed" and a security guy, this was not stopping people. I did visit the shrine but it didn't seem right to take a photo.
Santiago is on a hill top and was built a long time ago, so there are lots of little alleys and small squares, most with tiny bars - it seemed a most delightful place to chill out.
The other side of the Cathedral, there's a big square, La Plaza del Obradoiro - at one end there is the Hostal dos Reis Católicos, which was originally set up in the late 15th century as one of the finest medieval medical centres there were, and then took on the role of housing pilgrims. In the 1950's, it was taken over by a hotel group and now, ironically enough, provides 5 star accommodation although apparently it still houses some pilgrims for free. Across the Plaza from the Cathedral is the Pazo de Raxoi, a Palace originally built to house (I think) the Bishop but is now the town hall. There's another building opposite the hostal which had something to do with the University, which is the next group of buildings down.
The University was founded in 1504 - I spent a bit of time in its library, and enjoyed the central square around which it was built: it pleased me much more than the public library just around the cornder.