The trip from the ancient port of A Coruña to the Medieval city of Santiago de Compostela is a beautiful introduction to Galicia. The scant hour’s ride takes us past spring pastures freshened by the frequent showers so typical of this land. The sky is big and ever-changing, while the land is measured into smallish parcels, marked by low stone walls. Galicia is green, intimate, peaceful, reflective.
Occasionally, a roadside cross in the same gray granite marks the Camino, the Way to Santiago. Stone hórreos, where grain is stored above the fields, are likewise topped with crosses. For centuries, this green and rocky landscape has sustained families who farm, with a cow or two in the fields. Today, the vegetables and cheeses of Galicia are among the most unique and delicious in Spain.
We are lucky and catch occasional glimpses of the small, sturdy horses native of the north. A Pottock, perhaps; maybe an Asturcón. These short, stocky breeds look more like ponies, but their diminutive stature belies the strength of their broad hindquarters and barrel chests. They roamed wild here among the earliest Iberian tribes, well adapted to the mountains and to hard work. In modern times, endangered by extinction, they are carefully bred for dressage and are especially prized for young equestrians.
As we approach the town of Santiago de Compostela, we can just make out the magnificent bell towers of the cathedral, for centuries a beacon to thousands of pilgrims. Driving through the streets of Santiago we begin to see today’s pilgrims, some walking alone, others in groups. They stride purposefully ahead, slightly bent under the burden of their packs. How long have they been walking, and from where?
We leave the coach at a short walk from the center of the Medieval city. Along the cobblestone street, past ancient smaller churches and monasteries, the scent of fresh pasteries flavors the cool air. Local ladies emerge from small bakeries offering samples of their Tarta de Santiago, a rich almond cake dusted with powdered sugar marking the cross of the Order of Santiago. It is delicious.
The cobbled street opens onto the main square, the Praza do Obradoiro. Although our trip here has been relatively short and easy, it is difficult not to feel the elation of standing in this place, before this magnificent cathedral, the goal of so many individual journeys. As our guide begins his excellent commentary, the unmistakable sound of a bagpipe drifts from a side portico. The sometimes lively, sometimes plaintive music comes from the gaita gallega, popular since at least the early Middle Ages in Galicia, and still a vibrant part of its culture.