As we walk slowly around the immense cathedral –each side special and beautiful—a sense of timelessness settles in. The beautifully carved statues on each façade narrate the faith, and in their humanness, quite literally seem to speak to us. Nothing prepares us, however, for the statues of the Pórtico de la Gloria, where St. James sits serenly smiling, as if welcoming us. On either side, he is accompanied by equally happy Apostles and others from the Old and New Testaments, whose exquisitely carved features bear faint traces of the lively colors they once bore.
Exiting by the south side, we see one of two official offices where pilgrims obtain their Compostela, a certificate of having completed at least the last 100 kilometers of the Camino on foot (200 by bicycle), which has been stamped daily along the way. I lag back to have a look, and at least three foot-pilgrims stride in, followed by a cyclist –all smiling broadly. It’s impossible not to smile with them.
After our visit to the cathedral, we wander back into the Praza do Obradoiro, named for the stone mason workshops that once filled the plaza. We head for the beautiful Hostal de los Reyes Católicos, built by Ferdinand and Isabel as a hospital for pilgrims. Today a luxory parador, the hotel still offers meals to a limited number of pilgrims. After admiring the beautiful plateresque façade –which indeed resembles silverwork in stone—we step in for a snack. In the comfortable lounge, the waiter confirms that pulpo a la feira is available. Another couple has beat us to it, and offers to share their ample ración. It is exactly as it is prepared in the feiras on festival days in Galicia. The very fresh octopus, quickly cooked and tender, has been dressed in a fruity Spanish olive oil and seasoned with pimentón de la Vera, a bright red smoky paprika unique to Spain. The spice is the perfect accent to the pure white pulpo, which tastes of the sea.
Too soon it is time to leave. But more than one of us has quietly promised ourselves to one day make this trek on our own.