July 24-25, 2010 Santiago de Compostela Festival

Wow, an incredible day and a half here in Santiago.

On Day Eleven (July 24) I had a nice breakfast with Artur then packed and (since both the Costa Vella and Altair were full) went to the hotel Gail so nicely reserved for me, saving me a ton of time searching for a room in this city that is now jammed to the gills with festival tourists and pilgrims. It was a nice suite in a hotel with a big atrium and only about 3/4 mile from central Santiago.

After checking in I wandered the streets, watching the various street characters, including giants, fire breathing dragons and grotesques. There also marching bands and many street musicians. I took a break in a cafe, plotted my week’s strategy over a late lunch, then headed to Plaza Obradoiro to wait for the Fuego (fireworks).

Lucky I did. I got there at about 19:00 for the 23:30 show, and at about 20:00 they closed the square. There were perhaps 10,000 people in the square and I lucked into a group from Seville sitting next to a Uruguayan mother-daughter pair who live in Vigo. The leader of the Sevillians is an Internist named Javier. The Uruguayan daughter just graduated med school. So we talked about Gail, my doctor-wife.

Then the fireworks started. I have never ever seen anything like these. The entire facade of the cathedral had been prepared with lasers and rockets and strobe lights. At times I worried for the cathedral building itself, which sometimes seemed to be exploding. My seat was spectacular– too close possibly– and we were showered many times by falling ash and debris. Truly an overwhelming experience.

After all 10,000 of us pushed our way through the narrow streets after the show I headed to the hotel for a few hours’ sleep in advance of an early assault on the pilgrims’ office for my compostele. I got to the office at 07:00 on Day Twelve (July 25, Santiago Day) to find 75 people already there. By the 09:00 opening I would estimate there were at least 500 pilgrims in a line stretching more than 3 blocks. Still, the cathedral was well organized, with many stations. I had my Holy Year/Holy Day compostele by 09:30.

I checked my festival schedule just then and realized that the grand procession to the solemn cathedral mass would begin at 10:00. I headed back to the plaza and stood in a group of thousands to enjoy a procession of soldiers, clergy, nobility, governmental leaders, and finally the King and Queen of Spain. People around me shouted “Vive el Rey!”

Knowing the cathedral was already packed (the line was even longer than for the pilgrim office) I pushed through the crowd once again, got breakfast, got my backpack, and headed to my home for the next three nights, the Altair.

People seemed to be enthralled by my iPhone film clips of the fireworks, so I put together a YouTube video and uploaded it right from my phone. Amazing new technology. Not the greatest video, but still….

On the way to the Altair I saw Kristina of Poland and the Italian from Modena who walked with Corrado and Pascal. He said they’ve both now gone home. Our thin stream of Via de la Plata pilgrims is quickly emptying into the ocean.

After that I laid low at the Altair and ventured out for dinner after the crowded streets emptied. Beautiful, clear day, slight breeze, probably 20c degrees. I’m glad I was here for the amazing fiesta, but my dallying among the celebrations has meant I won’t have time for Finisterre. Oh well. Some other year!

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