Wow...what an amazing trip. I am sitting in the Santiago airport feeling overwhelmed with gratitude that I got to celebrate my birthday with such a special journey.
Thursday morning, we arose as usual for our 8:30 breakfast. I always ate more than I should have at breakfast, but all of those carbs, meats and cheese are just so hard to resist! We even had some chocolate croissants for our last day. Javier had to leave us in order to have a few days off before his next group, so we hugged him goodbye and hit the trail for the last time.
Our last hotel was the only disappointment...the view from my room on Wednesday night was a red HOTEL sign and a busy highway. Quite a contrast from Tuesday night's countryside tranquility at the palace! Nevertheless, it was a convenient location at the last 15k of the trail.
I walked by myself for a good chunk of the morning, stopping once to adjust my moleskin/toe wrappings. Compared to some people, my feet were in great shape, but my pinky toes were getting blisters on the bottom, and there is some kind of deep blister under the skin on my left big toe. It's okay now, but it was pretty tender by the end of the walk.
After dropping off our suitcases in Santiago, Virginio and Javier met us with the van at Lavacolla (Neckwash...pilgrims would tidy up before arriving in Santiago), and Virginio walked the last leg with us. I am still kind of surprised no one ever pooped out and rode in the van! We all walked the whole thing (obviously we rode in the van when we shuttled to hotels that weren't right on the trail).
Most of our group stopped for a rest around 11:30, and it was fun to feel like we could take it slowly and just enjoy the final leg together. We stopped at Monte de Gozo, a hill that overlooks the city. It's the first place you can see the towers of the cathedral. Legend has it that the first pilgrim to spot the cathedral can take the name "King." Sandra was delighted to call herself Queen Sandra for the remainder of the trip!
The outskirts of the city were about what you'd expect, not particularly scenic, but the old city of Santiago is beautiful. Narrow cobblestone streets with old buildings and lots of charming shops and restaurants. The cathedral itself is gorgeous and massive; it sits in a large cobblestone square, and on one side is the famous Parador hotel, originally built by the king and queen in ~1492 as a hospital for pilgrims.
We had our obligatory photo opp and then checked into our hotel. It was fabulous, a restored monastery with lots of old world charm and new world amenities (charming courtyard cafe, wi-fi, pool and hot tub, killer showers, etc). We all showered, and I changed into my nicest outfit, a wrap dress that was perfect for the hot afternoon. Lunch was tapas outside...more pulpo, empanadas, garlic shrimp and salad. It's going to be hard to break the habit of beer with lunch!
Around 4:30, we queued up at the office to present our passports and obtain our official Compostela, the Latin certificate to prove we walked the Camino for spiritual reasons. Sandra got the woman who did hers to write Queen Sandra in lovely penmanship. My clerk was a disinterested 20-something dude with bad handwriting who misspelled my name. Oh, well.
I was too tired to explore the city, so Qassab and I drank coffee at a cafe then swapped photos on wi-fi. At the hotel, we ran into the Japanese guy we'd seen on our first afternoon walking. We had a lovely final dinner in an outdoor garden (atmosphere slightly dampened when Susan found a slug on her!). Our first course choices were chickpea salad or bread with scrambled eggs, roasted peppers and shrimp. The mains were a fish lasagna and a pasta with meat sauce. I will be looking for a recipe for fish lasagna when I get home! The highlight of the meal was a mocha flan for dessert. As usual, we washed it all down with several bottles of good Galician white wine. I took a second shower before bed and slept like a baby!