Spain 2018, part 29 (Finisterre – Santiago de Compostela – Barcelona)

And so the day came when after six weeks I headed east. First I was to go from Finisterre to Santiago. On that day, the rain finally decided to do its best, so it rained since early in the morning. Completely tiny droplets, but very intensive. I have to say that during my walking along the Way I was incredibly lucky. Not only me, of course, but all the people who walked at the same time as I. Namely, this was the second half of June and almost the entire July and except for a couple of very hot days in the beginning, the rest of the time the temperature was mostly very pleasant. It would heat up occasionally, but that was in the afternoon by which time I would already be at some albergue resting. What I want to say is that I completely skipped the incredible heat that is linked to the summer in Spain.

In addition, regardless of the different forecasts, I walked in rain for only some 10-15 minutes, at one time. A very fine gentleman, a volunteer in one of the albergues told me that once when he was on the Way, it rained for 10 days in a row! And what did he do? Nothing. He just kept walking. It rained, he would become wet, but he continued to walk, then he would get dry, continuing to walk, it rained again, etc.

Since I did not experience any of the extremes, I did not mind the low grey clouds on this day and the drizzle that was omnipresent. While I was standing at the coach stop, I saw a girl I had encountered a few times during my pilgrimage and she was walking boldly in the opposite direction. She was apparently again on the Way, but in reverse. I don’t know what her destination was this time, but she was heading in the direction of Santiago. After several minutes, a young man also came, but he turned towards the branch of the Way leading to Muxia, also on the Atlantic coast, but more to the north.

Nowadays, the Way is mostly a one-way route, people get to Santiago or farther on to some place on the coast and then they take some of the contemporary modes of transportation to go back. Needless to say, in the Middle Ages, getting to Santiago on foot also meant going back home on foot. Even today, there are people who do it, but almost to the negligible degree. There are even those who start in Santiago and then they go in the “opposite” direction. Yes, the Ways are very different.

But, this morning, mine entailed transportation on four wheels and soon the coach came. I put my big backpack in the luggage compartment and settled well in my seat. The heating that was on in the coach was not a surplus at all. Quite the contrary, on this grey, rainy and chilly day, this was precisely what I needed.

After my arrival in Santiago, I first went to the hotel and I must say that now in the end I did appreciate having a room only to myself, not hitting my head on the berth above mine and having a private bathroom to which I did not need to carry my documents, money and credit cards put in a plastic bag.

In the meantime, I got hungry and then I went for lunch to one of the restaurants to which I had already gone with Francesco and Gabriel. It was like one more parting with my co-pilgrims.

Lunch in Santiago de Compostela

After this fine break I finally went to the Cathedral and since there were no crowds this time, I entered. I have to admit I had higher expectations. In comparison to the Cathedral in Burgos, this one appeared too simple, but my impression must have been faulty. I think I was just still too tired to be able to appreciate and enjoy properly such a holy place. In the centre of the presbytery, there is a statue of St James. Behind it, there is a passage through which the believers may approach the statue from the back and kiss it and/or embrace it. It is also possible to go down into the crypt where there are the relics of the holy apostle. According to the testimonies of the believers, miraculous healings have been happening on his grave to the present days. By the way, upon my return to Serbia, I called the Information Office of the Serbian Orthodox Church and they confirmed that the Serbian Orthodox Church absolutely accepts that the relics of St James are in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Statue of St. James the Great

When I left the Cathedral, there was still a rather intensive drizzle outside. I walked a little around the centre and the streets were mostly deserted this time.

An almost empty street in the centre of Santiago de Compostela

Then I walked a good couple of kilometres farther away from the centre. Namely, it had occurred to me to look for a very specific book and its publisher had told me I might be able to find it at a bookstore that was in the completely different part of the city from the one I had my hotel. Eventually I did not find the book, but the bookstore was very close to the Way by which I entered the city a week earlier. I decided to repeat the last couple of kilometres in order to see if anything had changed in me.

It rained, it was chilly, my leg almost did not hurt me at all, I was not tired, but I also did not have any particular impression linked to the repeated approach to the final point of the Way of St James. Moreover, perhaps the main impression was linked to the greyness of the sky that enwrapped the Cathedral and I could not help but think that it was really nice that we (the pilgrims with whom I coincided more or less in the terms of the time) had nice weather and blue sky which provided the great background for the Cathedral for all those innumerable photos which we all made in Obradoiro Square in order to immortalise the moment of arriving at the main destination.

Then I walked a little around the centre of Santiago, after which I returned to the hotel in order to get ready for going home the following day.

My original plan was to take train to San Lorenzo de El Escorial in order to meet a former colleague of mine there, but because of all the events on my Way, I gave up the idea and simplified the whole thing by flying directly to Barcelona from which I had an evening flight to Belgrade.

Still, in Barcelona potentially I had as many as five hours in the city, but there I was welcomed by all the heat of July, so I eventually cut down on my visit. To start with, first I took an underground to go to the Sagrada Familia, jokingly saying inside of me in the meantime that I want to check if they had finally finished it. By the way, I was in Barcelona for the first and also the last time some 30 years ago! And I have to admit that, regardless of all the photos and videos I had seen in the meantime, the Sagrada Familia had remained in my memory significantly more impressive than what I experienced this time. I was simply confused since everything seemed somehow “packed up.” In my memories, there was a large empty space in front of the church which could then be seen nicely in all of its unusual beauty. Looking at the trees in the park in front of the church, I realised that the trees were younger than 30 years and then the situation became clearer. It was practically not even planted when I was here the previous time. Also, the Sagrada Familia itself was much bigger in my memories.

The Sagrada Familia in July 2018

Be as it may, particularly because of the excessive heat, I quickly went back to the underground and transferred to Barceloneta. I was looking for the infamous book here as well, but I did not find it. However, since I had become hungry in the meantime I sat at a restaurant and had a nice meal. Later I tried to stick to the shadowed side of the streets and thus I walked to the Columbus Monument.

Columbus on the top of a column

And then I headed down La Rambla street. There was another major difference here in comparison to 30 years ago. At the time, the guide told us to be very alert and not to go too much into the side streets since it could be – dangerous! This is what my memories say.

La Rambla

Everything is different now of course. There are tourists, restaurants, shops, crowds, but primarily it was extremely hot on this day and that reminded me why I don’t like to visit cities during summers. I made yet another break in order to get refreshed and then, still looking for the book (which I eventually did not find here, but which I ordered through internet), I walked a little more around the centre going to a large bookstore, after which I gave up the walk around the city and returned to the airport.

Later that evening I was back at my home again.

So, what could I say in the end? Just as I’ve already said in the Epilogue (, I have in fact fulfilled my desires linked to this journey and walking along the Way. Needless to say, not exactly as I would have loved or as I have possibly imagined it, but my wishes have been granted. Still, as the time passed (from my return home to the writing of this text), as the sensation of unpleasantness in the body reduced and the pains diminished and as I truly rested from the trip, the physical efforts and problems, the images of the wonderful landscapes through which I walked started to come up slowly to the surface of my memories, along with the scenes of the “Trio La Kampanela” as we laughed and rejoiced in the existence and the mutual company, as well as the images of the people I met or just encountered along the way. There is, certainly, satisfaction about all of this, even about the different forms of the unpleasantness and problems, not because of themselves, of course, but because I managed to overcome them eventually. A friend of mine said in the end that this was a typical victory of the spirit over the body. Perhaps. At the time when I had the problems, I was not even aware of the spirit, I was only aware of the unpleasantness that I felt somewhere inside of me. Maybe we even cannot be aware of the spirit at all, for it is above our realm. We do what is up to us and it does its own thing.

Still, regardless of all of this, this is undoubtedly a journey that I could recommend to anybody who has any inclinations towards adventures and walking. My experience is mine alone. Yes, there were many people who had different health problems, but there were certainly those who walked their Way with no physical challenges.

I was saying most of the time while in Spain that I was simultaneously doing the Way three times: the first time, the last time and the only time. And a part of me was fully convinced of that. But, when I see people with hiking poles in their hands and backpacks on their backs or I just remember them, a spark lights up in my chest, I feel yearning and I start to imagine myself and daydream as I walk along the paths on the “Primitive Route,” “Portuguese Route” or some third one. Who knows? Maybe some new path in my life will lead me to one of these Ways.

But, perhaps I can share yet another lesson from the Way of St James as a true epilogue of my journey. After all, so far I’ve come up with nine of them, so it would be nice to round up their number.

Before I left for Spain, several people had told me that this was a great thing and although I had no spiritual ambitions the fact that I would be alone on the Way would already by itself lead to unavoidable changes within me. Because I would be in fact “alone with myself.” Walking around Spain I was often in the company of others, but I was certainly often completely alone as well. On a couple of occasions I did remember these comments and then I tried to become fully aware of what was happening in me at the time. As I walked and put one foot in front of the other I tried to open up my mind and gain an insight into what was taking place within me. The only thing I was aware of at the time, with each step made, was a very clear sensation: “It hurts me, it hurts me, it hurts me, it hurts me...” And that is not some kind of a sublime message that may enlighten one, so after these couple of attempts of apprehending my inner reality, I completely gave up searching for any further insights on the topic.

On the other hand, one should bear in mind that I live alone. In other words, I am even physically “alone with myself” quite often. There is no need for me to go anywhere to be alone.

And finally, here is a slightly longer Lesson no. 10 on the subject:

Sit somewhere, in your room, in a café, on a bank of a river, on a bench in a park and most importantly turn off and leave on the side your phones, your tablets or computers, take off your earphones and, to start with, just look calmly around you, listen to the sounds, observe the images and sights around you, absorb all of this and you will be alone with yourself.

But, don’t expect that just being with yourself will automatically bring to you advancement on your spiritual journey, even less an enlightenment. Our brain is very contradictory – on the one hand it cannot stand not being active and not dealing with all sorts of trivia, and on the other hand it is precisely its emptying and calming down which is necessary for the spiritual contents to be able to possibly enter both our brain and our entire being. And that is just a precondition and the first step towards our in-depth transformation and development.

But, do not go on the Way of St James to be alone with yourself. Go there because it is a wonderful experience, because you can see some incredibly beautiful landscapes and places, and perhaps even most importantly go there in order to meet and be in the company of the best of us.

For the very end, have a look at a video that I've made from my panorama photographs taken on the Way in 2018. Who knows, it may inspire you...

Verica Ristic

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