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A meeting place for pilgrims?

This carries on from the thread about Ivar's exciting new pension opening soon (if it hasn't already by this time).

The basic idea is this; pilgrims arrive in Santiago to find an admittedly beautiful cathedral but..if I can use our experience for a moment..they also find:
Relatively poor signs directing weary pilgrims to the cathedral. It's very easy to get lost in Santiago and the new city that you first encounter is like all new cities at first sight, cold, busy and unwelcoming. The old city is lovely but to find it you have to follow fairly poor signs. I found Leon better signposted than Santiago which seems strange given that Santiago is the destination! Surely there could be better efforts than there are?
However, you find your way to the Cathedral and as you enter the small narrow streets of the old city you realise how beautiful the place is...and how much more confusing it gets. And how many tourist souvenir shops there are. And how many people there are trying to get you to stay at their pension/hostal on your way in.
And then you arrive at the main square of the cathedral. A beautiful building and a beautiful square...which was overflowing with tourists when we arrived (another reason not to go in August!). we climb the steps to the cathedral. You've walked a long long way for this. You've cried. You've overcome pain from blisters, tendonitis, sunstroke, some other malady/emotional upset...and you've made it. You've pushed yourself and had a great time but whatever've made it. And with new you enter the cathedral...

And find that the central column, the Tree of Jesse is cordoned off by seemingly permanent railings so you cant touch the treee or bang heads with Maestro Mateo. RIght - well thats half the pilgrim ritual scuppered. Onward. TO the HUGE queues watiting to climb up and speak to St James. Ok...we'll do that later. (Except its August and unless you're there when the place opens "later" is always busy) On to the last part...nope, can't touch the relics either. RIght.

Ok so off to the pilgrims office for the compostella it is then. A predictable queue (but at least they appreciate what you've been through and achieved..and some you know of course) and you get the treasured document. Then what?

We went off to find a nice bar for a celebratory cervesa before we all parted to find our accomodation, freshen up and meet for dinner. We tried several bars....most were very small and cramped (not good when you have 4 people with packs) and some were actually very rude. At this point it was almost an anti-climax....we came all this way for....this?

In reality of course we came all this way for the experience of coming all this way, i genuinely believe the journey is the important part and I treasure my first credencial more than my first compostella. Much more.

I liked Santiago I really did but we all felt a bit like noone really cared that we had done this pilgrimage. Obviously there is pilgrim overload there and I suppose such familiarity will inevitably bring complacency. And tourist towns will always be rife with sharks and tourist traps. But wouldn't it be nice to have some sort of alberque there...not to stay in, there's plenty of places for that, including several alberques (and lets face it a nice hotel/pension room at the end is VERY welcome) but a place simply to meet. To catch up with fellow pilgrims you lost sight of on the journey. To simply sit and enjoy the fact you've arrived. Somewhere that pilgrims can guarantee finding an approriate welcome, where packs arent a problem; the fact that you're hot, sweaty, muddy and tired isn't a problem. Admittedly it would need to be a fairly big place but it's sorely needed I think.

I have no idea if it's possible to galvanise such a thing into existence..or more importantly if such a thing already exists (or something close anyway) but it's worth putting the idea up here for discussion..who knows, maybe some enterprising entrepeneur will create this pilgrim utopia? (Ok utopia is going a bit far but frankly somewhere like this would have had me in a true state of bliss when I arrived!!)

What does everyone else think? Especially those who know far far more about the camino and santiago than i do?
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Re: A meetng place for pilgrims?

Thanks for starting this new thread Martin. (This is a continuation of this thread)

I just wanted to say that I hope that my new place could be a place to meet up. Create a good environment for pilgrims, that is the idea. I was thinking of having some books (pilgrim related and others) laying around so that if you have "dead-time" you could pick one up and read a bit. Just a place with no stress... I bet an average pilgrims could do with some rest at this point :)

Just a few things about my new Hostal (that I later found out really is a ** Pension):
- The first floor (where the entrance and reception is located) is rather small. I think if I had 10-15 people in there at once it would be packed and not that "comfortable". In the winter months, this should not be a problem, but in the summer.... maybe more. But still I hope it can be used as a meeting-up-point. You meet up there and if it is too crowded one can go to some place less stressful.

- I do not have a license as a Café, so I am not allowed to sell any drinks/food (except serve breakfast to my guests). That said, I will have a pot of coffee warm and boil some water for those that like a cup of tee.

.... now I just need to wait for the last inspection of the property... 1st week of September is the latest I heard.

Greetings from Santiago de Compostela,
Fingers crossed then Ivar!! I have no doubt all will go smoothly and congratulations again! I appreciate that your pension/hostel will be a great meeting point but as you say it will be quite small. I get the feeling from the very little i've seen of Santiago that any building near(ish) the cathedral will be fairly small so maybe this meeting place is a bit of a dream....then again.... :)
Hi Martin and Ivar,
I'm not sure who to address first so I'll go to Ivar and say, 'Many thanks for the forum, and also best wishes for your new venture in Santiago.'
Martin, many thanks for raising this issue. I've done several walking pilgrimages in the UK many years ago, but one of the great/wonderful things was that at the end of the pilgrimage there was time and opportunity for pilgrims to meet, reflect and meet up with those who were a little bit behind, and celebrate.
Arriving twice in Santiago, with the all the emotional feelings and, having walked from France with some fellow pilgrims, I felt that Santiago was like a river delta for pilgrims - we had all followed the main river together for weeks/months (depending where you started), and then all were dispersed within a day and any contacts the city in were haphazard/luck.
So Martin, I think your idea of a central place where contacts/meetings can be arranged is absolutely brilliant and if you, Ivar, can deal with this, it will be absolutely wonderful for pilgrims - I really can't express how great it will be for pilgrims when they arrive tired but elated, to be able to meet up with their fellow pilgrims over the two or three days they remain in the city. Dare I say it, Ivar, the meeting point might be, in some ways, an even greater facility than the refugio - but I'm sure it will be brilliant and wonderfully welcoming. My one regret is that perhaps my walking pilgrimage days might be finished and therefore I won't be able to stay with you. However, maybe I'll get to visit and say ' Hello'.

Best wishes to you both,
I felt completely the same upon arriving in Santiago. I had been walking for 5 weeks, and then arrived in Santiago, where I got lost trying to get to the Cathedral, and had to wait several days before I could even do things like hug the statue of Santiago. I found the locals I encountered in Santiago to be possibly the most unfriendly and rude people I have ever encountered in my life, and they (not all, but a substantial number) seemed to go out of their way to be unpleasant towards pilgrims.

My experience of the camino was amazing, but I kind of wish I could have skipping the arriving in Santiago part. There was nowhere I could find people, except by chance on the street, which was somewhat of a disapointment. A common place for pilgrims would be wonderful, and hopefully make up for some unpleasant aspects of Santiago. Don't get me wrong- it was a powerful experience looking up at the Cathedral after that long walk, but it would have been nice to find some more welcome there.
The focus is on reducing the risk of failure through being well prepared. 2nd ed.
Hi folks, many thanks for the replies. Glad we weren't the only people feeling like this! In Santiago's defence we did meet some lovely people there.. the lady who runs Pension Estrella in Plaza St Martin is absolutely wonderful. When our german camino friends came to the pension to collect us for dinner she showed them to our room and gave us beers and tapas (on the house) as a small celebration of our arrival. As ever there are awlays angels on the camino (or we just got lucky!).

And there were others too - but we did feel as though the mood had changed amogst locals as we drew close to santiago. Leon province appeared to us to be that little bit more relaxed and friendly.

As I said earlier I suppose Santiago is suffering pilgrim overload..and of course it's a large city and they tend to be unfriendly places. I lived in London for 5 years and still think its one of the most unfriendly places i've ever lived.

So...we seem to be in agreement that a pilgrim meeting place is a good idea....all we have to now is find one that's big enough! I think Ivar's is a great start - at least we know there's a warm welcome!! :D
Thanks Martin and Ivar. Just wanted to add my voice to those who would be very thankful for such a "Pilgrims' Welcome". Santiago, despite all of its glory, is a little lonely and a bit of a letdown after such a wonderful and difficult journey. This time we spent 3 days in Santiago which was one day too long.

Peace. lynne
My experience was very much the same as others.I arrived in Santiago Cathedral square feeling emotional and elated at what I had achieved.Then what.The restaurants and bars were full and in the main unwelcoming.The staff in the pilgrim office were pleasant enough in that busy office kind of way.
The feeling of anti-climax was so strong that instead of staying for my intended two days I decided to leave for home straight away.By now the time was about 6pm.I got a taxi to the bus station where I discovered I could get an overnight bus to Bilbao leaving at 11.30pm.
I found a nearby cafe/bar which was showing football so I had a meal and watched Real Madrin beat some other team.
The bus journey was long and I did not sleep very well but it was better than staying in Santiago.From there change of bus and finally onto a train to take me to my home in France.

I am just re-living some of my feeling of anti-climax and feeling rather angry for some reason.
The fact is my experience of the Camino was fabulous so much so that I will be walking from Seville from the 1st of April 2008.It occurs to me that many thousands of people descend on Santiago with a mix of the same feelings as myself and other contributors.Santiago makes a huge profit from we pilgrims but doesn't seem willing to give anything back.Some recognised meeting place would seem like an excellent idea.However I fully expect to be on the overnight bus to Bilbao once again.
Yes, I was a bit bummed that 1) I couldn't see the cathedral from the hill by the Gulag Santiago albergue (don't get me started on that place), and 2) the lack of decent waymarkings through the city. But at least it was sunny out, so that was nice.

However, it was great to finally reach the square and smack my sticks on the big scallop shell in the center. After that, I hung out for a few minutes to soak up the atmosphere before heading to the pilgrim office to get my compostela. The line was a bit long at 7:30PM, but I got through it in about an hour.

After getting my certificate, I checked into a hotel just down the street and crashed. The next day I decided to hang out in the square and smoke a victory cigar. I hoped to meet up with some other pilgrims I knew, and I wasn't disappointed. Other folks I'd walked with on the Way began to show up, including a cool group of Spanish men and women that had taken me under their wing during the last couple weeks on the trail.

It turned out that they were all staying in Santiago for a couple days, so I hung out with them. They took me to a number of cool restaurants, cafes, and clubs. One of them was really into cooking and fine dining, and he gave me primers on Spanish wines and cuisine. Indeed, I had the best meal I've ever eaten with them - a great bunch of folks. Indeed, they made Santiago come alive for me in a way I could never have achieved on my own.
You actually can see the towers of the cathedral from Monte de Gozo. If you stand next to the two large pilgrim statues you will see that they are pointing directly at the cathedral.
Although the Monte de Gozo barracks is an eyesore - the refuge side is run by wonderfully caring volunteers and all pilgrims can stay there free for one night.


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sillydoll said:
You actually can see the towers of the cathedral from Monte de Gozo. If you stand next to the two large pilgrim statues you will see that they are pointing directly at the cathedral.
Although the Monte de Gozo barracks is an eyesore - the refuge side is run by wonderfully caring volunteers and all pilgrims can stay there free for one night.

Heck, I didn't even see the "two large pilgrim statues" you mention - just the big curly-cue statue on top of the hill. And I have a photo of Santiago from that vantage point that shows a hazy cityscape with no discernable view of the cathedral - perhaps you have to know where to look. Guess it depends on where you stand on the hill.

As for the barracks - I'm sure the folks who run it are nice. But it still looks like a gulag, and I heard accounts from other pilgrims of theft there (plus I've lived in a barracks, and I have no desire to relive that experience anyway). Its appearance and atmosphere were so far removed from all the other albergues on the camino that I couldn't imagine tarrying for long. :arrow:
I agree with you, VInotinto, I also did not like the feel of Monte de Gozo, it was a depressing looking place. Eating there was a letdown, it felt like a cafeteria, and the food seemed canned. The salad was good though. The only thing I enjoyed was the disco.... even if there were only 3 of us there, the music was good and I danced for an hour non-stop! Even after walking 35 kilometers that day. Felt great. I somehow missed those 2 statues as well. Where were they? I did like the fountain with the pilgrim woman statue.
Monte de Gozo (Mount Joy) used to be a lovely wooded hill which features in nearly all early pilgrimage accounts. It was levelled in 1989 to accommodate huge crowds at an open-air mass (the complex itself was completed in 1992). It was hoped that it would be used by Universities and as a venue for large concerts etc after the 1994 Holy Year. I saw a notice claiming that the entire complex is to receive a face-lift (this has already begun) in time for the 2010 Holy Year.
The two statues can be found on the way out of the complex. If you do a Google image search of Monte de Gozo you will see a number of photos of the statues. They were erected at the last spot where it is still possible to see the towers of the cathedral and they point in the direction of the cathedral. It is amazing that anything of the cathedral can still be seen but on a walking tour of the city we were told that there is a law that buildings in the old city are not allowed to be built higher than the cathedral.
Arriving in Santiago in 2002 was also an anti-climax for me. I didn't really feel any closure until we stood at the last way marker which reads 0,00km below the lighthouse at Finisterre. That was a very emotional moment. In 2004 we walked in with friends made along the way. The square was full and very festive and it was a joyous moment with much hugging and crying.
This year we had friends waiting for us with two large South African flags and we sang a South African song as we walked in - rousing stuff!


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Back to Martin's original post above, I sort of remember having seen (in June 2006) a poster and donation box at the pilgrim's office meant for raising funds for a new refugio somewhere near the cathedral. Does anybody know of any update on that project?


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