Category Archives: travel

Travel Stories

She’s Coming For You – Chapter 18

The interior of the cathedral was under renovation when I visited. This meant I couldn’t see the Portico de Gloria, the original west front dating from 1188, which lies immediately behind the new west front facing Obradoiro Square. The Portico is the culmination of Romanesque sculpture and is a precursor of the new Gothic style.


The Botafumeiro was also out of commission. This is the large incense burner, which swings in a thirty metre sweep from ceiling to ceiling across the transept. It’s original job was to fumigate the pilgrims attending mass, but now only incense is used.


The most sublime view of the cathedral is from the west in Obradoiro Square / Praza do Obradoiro towards the end of the day when the low levels of gentle sunlight bring out the warmth of the stone. The facade with its two great bell towers was created between 1738 and 1750 in the Churrigueresque style. On here, there are many statues of St James in the guise of a traveller on his way to Santiago.


To the north of the square is the Parador for Santiago de Compostela, housed in the Hostal dos Reis Catolicos. On the opposite side of the square from the cathedral is the Pazo de Raxoi / Palacio de Rajoy, a neoclassical palace dating from 1766.


The Praza da Inmaculada is to the north of the cathedral and is dominated by the Monastery of San Martino Pinario, a vast edifice which is now partly a hotel. The monastery also houses a church and a museum.


Nearby on the Praza das Praterias is the Museo das Peregrinacions. The first version of this museum was opened in 1951, but the modern incarnation really started in 2012. The original building holding the collection and the Casa Gotica or Gothic House now functions as the Museum’s administrative headquarters. The current building was formerly occupied by the Bank of Spain and was restored between 2009 and 2012 as the museum’s new exhibition centre.


This museum provides vast amounts of information on the history of the Camino and gives insights into other pilgrimage sights around the world. The church had a huge influence on the business benefits of the Camino.


Another lovely museum is the Museo do Pobo Galego. This is a folk museum, or ethnographic museum, with wonderful displays of traditional clothing such as straw suits worn by shepherds and examples of early machinery like hand-powered looms.


There are two outstanding features for me. The first is the unique seventeenth-century triple stairway. Each one takes people to different floors. The second is the Panteon de Galegos Ilustres which holds the remains of famous people from Galicia, such as the poet Rosalia de Castro and the writer and artist Castelao, who died in exile in Argentina in 1950.


This museum is on the route of the tourist train that leaves from in front of the western facade of the cathedral.


Julian Images

I have added some of my images to the PicFair site.

The photos include images of Leon in Spain, Symi in the Dodecanese Islands, the Titanic Centre in Belfast, the Callanish Standing Stones on Lewis, The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, Dunluce Castle in Antrim, and The Giant’s Causeway.

You can see them here

Photos by Julian

I have added some of my images to the PicFair site.

The photos include images of Leon in Spain, Symi in the Dodecanese Islands, the Titanic Centre in Belfast, the Callanish Standing Stones on Lewis, The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, Dunluce Castle in Antrim, and The Giant’s Causeway.

You can see them here

She’s Coming For You – Chapter 17

The afternoon sun was high overhead as the two cars headed out of the port city on their way south along the AP-9 towards Cangas on the Ria de Vigo. The cars obeyed the speed limit and kept about two hundred yards apart, just in case the police developed an unhealthy interest in one car. There were two men in each. The female owner of one car was being entertained and distracted by two friends of the driver. The other owner would receive a phone call from the police early the following day, saying they had found his stolen vehicle burnt out in the northern suburbs of Santiago de Compostela.

They made good progress and arrived in Cangas at 8 pm. The four men selected a table near the beach in an almost deserted restaurant. They could discuss the phone call one man had received from Ourense at just before 7 pm, showing their friend, the marksman was on time and would wait for one car at 5 am in the appointed place. The other car would avoid Santiago altogether.

At 10:30 pm, the men left the restaurant, which was now almost full, and returned to the cars. They put on some black gloves and picked up some items. Keeping to the shadows as much as possible, the four men walked the fifty metres down to the harbour, past the bus station with its interestingly shaped roof and past the pier where the ferries set off for Vigo on the other side of the ria.

They unlocked the gate to the jetty where the small fishing boats docked with a duplicate key made for the purpose the week before on a reconnaissance mission.

The four men jogged down the jetty and selected the boat they knew they could take with a minimum of risk. They had brought two canisters of fuel in case they needed it. They would leave one canister for the owner, whose boat they were borrowing, and use the contents of the other to torch the car.

Almost silently, they paddled the boat out in the Ria de Vigo before firing up the engine and setting off to the Islas Cies. The tide was against them on the outward journey, and it took longer than expected to arrive at the cave. Shadows from the cliffs cast strange shapes on the water. The waves were splashing over the rock shelf, but the waterproof bags had done their job and all the guns and ammunition were bone dry.

The return journey passed quickly, apart from paddling the small fishing craft back into the harbour, which took some effort. After they moored the boat, the two drivers headed to the cars and brought them to the quayside. There they helped manhandle the bags into the cars. They placed a large plastic sheet in the boot of one car, so that none of the interior would get wet from seawater. They locked the gate and headed away from Cangas before stopping in a secluded spot near Redondela.

As one man acted as a lookout, the other three transferred most of the armaments and ammunition into the bag in one car. This car, now containing three men, headed around Santiago and returned to A Coruna, where the lady owner was asleep, exhausted by her evening’s entertainment.

The leader of the group headed into the city of St James to meet with his marksman at the pre-appointed time. The bag in this car contained an automatic rifle, five hundred rounds of ammunition, and six hand grenades. This would be more than enough for their first attack to be a complete success. With all their planning, nothing would now stop them from making a huge statement against the people who had prosecuted the Reconquista against their forefathers.

Julian Worker Photos

I have added some of my images to the PicFair site.

The photos include images of Leon in Spain, Symi in the Dodecanese Islands, the Titanic Centre in Belfast, the Callanish Standing Stones on Lewis, The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, Dunluce Castle in Antrim, and The Giant’s Causeway.

You can see them here

She’s Coming For You – Chapter 16

Santiago de Compostela is the destination for more than 100,000 pilgrims per year who walk on the Way of St James or Camino de Santiago from most parts of Spain and other areas of mainland Europe. According to the pilgrimage museum in Santiago, there are thirty-nine pilgrim routes in Spain and Portugal, as well as routes in France, Germany, Czechia, and Poland, which connect with the traditional start of the Camino in St Jean Pied de Port.

The Camino is now becoming big business again. I had seen pilgrims in Pamplona, Burgos, and Leon already on my trip and would see them in Pontevedra a few days after leaving Santiago. How did this all start?

Santiago is the Spanish for St James, who was one of Jesus’s disciples and also his first cousin. It seems from the legend that St James never visited Galicia when he was alive, though he might have visited Zaragosa where he had a vision of the Virgin Mary.

The legend states that he returned to Jerusalem where he was beheaded by Herod Antipas – a verified fact – but then the legend continues with the claim two followers of St James organised a boat that took his dead body to the Atlantic coast of Spain, namely to a place called Padron, which is today famous for its peppers. Padron is roughly twelve miles from Santiago.

The body was buried and then the storyline goes cold until 813 when a hermit, attracted to a hillside due to a vision of stars, found the tomb of St James. Compostela means ‘field of stars’. At the time the Moors had occupied most of Spain, so finding the bones of a disciple acted as a rallying point and St James became a champion for the few Christians in Asturias who were resisting the Moors.

Alfonso II, King of Asturias, paid his respects and in 834 built a chapel for the bones to be housed in. St James began to be seen on the battlefields when the Christians were fighting the Moors and was credited with inspiring their victories.

St James’s burial in this area is referenced by two well-known works. In 650, St Isidore of Seville told a similar story to the one above in his De ortu et obitu patrum (Life and Death of the Saints). In 730, in Martyrologium, the Venerable Bede referred to the transport and burial of the body as ‘contra mare Britanicum’ i.e. by the Atlantic Ocean.  

The Camino de Santiago is sometimes viewed as a metaphor for the trail marked out in the sky by the Milky Way in its journey towards the end of the earth (Finis Terrae) – an earthly manifestation of a route through the heavens. This could be why some pilgrims continue to Cape Finisterre and symbolically burn their clothes there. Ancient traditions regard Charlemagne as the initiator of the Camino, as St James appeared to him in a dream and asked him to open up a way to St James’s tomb through the lands occupied by the Saracens.   

The pilgrimages really began following the journey of Godescale of Puy to Santiago in 951. Santiago de Compostela became the third most holy city of Christendom, after Jerusalem and Rome, so that in the 11th and 12th centuries half-a-million people were visiting each year.

This meant that the various routes to Santiago became lined with monasteries and hostels where the pilgrims could stay and be provided with sustenance for their journey. There was even a guidebook written by a French monk called Aymery Picaud that provided pilgrims with items to look out for on the way.  An order of knights was founded to protect pilgrims from robbers.

By the 11th century, the pilgrimage routes from Europe had been consolidated. Institutions in support of pilgrims emerged, such as brotherhoods who helped organise pilgrimages and hostels en route where pilgrims could stay – the Confriere de Saint Jacques founded in Paris in 1315 is a good example.

The motivations to go on the pilgrimage were many. Some people were told that if they went on the journey, the time they spent in purgatory after they died would be halved. Others were motivated by chivalry or by humanist reasons, giving them a chance to contemplate their existence. There were also forced pilgrimages imposed by the civil authorities as punishment for crimes committed.  

Some people stopped in Santiago de Compostela because they were flying back from here. I would do my best to make sure not all of them made it.

She’s Coming for You – Chapter 15

This was the longest train trip of the holiday and would be the last one for Pat Walker. Things would change at Santiago, out of necessity. She’d not had a chance until now, but she knew Santiago had to be the place.

What she had to remember here was to sit in the correct carriage, otherwise she would end up in Vigo, Ferrol, or Oviedo. Ferrol was where the dictator General Franco came from, and so had right-wing connections Walker found hard to bear.

The station in Leon is a terminus, there are no through trains; trains arrive and then return the same way.  Walker checked her ticket and climbed into the carriage; she had folded her rucksack inside her travelling bag. She placed this on the rack above her seat, next to the window, and then helped a woman with three young children place their bags onto the rack opposite.

An old lady smiled at her, but a younger man regarded her with suspicion. He seemed to be weighing up all the passengers in this carriage. This man interested Walker as she realised he was not Spanish, but more likely came from North Africa. Walker was sure he was heading to Santiago de Compostela, yet he appeared to have no bags with him. She would have to watch him, and the thought crossed her mind that the man might be from the American embassy. Were they on to her already?

The train inched out of the station and Walker settled down to read her book, which she kept in an inside pocket of her new travelling jacket, a purchase that had pleased her. She might even fly back to the UK from her final destination wearing it. In the book, the assassin was almost in place and had everything he needed. Walker felt in a similar position and allowed herself to become involved in the book.

An hour out of Leon, the inspector came along the carriage checking people’s tickets. Walker stood up and pretended to be looking for something in her bag as the RENFE man did his job. She glanced at the North African’s ticket and saw he was going to Santiago. She wondered why, but let things take their course as it wouldn’t be a good idea for her to be on another train where someone wound up unconscious in the toilet. She realised the police algorithms would find her name on both passenger inventories in a nanosecond.

Walker sat down and continued with her reading, though she drifted off sometimes as she thought about her target, who was riding in the carriage ahead of her. Santiago was the final destination of the party of six before they flew to Frankfurt and then back home.

At Ourense, the North African got up and headed to the platform as he’d done at all the other stations, ostensibly for a smoke, but Walker noticed that this time he was clutching a phone and his cigarettes. Walker followed and eavesdropped on the conversation, which alarmed her and energised her in equal measure. This could either hinder her or help her, depending on how Walker responded. If the police knew of the plot, then Walker could get clean away and be sure that blame would fall elsewhere. On the other hand, the number of plain-clothes police might increase.

She’s Coming For You – Chapter 13

Susan del Piero entered the office of Claudia Reyes carrying a number of files under her arm. All the blinds were closed against the sun, which would be hot today, though not hot enough to induce a siesta amongst the staff who had been warned regarding introducing this Spanish staple custom into their workday.

Susan looked at the family photographs of the husband, kids, and pet dogs on the desk. She smiled and thought that all she had was a picture of her cat, a snapshot of a double-decker bus in London, and a real-life cactus that appeared to be thriving on her coffee dregs.

Claudia was wearing a red top today with a bright blue skirt. Her wardrobe had changed dramatically since being posted here from Helsinki six months previously.

“How was Burgos?” asked Claudia, finishing off an email.

“I must return sometime soon and pay a proper visit,” replied Susan. “I didn’t even have time to look around the cathedral and see the tomb of El Cid, as I wanted to report what I had found.”

“Sounds promising,” said Claudia looking up at Susan. “What was it that made you hurry back here?”

“James Adam was able to write down some information. He couldn’t speak as his jaw is still wired shut.”

“What kind of animal would do such a thing?” asked Claudia. She looked away and shook her head.

“James thinks the attacker was smaller than him, about 5 feet 9 inches, because when he glanced around – and James is 6 ft 3 inches – he saw the top of a bright red MAGA baseball cap. That’s all he remembers because the attacker concussed him.”

“MAGA? A fellow American? That is not possible? Unless… is James left-wing at all, you know, Democrat, or even worse, a socialist?”

“I asked him and he said he was not a commie, but definitely a Democrat and not a Republican.”

“Jeez, do we have a one-off assault here then, Susan? Did we find anything on the CCTV footage at the station?”

“Yes, we did… and here is our man, by the looks of it, still wearing his baseball cap with shades. He appears to have blond hair. He’s not looking at the camera but is carrying a black travel bag.”

“Travelling light, perhaps a local, but not with blond hair, surely. Okay, chances are he’s gone, but let’s see if any of the taxi drivers or the drivers of the airport bus recognise him and give us a clue. Ask Sanders and Russell to head up there and ask the drivers and check the hotels in the centre, to see whether this person showed up there. We have to find this person, just in case they are hell-bent on attacking Americans whenever they come across them.”

She’s Coming For You – Chapter 12

Before entering Leon cathedral, I looked at the western facade with its huge Rose Window and two towers. Even from outside there appears to be a lot of windows. It’s interesting to work out where the load bearing of the towers and the detached nave is happening. The flying buttresses are substantial and I could only wonder how the architect had worked out how so much stained glass could be in place in such a large edifice.

Leon Cathedral has between 1,800 and 2,000 square metres of stained glass, depending on which source you trust, an area second only to Chartres cathedral in France. Rich red and gold colours bathe the interior. There’s an openness about the inside, a strange way to describe the feeling that you can view most of the interior from wherever you are standing.

I would recommend visiting the cloisters as they are beautiful and peaceful. There’s still the hint of some frescoes which show how colourful the decoration must have been when first painted. I also visited the museum of religious art and would recommend this too, but if you have to choose between the two, I’d select the cloisters.

The other major site of Leon is the Basilica of San Isidoro dating from the mid-12th century and built into the city walls on its southern side. Before entering look at the two doorways on the western facade, whose reliefs are of the Descent from the Cross and the Sacrifice of Abraham. Above the latter, visitors can spy San Isidoro riding a horse.

Fernando I, who united Leon and Castile in 1037, founded the basilica. It was built to house the bones of San Isidoro and act as a mausoleum for Fernando and his successors. The tombs of eleven kings and twelve queens are in the Panteon Real, a portico of the basilica. They painted Spanish Romanesque frescoes on the walls at the end of the 12th century. A Christ Pantocrator in the dome and an agricultural calendar on an arch are still visible. A highlight of any tour of the treasury at the basilica is the Chalice of Doña Urraca, a jewel-encrusted onyx chalice alleged by some people to be the Holy Grail. The cup belonged to Urraca of Zamora, daughter of Ferdinand I of Leon, and has been in Leon since the 11th century.

In March 2014, a book was published called The Kings of the Grail. This book claims the chalice, or part of the chalice, is the Holy Grail, and this led basilica staff to withdraw the chalice from display, because the crowds seeking to visit the museum were too large for the treasury to accommodate. The museum now displays the chalice in a separate room in the tower next to the old library at the very end of the guided tour of the Basilica Treasury. The room is not open to individual travellers.

The authors, Margarita Torres and José Ortega del Rio, claim they had traced the origins of the chalice to the early Christian communities of Jerusalem. Some recently discovered papers in a Cairo archive provided this information. The chalice was transported to Cairo by Muslim travellers and was later given to an emir on the Spanish coast. From there, the chalice came into the possession of King Ferdinand I of Leon, father of Urraca of Zamora, as a peace offering by a Moorish ruler from Al-Andalus. The dating suggests the chalice was made between 200 BC and 100 AD. Salah al-Din, known in the West as Saladin, was the main opponent of the crusaders in The Third Crusade. When his sister fell ill, he requested a piece of the grail be cut off and sent to him, so it would cure his sister, which it duly did.

My fellow travellers on the tour were really impressed that they’d seen the Holy Grail, “Jesus’s Cup” as one of them called it. A great story to tell their fellow hunters when they were next camped around the fire in the bush. Yes, we’ll see if we can’t do something about that.