Italian Guiliano is the first. He is crazy! He took a liking to our wee family and was disappointed when we walked one shorter day and he went on. But that’s not the crazy bit. He’s crazy, because he walked 55km in one day in order to see us again. He was supposed to arrive back in Santiago tomorrow after walking to Finisterre, but he combined two stages so he could get back today as we leave tomorrow. Guiliano does not speak a word of English and our Italian is limited to musical phrases, so we have to speak Spanish together which means we can give each other directions to follow and order food! We have actually been able to converse much more than this, because Alessia, another Italian, who speaks fabulous English was often with us and translated tirelessly. Alessia has also acted as our go-between via email and once we heard of his mammoth effort to see us we had arranged to meet Giuliano tomorrow at the Churreria (where else?) for breakfast.
Today we were sitting quietly with half a dozen other pilgrims in the servants’ entrance to the five star Parador (more on that later), when one certain Italian man passed the open double green doors.
He stopped. He grinned. “Oooooiiii,” he cried and he ran to gather us all in one big hug. With the help of a lot of hand signals (he *is* Italian, remember!!), we chattered about his crazy walk, his feet, Alessia, walking, congratulations, breakfast tomorrow, beauty and happiness). We would bump into him a couple more times over the course of the day, and each time he beamed joy.
Now what were we doing at the Parador? You may recall Micaiah went in to one to enquire about room rates a couple of weeks ago at one of the others. Nothing came of that excursion. Today we were waiting for lunch. Yes, really.
In 1499 the Catholic queen and king gave orders for a hospital to be built in Santiago to attend to the needs of pilgrims. Any pilgrim arriving in Santiago could get food and board at this place for three days (before heading for home again – no return flights in under 40 hours). Even though the building has been turned into one of the most expensive places to stay in the country, the original purpose is still honoured by a token of hospitality offered to the first ten Compostela-carrying pilgrims who turn up for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. They get to eat for free. They don’t get to eat with paying guests, but there is a dining room dedicated especially to them:
It is not a big room, but it does have tablecloths and medieval-styled Camino art work on the walls. It does not have waiters, but at least twenty staff must have passed the room in the hour we were allowed in there and they all wished us “Buen provechor!” To get your food, you walk down a white-tiled corridor that is somewhat reminiscent of public toilets rather than the swish hotel that it is.
You then collect a tray, glass and cutlery and are handed two plates. For us, one had salad and the other rice and the most amazingly tender juicy flavour-filled ribs that fell off the bone (oh, and had a little bit of crunch to the outside-just perfect). We were also given water, wine and enormous apples. But that is not all.
You can see about a quarter of it in that photo. There were fried eggs and omelette, bacon, three types of hot sausages, a dozen shaved meats, salmon, half a dozen types of bread, cheeses, membrillo, Padron peppers, croissants, cakes….all for ten people. We helped ourselves and retired to the dining room.
Thinking it sociable to make conversation while we ate, I asked our table mate where he was from (in Spanish). Turns out he didn’t speak Spanish, but he made his meaning to me very clear. No talk. Only eat.
And he did eat.His tray was piled so high I felt embarrassed for him and he scoffed it all before I had even finished my rice. When Micki had to lean back and admit defeat, leaving a succulent rib on his plate, this guy asked for it. He then took whatever else was offered from other people’s plates too.
When the meal was over I tried again. He hadn’t joined in on the Italian conversation during the meal, so I guessed he probably wasn’t Italian (although he wasn’t going to speak to anyone so that was perhaps faulty logic!).
…he pointed out the pilgrim statue…
…and we all went out to sit in the square together to continue our discussion. He left Germany three years and two months ago, and has been walking ever since. He is on a mission to help people he meets to calm their lives (they’d do well not to eat with him, because it would kinda undermine his message). He is taking a rest in Santiago and will then walk out to Finisterre, where he will begin his next journey. He’ll be walking to Jerusalem. I admire his tenacity, but at the same time I resented the way he was ripping off the system. Pilgrims are entitled to meals for three days, and if someone who has not had one yet arrives, they are supposed to get precedence over those who have already eaten. Herr Billing was on day twenty. If he had not been there, Giuliano could have eaten with us and I’m sure he would have chatted as we ate! Herr Billing informed us you can get away with turning up multiple times at lunchtime because they don’t check your compostelas (and indeed they hadn’t), but at dinner they do. All the same, he disguises himself with a different hat or jacket each day. You meet all sorts!
And the lady. She works in a shop that sells Santiago tart. We went in the other day to check opening times and told her we would be back today. When we walked in she giggled….and after serving us divulged her secret. She saw us uptown the other morning. In the churreria. She was there too. We told her we leave Santiago tomorrow to go to Madrid and we’ll have churros one more time. She said she won’t, she’ll be working!
All packed up in a box and double-bagged ready to go home. (Last year when Rob and I went to the same shop we had a bit of a job miming that we wanted two bags coz we really had no language skills. Today it was so nice to be able to say, “Is it possible to have a box? Can we have two bags please?”)