Dane is among a group of SMU students who are traveling throughout Europe for class credit March 9-18, 2007. The Medieval Pilgrimage, sponsored by the University Honors Program, takes students through France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain to experience the actual Pilgrimage of the Middle Ages. The course fulfills one of the Cultural Formations requirements and is team-taught by Honors professors from English, History, Art History, Medieval Studies, and Music departments.
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Although our pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela is over, we still have one day left in Europe, which we will be spending in Spain’s largest city: Madrid.
After catching an early morning flight to Madrid with a few friends, to avoid the ten hour bus ride from Santiago, we hop in a taxi to drop our bags off at the hotel before exploring the town. We hand the driver our itinerary and point to the name and address of the hotel that we are staying at in Madrid. He says he knows where it is and we are off.
Easier said than done
Fifteen minutes later after getting dropped off and hauling our luggage inside the hotel, we are told that the hotel does not have any reservations on record for any of us. At this point, one of the girls calls our tour guide, Cova, and asks her the name of the hotel we are supposed to be staying at in Madrid. As it turns out, the hotel in our itinerary is no longer the hotel we are supposed to stay at in Madrid, so we haul our suitcases back outside and flag down some cabs. This cab, however, is smaller than the last, forcing one of our bags to be tied down across the roof of the car. After a few nervous glances we get in the cab and head off to our new hotel.
After another short cab ride through the museum district and a brief encounter with a protest rally, we pull up in front of an immense building with absolutely no windows along its side. Frankly, it resembles a warehouse. We ask our driver if we are at the hotel to which he replies, “Hotel,” pointing to the building. We are skeptical, but get out of the cramped cab. We consult a map right next to the building and discover that we are at a train station—it’s really not much of a shock. After briefly consulting the map again we think we have finally pinpointed our hotel so we set off through the streets of Madrid dragging our luggage behind us.
Luckily we were right, finally reaching our hotel about an hour after we landed. The hotel has our reservations and we drop off our luggage in our rooms, taking a little time to rest after our early flight and inability to make it to our hotel before heading out to lunch.
Caught up in a Protest
After lunch we decide to make our way to the Prado Museum; it is just a short walk from our hotel. In the park across the street from the Prado we see the protest rally that we passed earlier. They seem to be protesting some sort of sanitation problem being that they are directing their chants towards the cities sanitation building. Also, on the sidewalk where we are there is a line of people, removed from the protest, but all facing the sanitation building the protestors are demonstrating in front of. When we arrive at the entrance to the Prado we can see that the line is very long. We start walking to the back of it when we realize that the people lining the sidewalk and facing the protest were just people in line for the Prado and that they were just watching the demonstration, not silently participating in it. So we decide that the Prado is no longer an option.
Since there are many outdoor stands at the end of the park, away from the protest, we decide to explore what they have to offer. The whole market is decked out in soccer and bull fighting regalia. The prices are cheap though none of the items are authentic. The jewelry is also cheap and the other tourists are clamoring for it. Deciding that there is nothing at the market that we must have, we decide to make our way down to the protest demonstration.
While walking past the protest demonstration this time, we are on the other side of the park, the side of the sanitation building. As we are walking down the sidewalk by the building, the protestors began pushing towards us. At this same time, the police begin to push the protestors back, off the street and back into the park. Unfortunately, at this moment, I get caught up in the crowd of protestors and get pushed across the street into the park, getting separated from my group. After escaping the protestors I begin searching for them in the park, in the market, and on the sidewalk alongside the sanitation building. Half an hour later I run into a few of the guys from our group. They say that the rest of our group is at the Thyssen but they are heading back to the hotel to get a little more rest. So I made my way away from the protest and up the street to the Paseo del Prado to the Thyssen.
Rembrandt, Monet, Van Gogh . . .
The Thyssen is an art museum that houses a wide variety of works by different artists and in styles. Included are both European and American paintings ranging from early impressionism to pop art. Their collection contains works from a number of elite artists such as Rembrandt, Rubens, Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, Picasso, and Piet Mondrian. Despite not being the main draw of the so called Golden Triangle of Art—that title belonging to the Prado—it was very impressive and definitely worth a visit.
After viewing as much of the Thyssen as possible in one afternoon, we slowly make our way back to the hotel, stopping at various shops and stores along the way. It is time for a quick nap before the rest of the group—the ones that opted for the ten hour bus ride—arrives and we go to our final dinner in Europe.
Yet Another Protest
About an hour later I wake up, not to my alarm but to the sound of beating drums and blaring music. I look out the window and I see a mass of people stretching beyond the block of our hotel and around the corner parading down the middle of the street. They are all holding signs, similar to those held by the sanitation protestors earlier, but I cannot make them out from my room.
I hop in the shower and put on my last unwashed shirt and a pair of khaki pants. The music is still loud so I head down to the lobby to see what is going on and wait for the busses to take us to the restaurant.
Before I even get downstairs, I am told that all the commotion outside is an anti-war protest. In the lobby, everyone is looking out the windows at the passing protestors. They are holding signs; the most numerous of which reads “Por la Paz” and “No Guerra por pétrole.” At this moment, our tour guide informs us that the numerous protestors are making it impossible to drive our busses through the street so we are going to have to walk through the protest to get there—“Stay together!”
After walking the streets for about fifteen minutes, we realize that there is no real danger. Despite sticking out like sour thumbs (i.e., not concealing our Americanisms), the protestors are friendly towards us, just trying to get us to show the occasional peace sign. I am certain that the participation in the protest of a few of my professors and fellow students helped though. And after another fifteen minutes we reach our destination.
Paella and Troubadours
At the end of our three-course dinner, which included paella, Spain’s national dish, three (sort-of funny but at least they tried) troubadours showed up to entertain us for the remainder of our dinner. And after a never-ending line of speakers commenting on the professors and the trip, our final European meal is over.
As half the group packs up and gets ready to make the trek back to the hotel, the rest of us, being that it is our last night in Europe, decide that we should make the most of the night; and another bar is not what we have in mind. We figure the best way to do that is to experience a discoteca.
We arrive at the discoteca around midnight and it is absolutely empty. It is amazing how late the night gets started for Spaniards. But our punctuality is awarded with access to the VIP lounge. Slowly but surely, over the next hour, the discoteca begins to fill up. The music is all American late nineties, which is kind-of a throwback to junior high. Soon it is almost too crowded to move though and some of us decide to head back, deciding that we have already soaked up enough of the experience.
The next morning we wake up, pack and get on the busses. Soon enough we are already boarding the plane and preparing ourselves for the long journey back to the States. As we strap in, our video iPods tuned to The Office, most of us are glad to be going home though the feeling is bittersweet. It was a wonderful trip with many great sites, great people and great times. I would not trade my spring break experience for any other.
Everyone is exhausted from the previous day. It seems that the lack of sleep mounting from the entire trip is finally catching up with everyone. The entire back of the bus is asleep, or at least trying to. And Professor Wheeler is taking pleasure in photographing all the unsuspecting dreamers.
When I wake up I am staring straight out the bus window at white infinity. Or at least that is what I thought. In fact, I am on a remote mountaintop surrounded by the cold mist of clouds where, as pilgrim lore states, it is “forever February.” The place is O Cebreiro.
Waking up in heaven
As we get off the bus, many people admit that their initial thought after waking up to see white everywhere as if they had died and were ascending to heaven. Had that actually been the case, however, it would not have been a bad thing. Pilgrim lore believes that if one died in O Cebreiro, it was equivalent to making it all the way to Santiago de Compostela; and anyone who died on a pilgrimage would go directly to heaven. Alas, none of us perished.
Progressing further into the town, the sound of Celtic music becomes present. And with the cold mists of the mountain around us, it almost feels like we are in Scotland. However we are not; we are in Galicia, another land rich in Celtic influence.
The Miracle at O Cebreiro
O Cebreiro, despite its ever-present dreary weather, is an important pilgrimage destination because of one miraculous event and, of course, because of financing from wealthy benefactors, i.e., King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The financing, however, stemmed directly from the miracle. On a cold, miserable, wintry day, a priest was consecrating bread and wine for communion. The priest was all by himself until a lone pilgrim emerged from the dreary outside. The priest thought to himself: why did this foolish man hike all the way up the mountain for a small piece of bread on a dreary day like today. Then, all of a sudden, the actual body of Christ arose out of the chalice. By 1487, the miracle of O Cebreiro was attested to by the pope. And the chalice from which the body of Christ rose is still on display in the chapel today.
The last few steps
Later that afternoon we finally enter Santiago de Compostela. Like true Americans we finish the pilgrimage by walking the final kilometer to the cathedral, giving the illusion that we journeyed there on foot the entire way. Upon reaching the cathedral, there is much hugging, smiling, and picture taking (all in triumphant poses of course). We have finally reached the pinnacle of our pilgrimage.
When we finally enter the cathedral we must put our faith to the test. In the center column just inside the entrance of the cathedral is the head of St. James with two lions at his side. To enter the church we must place our hand on the pillar above St. James, get on our knees to kiss the head of St. James and insert our arms into the mouths of the lions. If we are pure of heart our arms will be unharmed and we can enter the church. If not, well, we leave Santiago with no arms and a hell of a story, though that hardly seems like compensation. Luckily I am, along with the rest of our group, pure of heart and may enter the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
After a short lecture in the nave we proceed to the tomb of St. James, the final stop on our pilgrimage road. Our entire group slowly lines up and passes silently over the relics. Our pilgrimage is complete.
As we are leaving Burgos we drive past Las Huelgas, the Cathedral of Santa Maria, and the statue of El Cid. We are back on the road to Santiago de Compostela and our next stop is León.
While still on the road we stopped off in a small town called Sahagún. There we visited a small church where Alfonso VI is buried. It is quite magnificent for being in such a small town. Of course I am sure having Alfonso VI buried in the church does not hurt.
Lost in Translation
We finally reach León around mid-day. Our first stop is the Gothic Cathedral of León. Unlike most other cathedrals on our pilgrimage so far, this cathedral is dedicated to an Old Testament story: the binding of Issac. The façade outside the main entry way depicts Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son only to have God take back his command. Inside the church the Holy Eucharist of Christ is exposed so we must remain silent as we make our way through the cathedral. As we are getting ready to leave, an elderly woman stops the two girls I am walking with. She asks them where they are from because she has never seen so many pretty girls (referring to our entire group). Of course she asked them in Spanish so it is quite possible that that is just what they wanted to hear, the true message conveniently lost in translation.
On our way to San Isidoro Collegiate Church we briefly stop at the Convento San Marco. Although we do not spend much time there we see the outside of the monastery, originally founded in the 12th century, that provided public rooms and lodging for pilgrims traveling to Santiago de Compostela. Right next-door is the knight’s castle that supported the monastery. It is at least twice the size of the monastery and much grander. Then again, it is not much different from today.
When we reach San Isidoro Collegiate Church, we are told that they are going to give us a short lecture on the church and then we are free to stay and explore the church or leave and explore the city. Almost everyone leaves.
It is nice having free time that lasts more than an hour. We cover much of the immediate city around the hotel. Our search for authentic soccer gear is in vain but we do find a bookstore that sells texts in English. So all-in-all it was a successful day.
“I am what you were. I am what you will be.”
The above is an epitaph of a young child. I do not remember his name or his family name but I know he was a royal child. On his sarcophagus there is an emotional scene of his father and mother grieving the loss of their infant child. Although this seems normal, outside of Spain, at least in the middle ages, western European male rulers showing emotion, even after the loss of a child, was aberrant. Therefore, a piece of art from this time period where the male ruler is showing emotion is extremely rare. It is also almost entirely limited to Spanish artwork. But that rarity, even though we are in Burgos, only adds to the power of this particular work.
Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the CurtainThe rest of Las Huelgas Monastery contains similar works but none seems to catch my attention like the ‘epitaph of the child’ until we reach the Chapel of St. James, which contains a figure of St. James with moveable arms. The reason for this arose from the dilemma of who had the authority to knight a king. The king could not be knighted by anyone lower in power than he was. Thus the figure of St. James, someone all kings could agree was above them, was created to knight kings. To be knighted the king would kneel before the figure allowing the monk or religious leader behind the figure to operate the moving arms of St. James to knight the king. I found this absolutely fascinating. Imagine the tremendous pride of the kings and the ridiculousness of the ceremony with a king crouched before a doll-like figure and a monk desperately trying to stay hidden under a veil like the wizard of Oz. Absolutely fascinating.
El Cid in BurgosAfter seeing Las Huelgas we made our way to the Cathedral Santa Maria de Burgos. Inside the cathedral, directly under the dome, is the burial place of El Cid and his wife. The cathedral itself is decorated with many images of El Cid and houses some of his other relics. It is not the most spectacular cathedral we have seen on our trip so far but its importance is paramount for many pilgrims due to their tremendous respect and admiration of El Cid.
After viewing the cathedral we are given free time to wander the streets of Burgos and eat lunch. It is a wonderfully fascinating city. On our side of the river are historical buildings, small shops, and cobblestone streets. Following the river are numerous small shops and cafés that lead to an imposing statue of El Cid, sword drawn, riding valiantly into battle. Below the magnificent statue are a number of lesser statues of El Cid’s compatriots. Across the bridge is modern Burgos, full of newer buildings and the central business district. The intermingling of old and new is remarkable to me. It is a marvelous something that is not present in America.
Journey to . . .
Later that afternoon we get on the buses to visit the home of several multi-platinum recording artists. It is a long drive, as they like seclusion, but I am told it will be well worth our efforts.
Along the way we see an abnormal amount of vultures flying alongside our buses. It is a bit odd but at least they are not circling above us.
Then, the monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos becomes visible. The monastery is of course home of the Benedictine monks who recorded their Gregorian chants onto a CD and sold it world wide, reaching the second spot on the Billboard Top 10 in 1994.
There is a small village around the town. It is quiet when we arrive in the late afternoon and is no doubt a commercial product of pilgrimage and tourists.
Santo Domingo de Silos
While inside the monastery we are allowed to view the old library, containing books from as early as the seventh century. We also attend a lecture on Gregorian chants delivered by one of the monks and vespers where we get to actually hear the chants. And after getting to experience all of the above, we are invited into the catacombs of the church by the monk who delivered the lecture to view the old foundation of the church and the remains from the original cathedral. He seems rather energetic and excited to have a group of young minds to absorb his vast array of knowledge.
When we finally leave the monastery it is dark, and the town, if possible, is even quieter than before. It is time to head back to Burgos. And tomorrow, León.
After breakfast we get on our bus and head for the old pilgrimage gates of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. The ubiquitous cockleshells guide us through the gates and the town. And everywhere there are signs offering refuge to weary pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela in a time-honored tradition that extends back to the beginning of the pilgrimage route.
St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port is essentially the nexus of all pilgrimage roads leading from France to Spain. Located in the foothills of the Pyrenees, it is the last major supply center and gathering place before reaching Spain and Roncesvalles, which made it an important stop for anyone on the road to Santiago de Compostela.
The Long and Winding Road
After sufficiently exploring the town, we get on our bus for our ascent of the Pyrenees. The constant bending and turning of the switchbacks leaves everyone a little nauseated. However, it is still more comfortable than hiking through the wind, rain, and snow that previous pilgrims braved to cross these slopes.
Over the loud speaker I hear that we are passing the battlegrounds where Charlemagne was defeated and Roland met his demise in the battle of Roncevaux Pass. But I am busy concentrating on the landscape to keep my mind off my nausea.
After what seems like an eternity, (and which was actually 40 minutes) we reach sanctuary at the Collegiate Church in Roncesvalles, which is also a cafeteria, dormitory, and infirmary. The church at Roncesvalles has always been a popular pilgrimage stop, mainly because it is the first refuge for pilgrims after crossing the Pyrenees, but also because it contains the tomb of Sancho the Strong, a 7’ 4’’ giant who ruled the kingdom of Navarre, and relics from the Battle of Roncevaux. Outside the compound on the road is a sign informing us that Santiago de Compostela is 790 kilometers away. We better get a move on.
Bridge to History
Later that day we arrive in the town Puente de La Reina, named after the bridge built in the 11th century to help pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela and home of the church of Santo Domingo de la Calzada.
After crossing over the bridge, we make our way to Santo Domingo de la Calzada. The church is named after Santo Domingo, a hermit who dedicated his life to helping pilgrims on their way to visit the tomb of Saint James in Compostela. The church was a gift to the town from King Alfonso VI.
The church is also the center of a magnificent event. According to legend, an eighteen-year-old pilgrim on his way to Santiago de Compostela rebuffed the love of a girl at the inn where he stayed that night in Puente de la Reina. The girl, bent on revenge, placed a silver goblet from the church in his pack and reported him to the authorities. According to the laws of the time, this offense was punishable by death. After being tried, he was sentenced to be hanged until dead. His parents, heartbroken, continued on their way to Santiago de Compostela, but vowed to return and visit their son on their way back home. Upon their return they discovered that their son was actually alive. He told them that Santo Domingo de la Calzada had saved him. They immediately reported this miracle to the judge but he did not believe them. He claimed that their son was no more alive than the cock and hen stewing in his pot. At that moment, the cock and hen leaped from the pot and crowed. In memory of this event, a cock and hen are kept in the church throughout the year.
And as we were getting ready to leave the church, the cock and hen began to crow. Hopefully it is a good sign.
A Little R&R
We are given some time to rest before getting back on the road. We have a few more stops along the way before reaching Burgos. We have a nice dinner but are not given much time to explore the town. Luckily we will have another night in Burgos to explore the town. It will be the first time since Paris that we will stay in the same town for multiple nights. I guess Santo Domingo thought we could use some rest and I could not be happier.
It is 5:30 a.m. We have all been awake for more than an hour and we have a long day of travel ahead of us.
We all crowd into the train and get as comfortable as possible for the five-hour trip. Luckily we have first class tickets so there is enough room to spread out.
A few hours later I wake up to sunshine and countryside. The only odd thing is that the train is not moving. Oh, and of course, the French guy asleep with his mouth agape directly across from me. I’m pretty sure Brian was sitting there when I dozed off. I take a quick glance back out the window to reconfirm our stillness and proceed to find out why we are not moving. As I move to the end of the carriage, I realize that there are at least seven people huddled around the door of the train furiously smoking. And they are not trying to take advantage of a minor inconvenience on the track. This is a scheduled smoking break. I guess they couldn’t make it the full five hours.
Toulouse—Quiet and Relaxed
Finally, Toulouse! The architecture here is noticeably different from Paris. In Paris large limestone buildings dominated the city but here all the buildings are made of a terra cotta colored brick. The city is also much more quiet and relaxed. It is a nice change of pace.
Now, the real reason we made the trek to Toulouse: the basilica of Saint Sernin. In the 5th century, a modest basilica was built over the sepulcher of the martyr saint, Saturnin, first bishop and martyr of Toulouse. Because of Saturnin’s popularity, however, the modest site became an exceptionally popular pilgrimage destination. Therefore, the community of canons decided that a more suitable structure, i.e., grander structure be built to commemorate the sepulcher and to provide a better sanctuary for the numerous pilgrims visiting the site. And in 1096, Pope Urban II consecrated the new basilica. Before long the basilica of Saint Sernin became an essential stopping place for pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela.
The above is a condensed version of the history lecture we received from Professor Adams upon arriving at the basilica. I would include the art and music lectures by Professors Carr and Mayer-Martin as well but I do not want to stretch this thing out any longer than it needs to be. Besides, one of my fellow students calculated the amount of hours of lecture we received on March 12 and figured that we had been lectured for more than two weeks of actual classes in that single day. Let me repeat that, one day = over two weeks of class time. And I thought I was going to get off easy.
Visually, the basilica was very different from the previous cathedrals we had seen and the rest of the cathedrals we would see. It was not gothic; it was Romanesque, a quality which I actually enjoyed. It was much more geometrical and not as gaudy. And the terra cotta colored roman bricks that the building is constructed with gives it a very distinct style.
After finishing up at Saint Sernin, we get on our tour buses and prepare ourselves for a journey into Basque country, more specifically Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. By the time we finally arrive at our hotel it is dark and the air is cold. We are in the foothills of the Pyrenees now. And tomorrow we will be in Spain.
The previous night at our dinner table . . .
Lillian: Do ya’ll know where the restroom is?
Tim: Ask the waiter. He’s coming this way.
Lillian: Excuse me. Um, uh, moon… monsieur.
Lillian: Um, the uh, the… Where’s the touallette?
Lillian: The uh, touallette?
Tim: The toilet.
Grayson: She needs the bathroom.
Streeter: The restroom.
Waiter: Ah, ze restroom. Right this way.
I do not know whether or not the audience outside of my table will find this funny, especially in print, but I had to include it anyway. It was definitely the funniest moment of my day. You be the judge. But remember this scene occurred at the end of a 36-hour day. Onwards and upwards . . .
The Notre Dame “Regulars”
Beep, Beep, Beep, Beep . . . The cacophony of the alarm shreds the calm of the morning. It is an early day, the first of many.
I am not fully awake until I am gazing up the magnificent façade of Notre Dame. The awe-inspiring cathedral and the brisk air are enough to break my daze. And as the diverse populous shuffles inside for mass, I know we’re no longer inside the confines of University Park.
The mass is beautiful. The deep, rich Gregorian chant echoes through the depths of the church. To my right were two early twenty-something women (yes, I looked: they were quite attractive) and directly in front of me was an elderly man with a cane. They are attending church like it is any other Sunday. I wonder if they ever pause a moment to take in the history and the magnificence of the church they call their own?
If they do, it’s not today. As soon as mass is over, they bolt out the door along with the rest of the regulars. The tourists, however, linger, taking photos of everything they see. But we join the regulars; we have a schedule to keep. And it’s off to see another Notre Dame, this time in Chartes.
The True Beginning
Upon entering Chartes, my eyes are immediately drawn upwards to the high point of the town where the cathedral dominates the area. The town is quaint and quiet compared to Paris, allowing the cathedral to be the focal point; and it is just as spectacular.
The rose windows on the north and south end of the cathedral are brilliant. They have recently been restored and are very luminous.
Professors Annemarie Carr and Jeremy Adams guide us around the rest of the cathedral. They carefully describe the history and art of the cathedral to the weary group.
Before we leave we are given a little time to explore the town. Everywhere I walk I see cockleshells, the symbol of the pilgrimage to Santiago, covering the mundane corners of the town. Our pilgrimage has truly begun.
The previous day remains a blur in my mind. I finished classes, I gathered my things, and eventually made my way to the airport and boarded American Airlines flight 48 to Paris. And somewhere over the Atlantic, March 9 gave way to March 10.
When we finally arrive in France, our professors and tour guides are waiting to greet us. It is 10 a.m. and we are all dreary from the flight. Our plane arrived late so they inform us that we do not have time to stop by our hotels and must head strait to La Sainte-Chapelle. So we board our busses begin our pilgrimage.
La Sainte-Chapelle is located on the Ile de la Cité along the Seine in the heart of Paris. It was built by King Louis IX of France to house Christ’s crown of thorns, which he purchased from Baudouin II for three times the amount it cost to build the La Sainte-Chapelle itself. Later, a piece of the true cross and other relics were added as well.
The lower chapel is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is decorated with blank, trefoil arches and twelve circular insets representing the Apostles with a statue of the Virgin located on the central pier of the doorway. To the side there is a staircase leading to the upper chapel for which the architects have saved their splendor.
The upper chapel where the relics are located is beautifully illuminated by the sunlight pouring in through the great stained glass windows that line the walls. They depict major events of the Bible. And amazingly, the windows are still comprised of 70 percent of its original glass. Also, the ceiling is a magnificent deep blue with evenly dispersed golden Fleurs-de-lis. The relics are located at the end of the chapel above the altar. It is an amazing visual spectacle.
Upon leaving the chapel, we are given free time to eat lunch before meeting outside the gates of the Musée de Cluny. I have a grilled ham and cheese sandwich made fresh to order on the street before walking down the Seine and eventually to the Cluny Museum.
Inside the museum is The Lady and the Unicorn tapestry collection, consisting of a series of six tapestries. Each tapestry depicts one of the six senses of which their individual titles are derived: “Taste,” “Hearing,” “Sight,” “Smell,” “Touch,” and “To My Only Desire.” They are predominately red, with the lady centered in each tapestry acting out one of the senses. Although the museum also contains different reliquaries and remnants of old pillars and altars, the remarkable tapestry collection draws the largest audience.
After browsing through the museum, we gather in a room to be entertained by some authentic medieval music. At this point, the majority of the students, including myself, begin to doze off. The music is lovely, but not lively. Suddenly a roar of applause jolts one-third of the crowd out of its daze; and the majority begins clapping as well because it is finally time to go to our hotels.
It is now dusk. We turn the corner around a soccer field where a group of teenage girls are warming up for a game and come into view of a brightly illuminated Eiffel Tower. The view is breathtaking, as expressed by the abundance of camera shutters clicking. And the best part is, we are finally at our hotel.
An hour later we are in the middle of our first Parisian dinner of the trip: French onion soup, braised beef in a red wine sauce, and crème brûlée. It is a nice end to a 36-hour day.
When I first heard of an opportunity to earn credit while traveling a medieval pilgrimage route from Paris, France to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain, I knew I had to be a part of it. I thought I would have been planning for this trip weeks in advance. However, to put this mildly, I have been distracted — papers, tests, women, etc.
But now, the night before I embark upon an adventure of a lifetime, my excitement has caught up with me: I will be treading the same grounds as generations of pilgrims. The Sainte-Chapelle, the Basilica of San Isidoro, and the great Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela will soon be in my sight. I cannot wait for tomorrow.