Tim likes to travel. Follow his adventures as he explores the world.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Oviedo & Gijón, Spain: Asturias, A Hidden Jewel

Synopsis: So I want to see the northern coast of Spain and I found a pretty sweet deal on Airbnb in the city of Oviedo. I know absolutely nothing about this city or the region, but I reached out to a bunch of couchsurfers, so hopefully someone responds and shows me around.


Cider is serious business here - they have a street dedicated to it
Cider is serious business here - they have an entire street dedicated to it



Day 1: Four hour train ride to León and then an hour layover until my train to Oviedo arrives. Then another two hours on the train there. Meet a very nice girl named Begoña (Bego) on the first train and she is volunteering in Burgos. I packed two sandwiches, one for each train ride, so I don't have to buy dinner. 

Arrive in Oviedo around midnight (Spanish dinner hour) and find my Airbnb flat. It is really nice, perfect location, and the owner, Pablo, seems pretty cool. I get settled and then head out to Gascona Boulevard, a popular street here for cider. Normally you have to order the whole bottle of cider but I puppy-dog-eye them and they let me try a small cup for free. Not tasty at all. 

Walk around the old town for a bit to get geographically situated. As I walk through the different areas, I can see several differences in the local subcultures - which is amazing there are so many for such a small city. 

Thoughts: I had never heard the name Begoña before, and so far on this trip, I've already seen/heard it five times. My Airbnb place is in the best location I could imagine, plus my bed is large and super comfortable. There are like a million random statues around the city, just like I saw in Valladolid.



This looks familiar, oh yeah, I saw this in Lisbon
This looks familiar, oh yeah, I saw this in Lisbon

This is how they pour cider to air it out because it is not carbonated
This is how they pour cider to air it out because it is not carbonated


Day 2: Head out into the city, and since the cathedral is right around the corner from my place, I go there first. The next plaza over, where the main market is, artisans sell their items in the old town (every morning, I'm told). Once I see all of the old town, I venture out and find a park where it seems there is a giant yard sale going on - people selling their old crap, not like a good yard sale. 

After walking much of the city, stop at Copas Rotas, a cheap snack place at Plaza de la Constitution, and it's actually pretty good. From there, head to Campo Fransisco, the main park, and listen to an audiobook for a couple of hours and fall asleep in the park. 

Walk around some more and grab dinner before heading back to the house. I hear Pablo welcome two more guests and I can overhear that there is a language barrier, French and Spanish, so I offer to do some interpretation. They are impressed, but I secretly know I am struggling a lot to do some fairly simple translations. 

Thoughts: Best thing about Sundays is there are very few people out and about. Worst thing about Sundays is nothing is open. I have been hearing quite a bit of French. Tried the Asturiana blueberries, and they taste just like regular blueberries. There are a significant number of white male beggars, who are quite aggressive here, walking directly up to you, not just asking, but almost demanding money. Also, there are a lot more beggars in general, passively begging on the sides of streets. 



The beautiful Cathedral of San Salvador of Oviedo
The beautiful Cathedral of San Salvador of Oviedo

This place was packed with mostly African and gypsy vendors, though not the aggressive, bothersome ones
This place was packed with mostly African and gypsy vendors, though not the aggressive, bothersome ones

La Foncalada - a fountain that is part of the only UNESCO site in Asturias, the Monuments of Oviedo and the Kingdom of the Asturias
La Foncalada - a fountain that is part of the only UNESCO site in Asturias, the Monuments of Oviedo and the Kingdom of the Asturias

At Campo Fransisco, this rock-and-grass date stamp changed every day
At Campo Fransisco, this rock-and-grass date stamp changed every day

Found some Dali art by the train station
Found some Dali art by the train station



Day 3: Day trip to Gijón (pronounced hee-HON, like the sound a burro, or Spanish donkey, would make... it was funnier in my head). Arrive around 12:30 and walk to the tourism office to get a map. Walk along the pier and find amazing views of the city. Come across an old fortress and some exercise equipment. Mini workout. 

Head along the coast of Cimavilla (the name of the old town here), up to Batería Alta de Santa Catalina, which maybe has the best view of the city, the coast, and the beaches. I pass by the most iconic monument here, Elogio del Horizonte (Eulogy of the Horizon). Because I'm alone and I want pictures, I end up talking to quite a few people, many of whom speak French, so I get to practice. Head toward playa de San Lorenzo where I meet up with a couchsurfer, Thatiana. The beach is packed. 

Thatiana, born in Paraguay, but raised here in Spain, shows me around the city very well. We walk back through the old town, then along the pier to playa de Poniente and then back through the city center. We stop for a snack and I try San Jacobo, fried cheese and ham, but lighter than a croquette, and it's quite good. 

We go back to playa de San Lorenzo, where it is even more packed than before because the tide has risen. We find a spot on the beach for our stuff, and then jump in the cold water, but it feels good because it's hot outside. Of course, once we get in the water, the clouds come out, block the sun, and it gets cold, forcing us to get out sooner than I'd hoped. We lay on the beach for awhile to dry off.

I still have two hours before my bus, so we walk to an enormous park, parque Isabel la Catolica, and there is a zoo and a small replicated neighborhood where parents can teach their kids how to safely ride bikes in the city and in neighborhoods. We walk by the local team's soccer stadium (they just moved to the first league this year and they're pretty happy about it).  

As we walk toward the bus station we stop and I try casadiella, a pastry covered in sugar and filled with more sugar, a delicious insulin spiker. We grab a drink before I jump on the bus back to Oviedo. When you order a drink in the bars and cafes here, they bring you snacks for free. 

Thoughts: Thatiana was very friendly and we spoke only in Spanish and I learned some new words and I'm glad to have had such fun practicing Spanish. If you want someone to take a good picture of you, look for someone under the age of 40. Every time I ask an old person to take photos, they just don't come out right. I can verify that the locals use the past simple tense almost exclusively. A lot of monuments and museums are closed on Mondays, like the railroad museum and the Roman baths. 



King Pelayo waving hello to me
King Pelayo waving hello to me

The beautiful port city Gijón
The beautiful port city Gijón

The Nordeste (Northeast) statue - I asked a guy to take this photo as i overheard him explaining la mar vs el mar to a Russian lady
The Nordeste (Northeast) statue - I asked a guy to take this photo as I overheard him explaining la mar vs el mar to a Russian lady

Getting a quick workout in
Getting a quick workout in

The city's icon - and some statue in the background. Like the Elogio del Horizonte or something
The city's icon - and some statue in the background. Like the Elogio del Horizonte or something

The city and coastline from San Pedro's church
The city and coastline from San Pedro's church

This is what a good picture of the Gijón sculpture looks like, taken by a young man passing by
This is what a good picture of the Gijón sculpture looks like, taken by a young man passing by


So not a bad picture, but poorly taken by an old dude on a bike
So not a bad picture, but poorly taken by an old dude on a bike


This is what a good picture of San Lorenzo church looks like
This is what a good picture of San Lorenzo church looks like


This is a good picture, but poorly taken by an old dude with a dog
A funny picture, but poorly taken by an old dude with a dog


I guess we all had the same idea
I guess we all had the same idea


Day 4: Rainy day so I decide to go to the free Museo de Bellas Artes. Afterward, I intelligently eat lunch two hours before the typical Spanish lunchtime, and find a  restaurant, Kuper Bar, where I get fabada asturiana, the famous Asturiana bean stew with three types of sausage. The fabada is pretty good and I also order tuna stuffed peppers, also delicious, even though I hear them microwaving it. 

Walk to the grocery store and then hit the Fontan market for some local fresh food to cook later. I pay the same price in the grocery store for what will be 3 meals, that I paid for one meal at a restaurant. That's how you travel cheaply. But, it is almost always worth it to spend a bit extra to taste the local delicacies. 

Sit around the house and plan my next trips and watch movies. I'm so far behind on movies that it is nice to just lounge around and catch up. I also listen to another audiobook. Later, I spend some time with Pablo, chatting and getting advice on the hidden treasures of Asturias that I'll have to see next time I'm here. 

Thoughts: I wonder if when people went view paintings back in the day, did they have a rating system like we have for tv and movies for kids today, because some of this stuff is graphic. The people here remind me of the Belgians, as they do not let a little bit of rain keep them from going outside. I will catch an early morning train ride home tomorrow. 



Fabada asturiana, eating alone and having full attention of the wait staff, not common in Europe
Fabada asturiana, eating alone and having full attention of the wait staff, not common in Europe

It's raining. That's it.
It's raining. That's it.


Woody Allen thought very highly of the city of Oviedo, so they gave him a statue



Final Thoughts: I definitely have to go back to Asturias, maybe in winter to go skiing. Gijón deserves another day, and I'm sure Thatiana will show me around the rest of the city. I wrote over 20 people on couchsurfing, asking only to hangout, not for lodging, in Oviedo and Gijón, but Thatiana was the only one to respond. She is #1 in my book! 

Pablo gave me a bunch of great advice on places to see in Asturias and recommended I come back with a car. Who's up for a road trip?!


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Location: Oviedo, Asturias, España

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