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Fernando Valdés Salas – Inquisitor, Educator, Fanatic

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In the middle of the University of Oviedo’s courtyard is a statue of its founder, Fernando Valdés Salas. The statue’s expression is fatherly; benevolent but stern. The sense conveyed is that Valdés was a serious educator dedicated to learning, and a kindly, wise man. But a little research reveals that a loathsome monster reigns in the University’s courtyard — rarely does history provide us such exquisitely evil characters as the Archbishop Fernando de Valdés.

Valdés was a heavyweight in the 16th century Catholic hierarchy; a politically-motivated self-promoter who rose to power via the Inquisition. He was named bishop of Oviedo in 1532 and eventually established himself as the Grand Inquisitor, gaining infamy as a particularly fanatical judge with a special hatred for Lutherans. He hated them so much, that he successfully petitioned the pope for permission to burn groups alive on giant bonfires. All in the name of the Church, of course, because that kind of thing is what Jesus loves most.

Massive piles of burning, living flesh; yes, Salas was an inventive thinker! But he did found a University, so he can’t have been all bad, right? On the other hand, he compiled history’s most draconian List of Prohibited Books. His Index Librorum Prohibitorum even included works from venerated Catholic scholars like Saint Francis Borja.

Salas was terrifying. Knowing his history throws a different light on the handsome statue in the University courtyard.

Location of the Statue of Fernando Valdés Salas

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September 19, 2010 at 11:57 am Comments (4)

El Lago del Valle in Somiedo

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During our recent day trip to Somiedo, we found ourselves with time for a long walk. After parking our car in Valle del Lago, we hiked to Lago del Valle. Now that’s some clever toponymy.

Somiedo Lake

Uninspiring name aside, the Lake of the Valley is a beautiful bit of nature. The hike takes about 90 minutes if you walk without pause, and is enchanting from beginning to end. Following the low-lying valley, the walk is easy enough and affords views of mountainsides, beechwood forests and a small river. We walked by teitas, the stone huts with straw roofs so indicative of Somiedo, and past herds of cattle.

Eventually, we arrived at the lake. Almost completely enclosed by mountains, and with a small island in its center, it’s far enough away from civilization to be quiet and unspoiled. The Lago del Valle is the largest lake in Asturias, but still small enough to walk around in 30 minutes. We sat for awhile on the shore, under the searing sun, before heading back to the village, and soaked in the nature. It’s amazing how rejuvenating a place like this can be.

Location of the Lago del Valle on our Day Trips Map

Somiedo See
Hiking in Spain
Lago del Valle
Lago Somiedo
El Lago Del Valle Somiedo
Aqua Somiedo
Natura Asturias
Lago Asturias
Super Cute Frog

Best way to explore Somiedo

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September 18, 2010 at 6:12 pm Comments (5)

The Museum of Mining and Industry in El Entrego

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While we were in Oviedo, I found myself thinking a lot about mining for the first time in my life. The trapped Chilean miners were making headlines worldwide, a miner’s strike was big news in Spain. But once I started considering the profession, I couldn’t turn my mind off it. The vulgar exploitation of both workers and the earth for the further enrichment of corporations makes the mining industry the zenith of human greed and misery. There’s something grotesquely romantic about it.

El Entrego

Coal mining is woven immutably into Asturian history and we decided to spend a rainy day by visiting the museum dedicated to it. 45 minutes from Oviedo by train, in the valley town of El Entrego, is the Museum of Mining and Industry (The MUMI), the second-most visited museum in the principality.

For centuries, coal mining has been one of the principal economic activities of Asturias, especially in the cuenca: the coal-rich valley of the river Nalón. The abundance of “black gold” made Asturias one of Spain’s most prosperous regions for a long time, but the boom ended a couple decades ago. The mines are still active, but the pall of economic hardship on the mining villages is unmistakable.

The museum is fascinating. The top attraction is a “simulated” mine, about which I had been skeptical, but was pleasantly impressed with. If you didn’t know it was fake (and didn’t touch the plastic walls), you might really believe you’d descended hundreds of meters underground. The half-hour long tour of the mine introduces the devices and explosives used to excavate coal, as well as some of the daily dangers which miners faced, and does so with a degree of clarity which would be impossible in a real mine.

Above ground, the museum boasts a number of exhibits, some hands-on, which demonstrate the contraptions used in mining operations: humans who would walk in giant hamster wheels to raise water buckets, the introduction of the steam engine, and of course the singing canary. Visitors are also given a thorough, and disgusting, overview of the illnesses often suffered by workers in the days before health regulations.

The museum recommends two and a half hours for a visit, and that’s not an exaggeration. We found ourselves needing even more time. The MUMI is great; one of the can’t-miss museums in Asturias.

Location of the Museo de la Minería y de la Industria
Official Webiste

Museum Coal Asturias
Coal Mine Tour
Coal Mine
Train Coal Asturias
Coal Mine Asturias
Huge Spider Net
Human Hamster Wheel
Mining Industry
Sexy Kumpel
Vapor Train
How to make TNT
Spiral Funnel
Monster Fratze

Oviedo Guide

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September 18, 2010 at 3:13 pm Comments (2)

Hotels in Asturias

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We’re starting a small series recommending hotels we’ve noticed during our travels in Asturias. These will be quick little posts linking to the hotels, and information on the cities in which they’re located.

And if you have a good hotel recommendation for us, let us know!

Blue Santa Rosa in Gijón

In the center of Gijon, near the harbor, beach and other touristic main attractions. And if blue’s your favorite color, this hotel is definitely for you.

More Info & Reservations: Hotel Blue Santa Rosa in Gijón
Our visit to: Gijón
Location on our Asturias Accommodation Map

La Casona de Pío in Cudillero

Cudillero, a dreamy little fishing town on the Cantabrian Sea, is well worth a visit and makes a great base for other excursions in the surrounding area. La Casona de Pio offers great views and a traditional rustic Spanish ambient.

More Info & Reservations: La Casona de Pío in Cudillero
Our Visit to: Cudillero
Location on our Asturias Accommodation Map

AC Forum Hotel in Oviedo

The AC Forum has probably the best location of all the hotels in Oviedo, if you’re planning on frequent day trips: both the train and bus stations are just a few meters from its doors. Plus, you’re near the center of Oviedo, just a 10 minute walk from the cathedral.

More Info & Reservations: AC Forum Hotel in Oviedo
City Index: Oviedo
Location on our Asturias Accommodation Map

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September 18, 2010 at 11:11 am Comments (6)

Crime and Murder in Oviedo

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Oviedo and the rest of Asturias enjoy a reputation as one of the safest, most crime-free sections of Spain, a country that is itself quite free of violence. In fact, Gijón and Oviedo recently ranked #2 and #3 respectively in a list of safest Spanish cities (#1 was Pamplona).

Reminants of a Murder

So, it’s all the more shocking when a brutal crime does occur. One month into our stay, a man slit his girlfriend’s throat, and set their apartment on fire, just a few blocks away from our place. He was arrested the next evening in Gijón. Both victim and perpetrator were from Ecuador, making the crime sadly typical: much of the violence in Spain occurs within immigrant communities, and far too much is chauvinist aggression against women.

But the shock of the murder only underscores how safe Oviedo truly is. In a city of over 200,000, homicide is an extremely rare occurrence. I bought the paper every day and, before this, the worst crime I’d read about was a drunk guy from Greece who stabbed himself. He lived. I’ve never felt unsafe in this city; even petty crimes like pickpocketing are rare in Oviedo.

Maybe it’s the mild climate that keeps everyone cool-headed here. I’m not sure… what’s the reason for Oviedo and Asturias being so safe? Leave a comment with your theories!

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September 15, 2010 at 3:21 pm Comments (0)

San Tirso – Oviedo’s Oldest Church

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Originally constructed in the 9th century by Alfonso the Chaste, the Iglesia de San Tirso is the oldest church in the city center. Due to the great fire of 1521 and numerous reconstructions, though, not much of the original remains apart from a supporting wall and the church’s general layout.

San Tirso

San Tirso is found adjacent to the city cathedral, an unassuming lumpy little building which is completely overshadowed by its magnificent neighbor; the Igor to the cathedral’s Dr. Frankenstein. But the very age of the church makes it worth visiting. The interior is small, with a modest altarpiece and just a couple chapels. Within the church rest the remains of Balesquita Giraldez, a 13th century noblewoman famous for her charitable donations, and for whom the nearby Capilla de la Balesquida is named.

San Tirso, or Saint Thyrsus in English, was a 3rd century Christian who was martyred in Turkey. By being mostly sawed in half! Miraculously, the saw became too heavy for his executioners to hold, so they had to leave the task before it was completed. Nasty. But I suppose for a thing like “murdering someone with a saw”, halfway is probably good enough. Hey God: for my “miracle”, how about you increase the weight of the saw before they begin carving?

Location of the Iglesia de San Tirso on our Oviedo Map

Oviedo Ventana
Roman Oviedo
Iglesia San Tirso
Jesus Oviedo
Saint Oviedo
Oviedo Angel

Hong Kong Photos

September 14, 2010 at 3:42 pm Comments (0)

Mesón Casa Pedro and the Infamous Cachopo

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After sitting down at the popular Mesón Casa Pedro on Calle Asturias, we did like everyone else and ordered the cachopo. A delicious breaded, fried “sandwich” of ham and cheese, cachopo is similar to Cordon Bleu. Just a lot bigger.

We had been told that a single cachopo was plenty for two people to share, but still: I hadn’t been expecting a portion of food roughly the size of a healthy eight-month-old baby. When our waitress lowered the plate down onto our table, a task which would have been easier using a crane, I nearly spit out my wine. I nearly asked her if she was insane.


Cachopo is a really popular dish here in Asturias. How popular? Well, there’s a website dedicated to it. In Oviedo, Casa Pedro is one of the best restaurants to try it out. Just make sure to fast for two days beforehand, and bring a friend or three.

Mesón Casa Pedro
Calle de Asturias, 39
Location on our Oviedo Map

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September 13, 2010 at 10:12 am Comments (5)

Visiting the Somiedo Natural Park

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Looking for a Hotel in Somiedo?

We chose an excellent day to visit the Somiedo National Park, found a couple hours south of Oviedo. The sun was bright and the weather warm. With a refreshing breeze coming from the north, it was a perfect early-autumn day, putting us in great spirits and bringing out the most beautiful aspects of the park.

Somiedo Photos

Somiedo is both a municipality of a couple thousand people and a Natural Park, part of which has been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. With mountains reaching over 2000 meters, a rich diversity of fauna and flora, and a scarce human presence, it’s an uncommonly lovely region.

The most famous inhabitants of Somiedo are the endangered Cantabrian brown bears. Though they reach up to two meters in height and 200 kilos in weight, the bears are timid and had been on the verge of extinction due to poaching and human encroachment. But recent conservation and protection efforts have seen their number grow. We were on the lookout, but I think actually spotting one is nearly impossible. The bears have learned to stay away from humans.

Cattle farming is the way of life among somedanos, as the few people who live in the park refer to themselves. Theirs is a pastoral lifestyle straight out of the 1700s. Farmers still moved their herds by foot across the mountains and valleys, and make use of cabins called teitos, which are stone buildings with a thatched straw roof: a construction unique to Somiedo. Spotted across the valleys, teitos blend in well to the stony landscape, suggesting a human presence that exists in a respectful relationship with the Earth.

During our trip, we also visited the majestic Lago del Valle, the largest lake in Asturias, which demands a long hike through the valley to reach.

Location on our Day Trips Map

Green Spain
Flowers Asturias
Fauna Somiedo
Hiking Somiedo
Asturias Paradise
Asturias Rocks
Asturias Montanas
Somiedo Cuevas
Cows Somiedo
Cricket Sex
Somiedo Road Trip
Somiedo Hiking
Somiedo Asturias
Straw Hut
Somiedo Hut
Dinosaur Asturias

Everything Asturias

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September 12, 2010 at 1:18 pm Comments (7)

San Mateo Has Arrived

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Las Fiestas de San Mateo are the biggest event of the year in Oviedo, taking place over the course of nearly two weeks. Oviedo has celebrated the saint’s feast day for over a millenium, since the days of Alfonso II in the 9th century.

San Mateo

What exactly comprises the festival of San Mateo? It’s a question which we’ve been posing to everyone we meet, and which no one is able to satisfactorily answer. There’s the Día de América on the 19th, which is a parade to honor the cultures and people of the New World. And there are fireworks on the 21st, the día grande of the festival. But concentrating on individual events isn’t the best way to think about San Mateo. Basically, the whole city becomes a huge party zone. San Mateo is simply a monstrously long fiesta.

In every plaza of the old town, on every corner and along every street, open air bars sell caipirinhas and mojitos. Every night, there are jazz concerts in the Plaza de Paraguas, rock concerts in the Plaza Feijoo, and big performances of theater, comedy, music and more in the Plaza de la Catedral. Makeshift party tents called chiringuitos are set up all over the place, disturbing neighbors with dancing that lasts until 4am. The city park, the Campo de San Francisco, converts into a massive kids’ playground. Everyone goes out, and the streets are packed with both young and old people having a good time.

Though there’s not much to distinguish San Mateo from other festivals around the world, it’s one of the few times in the year when noble Oviedo lets its hair loose, and reveals an exuberant side to the city normally kept under wraps.

La Banda Oviedo
Sidra Heads
Los Morancos
San Mateo 2010
Bocadillos Oviedo
San Mateo Oviedo
San Mateo Asturias
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September 11, 2010 at 3:47 pm Comments (7)

Villaviciosa – Capital of the Cider Region

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Welcome to Villaviciosa, the Vicious Village, where nightmares are reality and your screaming only makes the villagers thirstier for blood!

Puking Baby

Man, was I disappointed to learn that Villaviciosa’s name actually translates to “Fertile Valley”. Vicious Village would be so much cooler! The capital of the Comarca de la Sidra, Villaviciosa’s fertile valleys (sigh) make it the biggest cider-producer in Spain. We visited out the city after our tour the Sidrería El Gaitero.

Villaviciosa is not big, but definitely has its share of small-town charms. There’s a quiet plaza with a statue dedicated to apples, and we ventured inside the Santa María de la Oliva, a beautifully preserved church from the 13th century. There was a mass going on, and after the churchgoers gave us sufficiently annoyed glares, we left them alone, and went to find food at one of the many local sidrerías.

Combined with our visit to the Gaitero factory, this was a full day, and we left without exploring the surrounding area. In addition to the town, Villaviciosa’s beaches are supposed to be really lovely.

Location of Villaviciosa on our Day Trips Map

Apple Statue
Gaita Villaviciosa
Musica Villaviciosa
Villaviciosa Santa Maria
Villaviciosa Cathedral
Iglesia Villaviciosa
Wild Pig Villaviciosa
No Heads
Men Only
Happy Spanish Opa
Romantic Villviciosa
Self Golden Shower
Cider Region Spain
Ayuntamiento Villaviciosa
Misty Villaviciosa
ciudad Sidra
Cute Villaviciosa
Artist Villaviciosa
Oldtimer Villaviciosa
upside down sign
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September 8, 2010 at 5:19 pm Comments (2)

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Fernando Valds Salas - Inquisitor, Educator, Fanatic In the middle of the University of Oviedo's courtyard is a statue of its founder, Fernando Valds Salas. The statue's expression is fatherly; benevolent but stern. The sense conveyed is that Valds was a serious educator dedicated to learning, and a kindly, wise man. But a little research reveals that a loathsome monster reigns in the University's courtyard -- rarely does history provide us such exquisitely evil characters as the Archbishop Fernando de Valds.
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