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Oviedo’s Urban Planning (or Lack Thereof)

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No other Spanish city has as many streets designated as Pedestrian-Only as Oviedo, and it’s a joy to walk around the city center without having to stick to the sidewalks.

On the other hand… there is still a lot of room for improvement. Traffic lights in Oviedo take ages to turn green. Intersections make no sense. Way too many cars ignore the pedestrian zones. And biking in this city is a nightmare — drivers (especially taxis) seem to detest bikers and I’ve seen some disturbingly aggressive behavior.

Here’s one particularly striking example of poor urban planning which has vexed me since discovering it. Right at the end of the Paseo de la Losa. Let’s say you want to get to the building on the other side of the street…

You can’t just cross the street! Don’t be silly! You have to cross 4 streets, each with traffic lights that take eons to finally turn. This is simply aggravating.

Or consider the intersection between Calles Caveda and Foncalada. Just a normal intersection, right? But check out where the stop bar is on Calle Foncalada!

If you’re on Caveda, and want to go straight… half the time you’re shit out of luck, because the traffic stopped on Foncalada is blocking you, and you can pretty much forget about turning left. It doesn’t take a genius to predict that this is gong to cause mayhem — and guess what? It does. Frequently. As a one-time only special, I’ve waived my normal consulting fee and made a free suggestion as to where the stop bar should go (in yellow).

There are a lot of other examples of questionable planning throughout Oviedo. Of course, a city which is over a thousand years old is going to have weird streets and crazy intersections, but man! A part of me can’t wait to get back to the US, where most of our cities have boring, grid-like patterns.

Valencia Scenic Drive: Alcoy to Altea

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October 23, 2010 at 8:54 am Comments (2)

La Llave: Traditional Asturian Game

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The Llave (“The Key”) is a curious traditional Asturian tossing game, played in and around the Oviedo-Gijón area. This is the only Youtube video I could find of it.

Each player gets to throw six stones at the “Key” at a distance of 14 meters, scoring points for successful strikes. I would be terrible at this game, so please don’t challenge me to a match!

October 22, 2010 at 7:03 pm Comments (0)

Covadonga – The Spiritual Capital of Asturias

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Oviedo may be the political center of the Principality of Asturias, but Covadonga is its spiritual heart. This mountain sanctuary near Cangas de Onís is where King Pelayo led a ragtag bunch of Christians to victory over a much larger Muslim force in the 8th century. It was Christianity’s first triumph since the Moorish conquest of Iberia, and marked the beginning of the 800-year Reconquista.

covadonga asturias

The Catholic church wasted no time in claiming Covadonga as its own, and declared the area a religious mega-site. You see, Pelayo’s men didn’t just use the mountainous terrain and their knowledge of it to turn back the Moors, the Holy Virgin of Covadonga assisted them.

Visiting is an odd experience. The grotto of Covadonga is undeniably beautiful, and does have a magical feeling about it. Supposedly, it rests on a ley line. But it’s also a solemn, strange Catholic Disneyland. Step right up kids, and see Pelayo’s final resting place! No talking please, this is a church. And now right over here, folks, we have the Fountain of Marriage! That’s correct, ladies, one drink from this enchanted water and you’ll be at the alter in no time! Pictures are allowed here, since it’s just kinda holy.

Oooh, only brave souls this way! That’s right, we’re entering the Holy Cave! Please no horseplay, kids, this is a holy cave, after all. And who’s this lovely lady, to your right? Why it’s our friend, the Virgin of Covadonga. NO PICTURES! She is most sacred! But if you’ll follow me right this way, we’ll enter the gift shop where you can buy pictures of La Santina and all manner of fabulous religious paraphernalia!

If you’re Catholic or superstitious or new-agey or into kitsch, you’re going to love Covadonga. But for cynics like myself and Juergen, it was a little much. The Basilica is gorgeous, set against the mountains, and it was fun to walk around a bit. There’s also museum on the grounds, which wasn’t very interesting; instead of history, I got artless portraits of archbishops and their robes.

But no trip to Asturias is complete without visiting Covadonga. Regardless of your views on religion and spirituality, it’s a haunting and interesting place.

Visit the Lakes of Covadonga

Covadonga Bell
Cruzes Covadonga
Covadonga Shrine
Covadonga Chapel
Virgin Covadonga
Cueva Silencia
Wedding Fountain
Covadonga Snake
Pelayo
Pelayo Perro
Covadonga
Lost in Covadonga
Organ Covadonga
Cruz Asturias
Beichtstuhl
My Covadonga
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October 22, 2010 at 5:16 pm Comments (0)

Oviedo and the Camino de Santiago

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The Way of Saint James, or the Camino de Santiago as it’s called in Spain, is one of the oldest and most famous Christian pilgrimages, probably right behind Jerusalem. Ending in Santiago de Compostela and starting from any number of spots, though usually in France, the pilgrimage requires a commitment of months.

Santiago Shell

The symbol of the Camino de Santiago is the scallop shell. The shell’s multitude of lines which all converge in a single point symbolize the many different paths which pilgrims can take to reach Santiago. And although Oviedo doesn’t lie on the most well-known route (The Camino Francés), it’s become an important stop nonetheless. In fact, for centuries during the middle ages, a detour to Oviedo was considered obligatory, to pay tribute to the relics in the Cámara Santa.

The shell symbol can be found all over the city, on the sidewalks, on signs and engraved in stone within the Cathedral, and demonstrates the importance of the Camino to Oviedo. Alfonso II the Chaste was the king of Asturias when the remains of Saint James were originally “discovered” in Santiago, and is well-known as the first pilgrim to the city. Old Alfie got the ball rolling.

Calle Magdalena, near the park of Campillín, used to be the way pilgrims would enter Oviedo. Within a small niche in the stone facade of one of the street’s buildings, you can still find an ancient statue of Mary Magdalene, whom the pilgrims would pause to revere. The street today is still full of activity, as a popular pedestrian zone with a lot of great little shops.

Amazingly, the Camino de Santiago is gaining steadily in popularity. I doubt it has anything to do with growing religious fervor. Most of the pilgrims we’ve seen on the roads have been young hippies looking for a “life experience”. We were always amused to notice that almost every town in Asturias claims to be on the Camino. The tourist dollars are awfully tempting, and you’ll find the shell sign on every street, in every tiny town.

Have any of our readers done the Camino de Santiago? I can see the appeal — any grand undertaking like this is sure to be an unforgettable experience.

Books on the Camino de Santiago available here: USA, UK, Deutschland

Camino
Camino Asturias
Camino Oviedo
Santiago Pilgramage
Pilgrim Spain
Santiago Camino
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October 22, 2010 at 3:04 pm Comment (1)

The Bizarre Beach of Gulpiyuri

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The coast around Llanes is well-known as one of the most stunning areas in Spain, and during a recent trip there, we sought out one of the features which makes it special: Gulpiyuri beach.

Gulpiyuri

Gulpiyuri’s name isn’t its only bizarre facet: this beach is found completely inland, in a gorgeous little cove which looks like something out of a fantasy. I kept expecting to see Christopher Atkins and Brooke Shields rolling around on the sand, making out. The Cantabrian Sea bored through the earth to create this sandy spot, and though you can’t see the ocean, its waves to lap the shore just like any beach. Like a magical wave pool.

We sat here for a half hour, taking in the cove’s beauty and eating bocadillos. Our dog Chucky came along for this road trip, and though Gulpiyuri’s odd allure was probably lost on her, she seemed to enjoy the sand.

Location of Gulpiyuri Beach on our Day Trips Map

Inland Beach
Weird Beach
French Bulldog
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October 20, 2010 at 12:44 pm Comments (12)

The Plaza de España and Francisco Franco

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I love living in Spain for a lot of reasons: siestas, wine, crazy parties, friendly people, the beautiful language. Also, I’m fascinated by history, and Spain is full of it. The Spanish Civil War is of particular interest; the ultimate left-right clash, the workers against the privileged, the cohesion of the Francoists and the suicidal splintering of the liberals, the cowardice of the world’s democracies, the brutality shown by foreign fascist powers, the self-sacrifice of the International Brigades and of course the war’s terrible, soul-crushing end. In this movie, the bad guys won. It’s utterly captivating.

Francisco Franco

Years later, the wounds haven’t completely healed over; the war was too brutal, and the disastrous reign of Franco too long. In an attempt to finally help Spain reach a sense of closure, the government passed the Historical Memory Law in 2007, officially condemning the Fascist regime. It honors the victims on both sides of the war and grants honorary Spanish citizenship to all members of the International Brigade. But most tangibly, the law mandates the removal of all Francoist symbols and statues from public areas.

It appears that regal, conservative Oviedo didn’t get the memo. In the Plaza de España, one of the country’s last Francoist statues is still standing tall, looking over the Campo de San Francisco. It was erected to commemorate the Caudillo’s death. Franco’s face appears on a medallion on the statue’s base, below an inscription reading “From Oviedo to Francisco Franco”, while above, Hera the Greek Queen of the Gods, presides over the scene. Franco’s face has been the target of paint, graffiti and defamation over the years.

We never heard an official explanation as to why this statue which honors Spain’s most infamous ruler is still standing in the middle of the city. I’m not necessarily an advocate of the forced removal of such monuments, but Oviedo sure seems to be flaunting a national law, despite the pressure of groups dedicated to erasing the lingering memory of Franco.

Location of the Plaza de España on our Oviedo Map

Franco Oviedo
Delfín Oviedo
Franco Hate Spain
Hola Franco
October 14, 2010 at 4:36 pm Comments (4)

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)

Learning to Tolerate the Art of Slow Walking

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Picture, for a moment, Manhattan. Important people dressed in suits rush hurriedly down sidewalks, juggling their cellphones, briefcases and coffee mugs. There’s no time to waste, and each confident stride has an extra kick of energy; if you’re faster than the other guy, you’ll get there first and win the contract! Get the promotion! American Dream coming through, make way!

That’s what I’m used to. To me, the reason for a sidewalk, the point of its existence, is to get you to where you’re going as quickly as possible. But here in Oviedo, people seem to have an entirely different interpretation of the sidewalk. They stroll casually along, stopping at every storefront, greeting friends and even just sometimes standing there, having a big time. For ovetenses, the sidewalk seems to be the destination. It’s baffling!

It can get frustrating. I am too busy being American, trying to Achieve and “Be The Very Best I Can Be”. And this group of ladies in front of me, they’re all spread out on the sidewalk. Four of them in a perfect, impenetrable line, and now they’ve slowed down even further. They’re also swaying, walking in unpredictable zig zags, cleverly discouraging any attempt at passing. Devious dawdlers!

There’s no way to fight it, so I’m trying to see the benefit. Life is paced differently here, and perhaps slowing down isn’t such a bad idea. Another thing to remember about Manhattan is that stressed-out grimace of determination on everyone’s face. Here, you don’t see that so much. Try walking at a slow, leisurely pace with a stressed-out grimace of determination. It’s very difficult, and looks ridiculous! So, I’ll slow down. The truth is, I don’t even know why I’m always in such a big hurry anyway.

Hola Valencia’s Top Five: Festivals

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September 2, 2010 at 10:04 am Comments (5)

Calatrava’s Palacio de Congresos

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In the bird’s eye view of Oviedo acheivable from the top of Mount Naranco, one building sticks out more than any other. Massive and gleaming white, with an otherworldly design, the Palacio de Congresos is unmistakable.

Congresos Princesa Letizia

Perhaps in reference to its status as a modern-day palace, the building was named after a member Spanish royalty, and one of Oviedo’s most famous children, Princesa Letizia. The two side wings of the horseshoe-shaped complex hold ministry offices, a hotel occupies the back and, in the center, under its audacious roof, is an area for expositions. Underground is a shopping mall. In all, the size of the palace is over 15,000 square meters.

The building is the work of famous Spanish archtiect Santiago Calatrava, who also designed the new World Trade Center Transportation Hub in New York City. We had lived in Valencia for a few years, which is Calatrava’s hometown and favorite sandbox, so we were already familiar with his work. The City of Arts and Sciences is especially unforgettable. I doubt that any modern architect has so singular a style, and Oviedo is lucky to have one of his incredible constructions.

Location on our Oviedo Map

Calatrava Tower
Calatrava Congresos
Palacio de Congresos Oviedo
Calatrava Space Ship Oviedo
Calatrava Whale
Calatrava Comb
Calatrava Phone
Calatrava Arche
Calatrava Arrow
Calatrava Oviedo
Calatrava Triangle
Mouth of Calatrava
Calatrava Architecture

More Calatrava Architecture: Prince Felipe Science Museum and The Agora in Valencia

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August 20, 2010 at 2:16 pm Comments (21)

Picturesque Oviedo

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As we settle into our new home, different facets of life in Oviedo begin to emerge. The city is monumental, but surrounded by the most striking nature. And people seem to be happy, affluent and comfortable here. Yes, we realized early on that three months in Oviedo wouldn’t be a struggle.

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August 12, 2010 at 9:10 am Comments (9)
Oviedo's Urban Planning (or Lack Thereof) No other Spanish city has as many streets designated as Pedestrian-Only as Oviedo, and it's a joy to walk around the city center without having to stick to the sidewalks.
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