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Oviedo and the Camino de Santiago

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

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

Best way to reach this beach is by car

Beach Hotel Asturias
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October 20, 2010 at 12:44 pm Comments (6)

The Plaza de España and Francisco Franco

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 (3)

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