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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 Regenta, by Clarín

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In 1884, Leopold Alas, better known by his pen name of Clarín, wrote a massive novel which would eventually be regarded as one of the 19th century’s best. La Regenta is a fictional account of the life and loves of Ana Ozores, a noblewoman who marries a man far older than herself, but allows herself to be pursued by two other suitors: the town’s resident heartthrob and a priest. Scandal!

La Regenta

The novel is set in an Oviedo superficially disguised as “Vetusta” and, with a rich ensemble set of eccentric secondary characters, wickedly satirizes Spanish society. In the well-stocked bookshelves of the apartment in which we’re staying, I discovered a copy of La Regenta, and immediately declared, “Yes! I shall read this!”.

These plans lasted until I felt the heft of the book, 9,183,433 pages thick, and opened to the first page of fine-print 19th century Spanish prose. “On second thought”, I considered, removing my smoking robe, lowering my reading glasses and substituting my brandy for a beer, “Dude Where’s My Car is on TV tonight. I can get to La Regenta later.”

The novel has had a huge influence on Oviedo, where approximately half the hotels and restaurants use the name “Vetusta”. And Clarín’s likeness is all over the place, on murals and statues. La Regenta herself claims the best spot in the city, right in front of the cathedral. Her statue must be among the most-photographed in Spain.

Despite its wide-reaching influence and universal praise, La Regenta is difficult to find in English. I don’t want to tell Oviedo’s booksellers how to run their businesses, but here’s some unsolicited advice: stock La Regenta in English! If there’s a classic book which has partially defined a city, tourists to that city will often want to read the book. Trust me.

Order La Regenta here: USA, UK, Germany

Location of La Regenta on our Oviedo Map

Vetusta
Regenta Oviedo
Regenta Clarin
Oviedo at Night
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October 21, 2010 at 5:20 pm Comment (1)

Tierra Astur Restaurant

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The first time we sat down at Tierra Astur, a sidrería at the very top of the “Boulevard of Cider”, it was just for drinks. But it was dinnertime and we watched with growing despondency as plate after plate of mouthwatering Asturian food was delivered to other tables. By the time we left, my stomach was growling like an angry Rottweiler. “Calm yourself, friend”, I whispered soothingly, “Soon we shall return and a succulent feast shall be your reward!”

Asturian Food

Return we did, the very next day. Previously, I’d been skeptical about Tierra Astur because the restaurant also contains a shop selling goods, souvenirs and foodstuffs. Rule #2934 of my personal life-guide clearly states that “Restaurant/Shops Are of Dubious Quality (See: Cracker Barrel)”. But our experience at Tierra Astur has caused me to question the wisdom of that rule.

We got a place on the terrace, with the warm October sun at our backs, and hungrily awaited our meal. It was as delicious as we’d hoped. We started with corn tortillas and then shared ox medallions covered in a rich cabrales sauce. Reading the menu was nearly as fun as eating the things found on it. Tierra Astur is dedicated to promoting Asturian foods, and the menu went into great detail on all the different plates and ingredients.

Dessert was frixuelos, which are like slightly-thicker crepes filled with delicious sauces, from apple to chocolate. And the prices were more reasonable than we had dared hope. During the week, they have a very reasonable lunch menu and the regular-priced dishes aren’t bad either, especially considering their size. We left full, happy and satisfied.

Location of Tierra Astur

Link to their site: Tierra Astur

Restaurante Oviedo
Terra Asturias
Maiz Asturias
Terra Astur
frixuelos
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October 21, 2010 at 12:32 pm Comment (1)

The Ruta del Cares: Seven-Hour Megahike

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The Picos de Europa are a huge mountain range that straddles the border between Asturias, Cantabria and León, just twenty kilometers from the ocean, and a paradise for mountain climbers, nature lovers and hikers.

Sun Hike

Juergen and I fall into that latter group for sure, so we embarked on the most famous hike through the Picos: The Ruta del Cares. Connecting the tiny villages of Poncebos and Caín, it’s a 24km, seven-hour roundtrip hike. That’s a lot, but the seven hours are packed with breathtaking nature, and fairly easy.

The river Cares has carved an immense and exhilaratingly narrow canyon into the Picos. The route travels alongside the river, high up into the mountains, through tunnels and along cliff faces. It was developed in the early 20th century for workers of the Electra de Viesgo company, who needed to reach the canal which still runs between the two villages. The hike has since become incredibly popular, and welcomes over 200,000 adventurers a year.

The Ruta del Cares starts with a long ascent, and before long we were high above the river. It leveled out from there, as we entered the canyon. I experienced some mild vertigo. In such a narrow canyon gap with sheer cliff faces towering high over your head and the river so far below, it’s easy to become disoriented.

There were long stretches through dark tunnels, over bridges high above the river, and we passed by a few waterfalls. By the time we reached Caín, we were exhausted but in great spirits. The first half of the hike had gone quickly by and, after a quick lunch, I didn’t dread the thought of returning the same way. The chance to see the canyon again was a powerful incentive.

If you’re fit enough and enjoy the outdoors, don’t miss this hike. But try and pick an off-season day during the week, as the route is truly popular and, on summer weekends, the number of people can be overwhelming.

Location of Poncebos (Start)
Plan of the Hike in Wikiloc
Detailed Info in Spanish on the Hike

Mist Land
Rio Asturias
Rio Picos de Europa
Picos de Europa Hike
Ruta del Cares
No Bikers Allowed
Dizzy
Dangerous Hike
Gefahr Wandern
Hiking Routes Picos
Fall Asturias
Exciting Hike
China in Spain
Hiking
Tunnel Hiking Asturias
Welcome to Leon
Waterfall
Wandern Asturias
On Nom Nom
Wet Land
Wet
Splish Splash
Sidra IN leon
Wandern
Picos de Europa
Play of Light
Travel Stock Photographer
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October 20, 2010 at 8:39 pm Comments (6)

Colombres and the Museum of Emigration

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Looking for a place to stay new Colombres?

At the end of the 19th century, Spain was mired in one of its darkest periods. Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines were gone as a result of the Spanish-American War, and an unsuccessful attempt to conquer Morocco had left the country in a tailspin. Many escaped to the New World, where society was on the rise rather than in decline. This included a massive number of Asturians: mostly single, young and ambitious. They lent their enthusiasm to the growing countries of the Western Hemisphere, and made a fortune doing so.

Colombres Asturias

Many of these newly moneyed youngsters eventually returned home. Known as Indianos, they built fabulous homes and spent their wealth freely, at a time when the Principality desperately needed it. The mansions of the Indianos can be found all over Asturias, but no other town has such a remarkable collection as Colombres, near the border with Cantabria.

One house in Colombres stands out among the rest: the Quinta Guadalupe, constructed by Iñigo Noriega Laso, who emigrated to Mexico and became both extremely rich and politically influential. Today, his amazing mansion is the Museum of Emigration, dedicated to this interesting period in Asturian history. There are emotional photographs of emigrants leaving Spain, models of the boats on which they traveled, personal stories of adventure and danger, and information about the various Centros Asturianos which are still active in Argentina, Cuba, Mexico and the USA.

The museum is interesting, and it’s nice to be able to step inside such a house. Much of the original furniture is still present, and the library is full of tomes dedicated to the immigrant experience. If you’re in the area, definitely stop by.

Location of Colombres on our Day Trips Map

Magnolia Sprout
Water Drip
Bizarre Garden
Quinta Guadalupe
Mexico Asturias
Emmigration Museum
Museo Emmigracion
Detail Asturias
Muebles Asturias
emmigration asturias
Eduardo Urculo New York
Williams B. Arrensberg
Inka
Asturiano Dinero

Visit Stockholm

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October 20, 2010 at 3:14 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)

Finally, We Visit Llanes

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During our three months in Asturias, we’ve seen a lot of wonderful towns. Just check out our Day Trips Map! But none of them have impressed us as much as Llanes, an absolutely gorgeous city in the east of the Principality. A perfect melding of tradition and modernity, Llanes is full of beautifully restored buildings, and boasts an expansive ancient center separated from the day-to-day village life by medieval walls.

Llanes Cubes

Walking around the streets of Llanes was a treat; practically every building screamed for attention, and each narrow alley seemed to be showing off. Even the town’s tourist office is a highlight, inside a small circular tower along the old city wall. The people we encountered were friendly, and despite the rainy weather, everyone was in good spirits, tourists and locals alike.

And there were a lot of tourists. Llanes is a popular vacation destination and in the summer, the population quintuples up to 20,000. Tourists (mostly Spanish) choose Llanes for its beaches, the plentiful surrounding sights, the proximity of the Picos de Europa and of course the beauty and excellent reputation of the town itself.

We spent a long time admiring ancient palaces like the 14th century Palacio de Gastañaga, and modern structures such as the Casino de los Indiano, which is today the city hall. Perhaps most impressive was the San Pedro Walk, a long and entirely green park which stretches endlessly along the coast, offering tremendous views of both the ocean and the town.

This was one of the last excursions from Oviedo which we embarked on. We shouldn’t have waited so long.

Location of Llanes on our Day Trips Map

Igleasia en Llanes
llanes Puerta
Llanes Iglesia
Melted Architecture
Llanes Asturias
Llanes Bush
Llanes Flores
Llanes Oldtown
Llanes Alley
Llanes Architecture
Llanes Construction
Llanes Bebe
Casino Llanes
Tourist Office Llanes
Llanes Faro
Llanes Pop Art
Fishing Net
Redes Llanes
Splash Boat
Boats Llanes
Llanes Beach
Llanes Playa
Walking Llanes
San Pedro Llanes
Sexy Curves
Cliffs Llanes
Llanes Rain
Llanisco
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October 19, 2010 at 7:16 pm Comments (0)

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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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