When I signed up for Spanish classes at the University of Madrid, I didn’t know that they offered day trips and excursions to various parts of Spain! Yes, they cost extra but are a great deal. When I found out that they were going to Asturias (Northern Spain) for 3 days, I really wanted to go. The trip was being led by a professor who knew a lot about art, architecture, and history. We would be going to see ancient Roman buildings, churches, amazing landscapes, and charming cities. The cost for 3 days of transportation, lodging, and breakfast? 140 euros!
We made the journey from Madrid to our first destination in about 6 hours by bus. Oviedo is an interesting old city, with a church that held something special–the cloth used to cover and clean the face of Jesus after crucifixion. More info on that here. At our next stop, we were greeted by cold air, some rain, and an enthusiastic professor that showed and explained two ancient Roman buildings to us, Santa Maria del Naranco and San Miguel de Lillo. They were both built in the 9th century–now that’s old.
Our hotel was situated in a small beach town called Candás. I met a few new girls on this trip that are not in my class (we are split into different levels) and we went out to eat together. The first night, we saw a sign that said “Festival del Marisco” (Seafood Festival) and decided to check it out. I’m so glad we did, because I got to enjoy some delicious octopus and shrimp that night, straight from the source. And, being the golosa (lover of sweets) that I am, I had to finish the night off with a waffle covered in nutella, chocolate ice cream, and strawberries.
The next stop was at a national park called Picos de Europa, with a stop at Covadonga. Getting to the Picos requires either hiking in or taking a small bus. So with our limited time and energy, we loaded into a bunch of 8 passenger vans up the hilly mountainside. Our driver held nothing back, skidding around the twists and turns, honking the horn before each blind turn to warn possible oncoming traffic. At one point, we ended up face to face with a bus, our only saving grace being the swift slamming on the brakes by our driver. We also got to maneuver around a herd of cattle as they made their way to a new pasture. Once we finally reached the top and climbed out of the bus, the cold hit me like a slap in the face and it started to snow. I wasn’t prepared for that! We hiked up a set of stairs to a breathtaking (for me, literally) view of 2 mountain lakes made from melted glaciers. I took a hit of my inhaler and a deep breath of fresh mountain air. What an amazing sight…
After coming back down, we had some time to explore around Covadonga and the awe inspiring church in a cave. Covadonga is historically a very important place–it’s where the Reconquista started. Looking around, you could almost feel the history and stories that originated from this very place. There is an old saying here that goes “Asturias es España y lo demás tierra conquistada” (Asturias is Spain and the rest is conquered land).
Ready to eat a ton of food, we headed to Cangas de Onís. This town has a beautiful Roman bridge that our professor pointed out is actually gothic. We looked around for a good place to eat and found a restaurant that a bunch of locals seemed to be gathering at (always a good sign). They had a “menu” for 11 euros. This is when you get a first plate, a second plate, and dessert all for one price. It was an incredible deal, the food was fantastic, and I couldn’t possibly finish it all. I ordered fabada (a very typical dish from Asturias with white beans and 3 types of meat in a sauce that’s out of this world), bacalao (type of fish) and arroz con leche (rice pudding) for dessert.
Next up was a drive to a small fishing town called Cudillero. Our professor treated us to a tasting of the famous sidra (hard cider from Asturias). They take a glass and hold it in their hand close to the ground, then with the other hand as high up as possible, they pour the cider into the glass. This way the cider aerates and gives a refreshing bite when you drink it. I liked it, and in fact it reminded me of Julian hard cider. Cudillero sits on the side of a mountain next to the ocean. The houses are built into the mountainside and give off an irresistible charm that makes you contemplate living there. There is a lighthouse at the edge of a cliff where you can see waves crashing and fish swimming around because the water is so clear. It was a beautiful sunny day.
The next day, we drove to Gijón, another city on the ocean, but much larger than Cudillero. We walked on the beach and explored a park that had a cement structure that amplified the sound of the waves crashing below. Gijón is a beautiful meeting of the city and the beach, where you can sip a drink from the patio of an architecturally impressive building while admiring the ocean. It’s also an important port for fishing with a huge marina.
Heading back to Madrid, I had the feeling that I was going home. How weird it felt to think of Madrid as my home. It’s much different from any other home I’ve had, but I am grateful. This trip refreshed me and reminded me why I am here…and that it was a good decision, despite the challenges (next blog post!).