Spring 2012, I moved to Oviedo, Spain with Miami University of Ohio's study abroad program with the Universidad de Oviedo. There I would practice my Spanish, learn about the diaspora, and Spain's history for the next few months.
The region of Asturias, Spain is by far one of the greatest kept secrets of Spain. Located in the
north of Spain, it was one of the only places in Spain that was not conquered by the Moors during the Reconquista, making it a safe haven for Christians in the region at that time. Its rich history can be seen in its architecture and culture today. Throughout much of Spain, you can see a muslim influence in the food, architecture, and culture. However, Asturias captures the rich, old traditional Spanish architecture and culture sans Moor influence. In Asturias, the air is clean; full of oxygen from the green mountains all around and the sea breeze blowing from the north. The summers aren't too hot, and the winters aren't too cold. It barely snows, but the rain and wind are strong. They should really call Oviedo, the Windy City. However, the left over rain makes the city so much more beautiful, with a cloudy cloak over the city, and sheets of water lighting up the streets. You can grab a seat in a local café or bar, and just watch the city breathe. I don't think I've ever lived in a place with so much culture, rich architecture, new fashions, and exquisite restaurants and pubs all in one place. Maybe it's because there was great cheese, wine, beer, meats, and espressos around every corner, but there is no place as exquisite and traditional as Oviedo.
Woody Allen's Oviedo
The U.S. film director, Woody Allen, describes Oviedo as, "a delicious, exotic, beautiful, clean, lovely, tranquil and pedestrianized" city. He adds, "It's like it doesn't belong to this world, as if it did not exist...Oviedo is like a fairytale". His movie, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, stars Penélope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, Rebecca Hall among other actors and actresses. During a summer in Barcelona, Vicky and Cristina meet the seductive artist, Juan, at an art showing. Inviting the women to his hometown of Oviedo, they accept. After a romantic weekend with both of the American women, they return to Barcelona, where Vicky gets married to her safe fiancé and Cristina moves in with the seductive, passionate Juan. While living together, his violent ex-wife moves back in with both of them after an over-dose. Thus, beginning a beautiful, passionate relationship between the three of them; Juan, María, and Cristina.
Asturias is not well known around the world, and that is okay. If you are in Europe and want an amazing, unique city to check out, grab your passport and head to Asturias!
Places to See
Covadonga and Congas de Onís
Covadonga is located east of Oviedo, just past Congas de Onís. It is the site of The Battle of Covadonga, which was a small-scale clash between Islamic Moors and a force of Christians from Asturias, led by Don Pelayo. This battle guaranteed the survival of Christianity in Asturias, and can be described as the start of the Reconquista. Here, you can see the Chapel of Our Lady (Virgen de las Batallas), Santa Cueva de Covadonga (a chapel built into the side of a cave), the Estatua del Rey Pelayo, and Santuario de Covadonga. In Congas de Onís, you can see the Roman Bridge, the "Puente Vieyu" or "Puentón". This bridge dates back to the medieval times, possibly back to the end of the 13th century. These places hold so much rich history.
San Francisco Park
San Francisco Park is located in the middle of Oviedo, across the street from the Woody Allen statue. Every morning on my way to class at the Universidad de Oviedo I would walk past the San Francisco Park, where the peacocks roamed with their bright green and blue feathers. They were beautiful, and at that time, they were like squirrels, as in there were so many of them. The plethora of peacocks in Oviedo adds to Woody Allen's theory that it is like a fairy tail. Bring a good book, and plan to spend an afternoon walking around the park, taking in the green scenery and fresh air. I was told to avoid the park at night time due to drug deals that would go on in the park. I never witnessed any drug deals, and in fact I think it was even more majestic at night. If you do choose to walk through the park at night, be careful and stay vigilant. That goes for any place in the world.
Erected in 1950, with his arms opened wide, Jesus seems to be embracing and protecting
Oviedo. The hike up to the top of the hill is worth the breathtaking view over the city. I recommend hiking up before sunset, wear some comfortable shoes! Mount Naranco reaches an elevation of 634 meters, compared to 710 meters of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. On your way up, their may be a restaurant or two, so eat before hand! And if you're really desperate, they were selling condoms in the vending machines on our way up. On your way up to Monte Naranco,
you will be able to find the beautiful Santa María del Naranco and San Miguel de Lillo, both designated World Heritage Sites. Santa María del Naranco was originally built as a royal palace for Ramiro I of Asturias in 848, but converted into a church at the end of the 13th century. It's a pretty small palace if you ask me.
While you are in Oviedo, take a train a half an hour north to the city of Gijón. It's right next to the ocean. Although there aren't great beaches there per say, it's still beautiful to see. They have lots of great restaurants, bars, cafés and shopping areas. You can also check out their amazing aquarium!
Ahh, my favorite part. The asturian cuisine. Asturias is known for its alcoholic beverage, sidra. Instead of opening a bottle and letting it 'breathe', Spain has a custom of 'throwing' the cider. Pouring the cider at approximately a meter, it allows the cider to aerate and enhance the aroma and flavor of the cider. The sidra production began in the late eleventh century when the region's climate was unfavorable for grape cultivation. Add some Fanta into the mix, and you could also make some really great sangría de sidra! Another well-known famous food product from Asturias is the cabrales cheese, a blue cheese made from cow's, goat's, and sheep's milk. It is semi-hard, artisan, blue-veined cheese. A famous Asturian meal which can be found worldwide, is the fabada. Fabada is a stew made with large white beans, shoulder of pork or bacon, black pudding, chorizo, and often saffron. And my favorite appetizer that my host mom always made was the croquetas. Croquetas are small, round breadcrumbed fried rolls filled typically with mashed potatoes and ham.
Aside from some of the most popular dishes in Asturias, my favorite part of Oviedo was meeting up with this woman to teach her English. I met her while volunteering to teach English/Spanish to migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in the city. She was a migrant from Eastern Europe, I want to say either Romania or Slovakia. Her Spanish was great, she just wanted to practice the little amount of English that she knew. Once a week, we would meet up in a new bar or café. In exchange for teaching and helping her practice her English, she would buy me a drink. Unfortunately, during my last week in Spain, I lost my phone while horseback riding, and with it, I lost her contact information. Although I lost contact with her, I will always remember our meet ups at all the local bars and cafés in Oviedo.
If you're looking for a great night with amazing food and drinks, I highly recommend checking out Tierra Astur for a real Asturian food experience. There are multiple locations in Asturias, so check out their website.
I hope this blog post helps!
Fun Story ; Comic Book Admirer
Walking to and from class every day was a 30 minute adventure. Lots of walking, twists and turns. I would walk past the same stores every day, twice a day. I remember the sex store I would always walk past. I had to check it out at least once, and I remember in the video aisle it had an area for animal porn. Trivia knowledge for Taylor's life. Anyways...I would also always walk by Zara and some other shopping areas. I loved stopping by every once in awhile to window shop. Walking home, and almost to the shopping area, a man approaches me and asks me if I speak English. He starts following me, and asking me about my life. I was polite to him, thinking he just wanted to practice his English. There's no harm in talking to people. But I began to feel uncomfortable by how he was looking at me. Should I have been flattered, or should I have started running? He asked if he could take pictures of me, so he could make me his heroine in his comic book he was drawing. What do you say to that!? I felt uncomfortable and tried to leave, and then he asked to come with me. I told him I was going to go shopping, and he still tried to come with me. I put my foot down and said no. Shopping is peaceful, and therapeutic to me, why would I want a man who I didn't know following me around while I went shopping? I took my time in the stores, as to lose him.
On my way home from the stores, I walked past a comic book store across from the white space ship mall. The comic book store was the last store before turning the corner down my street to my apartment. HE WAS IN THERE!!!!! LESS THAN A BLOCK FROM MY HOME! I saw him and immediately put my head down and turned the corner, my heart racing. I didn't look back, and ran into my apartment building. I never saw him again. And I'm hoping he never saw me again either.