Group tours: They can actually be pretty fun.

Phil and I have been on very few group tours, only three to be exact, including the one I’ll be telling you about here. The first was a free tour of St. Peter’s Basilica in 2004, that we happened upon, while in progress. The guide was so informative that we booked his evening walking tour later that night. It ended up being just us and an older couple from the UK that evening for an amazing two plus hour tour around the city.

The second time we took a group tour was at the Doge’s Palace, in Venice, in 2019. The guide was also great and we even visited a few rooms not open to the general public, one was the cell of the famous Casanova, which was super cool. We were part of a relatively large group and, moving through small corridors, by the end of the two hours, we were ready for it to conclude.

This past Tuesday we took our longest group tour yet, an almost 12 hour day, start to finish, to Lagos de Covadonga (Lakes of Covedonga) in the Picos de Europa national park, and then to the nearby town of Cangas de Onís. We booked this group tour through a travel agency (a what?). You heard me, travel agents and travel agencies are still alive and well in Spain, or at least in Asturias. There are many travel agency offices in Gijón that we walk by regularly. They post available group tours in their windows and they offer everything from an afternoon jaunt to local attractions to a two-week European tour. The day trips around Asturias were appealing to us because 1) We don’t have a car 2) necesitamos practicar español (we need to practice speaking Spanish) and hanging out with a bus load of Spaniards kind of ensures we’ll speak at least a little Spanish and 3) we want to explore more of Asturias and do fun stuff.

After looking at the flyers posted in windows of travel agencies many times, we finally decided to go in and book a trip. It was easy and the fact that we speak limited Spanish did not phase the travel agent at all. We told her the trip we wanted and the days we were available to go. The tours require a minimum number of people to join so the agency calls folks on the list the day before the trip if it’s a go. We got a call Monday evening stating they would pick us up the next morning at eight in Plaza del Carmen. We winced a bit at the pick up time (we haven’t had to be anywhere by 8 am in quite a while) and confirmed we were in.

We’ve seen a few different tour buses and vans around so weren’t sure what size of vehicle to expect. I was a little surprised to see a full sized bus pull up. We boarded with a few other couples and headed on to the next stop. The tour guide was personable (a must for the job, I suppose) and spoke decent English. He explained to us that he would be giving all information for the day in Spanish but if we had any questions, he would be happy to answer them in English. We pulled out of Plaza del Carmen and headed to the next stop. There were two more pick up spots in Gijon and one in Oviedo as well. By the time we were finally headed to Covodonga, the bus was full.

We rode through the rolling green hills of Asturias. I will never tire of looking at them. The tour guide provided information about Covadonga and the Picos de Europa as we neared the park. We understood a good bit of what he said, which felt good. Winding up the mountain, I was glad we didn’t drive. Buses and cars narrowly squeeze by each other on the road leading up. Luckily there was plenty of beautiful scenery to occupy my attention.

We passed a goat herd and SO MANY VACAS (cows). In fact, as we disembarked the bus, it smelled like Missouri. It was a challenge to avoid the giant cow pies that covered the ground, as far as the eye could see. The cows roamed free, paying no mind to of all of the tourists that surround them. Phil and I joked with the tour guide about all of the folks taking photos of the cows. With breathtaking views of the mountains and lakes, the first thing they did was walk up to the cows and start snapping away.

Lake Enol

We passed lake Enol in the bus on our way up to lake Ercina. After we stopped, our tour guide suggested we climb the hill a bit (escalar, escalar) between the two lakes for some great views and photo ops. We took his advice, hop-scotching over cow pies as we climbed. We had about an hour and half of free time to check out the lakes as we pleased. The views between did not disappoint. There were a LOT of people there. August is the most popular month for Spaniards to vacation and why not get away to the beautiful green mountains, mild temperatures, and unlimited vaca sightings that Asturias has to offer?

After taking in the views, we descended the hill and grabbed a can of beer at the bustling cafe near the bus parking lot. We stood outside and drank our cold ones, observing all of the people and once again, simply soaked in the views and beauty of nature. We boarded the bus at 12:45 to make our 1:30 lunch reservation in Cangas de Onís.*

Lunch was not included in the price of the tour (some tours offer this) but for an extra €15, you could reserve a spot through the tour company at a local restaurant for the menu del dia. Fifteen euros is a bit more than we’d pay for a weekday menu del dia in Gijón but given that Cangas de Onís is a high traffic tourist area, it seemed reasonable. The food was good, nothing amazing but you can’t go wrong with fabada (Asturian bean stew with chunks of porky goodness) and albóndigas (Spanish meatballs) in tomato sauce, served with fries of course and vino tinto (red wine). For desert we had arroz con leche (rice pudding). The star of lunch wasn’t the food but our lunch companion, Peter. Peter, a security guard from Barcelona, was on a 12-day vacation in Asturias, staying in Gijón in a hotel near the bus station. He had already been to Oviedo, Cudillero, and Aviles. His father had been from Catalonia and his mother from Basque country. Peter is not a fan of Asturian sidra but loves vino tinto. I tell you all of this about Peter, not because I’m writing an unauthorized biography but because Peter did not speak any English. We were able to have a simple conversation with him, completely in Spanish! We understood most of it at least, enough to get the gist. What’s more, we were able to tell him information about us and he understood, sometimes after a few tries on our part and some simple pronunciation corrections from him but we did it. Poco a poco (little by little) we are getting better.

After lunch, the bus took us up the hill a bit where we had an hour to check out the sites. As we got off the bus, Phil asked the tour guide what we should see. He obliged, sending us toward the Church in the Holy Cave in the Mountain of Covadonga (AKA The Cave of Our Lady) then La Basilica de Covadonga. He said seeing both would only take about 30 minutes and then we’d have another 30 minutes to grab a coffee or a beer at the cafe or bar nearby. We took his advice and followed that itinerary exactly. The chapel in the cave was very cool but there were a lot of people in a small space, so we didn’t dawdle. Lining the cave leading to the small chapel were shelves of lit candles that people had left as prayers for others. As we excited the chapel we noticed four candle vending machines! Handy, I suppose for those who didn’t have a candle in their day-pack at the ready (but really, who doesn’t?).

We then headed to the basilica which was really something to behold with the stunning mountains behind it. After the basilica, we had time to grab a beer before heading back to the bus and down the road.

We were only on the road for about ten minutes or so before stopping again. Now we were in the town proper of Cangas de Onís. We had an hour and a half to wander around and were advised as to the highlights; the Roman Bridge (not actually Roman at all but built in the 12th century), the river beach along the Rio Sella, and the museum; Aula Del Reino de Asturias. We easily hit up all three. The museum was tiny but pretty cool, containing information all about the early history of the Kingdom of Asturias and the fighting off of the Moorish invasion.

We had just enough time to grab a quick caña (small glass of beer) before heading back to the bus. It didn’t take long before I was asleep, waking up shortly before we excited back at Plaza del Carmen at 7:30pm, ending another glorious day in Asturias.

Roman Bridge


*So, I’m still a bit confused about Covadonga and Cangas de Onís. Initially, I thought Cangas de Onís was a town within the municipality (like a county) of Covadonga but upon researching a bit, apparently it is the other way around (Cangas de Onís is the municipality). So, if I switch back and forth between the two, that is why.

Happy [belated] Assumption of Mary Day!

If you’re a good catholic, you probably know that August 15th is the Assumption of Mary (and a holy day of obligation). I was raised Catholic but am no longer practicing therefore, by definition I suppose, quite a bad Catholic. Either way, I was unaware that August 15th was Assumption Day and in fact, a Spanish national holiday. The holiday was observed on Monday, the 16th. Our language school was closed for the occasion so we had the whole day free. We decided to visit Mirador Parque de La Providencia. If you read my post about the nude beach, the Mirador de La Providencia is where we were heading when we decided to stop at the beach instead.

We knew the parque was quite a far walk so we decided to take the bus there and then walk back. The bus rode us to north east Gijon, up up the hills we went, past large homes, and a couple of hotels. We hopped off the bus in a residential area and made the short walk to a stone path that hugs the coastline (a continuation of the city’s paseo maratimo along San Lorenzo Beach).

The parque was about a 20-minute walk from the bus stop. It was supposed to be cloudy all day but the sun was shining brightly (I still have a rather unfortunate sunburn in my hairline as evidence). The view of the water from along the clifftop path was glorious; the water various shades of blue. We stopped at the hotel La Colina to enjoy a cold beverage on their patio before carrying on. The hotel is very charming and in an ideal location.

Photo of the hotel that I borrowed from

The Mirador la Providencia is a monument in the center of the park. Unlike most of the statutes and monuments we’ve seen in Gijon, I felt that Mirador La Providencia more visually pleasing at a distance. It reminded me of the bow of a large ship. The park was quite inviting with its rolling green hills and more beautiful sea views including the isle of Tortuga that lay just a few feet offshore. We spread out a blanket and enjoyed a picnic lunch in the grass, overlooking the water, before carrying on.

The walk home was primarily down hill and seemed much easier and quicker than our previous walk to Playa Peñarrubia, which we passed on the way home. Why, when people say, “things are going downhill” does it imply things are bad? Walking downhill is waaaaay better than uphill. I’ll take downhill any day.

Bilbao and Santander

When my cousin Hannah visited a few weeks ago, we spent several days in Bilbao and a day and a half in Santander. I had intended to write about both but as you know, have not. Phil, however, did write about it on his blog so you can still check out our pictures and read all about it! Check it out!

So, we walked 20 kilometres the other day

That’s twelve and a half miles! I mean, we didn’t run a marathon or anything but that’s a whole lotta steppin’. After Spanish class we ate an early lunch and then set out for Parque Arqueologico-natural de la Campa Torres. We knew it would take us an hour and forty minutes to get there on foot. We had no commitments or plans for the day and could take our sweet time, plus there was a bus that stopped near La Campa Torres that we figured we could take home if needed.

The early walk took us through the neighborhoods of El Natahoyo and La Calzada in Gijon. We had walked to Playa de Arbeyal, which is near the Gijon port, in Natahoyo before so had seen a good bit of the barrio already but I had no idea what a bustling area it was near the neighborhood center. El Natahoyo has a working class family feel to it that I like. While not the most beautiful area but it has a good vibe to it.

Next was the La Calzada neighborhood of west Gijon. The farther we walked, the more the city disappeared. We were still in Gijon but houses (with yards!) replaced apartment buildings. We even saw a few horses and goats as on we went, climbing hills. I feel like everywhere we go in Northern Spain, we’re walking uphill. Escalar, escalar. I’m not complaining (yes you are) because it’s always worth it.

Phil assured me that somewhere near our destination was a restaurant that we could stop at for a rest. The signs we passed for the restaurant, Les Cabañes, and the promise of a cold beer and a seat kept the pep in my step. After waking for almost an hour and a half, we finally came upon Les Cabañes! They had a large, inviting patio (terraza) that was almost empty with the exception of one other table. We arrived at an odd time, a bit late for lunch and but much too early for dinner. Since we had eaten early lunch at home, now we were looking for a cold drink, a Radler to be specific. Radler’s are very popular in Asturias in the summertime, and why wouldn’t they be? Sixty percent beer, forty percent lemonade, they are delicious and refreshing and with only 2% ABV, you can easily have a couple during the day without feeling (too) tipsy. To accompany our radlers, the waiter brought a small charcuterie plate of chorizo, two types of jamon, and bread. I mentioned in my last post that bars, restaurants and cafes in Asurias often serve a small, gratis plate of food to snack on (pinchos are what they are called) and this particular plate of food was a real score. The chorizo was so good and really really spicy. Spicy food is not common in Spain as Spanish food is very flavorful but not spicy. Phil and I enjoy spicy food so the chorizo was an especially welcomed treat and it paired so nicely with the cold radler.

We decided to have one more cold one before we left and when the waiter returned, I told him how much I liked the chorizo, “Me gusta el chorizo. Es picante.” He responded with a smile and said, “Es picante, no?” and we nodded our heads. So when he returned with our second round of radlers, he also brought another plate with only the spicy chorizo and more bread. It felt rude not to eat it, so we polished off that plate as well.

After we left we told each other we must go back to Les Cabañes and eat a proper meal. They are known for having the “best lamb on a steak” in Asturias, so says their website and a few signs on the patio. I’m not sure if this means it’s an actual lamb leg steak, lamb cooked on a spit, or some other deliciousness I don’t even know about but when we eat there, I will certainly let you know.

When we left the house that afternoon, we decided not to bring our wallets, just a €20 note and my change purse were our funds for the day, as the museum was free and we had already eaten a full lunch. We wouldn’t need a credit card, right? Note to self: always bring the damn card! Although, if we’d had the card, we might still be at Les Cabañes, drinking beer and eating plate fulls of lamb and chorizo. After spending €7 (around $9) at Les Cabañes we carried on. I feel the need to point out that the cost of four beers, and two small charcuterie plates in Los Angeles would have cost at least $45. I don’t usually talk about prices in my posts because I don’t think it adds to the story but c’mon, that’s one heck of a deal!

La Campa Torres was a further 15 minutes away from Les Cabañes. It is located on a clifftop overlooking the sea, from which you can see the beautiful ocean, the city, the port, and the Repsol oil maritime terminal (see the globe below) which is oddly located right next to La Campa Torres. So, a real mixed bag, view-wise, depending on where you look but all in all, it was stunning.

La Campa Torres is the largest maritime fortified enclosure on the entire Asturian coast. It originated in the 5th or 6th century AD, was occupied by various tribes, and Romanized in the 1st century. The area was gradually abandoned with the founding of the Roman city of Gijon (and building of the Roman wall) in the Cimavilla area of modern-day Gijon.

We walked the grounds and the two small museums for a couple of hours before heading back. We walked to the bus stop we had passed near the entrance of La Campa Torres only to discover that the last bus during the week picks up at 3pm… and it was 6:45pm. Soooooooo, we started the long walk home, stopping in La Calzada and then in Natahoyo for a rest and a beer. The large plate of pinchos at Cafe Doza in Natahoyo were much needed for the last stretch of the walk home. Luckily we had just enough left from our €20 to buy bread at the panaderia (making it there with only seven minutes until close, phew!) for dinner that evening. Our trip to La Campa Torres, the walking, the views, the neighborhoods, and the food all added up to a pretty fantastic day!

Day Trip to Cudillero

I have had such an exciting couple of weeks! First, my cousin Hannah, who lives in Denver, made the trip out to visit us. After showing her the best of Gijon, we ventured out of town for a day trip from Gijon to Cudillero, a small, seaside village in Asturias that is known for fishing and tourism. It is also considered one of the most beautiful villages in Spain (according to it’s Wikipedia page) and while I haven’t been to nearly enough villages in Spain to make that call, it is really very lovely.

Cudillero has been on our list of must see places in Asturias and we figured Hannah’s visit was the perfect time to see it. We took the five minute walk over to the Gijon bus station and boarded the 9:30am bus to Cudillero. The hour and a half ride was broken up by a 30 minute stop in the city of Aviles, which is about midway. We had just enough time to walk to a cafe, have some coffee and delicious complimentary churros before hopping on the bus. It is very common in Asturias to be served a complimentary small croissant, cookie, or if you’re lucky, churros (!) with a coffee or juice order. With an alcoholic beverage or soda, you’ll likely receive potato chips, olives, nuts, perhaps a combo of all three or maybe even a small sandwich or other salty snack delight.

I had researched a bit about what to do in Cudillero before our trip, and that was, basically, walk to the bottom of the town and look up at how beautiful it is then walk to the top and look down at how beautiful it is, then eat seafood. We mixed the order (walking down, eating, walking up) and even added in an ocean wall walk.

There was no bus station, rather a covered stop, in Cudillero. Before the bus pulled away, we took our turn asking the bus driver (who we guessed by his mild annoyance, just answered the same question at least four times) when the return trips were and if we could purchase our ticket on the bus. He confirmed both and we breathed a little sigh of relief before descending the narrow, stone sidewalks that hugged the road, toward the sea. The views from the bottom of the town did not disappoint and we decided to grab a beer since we had a few hours before our 2:30 lunch reservation.

We sat and sipped our beer as we enjoyed the view and watched other day trippers walk by. We were not provided any salty delights and after two beers were feeling a bit jollier than expected for noon on a Thursday. We walked on down toward the marina and large seawall. We sat a spell near the water and watched a fisherman gut his fresh catch, throwing entrails toward the appreciative seagulls.

Our lunch reservations were at a Sidreria called Sidreria El Remo. What is a Sidreria? You might ask. Well, Sidra is Asturian hard cider. Unlike English or Irish hard cider, Asturian Sidra is not sweet but rather tart and a bit sour tasting. Full disclosure (which I am somewhat ashamed to admit); prior to Sidreria El Remo, Phil and I had only had sidra one other time since moving to Gijon. I’d read about sidra prior to our move and knew it was not sweet, that it should always be shared, and that it should always be poured (by someone who knows what they are doing) from the height of about a full arm’s reach to create a bit of natural aeration/carbonation. What I did not know, however, when we first tried it, is that what is poured should be drank in one go, immediately after hitting your glass. And well, my first impression of sidra was that it tasted like liquid blue cheese, and not in a good way. Phil and I knew we must try it again. If Asturians love the stuff, there must be a reason.

At Sidreria El Remo, we ordered sidra to accompany our delicious feast. Instead of pouring the sidra for customers themselves, some sidrerias have machines they set on the table that creates a similar carbonation effect as pouring from a great height does but frees up staff [presumably] and allows patrons to pour at their leisure as opposed to waiting for the camarero (waiter) to return. Below is a photo of the sidra pouring machine and a camarero pouring sidra. The camarero pictured is from La Galana in Gijon. The barrel-like pouring station serves as a splash guard for indoor pouring.

In true Jess fashion, I only snapped a couple of food photos because I was so excited to eat and try everything. We had the chorizos a la sidra (chorizo cooked in cider) which was smokey and delicious, the fritos de pixin (fried monkfish) which were huge chunks of meaty fried fish served with lemon, croquetas de jamon, and buchos, a typical dish of Cudillero. The Buchos is a Stew of hake (type of fish) tripe over low heat that is prepared with a ratatouille sauce with chopped onion, garlic and pepper and tomato sauce. Fish tripe stew doesn’t sound great to me but when in Cudillero…It was delicious and everything paired so nicely with the sidra! We even ordered a second bottle. We finished the meal with tarta de la abueula (grandma’s cake) and the pastel de tres chocolates (three chocolates cake). Both were delicious but the three chocolate cake was really something.

After lunch we climbed many winding steps toward the top of the town. Each turn revealed a little window, door, small flower garden, or other magical cuteness tucked away in the maze of winding stone stairs. After taking photos from the top, we slowly made our way toward the bus stop, stopping at a couple of cafes for something to drink along the way. Just as a light drizzle began, the return bus showed up and took us back to Gijon, and we enjoyed the lovely bus ride home alongside the green, Asturian hills.

Sometimes You’ve Got to Walk and Smell the Roses

Walking. We do it a lot and, with no car, it is our primary mode of transportation. It’s a good thing as it allows us to explore the nooks and crannies of the city we would not necessarily see in a car or on a bus route. It also allows us to eat bread, cake, and wine almost daily without having to buy new pants. Buying new pants would really eat into my bread, cake, and wine budget.

From many points in the city, one can view a tall clock tower in the distance but we did not know what it was until recently. As part of the city of Gijon’s summer activities (I will write another post with more information on these later), Phil read about a concert being held there, at the Universidad Laboral de Gijon. The complex, originally built as a learning center for orphans, now hosts several cultural institutions (the wikipedia page is worth a read and has great photos). The Universidad is an hour walk from our place and the concert was at 10pm on a Thursday soooooooo, we decided skip that one. We still wanted to make a visit though and when we asked our Profesora about it, she highly recommended we see it. She told us from the top of the clock tower, one can view all of Gijon. The botanical gardens are also right next door, so a real twofer as far as checking out cool stuff.

We decided to make the trek to check out the Universidad Laboral de Gijon and the Jardin Botanico Atlantico de Gijon. We packed a lunch and off we went. The weather was perfect (almost no humidity!) with sunshine and a gentle breeze. The walk felt like it took no time at all. We arrived on the backside of the campus and could not find a way through to the court yard or clock tower. We were about to turn back and walk around the building when we saw a lower level door wide open, so walked on through. It had a very “college campus in the summer” feel, kind of abandoned with no one around but still opened. We saw a sign that read “salida al patio” (exit to the patio) and walked up the stairs toward the door. We exited on the extremely impressive courtyard of the Universidad. It is huge and architecturally stunning. The clock tower and church were both closed (our profesora later told us we could call to make an appointment for a private tour) so we enjoyed our time just walking around the campus and having a picnic lunch in a little nook off the courtyard. We saw at most ten other people the entire time we were there.

My feet were a little tired after our walkabout but the Jardin Botanico was so close, it seemed silly not to go, and it did not disappoint. We walked around the grounds for almost two hours and saw about half of the 25 hectacre grounds (61 acres). We will definitely be going back because it was SO cool! It was populated with fruit trees, flowers from all over the world, poisonous plants in a labyrinth, huge, beautiful trees (including the biggest eucalyptus I have ever seen), dahlias which are super cool because their leaves are almost black which makes the color pop even more, and a ton of other cool plants and nature stuff. Although we passed other people here and there, for the most part, we felt alone, which was also very nice.

After a couple of hours, we were both pretty pooped so we decided to head home. There’s a bus stop right outside of the gardens and we thought it would be a great opportunity to try the city’s bus service and give our feet a rest. We waited about ten minutes before the number 18 rolled in. There were only two other folks on the bus and a short ride later, we got off at a stop near our place. We walked right on past our apartment and directly to the heladeria (ice-cream shop). I had a double scoop; one pistachio and one chocolate and Phil chose strawberry and hazelnut chocolate, both on sugar cones. We sat and ate our ice cream on a bench overlooking the water, which was a perfect way to end a perfect day.

The Introvert Joins Meetup: A tale of Strength and Triumph

A few weeks ago, Phil and I were sitting outside of a cafe, drinking beer, and enjoying the sunshine when he started looking through the local Meetup groups in Gijon. Most groups are still meeting virtually but he found an outdoor yoga class that was meeting in the park. At that point, I hadn’t been to an in-person yoga class in over a year. I was excited to hear about it but a little intimidated at the idea of going to a class in Spanish. I decided even if I don’t know Spanish all that well (yet), I do know yoga, plus it would be a great opportunity to practice my Spanish and listen to others speak.

I attended yoga class the following Monday. It turned out I was the only student who showed up that evening. It also turned out that the instructor, Adelaida, speaks English. Since it was just the two of us, she lead the class in English, which although it did not help me practice my Spanish, I greatly appreciated it. Phil met me at the park after class and I introduced him to Adelaida. She gave us some information about the qigong class she also leads in the park on Wednesdays and told us she sometimes offers weekend excursions near Gijon.

The following Wednesday, Phil and I attended the qigong class together and really enjoyed it. Adelaida also told us about another Meetup group of folks who get together to speak English (typically native Spanish speakers who gather to practice/learn/retain English). She indicated it might be a good opportunity for us to meet folks we could practice Spanish with. The group was meeting in-person for the first time since Covid that Friday night.

Phil and I were both excited for the opportunity to meet more people. Going to socialize with a group of people we don’t know has not historically been my idea of a good time, however: 1. When in Rome 2. After almost no in-person socialization for over a year, my introvert energy tank is all filled up 3. I’m a big believer that you have to get out of your comfort zone to make the magic happen. I don’t always follow this and often it requires an internal pep talk with myself (or an external pep talk from Phil) but I do believe it.

Uncharacteristically (according to Adelaida), almost everyone who showed up for the Friday night Meetup was new to the group. Everyone who attended was also fluent or a native English speaker. We did not get any Spanish practice in but we did have a good time.

Making friends as an adult is hard. All of my close friends are people I’ve either known from childhood or met in college with the exception of a handful of women I befriended at different jobs during my professional career. You could tell everyone at the Meetup was a little nervous but we were all trying, dammit. We put ourselves out there to try to connect with our fellow humans. It was nice. We’re going again this Friday.

At the Meetup group on Friday, Adelaida told us she was leading an excursion to the Austrian village of Villamayor for a hike on Sunday. She even offered to drive us! We were so excited for the opportunity. We have been wanting to explore the Austrian countryside but not having a car makes it a little more challenging. So, Sunday morning, we packed a lunch and off we went!

We arrived at Villamayor around 11:30am and walked a couple of kilometers to the area de recreativo. There was a lush, green (everything is lush green) grassy picnic area with tables, near a running stream. There was even a small refreshment stand selling sidre (local, hard cider) and sandwiches. We passed through the recreation area and down a small path leading to a waterfall and then onto the hiking trail, leading up the mountain. Phil and I walk A LOT but we have not been on a proper hike in quite a while and let me tell you, it was not easy. It was, totally worth it through. Along the way we saw a goat herder with his herd, a few horses, a couple of dogs, and some cows. Oh, the cows.

We stopped along the way to meditate in a small, grassy clearing. During the meditation we concentrated on being one with nature. Being surrounded by the fresh air, trees, grass, and singing birds, it was easy to feel grounded and connected to everything.

We continued on up the mountain after the mediation. Adelaida had told us when we started that we could turn around any time and go back. I was a sweaty, huffing, puffing mess for most of the hike up. I pushed through because it was so beautiful, every turn more so than the last. Finally, however, after crossing over a fence and reaching a field with a few cows, I told her and Phil I was pooped and ready to go back. We were preparing to do so when we ran into some other hikers who informed us that the peak vista was only about 600 meters more on up. I did not care at all and was keen to turn around but after some come on-ing, I conceded and was ready to go for it. We started up the hill and immediately ran into another group of cows, laying directly in our path. Those other hikers I had mentioned had obviously walked right on through the bunch of them. Some of the cows had horns and while I was feeling totally one with nature, I was not down to walk through the cows. I let Phil and Adelaida know I would happily wait for them on the other side of the fence if they wanted to venture on but I was done. Lucky for me, they were both fine with heading back. Everything we had seen that day was so beautiful, we certainly did not feel robbed by not seeing the final vista.

The way down was even better. Not only for the not going uphill anymore part but we also noticed a few things we hadn’t on the trek up. Phil even found a cave that Adelaida had read was on the trail (the summer overgrowth concealed it a bit).

We arrived back to the area de recreativo after the 7.5 mile hike and sat at the picnic benches and ate the lunches we’d packed. Then we finished our time in Villamayor with some more meditation. Listening to the flowing water of the stream and feeling the wind blow, you can’t help but be reminded to go with the flow. I am someone who can easily lean into feeling tight, tense, and anxious. When you are in nature, just breathing and listening, you’re reminded of how insignificant your worries are. We are a small blip in the grand scheme of this glorious, 13.8 billion year old universe. I’m not going to waste that blip on feeling anything but incredibly lucky to have bleeped (well, now you’re just being silly, Jess). So, put yourself out there. Do the thing you’re scared of and don’t be afraid to look foolish. These are all bits of my previously mentioned internal pep talks but if you do something you’re afraid to do, that you just don’t think is in you, I promise, you won’t be disappointed. There’s no better feeling than surprising yourself.

A Day Trip to Oviedo

On Saturday we look our first trip outside of Gijon. We headed inland via train about 30 kilometres south to the capital of Asturias, Oviedo. The ferrocarril (train station) is a ten minute walk from our apartment. We arrived five minutes before our 10:15am departure time. The coach was almost empty as the train begins it’s journey for the day in Gijon. The seats were comfortable and roomy. The brief trip rode us past lush, rolling green hills and we were in Oviedo in less than 20 minutes.

The train station is in central, old town Oviedo. Oviedo is a more aesthetically pleasing city than Gijon (I prefer Gijon’s character and vibe, though admittedly, I am biased) because Oviedo has an old world, European feel and beautiful architecture everywhere you look. We hopped off the train and started walking through the green, sculpture-filled park, named Campo De San Francisco. At one corner of the park was a small tourist information booth and we stopped by for a map and recommendations. The woman working was very nice and provided us with a city map and several brochures written in English (though she did ask us if we would prefer English or Spanish. Score for Team B!). We were able to communicate with her entirely in Spanish and she pointed out the top three sites to see and asked us if we had lunch reservations somewhere (we did).

As mentioned, the park has several sculptures, as does the city center at large. One of the statues is, oddly, of Woody Allen. Our profesora had mentioned this to us. Even after reading about it, I am still confused as to why he received this honor but the statue is there and I felt I had to mention it.

We headed toward the number one tourist site, The Cathedral of San Salvador and on the way, passed the University of Oviedo. We wandered into the the large, open court yard near the library and came upon an art exhibit of artist Jaime Herrero. Jaime Herrero was a multi-disciplinary artist and cultural figure in Oveido who died in 2020 at age 83. We were the only ones at the exhibit at the time so were able to take our time viewing his work before continuing on our way.

The Cathedral de San Salvador is a huge, beautiful cathedral that was built in the 14th century. It is also the starting point for the “camino primitivo” on the Camino de Santiago. As we made our way toward the entrance, we saw that the cathedral charges seven euro to enter. Perhaps it was because we had been to three lovely and old churches in Gijon already earlier in the week but mostly it was because there is something about a church charging for entry that doesn’t sit right, we decided not to tour the cathedral. We figured we have plenty of time to tour the cathedral since we only live 20 minutes away, if we change our minds.

Our lunch reservations weren’t until 2:30, so we decided to grab a quick pincho (snack/small meal) and a caña (small glass of beer) at a nearby cafe and figure out our next destination. We each had the tortilla con chorizo (Spanish tortilla is a thick, potato and egg omelet, similar to a frittata, served in slices). The pincho and beer hit the spot nicely and we decided to move on to the Palacio de Verarde-The Austrian Museum of Art.

The art museum featured primarily Austrian artists (they did have a Picasso and a Dali). Artist Jose Uria y Uria (1861-1937) was particularly notable for his paintings and use of light and shadow. Both Oviedo and Gijon have Uria streets named for the artist.

The museum closed at 2pm for lunch which was perfect timing for us to leave and walk to our 2:30 lunch reservation at La Palmera del Indiano. The restaurant is located inside of the Barcelo Hotel. The ambiance had a bit of a Southern California feel to it. The food was delicious (I got a few photos this time!). As we waited for our primera platas (first plates), the waitress poured our glasses of vino tinto and dropped off a couple of complimentary bites of delicious tomato with burrata cheese in basil infused olive oil. We started with a plate of fried Cantabrian squid and a plate of plantain tostones with conchinita pilbil (slow roasted, marinated pork) and poblano mole. You can’t go wrong with fried calamari and the squid did not disappoint. I love plantains and haven’t had any since we’ve been here. That coupled with the south of the [U.S.] boarder flavor, which I have mentioned we don’t get a lot of, would have been enough for me but that mole was something else. It had a strong anise flavor, which I normally do not love and would not expect to pair with such a dish but it worked really well brought the tostones to another level. We then shared a segundo plato of beef cheek with sweet potato puree and garnish of fried yucca. The beef tasted like delicious pot roast. What’s not to like? For desert, we shared the La Torrija (French Toast) of brioche with nougat ice cream. This was soooo good. The La Torrija tasted like a flan/bread pudding combo, not like traditional, American, French-toast (traditional, American, french-toast? You know what I mean).

After lunch we wandered into a couple of small churches and made our way to the Antiguo de San Vicente Archaeological Museum. The museum is home to ancient artifacts from the Austrian region dating back to the Roman conquest of Spain.

After the archaeological museum, I was straight up tuckered out, so we headed to the bus station for our trip home. Buses run Ovideo-Gijon every 30 minutes and we purchased our 7pm tickets back with 2 minutes to spare. The 20 minute ride back gave my feet a welcomed rest. Luckily the Gijon bus station is only about a five minute walk from our apartment where we returned for a quiet night in of pizza and beer.

Good Friday (not that Good Friday)

Last Friday we had lunch at a restaurant named Topolino (sounds Italian, not Italian). The food was amazing though I forgot to take photos (sorry!). Phil made reservations there after we were standing outside, looking at their menu del dia one Sunday and an elderly gentleman passing by came back to tell us the food was “extraordinario”. It is not very common for a stranger to speak to you on the street here; Asturians are friendly but keep to themselves. We decided if this guy went out of his way to backtrack and tell us about the food, it must be, well, extraordinario.

Our regular Profesora de Espanol, Marta, was out last Friday, so Profesora Sole substituted. We have had Profesora Sole before and we really like her as she really makes us work because Profesora Sole doesn’t speak English (she speaks Spanish and French). We told Profesora that we were going to Topolino for lunch that afternoon and she confirmed that the food was excellent, the restaurant had good ambiance and, if you’re lucky, when you go there, you might get a beach view. She also said that she sometimes has afternoon appointments near there and when she does, she always tries to go to Topolino. She was also sure to tell us that they offer para llavar (to go orders) of their menu del dia, in case they did not have tables available. When we left class, we were even more jazzed about our choice due to another glowing recommendation.

We had coincidentally been working on restaurant phrases in our Spanish class, so lunch at Topolino was an excellent opportunity to test our skills. While a “yo quiero” (I want) and pointing will usually suffice, it is nice to be able to have a bit more of a dialogue with the camarero/a (waiter/waitress) and to ask questions about menu items you are interested in. Lucky us, we were seated at the large window facing the beach. I knew right away I wanted the Fabada for my first course. I have mentioned Fabada before, but in case you forgot it is a classic Asturian bean stew of smokey pork delights (chorizo, blood sausage and what looks like fatback). It tastes like fancy Midwestern ham and beans and is really good. Phil asked a few questions about the other offerings and decided on the sincronizedas de pollo con guacamole which was like a chicken quesadilla. It was pretty darn tasty. There is not a lot of Mexican food in Spain so it was especially nice to have a little taste. For our second course, I had the salmon con salteado de trigueros y setas (salmon with sauteed asparagus and mushrooms) that came with fried, mandolin sliced potatoes. Phil had the solomillo a la carbonara (pork sirloin medallions with a cream sauce) served with a side of patatas fritas (these folks love their french fries but who doesn’t?). Both dishes were excellent. We paired lunch with a bottle of the house vino tinto and for desert, I had the arroz con leche (rice pudding-I know. Weird but it’s crazy good here) and Phil had the lemon tart which was muy rico and refreshing.

After our big lunch and a little nap, we headed out to see a play at the Jovellanos theater. The theater is a five minute walk from our apartment and is the venue for many touring theatrical and concert productions. We have tried to get tickets to a couple of different shows but because of the limited seating related to Covid protocols, tickets sell out quickly. We lucked out and scored a couple of entradas (tickets) for the June 11th production of Doña Rosita Anotada. It was a really cool experience, though mentally fatiguing. We had read a bit about the play prior to going but I didn’t realize that it consisted largely of character monologues. It also moves backward chronologically and as such was a lot for beginning Spanish students to keep track of. The actors spoke very quickly and, while they did have a screen at the top of the stage with subtitles [in Spanish] which helped, we understood very little. We compared notes afterward and both agreed on the gist of the overarching theme (score for team Barrington!). The play is about waiting and the passage of time and aging. How we often put things off because we are waiting for something else to happen and/or we put off doing things we want to do for another, later date and all the while, time is pushing us closer to the finish line.

We had planned to go out for a bit after the play but we were both exhausted from the reading and thinking so we headed home for some wine and cake, which just happens to be the perfect antidote to having an exhausted thinker*.

*this statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration

A photo of the theater I stole from Wikipedia

Surprise! Nude beach!

Gijon has several beaches, a few of which are a hike outside of the main city. Our Profesorra de espanol, Marta, knows we enjoy walking and going to the beach. She informed us that if you walk to the end of the paseo maritimo (beachfront walkway), we would come to “the most beautiful beach.” So we decided to go for a long walk towards that beach yesterday. We were well equipped with towels, snacks, sunscreen, water, comfortable shoes, swimming suits under clothes…the whole shebang.

We walked for about an hour, past where the paseo maritimo becomes a stone path and winds through lush, green hills. We saw an inviting beach in the distance and decided the end of the paseo would have to wait for another day because we were done walking and ready for beaching. The beach we saw, Playa de Penarrubia, is at the bottom of a steep hill. Luckily, the stone path and steps leading down to it are in great shape and feel extremely safe for such a steep incline.

As we neared the final descending staircase, we peaked over the edge to look at the water and saw a very tan, very naked, older fellow soaking up some sun in the sand. I had read that there are several nude beaches outside of town. However it is common on nice, sunny days to see women sunbathing topless, from twenty-somethings to seventy-somethings, at the most popular beaches in town. I should mention men are sunbathing topless right along with them. Folks do not look twice at either. It is not illicit or salacious. I say this as a woman from the United States where a woman sunbathing topless on a public beach would not only be viewed as lewd behavior in most places, it would also very likely be illegal.

A friend of ours recently told Phil that his young daughter feels it is unfair that he can walk around with this shirt off but girls and women cannot. It is unfair. Welcome to ladyhood, little sister. The sight of a woman’s breasts are so distracting to men that is is illegal to bare them. Breastfeeding a child in the U.S. in public can still be mistaken for an obscene act. All of that being said, the U.S. also has another layer beyond the puritanical. There is also the body shaming.

Even if topless sunbathing were common place in the U.S., many women would not for the same reason many women do not wear sleeveless shirts or shorts or bikinis (I bought the first bikini I have worn since age four this past year at Phil’s urging because, why not?) because they have been taught to feel ashamed of their bodies. If you have lumps, bumps, stretchmarks, birthmarks, hair, no hair, etc, we should want to cover it up. We don’t feel like it’s normal or good or acceptable. From what I have read and in my limited interactions with Spaniards, something like being fat is used as a descriptor here, not as a judgement or insult. Just like you might describe someone as short or tall or blonde or brunette, one might described as fat (gordo/gorda) as a matter of fact.

As an introvert who loathes being the center of attention and someone who was obese in high school, I have struggled with self esteem and body image issues all of my life. It has gotten much better with age but being a foreigner in a new country with new customs, insecurity has been rearing it’s ugly head a bit more than I would like. When it does, I just have to remind myself that: 1. if someone judges me based on my physical appearance, they are an asshole, and I don’t care what they think, and 2. if someone assumes the worst of me in any interaction, they are an asshole and I don’t care what they think. Anyway, I digress. Back to the beach.

As we arrived at the beach, it became very obvious that it was one of the nude beaches I had read about. About seven or so older men were in the immediate, visible area and some other folks further on down the beach. As with most places we have been in Gijon, everyone was doing their own thing, in their own space, and not really paying attention to anyone else. I always find something comforting about being around people with a “live and let live” attitude. Be cool, don’t cause trouble, and no one will care what you do.

Phil and I rolled out our towels and settled in. I elected to pop off my bikini top (Phil voted in this election and the results were unanimous). Why not let the little ladies see the sun? When in Rome, right? We stayed at the beach for a few hours, laying on our towels, half asleep, half awake, listing to the waves crash. A few people came and went but the peaceful, easygoing vibe remained.

There is something about the beach that is good for the soul. I think I understand why the nudists nude or at least why folks want to get naked on the beach. It is not about sex or voyeurism, or at least not for most people. Being in nature, next to the immensity of the ocean, under the warm embrace of the sun, laying in the sand, you can’t help but feel at one with it all. There is a desire to remove all barriers, to roll around in it, grab onto it, to soak it in. To dive, tits first if you will, into the divine expanse.