Monthly Archives: March 2011

Do Catholics have more fun?

Do Catholics have more fun? By Catholics I don’t so much mean practising Catholics as lapsed Catholics living in countries with a culture that is heavily dominated by its Catholic heritage. Spain, for instance.

Take this example, what do we do in Australia to mark the beginning of Lent? We eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day for the less religious), if you’re more devout maybe go to church for Ash Wednesday and decide on something to give up for Lent. But that’s it. In Spain (and, of course, other countries such as Italy and Brazil) the weekend before the beginning of Lent means Carnaval. Read: street parades, costumes, massive parties till dawn.

Taking these celebrations even further, in Asturias, there are two weekends of Carnaval. The first is on the actual weekend before Lent, and it is celebrated all over the region but the biggest parties are in Gijón and Avilés. Apparently everyone started leaving Oviedo for the weekend to go to the other two cities for Carnaval, resulting in a rather boring, quiet Carnaval. But this is Spain and there couldn’t possibly be a boring fiesta somewhere! So, Oviedo decided to move its Carnaval to the following weekend. Yes, the excessive partying and merriment (and in some quarters, drinking) now fall during Lent, the period of reflection, sobriety and preparation for Easter. See what I mean about lapsed Catholics?

Now that you’ve had an introduction to the idea of Carnaval I’ll be writing up my stories from the two weekends of fiestas this week. Look out for stories of all-night dancing, costume competitions and pouring rain in the next few days!


Plaza de la Catedral - the end of the parade



Filed under Carnaval, Mi vida española, Pensamientos, Spain

At the halfway mark.

Today marked an important halfway point for me. I have finished my first tube of Vegemite. I brought two with me and at breakfast this morning I finished one of them. So, I am halfway through my Vegemite supplies.

I am also now about halfway through my stay here (if you can believe it!) so really, it all lines up quite nicely.



Filed under Mi vida española, Update

Wordy Wednesday: ¡Estoy Pez!

Tonight I can certainly use this expression about myself: ¡Estoy pez! However the first time I heard this phrase over here in Spain it would be fair to say I was more than a little confused.

Imagine you are sitting in the English department with some teachers when one of them with whom you have been chatting in English (with a bit of difficulty) bursts out with: ¡estoy pez!

Literal translation: I’m fish.

Naturally you would think you mis-heard somehow and just smile along like you usually do when something goes right over your head. Well, I didn’t mis-hear, the teachers explained it to me and now I can explain it to you.

Essentially you exclaim ¡estoy pez! when you are feeling brain-dead and as though you know nothing at all. You are having a total mental blank and suspect that there is no cerebral activity whatsoever going on upstairs. Often connected to exhaustion, which is generally the culprit of these sorts of days where nothing in your brain works.

So tonight, sitting down to write this, I have been totally struggling because ¡estoy pez! (Side note: you may have already known that Spanish uses double exclamation marks. Something new, as you have seen here the first one doesn’t have to come at the beginning of the sentence, it comes at the beginning of the exclamation. Kind of sensible really, other times just tricky. But that’s a post for another day…)

Well, I have just made my self-imposed Wordy Wednesday deadline, it is still Wednesday here. Of course, for all of you home in Australia it is already Thursday morning. Have lovely Thursdays and if anyone can help, could you please tell me where the weeks go?!



Filed under Wordy Wednesday

Barcelona: Day Three

Ok, so here we go with the highlights from my last day in Barcelona!

Day three started with saying goodbye and bon voyage to my new friends who were flying back to their university in Versailles (I was very jealous at the time and wished I were flying back to Paris instead of Oviedo..). I wandered aimlessly out of the hostel with two rough ideas of how to spend my day: I wanted to go to the beach area and I wanted to go up the hill to Montjuïc. I still hadn’t decided which to do first as I left the hostel but when I reached the metro stop for the Montjuïc funicular I finally made my decision and kept on strolling down to the beach. It turned out to be quite a walk but the weather was okay and when I finally did make it I bumped into my room-mates! We passed some time very pleasantly enjoying the view of the sea and a few snatches of beautiful warm sunshine before the thunderclouds started to roll overhead (they kept rolling and it turned into a beautiful afternoon). I imagine that the beach would be great in summer, it is a nice long sandy stretch and Barcelona does get quite hot in summer I’m told.

La barceloneta - The beach in Barcelona

Pebbles on the beach

Around the middle of the day we said goodbye again and I made my way up to Montjuïc. Montjuïc is home to an old castle, a bunch of museums and gardens and the 1992 Barcelona Olympics venues. It’s only a short funicular ride up the hill (for the price of a regular metro ticket) and you don’t really realise how far and how high it is until you get up there. I didn’t stop at any of the museums although there are quite a few with both art and ethnographic exhibits. Instead I wandered around some beautiful open garden spaces and looked out at the great view over the city. I also tried to visit the old castle right at the top of the hill but I think that, in spite of the signs pointing you in the direction of the castle from the funicular stop, it is only accessible by the cable car or by driving. I made it as far as some car parks up the pretty steep hill and then the trail sort of disappeared. So I left it at that!

Barcelona is big

Looking down from a garden to the museum of Catalan Art

Spring is coming!!

It was an early night back at the hostel that evening and I had the whole dorm to myself! This was super helpful when I got up at 4.30am before my 7.20am flight, as it meant I could switch all the lights on and be as noisy as I liked! I made it back out to the airport easily enough, with no delays, and consequently had arrived at my terminal and passed through security before the gate number for my flight had even been released. Once back in Asturias I caught the bus back to Oviedo, walked home to dump my backpack (where I also discovered a lovely parcel from home had arrived for me) before making it to school for an 11.25am start. It was an extremely long day!

As always, more photos to come on Flickr, especially some yummy photos I took at the Mercat La Boquería over the three days I visited. Stay tuned for a new Wordy Wednesday post tomorrow!



Filed under Barcelona, Spain, Travel

Barcelona: Day Two.

On my second day in Barcelona, Saturday, I took myself on a little self-guided walking tour of L’Eixample to see as much Modernisme architecture as I could handle. Quite aside from the most famous buildings of this movement there are lots of other gorgeous, and arguably more subtle, examples of it spread throughout L’Eixample where locals pass them by without a second glance. In particular I fell in love with a still-operating pharmacy decked out in the full Art Nouveau style.
I continued my little tour by visiting, among other buildings, the garishly decorated Palau de la Música Catalana and the neo-Gothic castle-style Casa Terrados, more commonly known as La Casa de los Punxes, the House of Spikes. It has three different front doors, one for each of the family’s daughters (and to think my sister and I had to share!) and was apparently described as ‘a crime against the nation’ when it was first built. I am inclined to agree. (I will pop some photos of it on Flickr if you want to see it.)

The detail on the balcony at the Palau de Música Catalana

Then I slowly made my way back to Passeig de Gràcia to see the famous Casa Milà or La Pedrera and La Manzana de la Discordia (side note: I was so confused when I first heard that name as the only meaning for ‘manzana’ that I previously knew was ‘apple’ and ‘Apple of Discord’ didn’t seem to make much sense. I then learned that ‘manzana’ also means ‘block’ and the world made sense again.) Casa Milà is an apartment block designed by Gaudí with a wavy façade and some very intricate wrought iron balconies.

La Pedrera

It still houses one floor set up as a genuine 1920s Art Nouveau-Art Deco Spanish apartment. After a steep entrance fee and a few sets of steep stairs (I wasn’t going to wait for the lift like everyone else when there was a perfectly serviceable set of stairs. I underestimated how many flights up the apartment was.) I made it up to the apartment and really enjoyed the period furniture and décor and light and airy apartment. It had some great views over Passeig de Gràcia too. I think I could happily live there if anyone is offering. Then it was further onwards and upwards to the roof, which is spectacular. Bizarre but spectacular.The roof is all uneven with mini-flights of stairs or ramps leading you constantly up and down and it is covered by huge chimneys in strange block shapes. The view over Barcelona is great, as from just about everywhere you can see the Sagrada Familia sticking out because it is so huge.

On the rooftop

Back on street-level it was finally time for La Manzana de la Discordia. Well, discord is right! There is nothing harmonious about the three Modernista buildings almost next to each other. Gaudí’s Casa Batlló has great, vibrant colours and shapes; next to it is the right-angled, Moor-ish Casa Amatller by Josep Puig i Cadafalch; on the corner is the ornate, delicate Casa Lleó Morera by Lluis Doménech.

By this point I was pretty much Modernisme-d out. While I do like the Modernisme-Art Nouveau style I really feel I am an Art Deco girl at heart. I spent the rest of the day eating fruit from La Boquería and people watching again, this time in the Plaça Reial. Later, back at the hostel, I struck up a conversation with some of my lovely roomies and ended up with a great bunch of people to head out with for dinner and drinks. It was some very welcome English-speaking company! Still, it was relatively early to bed before my last day in Barcelona. How many things there were still left to do in the city!!



Filed under Barcelona, Spain, Travel

Barcelona: Day One.

Roughly six weeks after arriving in Spain it was time for my first big, long weekend trip! I was extremely excited all Thursday at school and was counting down the seconds in my private classes that afternoon until I was free! My plane was delayed leaving Oviedo so I was a little later arriving in Barcelona than I expected and didn’t make it to my hostel until about 1am. The Metro had stopped running at midnight so after getting off the airport train shanks’ pony became my mode of transportation. A half hour walk in the rain later, I was glad I had packed lightly and well and truly ready for bed.

The next morning I had two motivations to be up early. Primarily because I was only in Barcelona for three days and had to make the most of each day, secondly because the free breakfast was only served till 10am! So, fed and watered, I was on the road by 9.30am. I started at La Rambla, probably the most famous street in all of Spain. I am at a complete loss to explain why, but there it is. I still can’t explain why a street should be a constantly busy tourist attraction just because it is a constantly busy tourist attraction, seems rather circular to me, but that appears to be the main reason. There are tourists wandering around, being hustled by people trying to sell them junk, food stands, Starbucks, Burger King and McDonald’s, and more tourists.

La Rambla

I located the Mercat La Boquería, which is what I was searching for, and made plans to come back at lunchtime. The market ended up being one of my favourite things about the city.

After my disappointment about La Rambla, I jumped on the Metro and headed to the most famous landmark in the whole city: Antoní Gaudí’s Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família. I remain undecided about whether I liked it or not.

The Nativity Façade

It certainly is the most unique church I have ever seen but I can’t quite work out if I liked it or not. I spent a good while snapping photos of the outside but I still felt considerably underwhelmed by it. That combined with the long queue and expensive ticket price to get in made me decide against checking out the inside. (I slightly regret this now, as I hear it is much more stunning inside, but at least I know one thing I’ll have to do when I go back to Barcelona one day!) One thing that is really striking about La Sagrada Familia is its size. It is really huge, and with all the cranes and scaffolding it looks even larger. No wonder it still isn’t finished, even though they have downsized it from Gaudí’s original designs!

The Passion Façade

The entire southern façade of the church is still covered with scaffolding but will apparently be the most stunning of them all and show Jesus’ ascension into Heaven.

(One interesting thing that really irked me while I was in Barcelona was the number of postcards of the Sagrada Familia where the cranes and scaffolding have been digitally erased. That’s not real! Nor is it a souvenir of what I have actually seen!)

I decided to stick with the Gaudí theme and caught the Metro and then climbed up an incredibly, vertigo-inducingly steep hill (fortunately there are escalators to help you along!) to reach Parc Güell. I loved it. It is a beautiful open space, something that is always welcome in a city the size of Barcelona, and it is dotted with some amazing buildings. But the mosaics! Oh, they are just beautiful, all around the edges of the terrace. I took almost as many photos of the tiles as I did of the rest of the park put together.

The edges of the terrace area

The views from there were also quite stunning so space to check out the views and the tiles was certainly at a premium!

I wandered around the park for a good few hours, enjoying the marvellous sunshine and almost warm weather. There are a lot of paths you can follow and lots of good hill-walking to be had if you’re looking for exercise while in Barcelona. It appeared to be a popular spot for a particular group of masochists of that kind known as joggers.

Looking over the main entrance to the park from the terrace

I spent my late afternoon (after I succumbed to hunger and dragged myself away from Parc Güell) and evening grabbing some fruit salad for lunch from La Boquería and eating it and enjoying some serious people-watching on La Rambla. I also stocked up on some provisions, cooked dinner and enjoyed the free internet at the hostel that night before turning in early.

Loads more photos will be up on my photostream too, including a bunch of photos of those gorgeous tiles!! And some more interesting ones for everyone else not quite as enamoured with Gaudí mosaics as I!



Filed under Barcelona, Spain, Travel

In the heart of Spain.

A few weekends ago I decided to take a day trip out to Cangas de Onís and Covadonga. One of the great things about living in, and travelling around, the Principality of Asturias is its size. To travel on the bus from Oviedo, in the centre of the region, to Cangas de Onís in the far east, only takes about an hour and a half along the smooth Autovía del cantábrico (Cantabric Highway) that links the northern autonomous communities.

You may be wondering why I have described this trip as going to the heart of Spain. You are probably thinking that Madrid, the capital and geographically situated in the centre of Spain is the country’s heart. However in reality, the Spain as we know it now stems from Asturias, and more specifically from Covadonga. As you may, or may not, know, much of Spain was Moorish territory from the 8th to 15th centuries. Asturias, however, is a region that was never occupied (the traditional dialect here, the architecture and even the food, consequently, have far fewer Arabic influences than the more southern regions). And Covadonga is the site of a famous defeat of the Moors in a battle in 722 (although these details are not exactly concrete) and became known as the home of the beginnings of La Reconquista (the Reconquest), which was finally successful in 1492 when the Moors were defeated in Granada. The first King of Asturias, Don Pelayo, led the battle from here is still revered in this part of Spain. Cangas de Onís was the capital of the Kingdom of Asturias in the first half of the 8th century, until it moved to Oviedo. (Following the expansion of Spain during the Reconquest, Asturias was downgraded to a Principality after the capital moved to León and the Madrid. The eldest child of the monarch is the Prince or Princess of Asturias, essentially in the same way the British royal family have the Prince of Wales.)

When I arrived in Cangas de Onís I was feeling pretty lucky to live in such a “paraíso natural” (natural paradise) as the Asturian tourism campaigns describe it. You can tell you are entering the region of the Picos de Europa as the town is surrounded by some pretty specky mountains. It was a pleasant place to wander around for the morning, it was a beautiful fine day. The town has some gorgeous architecture but my favourite was the Puente Romano (Roman Bridge). The bridge is not actually a Roman-built bridge, but apparently it stands where a Roman bridge would once have stood.

El Puente Romano - Cangas de Onís

Hanging from the middle there is a large Cruz de la Victoria (Victory Cross), the symbol of Asturias that features on the Principality’s flag.

La Cruz de la Victoria

After my morning strolling around, enjoying the sunshine, I took the 20 minute bus ride up to Covadonga, located just inside the Parque Nacional de Picos de Europa (Picos de Europa National Park). After the slightly scary hairpin turns, I arrived at the breathtakingly beautiful, isolated spot. The place is commemorated with a basilica but the most important religious site is La Santa Cueva (the Holy Cave). The Cave houses La Virgen de Covadonga or La Santina (The Virgen of Covadonga, or the Little Saint), King Don Pelayo’s tomb and is now a Chapel. If I’m honest, the most striking thing about Covadonga is the location. The Basilica is very pretty and the Chapel sweet, but neither are as spectacular as the location. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are a few thousand words worth to express Covadonga more eloquently than I can with words!

La Basilica de Santa María la Real

Statue of Rey Don Pelayo next to the basilica

Looking up to the basilica from the valley

I had about three hours to spend in Covadonga before the next bus back to Cangas de Onís and then on to Oviedo, which was more than enough. After visiting the Basilica and the Chapel I had lunch at a grimy, overpriced restaurant (there were about three to choose from but only one was open for the winter.) Then I spent the rest of the time walking along the nice paths through the scrub down the hill. This left me with quite a walk back up to the bus stop right by the Basilica but it was better than sitting in the restaurant!

The bus trip home was uneventful. I love that every time I take a trip out of Oviedo I get to see snow-capped mountains from the bus window, that’s something I still haven’t been able to get over. You can’t see them from my side of the city so it’s always very exciting when I head out of or back to town. I arrived home in the early evening, knackered from a long day and lots of walking but it was totally worth it.

There are lots more photos on my Flickr photostream from both Cangas de Onís and Covadonga (including a shot of those tight hairpin turns on the road up the hill).

There will be a few blogs sharing my adventures in Barcelona coming this week so keep an eye out!



Filed under Asturias, Cangas de Onís, Covadonga, Spain, Travel