Category Archives: Asturias

Sunday session of sol y sídra

On my last weekend in Oviedo, after Kyle had joined me, we went out on a beautiful, sunny Sunday for a bottle of Asturias’s specialty: sídra.

Sídra is an alcoholic apple cider that requires a very particular manner of pouring and drinking. The cider is still, rather than sparkling, so to aerate it a small amount must be poured into a glass from a large height, hitting the inside of the glass on the way down, and then drunk quickly like a shot. The pouring is a skill, but the bartenders in Asturias have it down to such a fine art that they barely even look at what they are doing, and can pour with three glasses in hand.

I have to admit I am not a huge fan of the flavour, and I am terribly bad at drinking it all down in one go. Still, it is refreshing on a sunny day (although I found there were only about three of those during the whole of May) and it is an important part of the regional identity. Plus, it is super cheap: two bottles (which equals about six of the small glasses per bottle) for €5.20.



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Filed under Asturias, Oviedo, Spain

[Catching Up] A home-cooked lunch.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that grandmothers are in the business of feeding people. Spanish señoras seem to be particularly renowned for this habit. A few weeks ago my landlady took us to lunch at her mother’s house in her pueblo (village) called Salas. ‘Us’ is the three of us foreigners living in my landlady’s properties: myself, a girl from Guatemala and one from Mexico.

After the usual hair-raising drive we arrived in the little town of Salas on a fine, Spring day. We took a short stroll around the town before stopping at the bar for a quick drink in the sun while I tried my best to keep up with the conversation, and even – gulp – participate.

Tower from the old castillo in Salas

Just around the corner was our hostess’s house and we arrived to find red wine, ham, chorizo, cheese and croquetas (little deep fried balls of ham and cheese) ready and waiting. Then it was time for the first course: traditional Asturian fabada, a very rich bean stew with chunks of pork, chorizo and morcilla (Spanish blood sausage) mixed in, and fresh bread on the side. Second course: fried salted cod and salad with pork. Finally for dessert there was a huge dish of arroz con leche, literally rice with milk, essentially rice pudding. I cannot stress enough just how much food there was, nor how much of it was consumed! Our lovely hostess must have had leftovers for days.

Eventually we rolled from the table and back to car. On our way back to Oviedo we made a few stops in sweet little seaside towns, even getting out and stretching our legs in one: Cudillero. It was a gorgeous little town, on a hillside sloping right down into the sea, with the houses clinging to the land.

Houses in Cudillero

The seafront in Cudillero

It was a very pleasant way to spend a Sunday and a great experience to have of real Spanish home-cooking, which I can certainly attest, in this case at least, is very delicious.



Filed under Asturias, Food glorious food, Spain

[Catching Up] Carnaval Take Two: Down comes the rain.

Nearly four days of almost total bed rest later I’m ready to start filling you all in on the last six weeks worth of adventures. Let’s go back to where I left off, Carnaval.

As you may remember, in Asturias there are two weekends for Carnaval, the last weekend before Lent and the real Carnaval, and the following weekend when Oviedo throws its own party.

By the second weekend of Carnaval I have to admit I just wasn’t feeling the motivation; the all-night dancing and freezing cold dawn Navia wanderings had taken their toll and I wasn’t feeling very well. So rather than hit up Carnaval with the other twentysomethings and repeat the partying and dress ups, I decided to enjoy the family-friendly version of Carnaval.

So I meandered down to the centre of Oviedo early in the evening to check out the parade of groups wearing fabulous, bright costumes. The parade finished at the Plaza de Alfonso II, otherwise called the Plaza de la Catedral, where there was a big stage set up for the costume competition, complete with D-grade local celebrities to judge (there was a female judge dressed up as a dominatrix I’m pretty sure, she was even prancing round with a riding crop… It was all kinds of weird). As the parade wound up the Plaza filled right up with people and the competition got under way. My personal favourite was the Oreo biscuits complete with box (typical of the sweet-tooth, right?).

However I didn’t ever find out if they won the group section as during that section the heavens opened. And properly opened. I have never seen such a large crowd dissipate so quickly! People were sheltering in doorways or under balconies from the heavy rain and rising puddles or braving it and getting drenched (that was me, I forgot my umbrella. Stupid, stupid thing to do; in Asturias you never ever leave the house without your umbrella!). Halfway home the thunder and lightning started and I experienced my first, albeit brief, Spanish thunderstorm.

All in all it was a fun evening, the effort that goes into the costumes is remarkable and the monetary value of the prizes likewise!

The Mythology Society even had a dragon

The Oreos

The Plaza de la Catedral starting to fill up



Filed under Asturias, Carnaval, Oviedo, Spain

Carnaval Take One: Dancing till dawn.

The first weekend of Carnaval, with nothing going on in Oviedo, I headed out to the Western side of Asturias for the first time to a pueblo (small town) called Navia. After a two hour bus ride I arrived in the seaside town to meet up with another language assistant who lives there.

Navia might be a fairly small town but for Carnaval it seems that everyone under 25 dresses up in outrageously good costumes and hits the town. I was very under-dressed in my peacock costume that entailed a mask with peacock feathers and green and blue clothes, if I’m ever in Spain for Carnaval again I will have to make much more effort. There were groups of girls dressed as Andalusian señoritas or Minnie Mouses, a couple dressed as Ken and Barbie (in boxes!), Lady Gagas with questionable genders, the whole cast of Grease, vampires and zombies, Wallys from Where’s Wally? books, super-heroes and the list goes on. A lot of the costumes are rented from shops, leading one of my private students, a 12-year-old boy, to very succinctly dismiss Carnaval as “una fiesta para los comercios” (a festival for the shops).

Still, it isn’t every day that you get to go to a “botellón” with a ninja! A botellón is when a huge crowd of young people meet in the street to stand around and drink alcohol they’ve brought from home. This is totally normal behaviour in Spain and happens every weekend, rain, shine or freezing temperatures, such as the weekend of Carnaval. I sometimes wonder how bars and clubs make enough money to survive, because at last count I have bought a grand total of three drinks at such establishments and have very rarely seen anyone at the bar of a club. Instead, everyone is outside at the botellón drinking their “calimocho” or “tinto de verano”, red wine mixed with cola or lemonade respectively. No, I am not joking.

Once everyone was sufficiently lubricated at the botellón, and we had frozen half to death, we eventually made our way to the real fiesta: a former cinema turned into a night club for Carnaval, DJ and cheap drinks included. Considerably warmer, we danced the night away, only pausing to watch the costume competition. They give out real money as prizes to the best costumes for individuals, pairs and groups, and I was starting to understand all the effort with the costumes! The music was good, some apparently universal English-language classics and some Spanish party classics thrown in together. The stamina of the Spanish when partying is quite something to behold, the place was packed until about 6am, and when we left a bit after 7am there were still quite a few people going for it and bartenders dancing on the makeshift, trestle table bars. When in Spain, party like a Spaniard, and dance till it’s light outside.

The next day, after grabbing a couple of hours sleep, I got to see Navia by daylight. My friend showed me around and we went down to the beach to enjoy the sunshine and warmth. I feel really glad to still be living quite close to the sea, and the coastline up here is gorgeous. In Navia the beaches are mostly at the feet of small cliffs, one little bay actually reminded me a lot of Green Bay at home in Port Elliot. Navia is also on a river and has beautiful views of the hills around it.

That evening I took the bus back to Oviedo, catching up on some sleep as I did so, and started wondering what I would wear to Carnaval Take Two the following weekend.



Filed under Asturias, Carnaval, Navia, Spain

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

The best is yet to come.

A little taste of what’s to come.

Covadonga, Asturias.

EDIT: Check out my new Flickr Photostream via the Photos box to the right. Now you can all see my photos without succumbing to peer pressure and starting a Facebook profile!


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Filed under Asturias, Covadonga, Spain, Things that blow my mind, Travel

Life as a language assistant.

I have to admit it: two and a half weeks in and I’m really enjoying myself. (The first thing I thought when I saw that sentence was, “Ah, must check that they know the “l” in “half” is silent.” That is something I came across in a private lesson last week.) Yet, if I had written this blog last Tuesday after school, I would have said how terrible I thought I was doing and how the teachers must all be thinking that I’m hopeless. What a difference having two great lessons at the end of the day, as opposed to one mediocre lesson and one shambles of a lesson, can make to your general mood and opinion.

You will have worked out, then, that it hasn’t all been entirely smooth sailing at school so far. There have been times when I have felt very unqualified for the work I am doing, and have actually wondered if some of the staff think I have some teaching experience. I don’t. I have been a mentor/tutor to some small groups of girls at a high school, but I have never, ever stood up in front of a class to teach. (Unless you count teaching a few ballet classes about 6 years ago..!)

A few times since arriving here, I have felt totally thrown into the deep end when asked to occupy the class for the entire lesson with a worksheet given to me about 10 minutes beforehand, while the teacher sits at the back of the classroom marking work. Fortunately, most of the time I am acting only in my stated role of “language assistant.” This means that the teacher runs the class and I help them and answer student questions. Or, I am given an activity to do with the kids a day before or a few hours before and I can prepare myself. Or, in one year level, I have been presenting Australia to them for the past three lessons. When I can prepare myself, I feel like I can actually pretend to know what I’m doing. When trying to make it up as I go along, I fear I fail miserably!

My life as a language assistant.

These bumps in the road are normal, and I’m sure I will only gain confidence as I go along and work out my role in the classroom and how I can best help these kids. I work with the bilingual classes, the students who have elected to do a number of their subjects in English, rather than just taking English as a second language subject. So far I have been impressed by the general level of English and by the confidence of many students. I still have days where I say something and all I get in response is a look of utter incomprehension but I don’t doubt they’re still becoming accustomed to the Australian accent!

With that, Happy Australia Day! I will be going to work, it is freezing cold and the only Australian food I have here is Vegemite. Ah well, it is a year of firsts.



Filed under Asturias, Mi vida española, Oviedo, School, Spain