A Travellerspoint blog

Last day in Asturias

A real Gem

sunny 23 °C
View Midlife gap part 1 on aireland's travel map.

28thApril
We awoke to reasonably clear skies in Oviedo so set out to visit a couple of recommended towns on the coast.

As we drove the 50kms towards Ribadesella the weather improved significantly and by the time we arrived it was brilliant sunshine and knocking on 23 degrees. It's amazing what sunshine and warmth does for the spirit. After the rain in Oviedo I was about ready to dismiss this area as "wales with tapas". I was wrong ((though it did come back to haunt me later).

Ribadesella is an old (seemingly unaffected) port at the mouth of the Sella river. It's still a working port - fishing - and it feels like a proper working town rather than just a resort. The attractive buildings and streets are crammed up against the hillside and it consists of a succession of long stones alleys full of little bars (full of locals and visitors) and restaurants.

The old town is connected to a more sedate area by a bridge across the river and this faces a beautiful, sandy beach (Playa Santa Marina). Along the promenade there are a number of impressive late 19th/early 20th century mansions which (courtesy of some helpful plaques in from of each one) were built by returning emigrants who had made their wealth in the Americas. the prom

The whole place is a wonderful mixture of attractive features and I have no doubt that we will return sometime in the future - a real gem.
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After enjoying a warm if slightly windswept walk along the prom and back along the beach, we hit the road again and headed to Lastres. It's a tiny fishing village built quite precariously on the hillside. Stopped for some lunch in a cafe by the harbour - I had some Chipirones ( baby squid) - more of the Devils food according to Mo.

I will no doubt return on a number of occasions to the differences between us as far a food goes (apart from the obvious fact that she doesn't eat meat). Essentially I will try anything once and usually end up continuing to eat the "tested" food and Mo thinks that most of the things I like are disgusting, should not be allowed on show let alone eaten and if touching is involved then rubber gloves are mandatory. Oh and I am destined to go to hell for eating these things. (I think that decision was already made a long time ago regardless of what you eat- Ed).

As we driving out of Lastres I spotted a sign pointing up to a mirador (recommended viewing point) so took the diversion to have a look. There was a great view over miles of the Asurian Coast with the dramatic backdrop of the Picos de Europa.

However, there was also something rather bizarre there in a small chapel. The entry was blocked by a locked, barred metal gate but inside (apart from the altar, cross and other religious paraphernalia) on a shelf, were a number (probably about 10) of what appeared to be babies or dwarves legs. They looked as if they were made of wax, though could have been plastic I suppose.

I provided a number of theories to Mo (some a bit wacky) but finally decided that they were candles (though I did struggle to see any wicks) which were burnt on special occasions by this particular branch of the church. I did struggle to explain exactly why I thought this particular theory was valid and what the special occasion might be - settled on a special saints day to celebrate the contribution to society of one-legged midgets. You may think this a little far-fetched but we are talking about a country which throws donkeys of rooftops to celebrate the removal of the Moors from Christian Spain.

Returned to Oviedo but struggled to remove bizarre images from my brain.

We had our last dinner in Oviedo in a very good restaurant (180 degrees C) - great food, excellent service (waiter got a slightly larger tip than I am accustomed to leaving after he praised me for at least trying to converse in Spanish.

Tomorrow we go to Wales (oops, I mean Galicia)

Posted by aireland 23:38 Archived in Spain Tagged asturias Comments (2)

Picos de Europa

A few snaps


View Midlife gap part 1 on aireland's travel map.

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Posted by aireland 08:02 Comments (0)

The rain in Spain blah, blah, blah

Oviedo


View Midlife gap part 1 on aireland's travel map.

27th April

Woke up to total downpour and it didn't stop all day.

Went to Oviedo Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana Basílica de San Salvador) and took a 45 minute audio tour which cost 7 euros each - glad I could help the impoverished Catholic Church!

Interesting place for the history and the architecture (runs the gamut of Pre-Romanesque, Baroque, Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance). It is designated a World Heritage site I think primarily because of the apparently sacred relics - which amongst other things included a shroud from the crucifixion which looked like it needed a bloody good wash ("out of the door, line on the left, one cross each" - can't get this line from Life of Brian out of my mind when I hear mention of the crucifixion) and some blokes sandal (wonder which other Holy Catholic Church is making a fortune claiming an old flip flop belonged to St somebody).

I love churches and cathedrals for the architecture and history and this one in Oviedo is an excellent monument. However, the lives lost building these things, the taxes that poor, ignorant devout people had to pay to fund them and the corruption of the church hierarchy over the centuries (and still) always leaves me in two minds about their real value.

Rain prevented much more sightseeing in Oviedo so retired to hotel to read - it's so good to have time to do this.

Ate another version of Paella at same restaurant as previous evening after a nice large glass of German wheat beer in bar discovered by accident.

We have now had enough of eating out in restaurants at ridiculous times so took the decision to cut out the stay in A Coruna and go to Santiago de Compostela (where we have our first AirBnB apartment booked) 2 days early. Happily the owner is able to accommodate our premature arrival.

However, before then, we are hoping that the weather improves tomorrow (28th) so that we can visit a couple of places on the Asturian Coast.

Posted by aireland 07:29 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Further into northern spain

"Thought I had left the English weather behind"


View Midlife gap part 1 on aireland's travel map.

25 April. Left Santander after a hearty breakfast - best so far - at the hotel.

Time to drive into the Picos de Europa and put the Fiat 500L to the test. It think the "L" stands for Lento (didn't forget all of the musical terms from my cello classes when I was 10 years old). For the uncultured reader (certainly includes all of my mates) Lento means SLOW. I suggest the L could also mean "lard-arse" ie fat and slow - not sure of the musical term term for that - could be Pavarotti.

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Anyway, the journey to our hotel (Picos de Europa) in Arenas de Cabrales took about 2 hours and much to Mos relief there was a complete absence of hairpins or even 6 inch ditches both likely to leave her a quivering wreck.

Checked into hotel and can hardly believe it's only costing about £32 for the night. I spend rest of stay wondering what little trick they have up their sleeve to ensure that I contribute a Euro amount with lots of zeros to the car crash that is the Spanish economy. As it turned out the price was genuine - the hotel is a real gem.

After dumping the bags we grabbed a quick bite to eat in the old square - charming - and then drove to Poncebos, parked the car and bought a very expensive ticket (revenge for the cheap hotel) for the funicular. This 8 minute ride is all underground and goes up about 2500 metres to a place called
Bulnes.

The scenery at the top is spectacular. Then faced with a choice - go back down on the funicular or walk down. We chose the walk - takes about an hour an a half and it really was worth it. It's very steep in parts and some of the drops meant that I wished I had packed extra underpants. Lots of mountain goats and birds of prey circling above (the birds not the goats).

Clearly even the goats were a bit nervous of the walk down as was evident by the liquid nature of their excrement - at times it became a bit of an obstacle course to avoid skiing down on a trail of goat sh*te.

We were also passed by several total nutters who had already run to the top and were now skipping by on their way down. It was hard enough walking down - I lost several internal organs on the couple of occasions where I stopped to take in the scenery with the obligatory fag.

Well we reached the bottom safely - it was a very satisfying walk - recommend it.

Returned to cheap hotel, did a bit of online banking (the real world doesn't go away) and then we decided time for dinner. Eating times in Spain really do deserve a blog dedicated to the subject. My experience when I lived and worked in Madrid some years ago was as follows (this was in a bank but similar rules apply to to all of them I think):

8 am start work
9 am go out for coffee for 30 mins
2 pm go for lunch - usually 2-3 hours
Return for an hours work
Go home for a kip
Go out to dinner from 9 pm onwards

It turns out that nothing has changed since my experience 20 years ago

So, trying to get a dinner at what we regard as a normal time is proving to be nigh on impossible. When we enter a restaurant around 6;30 - 7:00 pm, and ask for a menu you get a look which could be described as "what planet are you from?"

In Arenas, we sat down, asked for menu (it was 7:20) and were told that the food would not start until 8-8:30 (even that seemed vague so we weren't sure whether we would actually eat that night). This experience was to be repeated in Oviedo (later) every night we went out - we are now longing for the self catering part of the trip to start so that we can eat when we want to rather than the nightly experience of waking up at about 3 am thinking someone has stabbed me in the chest (indigestion).

Anyway, back to this particular dinner. We were so hungry when they actually provided the menus that we may have over ordered a little. One mixed salad, a side order of beans (which we both assumed would be vegetarian so that Mo could enjoy them - in fact they sneakily slipped in some blood sausage, belly pork and chorizo), stuffed mushrooms (12) and an ox steak ( was in fact a whole ox!) later and we had to be carried back to the hotel with the by now expected trepidation of the 3 am violent awakening.

Of course some may say "you didn't need to eat it all" - come on, I think you all know me well enough!

26th April. Left Arenas and took very scenic route through Picos down to the coast, to a place called Llanes. Rough Guide recommended it and we were not disappointed. Well preserved 16th centre old town, picturesque harbour and fantastic views out over the Atlantic. At that point we were thinking we would change our plans and after Oviedo (which was already booked for the next three nights) we would return here and cancel A Coruna. In fact we were to cancel A Coruna but for a different reason.

So with the thought that we would return to Llanes in a few days we didn't stay long and set out for Oviedo. It was on this journey that we thought we had been transported back to England without anyone telling us. The rain came down in stair rods.

Arrived at Hotel (Princess Munia) and immediately booked in for a Hyrdrotherapy session (both of us) as a consolation for the rain. Went for a quick scout around the old city and returned soaked to the skin. Mo then read something about the hydrotherapy session which gave her the impression that she was going to be forced to jump in an ice cold bath so she cancelled immediately - wimp!

I went down to the Spa rooms and a very pleasant young lady showed me around the hydrotherapy pool and sauna/Turkish bath and told me I had the whole place to myself - result!

Spent 20 minutes enjoying various jets of water from above, below and sides and then went into sauna. Most saunas I have experienced were in Germany where no-one bothers about you taking all of your kit off. However, I have experienced some adverse reactions to this when using a sauna in the UK (one particular episode in a Falmouth hotel with Chris Milton (Yeti) springs to mind. Chris - "I think that women got upset when she turned round and realised she was wearing your balls as earrings Andy"

So it was a relief that I had it all to myself (as I have no idea how the Spanish would react to a great white lump sitting naked, legs akimbo in the sauna) and could bear my all. Incidentally there was no forced ice water dip - it was a choice!

Walked the streets of Oviedo trying to find somewhere for dinner. Eventually managed to get into a place which specialises in Paellas of various sorts (La Genuina de Cimadevilla). It actually served great food - about thirty different variations including a veggie one for Mo. Also a very fine glass of Albariño for me and Rioja Cranza for Mo.

More about Oviedo in the next blog as I've started to bore myself again

Bye for now

Posted by aireland 13:37 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

About time I wrote something

Setting off and getting to Spain

sunny
View Midlife gap part 1 on aireland's travel map.

Not sure how disciplined I will be with this and the thought of doing something daily is a stretch too far so I will capture a few days in one blog. This may make it more interesting for anyone who can't sleep and late night TV is just too boring.

Set off on 20 April from Ashford on the Eurostar at 07:30 - Short hop to Calais-Frethun to pick up the first hire car. Unfortunately as soon as I had taken my seat for this very short journey my Mr Grumpy mood was awoken by the droning tone of an American 20-something who took it upon herself to torture me with "like-itis".

For those who are not aware of this condition - and you must have been living in a cave to have avoided it - I believe the yanks started it and it has spread to all English-speaking countries. It involves liberal (uncontrolled) use of the word "like" in places where a simile is just not appropriate. It drives me mad.

The example from my Eurostar trip will illustrate it for those still not aware. What this droning product of the American University system wanted to say was:

"I went to this function in DC and Wow it was fantastic"

What she actually said was " I like went to this like function in like DC and like Wow it was like fantastic"

I hasten to add that every single sentence she uttered in the thirty two minutes of torture that my ears had to suffer was peppered with "like". This was made worse my the monotone voice only lightened by the inevitable inflection at the end of every sentence - this is of course a separate condition exported by the Americans and eagerly taken on by the British (though the Aussies seem to have now adopted it as the only way to speak).

Anyway the train arrived in Calais on time and I can only apologise to the Eurostar staff who had to extract a young American woman who had been forcefully stuffed head first down one of their toilets.

Picked up car (Alpha Romeo something with a girls name) and set off for Tours on the Loire (320 miles, about 5.5 hours). Unremarkable journey though the roads were a pleasure to drive on - so quiet.

Checked into Hotel (Ronsard) and did an initial recce around the City. Old town very attractive with lots of bars and restaurants all buzzing (large student population in Tours). Was always only a stopover en route to Northern Spain so not much time to explore properly but it had a good "feel" - enough to justify a return trip some time in the future. Ate a very nice Lebanese dinner but drank "wine" which was clearly meant to be thrown down the drain (actually I think that's where it came from).

Hotel was comfortable though I would have slept on a washing line after the long drive.

Set off early next day (21 April) to get to Sarlat (240 miles, about 5 hours). Temperature starting to move in the right direction and by the time we reached Sarlat it was a pleasant 24 degrees and very sunny.

Checked into Hotel (Couleuvrine) and set out to explore this somewhat manicured Dorgogne town. It's very pretty and a real pleasure to stroll around but I could only stay one night in such a place. The French do these sort of places very well and I can imagine coach loads of tourists arriving here in July and August all dutifully buying the "specialities of the region". It's Perigord so it's duck 20 ways including every single piece if the animal.

Had a great dinner alfresco, opposite the cathedral - "Le Bistrot" - great value, great food and excellent wine.

Raised queries with the hotel wrt the description in my booking which was supposed to include:
"Fan, dressing room, king size bed, carpet" - all were missing so I politely asked at reception and was told "it's Booking.com who are to blame". Contacted booking.com who told me they only print what the hotel provides them with.

Too feckin tired to make a meal of it (got a discount of 5 Euros) but mental note made to check out future bookings with more rigour.

22 April last leg of car journey to Northern Spain - to St Jean de Luz. Travelled through some beautiful countryside - rolling hills - and then the rather monotonous pine forests of Landes. Arrived in St Jean early afternoon. Tried to drop car off at Avis office but as this is France they were on their customary 3 hour lunch. So went for a walk along the sea front. What a delightful place. The bay is calm and the sea front buildings are mostly fin de siècle with only a smattering of more modern constructions. The old town is also very attractive with small cobbled streets, lots of cafes, bars bistros. However, it's not twee in anyway. It successfully combines tourism with a working port - definitely one to come back to.

One unusual feature of St Jean - twice during the afternoon a very strong wind just appeared as if from nowhere blowing tables (and some poor budding Picassos art work) all over the place. Then as quickly as it arrived, it disappeared

Had a great dinner in a restaurant (La Tourasse) recommended by the hotel (Relais St Jacques).

Another great nights sleep in a very comfortable hotel.

23 April train into Spain. Complicated journey for what was a very short hop. Not possible to buy a ticket through from St Jean to San Sebastián so had to buy a ticket to Hendaye (which is still in France) which took 20 minutes, go out of the station to another ticket office to buy a ticket for San Sebastián and then get on a different train (40 minutes to San Sebastián. Not a hardship just surprised that it's not more joined-up in the apparently borderless EU.

The first part of the journey from Hendaye is all goods trains and heavy (defunct) industry but once you get beyond Irun, the landscape changes dramatically. It's all green hills and coastline - a gentle introduction to the more dramatic and rugged scenery which comes later through Cantabria and Asturias.

Arrived San Sebastián around lunchtime and checked into hotel (more of which later) which is a stones throw from the beach. Blue sky, sunshine and the best place so far. The city, old town, it's beaches, the surrounding scenery make this a must see place - it's gorgeous. Had lunch in the old town before walking along the seafront for a couple of miles and then took funicular up Mt Igueldo. Not actually a mountain but a fantastic place to see over the whole city. Even the dilapidated funfair at the top has a certain charm about it though I would not trust any of the rides.

Walked back over same route and according to the app on my phone have now walked 6.5 miles today - about time I got some exercise.

In the earlier rush to get out of the hotel and experience this city, clearly missed the fact that it was in fact a punishment cell rather than a hotel room. It had no windows, was about 6 foot square and the air con was not working but the hotel management who obviously had previous roles in Francos regime, had decided that turning the heating up to 30 degrees was just about the right way to ensure compliance.

Got back out into the rather more comfortable 22 degrees as soon as possible and made for the old town to experience the delightful bars serving pinctxos (Basque version of Tapas). The atmosphere around the narrow little streets was a low hum at about 7 pm but built into an exciting buzz as the evening progressed - a city with real soul.

Great experience just pointing to various small dishes on the bar ( not having a clue what most of them were) and being pleasantly surprised by every morsel - all washed down with wonderful glasses of Rioja. A bonus was that it's all so cheap - 2-3 euros for each dish.

The alcohol ensured that the punishment cells worst features were neutralised and I sleep like a log. BTW hotel is Zaragoza Plaza - to be avoided

24 April. Regret not booking to stay longer in San Sebastián but it's too late to change booking for tonight (Santander) so picked up next hire car - was supposed to be a VW Touran or equivalent. I am not sure in which world a Fiat 500L is the equivalent of any VW but that's what is on offer - it will be interesting to see how this thing copes with the Picos de Europa!

Set Satnav for Santander - about a 2 hour drive. Must mention new Satnav which I purchased before leaving the UK. It's a Garmin with all the trimmings but the best feature are the voice options. One particular favourite is the Yeti. If you have ever been near Chris Milton in the morning and experienced his unique cough, splutter and grunt then you would find the noises which come from the Garmin Yeti quite familiar. It does not provide any guidance at but just issues grunts and groans periodically - I love it.

Got to Santander around 1 pm and checked into hotel (Hotel Bahia) which is luxury compared to the San Sebastián torture chamber. The same can't be said of Santander itself. I know it's a working port so didn't expect the beauty of San Sebastián but having walked around the most interesting parts in the afternoon it doesn't seem to have any discernible centre or indeed soul. Decide to return to hotel to start writing this blog as the weather is poor - cloudy, 18 degrees.

Took Rough Guide advice and went to the Barrio for dinner. This is a rundown part of the city (the old port) which is slowly being revitalised and has a choice of basic fish restaurants. Ate in Rough Guide recommended La Gaviota and it was perfect. Sardines grilled on a bbq and then a whole turbot grilled on the plancha - no fancy trimmings just great fish all washed down with what is becoming my favourite Spanish white wine (Albariño). In my opinion this is the way fish should be cooked and served - it was fantastic.

I've just realised that putting five days into one blog is perhaps not a good idea (apart from anything else I have bored myself) so I will try to do smaller chunks.

If you read this then let me know what you think - feedback is important to me unless I disagrees in which case you can f**k off

Posted by aireland 13:11 Comments (5)

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