Last Thursday I decided to go to Asturias tomorrow.
I put out feelers on Couchsurfing.
A man named Jorge agreed to host me in Gijon on Saturday, and a German guy reached out as a fellow traveler not having any luck finding a host, offering to split an Airbnb.
He was going to Gijon, but I wanted to go to Oviedo and already had accommodation in Gijon, so he agreed to change his plans entirely and meet me there instead. Meet Ben.
I grabbed a blabla car from Lugo and arrived in Oviedo around 9. Ben let me in. We pretended to be old friends that hadn’t seen each other in a while, then went out into the night.
Asturias is famous for its Cider, and we headed straight for Calle de la Gascona, the famous “Sidra Boulevard,” which is lined left and right with waiters pouring the sidra as tall as they can. They stretch their arms mightily above and below, a glowing green bottle in one hand and a thin glass for you in the other. As they pour, they look out unenthusiastically into the night, decidedly not at the bottle nor at the glass, yet somehow manage to hit their target every time. Now it’s true they do a fair amount of splashing and spraying, but the name of the game is to get it as fizzy as possible. They sling the glasses back to you and you’re supposed to drink it immediately before it fizzes out. The odd part about this dance is that once you throw back your cider you just sit there and wait for them to eventually come back and pour you another. You only drink when they’re ready to serve.
Ben and I got to know each other over several bottles of this Sidra. We watched the talented camareros create sticky waterfalls and slid backwards down the hill in our chairs. He lived in Madrid a few years ago then came back for a wedding and decided to take his time going back to Germany and see the North of Spain. He works in renewable energy and was making his travel plan up as he went. He was calm and polite and had eyes that matched his grey shirt. I realized after so many sweet, dry, fizzy glasses of Asturian gold that I was actually starving.
We found a vegetarian friendly restaurant and shared croquettas, babaganoush, and estrella Galicia. If sidra is the drink of Asturias, arguably Fabada (white bean soup) is the food, but our restaurant didn’t have any so I guess I’ll never know.
We wandered around the old town, which had a cathedral with a steeple like a spinal cord and a seemingly eternal twilight under the incandescent bulbs that illuminated fairytale clock towers and humble abodes with a dreamlike clarity. People embrace window gardens here, and it’s not yet cold enough for the flowers to have gone. Oviedo felt like a time capsule transporting us back hundreds of years. It never actually rained, but the clouds always loomed over us, creating a little ceiling over the city we called home tonight.
Two more beers and we sat on the stairs in the Plaza del Sol talking and people watching late into the night. It began to drizzle, and Ben gave me his jacket. His mother raised him right. Calle de Mon and Calle Oscura were supposed to be famous, but we might’ve gone home too early to really see what they were all about. Spainiards typically stay out till 7 in the morning, and we wanted to be semi-productive the next day.
We woke to a sweet breakfast our host had left out for us, which we shared with a couple from Barcelona. Ben went to do Laundry and I went to do a painting. I wandered around, hypnotized by the sounds of bagpipes and old men joking about my pants being broken (with intentional rips in them) then sat down on the exact same steps from the night before and got out my paints.
When we met up again, we found traditional folk dancers in traditional folk outfits and followed them to an old square called Plaza del Fontan for a performance. I got to sit in the sweet spot for a few moments and it felt as if they were doing it just for me. Swoon.
We bought some bread and gazpacho and had a little picnic in a park nearby while I educated Ben on all the ways in which Woody Allen is a horrifying man. He’s kind of famous in Oviedo because of his film “Vicky Christina Barcelona.” They have a statue of him and I wondered if they realized he sexually abused his 7-year-old adopted daughter before later marrying his 19-year-old stepdaughter. He’s been accused of sexual harassment and abuse left and right and clearly has a preference for young girls. So many wonderful people whose very existence has been forgotten, yet sexual predators form the American film industry are immortalized forever among statues from Botero. We scoffed at Woody then headed to the bus station.
The first thing we learned in Gijon is that it’s illegal in Spain to leave bags at public places like bus or train stations. We walked across the city to find lockers yet found nothing but heavy disappointment.
Ben headed to his Airbnb and I walked down to the water to grab a beer and wait. I ordered a “media” which is what you say when you want a bottle of beer in Lugo, but in Gijon it seemed to be a quart. I wasn’t complaining. I was tired of lugging my bag around. Paper jellyfish danced in the wind overhead while I did some writing, then realized I was close to a famous park on a hill so I climbed it and watched the sunset and looked for 4 leaf clovers.
I met Ben back at the beach with some beers, which we enjoyed in the cold sea breeze until my host Jorge called me and picked me up.
We went to the market and got ingredients for pizza and talked in his apartment downtown. Jorge is also a teacher in the school system here, but he teaches physical education and takes it very seriously. He’s even written a book about it and is sometimes moved to tears talking about how much he loves his job. Certainly the most impassioned PE teacher I’ve ever known.
Jorge doesn’t normally go out, but he goes out with us tonight to celebrate the success of one of his training sessions and we get more beers and some kind of cognac drink the barista lights on fire then adds espresso to that I couldn’t really resist.
We went to a funny blacklit bar called Soho that played 80’s Spanish music and according to Jorge, hasn’t changed at all in 30 years. The same bartenders, the same dj. It oddly smelled like a public bathroom and was difficult to talk or dance in.
Jorge dipped out abruptly and Ben and I were left to sit and talk on some steps. This time, next to an ancient well that drunk people kept dropping their drinks down and peeing into, much to my despair. Daylight savings happens. We talk for days about how we got the gift of one more hour here.
A late night and an early morning. I woke to realize what an incredible view Jorge’s house actually has. I love arriving somewhere in the dark and waking to the morning clarity to place myself in context.
Jorge had promised to take us to Picos de Europa.
Unfortunatley he’d heard me come in at 6:30 in the morning and assumed I wouldn’t make it up by 8:30 as we’d planned (I did) and he decided to plan his day elsewhere. He went off to have breakfast with his friends and I went off for a breakfast by the sea. The morning light on the Bay of Biscay is magnificent. Old men and joggers alike make their way along the seaside walkway, and I notice some graffiti reading “Spain is different.” How is it possible to love a place so much?
A lovely breakfast of Pan con tomate and the smallest glass of juice I’ve ever had. Jorge meets up with me and we talk about the problems in Catalonia and traveling and couchsurfing and fear. He gets misty about teaching PE once more.
Ben meets up with us to drop his things off at Jorge’s and gets stuck in the elevator for ten minutes before breaking free. Jorge gives us some times and we head out to try to find the Botanical Garden. We don’t succeed, but instead walk 13 km past the stadium and through a folk market then past the Brazilian consulate and a wealthy neighborhood. Houses are hard to come by in Spain, and it was interesting to see what that kind of neighborhood felt like. We walked along the coast. We walked in between tide pools and saw anemones and hermit crabs. We found coal. We found shrimp.
We stopped for a coffee where I impulsively decided to join Ben to Santander instead of returning to Lugo. I didn’t have to work the next day, and we thought we found a blablacar I could take back from there instead. It’s a city I wanted to see and I was closer now than I’d ever be. We canceled reservations and made new ones. We two strangers got in the car with a third stranger after leaving the house of another stranger and went on our merry way. What a time to be alive.
Our airbnb in Santander was run by a peculiar Russian woman that seemed to have an ironic problem with immigrants. We dropped our things and went walking in the rain. I was starving and sleep deprived and missing the free tapas of Lugo.
We found a little restaurant called Bar Abel that was just about to close and got some shrimp, croquettas, and patatas. Santander was newer than I like European cities to be. They were closing up their carousel in the park and we had a hard time finding anyone doing much of anything on a Sunday night in the rain. The city consists of two beaches divided by a peninsula, which makes it hard to see on foot. We couldn’t find any buses either, so we walked. And we walked.
We found a beautiful building that was sadly a casino and a rocky beach which I loved, but the darkness that surrounded us and the heaviness in my head and body made it hard to gauge where we were exactly in the city. Ben prefers not to use GPS and I admire and respect that decision.
After only two hours of sleep the night before and 17 KM of walking later, Ben said he knew I was having real problems when I stopped talking. We barely made it home before I collapsed into the fluffy bed with sheets from Russian fairy tales, and I drifted off to dreamland.
More rain the next day. We wandered through a market where some old ladies told Ben he was more handsome and less fat than Germans normally were (this was maybe the 4th time people inadvertently insulted Germans while I was around him. It seems Spanish people might have some deep rooted issues with them.)
Around this time I text my blablacar driver and put it together that we had, in fact, made the reservation for the wrong day and I had no way of getting back. Oops.
Ben, a man of his word, valiantly rented a car to drive me back and avoid the crisis of me missing work the next day. What a gentleman he was afterall.
We saw the famous Palacio de Magdalena of Santander, which was equally underwhelming, and I was happy I hadn’t made an entire trip to Santander from Lugo, but didn't regret coming. We walked back to our car and found these pools imprisoning sea lions and seals that seemed to be having existential meltdowns, and we plotted about how easy it would be to rescue them and how messed up it is that they were so close to the sea they could hear the waves, but trapped in a manmade prison.
We drove through misty mountains past occasional ocean views and stopped for coffee every so often. We talked and listened to music and retraced all the steps he’d already made.
We made it back to Lugo in time for free tapas, and I made it to school the next day in one piece, ready for Halloween.