A Weekend Adventure to Picos de Europa

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Last weekend the Temple group had the opportunity to visit the Picos de Europa, a mountain range that stands out for its proximity to the coast. As we’re nearing the end of the semester, I’ve been thinking a lot about how there’s so much of Spain that I still haven’t seen, so I appreciated getting to explore more of Asturias and Cantabria in our last couple of weeks here. Here’s a rundown of our most recent weekend adventure:

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Learning about how Cabrales is made

Our first stop was in a town called Asiego, home to 85 people and the Ruta’l Quesu y la Sidra (route of cheese and cider). We spent part of the morning learning about the production of Cabrales cheese, a regional specialty that has received international distinctions and awards. We saw one of the small factories where it’s prepared, and then we took a short walk out of the town to see a cave where the cheese is housed for a few months before it’s ready to be sold. I don’t know much about cheese production, but it was pretty clear this was the real deal. Cabrales has a protected designation of origin from the European Union, so its official name and label mean it has to be made in this region by traditional means. I learned that it’s actually not too hard to find in the U.S., so if you’re curious about what cave-aged Asturian blue cheese tastes like, look for the dark green foil wrapping in specialty food stores like Philadelphia’s Di Bruno Bros.

 

We wrapped up our visit to Asiego with a lunch that included plenty of the cheese we had learned about, as well as multiple courses of regionally popular foods like morcilla (blood sausage) and fabes con marisco (bean stew with seafood). One of the best parts of lunch was getting to pour our own sidra, although I have to admit my form needs some work.

 

That night we stayed in Potes, a town in the neighboring region of Cantabria and a popular destination for visitors to the Picos de Europa. While walking around the area we came across a group of dancers giving an outdoor performance. Afterwards, several Temple students were brave enough to join in.

The next morning we visited Santo Toribio de Liébana, a monastery that served as a place for the protection of relics because of its location high up in the mountains. It’s an especially important site for many pilgrims, because, according to Roman Catholic tradition, it houses the largest remaining piece of the cross on which Jesus was crucified.

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Braving the wind with Alex, Casey, Lucy, and Louis

For the rest of the day we got a taste of the wide variety of outdoor scenery northern Spain has to offer. We rode a cable car up to a section of the snow-topped mountains in the Picos de Europa range, and just a few hours later we were sitting by the shore. In Llanes, a town along the coast, we enjoyed what’s probably the most Asturian lunch you can find—fabada asturiana, generous servings of steak and patatas fritas, and arroz con leche (rice pudding). The whole weekend was a reminder of the amazing sights, food, and people in this part of Spain, and now it’ll be even more difficult to leave in just a few days.

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The view on our walk to the shore from the town of Llanes

Picos de Europa Group Trip pt.2

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Camaleño-Cantabria:

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El Monasterio de Santo Toribio de Liébana

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Group photo outside of the monastery

 

Fuente De:

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The view of the mountains from the top

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Picos de Europa

 

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Students posing in front of the mountains

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Students enjoying their time in Picos

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Katie loving the view of Picos

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Group photo with the Temple flag

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Group photo without the Temple flag (photo credit: anonymous)

 

Vidiago:

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The gorgeous view in Vidiago

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Students enjoying the sunny day

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Students completing the paseo in Vidiago

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The destination of the paseo where on another day bufones can be seen

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Sean taking in the gorgeous view

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Shannon, Nathan and Sean

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Erin and Alex

Picos de Europa Group Trip pt.1

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This past weekend we had our group trip to Picos de Europa. We left on Saturday morning and returned Sunday evening. Here’s a recount of what we did:

 

Asiego-Cabrales:

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Our tour guide for the Ruta del Queso y La Sidra

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The “Cueva de Queso” where the Cabrales cheese matures

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The view of the mountains during our tour

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Students taking a break during the walk back to the restaurant

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Students enjoying the view Asiego has to offer

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Our tour guide pouring a cup of sidra for everyone before lunch started

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A traditional experience of “gaita” music before, during, and after our lunch

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Sarah trying to pour sidra the correct way

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Joanna and Victoria

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Lucy and Alex

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Group photo after a delicious and fulfilling lunch

 

Potes:

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The pretty village of Potes

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The River Quiviesa that flows through the village

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Students enjoying their time by the river

Excursion to the Canary Islands and South of Spain

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Gran Canaria:

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The Temple flag in the Maspalomas Dunes (photo concept credit: Gabi DiMarco)

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Panoramic view of the Maspalomas Dunes

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Gabi and Erica representing Temple in Gran Canaria

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Gabi with the Temple flag in the dunes

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Erica posing with the Temple flag

 

Seville:

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Plaza de Espana in Seville

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The Oviedo tiled alcove in Plaza de Espana

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Gabi, Maddy and Nathan posing in front of the Oviedo alcove

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Beautiful Moorish architecture in the Alcazar of Seville

 

Malaga:

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The Malagueta Beach in Malaga

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Gabi and Maddy posing at the beach

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Gabi in all smiles after finding a door perfect for her height in the Gibralfaro Castle

 

Granada:

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The exterior of the magnificent Alhambra Palace

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Panoramic view of the city from the Alhambra

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Inside of the Alhambra

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One of the many pretty narrow streets in Granada

The Study Abroad Road Less Traveled

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As I was making my plans to spend this semester in Oviedo, one of my biggest hesitations was the location of the program. I had never heard of Oviedo before coming to Temple, and a part of me wondered if I would prefer a program in a larger or more well-known city. Talking to other people was often unhelpful when it came to easing that concern—when I mentioned my study abroad plans, I often got responses like, “Have you thought about (insert famous European city)?” or “Why Oviedo?”

Getting into those conversations stressed me out. Even though the questions were almost always driven by genuine interest and curiosity, I felt as though I had to justify my study abroad decision and had trouble coming up with satisfying answers. I wanted to get a lot of things out of studying abroad—language practice, greater independence, a change of pace—but none of my reasons seemed as easy to articulate as the glamour of attending class in a world-famous destination.

Once the semester began, I stopped wondering how my experience fit in to other people’s ideas about studying abroad, and I pretty quickly forgot my own hesitations. I’m sure I would have enjoyed my time if I’d gone elsewhere, but there are things I’ve come to appreciate about Oviedo that I don’t think I would have had in a city that’s more popular among tourists. For anyone who’s thinking about studying abroad, here are some things to keep in mind about lesser-known locations like Oviedo:

Language immersion

If you’re hoping to learn or improve your fluency in a new language, one of the best ways to practice is by surrounding yourself with people who speak it. In a place like Oviedo, it’s unusual to hear conversations in English while walking around the city. Because the vast majority of people here are native Spanish speakers, the staff at stores and restaurants usually address me in their native language. When I’m traveling in other parts of the country, it’s sometimes harder to start and carry on conversations in Spanish, because people are accustomed to English-speaking visitors.

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Gascona is full of popular restaurants, and there’s not an English menu in sight.

 

Blending in

Although it sounds counterintuitive, I’ve found it easier to “blend in” in Oviedo than in places with more business travelers and tourists passing through. I’m definitely not convincing anyone that I’m Spanish, but I don’t usually feel like a tourist in Asturias, and I’m not really treated like one either. Because the region’s economy doesn’t depend as heavily on drawing in and accommodating foreign visitors, there’s not as much of a need to worry about falling into “tourist traps” or maneuvering negative stereotypes.

Expectations

Whatever kind of city you choose, my biggest piece of study abroad advice is to go in without specific expectations. That’s not to say you should be pessimistic—I don’t think low expectations are any better than impossibly high ones. I believe that if you don’t plan out everything you want to see, do, or learn during your time abroad, you’re more likely to be surprised and impressed by your day-to-day experiences. I was nervous because I knew so little about Oviedo before I came here, but in hindsight I’m glad I started my semester without extensive knowledge of the area. I feel like I spent the semester doing exactly what I wanted to do, even though I had so much trouble articulating what that was beforehand.

A Visitor’s Guide to Oviedo

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Last week my study abroad and U.S. lives collided when my parents came to visit me in Spain. They started their trip with a few days in Madrid to see some of the country’s most famous sights, then they headed north to see for themselves how I’ve been spending the last few months. Before their short stay in Madrid they had heard and read plenty about the city’s famous art museums, palace, and historical sights, but they brought much less prior knowledge with them to Asturias. Instead of following guidebooks’ and other travelers’ recommendations for the region, my parents used me as their tour guide. That meant that in addition to telling them all about my semester abroad, I also had the chance to visit (or in most cases, revisit) some of the more famous sights in Oviedo. Because so few tourists from abroad venture to this part of Spain, I thought a rundown of my parents’ stay would make a good starting guide for anyone who wants to know more.

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La Catedral de San Salvador

One crucial stop on any tour of Oviedo is the city’s cathedral, or La Catedral de San Salvador. Although I walk past it several times a week, before last week I had only ever admired it from the outside. My parents and I did the audio tour, which gives a lot of information about the architecture, history, and significance as the starting point for the oldest route of the Camino de Santiago. Right across the plaza from the cathedral is the Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturias, which I visited earlier this semester with Jaime and the Temple group. I think the museum is one of the city’s best attractions—admission is free, and the collection includes works by renowned Spanish artists like Picasso, Dalí, and Goya. When I went back with my parents, I also saw the museum’s biggest claim to fame, one of the world’s few complete sets of the twelve apostles painted by El Greco. Once we’d been to the cathedral and museum, we decided to make our way up to the monument at the top of Monte Naranco for its incredible views of the city. We drove up the mountain in our rental car, but it’s also a popular route for visitors who enjoy hiking.

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Panoramic view from the top of Monte Naranco

The highlight of my parents’ visit was probably when they met my host mom. Now, I can’t promise that the incredible Salomé will be available for dinner when you visit Oviedo, but I can at least share her suggestions. We went to a restaurant called La Finca, which she’s be recommending to me all semester (but which I hadn’t tried because I’d been busy eating all of the delicious food she cooks for me). It’s on Gascona, a street lined with sidrerías where the servers hold the bottle overheard when they pour servings of sidra. I warned my parents that the traditional Asturian beverage is an acquired taste, but no visitor should end their trip without trying it. We paired the drink with a typical Asturian meal of hearty foods like fabada, a bean stew with several kinds of pork, and cabrales, the strong blue cheese that’s a specialty of the region. My parents didn’t have the time to get to know Asturias as well as they would have liked, but in a few days they were able to get a taste of what Oviedo has to offer.

Excursions to Nearby Cities pt. 1

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Gijón:

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View of the ocean

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Playa de San Lorenzo

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Pretty side street

 

Bilbao:

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The Nervión river that runs through the city

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The exterior of the Guggenheim Museum

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The Maman sculpture in front of the Guggenheim

 

Llanes:

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Found on the ground in the city

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Gabi taking a break during the paseo

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Erica enjoying the view (photo credit: Gabi DiMarco)

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Paseo de San Pedro

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Gabi in all smiles after completing the paseo

Excursions to Nearby Cities pt. 2

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Cabo de Peñas:

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The beautiful view here

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Erica and Maddy Mc.

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Erica climbing up the cliffs

 

Playa de Las Catedrales:

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The magnificent cliffs on the beach

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Numerous mussels growing on the rocks

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View of the beach and the cliffs

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One of the many naturally formed sea arches here

 

Luarca:

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Row of houses by the river

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Row of houses by the port

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The famous white houses by the port

 

Cudillero:

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Pale colored apartments

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View of the city at night

 

The Beautiful Oviedo

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Ayuntamiento de Oviedo – City hall

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El Parroquia San Juan el Real–established in 1912

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The inside of the basilica

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Catedral de San Salvador de Oviedo

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The beautiful Campo de San Francisco

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Seen in front of the San Isidoro church

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One of the streets where the El Fontán market takes place

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Plaza del Fontán – many restaurants are located in this plaza

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View of the mountains

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View from Parque de Invierno

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A hórreo in Parque de Invierno – granary house built on stilts to prevent rodents from coming in