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

 

Spainsick

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It’s been a while since my last post, and with how busy everything’s been for the last few weeks, it feels as though even more time has gone by. After our week of cultural workshops, we had three days of class before we all departed for our Semana Santa adventures. Some students would be reuniting with their families, others planned to travel with friends, and a brave few (I’m looking at you, Alex and Faith) would attempt the Camino de Santiago, a famous pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, the westernmost region in Spain. Between finalizing plans, packing, and holding back our excitement, it was quite a challenge to stay focused on our midterm exams and papers in those last few days of class, and finally on Thursday we began our break.

I traveled with other Temple students to parts of Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, and I had an incredible time exploring each of the cities on our agenda. It’s always a little bit difficult to return to school after a vacation, but ten days of traveling had begun to wear on all of us, and I was ready to get back. On the final leg of our return journey, I was surprised to feel a familiar sense of relief when I saw a highway sign welcoming us to Asturias with a picture of the region’s green mountains. I was surprised because it was similar to the feeling that I usually get when I fly home after a stressful week of finals and spot the Houston skyline from the plane. I knew that I was enjoying my semester, but it took leaving the country for me to realize just how much I had settled in to life in Oviedo.

During our travels, we laughed about how our recently ingrained Spanish habits stood out somewhat against Belgian, German, and Dutch lifestyles. One day we were looking for a cafe to get a light snack around 7 p.m., and it occurred to us that most people were sitting down to eat dinner. Three months ago I would have been getting ready for a meal, too, but after growing accustomed to our lives in Oviedo, we couldn’t imagine being done with dinner when the sun was still up.

Traveling in other countries also showed me how far my Spanish has come. Even though I had no trouble getting by or communicating during my trip, it was disorienting to hear the conversations around me in languages I don’t understand. At some point this semester I stopped thinking about the fact that I was basically living in two different languages, with homework assignments and conversations in Spanish, but with calls to my parents and blog posts like this one in English. It no longer requires as much effort to communicate in Spanish, so I don’t consciously keep track of how much I do or don’t understand. Over the last week, though, I was reminded that I haven’t always spoken or understood my second language so easily, and at one point listening to Spanish was just as challenging for me as listening to French, German, and Dutch is now.

At first I treated my Semana Santa trip as separate from the rest of my semester, because I didn’t think traveling outside of Spain would have much of an effect on my study abroad experience overall. Being away from Oviedo for just a week and a half ended up making me think about how my interactions with the language and with the city have evolved over the last few months. I missed Spain more than I thought I would, and I started to realize what it will feel like to be homesick for my (short-term) Spanish home once I return to the U.S.

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I know I’ll miss seeing this view every morning on my way to class.

La Semana Cultural pt. 2

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Students in the theater workshop acting out the play they wrote in class

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Maddy, Shannon, Erica and Maddy acting out their parts

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Students acting out the scenes they wrote

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Maddy, Shannon and Sean

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Maddy, Shannon and Sean going over their lines

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Students in the theater workshop

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Maddy and Erica in theater class

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The theater students performing their play in the auditorium

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The dance students performing the “pasodoble” dance

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The dance students performing the “pasodoble” dance

 

La Semana Cultural pt. 1

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The week of March 14-18 Casa de las Lenguas students did not have regular classes. Instead, the students signed up for 2 workshops they were interested in and participated in those for the week.

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Some of the students in dance, which was one of the most popular workshops

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Jon and Victoria practicing “merengue”

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Maddy and her dance partner practicing their dance routine

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Victoria and Jon in dance class

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Erica and her dance partner going over their dance routine

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Deborah and her dance partner practicing their part

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Nathan and his dance partner

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Students listening to the dance instructor

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Students practicing “pasodoble”

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Students practicing “pasodoble”

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The ending of the “pasodoble” dance routine

Cultural Workshops at La Casa de las Lenguas

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In last week’s post I mentioned that instead of attending regular classes this week, students in La Casa de las Lenguas would be participating in cultural workshops. Now we’re three days in, and we have just one day left to prepare for our presentations on Friday.

Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised that I signed up for the class on food. I’ve never been a picky eater, and there are few things I enjoy more than learning about (and of course eating) different types of cuisine. In the workshop, we spent one day learning about popular types of Spanish and Asturian dishes, including some things that I haven’t yet had the chance to try. Unfortunately we don’t have the facilities to cook the dishes on campus, but the class has given me some good ideas about what to order the next time I eat at one of Oviedo’s restaurants. I’ve also learned a little bit more about the history of some of the foods I’ve been eating all semester.

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Jon and Gabi presenting their all-American macaroni and cheese recipe

After describing how dishes like paella and fabada (an Asturian stew) are traditionally served, our professor explained a few theories about how tapas became a Spanish custom. One legend says that when a king ordered a drink on a windy day near the beach, the waiter brought it to him in a glass covered with a piece of cured ham (jamón ibérico) to protect it from dust and sand. The Spanish word tapa, which means “lid,” may have then been used to refer to the food covering the glass. Since we finished our lesson on Spanish cuisine, we’ve been working in groups to write recipes for some of our own cultural dishes. The exercise has been a helpful way to learn cooking terms, and I’m hoping with my new vocabulary I’ll be able to learn how to make a few Spanish dishes before I return home.

The other workshop I chose is slightly more unusual for me. I like to avoid choreographed dancing in public, but because studying abroad is all about trying new things, I decided to challenge myself to the dance class. For the last few days we’ve been learning merengue, originally from the Dominican Republic, and at this point I’ve learned it well enough to (kind of) keep up when the instructor is calling out the steps. Tomorrow we’ll work on the pasodoble before the presentation at the end of the week. I’m not sure how well I’ll able to perfect the dance in one day of class, but I’m excited to see a little bit of what my Society and Culture professor said is the type of music and dance that’s most typical of Spain. Luckily, the stage isn’t big enough for the whole class to perform during the presentation, so only a few volunteers (myself excluded) will be showing off their skills to the rest of La Casa de las Lenguas. It’s been a fun to try something new, but let’s just say I’m perfectly happy to keep my newfound dancing knowledge to myself.

 

 

Group Dinner – Real Club de Tenis de Oviedo

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The inside of the part of the restaurant where we were seated

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Students deciding on what to order

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Students conversing and enjoying their meal

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Alex and Erin

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Deborah and Aliza

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Sean, Lucy and Casey

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Louis, Sarah and Nathan

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Erica, Victoria, Janae, Gabi, and Dominique

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Joanna, Katie and Marlea

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Jon and Maddy

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Maddy, Jessie, Shannon and Amma

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Traditional group picture with the Temple flag after dinner