163 – Azzurro


For the recount of my journey to the north, scroll down. Do not read the first paragraph if my “spilths” are of no concern to you. 

It’s now April and this weekend getaway happened last October. But I almost caught up on content. Almost. First things first, though. The reason I have on occasions used disclaimers on this blog (like the one above) is precisely to warn people about what is ahead, so they can freely decide whether it interests them and they wish to proceed reading or not. I trust your judgement, I suggest you trust mine. I really don’t need your feedback on which parts of a given article you find unnecessary. Just skip them. And I definitely don’t need this from people that are supposed to love me unconditionally. I am perfectly aware that we religiously ignore feelings where I’m from. We don’t talk about them (or anything, really), we pretend they don’t exist, we suffer in silence, and then we ignore the suffering a little more. Sometimes we shout and sulk, but God forbid we admit to having painful emotions. But when, occasionally, someone dares to say “I am not doing well” or “I am hurting”, there are thousands of acceptable reactions: “I hope you’re gonna be fine”, for example, or: “I’m sorry to hear that”. Even: “Time cures all” (It does not, definitely not when it comes to depression or border-line eating disorder, but I appreciate the effort.). Obviously, the best reaction would be: “Is there any way I can help?” – There is not, but thank you for asking. Do not say: “I’d rather not know”, “I don’t care” or “You should really keep that to yourself”. Just carry on with the failure to acknowledge anything, it’s less painful than defining my externalised emotions as “spilth”. Just don’t read it. That’s what the disclaimer is for. 

Puente Romano, Cangas de Onís, Asturias

So, October 2021, Puente de la Hispanidad. This may need a little context. The Spanish celebrate October 12th for several reasons.  As National Day of Armed Forces, staging a huge military parade in Madrid (sometimes with an impromptu comical intermezzo). God only knows what do the armed forces need a national day for to start with, but maybe it’s preventive. If they are allowed to take the armoured vehicles for a stroll down the Castellana once a year, they won’t march into the Parliament. Although I doubt that the two things are mutually exclusive. It is also the catholic feast of Our Lady of the Pillar (Virgen del Pilar), the patroness of Spain, commemorating the first officially recognised Marian apparition (according to the legend, the Virgin – while still alive and living in Jerusalem – appeared to the Apostle St. James the Greater in 40 AD, while he was spreading the Gospel in Ceasaraugusta in Roman Hispania, modern day Zaragoza). More importantly, the National Day of Spain, commonly referred to as Día de la Hispanidad (the Day of Spanishness), October 12th (1492) celebrates Columbus’ discovery of the Americas. Actually let me quote the Spanish law 18/1987:  “The date chosen, October 12, symbolises the historical anniversary on which Spain, about to conclude a process of State construction based on our cultural and political diversity, and the integration of the kingdoms of Spain into the same monarchy, begins a period of linguistic and cultural projection beyond the boundaries of Europe.” I am not sure if forced expulsion of Jews (1492) and banning Islam in all of Castille (1502) can be considered “state-building based on cultural and political diversity”, but then “cultural projection beyond the boundaries of Europe” translates as particularly eloquent way of saying “plundering, looting and colonial exploitation of two continents – with a side of infectious diseases, you’re welcome, Arriba España!”. 

Look, I am not trying to judge events in the 15th century by today’s standards. And there is obviously nothing wrong with celebrating a National Day as such. Czech Republic’s national day commemorates the establishment of an independent state, Spain celebrates the day new possibilities of subjugating others appeared. To each their own. While celebrating centuries-long cultural, religious and political domination of half of the world is definitely inappropriate in 2022, there is an extenuating circumstance: the Spaniards are convinced that to this day they are victims of a denigrating narrative known as Black Legend. The phenomenon certainly existed in the 16th century as means of anti-Catholic propaganda of the Protestant states, but come on guys, I can assure you no one is talking ill about Spain these days. Everyone committed atrocities in the colonies. (And to be fair, Spain was the first empire that introduced laws designed to protect the indigenous populations as early as 1512, how much regard has that legislation met in the colonies is a different matter). Every country that is today rich has achieved it at the expense and impoverishment of someone else. That cannot be undone. But acknowledging it will not hurt anyone. Just because the Brits are incapable to admit that they fucked up royally in managing the colonies and still stick to the narrative of teaching table manners to the savages, does not mean that you cannot do better. When Pope Francis apologised for sins committed by the Church in Mexico, Isabel Ayuso (the president of the Autonomous Community of Madrid and a useless idiot) had the good taste to comment that she doesn’t understand what is it a Spanish-speaking Catholic needs to apologise for, as Spain was only bringing civilisation and freedom to the American continent. Don’t worry about freedom, Ayuso misunderstands the term constantly, but the rest of her statement is precisely the point: No one asked you to. There were thriving civilisations way before the conquistadores arrived, and the people from the Americas would have perfectly carried on speaking Quéchua, Guaraní, Aymara or Nahuatl, worship Pachamama and I don’t need to stress that their gold would still be theirs and would not have paid for the construction of most Spanish cathedrals.  So, you know, it’s history, everyone was either doing it or dreaming about doing it, it was commonly accepted practice back in the day, it cannot be changed, but still bragging about it in 2022 is a little démodé. There is nothing wrong with celebrating the incredible courage of Columbus and his disciples to set sail towards the unknown, their discoveries saved the poorest in Europe from starvation, Italian cuisine would suck if tomatoes stayed in the Americas, there are many things Spain can (and should) be proud of. Depriving the indigenous people of the Americas of their culture is simply not one of them.

Ooops, this rant will probably cost me a few local friendships. All this to tell you that it was during the long weekend (puente) of October 12th 2021 that I finally managed to properly visit the Principality of Asturias. I had previously only been to Lagos de Covadonga, and didn’t even manage to see them, but the photos from that trip are really cool. Asturias is a fantastic region, mostly neglected by foreign tourism (except for pilgrims to Santiago), but a popular destination for the Spanish when escaping the summer heat. Squeezed between Cordillera Cantabrica and Cantabrian Sea, it’s unbelievably lush, green and cool even in summer. I was extremely lucky with the weather, as you can see from the pictures, note that these blue skies are not normal even in July or August. There is something for everyone: the dramatic rugged cliffs give way to superb beaches (careful, the water is freezing, but it did not stop me from having a dip), popular with surfers. You can hike to your soul’s content in the Picos de Europa (a taster here and here). Cyclists can tackle the iconic climbs often featured in Vuelta a España, like Lagos de Covadonga, Angliru or Gamoniteiru. They are evil. Spoiler: I am going to climb Covadonga in June. If I survive it, you’ll read about it here.

Vegans are advised to skip this section Except the bid about cider. Asturian cuisine is proverbial. Given the geographical disposition of the region it mixes both sea and earth. And legumes. A lot of it. Staple dishes:

  • Fabada: white beans (Faba Asturiana) stewed with the Holy Trinity of local cured meat products: chorizo, morcilla (black pudding) and tocino (bacon) – together known as el compaño. Bear in mind that one portion of fabada can feed a whole family, share it if you want to try some other local delicacies afterwards. Actually, share it anyway, especially if you are on a romantic getaway. At least both parts will be equally guilty of the ensuing deadly farts. 
  • Pote asturiano: is a variant of fabada, white beans, potatoes and cabbage stewed with el compaño
  • Cachopo: two veal fillets filled with jamón serrano and goat cheese, breaded and fried for extra lightness. Again, one will be sufficient for three to four diners. 
  • Roasted or stewed kid: as in baby goat, not someone’s child. It’s divine.
  • Fabes con almejas: white beans stewed with cockles. 
  • Pixín: pieces of monkfish, battered and fried.
  • Cabrales: fantastic blue cheese made of blend of the three milks.

And because the drinking regime must not be underestimated, please note that no wine grows in this humid and cold region, but apples do. Everyone drinks sidra. Everyone has been drinking sidra since before the Romans appeared in the area. The local natural apple cider has a DOP protection of the EU, and has no added sugar or CO2. When served it needs to oxygenate a little, so it will either come with a mechanism, or (in a proper sidreria) the waiter will pour the sidra into your glass from above his head, so that the stream gets enough contact with air. You will only pour a little bit and drink it in one go. Instructions video here

A couple of obligatory cultural stops:

Santuario de Covadonga and the Holy Cave: the sanctuary commemorates the battle of Covadonga (718 or 722) where 300 men strong Christian army led by Pelagius, the first monarch of the Kingdom of Asturias, defeated a Muslim army of several thousands (apparently the involvement of the Virgin in the battle was of crucial importance, but Wikipedia doesn’t mention further details). Pelagius’s victory at Covadonga is usually considered the marking event of the start of Spanish Reconquista, that culminated in 1469 with the marriage of Isabella of Castilla and Ferdinand II of Aragon, thus de facto unifying Spain into a single Christian kingdom. Although if you ask me, if a campaign takes 700 years, it can hardly be considered a conquest, more like assimilation. But maybe it’s for the best if you don’t ask me. 

The shrine itself – a neo-romanesque basilica built entirely from pink limestone at the end of 19th century – is not of major interest, except for its majestic presence. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, I already stated many times on this blog that I am not a big fan of revival architectonic styles, but you would not expect an enormous church in such a narrow valley. Visit the Holy Cave if you are into this kind of things. It’s not a mystical experience, just a long queue of Spaniards taking pictures of their children and the statue of the Virgin. 

Cangas de Onís: charming little town that Pelagius chose as the capital of his Christian kingdom. If you plan to visit the lakes, please note that the access road is opened to private cars all-year-round before 8.30 am, and anytime on the days that are NOT school holidays and high season. There is a bus service that connects the bus station of Cangas and four parking lots between there and the village of Covadonga and the lakes. It’s the least stressful way of ascending. The access road is opened to bikes at all times, so no excuse there. That particular day would have been perfect for a visit, given the weather, but the queues for the bus service were several hours long.

LLanes: a pretty fishing port with lovely historical centre, and many dining and accommodation options. Great atmosphere at night. “Indian” architecture is a local curiosity: grand mansions built in the beginning of the 20th century for rich “Indianos” (people returning from (West) Indies), usually painted in bright colours, some of them recently restored, some decaying because of inheritance quarrels. I did not manage to take any photos, because parking nearby was impossible. 

Playa de Gulpiyuri: after one English tabloid ran an article about Gulpiyuri a few years ago, this little hidden gem became the most “instagrammable” place in Asturias. Gulpiyuri (meaning a circle of water), is a landlocked beach with crystal-clear water, one of the smallest in the world, connected to the Cantabrian sea by a series of tunnels carved by sea water, therefore the water level changes with tide. If you want to see it empty, arrive in the morning before 9. 

And last thing: semi-wildlife at the Playa de San Antolín. There. I am one step closer to catching up with my blog. Thank you for reading. 

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