8 Must-have Experiences in Northern Spain

“I’m very sorry to say it, but I prefer Northern Spain,” Diego said with a shrug. I returned his shrug and began regaling all of the places I’d been in Galicia and Asturias (and all the pulpo I’d eaten).

“So you’re a fan, I see?” he responded. Des-de-lu-e-go. 

While Seville and Southern Spain will always be my second home and I was devastated to move away, I am deeply enamored by anything that touches the Cantabrian Sea. Though my time has been mostly logged in the occidental regions of Galicia and Asturias, I have clocked in 15 trips to the four autonomous communities that stretch along the northern border of Iberia.

colorful Cudillero Asturias

Northern Spain feels more authentic: there are beaches but they often lay silent. The food is rich and earthy, a true testament to the way that land is cultivated. Festivals are less about color and pizzazz and more about bringing people together around an open fire or an oversized plate of food, stacked high with local delights. There’s a quiet spirituality in the ruddy-faced Galicians, a whisper between Basques in their language – which has no ties to modern tongues – that breathes mysterious. Where the Andalusians skip letters, gallegos change Ns for Ñs: asturianos make Os into Us.

Anything from the Camino de Santiago and up, give or take, is the Spain you don’t expect to find.

A tour through the north of Spain is getting far off the beaten path. As in, limited-flights-and-bus-routes-and-barely-on-the-map off the beaten path. I’ve spent considerable amounts of time in the north, traveling through the westerly regions of Galicia and Asturias frequently and with a belly swollen by good food and drink and a heart filled with a morriña for a land so starkly different from Andalusia’s olive groves and whitewashed villages.

Feeling overwhelmed with so many beautiful beaches or lack of transportation? For holiday ideas and packages in Spain visit Bookmundi.

torre de hercules coruna lighthouse

Galicia

Jagged coastlines, cheese shaped like a boob and a barnacle fisherwomen risk their lives to harvest, plus witchcraft, medieval stone villages and some of Spain’s most celebrated wine?

Secret’s out – Galicia is nothing short of surprising (and awesome).

I felt so moved by the northwestern region of Spain, in fact, that I spent five consecutive Julys there, culminating in tracing the steps of thousands of pilgrims through the interior of the Lugo and A Coruña provinces in search of plenary indulgence – and a bit of myself.

Walk the Camino de Santiago

walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain

At the very top of my list is walking a pilgrimage route undertaken by the faithful and the adventurous. Though it’s no longer full of vandals and disease, seeing Asturias and Galicia on foot was magical and a way for me to more fully understand the north. For thirteen days, I carried a pack that was 1/10 my body weight, garnering blisters, stamps in a pilgrim passport and countless stories along the way.

Reaching the majestic Catedral de Santiago de Compostela after 326 kilometers and five blisters was a lesson in resilience in both myself and the people who believed this passage would earn them an automatic berth into heaven. While everyone has their own reasons for walking the Jacobean route, mine was a little mix of adventure and proving to myself that I could. It stands out in my mind – next to watching Spain win the 2010 World Cup (I watched in Galicia, no less!) – my most vivid memories of a decade in Spain.

As the botafumeiro swung over my head and I clutched my compostela certificate, I promised myself I’d do it again.

Indulge in a mariscada, queso tetilla and pimientos de padrón

where to eat seafood in Tapia Asturias

When I worked at an English language summer camp in Galicia, a part of my paycheck went straight to an all-out seafood fest. Piled high on a serving platter, we’d pick through boiled shrimp, sweet, plump crab legs, ugly-looking gooseneck barnacles whose goosebump purple skin hides tender meat. We’d toast to a job well done and feast like kings before taking our bounty (and an extra kilo or two) back home for rent and bills.

Queso tetilla, a creamy sheep’s cheese shaped like a tit and called like one, too, flash-fried pimientos del padrón sprinkled with sea salt and fried or marinated chunks of pork loins, washed down with crowd pleasing Estrella Galicia beer or a crisp Albariño wine filled my evenings after classes. And that’s not to mention the plato estrella – boiled octopus served over a bed of potatoes with a dusting of sweet, smoked paprika, polbo a feira.

The best part? It’s wickedly cheap. Tapas for a euro or two, a full-blown ración for under five. During my first trip, we assumed we had stumbled upon an overprice tapas bar only to be overwhelmed with the amount of food placed on our plates. And while walking the Camino, we ended up in someone’s dining room squished between truckers, noshing on a soup because there was no set menu.

If you love food, don’t miss Galicia (or my list of best places to eat in La Coruña).

Visit the Islas Cíes and Playa de las Catedrales

playa de las catedrales galicia

Whereas the Costas are full of Northern Europeans, busy boardwalks and mediocre eateries, the 1500 kilometers of coastline in Galicia hide pristine beaches where you’ll be joined by families, fisherman and a Gadis supermarket bag of food. They’re staggeringly beautiful and – by Spain standards – untouched.

The majestic Playa de las Catedrales (Praia des Catedrais) was just a short taxi ride off of the Camino from Ribadeo, and we took advantage of a low tide to climb down worn stairs and walked between rock formations, toes in the sand. The cliffs, covered in goose barnacles and home to sea crabs, resemble the soaring naves of cathedrals (If you go: as of 2017, you must snag a free ticket to visit the beach during low tide).

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You can also take a boat ride to the Islas Ciés biosphere, facing the bustling port of Vigo. The chain of islands is considered to be one of the most picturesque parts of Spain, and its Playa de las Rodas was named the Best Beach in the World in 2013. We camped out, arriving early to hike the myriad of trails that crisscross the archipelago and eating sandwiches we’d prepared in Julie’s kitchen before sharing beers with others while watching the sun set over the Atlantic.

From Sanxenxo to the Riazor to the cliffs at Cabo Fisterra, it’s worth renting a car and taking advantage of the paisajes.

Attend the Patron Saint Festival in Santiago de Compostela

st james at the santiago cathedral

Spain’s holiest site is the massive cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where the cockleshell-covered remains of St. James were said to be discovered by a hermit in the early 9th Century. After primitive shrines and chapels were burnt to the ground during the Muslim raids on Galicia, the Mixing Romaneque, Baroque and Gothic architectural hallmarks, it is the jewel in he crown of a lovely city steeped in pilgrim lore.

It’s also the focal point of massive celebrations that fall on July 25th, a holiday in Spain commemorating the patron’s role as the Matamoros (Moor-Slayer), in which St. James was said to descend from heaven to slay the Moors that were overtaking the Iberian peninsula. Imagine the Alameda park jammed full of carnival rides and stands peddling cotton candy, concerts in practically any open square or green space and a midnight fireworks display.

We went on a whim, packing our Gadis bags with bottles of alcohol, snacks and an extra layer of clothing for good measure. We bounced around the concerts, leaning on one another as the fireworks lit up the night and the western façade of the cathedral before passing out on the short train ride up to La Coruña in a heap.

Extra points if you attend during a Xacobeo year, when the holiday falls on a Sunday and swells with pilgrims destined to reach the temple before the Misa del Peregrino on the Holy Day. It’s every 6-5-6-11 years.

Principado de Asturias

Oviedo Cathedral

I have a soft spot for Asturias – my mother-in-law was born here and my favorite Spanish dish is a hearty fabada, so not even a 13-hour drive from Seville to rain-soaked Oviedo one Easter weekend would have tainted my love for what some label as a paraíso natural, or natural paradise.

In-freaking-deed. The Picos de Europa – said to hold the last bastion of Spain safe from the Moorish conquest – frame rolling hills where the country’s best fed cows that lead to the ocean. Like Galicia, you can find D.O cheeses here, eat a cachopo the size of your forearm and kick back fizzy culos of fermented apple juice, called sidra.

In fact, we love Asturias so deeply that we spent our babymoon here and took the Babyman up for our summer trip the following year. Maybe it’s the mountains or the hamlets that top them or the fact that the people in those villages traverse those mountains for the right cheese seasoned with paprika.

Pueblo-hop through fishing villages

Visit Lastres Asturias

Asturias is known for its quaint fishing villages. Perched around small bays and river mouths with boats with peeling paints bobbing off a pier, they are literally worthy of your phone’s entire camera roll.

Cudillero, Luarca, Tapia de Casareigo… you can literally follow the N-630 highway that snakes between the Picos de Europa and the ocean, stopping off at any one of them for fresh seafood and an abundance of abuelos. Throughout the summer months, these villages swell with travelers and former residents who left for the big city and its work opportunities. But pueblos in Asturias make you feel like a local. When we stayed at La Casona del Faedo for two consecutive summers, we were greeted with a hug and pinched cheeks, just like a grandma would do. The cabrales cheese at El Reguirín in Oviñana was creamier than the year before. Our pictures appeared in a local paper at a goat roasting festival.

And when the Novio cooks fabada with the smoked embutidos and bulging fava beans we bought last summer in Grado, it’s a big, fat hug.

Visit the pre-Romanesque churches of Oviedo

san miguel de lillo

Urban centers in Asturias are somewhat relative: you can see the capital city of Oviedo in half a day while whiling away the rest at a sidrería or sleeping off a huge potaje. Urban tourism takes a backseat to the gorgeous landscapes and outdoor activities – and by a long-shot. But if you don’t miss one thing in Uvieu – local tongue for the city – it’s the pre-Romanesque churches perched above the city.

Coinciding with the start of the Muslim campaign in Iberia in 711, the following two centuries saw a burst of box-like structures that later became places of worship. The Principality is dotted with them, but none more accessible or charming as those of San Miguel de Lillo and Santa María del Naranco.

When my friend Claudia moved from Sevilla to Oviedo, I took advantage of starting the Camino in Avilés, just a stone’s throw away, to spend a day with her. We took an early hike up to the Naranco hill that faces the city to the churches, wonderfully preserved and worthy of a UNESCO World Heritage Site listing. Reflecting on our years as extranjeras in Spain and passing a milanesa between us, it seemed incredible that Spain eclipsed our two countries in age and enlightenment.

Visit the convent at Covadonga and the Picos de Europa

Roadtrip Through Asturias

Having married someone with Asturian blood, I was to pay tribute to one of the most important places in Asturian history: the monument at Covadonga. Tucked into the Picos de Europe above Cangas de Onís, a church and hermitage are one of the region’s most visited sites.

In 722, when Muslim armies were overtaking Spain, the Christian Iberians took refuge in the Picos under Pelayo, destined to become the first king of Asturias. The salmon-colored basilica spires poke out between the foggy mornings that seem to linger in the mountains, slow to burn off and reveal the area at face value. Clinging to the mountain face is a small hermitage, where the Virgen de Covadonga reputedly killed would-be conquerers by provoking avalanches – she is so beloved in Asturias that many young girls are baptized in her name.

The lakes can be hiked, so long as your timing is right between tours, seasons and frequent road closures.

Descenso de la Sella

fishing villages in Asturias

Although I myself haven’t done it, smelling and seeing the Novio and a friend tumble off a bus in Valladolid clued me in to this festival, held in August annually. August truly is festival season in the Principality, and the Descenso de la Sella is as Spanish a mix as egg and potato – sport and fiesta seem to come together as well as a tortilla de patata. There is a competition where kayakers race 15 kilometers downstream from Arriondas to Ribadasella, a charming village that shares a coastline with the Sella river and the Atlantic.

Revelers camp along the way, between the two villages, loading up on cider and whatever food they can manage. Known as the Fiesta de las Piraguas, there are costumes, concerts and bars set up on the banks of the Sella and at the finish line. This year’s event is set to take place on August 4th.

What to do in Northern Spain

Madrid has lost its sheen to me, a city with a profound history that seems reduced, at times, to chain restaurants and a flood of tourists. While you can’t miss its multitude of museums, if you’re looking for a Spain ajena de tapas and flamenco and, ahem, sun-soaked coasts, put the northern provinces on your list.

Have you ever been to Galicia or Asturias? What would you recommend seeing, doing and eating?

Guiri 101: A Guide to the -erías

Lisa’s skype call was full of nervous questions about what to pack and how to arrive alive to Sevilla. I’d be about to take the DELE when her train arrived, leaving her with a few hours to wander around town and grab something to eat, per a detailed list of suggestions. She quizzed me on names of places she might need to stop before our rendezvous: estación de autobuses, aseo, farmacia

Her last question: “If I want to have a beer, do I just look for a beerería?” She wasn’t too far off, doing some linguistic gymnastics as I reminded her of the word for beer and finally forming the word for bar: ser-vay-suh-ree-ya. Cervecería.

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One of the biggest learning curves for people moving to Spain is knowing where to shop and what you can find there. That there’s a more convenient place to buy stamps than the post office, or that you’re better off picking up pens and pencils at a copy shop. There’s a specific store for undergarments (pick up a spare zipper or some ribbon while you’re there, too), another sells only fish and sea creatures, and a cafetería is a good place to stop if you want more than just coffee.

Typically denoted by a clue in the word (hence ‘cerveza’) followed by the -ería, here’s a Guiri Guide to the -erías you can find in Spain:

Food & Drink

The –erías are rife when it comes to wining and dining in Spain, and nearly every class of food is followed by the suffix.

Bocatería: Sandwich shop.

This is a general term for anything made with two slabs of a viena, though Spanish sandwiches and subs tend to be severely lacking in ingredients. You can usually get food to go with a drink or some chips.

Cafetería: Cafeteria.

La pallaresa Bakery

This place has just about everything – you can have a coffee or a cold one, a sandwich or a sweet. Cafeterías are a happy mix between bar and coffee shop, and they’re a good go to if your tripa rumbles between lunch and dinner. Have your cake and eat it, too, which is perfectly acceptable here.

Carnicería: Butcher shop.

feria del jamon de aracena 6

Take a number and wait until you’re called to get any sort of beef or pork cut. Your butcher might also have less common meats, like horse or rabbit, and expect to find tripe, cow tongue and pig feet. For good measure, of course. In Madrid, these places are usually called casquerías.

Many carnicerías will also package meat for freezing, or can clean the cut for you.

Cervecería: Beer bar.

Vermouth Bar Madrid

Perhaps my most frequent stop outside of the grocery store, the cervecería (or beerería, as Lisa says) serves beer, wine and soft drinks, and usually a limited menu. Think stark white walls, stainless steel countertop and plenty of abuelitos. What sets these establishments apart from another bar is that the bares in Spain tend to have larger menu options.

Churrería: Churros stand.

Just smell that hot oil frying, and you’ll know you’re in the right place. Many bars also sell churros, particularly for snack time and weekend breakfasts, or even fried potato chips.

best churros in Seville

Freiduría: Fried fish joint.

Noticing a trend with fried food? Freidurías will throw anything breaded – namely fish and croquettes – into hot oil and serve it up in a paper cone for you. As one of Seville’s food staples, pecaito frito is fast food that doesn’t make you feel as guilty. Plus, it’s practically requisite to eat fried fish on the first night of Feria and Fridays during Lent.

Note that freidurias are closed on Monday, as no fresh fish comes into the markets.

Frutería: Green grocer’s / fruit stand.

You’ll find all of your fruits and vegetables here, along with nuts, soup mixes and a pumpkin for carving at Halloween. Here you can look but don’t touch – the greengrocer will usually handle the goods for you.

Fruit stands at the Mercado de Triana food market

Fruits and vegetables are seasonal in Spain, so don’t look for strawberries in August or watermelons in February. More exotic fruits like mangos and avocadoes can usually be found at market stalls.

Heladería: Ice cream parlor.

Heladeria Verdu

If you’ve ever been to Spain in the summer, you’ve probably frequented an heladería. Many will serve more than cones and sundaes, with offerings ranging from pastries to mixed drinks. Because a G&T tastes better with dulce de leche ice cream.

Panadería: Bakery.

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A meal in Spain wouldn’t be a meal without copious amounts of bread, and panaderías seem as ubiquitous as ATMs. My go-to local bakeries also serve as mini-marts and offer pastries, snacks, sandwiches and even cold beer.

Pescadería: Fishmonger’s.

For the catch of the day, look no further. You can buy fish and shellfish and have them cleaned or chopped in any way you like. Like the freiduría, the pescadería is always closed on Mondays, meaning the market is a ghost town at the beginning of the week, and offerings – as well as prices – will change daily.

Pollería: Poultry shop.

If your butcher doesn’t sell fowl, a pollería will, along with eggs, turkey and duck – I get my Thanksgiving turkey from José in the mercado and he’ll even pull out those last few stubborn feathers and its innards. Alternately, the chicken shop may be a roasted chicken distributor, too, AKA your Sunday night cooking solved.

Repostería: Pastry shop.

Manu Jara Dulceria Sevilla

If you see a line out the door around January 5th, chances are you’re staring down a repostería, or a fancy pastry shop. While I’m not keen on Spanish sweets, all of the abuelitas congregate here to buy cakes and sweets, though it’s different from a cafetería in that it usually doesn’t have room to snarf the pastel with a coffee or anisette.

De Compras

Copistería / Papelería: Copy shop / paper goods store.

I remember a crisis of not having enough pens to write down my observations of Seville, post-study abroad, in a travel journal. It was my first time in Seville and I’d run out of ink, so I went to the sure-fire place to find them: the Corte Inglés. A simple pack of three Bics put me back 3,50€, or the price of a beer and tapa around the corner.

Copy shop in Spain copisteria papeleria

Copisterías are commonplace, and they do more than print, scan and fax: you can find any school supply you can think of, buy political and geographical maps of Spain and the EU and go insane over the sheer amount of colors and sizes of plastic wallets the peddle. Nope? Just me? Imagine it like an all-ages Kinkos.

Papelerías are much the same, just with no fancy copy machines. What they lack in inkjet they make up for in beautiful journals, fancy wrapping paper and a rainbow of highlighter colors.

Ferretería: Hardware store.
Hardware store Spain

My best friend back home is part of a hardware store dynasty, and I’d often frequent with my handyman father. Spanish ferreterías are a bit backwards because there are lots of small items, many will ask you to place an order and they will find it for you. This is the place to get keys cut, buy tools and even find that old-lady carrito you’ve been eyeing. Some ferreterías are specialized in cookware, others in making plaques and signs, and even others sell kitchen goods.

Leroy Merlin is my new drug.

Florestería: Florist.

It may be easier to pick up a few spare carnations from the peddlers on the street or the venta ambulante, but florists still exist. Just don’t expect to buy satchels of seeds here – floristerías are strictly for flower arrangements and decorative bits and bobs.

Librería: Bookshop.

old world bookstore spain

Don’t fall victim to this false friend – a librería is a place to buy novels and books…and the random book bag, bookmark or greeting card. You’ll find them clustered near schools and they generally have all of the required reading textbooks for private schools on hand.

Lencería: Lingerie shop.

Before you get your panties in a bundle (ha!), remember that lencerías sell a bit more than undergarments. General hoisery is a hot commodity come Autumn, and I’ve also picked up sewing items like thread and buttons here, along with yarn for crochet. Just be sure to push past the old ladies who wouldn’t be caught dead buying their stockings in Calzedonia (they also sell push-up leggings there, DIOS SANTO!)

Peluquería: Salon.

Much like their American counterparts, salons in Spain are a haven for gossip and hairspray. I can’t say enough about Top Image in Seville, where I entrust my locks and secrets to Loli – yes, I plan my visits to Seville around her openings. If you’re looking for a beauty parlor that has a larger array of services, try a spa o gabinete de belleza. A beauty cabinet. Men head to a barbería (as in the Barber of Seville, of course!) or peluquería de hombres.

Perfumería: Drugstore.

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The first time my Spanish roommate sent me out to the grocery store alone, she told me to pick up all of the cleaning products, detergent and toilet paper at the perfumería around the corner from our apartment. Once I fought my way past the fragrances and makeup, all of the cleaning products on the market were stuffed into shelves, from toilet bowl cleaner to air fresheners.

But I accidentally bought myself conditioner instead of shampoo. Those were rough, greasy times. I find that supermarket prices are more appealing, and there are only so many little abuelas I can fend off on any given morning.

Semillería: Nursery.

Maybe it’s just because there’s one on my block, but this is the sort of nursery where you can buy seed satchels and…snacks? Most of the rest of society go to a vivero. And, for the record, I’m still a little wary of wandering into the semillería.

Tintorería: Dry Clearners.

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Not to be confused with lavandería, or laundromat, tintorerías are far more common in Spain than a coin-operated bank of washers and dryers. Check those tags from Zara – there’s a lot more delicate material and non-washables on sale, and Spanish washing machines are notorious for tearing apart clothing!

Zapatería: Shoe store.

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Most of my disposable income went to shoe shopping when I first moved to Spain. I was doing a great deal of walking around town and quickly wore out the soles on all of the ballerina flats I bought. Be aware that European shoes have different number sizes than in the US, which leads to a whole lot of confusion and squished toes on your first few trials.

The non -erías

Ok, so I lied – not all shops and eateries end with -ería. Several other important shops and stops exist, though many with not-so-clear perameters as to what they sell.

Farmacia: Pharmacy.

Denoted by a green cross, farmacias sell strictly prescription and nonprescription drugs. Well, until you add reading glasses, walkers, diapers and pacifiers. Clients tend to be loyal to their local pharmacy, so products may vary according to location. Do keep in mind that should a pharmacy not have what you need, you can have it ordered for next day service, and there are 24-hour pharmacies in every large urban center.

Tobacos / Estanco: Tobacco shop.

My roommate once asked me if I wouldn’t mind picking up an application form for a university scholarship while she was sick. I marched over to the university, stood in line at the purser’s window and ask for the solicitud, only to be told it could be procured at the tobacco stand across the street.

….ok.

Emblazoned in crimson and gold with a large T announcing them, tobacco shops – usually called estancos – sell packs and cartons of cigarettes, pipes, loose-leaf tobacco, lighters and sometimes even shishas (hashtag Spain is different). But it’s also a shop I frequent to buy stamps and envelopes without the long line at the Oficina de Correos, and they also have copies of rental contracts, declaraciones jurídicas and other forms needed for everyday Spanish bureaucracy.

Oficina de Correos: Post Office.

Every address in Spain is assigned to a post office, and Correos is the national mail service, owned and operate by the Estado. For whatever reason, your assigned office is never the closest one, and no matter when you go, there’s always a line worse than waiting to see the belén on Christmas Eve.

Mail service is only the tip of the iceberg here: you can also register to vote, pay traffic fines and utility bills or send money by wire. Just take a number and wedge yourself between the other 100 people there any given morning.

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Supermercado: Supermarket.

Though the older generation still prefers buying at their market and small shops (this abuelita included), supermarkets are one-stop shopping. Imagine the shock and awe when you walk into an American superamarket for the first time in 10 months after having somehow subsided on whatever was packed into a two-aisle ‘supermercado’ in your neighborhood.

I was so spoiled living next to an Alcampo for four years, but have come to relish buying from the market a few blocks away.

Alimentación / Bazar: Mini-mart.

There’s really no way to describe these sorts of shops. Sometimes they have food, sometimes they don’t. Many sell cheap home furnishings, clothes or household items. Cold beer is usually a feature in them all, and even the lady at my alimentación has taken to calling me gorda for my addiction to the green Doritos. These shops are usually open on Sundays, too, so if you realize the fridge is empty and the súpers closed, there’s always the alimentación.

Ultramarinos: Canned goods shop.

Somods Bulcher Candy Shop

How I wish supermarkets hadn’t given these age-old shops a run for their money (as in, livelihood for skyrocketing rent costs). Ultramarinos sold the gamut of dry goods, from legumes to tins of conservas like fish or vegetables. They were usually narrow and stocked from floor to ceiling with merchandise. There’s still one on Calle Arfe in the Arenal district and another near the Setas on Puente y Pellón, but I feel that their days are contados

Kiosko: Newspaper kiosk

One of very few words in Spanish that begin with K, these pop-up booths sell newspapers and magazines. Check near touristic sites in major cities if you’re looking for international press or in a Corte Inglés.

Olé tú if you find one of the kiosks that sells candy and cans of pop instead of reading materials. Have small change handy.

Tienda de ropa / regalos / mascotas / deportes: Shop.

Any shop specialized in a certain kind of merchandise can be characterized as a tienda de something. If you’re confused about any of the -erías above, tienda can subsitute whatever you’re looking for.

Agencia de viajes / inmobiliaria / seguros: Agency.

Storefronts that offer a service are typically categorized as an agencia, or agency. Just as banks and bars are easy to trip over, so too are vacation, real estate and insurance agencies.

Locutorio: Internet Café.

grand luxe hostel seville common room 1

When I studied abroad in 2005, Blackberries weren’t on the market nor did Skype exist. We’d check our newly created Facebook accounts on shared computers and call our parents with – shock! gasp! – real phones in little plywood booths. Though they’re not as commonplace as they were a decade ago, locutorios have fax and printer capabilities if you’re in a bind.

OJO!

Opening Hours

If you’re outside of  a major city, don’t count on anything being open on a Sunday and midday closures are also typical. Most small shops and businesses will be open from about 9am until 2pm and reopen from 5pm to 8pm. Fridays and Saturday hours are shortened.

An exception is anything food-related: an alimentación is open at seemingly all hours, and panaderías will open Sunday mornings. And if all else fails, bars are usually open daily at normal eating times. Do note that many bars and restaurants close midday, so you’re better off having a pastry to tide you over.

grocery shopping in Spain

False friends

Not all -erías are created the same: just as you would blush from saying you were pregnant rather than embarrassed, a few false friends exist. If you need money, don’t ask for monería, as this is an adjective for something cute. Go to a banco or cajero automático instead. And a factoría is not always a brick-and-mortar factory but can be used in a metaphorical sense.

Looking for some of my favorites around Seville? Check out my Seville Superlatives list or let me know about your tried and true! And now that you’re a better shopper than the abuelitas in Triana, why not assemble a Cesta de Navidad for your family?

Photo Post: A Perfect Day in Tapia de Casariego, Asturias

When we returned to Western Asturias, where we took our babymoon, we had two things clear: we’d stay at Agustina and Angel’s guest house, la Casona del Faedo, and we’d let the baby mark our rhythms. Enrique would turn six months old during our sojourn, and as such, was on the verge of starting solids. He’d already earned his wings and had become a proven road warrior, so we were confident that he could handle a few nights of sleeping in a new place.

Tapia de Casariego Asturias

If it were up to Enrique, he’d wake up at 8am sharp. Wake up slowly, blinking in the morning sun that streams in, accompanied a damp breeze. A horse bellows in the distance as he balls his hands into fists and stretches them down towards his feet.

While the Novio refueled with a coffee and prepared a day bag, I fed the baby with one of Agustina’s cakes in hand, my back pressed up against a 19th Century headboard. The morning had dawned chilly but bright, the promise of a perfect day. Agustina wrapped up a few spongy squares of cake and pressed plums into our hands for the road.

Tapia de Casariego was within reach when I did the Camino de Santiago in 2013. Everyone raved about its picturesque port and laid-back surf town vibe. Just like that July day four years prior, the weather would have been perfect for a diversion back up to the coast instead of dipping down to A Caridad; four Julys later, I had convinced the Novio to spend a morning before taking the baby to Playa de las Catedrales during low tide that evening.

Camino de Santiago signage in Tapia de Casariego

The familiar yellow shell met us as soon as we’d parked the car and steered ourselves into the main square. A sea breeze lifted off the peninsula and swept through the sleepy center of a town that thrives on fishing, agriculture and tourism. There was little more than the requisite church, one which channeled Tenerife’s temples, and a few shops, still shuttered in the early morning.

We wound around the steep streets of the fisherman’s barrio, a mismatch of humble homes that fans out over an isthmus, stopping to have a beer right at noon next to the small port.

view of Tapia de Casariego

The port of Tapia de Casariego

Yep, it’s as picturesque as they say.

Rather than the packed ports at Luarca and Cudillero, Tapia’s humble puerto boasted less boats and of those there, not one screamed luxury or even a fresh coat of paint.

I have come to realize that I need a body of water to feel calm and full. Being from the landlocked Midwest, even a river will do. But a bustling little port with cheap beers and sunshine? Sold. One hundred times sold.

Tapia de Casariego

beer on a sunny day

Most of Asturias’s festivals fall in July around the Virgen del Carmen feast day on July 13th, and Tapia treated us to a small parade, complete with a doll-sized Virgen Mary that would eventually be floated out to sea. The drums and bagpipes called Enrique’s attention, and he squirmed in my arms, grinning.

Banda de Gaitas Tapia de Casariego

Regional dress in Asturias

Traveling with a baby is…different.

Gone are the lie ins and leisurely lunches; the lack of planning, non-existent.

But the beauty lies in the little moments, in his discovery of a new place, a new flavor, a new feeling. We took Enrique down to the Entreplayas beach, littered with treasures of the low tide. Stripping off his cloth shoes, he gingerly set his toes in the damp sand, squealing with toothless delight.

I slipped off my sandals, resting them on a rock beside the baby’s, and rolled up my jeans. As the cold water rushed in, he curled his toes and shuddered before breaking out into his laugh.
the beach at Tapia de Casariego

Baby's first glimpse of the ocean

Following the Novio’s cousin’s spot-on recommendations for food, we made a reservation at La Terraza, a long-standing cider house in the heart of the village. Being just a few kilometers from the River Eo, which separates Asturias and Galicia, we had the pleasure of a menu that included both – and we went full-on Galicia with raxo, pulpo a la feira and a salad drizzled with escabeche.

Asturian food menu

where to eat seafood in Tapia Asturias
Delicious food at La Terraza Tapia de Casariego

And, as always, no faltó la cidrina, the Asturias habit we can’t seem to break. Enrique snoozed in his stroller, obviously to our cider-fueled laughter and clinking glasses.

Even though the day was only halfway over, it was the broche de oro on baby’s first trip.

Have you ever been to Western Asturias? We’re planning on making it our thing and would love tips! Be sure to check out La Casona del Faedo near Cudillero and my tips for an Asturias roadtrip!

Five of Spain’s Most Bike Friendly Cities

While many visitors to Spain like to see the sites on their own two feet, moverse on two wheels is becoming ever more popular and tourism grows.

From city-wide cycling lanes to innovative and unlimited rental systems like donkey.bike, Spain is following the example of other European cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam when it comes to making cities bike friendly, and cycle tours are cropping up as quickly as tapas bars, it seems.

Bike Tour El Arenal Sevilla

Issues such as sustainability, pollution and health have become heavy-hitters that swing in the favor of biking – and that doesn’t even cover the weather or leisure factors. In fact, the sector grew 8,2% in 2o15 and an estimated 10% of Spaniards use a bike daily (source: Asociación de Marcas y Bicicletas de España).

Cities around the country are listening, but you don’t have to be local to take advantage of the ‘pedelea‘:

Barcelona

Even if Ada Colau is all for a touristic ban, you can’t deny that Barcelona is a city rife for cyclistic touring. The local Ajuntament is launching a larger network of bike paths that will take cyclists from one reach of the city to another, scheduled to debut over the course of 2017.

Barcelona bike lane map

source

And in a city as large and (almost) flat as la Ciudad Condal, bicycle hire in Barcelona is the way to go; imagine cruising past the waterfront or down Las Ramblas on a bike!

Seville

When my friends Brian and Matt came to visit me in Seville, the city had just launched its bike-share system, one of the first in Spain. My college buddies spent their days riding from dock to dock, drinking beers in between in the January sunshine.
Bike Tour Sevilla Patio de las Banderas

During the nine years I lived in Seville, my main mode of transportation became bike(s) as I made use of the miles of paved bike lanes that crisscross the city, connecting nearly every neighborhood better than public transportation does. And it made me feel extra European!

What sets Seville apart is that its bike lanes are off the street, meaning that it’s safer for cyclists. And because of the weather, you can bike year-round.

If only Madrid would invest a bit more in their infrastructure so this abuelita can stop yelling, “ESTO NO ES UN CARRIL BICI” on my frigid walk to work.

Valencia

When I went to Valencia for Las Fallas last March, it wasn’t the fireworks and burning effigies – it was how many people were still circulating around the city by bike, despite throngs of tourists and raging street party (look for a post soon – it was a ton of fun and worth the burst ear drums!).

Testing out new wings. How do you like them?

A photo posted by Donkey Republic (@donkey_republic) on

Thanks to a push from the local government to make the Mediterranean city safer for bikes, as well as a coastline and the dried bed of the Turia – now turned into a huge park – Valencia (and its 120 kilometers of bike path) is quickly becoming one of Spain’s best urban areas for cycling.

Málaga

An up-and-coming tourist destination in a country full of red-letter cities, Málaga, its coastal counterparts and the surrounding mountain communities have invested in cyclists. And given the higher number of holiday makers and the city’s strong push for infrastructure, culture and gastronomy, bike-friendly laws will likely grow.

Bike Tour Barrio Santa Cruz Sevilla

If you rent a bike, you can use the city’s nearly 100 kilometers of bike lanes to take you from just about Pedragalejo past famed Playa de la Malagueta, to the city center and as far west as the Diputación de Málaga.

Zaragoza

One of Spain’s largest cities, the capital of Aragón has been giving ciclistas priority throughout most of its urban center for years – and it’s relatively flat, despite the region’s fame for mountains and outdoor activities.

What’s more, the town hall website has numerous resources for cycling fans, including the best routes for both urban treks (including how long it will take you and any bike shops en route) and for those looking for more of a challenge further afield.

Seville Bike City

As tourism in Spain surges, many other cities – particularly in the Basque Country and in touristic destinations like the Costas – are expanding their infrastructure to promote safe cycling for locals and visitors alike. A word to the wise: remember that, as a vehicle under penal law, you are subject to the same laws as a driver. This means no cycling after knocking back six botellínes or riding through a stoplight when no one is coming. Helmets aren’t required but strongly recommended.

Spain's Most

These days, the only sightseeing I’m doing is to the doctor’s office or pharmacy, but my legs are aching to be back on my cruiser, Feliciano. That is, once I’ve bought a bike seat for Microcín!

Have you ever rented a bike in Spain or done a cycling tour? I’d love to hear about it!

An Asturias Road Trip: Exploring Spain’s Northern Coast

As soon as we’d pulled off the A-8 and onto the N-632, my brain kicked into gear: I’d been here before. This very same roundabout, where we’d dodged cars as we lost the trail of yellow arrows at daybreak on the second day of the Camino del Santiago del Norte.

Sí, Sí,” I shrieked. “I know this roundabout! Then we had to cross the highway and a beagle followed us to the little beach -”

“Cat, I’m driving. Shut your pico and tell me where I have to turn,” the Novio said, straight faced and without taking his eyes off of the road, whose grade nosed dangerously down the steep N-634 that runs parallel to the northern coast of Spain.

Camino de Santiago in Muros de Nalón yellow arrow

There are two ways to see the very best of Asturias: by foot and by car. The little mountain villages and pristine beaches are out often of the reach of the rickety old FEVE trains and buses, so retracing my steps on the Camino de Santiago del Norte was an absolute treat.

Deciding to spend a long weekend in Asturias was easy – not only is it our favorite part of Spain, but the Novio and I were celebrating our birthdays, our first wedding anniversary and my pregnancy reaching 20 healthy weeks (the gender reveal was a birthday gift to us both!). What wasn’t easy were the logistics: being a long weekend in August, trains were booked or prohibitively expensive, and both of our cars were standing guard outside of our house in Seville.

We’d need a rental car if we expected to do anything.

I will fully confess that I’d never actually booked a car myself! Always in charge of itineraries and lodging, I’d traversed India, planned a trip to Marrakesh and spent six years in Spain without needing to get behind the wheel. I didn’t even know what rental car companies operated in Madrid, let alone in which areas of the city, so I used EasyTerra to score a cheap compact from nearby Nuevos Ministerios. The service compared the nearby agencies, like Sixt or Enterprise, leaving only the lodging and itinerary (also my job on this trip).

Visit Lastres Asturias

My last trip to Asturias, I’d walked from Avilés to Figueras and across the Río Eo into Galicia, the Bay of Biscay always accompanying me to the left. Three years to the day after we’d arrived in Santiago, we picked up an Opel Meriva and began the trip north.

AP-6 to AP-66 to Oviedo

Glancing at the rearview mirror just past 2:30pm, I saw a snake of cars converting the AP-6 highway into a summer traffic jam. After rejoicing in the lack of people in Madrid for the first half of the month, it seems we’d found them all.

It isn’t a #roadtrip in #Spain till you’ve eaten your bocadillo, am I right?! With @easyterra

A photo posted by Cat (@sunshinesiestas) on

As soon as we’d past the M-50 ring road and the traffic eased up, we stopped for a bocadillo at a roadside bar. All epic road trips in Spain feature a simple sandwich on a dusty road, after all. The Guadarrama mountains melted into the arid plains of Castilla – where I’d studied abroad – before we caught the AP-66 at Benavente.

An hour later, we’d exhausted all radio stations but Radio María, but the music went off, the windows went down and the Picos de Europa rose before us, signaling our passage into Asturias.

A-8 to Faedo

As soon as we’d diverted past the capital of Oviedo and gotten on the A-8, I was flooded with memories of blisters, long walks and conch shells. I began remembering small details of our 200-mile hike, from memorable meals to cat naps in the shade of a picnic table.

We turned off the highway at exit 431, and my eyes grew wide.

Renting a car in Spain

“I’ve been here! I know right where we are!” Guiding the Novio around the roundabout by way of the spraypainted arrows, I was almost delighted to find that the next roundabout was under construction, just as it had been three years earlier. I could feel my calves tighten as the narrow road climbed downwards, past road signs announcing the Camino’s crossing over the highway and remembered our descent towards La Concha de Artedo.

At the bottom of the hill, we entered onto a mountain road that climbed out of a thick forest to hug curves around rolling, green hills dotted with hamlets and dairy cows.

Soon after, my mobile signal was lost. It wouldn’t be back for most of the weekend.

Faedo to Oviñana

La Casona del Faedo said it was in Cudillero, the technicolor fishing village I’d visited on my first afternoon of the Camino. It was an inexpensive, so we booked without realizing that it was in Faedo, a miniscule farming village in the Consejo, or district of Cudillero. But the air was crisp and the farmhouse was quiet, save the far off tinkling of cow bells.

Low phone coverage in Asturias

Ángel showed us to our room in the 130-year-old stone stucture, having recently reopened the family home after more than a decade in Lanzarote. He hailed from Pola do Siero, just like my mother-in-law. The internet signal didn’t reach our room – and neither did the 4G – so we passed time asking him for recommendations for food and sites.

Dusk fell over the valley, and we were back to the winding CU-4 towards the A-8. In Oviñana, we drove narrow roads to Sidrería el Reguerín. There was no place to sit on the patio, so we sidled up to the bar and had a bottle of cider uncorked before I could even ask for a free chair. The culín de sirdina was tart and cut straight through the acidity of the octopus salad set before us.

This is one of those places that has a set menu, but it’s always better to order whatever is written on the chalkboard.

Tabla de Quesos Asturian Cheese Plate

Downing another swig of cider and perking his nostrils, the Novio dove right into Asturian cuisine, ordering an immense cheese platter with quince pastes that disappeared within minutes. I’d have been satisfied, but no sooner had I run my finger along the knife to eat the last few crumbles of cabrales, a dish of fried zucchini stuffed with crab meat came out. The murmur of dinners grew louder as cider glasses were slammed on the wooden bar in rapid-fire fashion.

I took the wheel this time, nervously driving back towards Faedo on the hilly, unlit road.

Faedo to Muros de Nalón

Agustina wiped her hands on her apron as she walked out of the kitchen. “Can I interest you in some of my freshly baked cakes?” We gladly obliged as Ángel poured the Novio a coffee from an aging copper pot and followed it with fresh milk from across the valley. Agustina had been up early making a cinnamon coffee cake and pestiños – a honey soaked, fried pastry.

The Novio inquired about where to get the best smoked sausages and fava beans as Ángel nervously checked his watch. “You should hurry and get to Muros de Nalón. They’ve got a weekly market on Saturdays with just about everything.

A quick gulp of coffee later, and we’d jumped into the rental car and zoomed down the mountain, windows open all the way and the Novio’s hair, normally weighed down with hair gel, gently flapped in the wind.

Quesos Asturianos

Muros had been one of the first towns I passed through on the Camino, upon leaving Avilés and walking in a few circles around Piedras Blancas. We’d rewarded ourselves with a beer before the last ascent into El Pito, where we’d splurged on a nice pensión. The car came to a halt just under one of the blue and yellow tiles marking the path into the center of town and the market.

More than food stalls, we found clothing stands, used books and more people milling about the bars than the small market. While the Novio checked out the long coils of chorizo and morcilla, my nose drew me to the baked goods, where I bought a loaf of bollo preñao: sweet chorizo, strips of fatty pork shoulder and a few boiled eggs baked into warm bread.

Lunch was solved for 5,50€.

The Novio’s stock included six or eight links of both morcilla and chorizo to make fabada, a hearty bean stew. He downed a few culines of cider before we pointed the car down the hill towards Cudillero.

Muros to Cudillero

colorful Cudillero Asturias

Our first night on the Camino included a stop in Cudillero, dubbed as one of Spain’s most beautiful villages. Tucked into a natural bay and protected by rock formations, the sleepy town bubbles over during the high season. And interestingly enough, the town is said to have been founded by Vikings who sought a safe port in its natural breakaways, leading to a local dialect, Pixueto.

In late July, 2013, our legs had been too tired after 26 kilometers to do much else but have a taxi pick us up in El Pito and take us right to the port and its cool, pebble-streaked waters and central cider bars. Three years later, the Novio and I climbed the stairs leading away from the village center to the carefully stacked houses and sidewalks that tumble from the cliffs.

Things to do in Cudillero

Cudillero was just as quaint and colorful as I’d remembered it, though so overrun with tourists that I felt overwhelmed and uncomfortable. Just a simple look over his sunglasses was all the Novio needed to say for us to retreat to somewhere a bit quieter.

Cudillero to Soto de Luiña

“Which way to the Pilgrim’s Inn?” asked the peregrino, eyes, squinting in the hot afternoon sun. His face was streaked with sweat and a bit of dirt, evoking memories of ending up, at 1pm, in much the same state. I pointed up the road, indicating that he make a right just after passing the church, where he’d find a bed for cheap in an old converted hospital.

Camino de Santiago mementos

The Novio put out his cigarette into a conch shell ashtray as we watched a few more scattered pilgrims arrive to the bar we were sitting in front of, dip in for a cold drink and continue on to a nap. The bar was the first in Soto de Luiña – and based on the fact that it had run out of food by 2pm, it was likely the most popular.

We’d walked steadily along the A-632 that morning, dodging cars and cyclists on our way to Ballota and its virgin beaches. The Novio bought a bottle of beer and a bag of chips and instructed me to wiggle into my bathing suit while we drove towards the nearest beach.

Soto de Luiña to Playa del Silencio

I’d often heard that Playa del Silencio was one of Asturias’s best, given that it was inaccessible if you didn’t arrive on your own two feet or in a sailboat. Cradled by a sheet rock cliff and a thick forest, the nearest “village” is several miles away, and there are no chiringuitos or even a lifeguard stand.

Playa del Silencia from above

The car park led us to believe that the place was crawling with beach goers, but most we met on the way were heading back from the beach. The gravel path led down to nearly 350 stone steps that were narrow enough that onlyone person cold pass comfortably through.

My nice leather sandals crunched uneasily over the smooth stones that made up the beach. Even with the 513 meter stretch of beach full of people, there was… silence. Save the breeze whipping past mey ears and the ocean lapping at the rocks, it was eerily silent.

Playa del Silencio

We passed the bollo preñao between us, contemplating the next 20 weeks and what would come after. I treated our weekend as a babymoon of sorts, a few fleeting days when it would just be the two of us, when we could called the baby “Micro” and when my belly just looked like a little bit of bloat. I plucked my straw hat from my bag and rested it gently over my face, succumbing to yet another afternoon snooze – savoring every one of them I’d get before the baby arrives.

Playa del Silencio to Luarca to Puerto de Vega

Washing the salt off of my body, I heard the Novio downstairs speaking with Ángel as his beer glass clinked against the wooden picnic table that we’d come to claim as our own. Not only was it a long weekend, but it was when many villages in Asturias celebrated their local festivals, making for a madhouse in villages that didn’t have the infrastructure for so many cars, tourists and hungry bellies.

fishing villages in Asturias

We decided to try for Luarca anyway, another large fishing town where Hayley and I had spent a night. I remember finding it devoid of much life – it was grey (the water in the bay included) with most of the town shuttered up, despite being called the Pueblo Blanco de la Costa Verde. But in fiestas, it might just prove to be a bit more lively, and local favorite El Barómetro told us they had space at the bar for two.

We drove in circles around the large port and up to the picturesque cemetery looking for parking, but it was futile – we were onto the next village, Puerto de Vega, as soon as we’d determined that even the vados had been taken. Puerto de Vega was decidedly sleepier, but for Casa Paco. We nabbed the last unreserved table in the dining room, a chill chasing us in from the port, where a few white and red fishing boats bobbed up and down with the wake. The octopus was tender, the cachopo – a pork loin wrapped in cheese and ham before being deep fried – as long as my forearm.

Seagull on wood planks

That night in Faedo, I didn’t last five minutes in bed (with covers on!) before I fell asleep to the lull of the diners in the bar below, waking up the following morning to crickets and cowbells as the fresh dew still lingered on blades of grass.

Faedo to Grado

We skipped the pestiños in favor of fresh cheese bought from the neighbor and crushed tomato on bread that Augustina pulled out of the oven with heavy mitts. Unsatisfied with yesterday’s yield of products, the Novio had already spoken to her about the market in Grado. Due to its position in a flat, fertile valley, the consejo is rich in gastronomic tradition, particularly cheeses under the D.O. L’Pitu and beans.

Purple flowers in Asturias

The roads were foggy and damp that morning as the car slid down the valley into Villafria. Ángel gave us instructions as only a born and bred asturiano could do, full of local words I couldn’t grasp, waving hands and landmarks.

We somehow arrived without getting lost (though we had to screenshot the way on our phones due to lack of a mobile signal).

Food stands at the Grado market

Known locally as Grau, the entire town shuts its central streets for the massive weekly market, and shops stay open, closing instead on odd days. We fought our way through crowds and vendors hocking socks, fake watches and clothing to the Plaza General Ponte, where the traditional market has run every Sunday since 1258. I went to check the free samples on cheeses while the Novio proudly announced that the chori-morci he’d bought the day before were fresher.

We tagged team the whastapps, making the rounds to ask which family wanted fabes or fabines for winter stews. A kilo of good quality fava beans in Madrid was nearly twice as expensive at 20€/kilo: prices in Seville could be up to 10€ more! We walked back to the car with arms laden with cheeses, pig shoulder and beans, stopping briefly at a sidrería for a refreshment.

Weekly market of Grado

Our late start meant we’d finished shopping right about lunch time. Agustina had suggested the hearty menu at Casa Pepe el Bueno which, at 17€ per person per menú del día (on a weekend!), was more than we’d paid for a meal all weekend. The low-ceilinged restaurant was as stuffy as it was packed with people. For a starter, we both chose fabada, served in an enormous silver bowl, meaning two plates each.

“Now Micro knows what a true fabada is,” the Novio mused, pushing back his chair as his cider-drenched hake was set down before him.

the Novio in his element

I was able to make room for dessert as I felt the first small rumblings of our child – a quarter Asturian anyway – deep in my belly. That, or a satisfied stomach.

Grado to Playa de Concha de Artedo

The road back from  Grado was far bumpier – I nearly scratched the car on the narrow road behind Pepe el Bueno, stalled twice due to the car’s sensitive gears and was kindly asked to just navigate us back to Faedo. We made it as far as Pravia before losing signal and relying on our instincts to guide us.

An hour later and after risking bottoming out on an old cattle route, I collapsed into bed as clouds rolled over the valley, heavy with rain.

Asturias driving

Slipping on my bathing suit – still a bit damp from my dip the day before – we made one last beach stop at La Concha de Artedo. I’d been but a kilometer from this beach on our second morning of the Camino, and smiled remembering a beagle that followed us from the restaurant at the top of the hill all the way down to the next arrow.

It was chilly but the time I’d found a dry rock to rest my bag, but the Novio was already darting between rocks, looking for baby andarica crabs that had been washed in with the tide. The pools were warm and shallow, hiding the creatures under rocks full of bígaros and clams.

Concha de Artedo beach Asturias

Due to a goof up in our room, Ángel and Agustina had offered to invite us to dinner at the casona, free of charge. Being one of two restaurants in Faedo – the other was a vegan music bar, quite modern for a town whose population hadn’t topped 150 in half a century – she cooked nightly for more than just guests. As dusk fell, the Novio and the propietario shared a few culines of cider and we chowed down creamy croquetas stuffed with local chunks of chorizo and pito al chilindrón, a simple chicken dish in which a whole chicken is cooked and stewed in a vegetable paste.

Mi mujer tiene mucha mano en la cocina,” Ángel would later claim as we thanked them for the phenomenal meal. Indeed, Agustina was a kitchen whiz.

That night, the wind ripped opened our heavy wooden shutters. Lightning pounded the valley, and as I lazily pulled the windows shut and locked them, I couldn’t help but think that there’s no wonder the animal products up here taste better – it rains so much!

Faedo to Lastres

Bueno, hoy es tu día,” the Novio stated, taking a long drag off of his cigarette as Ángel set a glass of fresh juice in front of me. “What’s on the itinerary? It was my 31st birthday, and I wanted to do what any other 31-year-old-woman would want to do: Go to a dinosaur museum.

Chispa the dog

I patted Chispa on the head once more and thanked Ángel and Agustina for their hospitality. Checking the route before we’d be left without internet once more, we rolled down the Meriva’s windows and slipped back down the mountain.

Passing through Colunga before reaching the Museo del Jurásico de Asturias, we gobbled down the rest of our bollo preñao in the parking lot. Being a national holiday, the museum was teeming with kids. I nudged the Novio in the ribs, knowing full well that we’d be skipping the bars for kid-friendly activities in a few short years.

The northern coast of Asturias was once home to a number of sauropods during the Jurassic period, and the Las Griegas beach has uncovered a number of bones and the largest dinosaur footprint to date. Forming part of the Costa de los Dinosaurios, the museum is one of Asturias’s top tourist attractions.

For someone whose favorite college course was based on the prehistoric beasts, I was a bit skeptical due to the number of reproductions (I am a purist, oops), but to have free election over what to do that day, I enjoyed pointing out the different features of dinosaurs and goofing off in the reproductions park.

Panoramic view of Lastres Asturias

Lastres was just around the bend of the AS-257, another quaint village perched on a cliffside. The stone houses reminded me more of the southern coast of France than the northern coast of Spain, with its red roofs and bougainvillea spilling out of window pots.

Though we’d eaten everything on our list – from cheese to fabada to bollo preñao – the Novo hadn’t had vígaros. As a kid vacationing near Lastres, he’d pick the shiny black mollusks off of rocks and dig out the worm with his fingers rather than using a straight pin.

fresh vigaros in Asturias

A waitress spread an old, faded tablecloth at one of the beachside restaurants once we’d descended the stone stairs to the small port. As a summer baby, I was clear about lunch – freshly caught seafood. Time stopped for an hour despite the ancient clock tower ringing every quarter hour. As the restaurant where we sat on stools fishing the vígaros out of their shells filled as the lunchtime hour creeped slowly up, we ordered a plate of razor clams, piping hot with a hint of parsley and lemon, and squid in black rice.

I’d have a birthday pastry at some obscure rest stop a few hours later, the Novio promised.

Lastres to Madrid

clock tower of Lastres Asturias

Tempting fate, we decided to return to Madrid a bit earlier than planned, checking the traffic report on RNE every hour. Once again, we had the Picos behind us in the rearview mirror after an hour, then the Castillian plains before ascending Guadarrama and entering back into the capital.

Perhaps on my next trip to Asturias – Micro in tow – we’ll focus on the oriental part of the region. The Lagos de Covadonga, the tiny mountain villages tucked into crags and providing sweeping views of Bay of Biscay, the artsy cities of Llanes and Ribadasella. Or perhaps he’ll eat cheese at el Reguerín and hunt for crabs with his father at Concha de Artedo.

Colorful Asturias Spain

It’s easy enough to explore Asturias by bus or train, I suppose, but half the fun are the tight turns, the stoping for cows and the sleepy little hamlets where vecinos wave you down to try and sell you their fresh milk or butter. Save walking along the coast, it’s the only way to go.

EasyTerra Car Rental, a Netherlands-based rental agency that compares well-known suppliers in more than 7,000 loctions worldwide, graciously picked up our tab. We paid for gas and navigated tractors trails and tight mountain curves ourselves – so all of the opinions expressed here are my own. That said, their website is user-friendly and their prices are the cheapest we found!

Have you ever driven or walked through Asturias? What places would you recommend?

Seville, I’m breaking up with you

Querida Sevilla mía,

You know that age-old, “It’s not you, it’s me”? Well, it’s not me. Eres tú. We’ve reached the end of a nine-year relationship, one marked with uncertainty at the beginning, with as much elation as frustration in the years since we became intimate. And más pronto que tarde, I knew we’d end up here.

Te estoy dejando.

giralda sunset1

My friend Stacy maintains that the first Spaniard you fall for is never the one you stay with – it’s always the second. If Spanish lovers were cities, you’d be my second great love, my second Spaniard. Two years before we got to know each other, Valladolid entered my life. Stately and daunting, but a romance that was always a little off. Castilla y León’s capital never did it for me, a bit too cold and a bit too stand-offish to be anything long-term. Neither the castles nor the robust red wine could woo me, but it was a foray into what it meant to truly love a city.

You and I met on a sweltering July day in 2005, your characteristic heat baking midday as I dragged a suitcase towards Calle Gravina. Back then, the Alameda was all albero, you could drive down Constitution and around the roundabout at Puerta Jerez and there was a noticeable lack of skyscrapers, gastrobars and coffee houses. On the surface, you were beautiful, but I pined for Valladolid, not entirely convinced you were boyfriend material.

tapas bodeguita romero typical Spanish tavern

Two years later, we were thrust together again. Still sore from being flat-out rejected by Granada, I set out to try and get to know you on a Sunday evening in late September when everything was shuttered. Walking down Pagés del Coro, I craned my neck to watch the swallows dip between the balconies and around the spire of La Estrella chapel.

Swallows, golondrinas, always return to where they’re from. Even at that moment, exhausted from two weeks traveling and unsure about starting my job the next morning at IES Heliche, I knew I had returned to where I was to be from. In those tender first steps in our relationship, I was smitten. I would soon fall deeply in love with you.

Plaza del Altozano Triana

But today, nine years later, I ripped the band aid off, and HARD. I just up and left it seems, without time for long goodbyes at all of the places I’ve come to haunt in these years together, to the hundreds of caras I’ve come to know in the barrio. No ugly cries, just a few tears pricking my eyes as I locked up my house, rolled one suitcase to the bus stop and headed towards Santa Justa and, later, Madrid.

Like I said, it’s you, not me.

I guess you could say I saw this coming, like that little ball that sits low in your stomach when you know life is going to darte un giro in a big, big way. I needed that giro because you’d simply gotten to easy. I can understand even the oldest abuelo buried deep into one of your old man bars, can no longer get lost in your tangle of streets. You are a comfortable lover, warm and welcoming, familiar and comforting.

But I’m not one to be estancada, stagnant, comfortable. Walking down La Castellana in March, the ball in my stomach dissipated as I skipped from a job interview back towards Atocha. The trees were bare, but the sky was the same bright blue that always welcomes me in Seville. As they say, de Madrid al cielo. Madrid was calling.

Sunshine and Siestas at the Feria de Abril

Sevilla, you’ve been more than good to me, giving me just about everything I’ve ever needed. You’re easy on the eyes, fiery and passionate, deeply sensual and surprising. You’ve shown me the Spain I always wanted to find, even between castles and tintos de Ribera del Duero and my first impression of Spain. You’ve reignited my love for culture, for making strangers my friends, for morning beers and for living in the moment. You changed me for the better.

And you will always be that second great love, te lo prometo. Triana will always be my home.

But you’ve just gotten too small. My dreams and ambitions are too big for your pueblo feel, as much as I’ve come to love it. Your aesthetic beauty continues to enchant me as I ride my bike past the cathedral at twilight or I leave extranjería and am not even mad that my least favorite place in Seville is also one of my favorites. Your manjares are no match for the sleek pubs and international food in Madrid, which I know I’ll grow tired of.

ceramics at Plaza de España Seville Spain

I admit that it was difficult to reach your core, to understand the way you are and learn to appreciate those nuances. At the beginning, it was all new and fun and boisterous, the out-loud way that you live each day, those directionless afternoons and long, raucous nights. Lunches that stretch into breakfast. Balmy evenings, Cruzcampo in hand. Festival after procession after traffic jam. Unforgettable sunsets. Unannounced rain showers. Biting cold and scalding heat. You are a city of extremes and mood swings, for sure, but you’re at your best that way. You are as passionate as they say you are.

Still, there were frustrations with the language, that lazy way that you “forget” letters and entire syllables. Frustrations with getting around and untangling the back alleys of your deepest barrios. Frustrations navigating the choque between our two cultures and figuring out a way to make it work for nearly a decade. There was a lot of give and take, that’s for sure.

my first feria de abril

And that’s not to say you haven’t changed for the better in these nine years together.

You’re more guiri-friendly, easier to get around and constantly coming up with ways to reinvent yourself without losing what makes you, . Even when I rolled by eyes at the Setas, I found the best views from its waffle-like towers. You always find a way to stay true to yourself, even if that means having to take the long way home when the streets are choked with a procession or if I call the Ayuntamiento and they send my call from office to office without ever getting through to an actual human.

But those same things that I once loved have become annoyances as we’ve gotten more comfortable with one another. Some of it is trivial, lo sé, but in the bigger scheme of things, we need time apart. Room to breathe, to try new things. I can’t get everything I need from you right now, Seville, y ya está. I know the decision was quick and may have its repercussions, but it’s what I have to do right now if we ever want a chance again.

Expat in Seville Cat Gaa

Madrid presents so many new possibilities. I scoffed at the idea of living there and opening myself up to loving it, but it will never be you. In fact, I think it will be like Valladolid, a tough nut to crack and one whose true character I may never know the way that I know you.

I’ll look for you in the bares de viejos, in a sevillano passing by wearing a Betis t-shirt, in the way that the Madrid gatos will laugh at my accent or look puzzled when I ask for a copistería or a cervecita. You’ll probably follow me around, to be honest. You were never one to let go lightly.

I love Seville Heart Necklace

This morning, as I drove over the San Telmo bridge towards Triana, the swallows returned. It was already a warm July morning, maybe even eleven years to the day since I first felt the breeze over the Guadalquivir. Eres un amor para toda la vida, Sevilla. Maybe in three or five years’ time, we’ll find ourselves back together, a bit more mature and ready for a new stage in our relationship. You’ll have changed, I have no doubt, and so will I.

But if the golondrinas are any indication, volveré. It’s the natural course.

Con todo mi cariño,

Cat

Wondering about my absence the past two months? I’ve been back and forth on the AVE, making trips to Madrid for job interviews, spending time alone with Sevilla and even squeezed in a ten-day trip to the US for my sister’s wedding. On July 3rd, 2016 – coincidentally the same day I applied for my visa for Spain in 2007 – the Novio and I officially moved to Madrid. I’ll start a job in a few weeks as an admissions counselor at a prestigious American university with a campus in the heart of La Capi. Adiós, teaching – never thought I’d see the day!!

No time for complatency

Will I like Madrid? I’m positive I will. Will I love it? Not in the same way that I love Seville, but the Novio and I have big plans for the next few years, and Seville was simply too small for our career ambitions. I’m not entirely sure how the scope of Sunshine and Siestas, a blog that has largely been about Andalucía, will change, but you can count on my voice coming through! 

I’m curious to hear your reactions to the news, which I’ve managed to keep surprisingly quiet! Not even sure I believe it myself!

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