Camino 2 - 21 September 2014
By Parson Thru
The rucksacks turned out to fit the cabin-baggage gauge, which was a relief. We shoved them in the lockers and strapped ourselves in.
Expectation was building.
A woman sat in the aisle seat beside me. She introduced herself as Maggie. She had that instant effervescence that tells you the flight would pass quickly. Maggie was going walking in Spain, too. Neither of us really knew exactly where we were heading. I was in a state of mild and happy confusion about the whole thing.
Maggie told me her trip was a spiritual journey, requiring silence to be maintained for long periods during the walk – she reckoned she was going to struggle. I thought so, too.
She told me she lives on an estate in East London with a peaceful garden oasis created by her and the other tenants. Her pride was palpable. Most of the original people had moved on, though, and none of the new tenants were interested. The only time they used it was to “exercise” their dogs. She maintained it alone – I felt her sadness.
We chatted for an hour and a half while N caught up on some sleep. I only woke her to point out what I thought was Shoeburyness from the air. We used to visit the Essex coast a lot from London.
Arriving at Oviedo, we looked around for the bus into the city. We spotted one under trees beside a grass area and headed over. There in the shade was Maggie with her guide, who’d been on the same flight. He’d just come back from travelling in South America. We had a brief chat in the shade – they were heading to a kind of national park in Asturias.
The bus driver pointed out we were in the wrong place – the stop we needed was across the other side of the airport.
We said our goodbyes and headed across the terminal. When the sun is shining and your skin is warm, nothing is a problem.
I love travelling on buses when I’m away. Everything is different and floats by in a wonderfully detached way and my spirit just slips out the back door.
Oviedo was around a thirty minute ride. Once there, I tried out my Spanish. It was just about good enough to ask for a map.
I often forget how tiring it is arriving into a new city and trying to find your way. It can make conversations tetchy. N and I are pretty used to bumping along, but things can still get a little strained. We eventually worked out our orientation and started the walk along a broad, bland road to find a street that would take us into the old city.
We drank water we’d bought at the bus station while we looked for street names in the heat of the sun. After a couple of false starts we turned up a narrow road. It still wasn’t obvious, so I hung back and stopped a girl.
“Hola! Buenas dias. Puede ayudarme, por favor?”
“Hola! Si.” she smiled.
I showed her the hotel address.
She directed us straight over the next junction and said we’d find it on the right.
Sure enough, there it was.
As soon as we walked in the room, we recognised the black and white striped wallpaper from the page on the Website – it was like a giant bar-code.
I smiled as I stared down at the “Roca” toilet – I was back in Spain.
This was my first visit to the north. N had stayed with a friend in Oviedo previously. After a rest to gather ourselves, we headed up into the old district around the cathedral to explore and find something to eat. The receptionist had pointed out Calle Gascona, a street known for its sidrerias, or cider-houses.
The next day was the fiesta of San Mateo - a public holiday. There was a carnival atmosphere in the old town with crowds beginning to fill the cafes and bars. Beside the cathedral, a band was going through its sound-check on a huge stage.
We went in the cathedral for a look around.
I usually light a candle for the needy and the dead – like prayers, they may or may not work so I do it just in case. For the first time, I noticed automatic candles. You drop in your cash and a bulb comes on somewhere among the red-shaded plastic multitude. When it comes to kitsch, nothing beats The Church – and Elvis.
The cathedral was an oasis of peace until the band struck up outside. I suddenly saw the ground open between the Spain of The Church and progressive, secular Spain. There seemed to be little love lost.
We went back out in the sun to find Calle Gascona and food. A small bar in the shelter of the ancient walls seemed to be serving only cider, so we pressed on, hungry. Calle Gascona was given over almost entirely to restaurants – some busy, some not so. It looked like they were between sittings. We picked one and wandered up to a table in the shade.
As we hovered, a waiter turned and admonished us. His Spanish was too fast for me, but it wasn’t friendly. We couldn’t work out what his problem was and walked back up to a friendlier-looking place we’d seen on the way down.
We loitered for a while and eventually a waitress pointed to a table. Sometimes you just get a feeling. Calle Gascona gave us that feeling. We got up and left. It began to seem like Oviedo might not be the most friendly city in the world.
The bar or sidreria we passed on the way down had an empty table. We sat down.
It was a lively spot and a happy-smiling bar-maid with lusty deep voice took the orders and brought two bottles of sidra. More like it.
Following local tradition, she poured them from over her head, while holding a conversation across the bar. The sidra gets aerated by pouring it from height, but a good part of it misses the glass and splashes onto the floor. I watched a flow from under the tables over the ancient stone and tried to imagine what my dad would have said.
We chatted with the waitress in broken Spanish about our local Somerset cider and scribbled down a few names for her to look up.
A couple of bottles later and still hungry, we called into a bakery for some pastries to keep us going then headed off to check out San Mateo’s bars and cafes.
Maybe the best find of the evening was a Cuban bar serving cocktails. Seemed rude not to. We were served by a girl who might have been Australian by her complexion: blonde hair and blue eyes. It turned out she was from a town on the coast of Asturias. Apparently there are lots of blonde haired, blue eyed people in northern Spain.
Live and learn.
We chatted a while about Leicester – she was heading there on a student exchange – and Asturias. We didn't know a lot about either.
She came over with a small flag each – paper stickers that she left on the bar in front of us. They were a red, yellow and purple tricolour – the purple is a colour known as murray, or morado in Spanish.
We asked what it was, thinking it to be the Asturias flag. She answered “Republic”, smiling.
I slid mine under a plastic window in my wallet.
It was getting late and we still hadn’t eaten. We decided to walk back to the cafes we’d seen on the way from the station.
We sat at a table on the pavement and watched Oviedo go by. By now it was dark – it seemed to happen suddenly. We ordered beers and food.
We relaxed at last – ate the food and drank the cervesas, listening to the buzz of conversation and swinging our legs from the high seats.
Tomorrow we’d head to Astorga, via Leon, for one last night of comfort.