Only thirty minutes from Oviedo, Spain is the city of Gijon. It is one of the larger cities in the region of Asturias and has a major port in the western portion of the city, next to the old historic district. I will start off this story by jumping to the middle…it must have been around 1pm, más o menos, and I was enjoying a fantastic panoramic view of the seaport from a high hilltop that rises from within the city. This tallest point of Gijon comes to a round peak at the very end of the peninsular, granting visitors like me a 360 degree view. The sky was a clear vibrant blue with the sun showering down light and warmth complimented by a pleasant ocean breeze. Standing in the soft green grass, I was able to drink in with my eyes this Asturian city.
The bay of Gijon and its teeming beach lay to the east in a perfect long curve of the cream-colored sand dotted with the foaming white of waves washing up on shore and then receding into darker and darker ocean-blue tones. Continuing my gaze counterclockwise and facing north, I gazed out on the pristine aqua-blue of the Atlantic Ocean dotted with majestic white sailboats and felt as if I were experiencing a painting coming to life with the sound of the waves breaking against the rock cliffs far below me. To the west I viewed the large massive seaport, its presence profound even though it looked like small Lego pieces from my high vantage point. Coming full circle, I encountered the hub of Gijon, with its younger downtown and commercial areas spread out elaborately further south. My sight followed its patchwork of streets closer to my hilltop to appreciate how it evolved into the much older historic section that is within the old city walls from times long ago. My favorite part of visiting a city, ancient ruins, continues up the hill to my very feet. The park I am standing in houses the remains of the stone fortress that guarded Gijon from invading ships during eras when the land and sea were hostile. Now, they’re simply romantic and impressive to us. This highlight of my day and the city of Gijon is the “Parque del Cerro de Santa Catalina“. But as I mentioned…this is the middle of my story. This first visit to Gijon started out in Oviedo.
Earlier that day, I sat back and relaxed on the regional train that took me winding through the verdant green hills of the countryside and past small villages, their quaint houses and farms delighting me with all the Spanish charm of faded yellow walls and blue shutters that pop with the red and white flowers that gush out over the wrought-iron balcony railings. As the train neared Gijon and I listened to more music, the landscape gave way to more industrial buildings, a reminder to me that I’m traveling to experience the every-day local culture and for this reason I appreciate seeing the picturesque and the ordinary. In other words, I’m glad I took the slower regional train.
How I love traveling! That’s what I thought while on the train and kept thinking excitedly as I found out what bus line would take me to my first destination. This was great practice for my Spanish as I popped into a couple buses and went up to strangers on the sidewalk to ask for which bus I should take. Although I didn’t have a map, I had learned that I needed to get to the other side of town and I didn’t have time to walk since I was fortunate to be meeting up with someone. Curious as to who I was meeting? Remember, I’m in Spain, not Italy…that was a few months back now…I had a “play-date” of sorts with a fellow blogger and writer, Mary Ryan, and her win-you-over adorable two-year old son, Jack.
They picked the Parque Isabella la Catolica as our meeting place so that Jack could enjoy the elaborately fun playgrounds and all three of us could take advantage of the gorgeously warm summer weather. Spreading out the size of a few city blocks, the park is a refreshing oasis of tall leafy green trees, many of them regal and marvelous in their aged trunks that bear witness to hundreds of years gone by. We walked among gardens of flowers, trimmed bushes, and archways structured of clinging vines and roses of ever color. Enjoying coffees and juice alongside the pond at the small outdoor café, we enjoyed watching the quirky traits of the ducks, swans, and peacocks that make this peaceful park their home.
Getting to meet with Mary and Jack was a great case of “it’s a small, small world”. Almost one year ago, Mary found and started following my personal blog, AmaliaVida. I in turn saw that she writes about her life in Asturias on her blog Asturian Diary and I started to follow and enjoy her writings as well. Now that I am living in Asturias for August and September, I got in touch and we made plans to meet in person. From one blogger to another, we spent a grand time sharing in each other’s stories of how we have come to be in Spain. Mary and her partner Rich have been living in a very small village just outside of Gijon for over six years now. Coming from England, they were in pursuit of a quality of life that would be rich in nature’s beauty, savoring time as a gift, and to revel in their beloved sport of rock climbing.
Now they have the charming blonde-haired, blue-eyed addition of Jack who was born in Asturias and is already rock climbing himself…he even has the little rock climbing shoes and I witnessed his already developing agility on the playground. Not only was Mary a sweetheart to talk to with her lovely British-Irish accent, but she was also an inspiration to me for doing all that we can to live the life we desire and to treasure time. I truly believe that it is not coincidental that we found each other’s blogs and now have been able to meet in person…after saying hasta luego to my new friends and while venturing further into the park, my thoughts turned wonderfully contemplative and introspective regarding Spain in my life and how I want to use my time in the coming months and years.
I had a general idea of where the ocean was and I was feeling more and more eager to see it and enjoy the older part of the city. Strolling through the length of the park, I came out from its far corner and knew I was on the right path. People in swimsuits, carrying towels and beach chairs, were walking through a tunnel below the busy street I had come to. I followed suite (except that I didn’t bring my bathing suit – I know, sad!) and came out on the other side into the dazzling sight of hundreds of crazy-colored beach tents and umbrellas that screamed “EUROPEAN SUMMER” to me. I was at the far eastern end of the bay which is the beach San Larenzo. Buying a fresh piece of tortilla Espanola in a local Asturian deli and bakery, I set out on the next part of meeting Gijon.
The bay is a beautiful walk along the wide pedestrian boulevard that runs in between one of the main streets and the beach that lies farther below. As I headed west along this walkway, I noticed how the buildings to the south and immediately across the street seemed to be taking me back through time as their architectural style and façade presented a living timeline. It was like a string left behind for me to pick up at my end and follow deeper into history. I took my time walking amidst all the different people who were also out-and-about on this spectacular day.
Constantly in my view like a target was one of the many things I love about Europe – the buildings that still bear witness to ancient history and past lives. The Iglesia de San Pedro prominently resides in what seems to be sacred solidity where the bay curves and juts out into the ocean to disappear around the corner to form the peninsular. Built on a stone wall that begins on the beach and disappears into the ocean water, the church begins to grow larger and more glorious details appear in the architecture as I near the end of the beach boulevard. The natural colors of sandstone rock are highlighted by the traditional roof of red Spanish tiles. Although the design is simple and rectangular, there is depth to the building with wings extending out from the center that create varying smaller roofs that stand at different heights along the east and west sides. The presence of romantic medieval splendor encircles the main floor with elegant arches and pillars that create a vestibule in the front entrance and perfectly aligned windows in the walls. A tower rises up from just within the south end, breaking the structural outline into the traditional cross-shape that many of the Christian churches were built with during the Medieval and Renaissance ages. The large bell residing in the top of the steeple rings out loud and clear every hour, echoing off the clear salty water and resonating off the buildings along the bay.
Leading up to the front entrance is a plaza of wise looking trees creating a green canopy of shade over benches for those who come there now to sit and even for those who have existed before us, like the statue of the great Octavio Augusto. While there, a bit of irony played out as I considered the mark left on history by the person of Octavio Augusto, commemorated by a statue that now had a pigeon perched on the stone head of the historic man. I suppose that when we consider wanting to leave our mark on the world, we need to ask ourselves if we still want to do so even though it means that one day when we’re gone, a pigeon may be perched on our statue’s head. It is most certainly still worth it…I mean, once you’re gone who cares about statues and pigeons, yet for while we’re here living this life, perhaps these considerations help to keep our motivations and intentions pure.
And speaking of perspective…I enjoy few things more than the combination of a beautiful environment and a glass of local vino tinto. Just across the street from the church and the beach is the Café del Instituto. The café portion of the buildings is in the taller far end with a small stone church wedged alongside. This small chapel, which is now a contemporary museum inside, has a bell hanging at the top that is proportional to the quaint size of the building. In front of these beautiful buildings are tables and chairs with umbrellas providing relief from the strong sun. Here is where I sat for a while, sipping on a glass of their vino tinto de la casa and nibbling on the small aperitivos of jamon and croquettes. While my stomach savored the tastes of Gijon, my eyes adored the splendid lively view of the ocean, the Iglesia San Pedro, and the ancient city stone wall just beyond the church. The scene looked like a painter’s palette of clear aqua-blue, soft browns and reds of stone, dark greens of the billowing treetops, and bright splashes of every other color passing by on the people walking here and there. Taking it all in, it seemed that I could feel it, it was so beautiful…and yes, maybe the wine contributed to this as well.
The rest of my enjoyable day in Gijon was quite simple and yet so full. I walked and walked, up and down ascending and descending narrow straights; through the enticing market of Plaza Mayor with its booths of cheeses, meats, jewelry, clothing goods, and other local artisan items such as the traditional sidra of the area. There were of course more snacks to enjoy throughout the day and I chose to go “picnic style” and have freshly made items from the market to enjoy while sitting on a park bench in the plaza of the Iglesia San Pedro. The church was quite busy that day, with wedding after wedding taking place, which meant for the public live Asturian bagpipe music and a pageant of elegant fancy dresses and suits walking by almost every hour. The only down-side to this? I was not able to see the inside of the church. Must mean that I need to return for another visit. I felt right at home sitting on a bench as the older Spaniards do in this area and people watching. The locals here are so friendly and kind as well. One older married couple struck up a conversation with me and it turned out that they also live in Oviedo. Then shortly after they left, I enjoyed quite the humorous conversation with two older women who delighted me with their spunkiness and vibrancy. I appreciated their lovely dresses and how they enjoy getting “dolled-up” for a stroll with friends. I am learning that this is very typical of the Asturianos and I like seeing the older generations enjoying them-selves in this way.
How could the day get any better? My introduction to Gijon was going wonderfully and yet it turned out that it would give me a fantastically splendid finale that would send me off looking forward to future visits. I am very glad that I stayed for sunset…
There is something about the sunset on the ocean and in Gijon I experienced it to be very special. By the time the sun begin to recede lower behind the church and the ancient city wall, the crowds from on the beach had evaporated and its sandy floor had expanded as the tide drifted further and further out into the ocean. Taking off my sandals, I started at the far west end and began to walk east, back towards the beginning of my day. People were of course still out enjoying this scene just as I was and I chose to walk along the very edges of where the water washed up around my ankles, causing my feet to sink slightly into the grainy gushy sand with every step. Sunset hues were being cast onto the eastern horizon, where the bay swooped to the north, forming the bluffs and sea cliffs that are covered in green pastures and sparsely dotted with some buildings and what looked like a large stone monument. The beach was now much wider than it had been before and the water would run like little streams in all directions when the waves would recede, creating patches upon patches of sand. Once I reached the far eastern end, it was the perfect time to retrace my now washed away footprints.
Languidly strolling back, I breathed in the cool damp ocean breeze while roving my eyes over the enchantingly changing colors left behind by the sun’s disappearance. While this kept my eyes busy on the sky above and the newly appeared lights of the church, I found myself also entranced with the iridescent play of light on the very last tips of the waves. As they washed up on the now dark sand and then rolled back into the deeper waters, light seemed to appear and dance on that last, trailing thin part of the water, only to be left behind just before dissolving into white bubbles on the sand. The colors and feelings of this sunset were so breathtakingly beautiful that it seemed nothing could distract. It was only enhanced by the accompaniment of the warm yellow that emanated from the church and street lights like globes of soft shinning gold. They were appearing now everywhere, lining the beach boulevard like a necklace gracing the bay and at the end, decorating the church and stone walls of the ancient city like fireflies coming to rest magically. It was magical and whimsical, inspiring me to write in the sand with my toes, take my time walking slower and slower, and singing softly to myself with the tranquil sound of the waves and the cleansing feel of the water on my feet.
Gijon was sweet and gentle to me, leaving a wonderful and lasting impression that I hope to return to soon. I know there are still other parts to see, different experiences it holds…I’m not sure how it can get better than this first visit, but I am always open to being pleasantly surprised.