Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The "Orchard"

I hope I didn't over-hype this story; it's really not that great. Especially compared to the photos that accompany it. But anyway, Amparo and I were sitting around eating dinner at 10:30 or so on Saturday when she mentioned to me that her brother owns some land near the coast, and had invited us to out there the next day. Apparently they go pretty frequently since it's only an hour away, and Amparo has a garden there, which all the Spaniards kept referring to as a "huerta" (orchard). I said sure, that I would love to go, but are there bathrooms there? To which she replied "There is one, but it's very ugly."
Oh well, I'm not gonna let that stop me from going to a new place. It just made me a little more nervous and a little less inclined to partake in the afternoon meal. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Sunday morning Amparo's brother Manolo, his wife, and their friend who's name I didn't catch picked us up around 11. We took the autopista (interstate) for a little while, passing through the industrial town of Avilés, then cut through an apparently abandoned stockyard to get to some very windy country roads. You see, Asturias doesn't slope gently down to the sea like Virginia, where the land is completely flat for an hour before you get to the ocean. Asturias greets the sea with massive cliffs.
During the whole car trip Manolo and everyone else in the car were talking, but with the windows down and their rapid Spanish I didn't really understand what they were talking about. It's weird, because I can get the gist of what the conversation is about, but not really the specifics, so to me all of these inter-Spaniard conversations seem really redundant because they are talking about the same thing for a really long time. Kind of hard to explain, sorry if that doesn't make sense.
When we got to Verdicio, which is the name of the town where Manolo's land is, we stopped at a restaurant for coffee and cider. Drinking nothing wasn't an option, so I went for coffee, since it was noon on Sunday. For those of you who don't know, cider doesn't come out of the bottle carbonated, so it's customary to hold the bottle way above your head and the glass as low as possible while pouring to make it fizzy, then drink it as quickly as possible. This makes for a lot of spilled cider, especially when the person doing the pouring is also drinking the cider.
After Manolo and Amparo had downed a bottle of cider about 20 minutes later we headed out again, away from the sea (which we were very close to at this point) and up into the hills. Manolo's orchard is literally at the end of a road, so it's impossible to drive past it. It's also almost impossible to drive to it, because the hill is so steep.
What can I say about this piece of property? I'll start with some photos, and then I'll do my best to describe it for all of my loyal readers.

The view from the gate

The view from the backyard

The Spanish word for crow is "cuervo", like the tequila

As you can see, there is a house here, but it's a very rundown house with no electricity. Surprisingly it does have running water, and the bathroom, although separate from the house in a sort of garden shed, was not as bad as I had expected. Pretty much, the house itself is like a big garden shed with kitchen appliances in it, as it was mostly full of firewood. There is one room on the ground floor and one room above it, but you have to go outside to go between them, as you can see from the staircase on the side of the house. There is an actual tool shed with a sort of patio on top of it where I spent most of my time, but you can also go up on the roof to take in the same view. What view is that, you ask?

After Manolo gave me a tour of the garden (which was pretty fun since I don't know the Spanish names of any vegetables = lots of smiling and nodding) I spent most of the afternoon sitting on the tool shed terrace, reading my book and looking at the view, and moving to the shade when I got too hot. Amparo and the friend gardened, Manolo's wife slept, and Manolo spent all day digging, mixing concrete, and laying a walkway of granite slabs with the shiny side facing downward (?) We had the usual huge afternoon meal, with seafood empanadas, chicken breasts, venison sausage, and tortilla (omelet, remember), along with at least two but maybe three bottle of cider. I tried some this time, it was much more bitter than I expected, but not bad. Amparo's daughter Eva had driven out to meet us and after dinner she invited me with her to go find a beach because she wanted to go swimming, but I didn't feel like it right after eating and I'm kind of intimidated by Eva because she's harder to understand than Amparo. OH as an example of one of those redundant conversations, I swear they spent 20 minutes trying to tell Eva which beach to go to, because some are too rocky and some have dangerous currents. After lunch I found a snail, and turned into something of a nature photographer until it crawled onto a bush and out of sight.

Anyway, we left Verdicio around 6 and stopped in Avilés for another bottle of cider, apparently it's impossible to drive anywhere without taking a cider break. Amparo and I rode with Eva on the way back, not only because Manolo drives really slow but also because he had polished off at least 4 bottles of cider at this point (although much of the last bottle ended up on the ground, as I mentioned earlier). We got back to Oviedo around 8 and the rest of the evening was uneventful.
Overall I had a really good time, but I was surprised to learn that Manolo has owned this place for 20 years and it still looks like this. He works in a welfare office so he doesn't really have a ton of money and apparently he only works on the house when he has the time and money to do so. I'm guessing he got it for a bargain because of it's condition. The whole time I was there though I was picturing how awesome this house would be if it was fully restored and well kept. It looked like the kind of project that I would want to tackle with my dad. I feel like I'm being really critical right now and that's not how I mean to sound, I'm really thankful that they were nice enough to invite a random foreigner out to their property. Manolo also has a house in León in the mountains that he said he wants to show me, so that should be an interesting experience as well.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Casco Antiguo

Saturday I decided to get up early and take a walk to the old part of Oviedo, which is called the Casco Antiguo in Spanish. I'm not sure why, because casco means helmet, but I guess it also means town. Anyway, Amparo told me it was a 15 minute walk, and that I was in luck because it was market day, so to watch out for my wallet. There's no foreshadowing here, I'll tell you now I didn't get robbed. Yet.
OK so off to the Casco Antiguo I went, via a huge hill that I already walked up once when I was going to register as an international student. I found a mall that's four stories tall with the top ground level with the top of the hill and the bottom opening out at the bottom and I was really tempted to go there first and take the escalators up instead of climbing, but it's pretty far out of the way. And I felt really lazy just for considering it. When I got near the Campo de San Francisco, which is a big park in the middle of Oviedo, I got sidetracked and walked down a pedestrian street for a ways. I think it was the statue at the beginning of the street - it beckoned me.

Seriously, how could I not walk down this street? This statue is called "Culis Monumentablis" but is colloquially referred to as El Gran Culo. So I took a few photos of the huge butt statue, saw a few places called "casinos" that turned out to be shoe stores, and explored El Corte Ingles, which is the Macy's of Spain, before heading into the Campo to look around. It's really nice and shady with tons of huge trees and benches, and I also found this cool old doorway to a church. We don't have the full story on this yet, Amparo said she's never seen it but it looks like it's been there a while. I vaguely remember something about a church being destroyed in some war and being reconstructed here, but I don't know which war or when.

So I finally decided to go over to the old town center, which is easy to find because you can see the steeple of the cathedral from just about everywhere I've been so far. I was pleasantly surprised to find the plaza mostly empty of people and completely devoid of people selling touristy crap, but it turns out that was because of the market going on a few streets over. The Cathedral of San Salvador is really impressive; it's a mixture of architectural styles and the oldest part is also from around the 8th or 9th century. The plaza isn't that big so it was hard to get the whole thing in one picture. Also I didn't get to go inside yet because I wasn't sure I was appropriately dressed in my t-shirt and jeans.

Catedral de San Salvador

Details of the vestibule of the Cathedral (click any picture for a larger version)

I wondered around the streets of the old town for about an hour, saw a lot of disco bars (weird, right?) and happened upon some sort of folk performance with bagpipes and traditional costumes, but it was really crowded and I didn't take any pictures. Plus I don't really like bagpipes, I think they're annoying (don't tell any Asturians! Blasphemy!) Finally I found the market, which has food stalls inside a glass-roofed structure and a bunch of tents selling clothes in the surrounding streets. Kind of a let down, because I didn't need any secondhand bras, but my dad would have loved the stalls selling fish. There were signs saying not to take photos, but it's pretty easy for me to pretend I don't understand Spanish (sometimes I don't even have to pretend!)

Wrapping up, I made my way back to the huge hill via a short-cut I found, which means in the future I only have to climb it halfway, and then climb the rest on another street. I cut a few more streets over to go back a new way because I knew where I was relative to campus, and when I came around a corner I happened upon the original fountain of the city of Oviedo, which was located just inside where the city walls once stood. It would appear that ancient buildings spring from the ground as I approach! The rest of my walk was uneventful and I returned to the apartment to take a long nap so I could stay up late and watch the Tech-Miami game on my 15 euro subscription to ESPN360.com.

Ancient fountain of Oviedo, dating from . . . (drum roll please . . . ) THE 9TH CENTURY AD!! Thanks for playing folks, see you next time on "All This Stuff Was Built At The Same Time!"

P.S. - Yes I noticed this post had a very silly tone, perhaps because I spent all day today sitting in an "orchard" with Amparo and her brother. Fun story, I'll probably tell it tomorrow.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Relaciones Internacionales

I think you guys should be able to figure out that title. Hint: switch the words around and replace a few c's with t's. On my first full day I went to the International Relations office to register. I waited in the wrong line for about 20 minutes but then I went up to the proper counter and was shown to the desk of Monica Bohigas, the person who had been sending me information since May through the Study Abroad office at Tech. We discussed at length how to spell my name, and I was told repeatedly in Spanish (and then in English) how to continue registering for my classes and what I need to take to the National Police so I don't get deported. When I told her that I didn't have a bank account yet, she walked me across the street to the BBVA and told me to open one, and that was that. Finally, since you have to have an appointment to apply for a residence card with the police, she called them for me, and they told me to come on November 19 at 9:40 AM. November 19?! At least I'll have time to fill out their application form, which looks super confusing.
So the next day I went to my campus (it's called Campus Milan, in case you're curious) and looked for the Coordinator for International Relations, only to find out that shes' out sick. Oh well. I'll go to the mall instead and buy a cell phone, since I've decided which one I want. On the way there I discovered an ancient church that's really near the apartment and has a nice park around it, but in the Vodafone store I was told in rapid-fire Spanish that the computer system is down and they can't create new accounts right now, try back later in the afternoon. FINE, I'll just go buy a donut and take a nap then! Even better, today I did the exact same two things I just described, with exactly the same results, except I didn't feel like a donut so I bought a Spanish National Geographic. I guess I'm getting my classes and my phone Monday . . .
Anyway that's all I can really think of right now, so I'll leave you with a picture of my room and the view from it. Hasta luego.

My room, looking in from the doorway.

My view, of an apartment building with a furniture store underneath. I live above the "Furniture Palace", and I'm pretty sure this whole street is the furniture district . . .

The ancient church near the mall, called San Julian de los Prados, also referred to as Santullano. The oldest part dates from the 9th century.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Arrival in Oviedo

Well I have been in Oviedo for about 24 hours now, and as you can imagine a lot of stuff has happened since my last post. I'll try to hit all the important points without being too long-winded. My flight to Paris was fine, good selection of movies and some gross pasta, but I mostly slept and watched the real-time map. It took about an hour and a half to get through the Paris airport from my arrival gate to the separate terminal for my flight to Oviedo, including going through customs (why?) and catching a bus. The new terminal was like it's own small airport, and in the 5 hours I spent there I read TIME magazine and slept awkwardly in a chair. I had to go outside and actually climb up the stairs to get on the plane to Asturias, and I tried to sleep on that flight too but a snoring Dutchman next to me made that pretty difficult. The view out the window coming into Asturias was pretty cool, the airport is right on the sea on top of a cliff, so all of the sudden instead of looking at the ocean and thinking we still had a while before we landed I was touching down in Spain. I didn't have to go through customs in the Asturias airport, strangely, but I had no problem hauling my luggage to the bus for the 40 minute ride to Oviedo.
I accidentally slept on that bus too, I had wanted to check out the scenery but I was just too tired. I took a taxi from the bus station to my apartment and managed to arrive an hour earlier than I had told her (since I didn't have any hassle at the airport I caught the 3 o'clock bus, not the 4 o'clock like I had expected. That's probably why it took Amparo so long to come to the door, but after two doorbell rings and a knock I got inside. I was shown to my room, which I'll put up a photo of later, and then fed lentils and chicken with all the skin and bones still on it. It was pretty good, but I was surprised when I found that first bone. Amparo's son Tony came over to help me set up the wireless on my computer and I skyped my dad for a little while, then I just watched TV and tried to stay awake while Amparo did some continuing education for her X-ray imaging until dinner. I was actually watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit in Spanish, but all the voices are dubbed over and it's hard to understand the TV because they talk so fast. So around 8 o'clock we ate some salads and tortillas (not what you think it is, basically an omelet with just eggs and potatos) and then I went to bed. No joke, I was exhausted. Later I'll make another post about what I did today, but since today's not over yet I can't right now, wouldn't be prudent.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Zero Hour, 4:40 PM

As you may have guessed from the title, my flight leaves Dulles at 4:40 tomorrow afternoon. Or should I say 16:40? I should, I need to get used to military time since all of Europe uses it. Well it's the night before I leave, and I am pretty much all packed up except for my toiletries that I need to use in the morning. Leaving Richmond around 9:30 AM to have time to get some lunch before getting dropped off and sitting around the airport for three hours. And after a nine hour flight I get to sit around the Paris airport for six hours before my connecting flight! Hooray! Better that then having them lose my bags in a short transfer, though. I should finally get to my host family's apartment around 5 or 6 in the evening on Tuesday, local time, and my next update will be from there. I'm sure there will be much to report about the trip itself, and I have a busy few days of getting situated as far as checking in with the University, getting my classes selected, and registering as a foreigner at the police station so I don't get deported. All very necessary tasks. OK America, hasta la vista!