Despite the fact that school and work keeps us all extremely busy, six of my program-mates and I decided to take advantage of our first long weekend in Spain by renting a car and driving up north to a province called Asturias. We’d heard it was beautiful and had both beaches and mountains. So, we escaped our city lives for the weekend and hit the road.
We left Friday evening after work. Our goal was to leave around 7 and arrive in Gijon (pronounced Gcheeejchon…like you are clearing your throat to say it) by about midnight. In reality, we left at about 8 and hit a bunch of traffic. It seems everyone else wanted to leave Madrid for the weekend as well.
Naturally, as we were driving, some of us had to pee. We saw a sign on the side of the highway with a big “P” on it, and a drawing of what looked like someone sitting at a table. We figured it was some sort of rest stop. It was actually a place to park on the side of the road and pee in some trees. That was weird, but whatever.
We drove on. A few hours in, we all got pretty hungry so we stopped at a gas station. It was your typical gas station with bathrooms, snacks, giant hunks of stinky cheese, and a full service bar. The bar was, in typical Spain fashion, packed. We ordered hot sandwiches and by the time we had ordered, been served, eaten, and caught the waiters’ attention long enough to pay, it had been about an hour. We pressed on.
A few more hours passed, and at about 3:30am, we arrived in Gccchhhiijcchooon. We found our hostel, did some parallel parking (with assistance from some drunk locals) and then of course, hit the bars. We hunted for the “ideal bar” (not too loud, but still open…really hard to find after 1:00am). We found this bar, called “Utopia”.
These are five of the six people who I went with. From left to right: Alyssa, Asa, Marcus, Stacy, and Annie.
And there’s Jeff, the sixth, with Alyssa and Asa.
We had one drink and then went back to our hostel to pass out. The next day, we packed up our stuff and went out to explore Gijon.
We came to Gijon because it was on the coast. We wanted to spend some time by the water. But, what really captured our attention in Gijon (besides saying the name over and over) was a market we stumbled upon in the main plaza.
The market represented all of the main Spanish food groups:
1. Giant hunks of stinky cheese.
We obviously had no choice but to purchase all of the above. Along with some pastries, natural yogurt, flavored liqueurs, and jam. Good thing our car was nice and roomy (it wasn’t) and that none of these foods had strong smells (cheese and chorizo…yum.)
After spending 29384209 hours and 2039480329 Euros at this market, we headed into the hills of Gijon to check out some views.
Not bad, right? We kept on driving towards our next destination, which was a national park called “Picos de Europa”. It seemed as though we were leaving civilization behind us. On the way, we felt hungry, so we stopped, literally, in a one horse town.
I love small little Spanish towns like this. It’s so hard to believe that there still are places like these in the world. So remote, so small. I wonder what it would be like to live in such a town. How different would life be? While we were there, we went to the one bar in town, but all he had to offer were prepackaged foods. Although we were in the mood for a warm meal, we took the opportunity to drink some alcoholic apple cider (famous in this area) and bought some cookies and chocolate for the road (I mean….why not?)
We did eventually stop for something to eat (clearly we were low on food). Then nightfall came. That wouldn’t have been too big of a deal except 1. We didn’t know where we were going, really. 2. The place we were staying next was on a mountaintop in the absolute middle of nowhere, and didn’t even have an address. 3. We weren’t sure if they would hold our spots for us at the “refugio” (step down from a hostel) that late.
We drove deep into the “Picos de Europa” high up a mountain in pitch blackness with limited amounts of guard rails and big drop-offs. It was pretty scary. However, when we did finally find the refugio, the guy there was even scarier. First, he acted like we had gotten there too late to secure a spot. Then he said he didn’t have room for all 7 of us. Then he got angry that we didn’t have sleeping bags.
In the end, he did let us stay and even lent us some blankets to use. The only catch was that we had to fit six people on two bunk beds pushed together (we like to snuggle, so it was no big deal). We unpacked all of our bread, cheese, chorizo, chocolate, cookies, jam, yogurt, and tons and tons of alcohol we had picked up to partay. However, he said we had a half hour to eat and get in bed before he shut the electricity off. We had flashlights, right? No? Sweet.
We downed some alcohol, got ready for bed, and snuggled together. Everything was cool, except in the middle of the night when it was pitch black and the gin and tonic I drank before bed needed to exit my bladder immediately. I had nothing to use as a light…and the toilet was out of the bedroom, down some stairs, and in the pitch black (and freezing) bathroom. I luckily was able to feel my way out of the bedroom (I slept closest to the door) find the locker where my purse was, and locate my camera. I turned the camera on and it made just enough light for me to find the toilet and my way back to bed. Emergency over.
Bright and early in the morning, we were excited to actually see the mountains we were in and the lake we were close to. We had gotten a rough idea of the landscape the night before in the dark, but we wanted to take in all the sights now that the sun was up.
Unfortunately, it was a little foggy.
But, at least there were horses and chickens to visit with.
Is it sad that I seriously considered how wonderful it might be to live way up in the mountains and have a farm? Annie (yellow jacket) thinks I would only enjoy it for about 5 days before I went crazy. I’m not so sure. I really felt at peace up there.
We decided to explore our surroundings, despite the fog (and on and off rain).
This was “Lago Enol”, the lake near our refugio.
This was an (abandoned?) cabin near the lake. It was about this time that the fog began to lift.
It’s hard to capture in photos, but it’s quite possible that this was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I felt a strong sense of peace. I knew that by coming on this trip, I had to sacrifice some of the very little money I get each month, and some of the very little time I have to work on homework. But sitting by this lake, as the fog lifted, I knew it was all worth it. I also started thinking about all the Spaniards we had told that we were coming to Asturias. It was like they had all taken classes on Spanish tourism! They were so excited for us, and told us how beautiful it was, and how good the food would be, and how much fun we would have.
Well, maybe they weren’t Spanish tour guides. Maybe they were just right.
Because of the rain, the trails were a little muddy. So we tucked our pants into our socks to limit the mud splatter. What? We looked good.
It was a really great trip. It is true that everywhere we went we were the typical “loud and crazy Americans”, but only because we were having a really good time.
We made some great memories, survived some terrible roads, and saw some parts of Spain I didn’t know existed. It was an amazing trip.
In the future, look for me on my farm in the middle of nowhere.