So, it’s been a while.
Caution: What follows is a run-on sentence. Grammar police be warned. If you want to moan, talk to the hand.
After just over two years of upheaval starting in March 2020 (I’m looking at you, COVID), lockdowns, social distancing and loss of connection in real life (look away now, COVID), my job loss and subsequent financial battle to get what I was owed (only took two full years to achieve), dealing with my husband leaving to Spain in Jan.2022 a full five months before I was able to move (during which featured two counts of bank fraud, a discovery of mice in the loft, a fallen tree that just missed the house, and sudden repairs) AND a saga figuring out how to get the cat to Spain the best way (turns out a 22-hour car drive was the only option – Thank You Brexit) I am happy to now say that I am settled in Oviedo, Asturias almost a year to this day.
While I am not fluent yet, I do take two hours of class a week online and things are coming along. Not as quickly as I would like since my work is still in English and I’m not fully immersed at home either. It’s not easy to just start speaking to your husband in another language when all you’ve known is talking to each other in English. This isn’t to say that it might never happen, but for now, we usually make the odd attempt and it dissolves into English within a few minutes once there is some vocabulary I don’t already have retained in my brain.
Now that I have lived here a full year, I have some observations that have either solidified impressions I had visiting family for 23 years prior or formed some brand new ones.
Groceries become a daily thing
In London, I used to shop weekly or do a big shop every two weeks. It was a pain to have to do anything after three hours of commuting every day during the week (yes, an hour and a half each way at the best of times). So weekends it was.
Now I live in the heart of El Fontan, the old part of Oviedo with pretty-as-a-picture surroundings, a gigantic covered market that is open 6 days a week, mostly pedestrianised streets and loads of little nooks and crannies to wander about in.
In addition to the market which has an entrance across the street from us, we have two other supermercados nearby within 80 meters from the flat.
I go to one of those shops Every. Single. Day.
Bread is very important here. Just like in France and Italy, you don’t have a cut loaf with dinner. And even though these shops are tiny by North American standards, they outshine them in terms of service counter variety and, when it comes to fish and seafood in particular, utter freshness since things got off the boat that morning and onto the icy counters.
It’s actually quite enjoyable to watch all the women jostle for tickets in the morning. The fishmongers counter is pretty much closed up for shop by 2 or 3pm because everything good is already gone. You snooze, you lose.
So it’s easier to just go daily since the shops and market I frequent are all less than 90m away from my front door!
Mercadona is a supermarket that has mostly its own brand products, and they’re pretty damn good, kind of like M&S in the UK. I go there most often. Alimerka has regular brands that I seek out that I can’t get at Mercadona. But both have huge charcuterie counters and fishmongers. Let’s not even get into the big deal that cured meat and just protein, in general, is in Spain. There may be a budding vegetarian/vegan restaurant movement, but heaven help the veggie who comes here expecting much!
Bells and Bagpipes
When I first arrived, my memories of seeing Gaiteros used to make me quite emotional. Something about the bagpiping in Spain opened my eyes to realisiing that there are many different areas that can lay claim to Celtic heritage and history. Don’t believe me? Look it up.
At first, it was all very exciting for my first permanent summer here. I could hear the bagpipes from my bedroom window on weekends! They would parade down our very central Oviedo street! We would be in the Plaza de Catedral a few streets away and they would perform in front of the cathedral to the delight of tourists.
And the bells! Being next door to a 13th Century church, and the main government building of Asturias (this Spanish province is actually a Principality with its own autonomous government), the Cathedral and the Plaza de Escandalera I had four sources of bell-tolling within earshot.
I now know them very, VERY well.
I no longer peer out the window when bagpipes call out, or take pictures when I see a procession. It’s a given any weekend for me now.
I also know that when the bells toll, I don’t need to look at a clock anymore. I can pick out which bell is coming from which source. And at Navidad, the building in Plaza de Escandelera that normally tolls out the Asturian anthem changes to Silent Night. So at least that one switches it up a little.
Who wants a Fiesta?
Look no further.
I swear to god that this place has a fiesta planned almost every weekend.
I’m used to most places I’ve lived in putting up seasonal street lights for Christmas. But here, they have seasonal lights for THREE times of the year. And not just on the main drag. Nope.
Perhaps I am more exposed to the decorating because of our location in the old town. But there are across-the-street banner lights for the September Festival of San Mateo (which lasts for two weeks, you need stamina to survive), Navidad, and then Carnival in February.
They also set up mini-markets around the city that have bars/food/artisanal products/clothing/jewellery, you name it. Almost like turning certain areas into mini-street parties for a few weeks at a time. Nothing is short-lived here.
I might also add that we have the Three Kings processions and parades, a festival for chestnuts (and a type of chestnut-infused cider that goes with it), a Sidra festival (€6 and you get a sidra glass, a scarf, a scorecard and you can drink as many ‘culines’ of sidra that you want from over 40 producers. Needless to say the whole city has a hangover), the Spooky Easter processions that look scary to North Americans (yes, those pointy hats).
There are far more fiestas than that that I can think of at the moment, but basically, this place needs no excuse to get out and socialise.
Which brings us to 6:30am homecomings…
I’m not making this up. At my age, this was not a normal occurrence in London. Not only because public transport made it prohibitive, the cost alone of staying out that late in London is prohibitive. Never mind the taxi or Uber fare home since nobody wants the sad state of trying to get home on a Night Bus that runs hourly.
Last summer, it happened more times than I can count!
For the record, this is in part due to the fact that on weekends (and the occasional school night) dinner is always late. Like 10pm is early to book a dinner reservation type of late. 10:30 and onwards is more the norm. So by the time you’re finished eating, places for digestifs and cocktails are just opening up. Some places only open at 1am. Others open at 6am, to cater to the crowd who aren’t quite ready to quit and go home from the places that opened at 1am and closed at 5 or 6am.
You might think, surely these places are not overrun with people?
You would be wrong. They are packed with all ages. Which is something I do love about Spain. I may be 48, but I’m not dead yet. Folks decades older than my generation are out and about at 2am, they are social, and they are just a part of the normal crowd. Sure there are places for what we call ‘the younglings’, but then there are places for us more mature folk too. Everyone has a spot.
La Ruta de Vermú
Finally, to round things off, let’s talk about a national obsession here. I didn’t realise how pervasive the love for vermouth was in this country.
Oh sure, back in the day I used to see Marco’s mother enjoy vermouth on the weekend and I would occasionally have one instead of Rioja.
But here it’s a weekend staple and a standard invite. I don’t know of a single weekend when we haven’t been asked to meet people on a Saturday or Sunday early afternoon for a ‘vermú’.
So there you have it, a few observations and learns from my first year here. These are the immediate ones that come to mind and there might be a part two in the future.
What I will say is that although I miss my friends in London, I do not miss living in London. I experienced just about everything I could from that city from the arts, theatre, special attractions, concerts, star-spotting and foodie experiences, as well as trying to be the best tour guide I could be for our visitors over the 25 years I lived there. I can’t honestly think of anything I can say I truly missed out on as a Londoner while living there.
But time marches on, and we were always going to retire in Spain. And here we are.
I figured it was better to learn a new language right now while my brain was just a smidge under 50 as opposed to when I would be rapidly experiencing brain cells abandoning ship when I was 65.
It’s nice to be back on the blog.
Thanks for reading whoever you are!
10 thoughts on “Allison in Asturias”
Huzzah…your are back!!!GREAT READ!!!
How come you’re listed as Anonymous Mom??! 🤔😹
AWESOME DETAILED UPDATE ALLISON 🙌🙌. Very interesting and so many different ways of everyday life to experience ; you’re going to master the language, no problemo ♥️🤗 Aunt Maggie 🥰
Thanks Aunt Maggie! It has been a painless experience despite the differences. I’d already been here so many times it wasn’t a shock to my system. Maybe just more of an adjustment to it being everyday life and not like one big holiday! This first year has kind of felt l’ve been on a never ending holiday. And not just because of the weather. Every year this place was a holiday break location so it took some time to stop associating it that way. But it’s not a bad way to enjoy life- thinking you’re on a perpetual holiday! 🤔🙃😬
Great read Allison! We were in Madrid for the Holy week procession a few year ago and yes, parts of it were somewhat eerie!
Not sure who sent this as it comes up anonymous!
Love! Fun read!
Looking forward to experiencing this in person. 🤍
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