Sunday, November 9, 2014

Road Trip Day 6-7: León & Astorga

In our opinion, there wasn't much to Leòn. Not a ton of charm outside of the small old town. Cold and gray and rainy, it served its purpose to us as a stop for the night.

We spent our evening the usual way, in a crowded tapas bar. I'm starting to sense a theme here, España!


Nearby Astorga was fairly quiet and empty, as most Spanish cities are on Sundays. They do have a beautiful Gaudí church though, that looks straight out of a Disney movie.

El Palacio Episcopal de Astorga

And, some pretty creepy looking street art.

Not that kind of hood.

Next stop: Salamanca!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Oviedo

On the fourth day of our road trip, we pulled into the first real city in what seemed like ages, though I realize now was just a few days. Where do we park?! Hooray there are PEOPLE! Look there’s a Zara!! In roughly 48 hours in Austurias' capital city of Oviedo, we… 

Started to get really into this coffee-drinking ritual.

So THIS is what all the fuss is about?!

Learned how much Spaniards love ham.

Pig on pig on pig.

Appreciated how pretty they light stuff up at night.

The stunning Iglesia de San Juan el Real

Caught a really full moon.

Cathedral of San Salvador, and, the moon.

Discovered Dunkin Dagels.

What's a dagel??

And perfected the art of sitting in a plaza, sipping wine and watching people.

All. Day. Long.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Basque Coast, Cantabria & Asturias

Just three short days, but a lifetime's worth of beauty. And apple cider. And rain! Our San Sebastian -> Madrid road trip is only a third of the way through, but I must pause and post our first set of pics.

To take a peak at our jaunt through Northern Spain, click HERE.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Heartbreak in Covadonga

As I began the damp, grassy decent towards the water’s edge, all was silent but for the wind whistling off snowy mountain peaks and a herd of sheep’s bells clanging in the distance. Out of nowhere, warm tears started to roll down my icy cheeks. Never before in my life have I been moved to tears by the sheer beauty of something. Today, Los Lagos de Covadonga broke my heart.

Let me back up a bit.

Just when the nonstop rain had soaked our spirits and we were ready to throw in the towel on Northern Spain, the sun rose over the mountains this morning and totally redeemed itself. We tooled around the hillsides taking in everything the area had to offer, from this 800 year old bridge...

Roman Bridge of Cangas de Onís

To this rose-colored castle of a church...

Covadonga's Basílica de Santa María

To this pint-sized cathedral built into the side of a mountain, hovering above a waterfall… !

No big deal.

It was one of those perfect days spent frolicking around town that made the entire price of our car rental worth it. I’d heard there were some amazing lakes a few kilometers up the road from where we’d been happily snapping pictures all afternoon, so we decided to venture further into the mountains to take a peak (no pun intended, haha).

The drive started innocently enough, some twisty-curvy-uphill roads revealing increasingly prettier views. 


I see snow!

As the ascent became steeper and the road became narrower, this is when things started to get hairy. The wind picked up, the clouds rolled in and threatened to burst on us, and there was no picturesque lake in sight. Nor guardrails between us and the vertical drop below. Higher and higher we climbed, until we began to catch glimpses of breathtaking snow-capped summits. I could see Reece clinging to his seat as I negotiated each hairpin turn, tediously shifting gears to accommodate the changing speed and incline while praying an oncoming car wasn’t coming around the corner. Nearly 3,500 feet of altitude, we'd later learn, we gained in less than eight nerve-wracking miles.

Of course our navigation system failed us up there, so we had no way of knowing if we’d gone the wrong way or if our desired destination was just around the next bend. I could tell Reece wanted to turn around, but I was determined to push on. I forced the thought of rain out of my mind and decided we’d give it one more mile. Surely we were almost there.

And we were! I can't tell you the relief I felt to finally be greeted by this small body of water. 
  
Victory!!

We pulled off the road and got out to take photos, but sadly it was overcast and drizzly by then and the incredible snow-covered hills in the distance were hidden from view. Still, the moment was peaceful and a little bit surreal and I insisted we continue even further, to see the final lake.

Reece thought that was a wolf coming to eat us. It was a big black sheep dog.

Which brings us back to where I started. It sounds insane now to recount, but it is truly indescribable how moved I was by this place. The oddest part is, I’ve seen tons of prettier lakes. Greener hillsides and bluer skies and more dramatic peaks. But for some reason, this place was so powerful that it still haunts me. My heart literally ached in my chest as I took it all in. Was I pained that I may never see it again, saddened that photos couldn't possibly do it justice? Was I overwhelmed with relief over finally making it there, releasing the tension of our journey? Was I shaken by my unyielding urge to explore, moved by the satisfaction of finding whatever it is I am seeking? 

I'll never quite put my finger on it. All I know is that I lingered in that moment as long as the graying skies would allow. I felt so tiny. So at peace. So fulfilled. So overwhelmed by the beauty of this world around me. Endlessly grateful for these experiences. Humbled by our tremendous blessings. And hopeful that someday, somewhere, I'll come across this feeling again.

That tiny black dot = Me.

"We do not want to merely 'see' beauty. Though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words - to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it." - C.S. Lewis

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Day 3: Cangas de Onís


One of the most significant things I’ve learned through our travels is the ability to adapt. On the road, things very rarely go as planned. Sometimes the surprises are amazing. Sometimes, not so much. And I firmly believe that our happiness is based upon how we react to things falling apart.

Reece and I have gotten pretty damn good at staying calm in these moments, if I do say so myself. Lately, we’re taking it a step further and learning to deftly switch gears, turning the bad times around before they have any time to fester.

The main reason we rented a car to do this road trip at all is because I wanted to visit the Picos de Europa. Meaning “Peaks of Europe”, this mountain range promised breathtaking scenery, isolated villages, and a very famous hike inside a gorge that is reputed to be one of the most stunning experiences in all of Europe. We’ve been indulging in the food and wine arts quite a bit here in Spain, and were looking forward to some exercise in the great outdoors.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, when we arrived to the national park we couldn't find a single open place to stay. Everything appeared to be shut down for the season as we drove around in frustrating circles. Dead ends, one way streets, and narrow alleys tested my patience at every turn. Our attempt to park and investigate on foot was thwarted by pounding rain, and our navigation system decided to stop working in the inclement weather. I was tired, soaked, disappointed, and basically at the end of my rope, when we decided to just move on. If this village didn’t work for us, we’d find one nearby that did.

Fast forward through several more small towns dotted amongst the dramatic peaks. Nothing. We visited tourist offices (closed). We knocked on doors (no answer). The sun was falling quickly and this was not working out for us. So, we parked the car, opened up the guidebook and changed plans. Next stop: Cangas de Onís! The cheese and cider capital of Austurias, for some good old-fashioned pub-hopping to lift our soggy spirits. Onward we drove until the clouds parted, we found a suitable place to stay, and enjoyed one of the most fun nights we’ve had yet.

This is what we WOULD have seen, if the Travel Gods had cooperated.

This is what we saw instead.

The famous apple cider of this region (which tastes, alarmingly, like blue cheese) is poured from the highest height your bartender can muster, to produce a little fizz and make the taste more enjoyable. It's customary to swig the pour in one sip (don't let any sit in the glass!), and give the man nod every time you're ready for replenishment.

In the lazier establishments, they have these cute little machines to do the fizz-work for you.

Endless entertainment.

Well, at least our livers are getting some exercise.