Spain started in Oviedo.
Or, to be a bit more precise, the local Visigothic ruler, Don Pelayo (later King Pelayo), defeated the Moors at the battle of Covadonga around 718, establishing a Christian kingdom in Asturias, and so began the reconquest of Spain that wasn’t completed until 1492.
Like King Pelayo before me, I too started my Spanish life in Asturias.
Pelayo made Cangas de Onis his capital before shifting his court to Oviedo. I took a more direct approach and went straight to the Asturian capital, no messing about.
I took an early bus from Madrid* and had no real idea where I was going or just how big and empty Spain was. I stared at the endless flat plains of León as we drove on and on, nothing to see for miles. Hours later we climbed up into the Cantabrian mountains and eventually emerged into the driving rain of Asturias. I understood that Spain was not just hot and sunny beaches, but there was not a single time that I came out of that mountain pass and it wasn’t raining cats and dogs.
Oviedo didn’t look great from the bus. It looked drab and shoddy, but then very few cities look nice from the point of view of their bus stations. Oviedo’s bus station was surrounded by apartments that hung their washing out on spiderweb carousels overhanging the central courtyard where the buses parked. I wouldn’t like to dry my pants in full view of the city’s travellers, and would fear that they could easily become dislodged and fall, ending up on the roof of a bus, never to be seen again.
I walked out, suddenly realising that my happy-go-lucky lack of planning had a negative side. I had no idea where to go, what to do or how to speak the language. I felt lonely but not lost. It was an exciting and exhilarating – if a little daunting – feeling of freedom and opportunity; it was like I was actually living my life at last, and that anything could happen.
This feeling waned slightly as I checked into a hostel and was shown to my room.
It was small with an uncomfortable bed and a postage-stamp-sized window in the top corner of the far wall. Stig of the Dump would have felt at home in that room, although he may have complained about the lack of natural light. Desperate to recapture the feeling of youthful adventure, I went to enjoy a beer, a smoke and my Jack Kerouac book.
I didn’t particularly want a beer, or a smoke, or indeed to read the Kerouac book, but I thought it was best to try to live up to the idea of who I was supposed to be.
When I’d left University earlier that same year, I’d decided that it wasn’t cricket for an educated fellow to be monolingual. Having enjoyed a holiday in Spain the year before, travelling around the Basque Country and the Ebro valley, I’d seen a side of Spain that I really liked. It was both lively and easy-going, relaxing but energetic. And had great food, cheap booze and pretty girls. Even the language didn’t seem like such an impenetrable impossible mouthful as French or German, the two European languages I had tried (and failed) to wrestle with previously. Spanish seemed to flow better, it was difficult and often maddening, but at least it went with the grain, not against it.
That first day in Oviedo I realised that I didn’t know a thing. The few phrases of this bizarre foreign tongue† I’d picked up on previous trips were better than nothing, but only in the same way as a grain of salt is better than no salt in a scenario where you need loads of salt.
Continue reading “Why I came to Spain (part one): the footsteps of Don Pelayo”