I was listening to someone last week talking about how he doesn't carry a camera because anything he sees that he wants to remember he carries in his head. Up to a point, I thought. I've been to Oviedo before, on my first visit to Spain, and I didn't carry a camera in those days - it might have been before they were invented. Perhaps I carried an easel and a paint brush?
Anyway, it was as if I had never been to the city when I returned again in February. I didn't remember anything specific from that first visit. This is not because Oviedo doesn't have things to see, and it's a pleasant place to stop off for a day or two. Apart from anything else the city has a Botero sculpture, your city is nothing these days until it has at least one of these.
The centre of the city is dominated by the Cathedral, when you can't see it you can hear it as the bells helpfully play Asturias Patria Querida every hour just in case you've forgotten where you are. You can visit the cathedral. The most interesting parts are, unsurprisingly, in the zone that you have to pay to enter. In the Holy Chamber you get to see the cross that is the symbol of Asturias, and there is also a cloister surviving from an earlier version of the building.
The centre of the city may not retain much of old Oviedo, but it's small and pleasant to walk around with some almost hidden squares. Apart from anything else a significant part of it is now pedestrian. Following the advice of the tourist office I decided to spend some time in the Museo de Bellas Artes, which spreads across three converted buildings in the centre. It's worth a visit, apart from the collection of regional art from Asturias there are works by Goya, Sorolla, El Greco and Murillo amongst others.
I enjoyed the museum, even though the visit was initially planned as a means of killing a bit of time before dinner. I was in training for a gastronomic weekend so I had to find a place to try out the local products, I was thinking meat and beans. In the end I opted for El Fontan, which is part of the market building of the same name. Being so close to the market I reasoned that the food should be fresh. I wasn't disappointed, it's a good place and beans and meat were both ticked off the list.
The next day began with some typical Asturian weather. The other principal tourist attractions of Oviedo are its Pre-Romanic churches. Religious monuments don't normally come very high on my list of priorities, but I decided to play the dutiful tourist and splashed off through the rain to find the 9th Century San Julián de los Prados. It should really now be called San Julián de la Autopista, since someone decided that the main exit from the city should pass just yards from its walls. Not surprisingly, given the weather, I was the only visitor. The church has some amazingly well preserved original frescoes.
Having done one church I had to decide whether to do the other two. On a hillside overlooking the city are the churches of Santa Maria del Naranco and San Miguel de Lillo. My sense of duty almost failed me at this point, I was quite wet already and my original plan of walking up to the hill didn't seem like a good idea any more. I decided to let the decision depend on the bus timetable and the bus won; there was one in a few minutes. I have to say that the weather made the view from the hillside quite dramatic.
You have to buy a combined ticket for these two churches, and you can't visit on your own. I was told that I would have to wait 25 minutes for my guided visit even though there was very little risk of anyone else turning up. I was right, no one else came and by the time the tour started I was even wetter. The most impressive of the two churches is Santa Maria, which is a lovely building originally constructed as a palace.
San Miguel is a little bit further up the hillside.
The weather held off long enough for me to walk back down the hill and once I was in the city I needed my reward for the sacrifices of the morning. I headed to what they call the Bulevar de la Sidra, the Calle Gascona.
This street contains several of the city's numerous sidrerias. I wanted to try some cider but there was the uncertainty that comes from the way in which it is served in these parts. If they leave you a bottle on the table what do you do? If you just pour it normally into your glass then you are not drinking it properly. On the other hand if you try to copy the locals and pour it from above your head into a glass held way below then you can end up with most of the cider either on the floor or yourself. Fortunately I chose a place for the menu of the day where the waiter did the pouring, problem solved. They had beans too. Next stop was Aviles, Oviedo was just the aperitif. I enjoyed the visit, although I'm glad I took my camera.