Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Asturias – Gijon

Gijon is a coastal city here in Asturias. It has a very special status in the region as it is a rival of Oviedo. It is actually bigger in size than the latter, more international and has more festivals. It has a Roman past with many remains, museums, sculptures, gastronomy. Even though Oviedo is the capital of Asturias and the center of the governmental activities, Gijon has one thing Oviedo does not possess:  beaches.

San Lorenzo is the main beach of the city and with its perfect shell shape it is the main feature of Gijon. As soon as the sun pokes its head out of the cloud the whole population makes its way down, joined by the rest of Asturias. It is always very busy and there are many activities going on all the time. Well equipped with showers, beach guards, many shops, quality seafood restaurants, cafes, bars and a lovely, long promenade. The recycle bins are especially adorable.

The view of the beach is enhanced to the left by the Old Town which is called ‘Cimadevilla’ and can easily be accessed from the promenade. Cimadevilla is actually the name of the fishing port the rest of the town was built around. This is the part of Gijon you go to visit its huge church and lovely historical buildings. It’s full of atmospheric restaurants and bars where the young people pour their own sidre without the help of the waiters (you can read more about sidre here).

Just behind the Old Town there is a huge green area, the Cerro de Santa Catalina. This park is placed on a hilltop and offers great views over the beach.

It also has a quirky thing, an abstract statue by Eduardo Chillida called ‘Elogio de Horizonte’ which was quickly renamed by the people of Gijon to ‘The Giant Toilet’.

Bull fighting is not banned in Asturias and Gijon has its own bull ring. After watching the spectacle the bulls are served in the surrounding restaurants as barbecue meat.

It also has two real universities and a ‘false’ one, too, and this is what I would like to show you, the Universidad Laboral. 

It is 3km out of the city and the largest building in Spain. It was dreamt up by Franco therefore perfectly illustrates the grandiloquence and megalomania of the era. He wanted to create an orphanage where child miners could be educated. This however has been overruled and they adapted it to be a Technical College for manual professions such as plumbers and hewers. After Franco’s regime the building suddenly became an embarrassment to all and fell into disrepair but luckily Asturias took hold of it in 2001 and restored it. Nowadays it serves as a complex for multiple uses, for events, conferences and cultural exhibitions.

The building was designed to be a city by itself, a kind of Utopia, having its own church, theatre, town hall and even a farm! It also has a tower where you can go up for a small fee to enjoy a spectacular view over the grounds and Gijon itself.

We visited the place on a Sunday afternoon on a day when (without us knowing) it was actually the day of Asturias. The place was absolutely deserted! In a way it was great as nobody stood in the way of the photos it however emphasised how outrageous and at the same time how desolate and hollow this place is. There’s something very austere in it, Paul even said it feels more like a prison than an educational place. 

We didn’t have a chance to go on a guided tour but I have the feeling that the part of the past that I personally find most interesting, the Franco bit, wouldn’t be mentioned a lot.

It is said that the rivalry between Oviedo and Gijon is so great that when they finally decided to build an airport in Asturias, the two towns couldn’t agree which one should have it. They both had valid reasons, Oviedo is the centre and capital of Asturias, however Gijon is bigger with more international habitants. At the end they put the airport between the two, at an equal 80km distance from both. As a result it takes over 45 minutes to get there by bus and the number of buses is very limited, especially during late hours.

Why did we choose to stay in Oviedo? We simply fell in love with it the first time we walked on its streets. We did give a chance to Gijon and visited it many times but still, if I had a chance to live in Asturias again, I wouldn’t think twice. Oviedo simply stole our hearts.

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