Sunday, March 25, 2012

Riding the rails - 17 March 2012

The longest narrow gauge railway in Europe runs across the top of Spain from Bibao through Santander to Ferrol.

Two services a day leave Santander for Oviedo so we had to be the Feve station by 09:10 in order to catch the morning train. It is a small, two carriage railcar that runs on electricity when there us an overhead power service and diesel at other times. Although it is a through service, a short time after it leaves Santander it begins stopping at every little tin pot station en route so the trip takes quite a while. It pops out to the coast now and then, climbs around the hills and follows along river gorges making it a very relaxing and scenic adventure.

Eventually we arrived in Oviedo, not long after the rain. After acquiring a timetable for tomorrow's trip we headed off to the old part of the city to locate accommodation. After finding the first two full we discovered it was a long weekend in Spain and began to worry as we trudged along in the drizzle.

As all good tourists should, we headed off to find the tourist information centre to seek help finding accommodation. Big mistake. We had the option of Spanish or French and all we managed to achieve was a directory of local hotels, not any assistance to find a spare bed.

We struck it lucky on the third attempt a little further down the street. With our lodging sorted we could relax as we explored the city. Fortunately the rain stopped as well making our random ramblings all the more enjoyable. The Cathedral has a number of interesting items to see including a cloth that supposedly covered the face of Jesus when he was buried and thus is second only to the Shroud of Turin in importance. There are also a couple of very ornate gold crosses; the Cross of Angels from 808AD and the Victory Cross from 908AD. The tableau behind the altar is one of the most ornate we have ever seen and positively drips with gold.

As we left for our evening meal we came across a pre-Easter procession as they carried a small cross through the streets then set it in a gold surround on the steps of a church. A large wooden cross was then solemnly moved around the plaza outside the church stopping at people holding banners representing the 12 stations of the cross.

One of the must-do things in this area of Spain is to drink cider (sidra), not for the taste particularly but for the performance of having it poured. To aerate and create a bit of a frothy head the cider is poured into the glass from the greatest vertical distance the waiter can manage between the bottle in one hand and the glass in the other. This is a slightly wasteful process so it is fortunate that the cider is relatively cheap.

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