This book is a travelogue about the cities of northern Spain.
I travelled to Valencia, Barcelona, Pamplona, Burgos, San Sebastian, Valladolid, Segovia, Leon, Gijon, Oviedo, Santiago de Compostela, Pontevedra, A Coruna, and Vigo on board the fast, modern trains of the Spanish railways.
Here is an excerpt about Gijon and Aviles:
I wanted to travel by train from Oviedo to the coastal cities of Gijon and Aviles. I knew there was a railway station in both cities and yet when I looked on the RENFE website there only seemed to be one train per day. This was most odd, so when I arrived at Oviedo bus station, I walked to the train station and checked the timetables. Sure enough, there were trains every 45 minutes between Oviedo and both Aviles and Gijon. I didn’t understand, but then I saw a ticket offering tickets on the local FEVE railway, a service run separately from the RENFE system. Problem solved. The next day, I caught the modern train to Gijon and the following day I went to Aviles.
Gijon is the largest city in Asturias, with over 275,000 inhabitants. A lot of the city was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War and there’s a famous story about a colonel in Franco’s forces who ordered his navy to shell the barracks where he was under attack from local miners armed with dynamite. The railway station is about a mile south of the headland called Cimadevilla which juts into the Bay of Biscay. This headland has a narrow neck between the harbour to the West and the Playa de San Lorenzo to the East and most of the interesting sights are in this area.
The Plaza del Marques sits next to the sheltered harbour where the yachts bob up and down on the slight swell. To the landward side, most of the cafes and restaurants in the square have a great view of the Palacio de Revillagigedo, which dominates the square with its mixture of neo-Baroque and neo-Renaissance architectural styles.
Further to the east is the Town Hall, and then the Campo Valdes area with its Roman Baths found when the authorities were attempting to build an underground car park. These ruins are in front of the San Pedro church round the back of which visitors have a great view of the Bay of Biscay. Even in the calmest weather, the waves suffice for paddle-boarders to get some decent exercise, watched by the people on the Playa de San Lorenzo, which stretches for 2km around the city bay from the church. This is the city beach and can become busy at the weekend in the summer.
Just to the west is the Museo Casa Natal de Jovellanos. Gaspar Melchior de Jovellanos was a leading of the Spanish Age of Enlightenment who was born in Gijon in 1744 and in his time was a statesman, author, and philosopher. The Bagpipe Museum is across the Rio Piles from the Estadio El Molinón, or more correctly Estadio El Molinón-Enrique Castro “Quini”, the home ground of Real Sporting de Gijón currently playing in the Spanish second division.
The train journey to Aviles takes a similar length of time as the trip to Gijon. Aviles is much smaller than Gijon but is still well worth a good look around, especially the Centro Oscar Niemayer on a former industrial site on the left bank of the Aviles river. The centre comprises three buildings; A dome, a tower encircled by a staircase and a long curved structure, all of which were intended to do for Aviles what the Guggenheim Museum did for Bilbao. I think it’s fair to say that this has not happened, but I had at least ventured there, though I was the only person looking around on a weekday in September. The centre opened in 2010 and has been in financial trouble during some of its history. Oscar Niemeyer’s vision was based on three themes: education, culture, and peace. Apart from its cultural purposes, the Centre was intended as a catalyst for large-scale urban regeneration that would change the town’s whole waterfront. I thought this hadn’t happened yet.