Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category

New Family Members!

24 January 08

This week the DH & I became aunt & uncle for the 10th time! My sister had a healthy baby boy on the 20th. Congrats!

Baby nephew Seth is not the only new addition, however, a very special dinosaur also joined the family on New Year’s Eve:

Our new Pleo!

Shrek – a Pleo dinosaur

Shrek (so named by a nephew) is a Pleo – an advanced dinosaur robot. He can walk, make noise and react to life forms around him. (He also knocks over empty soda cans in his path.) He has advanced sensors all over his body and he knows when you are petting him. Evidently, Pleos can adapt and learn over time. He really is incredible to see. Shrek was a gift from the DH & I to our Spanish nieces & nephew. I want one now, too!

David & Shrek

Our nephew David & Shrek. He loves to be scratched behind the ears.

Shrek dancing

Shrek singing & dancing Christmas songs (an added feature)


Choking on Growth

30 September 07

New York Times is featuring a special series on the devastating impact of China’s “epic pollution crisis.” It is worth reading, although I feel like I’ve read all of this before. It is painfully obvious to anyone living in the PRC just how degraded the environment is, or how at risk many areas are for degradation. If you are new to China or need a good overview of the crisis, this is for you. Let me summarize it for you:

  • China’s environment = very, very bad
  • Effects on Chinese people’s health = very, very terrible (and mine too!)
  • Measures needed to prevent environmental disaster = too many, too late?

Part 2 of the series discusses water scarcity and focuses on my former haunt of Shijiazhuang. I can definitely confirm that it was dry, dry, dry there. The DH says that from the air, the whole area looked like desert to him. I was very glad to leave Shijiazhuang for the relatively clean air of Linyi. I hope it stays that way.

The DH comes from a part of Spain that was once terribly polluted by mining and steel factories. The air quality was bad and the rivers were all toxic. The good news is now the rivers are recuperating and the air is getting cleaner. Change is possible, although I suspect China is not willing to forgo the economic growth necessary to make a real difference in the environment. (You can see pictures of the transformation of Avilés’ river estuary here.)

A side note: New York Times has done away with that silly “Select” program, and now all content, including opinions, is once again available free of charge.

Be Water, My Friend

29 October 06

Okay, I have to know. Is the entire world being bombarded with Bruce Lee’s sage advice to just “Be Water, My Friend” or is it just Spain?

BMW recently released a commercial featuring an interview with deceased martial arts star Bruce Lee in which he tells the camera to “be like water” in a really intense way. He speaks in English with Spanish subtitles. The effects of this commercial are being heard everywhere, because everywhere I go I hear everyone saying, in English, “Be water, my friend.” I loved the commercial the first few times I saw it. I still do, actually, I think it is a great commercial. But the novelty of “Be water, my friend” is wearing thin.

The commercial ends with BMW telling us not to adapt to the road, but to be the road.

ESPN?! Let’s See Some Fact-Checking

23 October 06

Okay, I have to complain. I just went to the ESPN website to see what they had to say about the F1 race. First of all, it was virtually impossible for me to locate the link that led to ONE story about the race. Then I read the story. HORRIBLE! Who is this writer? They made all sorts of mistakes in their reporting.


“In Spain, tens of thousands of jubilant Spaniards waved banners in honor of Alonso. A crowd of 6,000 poured into the streets of Oviedo, his hometown. People danced in the Plaza de America square and splashed in a fountain, Oviedo’s traditional gathering place for triumphant sports moments. Many fans, wearing the blue-and-yellow colors of Renault, chanted, ‘Champion Alonso.'”

Fact-checking, please! Blue and yellow are the colors of ASTURIAS!


Believe me, all those crazy Spaniards in Oviedo (20 KM from Aviles) are not running around in Renault’s colors. They could care less about Renault. They are wearing Asturias’ colors, celebrating Alonso, the Asturian’s victory! (They were doing the same thing in Aviles!)


“‘Thank you, thank you,’ said Alonso, who waved a Brazilian flag before his fans. “Both championships again. It’s been a pleasure for me. I wish you the best.'”

Again, fact-checking please! Why would Alonso wave a Brazilian flag!? Nonsense! It was Felipe Massa who was waving the flag, deliriously happy with his victory. Although, those are the comments of Alonso .

Associated Press – Let’s see if you can get your act together!

A Great Day for Spain!

22 October 06

Brazilian racer Felipe Massa won the race, but Fernando Alonso is world champion for the second year in a row! And he is only 24!!


Spain is a crazy country tonight because right after the F1 race finished, one of the biggest soccer/football matches of the year started – Real Madrid versus Barcelona. Real Madrid won 2 to 0.

Again, I am not a huge sports fan, but it is a lot of fun to experience a football match in a crowded pub in Spain!

Formula One Racing

22 October 06


I don’t know if any of you have been following F1 racing. I am not a huge sports fan, in fact, I don’t even watch the Superbowl. (I know, I’m a very bad American.) I have been following F1 racing lately, though, because the current world champion, (and soon to be for a second year), Fernando Alonso, is from Asturias. You can hardly go anywhere without seeing his photo or seeing his face in a TV commercial.

Today is the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix in Sao Paolo. It is the last race of the season. For those of you who know very little about F1, the world leader for many years has been the German Michael Schumacher. This year Schumacher is retiring. He and Alonso are very close in their pointage and the Brazilian race will decide who will be the world champion. Of course, Schumacher would like to have the championship for his retirement, but it doesn’t look likely. If Alonso finishes within the first 8 spots, he will be the champion.

So even thought sports isn’t my thing, I’m excited about this race. Everyone in Spain will be watching this evening as the home town hero wins again!

Alonso started out racing karts at a very young age – something like 5 or less years! Last week, the DH and I and a few friends went to the kart track where Alonso raced as a youngster.

Kart track oviedo
(The floating orbs are kinda freaky – huh?)

Right now they are not renting karts because they are building a brand new track. So we drove a little further away to Pola de Siero to another kart track. (Who knew they were so popular?) There the DH and a friend got to take an 8 minute ride around the track.

Ivan karting Kart track Pola de Siero

The race starts in a few hours… I’ll post the results later this evening!

Premios Principe de Asturias

20 October 06

Premios Principe de Asturias — Prince of Asturias Awards

The world spotlight is on our very own Asturias right now. Have you heard? Tonight the Prince of Spain, Felipe, is handing out the prestigious Prince of Asturias Awards.

What are the awards? You have heard of the Nobel prizes, right? Well, I think they are something like that.
From the official website:

“The Prince of Asturias Awards are intended to acknowledge scientific, technical, cultural, social and humanitarian work carried out internationally by individuals, groups or organizations in the following eight categories: communication and humanities, social sciences, arts, letters, scientific and technical research, international cooperation, concord and sports.

Nominees for any of the Awards must be outstandingly exemplary and their work or contribution to society must be of acknowledged international standing.

The Foundation’s main objective is to contribute to extolling and promoting those scientific, cultural and humanistic values that are part of our world heritage.”

Winners for this year are:

  • Communication and humanities – The National Geographic Society! I think this is genius! Everyone loves the Ntl. Geo Society! They have been recognized for their efforts to educate the world on geography and the need to protect the earth’s precious resources as well as their support for scientific research and expeditions.
  • Social sciences – Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and UN High Commisioner on Human Rights, she is now head of the Ethical Globalization Initiative, which lobbies governments to honor their commitments to major human and civil rights laws they may have signed.
  • Arts – Pedro Almodovar, Spanish filmmaker known for somewhat controversial, but always interesting films like “All About My Mother,” “Bad Education,” and Spain’s Academy Award selection for this year, “Volver.” He is part of a group of artists of the “transition,” who gained fame during the years of increased freedom following the death of dictator Francisco Franco.
  • Letters – Paul Auster, American writer, poet and scriptwriter. Perhaps best known for his “New York Trilogy,” he is widely published and praised by critics. His most recent work is “Brooklyn Follies.” He is very popular in Spain, but I have to admit that as much as I love books and literature, I haven’t read his work.
  • Scientific and Technical Research – Juan Ignacio Cirac, a Spanish researcher in Quantum Information Theory, working in the USA and Austria.
  • International Cooperation – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is dedicated to achieving equitable access to health care and education worldwide by supporting numerous projects in over one hundred countries.
  • Concord – UNICEF, an agency of the UN that addresses the long-term needs of women and children in developing countries throughout the world.
  • Sports – In a somewhat nationalistic move – Spain’s 2006 National Basketball Team, They have been recognized for defeating all odds and winning the 2006 World Champioinship title, the first for Spain since 1982.

Winners receive a statue and 50,000 Euros.

The ceremony takes place in Oviedo, which is the capital city 30 km from where I live. The city is one of the most beautiful in Spain, in my opinion. All of the award winners are there now, exploring the city, speaking with the press and preparing for the ceremony tonight. Everyone except for Bill Gates, who sent his parents to accept the award. I wish I could be there to see the presentations, but I’ll have to settle for Asturias Public Television as the city is choked full of people.

Where am I Now?

17 October 06

A tropical beach? Thailand? Malaysia? Hawaii?

Concha del Artedo

No! I am still in Spain! This photo was taken at Playa Concha de Artedo in La Muños, Asturias, Spain.

Palm trees are very common here, even in the north of Spain. In fact, a palm tree planted in front of a large house used to signify that the owner was a returned immigrant to the new world – Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela. Their homes are called Casa de Indianos, since they have returned from the Indies. In the 19th and 20th century, many Asturians immigrated to the Americas to make their fortunes. Many have never returned, but in these countries you will find Asturian cultural associations, since many families have retained some of the Asturian culture.

Concha del Artedo 2

The beach is beautiful and calm, very relaxing. The rocks are good, too, because sometimes you get tired of sand.

Concha Ivan & Heather

Here is the DH with a dog that just sort of adopted us.

Ivan & Adopted Dog

These pictures were taken during a brief holiday spent with friends at this beach. Spain was celebrating October 12th – the “Dia de la hispanidad” or Spanishness Day, also known as the saint day of Pilar. In America you know this day as Colombus Day. This day is also my “Suegro” or (father-in-law’s) birthday. The holiday fell on a Thursday, so many people will also take off the Friday so they end up with a 4 day weekend. This is called a “puente” in Spanish, which literally means bridge. I tell you, these Spaniards know how to live!

Las Xanas or Good Times in Pedroveya

4 October 06

The Friend F, The Sis-in-law, The DH in Pedroveya

Last weekend DH, our friend F, and my sis-in-law hiked up a mountain for the sole purpose of eating. Let me explain. A few blogs ago, I mentioned the “Xanas,” Asturias’ version of sirens. One of Asturias’ very well developed walking trails is called “El Desfiladero de Las Xanas,” or “The Xanas’ Trail or Canyon.” It is typically described as being short, easy, and with a really great restaurant at the top. In fact, if you mention that you recently walked the Xanas, or you are thinking about doing the Xanas, the only sort of reaction you will get is: “Did you eat at the top?” or “Are you going to eat at the top?” This place is legendary.

The route starts in the village of Villanueva, which I already mentioned to you in a previous blog. There it is, from the beginning of the trail.

The terrain starts off with an ascent up a paved road, and then veers off into the beginning of the canyon. Now, I must qualify the use of the word canyon. For any of my relatives reading from Utah, what I really mean to say is something more along the lines of “ditch.”
But to most people, this canyon will seem quite impressive. The trail follows the left-hand side and is, for the most part, carved out of the walls. There are few harrowing moments to be had crossing over rock slides, where you are certain that one misstep will send you barreling down to the “river” (again, for you Utah readers, creek). But all-in-all it is fairly easy and safe, as evidenced by all the 7 and 8 year-olds jogging along the trail.

About half way to 2/3rds up, the trail enters a forest. (Bosque in Spanish – I love this word! Bos-kay) Sounds enchanting. I was all ready to be charmed by the Spanish Bosque, full of sprites and elves and xanas! But no, although extremely scenic and very beautiful, it was mostly just full of mud! (It rained the day before so it was slippy-slidey.) BTW, they call it Barro in Spanish which I much prefer to mud. Actually, barro might just refer to clay-like mud, but you know, sometimes details get lost in translation.

Perhaps this is the hiding place of the so-called Xanas? They love mountain streams.

You’ve arrived “at the top” once you emerge into a glorious green meadow, full of grazing cattle and picturesque wildflowers, you know, straight out of “The Sound of Music.” Ordinarily, that would have happened, but we sort of got lost, and followed a fork in the trail that turned out to be perfectly fine, just longer. So we didn’t get that “The Hills Are Alive…” moment, but we also didn’t have to ascend said meadow, which must be at an angle of about 80 degrees.

So this is the prize, the gold medal, the big reward for the hour and a half  hike: PEDROVEYA. Truth be told, it is a charming village. And it would be even better if it weren’t for all the cars parked in any little cranny they can find. (I suspect all the cars belong to the anti-exercise people who, gasp, actually DRIVE to the village to eat, instead of hiking up.)

The restaurant is called Casa Generosa, and generous it is. The food is typical Asturian, and there is not a lot of choice. Not that you need it. The choice has already been made for you – the good choice. In Spain, a meal is generally made up of courses. Europeans do not fill their plate up with a main dish and sides, like we do in America and Canada. For our first course, we had a choice of either Fabada or Pote Asturiano. Fabada is the regional dish made up of big, buttery, bursting-with-flavor white beans, (called Fabes here, and no, they have nothing to do with Fava beans.). They also throw in a piece of chorizo sausage, a piece of morcilla sausage (blood sausage – so barbaric but so good), and a piece of – how should I put this so a North American palate can appreciate it – fat, or bacon fat if you will. Pote Asturiano is also a major regional dish, also a stew. It might have a few fabes in it, but mostly it is vegetables, like potatoes and greens, with some chorizo and morcilla. This was my first time eating Pote, and I’m hooked. Actually, I had a bit of a food block against Pote, because I had mistakenly thought of the Spanish word Pota everytime I saw Pote. (Pota means vomit.) Believe you me, that was no Asturian vomit that I ate!

L – Myself and our friend F. along with a bowl of Fabada. R – The restaurant, flanked by horreos.

For our second course, we had cabrito and tenera – that is goat and veal – that had been stewed. Yes, I recognize that stewed goat is probably only going to sound good if you are from the Caribbean or Albania, but again, another awesome choice.

Then came dessert, and I am no joker when it comes to dessert. Generally, I am not a sweets person. I like salt. But I know a good home-style, grandma-made dessert when I see one, and Casa Generosa makes, hands down, the best arroz con leche IN THE WORLD. (For the unordained, arroz con leche is rice with milk, but it is so much creamier and delish than rice with milk could ever transmit.)

L – DH & I deliriously happy post-meal. R – Close up on the horreo, with dried onions & corn.

You know the drill after eating lunch in Spain – Siesta. Sleep. Nap. Anything but an hour and a half descent down a windy, narrow mountain path. Did I regret the goat and beans? No, don’t worry, common sense won out, and a modified rest/siesta in the mountain meadow, among the cows, allowed us to digest just enough.

This reminded me of the time, 5 years ago, when the DH and I went hiking in Western Asturias, in a fabulous place called Taramundi. We had spent the whole morning hiking when we stumbled upon a restaurant. They pretty much only served Fabada, which was fine with us, because we love it. Well, after a long lunch eating a thick, heavy stew of beans and meat, the last thing you want to do is continue hiking. We did, however, set off on the trail, only to pass group after group of Spaniards who had just sort of crashed out along the sides of the trail.

We did manage to make it down the trail to the comfort of the car – the ubiquitous Ford Fiesta. (How can you not enjoy a car named “Ford Party.”)

The place: Asturias, Spain, Top of the Xanas’ Trail. The town: Pedroveya. The restaurant: Casa Generosa. The phone number: 985 783 046 (From within Spain.)

La Senda del Oso, or The Bear’s Path

27 September 06

La Senda del Oso, or the Bear’s Path, is an easy walking and bicycling trail in the heart of Asturias. It was built over the remains of a railroad built to unite the mines in the mountains with the Arms factory in the city of Trubia. The arms factory is still in use, and no, they do not produce legs. Ha Ha.

The route passes through typical Asturian villages and follows the Trubia River, which pleasantly gurgles and babbles along the trail.

We walked the first stage of the trail, from Tunon to Proaza, about 14 kilometers round trip.

DH next to the Pre-Romanic church Santo Adriano. Here you can see my amazing photographic skills in action, with the telephone pole positioned in line with DH’s head.

Several times along the trail we crossed over the river. Here I am on one of the bridges.

Villanueva is the first village that we entered.

From this village you can begin the hike up one of the mountains on a separate trail called “El Desfiladero de Las Xanas.” Xanas are mythical creatures, kind of like sirens, who live in mountain springs and creeks. Villanueva has a Medieval bridge – here we are on it:

And another church, twelfth century.

And of course, horreos. Horreos are traditional Asturian buildings where grain and food was stored. They are designed to prevent mice and animals from entering and destroying the stores of grain.

Further along the trail we passed an enclosed area where two Iberian bears live – Paca and Tola. We didn’t see the bears. Maybe that is because the day before one of them was naughty and injured the hand of a worker who approached the enclosure.

“Prohibido lanzar alimentos y objetos” Do not throw food or objects.

At the end of the first stage is the village of Proaza.

La Senda del Oso is just one of many trails found in Asturias.