Cycling Spain’s North Coast – Day 5

Starting to feel comfortable on the bike

Ok, I’ve complained of my/our conditioning because (don’t you love excuses…) of the confinement on the boat.  So, today, after three riding days and a rest day, I’m starting to feel like a cyclist again.  Remember for later, I said ‘starting’.  It’s a long day, but mostly downhill.  We start with a an transfer from Fuente De to a pass at ~1,200 meters or 4,000 ft.  It was foggy all the way from the hotel, but Geoff assured us that we’d be on the dry side of the mountains.  And, voila, at the summit it cleared.  Here’s us getting saddled up.

We are leaving the Cumumidad (province or state, for us) of Cantabria and entering Castile y León.  Spain is not a federation, but a highly decentralized unitary state.  While sovereignty is vested in the nation as a whole, represented in the central institutions of government, the nation has asymmetrically devolved power to the communities, which, in turn, exercise their right to self-government within the limits set forth in the constitution and their autonomous statutes.  There are 17 of these autonomous ‘communities’.

The Constitution was ratified after a referendum in late 1978.  The promulgation of the Constitution marked the culmination of the Spanish transition to democracy after the death of the former head of state, Francisco Franco, in 1975. This led to the country undergoing a series of political, social and historical changes that transformed the Francoist regime into a democratic state.

These 17 regions are quite proud of their heritage and differences from each other, and often make a differentiation from Spain itself.  In Asturias, we saw many road signs that had been altered (vandalized?) to correct the Spanish to the local dialect.  It was usually just one letter (a ‘u’ or an ‘o’) by that was enough; the point needed to be made!

Our tour guides (Geoff is a British ex-pat, while Dani is from Andalusia, in southern Spain) made a point of telling us when we left one region and entered the next, along with describing regional specialties and customs.  Castile y León was constituted in 1983, although it existed for the first time during the First Spanish Republic in the 19th century. León first appeared as a Kingdom in 910, whilst the Kingdom of Castile gained an independent identity in 1065 and was intermittently held in personal union with León before merging with it permanently in 1230. It is the largest autonomous community in Spain and the third largest region of the European Union.

So, why is all this germane to our tour?  Well, history, of course, is one of the main reasons Europe is so fascinating.  The Iberian Peninsula, lying between mainland Europe and Africa, is of huge strategic importance geographically.  The history here is more convoluted than much of Europe, making for unique regional differences.  Understanding a bit about the background makes it easier to grasp why the regions are so different and so proudly defiant.

The topography cares little of the politics.  The Picos range across three Autonomous Communities.  

We stopped for lunch in Riaño, a village of about 600 residents.  Actually, it’s Riaño Nuevo.  The old town, and five others in the area, were submerged by a large reservoir project in the 1980s.  In the foreground is Kira on her approach to the town.  It’s in a dramatic setting, eh.

Shar found a fascinating museum just around the corner from where we ate.  See her recap for a bit more about it.

After that stop, we had a long, slow climb to another pass at 1,800 meters/6,000 ft, and the beginning of a 40 km descent.  What a hoot!  One of the best descents ever: long and winding and not too steep, so braking wasn’t too difficult…and there was NO traffic.  It wound through (National Park) fabulous forestlands, precipitous gorges, tiny villages and along hewn rock faces.  Here’s Shar coming out of a tunnel.

The last 10 km flattened out, and with a medium headwind, there was work to be done to arrive at our destination, Cangas de Onís.  Over all, it was a great day.  97 km, our longest day, yet!

Until 774, Cangas was the capital of the Kingdom of Asturias. It’s known as the birthplace of Christianity in Spain as it was the site of the first church constructed in post-conquest Iberia, in 737.  The main economic activities of this region are agriculture and cattle rearing along with rural tourism. Nearby Covadonga Sanctuary and its surrounding lakes are one of the main tourist destinations in Asturias…and the reason we’re here.

As we drifted the last few km through town, we passed the famous alpha and omega bridge, dating back to Roman times.  From the central arch hangs a reproduction of the famous Victory Cross, a work of precious metal dating to the start of the 10th century that is kept in Oviedo Cathedral.

Our hotel for the night is a converted monastery.  Here we’re gathered getting last minute details from Geoff.

Both Shar and I celebrated our returning form. I made 3 or 4 seat adjustments to help reduce the ‘yikes’ factor and Shar’s time on a normal bike gave her increasing confidence that her knee and IT-band issues were abating.  A good night’s sleep should get us to an even better place tomorrow.

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