Where do I start and how do I describe this beautiful city?
Salamanca’s city centre was declared a Unesco World Heritage site, and rightly so. The buildings in the old city centre are all of large stone blocks, all the same sand color. Even modern shops have conformed to the building standards – no neon signs or clashing building styles.
The central square, Plaza Major, is very ornamental with beautifully decorated facades. At night everything is bathed in soft yellow light.
The gates of the Plaza lead to different areas of the old town. It is said that Miguel de Cervantes studied at the University, in early 1600’s. The very building next to our Air BnB. Later of course, Cervantes wrote Don Quijote, bringing permanent fame to the area.
We arrived here by train from Madrid and walked the half hour to the historic city centre and our apartment. The apartment was listed in AirBnB and is a simple room in a guest house. We haven’t seen the owner and there are not any services. But the bedding is clean, we have our own private bathroom and a small kitchen counter. One of the first things we did was find a supermarket to buy things to make our own breakfasts and lunches.
On Monday we started our first Spanish class. We signed up for a week long of private lessons at Don Quijote Spanish Language School (www.quijote.org) This well known institute offers Spanish classes in different locations. Salamanca was recommended to us because of the pure Spanish spoken in this area. I’m glad because it is a wonderful bonus to stay in this gorgeous, medieval city.
The private lessons enable us to tell the instructor exactly what we want to learn: words and phrases applicable to hiking and traveling in the country. Two hours a day is more than enough for us. After that our brains are fried!
We are learning survival Spanish: how to order food, ask for a room, directions, etc. Kees discovered that he has been asking for “ser-VEY-sah” all these years but that is is pronounced ‘ser-BAY-thah” instead. Still, they always brought him beer…
English translations lack a bit, here, too. On a menu in a restaurant, a local soup called ‘sopa de Castilla’ was translated as ‘garlic soap’. And what I thought looked like deep fried shrimps, turned out to be fried pig lips!
After our week of lessons we knew we had learned something, when we used Google Translate to ask how much we had left on our phone card, and we recognized that the translation asked the store clerk ‘how much to turn left’….
It feels good to walk outside, after breakfast in our apartment, and join the throngs of students walking to class in this university city. Students from all over the world come to study at the University of Salamanca. We especially see many students of architecture around the city as they sit and draw arches and columns.
After our class, we buy fresh bread at the bakery and walk back home for lunch.
Then we hike in the area, for instance across the Roman bridge that is part of the Ruta de la Plata, a 1,000 KM long distance trail. We pop into churches and the public library, also known as the Shell House, or Casa de las Conchas.
Almost all stores and restaurants here close in the afternoon. Restaurants serve lunch from about 2 to 4 and then only drinks until 8 PM. We have to either have a very late dinner or find a rare place that caters to tourists by offering an earlier supper. Stores close around 12:30 and then reopen round 5 PM for a few more hours.
It is fun to see the difference in culture. In restaurants and coffeeshops, large groups of women gather in the afternoon, they all talk at the same time, they visit, have coffee or hot chocolate, talk some more. By 4 PM they go home but then don’t have dinner until maybe 9 PM. We’re told most Spaniards don’t go to bed until after midnight.
If you visit Salamanca, be sure to climb the Ieronimus Tower adjacent to the old Cathedral. You can buy a ticket to see the Cathedral but when you buy a ticket for the tower, you also see the Cathedral on the inside. At each level of the tower is an interpretive room with displays about the history or architecture, even a room with benches and beautiful organ music piped in. Once you reach the Cathedral roof level, a catwalk takes you over the roof and into the Cathedral near the glorious ceiling. I am scared of heights but you can stay away from edges and there’s enough space not to feel scared. The views of the old city and surrounding area are very much worth the climb.
One of my favourite places was Escuelas Menores, an ancient garden at the university, surrounded by arched, covered porches. A tranquil place to stroll and rest. Inside one very old building (the walls are very thick and you have to stoop when going through the door), they uncovered a centuries old ceiling painting of the night sky above Salamanca.
My other favourite was the famous Valor chocolate shop, where they serve thick melted chocolate in cups. But better yet was the hot or icy cold chocolate milk and their chocolate crepes…
We enjoyed the many musicians busking throughout the city centre: a guitarist, a violinist, a Spanish singer, all using the acoustics of the old stone streets to their advantage.