So I know some of you have been waiting for my next post with BATED BREATH and at last, here it is. In this post I am going to talk about the wonderful city of Salamanca, Spain. Salamanca is located in northwestern Spain in the autonomous community of Castile and León. Emily, Natalia and I visited Salamanca the weekend of Halloween, and had a blast. While I fully believe that Salamanca really is a fantastic city in and of itself, I must credit a bit of our wonder to not having visited a large city (other than Málaga) since arriving in Spain, which means that we had been
stuck here in Úbeda for long enough to realize that there isn’t THAT much to do, specifically in the diverse restaurant department. While I had never been to Salamanca before, I had done enough research to know what to expect and could not have been more pleasantly surprised. This particular weekend we had a puente (what we in the States call a long weekend), which allowed us to be there for four glorious days. We were set to travel Friday, November 1 on a morning train which would put us in Salamanca in the afternoon with plenty of time to get settled in and explore the city. Now, let me stop right here and say that even all well-intentioned plans can come with flaws; specifically the fact that we were traveling in the MORNING, after HALLOWEEN. Oops. While we did not think it would be an issue, you can do the math. Needless to say, Natalia and I ended up taking a *cough*cough* later train, but eventually made it, and in one piece!
After arriving Friday night and finding Emily (who DID make the original scheduled train) and our hostel, and eating dinner we were now ready to enjoy our vacation and beautiful Salamanca bright and early on Saturday. Like I said previously, I had done quite a bit of research on Salamanca and therefore had a few set items on my “to-do” list. One thing that is great about Salamanca is there is plenty to do and see that are not necessarily your typical “tourist stops.” I say this because while we managed to see plenty of said “tourist stops” we also had plenty of time to meander around the city and find some hidden gems. The first of said hidden gems was a book store on the way to our first “official” stop. This was easily one of the coolest book shops I had ever been in and we definitely could have spent half a day here.
Instead we moved on to the first item on our list, Casa de la Conchas (House of Conches). Originally built by Rodrigo Arias de Maldonado, a knight of the Order of Santiago de Compostela and a professor in the University of Salamanca from 1493-1517, it now houses a public library. It is decorated with more than 300 shells which are the symbol of the order of Santiago and also represent the pilgrims performing the Way of St. James. It was absolutely a sight to see and the inside courtyard was just as cool!
Next on our (my) list was the Old and New Cathedrals. The Old Cathedral, founded by Bishop Jerome of Périgord, in the 12th century was completed in the 14th century. It is dedicated to Santa Maria de la Sede. The New Cathedral was constructed between the 16th and 18th centuries and was commissioned by Ferdinand V of Castile of Spain.
After wandering around both of these magnificent Cathedrals for a bit, we were on to our next stop, the Huerto de Calisto y Melibea (Orchard/Grove of Calisto and Melibea). The Huerto de Calisto y Melibea is a garden located relatively close to the Old and New Cathedrals and is in what is considered the old part of the city. It sits next to some of the original Roman walls and also has a very cool well in the center with locks placed by couples who want to secure their everlasting love.
Finally, after having had enough sight-seeing for the morning, we were ready to take a break. We ended up coming across a VERY cool coffee shop which also happened to sell adult beverages, that allowed us to take a seat, have a drink, relax and write some postcards.
After taking this opportunity to re-charge, we were ready to grab some lunch. Once again, one of the many hidden gems in Salamanca, we came across an Italian restaurant that we could smell before we could see. This is when we really knew we weren’t in Kansas (or Úbeda) anymore Toto. Not only was the food delicious, but the atmosphere was incredible, the decor elegant but hip and the service impeccable. I am pretty sure I can speak for the three of us when I say we thought we had died and gone to culinary heaven (at least in comparison to anything we had experienced thus far in Spain). After such an amazing lunch, and also attempting to recover from our food comas, we decided to kill two birds with one stone and ended up grabbing another round of drinks, but also seeing another BIG item on the list, Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor. The Plaza Mayor in Salamanca, completed in 1755, is considered to be one of the most beautiful plazas in Spain, something that I can personally attest to. It is lined with all sorts of shops, cafes, restaurants and also connects all of the major shopping areas in Salamanca. Needless to say, we spent plenty of time soaking up the sunshine and awe-inspiring atmosphere before heading back to the hostel for a much needed siesta.
After waking up from our little nap, we were ready to head back out for of course, more food. Now dinner time, Natalia pointed us in the direction of a vegetarian restaurant she had done some research on and we were all pretty excited about. Unfortunately, they were extremely busy and we did not have a reservation so we ended up at another vegetarian restaurant, which was still very good! After eating, we met up with some friends of friends that Natalia knew and had the opportunity to see the later side of Salamanca, which was just as fun as we hoped it would be! While Halloween was officially over, apparently know one had told Salamanca, and there was plenty of decorations and people in costume to keep us entertained until the wee hours of the morning.
On Sunday morning Natalia had to leave us, so Em and I dropped her off at the bus station and headed to lunch. We ended up finding Shwarma Queen, which to some might not sound that great, but once again, coming from Úbeda, we were in heaven! We just about swallowed our lunch whole and then headed to do a bit more sightseeing before we would need to go home the next morning. Our first stop for Sunday was the facade of the University of Salamanca, which was founded in 1134. It is the oldest founded university in Spain and the third oldest European university in continuous operations. Our real reason for visiting the facade of the university was to find the frog. What frog you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. There is a frog perched on the top of a skull carved into the already extremely ornate facade of the university. It is said that the students must find the frog or they will not be able to graduate and these days tourists visit to find the frog for good luck. For more information on some of the mysterious carvings of Salamanca, take a look at this site.
After spotting the frog (everyone can always use a little good luck, right?!) we headed to the other side of town to view the Roman Bridge at night. We were fortunate to catch it just as the sun was setting, so we were able to see it both in the light and at night. The bridge, which dates back to the 1st century, has 26 arches, 15 of which are original that are still used to support the road that once crossed through Salamanca used by the Romans. There is a very cool little all-glass bar right on the river overlooking the water and the bridge, which you can imagine offers a fantastic view of both.
We sat and had a drink to enjoy the atmosphere and then headed on our way to dinner. We found a very cool underground (literally, underground) Mexican restaurant that served great margaritas, guacamole and gourmet tacos (There is a theme to this trip…food….if you couldn’t tell!) and we once again gorged ourselves until way past full.
After dinner, now fat and happy, we headed back to our hostel in order to leave the next morning. All in all, I would HIGHLY recommend visiting Salamanca, especially for any young people reading this. There is a great food and bar scene with it being a very student-oriented city with the downside being it is a bit “touristy”. Of course, that is what we are, so I didn’t find that factor to be a problem! 🙂