For years now, my wife and I have been wanting to go to Salamanca. Everyone that has been there or lived there touts it as one of the most beautiful cities in Spain. Frustratingly, we drive right by it twice (or more) every year heading down to Extremadura for the summer. With Monday, October 12, being a national holiday in Spain (something about a guy named Columbus), meaning no work for my wife or school for my kids, we decided to drop the kids off at their Spanish grandparents' house and drive the 3.5 hours south to the city that predates the Roman Empire, and has a university that has been in continuous operation since the year 1134. We left home on Saturday morning, and got to Salamanca around noon. As we were entering the city, we called our hotel to inquire about parking and were told that they had parking for 11 €/night. As we were circling the old town trying to figure out how my iPhone was trying to get us to the hotel, we spotted a car leaving a parking spot, and dashed in. In the four minutes we were calculating how much we had to pay the meter, five other cars drove by to ask us if we were about to leave our choice spot. It turns out that we only had to pay a couple euros to get to the 14:00 cut-off for Saturday, and parking was free on Sunday and holidays. Score!
After a short 150m walk to the hotel, we checked into the Hotel Emperatriz I. The entrance seemed pretty dingy. Our room was pretty tiny and the tv on the wall was the size of an A4 sheet of paper. After a glance around, I aptly summed up the place as, "Absolutely nothing about this place is modern, but at least it's clean." Everything about the hotel felt old, and not in a good way. But we weren't there to enjoy the time in the hotel, so we quickly set out on foot to see the city.
Our daughter, Nora's, preschool teacher, Viky had given us some pointers about what to see and what and where to eat in Salamanca. Her daughter goes to the university and she and her husband go down there often. Thus, we had a list of things to go checking off in our two-day visit. But it was lunch time and time for some tapas!
A place very close to our hotel looked very enticing, so we stopped there first. I had this rice dish. I forget what the waiter called it, but it had little cubes of lamb liver, and a very strong taste of curry. It was wonderful!
Then we found the Plaza Mayor and it was selfie time! I think I was the only one not bionically enhanced with a selfie stick.
Viky had told us about a very typical dish called a paloma (pigeon), which was an ensaladilla rusa served with four crunchy chips. We ordered a "half ration", but it turned out to be a lot of food. While we were glad that we had tried a typical dish, we were disappointed that we had wasted so much of our empty stomach space on a food that we make very well at home, whose ingredients are almost entirely taken out of a can or jar.
The view from the Café Real, however, was lovely.
The Plaza Mayor is really gorgeous.
Another place that had been recommended to us was the Meson Cervantes, which is up a narrow flight of steps from the Plaza Mayor. We climbed the steps and found the place to be very lovely, but it was packed with people, and there was no bar or table space, so after a few uneasy minutes of trying to get noticed by a waiter, we decided to leave.
We had another beer with some potato chips (also disappointing stomach filler) at another bar where we could sit out in the Plaza Mayor, before beginning our tourism in earnest.
This was the street our hotel was on. Very much of Salamanca's Old Town looks like this. It is all pedestrian streets, which is lovely.
Selfie in front of the Casa de las Conchas (House of Shells), a 500-year-old house that now houses the public library.
A very deftly framed photo of a gargoyle in the patio of the Casa de las Conchas overhanging the Pontifical University of Salamanca across the street.
The front of the Salamanca Cathedral. The level of detail on the facades all over Salamanca is really overwhelming. A priest could walk through these doors every day for sixty years and still notice something new each day.
We were on our way to do the activity that I was certain would be my favorite: walking on the roof of the cathedral!
After quite a bit of a climb we were up on the roof of the cathedral. They don't literally let you walk on the terracotta tiles, of course, but there is a nicely controlled, completely safe gangway for you to walk on.
Cathedral selfie. The winning caption prize for this, however, goes to my Facebook friend, who quipped: "Ugliest gargoyle ever."
The views were spectacular.
Inside the church as well. The heights were dizzying.
I'm not used to being up so high in a cathedral! It really made me appreciate what it must have been like to place all the top stones.
Even from where we were, the building continued upwards.
The stone (limestone), with which the entire city is built, crumbles to the touch. If you run your hand over it, you can feel little bits of it falling off onto your fingertips. As such, it's a perfect medium for the master carving on the facades of the cathedral and university buildings, but it also makes it easy for any old joker to carve their name in the stone, which is exactly what people did, often at the best viewing spots.
This carving, in particular, caught my eye. "Miguel y Sary, 9 x 1945" It made me wonder about the fate of Miguel and Sary. I wonder if they're still together, 70 years later?
The most "important" carving, if you believe the tour guide books is at the entrance to the ancient university. I was so numb to the intricacies of the carvings that I didn't even think to take a photograph when we got there (below is one from Wikicommons).
There were maybe 100 tourists, many more than you see in the photo, all staring up at a facade not unlike this one from the Cathedral, looking very intently, searching... For what, you might ask? There is a "legend" that states that if a student "sees the frog" on her way to taking an exam, then she will do well on the exam. So all the tourists were playing a game of Where's Waldo? with a stone frog. I did not cheat, nor had any prior information to its origin, and after about five minutes gave up, only to be told that it was a bump that I had discounted as not possibly being it about thirty seconds into my search. Oh well.
However, once you understand this "legend", you will understand why all the souvenir shops in Salamanca are chock full of frogs.
Shadows in the university courtyard.
A modern 3-star hotel built alongside the ruins of a church.
Finally, we went to the Convento de San Esteban (Convent of St. Stephen), yet another masterpiece of gothic architecture.
I think the convent was our favorite of the places we toured.
How lovely are convents? This one had mirrors placed on the floor (see the one leaning against the wall on the right) to aid in the appreciation of the intricate ceiling without destroying your neck.
Another mirror, placed in the main aisle of the church.
As night fell, the birds of Salamanca tried to find a place to roost on the roof of the convent.
While I took my DSLR camera to Salamanca, in the end, the convenience of the iPhone camera won out, and I never used the DSLR. My phone, however, was knackered from navigating us all the way to Salamanca and then a day of photos. It turns out that so were we.
For dinner, we chose a place that Viky had recommended, El Corrillo. We were surprised when it turned out to be more of a jazz café. Typical dinner time in Spain is about 10pm, but we were tired and hungry, so we waited at the bar until 8:25 when they let us downstairs to be the only ones in the dining room. We ordered the "parrillada simple" (simple meat platter), which turned out to be a pretty bland selection of meat that we could have done better at home.
The decor of the Corrillo was very cool. Our table was actually up on stage next to the piano.
We were so exhausted, that, rather than go out for a night on the town, on October 10th, we went to bed at 10pm and slept for ten hours.