Salamanca — The Spanish Oxford

Continuing on with my Spanish travels…

After three relaxing days in Madrid, I headed north to a small university town called Salamanca. The town had been recommended as a good place to go for a weekend visit but other than it being a university town — I knew very little about the area. After nearly three hours on the train ride through the arid Spanish landscape — I arrived at the small Spanish town and was immediately taken aback. While there is a more modern area of Salamanca; it all surrounds the historic part of town which features two sprawling medieval cathedrals, ancient walls and many old orange and white buildings. I later found that this is one reason why Salamanca is considered one of the great Renaissance cities in Europe.

I also learned that the university in Salamanca was no mere institution. The Universidad de Salamanca has been in existence since the 1200s and is often compared to Oxford. Much like it’s English rival, the Universidad de Salamanca is spread throughout the historic section of the city. In fact whatever ancient buildings there are — a part from the two cathedrals — usually are apart of the university itself.

Obviously the primary focus on my trip was to see both of the cathedrals in Salamanca. I’ve been to my share of cathedrals at this point after going through a lot of Western Europe including Notre Dame, and St. Peter’s in Rome. These were obviously not nearly as grand, however they were much more accessible. The two cathedrals are the New Cathedral, which was built in the 16th century, and the Old Cathedral, built in the 12th century. Both cathedrals (they are so close they only have a square separating them) are both fantastic vantage points to see the whole city from.

At the center of historic Salamanca is their own famous Plaza Mayor, the main square. This square dates back to the early 1700s and is surrounded by archways that feature medallions of important people in Spain’s history — mostly royalty. However, there is a controversial portrait among them — that of Francisco Franco. As the Plaza is so inspiring (it’s perhaps the most famous square in all of Spain) it was a major contrast to go to a gypsy punk concert (think Gogol Bordello) on my last night. The concert was one of many that were taking place during a cultural festival that weekend. As discussed in my last blog post…the Spanish do not go to bed until the wee hours of the morning. So it was amazing seeing senior citizens as well as university students in this vibrant crowd dancing to the music. Especially when the band got the crowd involved by having them chant “F*** you MTV” as part of one of their songs. Let’s just say I now have two very different but great memories of the Plaza Mayor.

The town of Salamanca is not huge, and is easily seen in two days. So, there are two things I did to get outside of the area…the first is paddle boating. There is a river that runs alongside the old area called Rio Tormes and it has an ancient Roman bridge going over it. Alongside the river you can rent a paddle boat from a relaxed Spanish guy who looks like he is someone who longed to live the life of a beach bum. He and his dalmatian, that was very uninterested in strangers, were happy to rent me a paddle boat for 10 euros. Definitely worth going up and down the river looking at the city, especially when it’s hot! The second thing I did was go to the local Salamanca market. I was really excited about this in particular because I figured it would be like most of the European markets I have been to where there is fresh produce and maybe a few knick-knacks to pick up. Boy…was I wrong. A fifteen minute drive outside the city and there it was. A really bad flea market. If I was after really cheap sunglasses and underwear made in China (that’s how they were being advertised) then I would have been in the right place. Unfortunately, that wasn’t what I was after. So for anyone going to Salamanca, I don’t recommend the market outside the city.

Overall, Salamanca was a fantastic weekend getaway and I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for somewhere to go for a couple of days in Spain.

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