When I was in Spain, I had the opportunity to attend a bullfight. While I am not a proponent of bullfighting, I was able to appreciate it as a cultural experience. Tickets to the corrida are sold as “sol” or “sombra” meaning sun or shade, shade being the more expensive since you will be more comfortable!
We learned all about the steps and stages of the fight, from the initial parade of the toreros (above) to the capote or cloak (below), and on through the famous red muleta and the death of the bull.
During my university study abroad experience, I spent three months getting know the city of Salamanca, Spain. I was taking humanities classes at the university there with other students from my American university. I arrived with a barely adequate map of the city; my host mother was scandalized and took me straight away to the tourism office to get a better one.
The first place in Salamanca everyone gets to know is the Plaza Mayor, the heart of the city. We spent many hours here studying in cafes over chocolate and churros or drinking “una caña” (a beer) in the plaza. It’s also a common meeting place; groups will arrange to meet “bajo el reloj” or under the clock to go out for the evening. The Plaza Mayor was featured in the movie Vantage Point (though the rest of the movie was shot in Mexico).
Living in the city for several months gave us a slightly deeper perspective than the average tourist. Of course, we visited the famous double cathedral, but I also had a chance to attend Mass there. My friends and I showed up one Sunday to find service being held in the old section…and it was definitely not in Spanish. I still don’t know whether it was simply in Latin, or perhaps the Mozarabic rite.
For university students, a visit to the famous university facade is imperative. Built in the 16th century, the ornate facade contains a small image of a frog somewhere in all that Plateresque detail. Students that find it are said to have success passing their exams.
By the time we left, we knew the city much more intimately, not just the standard tourist sites, but things like where to find things like cheap Internet, cute shoes, and the best clubs for dancing. Such is the life of a university student. But in the decade since I’ve seen Salamanca, I continue to learn new things about my former adopted hometown through my reading, such as its history in the Peninsular War in the early 1800s and more recently in the Spanish Civil War (which, frankly, seems to be rarely discussed despite, or perhaps because of, the Archive there). I look forward to traveling there again someday and getting to know Salamanca all over again!
Some of the most beautiful buildings are those that can harness natural light and bring it inside, giving the illusion of being outdoors. Churches in particular are good at this, often being tall buildings with lots of windows. La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona makes you feel as if you are walking in a forest, with the light filtering down through the trees.
St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, though done in a completely different style, is also amazing in this respect. The windows up high in the famous dome let heavenly rays of light come shining down.
Of course, natural light is part of what makes landscapes so compelling. In Ireland, the light is always changing as the clouds move, sometimes intense and sometimes soft. It’s part of what makes the “forty shades of green!”