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!
I’ve been to Europe several times, but have never been privileged enough to visit the same place twice. There are many spots I would love to go back to, particularly the city of Salamanca where I studied for a semester in university.
I did, however, have the chance to return to Spain several years ago. While I was visiting completely different regions of the country, it definitely still felt a little like coming home.
I was taking pictures of every little detail that reminded me of my previous visit: a grocery store I had shopped at, a favorite jewelry store (I had to make a quick stop there to pick up a pair of earrings).
I loved being able to converse in Spanish again; though I was a bit rusty, we were mostly in tourist areas, and I only had one confusing issue where a cafe asked for a PIN for a credit card, despite the fact that US credit cards didn’t have those at the time. I did my best not to get flustered, as I was used to a bit of miscommunication; during my studies, my friends had once ordered lemon juice instead of lemonade, and I had once stood in a phone store for about 10 minutes trying to explain which phone card I wanted to buy (one I had previously purchased at that exact store).
Stained glass in Santa Maria del Mar
Palma rose window
Palma de Mallorca Cathedral, La Seu
It was wonderful to be able to see castles and Gothic cathedrals and be able to view them with my previous knowledge of Spanish history and architecture. We were also happening to visit soon after the Great Recession, which hit Spain quite hard, so we tried to patronize local cafes as much as possible.
Beautiful streets of Spain
In the meantime, I had also picked up the habit of photographing sewer and utilities covers that were interesting.
Continuing my theme of staying in castles from last week, on our class tour of southern Spain we spent a night in the parador of Jaén. “Paradores” are fancy, historical hotels across Spain, and this one was originally a 13th century castle, from the time of conflict between the Christians and the Moors in this area. It is strategically situated on a hillside, which gives some amazing views out of the rooms’ windows.
We traveled on to Granada, where we visited both the Generalife gardens and the Alhambra palace, situated right next to each other.
The mix of Arab and European architecture in that area is just marvelous, and so is the natural scenery. Both the windows themselves and the view of out them are worth seeing!