This time last year I was laying on the riverbank in Salamanca. Doing the exact thing that I am doing now, in fact: writing, bathing in the iridescent Sun. During this uncertain period in which we are all living, I’m sure that I am not the only one spending their days reminiscing of my globe-trotting adventures. I thus resolved that, instead of getting carried away in my head and returning to the Present Moment feeling solemn or out of touch, I would write about my experiences. In this series I will take you through my Recorrido de España (my tour of Spain), reliving it in my mind, with the knowledge that these times will come again and new memories will be mad. I anticipate that, more than anything, this will be a process of catharsis for me. Perhaps, even, in letting it out onto the page, I can let it go, being thankful that it happened, and return to the bliss that awaits me in the Now.
So, without further ado… Here is trip numero uno:
Salamancan Serenity: An Underrated Delight of Spanish Culture
Often, when people organise a trip to Spain, it is the grand cities that come to mind: Madrid and Barcelona being the cultural, and literal, capitals; Malaga and Grenada the adored Andalusian representatives for the sought-after Costa del Sol; not forgetting the notorious party destinations – the likes of which include Ibiza and Magaluf. But I’m not here to talk about any of these… Yet. Our journey begins in the quaint, historic city of Salamanca. (It was, in fact, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.) It is so much more than a mere student village; the University itself is the fifth oldest in the world and one of the oldest in Europe. Rather impressive for a town of around 140,000 inhabitants, is it not? Needless to say, it is a beautiful sight to behold, too. Inside on the walls are inscribed the names of all of its ex-students throughout the centuries. Simply standing in the presence of great theologians, poets and artists felt awe-inspiring; a sea of names yet each a porter of unconfounded significance that has left its mark on the “little town”.
Speaking of carvings, there is one conundrum on the façade of the University – La Puerta de Salamanca. The superstition had it that, in order to fully graduate, students had to find the carving of a grog on this intricate plateresque building. Nowadays, anyone who visits tasks themselves with finding it – and frustrates themselves thoroughly in the process. (Speaking from experience!) I’ll give you a heads up so that you can impress anyone next time you visit: it’s a tiny little frog sitting on top of a skull in a corner of the building. But, trust me, even now, finding it won’t be easy!
There’s also a couple of hilarious additions to the New Cathedral that cannot go amiss: an astronaut and a gargoyle guzzling an ice-cream cone! It goes without saying that these amusing additions came after its seventeenth century construction; in fact, it was added only some thirty years ago (in 1992). It’s particularly funny if you had no prior knowledge of these new accessories so were not expecting to find them there. And with the way that they are so intricately woven into the design, it is probably those exact people who end up stumbling across them – thinking that their eyes are deceiving them, no doubt!
The Old and New Cathedral are joined together – and the view from the top is a must-see. It is well worth the countless, narrow staircases it takes to arrive there because, aside from the view, you can visit inside the cathedral walls on each platform as you make your way to the top. Usually one is so used to gazing up at these looming Holy walls, so viewing it as a different proxemic stage quite literally adds a whole new dimension to the experience!
When you visit Salamanca you will find yourself immediately drawn to its core – La Plaza Mayor. Most, if not all, Spanish cities and towns have a main square, but this Plaza will entice you in more and more each day. It is, without doubt, the central hub of the town – bursting with life no matter the occasion. In my week there my friend and I witnessed graduation ceremonies; family gatherings; communal dancing and protests! Like I said, no matter the occasion!
Every afternoon we were there, people watching (it became our daily hobby). Trying out a new flavour of ice-cream each day became our daily ritual, and we couldn’t help but absorb ourselves entirely in the incessant buzz of life, culture and sheer bliss that encompassed us. We were not only invited to see it, but we became a part of it: the animated Spirit of the city unwaveringly infectious.
… And you had best believe that we were there every evening, too! Exchanging helado for sangria, we were outdoor bar hopping each night until we had come full circle to face the magnificent clock tower in-front of us, ready to strike twelve.
One place of which we became rather fond due to our indecisiveness to pick between patatas, olivas or frutos secos (dried fruits) during out nightly antics (much to the infuriation of the water!), only to be brought all three in the end! Apparently indecision can get you what you want in the end… On our last night, a charming new waiter (one whom we named José, as one does) took just as kindly to us, giving us free plates of the mouth-watering (I’m still talking about the food here!) churros con chocolate.
Even on nights where we would venture further to dine out of town – at a stunning sushi restaurant for example – the sound of the Plaza calling us back was always distant, and we would return its call come the night’s end, perching ourselves on a bench, watching the evening’s antics gradually draw to a close. We were content.
Let’s, of course, not forget the tempting bakeries en route to absolutely everywhere. Whenever we left home to venture out, even if we were leaving to get food, we would make a cheeky pitstop to pick up a delectably sweet baked good. A memory that brings a smile to my face every time it surfaces is our addiction to the Palmier pastries! The Universe must have heard our calling as, one afternoon, the stars aligned and we encountered one literally the size of our heads! Palmero XXL, to use the correct terminology. We couldn’t even muster a whole one between us (and that’s coming from someone with a horrendously sweet tooth) so, we saved it for our final evening Plaza trip. We found a bar, ordered our usual sangria con all of the trimmings, only this time with a plate, too. Looking a little bewildered, the waiter brought it nevertheless, probably muttering something about strange foreign girls under his breath in true Spaniard style, only for us to hurl the remains of our Palmier from our seemingly Mary Poppins bag, nibbling contentedly away. Even then we couldn’t finish it! A tipsy midnight snack back at home, it was.
Other than meandering through the quaint streets and pondering life in the Plaza, afternoons were spent lazing on the luscious lime green hills of La Puente Romano. Often wandering for ages, we would always find the right spot at that time and set up shop for the foreseeable, the lo-fi beats sending us adrift in the background. Little was said, but that was already more than what needed to be. Whether we were catching up on Uni work; reading; philosophising or simple sunbathing, Presence enshrouded us and we were in that Moment, in its entirety.
Some days we stayed close to the crowds, watching families playing together, lovers whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears, and groups of friends chilling. Other times, we roamed farther and found a secluded spot at the mouth of the riverbank, covered in beautifully untamed woodland.
When my time came to an end I did all that I could to ensure that it didn’t… Which worked, up to a point. I took the long and draining twenty-two hour bus ride back to Lyon, France (where I was living at the time), literally at the last minute. I was due to leave three or so days prior but kept extending my trip; I did, however, decide that going back the day before my exam was probably about as late as I could possibly leave it…!
My friend accompanied me to the bus station and we mentally reflected on the wonders of the past week. Again, few words were said, and even fewer needed to be. A tear was shed; but not one of sadness, no. It was of joy, of gratitude – plainly of never wishing that time to end. And it didn’t. A year on, the memories are as clear as day, and writing about it and looking through photographs brings me directly back to the time and place, truly, as if it were yesterday.
I look back on Spain’s best kept secret with a full heart; whilst it was one of the least “busy” week-long vacations that I have taken, it was, by far, the most productive. I spent more time here than I ever had just being content with what was. My exams, Uni work and to-do lists were indifferent to me, not because I didn’t care, but because I always got them done without stress or overthinking. That, and so much more, is all thanks to you: serene Salamanca.
Ciao for now,