The city of Salamanca, metropolitan area of 214,000, located not far from the Portuguese border in western Spain, is known throughout the peninsula for its Plaza Mayor (perhaps the relaxing café con leche was invented at this one, seeing as how the one in Madrid was based on this one and the Plaza Mayor in Valladolid), university and student life. They even have a fake New Year’s Eve before the real deal so students can celebrate the occasion with their friends before going home for the holidays. According to tradition, students must find the lucky frog (Rana de Suerte) in order to have good luck and pass their exams.
On my one-day visit to the capital in spring 2010, I was not able to find the frog. I think I’ve had a run of bad luck ever since, as I still have not done my MA in Hispanic Studies, and the month following that day I had a horrible case of bad luck. I’m not going to reveal the location of the frog (you can Google it easily, but I’m not helping cheaters! Find it on your own, which I will do if I ever go back.)
Before I went to Salamanca, many people had built the city up in my mind, saying it was the Granada of the north. For those who have been to Granada, you know this is a mighty claim and raises the stakes of a place. You expect a lot. My expectations were not met. I will admit I was very tired the day I went and dealing with a lot of stuff (job and boy worries). And looking back at my photos, I wonder what the hell I was thinking, as Salamanca is beautiful.
It’s just not Granada.
I saw the major sites of the city (Plaza Mayor, Casa de Unamuno, the oldest university in Spain (Universidad de Salamanca), the Old and “New” Cathedral), but I never found the frog. I remember having a really good meal on the cheap at a place that had a name that was an ode to Quijote or Cervantes and having to translate for Germans annoyed that the waitress didn’t speak English. We’re in Spain, not Australia, folks! We speak Spanish, Basque, Catalán/Valenciano and Galician (Gallego)!
I had a chance to return to the province of Salamanca for a week in 2012 to the village of La Alberca. La Alberca is an amazingly charming and beautiful village (and home of the very first check apparently a few centuries ago. You can still use your debit card, but cash is preferred all over Spain!). I went with Pueblo Inglés (now Diverbo) as a volunteer for their program that gives Spanish speakers a chance to learn English with native speakers in their own country. I fell in love with this village and the beauty of it all.
I nearly ran away to Salamanca this weekend to escape the endless rain of Bilbao, but a clearer head prevailed as I’m saving money for my Easter holiday. I’d love to give this city a second chance and hit up Ciudad Rodrigo.
La universidad y la rana
The oldest university in Spain was founded in 1218 by King Alfonso XI of León. Today the city has 36,000 students and people come from all over Spain and even the world to study here. Salamanca is one of the most popular places to study Spanish, and the city has an international flair due to all the students. The frog is hidden somewhere in the university, that much I will give away….
The Plaza Mayor of Salamanca is the heart of the city and boasts many shops, cafés and ice cream parlours. The plaza is always filled with people. It was constructed in the Baroque style between 1729 and 1755. The old part (Casco Viejo) was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. Let’s all go have our relaxing café con leche here!
The Río Tormes flows through the provinces of Ávila and Salamanca to wind up at the Río Duero. It is 284 kilometres (176 miles) long.
La Casa de las Conchas
Construction began on the Shell House in 1493 but it wasn’t completed until 1517. Today it is a public library. It’s unique for having a façade with 300 shells in the shape of Santiago and el Camino de Santiago.
Ay, the days of my blurry camera! Grrr. Anyway, La Alberca is a small village of just over 1000 habitants and has been inhabitated since before Roman times. One of the interesting traditions of this town is the pig tradition. La Alberca is famous for its jamón negro (black ham). Every year, San Anton, as the pig is named, is blessed on July 13 and released to run free in the streets. Whatever house he decides to call home for the evening must take the pig in for the night and care for him. On Jan. 17, San Antion, the pig is raffled off.
Ciudad Rodrigo (to be discovered)
Ciudad Rodrigo is 25 kilometres from Portugal and is a Cathedral city of about 14,000. It lies on the banks of the Águeda river and is still enclosed by the city walls. It’s a must-see for any history lover or lover of medieval cities. I’ve been hearing rave reviews from many people about the beauty of this town.
Ledesma (to be discovered)
Ledasma, with nearly 2000 habitants, is located 730 metres above sea level and has a Roman bridge. It also has walls, a castle and tons of beautiful trails and views.