For five long years now, I’ve wanted to return to Ávila, a small Castilian capital that I fell in love with on a short day trip from Madrid on a snowy February day in 2010. I even toyed with switching with someone in Ávila who was wanting to stay in Bilbao (and in the end, I’m glad I stayed in Bilbao,
rain and egotistical people Capital of the World). I also wanted to return to Salamanca and give the famous university city a second chance, as the first time left me rather unimpressed.
I took advantage of being in Ávila province last week for VaughanTown to revisit these places on the way back. I regret not being able to visit some of the places nearby like Ciudad Rodrígo and Zamora, but that gives me an excuse to return in the future. (I plan on picking up Zamora, Lugo and Ourense whenever I finish the Camino de Santiago.) It also gave me an opportunity to complete some travel to-dos that I had left hanging on my prior 2010 visits.
On Friday afternoon, I said goodbye to my new friends from VaughanTown at Cuatro Postes, which was coincidentally the monument I deliberately avoided seeing so I would have an excuse to return to Ávila. Five years later…I went to my pensión next to the train station, rested a bit as I waited for it to cool down, and went off to explore the province capital.
I stopped at the Oficina de Turismo for a map and meandered the cobblestone streets and admired the walls and views. I didn’t go up the walls (murallas in Spanish) as it was 5€ and I was on a budget, and I had already done the wall walk. It’s well worth doing again though, but budgets are budgets unfortunately. I walked through the park along the Río Adaja and went to the Cuatro Postes to admire Ávila. On the way back, I visited the Parador, as I am prone to do whenever I am in a city that has a castle renovated into a hotel (ie…Parador).
Ávila is the highest province capital in Spain and is said to have more Romanesque and Gothic churches (along with bars and cafés) per capita in Spain and has been a UNESCO World Heritiage site since 1985.
As I am prone to do, I took time to admire the beautiful sunset from just outside the walls. It was a special moment as I reflected on the amazing week I had just had and on my future as the sun said adiós to Friday, August 28th, 2015.
On Saturday morning, I had a quick tostada con tomate y café con leche at a bar near the train station before catching a bus to Salamanca. The bus was pretty empty, as I like buses to be, and it went through the small towns and villages between the two capital cities. I arrived to Salamanca around noon, and at first, my impression was the same as before: overrated.
After dropping my stuff off at the pensión, I made my way to the city centre and meandered the streets. It was hot, about 35ºC (90s F). The streets were full of people, however. The Plaza Mayor was happening, and although I didn’t have a relaxing café con leche in the actual Plaza, I did nearby.
The Plaza seemed smaller for some reason, but it also seemed more impressive than I remembered. I went inside the library at the Casa de las Conches (the Shell House), and I had a unmemorable lunch before going to find the frog. On my previous visit, I didn’t find the frog, and I wonder if that is why I have had a lot of bad luck in my professional career. It is said that university students must find the hidden frog for luck on their exams.
It took me a while, but I did it. I found the frog. Team Pablo for the win!
I crossed the Roman bridge and admired the river.
As a fan of Lanzarillo de Tormes, an important piece of Spanish literature that inspired Charles Dickens, I was super excited to see the river again.
I watched the sun set from the Roman bridge, and I saw a bit of the supermoon, although it was hard to capture a picture of it.
Sunday morning, I went to the Cueva de Salamanca (the Cave of Salamanca), where legend has it the Devil gave lessons in evil. I saw no traces of Lucifer, thankfully (and that part of the legend escaped me until just now while researching the cave!) Today you can climb some steps for some precious views of the city.
Next, I went to the Parador, which didn’t impress me much. I took advantage of exploring the area near the river more. I stopped at a bar-café, Mordiscos I believe, and the waiter happened to be from Bilbao. Although I don’t support the local team (I am a diehard culé (Barça supporter) along with my #1 team, València CF), whenever I see an Athletic item, I have to ask. I do like how Athletic will only sign players from the Basque region, and I believe La Liga would be more interesting with Spanish-only players (I do like Messi and don’t mind Suarez, but I am so sick and tired of the antics of Neymar and especially Cristinao Ronaldo.) I digress. I had a relaxing café con leche here and read a while before having lunch at the same restaurant I ate at five years ago, Don Quijote.
The Don Quijote restaurant has some amazing ambiance, and the food is quite good too. For those complaining that Spain doesn’t have vegetables, I had a delicious salad that also included peaches. (I never was a fan of veggies until I moved to Spain).
Salamanca left a better second impression than a first. When they had told me it was a “Granada del norte” (Granada of the north), I had my hopes high. If you say a city is a “Granada” of a place, you raise the bar so high it is impossible to reach. This time, with lower expectations, I got more out of my visit to the city.
That said…I still prefer Ávila and believe it is my favourite capital of Castilla y Léon, but Segovia, León and Burgos are pretty stiff competitors.
When I moved to Spain, one of my professors told me to spend a night in Ávila and another on Salamanca whenever I visted these two cities. I finally listened…por fin, le hice caso. The moral of the story, as he would say, is don’t marry a loser and listen to your professors.