Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Salamanca - the City of Thought

You know - it is not always easy to plan where we will go given that there is so much to see and the short time frames we have this week. So when we booked in to stay at Salamanca, it was more because of its route towards France and ultimately the UK than because we wanted to see something in particular here.

Like many old cities encased within newer large metropolis, driving in to Salamanca was starting to bring on the old do-do, do-do déjà vu feelings. The streets were narrowing and the pedestrians seemed to be multiplying before our eyes. But they never did come together as they had before. We book in to the Catalonia Salamanca Plaza Hotel are are given a wonderful suite (for €50 a night). Michael has walked back to the hotel the couple of blocks from the car park and in doing so has come upon the Plaza Mayor (just as in Madrid) and excitedly stated that we must stay another day.

Salamanca is a city with a completely different feel. There is more sunlight and more space within the inner city which is almost totally pedestrianised. The buildings seem grander and there are so many more public buildings than we have seen before. We quickly plug in once we get into the room and find out that Salamanca is a University city - ah, that would explain the incredible number of young people around.

It is about 4:30 pm when we head down to the Plaza. It is like the whole population of Maryborough is sitting around, chatting, debating, taking coffee or a sangria and enjoying the last of the sun's warmth. A call into the Tourist Bureau to collect a map, some information and a self guided tour on an MP3. Then it is off to a café on the Plaza for some hot chocolate and churros. Now, for those of you who have never been to Spain, hot chocolate here is thick and like drinking velvet. Why? So it will stick to the churros of course! A popular breakfast/morning snack, churros are Spain's answer to the donut. They are about 6 inches long and ridged, crusty on the outside and softer inside. You dip them into the chocolate, making sure they are well coated before you bite the chocolatey bit off and doing it all over again! And all around us the waiters battle to keep them up to the students (and us)!

The night cools rapidly and we take a slow walk in the squares around the amazing Plaza Mayor and later Michael takes a few night photos.

Today, we begin with breakfast at the Hotel before we head back to the Plaza to get a photo of the top of one of the bell towers where there are some birds nesting. The light was all wrong last night and this is such a sight. While waiting for Michael to take the pics, I take the opportunity to watch the world go by. The plaza is the meeting place for all and I love the sight of old men meadering around the square while robustly debating the state of the world.

We set out being guided by a great commentary on the MP3 player that includes wonderful renaissance music. The detail is fascinating - especially for me, the original detail freak!! Not only is there descriptive comment on the various landmarks, but also history and interesting facts and myths. There are wonderful examples of many styles of architecture here - predominantly gothic, renaissance and baroque.

We see the House of Shells, so named for the decorations on the exterior of the building, the University buildings that display the jubilant writings of those who successfully gained their PhDs in the middle ages when they left their mark on the building walls in a combination of paprika, clay and bulls blood - and are still visible today. The University buildings were usually built very close to the Cathedral as the first teachers were the clerics - primarily because they were the most educated.

We are drawn to the Cathedrals - the Old Cathedral that dates back to 1150 AD and the extensions that are the New Cathedral built over 200 years from 1513. The spires and domes of the Cathedrals dominate the skyline and are amazing subjects for the architecture loving me - made entirely of sandstone. Interestingly, there are some 14th century frescoes that were only discovered in 1999 during some restoration works in the old cathedral - so who else knows what still lies hidden?

Michael climbs yet more spiral stairs up one of the towers - often without guard rails to get fantastic photos of the spires and domes and the rest of the City.

We can't get inside the University as it is now siesta time, so when in Spain . . . head for the Plaza! Lunch is a shared plated of calamari and a salad each - Mimosa for Michael, Pollo for me. As we finish it is almost 5 pm and the commercial side of the city slowly awakens again.

Michael goes off to take a look at the Roman Bridge while I head back to the hotel to find some accommodation and directions for tomorrow. He finds architecture that he has read about still in the most amazing condition after being is use for almost 2000 years (constructed in 89 AD).

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