From Salamanca, With Love
This past weekend I found myself in a beautiful place -- Salamanca. Where to even begin?
My birthday trip was initially supposed to be to Granada. But when Granada felt like too much for just a weekend, we had to regroup. Where to go that was not too far and could be accomplished in a weekend? Enter Rick Steves, or Ricky S, as I like to call him. I’ve never been one to search through travel guides. I’m not opposed to them, I think they’re quite fun actually. And my dad usually manages to slip an Eyewitness sights-to-see book in my bag upon departure. I guess I just rely on the internet. This time I chanced upon Ricky S’ pages on Salamanca. After “university town,” “Art Deco museum in a building from the same period,” and “perfect for a weekend,” I was sold. Salamanca, ahoy!
There is a train to Salamanca that only takes 1 hour and 30 minutes from Madrid, but none of those train times worked with our schedules. Instead we booked the train that takes just about 3 hours. En route during sunset, outside the window we could see large, beautiful fields turning orange and purple as the sun descended. Arriving in the dark in the US would probably bring people anxiety and empty streets. In Spain? No way. We got off the train at around 9 and as we walked the streets towards our hotel, bars were packed, stores were open, and children were playing outside. I love Spain.
We stayed at Microtel Placentinos, another Ricky S recommendation. It was perfect: perfect location, perfect decor, perfect people. It is behind the university and in a peaceful spot. The breakfast included was also muy bueno: meats, cheeses, breads, croissants, yogurts, coffee, etc. etc. I’ve grown to be slightly obsessed with these “free” breakfasts. They save stress and money and take two seconds to get to! Though one day I learned of Croissanteria Paris, and upon reading that one should go first thing in the morning to get the freshest croissants, I fled. I returned with one croissant filled with spinach and cheese, one with milk chocolate, and another with raspberry jam and queso fresco. This was pre-breakfast breakfast of course.
I digress! I skipped to the croissants on Saturday morning. Let’s go back to Friday night. At check-in, the concierge cheerfully showed us a map of town and recommended a few places to go for tapas. We dropped our stuff and trotted over to Bambú--apparently this is also a Ricky S recommendation, but I didn’t know it at the time!!!
No no no wow I’ve gone too far. Let me go back to the walk from the train station to the hotel. About 15 minutes in we hit one of the most amazing spots: the Plaza Mayor. I was speechless at the time and I’m speechless now. At night it is quite something, brightly lit and filled with people. It feels like the place to be. Will stop here and insert a photo below.
So, check-in, luggage left, Bambú. The restaurant was crowded and everyone behind the counter was moving fast. I felt we had two options: 1) we could take a seat, as most tourists might, to avoid the scary situation of having to stick out in the crowd of standing locals and fumble through asking what the display dishes are, or 2) we could conquer our fears, dive into the crowd of standing locals and own our tourist-selves. I’m excited to say that we chose option 2. And it wasn’t that bad! In fact, it was wonderful. We tried 7 various tapas and had 6 cañas (claras con limón). The most delicious was an hojaldre of bacon and cheese. Photos below. Feast your eyes.
Everyone was nice to us and we left feeling great. We decided to walk on over to Cafe Novelty, a 1920s joint where I read they have special ice cream. “We finished with the ice cream,” said the waiter. Oops. We left. No problem! Bambú had been a perfect first night adventure.
The next day we went first thing (after the Croissanteria Paris event and hotel breakfast) to the Oficina del Turismo in Plaza Mayor to collect our 4€ passes to both the Museo de Historia de la Automoción and Casa Lis--the Art Deco/Art Nouveau museum. Easy peezy. At this point I was feeling energized by my ability to go to a city in Spain and deal with tourist office things in Spanish. We set off for the museums.
The car museum was fun--3 floors of automobiles from the late 19th century up until present day. The Hispano Suizas were fun to see, as were the classic Rolls Royce, Ford Model-T, and Cadillac. This museum is nice because the labels are simple, if you want to read them, and the point is really just to walk around and look at the cars. After, we headed over to Casa Lis.
Casa Lis really is something to see. Perched above the burnt orange rocks of Salamanca lies a facade of an Art Deco building, red flowers lining the multicolored stained glass windows. Inside there are more stained glass windows that are fun to see. The rooms hold everything from glass objects to mini-figurines to dolls to paintings. It’s a mish-mash of things to explore. I found the room with dolls fairly terrifying, but still interesting! One of the nicest parts of the museum, though, is the cafe. I sat in the cafe with a Viennese coffee while the sun shone through the windows and highlighted all of the vibrant colors of the room. Surrounded by reproductions of paintings and objects in the museum, I sipped my coffee in what felt like a 1920s cafe. I highly recommend this spot to anyone who finds their self in Salamanca. Like, literally, not figuratively. If figuratively, that’s awesome too!
In an effort to not make this post into a novel, I’ll move on to some other Salamanca moments. We took a 30-minute mini tourist train through the city and saw the Puente Romano from afar. We searched for the frog and astronaut on the outside relief of the University building and Cathedral (upon renovation, fun images were added to the facades including an astronaut, a dragon eating ice cream, and more). The frog is the symbol of the city, every type of frog is sold as every type of souvenir: snowglobes, shot glasses, figurines, fans, t-shirts, plates, this list could go on forever. The university is from 1230, by the way. The year 1230. There’s something magical about the commitment to education that’s been there for so long. And they hammer this point home for sure. At the Convento de San Esteban, religious words are mixed with quotes that express a commitment to learning. It’s cool, though kind of hard to accept, considering how many were excluded from educational opportunities over the centuries. Or how many were thought to be “civilized” by this learning. As a woman it can often be hard to see lines constantly talking of “a man’s spirit,” “a man’s this,” “a man’s that.” But this certainly did not dull the magic of Salamanca the city.
One highlight was taking funny photos with statues of the architects of Plaza Mayor. Another was a band of students with horns playing Beatles tunes. Just like these two moments the city is an amalgamation of old and new, history and present. One minute you see Zara and Carrefour, the next you see a Gothic Cathedral built between 1513 and 1733 hovering high over the city. Walking through the old, small streets of Salamanca, I felt alive. It was a great place to spend the anniversary of another year of life.