Four people in a metal box travelling from Bilbao, Basque Country to Salamanca, Spain. For the first time in my year of living abroad I was going on holiday and I had my three new friends with me.
We were part of a steady procession of cars progressing through tunnels carved out of mountains. After an hour we stopped in a busy café for coffee and sandwiches. Chatter and forks scraping plates filled the air. Napkins and cocktail sticks littered the ground. Ladies queued for toilets. Outside, cars queued for fuel . People were on the move for the Easter weekend.
Back in the car we chatted, listened to the radio and looked out the window. A strange world slid by; a truck graveyard full of spent vehicles, a squatting trucker taking a shit, vultures circling over fields, trees like deformed hands poking through the grass and numerous roadside strip-clubs. Yeah – strip clubs! In most countries lap dances are to be found in cave like buildings down dark alleys on city streets. In Spain the strip clubs are on the side of the motorway.
I tried to pronounce the names of places we passed through – Mirando de Ebro, Burgos, Palencia, Valladolid…
Eventually we arrived in Salamanca where a huge metal scrapyard glistened in the sunlight. Arkaitz snaked the car through the streets until we arrived in the old town.
Our first stop was the Plaza Mayor where there are lots of plaques commemorating former kings of Spain. Every Spanish city has a plaza and it is said that Plaza Mayor is one of the biggest and most beautiful. Flags adorn the walls and there’s an overall sense of class and sophistication. Surprising then, that it’s also one of the most popular spots for the city’s students to get shitfaced. I wonder if the former Kings would grumble disapprovingly or boisterously join in the revelry.
The cathedral is huge. As you walk around the outside, neck craned and mouth open, you can’t help but be impressed by the detailed sculptures on the facades. It’s a fine medieval cathedral, but with a twist. Take a closer look at ‘Puerta de Ramos’ and you notice that during renovations a cheeky sculpture has seamlessly carved a spaceman. It’s a bold and humorous wink from the 20th century that adds charm to a building that was beginning to look like it was taking itself too seriously (you know how cathedrals can be).
The University of Salamanca is the oldest university in Spain. It was completed in 1218 but it wasn’t used as a university from the start – I think it was an internet café or something. The anterior wall is busy. You can see Ferdinand and Isabella, a few popes, cardinals and all the people you know and love from that time. It is said to be good luck if you can find a frog on the intricate façade. We were mad for a bit of luck so we stood there for ages staring at it. Eventually Arkaitz had to point the frog out to us. I felt more annoyed than lucky. It looked nothing like a frog from where I was standing.
The ‘Casa de las Conchas’ (House of the shells)is a 15th century building that delivers on its promise, in that it contains over 400 shells on its walls. People are divided as to whether the shells are a symbol of love or a symbol of the order of St James. It is now a library. Interestingly, Conchas means shells in Spanish but in South America it has an extra meaning; Vaginas. So if you are chatting to your South American buddies and tell them you visited Casa de las Conchas in Salamanca they might get the impression you had a far better time than you actually had. That said, we had a grand time there.
For tips on a nice walking tour of Salamanca I recommend this site;
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