During our 3-city, Semana Santa tour of central Spain back in March, our second stop was in the stately college town of Salamanca (first stop was Toledo).
Home to one of Europe’s oldest universities, Salamanca definitely has that universal college town feel. Swanky cafes, bohemian shops, and more ethnic restaurants than you usually find in most Spanish towns this size.
There must be a rule that every structure be of that light blond sandstone color. It’s easy to lose your bearings in the old town because all the ornate buildings start looking alike!
I’ve seen my share of cathedrals and tend to skip wandering inside most. But the cathedral in Salamanca offers something that most others don’t: A tower walk. And it’s fantastic.
You start by ascending steep circular stairs on the inside and before you know it, you’re inching along catwalks along the back of the church with dramatic vantage points and peeks into rarely seen naves and other locations not usually viewed from above.
As you progress, you eventually find yourself outside and right up along the medieval towers walking among battlements and gargoyles. Be sure to check the video for a better sense.
It’s also a great way to orient yourself and take in the beautiful baroque skyline.
In the U.S., most universities have a mascot. If the University of Salamanca had a mascot, it would be a Frog. There are frog images everywhere – on shirts, key chains, and other trinkets. I finally asked a local what the deal was. He explained that the frog was a symbol of good luck, especially for students.
There is an intricate façade on one of the main buildings on campus and legend has it those students able to spot the frog will do well in their studies and pass their exams. If you walk by here, you’ll no doubt run into a horde of tourists whispering, colluding, and pointing up at the wall trying to spot the elusive amphibian.
The rana is very difficult to spot and resides on the top of one the skulls near one of the ascending pillars.
Bullfighting continues to be a spectacle in parts of Spain and completely outlawed in others. My sense is that it is a dwindling sport and that aficionados of my age and younger are very much in the minority.
With that said, bulls continue to be a proud and revered animal and we were in the heart of bull country so we took a tour of a Bravo Bull farm. Bravo means brave and are the type typically raised for bullfighting.
We were tugged around on a flatbed behind a tractor as we drove through a forest of encinas and out to a plain with hundreds of bulls. It was like a scene out of the Story of Ferdinand.
Ferdinand was the bull from the children’s book that would rather relax in the shade of the trees and smell flowers than to fight in bullfights. And there were definitely a couple of those.
The guide told us about the dynamics between the alpha males though too. There were a handful and are periodically challenged by optimistic, growing up-and-comers. This guy had recently won his fight. The loser is extradited on his own from the rest of the herd.
Salamanca really is a golden place – both figuratively and visually. I think it’d be a great place to study. People in this area are known for their clear and pure pronunciation of Spanish, so it would make an ideal place to learn the language.
How about you? Have you been to Salamanca? What was your impression?