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Published: August 12th 2019
Today we travel a couple of hundred kilometres west to the city of Salamanca. It seems that Spaniards aren’t into mornings, especially on Sundays; the breakfast room at the hotel still hasn’t opened when our taxi arrives at 8.30am.
We walk into the station to a deafening noise which sounds like several forest loads of birds all screeching at once. The man who checks us in tells us that the fire alarm here has been going for more than two hours now and it’s driving everyone crazy. We can’t see any flames or smoke, which is probably just as well, as I’m sure there wouldn’t be too much left of the station by now if there really was a fire. If anyone ever forgets to turn the iron off at home I think we need to remember not to call the Segovia Fire Brigade.
The receptionist at our hotel in Salamanca sounds distinctly grumpy, and reinforces our view that Spaniards and Sunday mornings don’t seem to be a particularly good mix. She barks at us that our room isn’t ready, before seeming to remember that maybe it might have been a good idea if she’d first asked us our
names and whether we had a reservation. A minute or so later our room has magically become ready, and “her grumpiness” then even manages a half smile. I think her first coffee for the day might be just starting to kick in.
We go out for a random wander. I think Issy prefers random wanders to my rigid itineraries. First stop is the stunning Plaza Mayor which is just around the corner from the hotel. I don’t think I’d ever heard of Salamanca until I saw the film “Vantage Point”, much of which was set right here in Plaza Mayor. The movie was all about Dennis Quaid, Forest Whitaker and Sigourney Weaver trying to catch bad guys intent on assassinating the US President, played by William Hurt, who was here in Salamanca for a summit on the War on Terror. The Plaza looked fantastic in the movie and was one of the main reasons we decided to come here. It’s just as well it looks stunning in real life, because I now find that the movie wasn’t actually filmed here at all; the producers wanted to film it here, but the local council wasn’t at all keen on the
idea of having its beloved plaza shut down for three months, so they had to move the shooting to Mexico. We read that construction of the Plaza was completed in 1755 and for its first hundred years it was used for bullfighting.
We wander past a lot of stunning buildings including the Monasterio de San Esteban and the Salamanca Cathedral, which we will come back and visit later; well I’ll come back and visit them. I doubt I’ll get Issy into the Cathedral. Our wander takes us across the very wide Tormes River via the old Roman bridge. Fifteen of the bridge‘s twenty six arches are apparently remnants of the original Roman structure which is believed to have been built during the first century AD.
We wander back up into the university precinct of the old town. The Salamanca University was founded in 1164 and is believed to be the fourth oldest (or third oldest depending on which website you believe) existing continuously operating university in the world after the University of Al-Karaouine in Fes in Morocco, the University of Bologna and Oxford University. Christopher Columbus lectured here on his discoveries, and Miguel de Cervantes, the author of
Don Quixote, was a student here. The university buildings all seem to be ancient architectural masterpieces, and are a bit of a contrast to the Civil Engineering building at my alma mater, the University of Melbourne, which is a square 1960’s concrete monstrosity with zero architectural merit. We go into the public library which is housed in a 16th century gothic palace known as the Casa de las Conchas, due to its facade being covered in shells. We then move across the street to the Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca, which is a private Catholic University founded in 1218, and climb the Tower Clerecia above its 17th century baroque church. The views over the whole city and surrounding countryside are excellent from up here.
We dine again in Plaza Mayor. It’s a bit on the cool side and some of the restaurants are handing out brightly coloured blankets to their customers. Each restaurant seems to have its own blanket colour. We’re not sure whether this is for publicity, or to make it more difficult for patrons to run off with them after they’ve finished eating. The Plaza is a hive of activity and there is what we assume to be
a traditional band/choir playing to a stand-up audience in one corner. The band members are all wearing traditional dress and they stand in a circle facing each other as they play. Issy says she thinks they’re playing “Good Old Collingwood Forever”, but I‘m not hearing it, and anyway I would have hoped the Salamancans would have had a bit more class than that. For the uninitiated “Good Old Collingwood Forever” is the theme song of a despised (well by me anyway) football team back home, whose supporters are generally characterised (well by me anyway) by low intelligence and missing teeth.
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