El Estudiante de Salamanca

“You have one hour in Salamanca before we pick you up.” It seemed like a silly game really. Trying to “see” a city in an hour. We’d just gotten off the bus after the drive from Lisbon with a stop in Fatima and had a short amount of time before dinner at the hotel. It made me want to laugh, having only an hour, but I also felt up for the challenge, especially because I wanted to see as much of Salamanca as I could.

Leaving from the impressive Plaza Mayor, I walked down to the Catedrales Nueva y Vieja. Visiting these was quite relaxing compared to some of the other cathedrals I’d been to which were crowded and full of people taking pictures. In contrast, Salamanca’s cathedral still boasted the high ceilings, beautiful, old art, and the cool, refreshing spaces that other cathedrals do without the crowds, making it a very pleasant visit in the early evening.

A statue of Fray Luis de León across from the famous door
A statue of Fray Luis de León across from the famous door

Next up, I stopped by the door of the Universidad de Salamanca and with two of my travel buddies managed to find the frog sitting on top of the skull which eludes everyone, though I had to eavesdrop on a Spanish guide to find it (using a foreign language still makes it count as a challenge, right?) They say that for students to gain admission to Spain’s oldest university, they must locate this frog on top of the skull. It has something to do with punishment in hell for lust, but I don’t remember the exact story.

With that done, I went back to the Plaza Mayor, walking along little streets with beautiful and historic brown buildings made of stone. Salamanca in one hour, no problem, right?

Wrong.

IMG_4435After dinner that night a couple of us decided we hadn’t had our fill of Spain’s university city and ventured back to see the Plaza Mayor at night. It was already dark outside and one of those beautiful and warm noches de verano which my Spanish professor raves about (and I see why). From our hotel, we passed by a park next to an old Roman bridge where people were playing a pickup game of soccer. That in and of itself was interesting: people playing soccer next to a bridge that’s 2000 years old like it’s not a big deal. On our way back through the park, we stopped at this little playground and went for a swing: not something everybody associates with Europe.

We crossed the bridge through bats that were swooping around, feeding, and made our way back past the university and up to the Plaza Mayor. On our way, we noticed so many people sitting down to eat dinner at street-side restaurants at 10:30 or 11:00 at night. The amount of people out and about kept growing until we reached the Plaza, and that was incredible: the best plaza and street-life I’ve seen in Spain.

IMG_4436People were out eating, walking their dogs (there was one particularly cute and dopey looking basset hound), and dancing to the tuna groups which played (musical groups from the different schools at the University: students and faculty join these to make more money while at the university but sometimes end up making so much in their tuna that they end up quitting the university). Students sat down in the middle of the square in little groups talking, and the whole plaza had this incredible environment. While there were probably plenty of tourists mixed in, it didn’t feel as congested with tourists as Barcelona’s Ramblas or Madrid’s Puerta del Sol at night. Funny thing is? I think we were there for more than an hour.

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