Subject: Weekend in Salamanca - Long
Hello all, as my sister was heading down to Lisbon in order to spend 10 days of a bit of sightseeing, lots of eating and much more shopping, we decided to jump into the opportunity and the car, and get her to drop us in Salamanca.

This was decided a month ago, and we got the first surprise. My first idea, the NH Palacio de Castellanos, a former palace near the cathedral (much better than the Parador) was fully booked, and so were many of the hotels. Salamanca is a very popular destination, any time of the year, and it was difficult to find a room. At the end we opted for the three-star Rona Dalba, belonging to the spanish chain Silken. It is being renovated, and we got one of the new rooms. The location is good, just 5 minutes away from the Plaza Mayor. There are a couple of teenagers bars, so when we came back to the hotel at night, there were lots of people and lots of noise, but we were lucky because the room was facing an inner courtyard, and we could sleep with open windows. The bus station is located around 10, 15 minutes walking from the hotel.

I printed a couple of walking itineraries and some information from the web, and off we went. We left Bilbao early Saturday morning, but there was a lot of traffic, both coming and going. A lot of lorries and a lot of portuguese and moroccan emigrants coming back to their places. We stopped in Burgos to buy the newspaper, some madalenas at a bakery near the Casa del Cordón, and have a coffee. My sister was looking for the cafe located on the castle overlooking the city, but it was closed. Something normal, if you think that it was 9 o´clock in the morning and the temperature was as low as 9 degrees. So, we stopped at a bar near Las Huelgas monastery, and continue our trip.

We arrived to Salamanca at around 12:00. She dropped us in a corner and continue her way to Cáceres. I had printed a map from Salamanca, but I was wrong about the place where we were, so I asked at a travel agency, and they sent us back to the hotel. It was just around the corner from our initial stop. Bad luck. We checked in, left the bags, and headed to the Plaza Mayor to ask for a map of the city. The hotel had given us a smallish one that was more useful than the lovely one of the Tourist Office. The Tourist Office in the Plaza Mayor belongs to the town council, and there is another in the Casa de las Conchas belonging to the Junta de Castilla y Leon, one of the seventeen autonomies in Spain.

We began to walk down to the cathedrals (there are two, the Vieja and the Nueva), and on our way along the Rua Mayor we checked the different restaurants, to see if we could find something interesting. Mum wanted to eat roasted suckling pig, and it was difficult to find. At the end, we settled in Mesón Las Conchas. Their salads looked great. They didn´t have place outside, but it was better, because the heat was very strong and it wouldn´t have been comfortable to eat there. So, we ordered an Ensalada Rústica as starter (enough for two), suckling pig for mum and a green pepper entrecote for me. I am not particularly fond of meat, and prefer much more the fish, but this entrecote was great, tasty, yummy and soft. Two beers, coffee with ice (different to iced coffee) and camomile tea, and the price was around 5000 ptas. Not too bad.

It was early for the cultural visits, and we sat down to read the newspaper in the Plaza Mayor, with a glass of iced milk (milk boiled with cinammon and then put to freeze) each. Plenty of foreign students around, there are many language schools in Salamanca.

We had marked down in the map a few walks and the places we wanted to visit, so we began with the University around the corner, and the famous skull with the frog. We visited some of the classrooms. Classes and seminars are still held in some of them, like the ones dedicated to Francisco de Vitoria and Miguel de Unamuno. The class where Fray Luis de León said his famous As we say yesterday ... after coming back from years in the Inquisition jail, is kept as it was, and really in those times it was hard to be a student. We went down to the cathedrals, where there were two weddings going on, and we visited the cloister. Part of it is closed for renovation. Afterwards, a walk down to the river and the roman bridge, and up again to the Plaza Mayor. By this time we were quite tired, and headed back into the hotel for a shower and a rest.

We went out at around 9 o´clock in the evening. The people were walking up and down along Calle Zamora, and many of them were sitting down in the Plaza Mayor to have something to drink and some tapas. We found a first row place at the Cafe Novelty, and I tried their horchata (a kind of milky drink made out of chufas - tiger nuts, I think they are called). It was OK (much better in Jaca, where they serve you a Cubano, horchata and dark chocolate ice-cream, bliss), and much expensive than the other places in the square. After a lot of watching, we decided to have a bit of dinner at the same place we had eaten. The waiters were nice and the food was good. So we ordered another salad and a plate of croquetas. They were gorgeous, a creamy bechamel, so creamy we didn´t know how they managed to fry them, and a filling of iberic ham. It wasn´t a wonder to see all the tables ordering croquetas.

We were back at the hotel at one o´clock in the morning, and there was still lots of people around. It was a bit cooler during the night, and you can easily understand why everybody was out.

The next day came with a bright blue sky, and after checking out, we headed out to the Plaza Mayor for our breakfast. Decaf coffee and toast for mum, coffee, orange juice and churros (one of them was for my boss) for me. And the newspaper. It was 10 o´clock in the morning, and the papers from all over Spain had already arrived, and some of the foreign ones. I had to put my sunglasses on while having breakfast. It was going to be a very hot day.

We went to the Convento de las Claras. A bit out of the way, but it really deserves a visit. It is an old clausure convent, from the XIII century, but it has gone through plenty of changes. The visits lasts around half an hour, visiting the two choirs and part of the cloister. The star is the church ceiling. Back in the eighties, the nuns thought of doing some reparation in the roof. So, when one of them went there to check it, she found a painted ceiling. It seems that when the church was remodelled into the Baroque style, back in the XVII century, the architect decided to keep the Middle Ages painted wooden ceiling. Now you can visit it with a bridge system, and it is really great. They received the prize Europa Nostra for their restauration work.

Afterwards, it was a short walk to the church of Santo Tomás Canturiense, the first church erected to the memory of Saint Thomas Beckett, in 1175, by two english builders. I had to go, after having seen too many times the film with Peter O´Toole and Richard Burton. The church is tiny, tiny and really interesting. A simple example of romanesque architecture. From there, the San Esteban convent, where Colon lived while explaining his plans for the travel to the Indies at the University, is only a short walk. You can visit the cloister, the upper choir and the church. When you go into the church, you will pass through a small room where it is buried the third Duke of Alba (el Gran Duque de Alba), who fighted in the Low Countries during the XVI century.

After this overload of culture, we jumped into the tourist train that leaves every 20 minutes from the Plaza de Anaya, near the cathedral. A last glimpse of the city, and of course, we ate at the same place. The waiters already knew us. Theirs is a very busy place, so you might think that they have forgotten you, but don´t worry. They haven´t. Salad, croquetas again and a wonderful dish of authentic iberic ham (the pigs eat only acorns, and the result is a dark, gleaming with the grease, ham). We had to buy some to carry home.

More ice-cream at the Plaza Mayor, and back to the hotel to pick up our bags. From there we walked up to the bus station and get the 4 o´clock bus back to Bilbao. We arrived home half an hour ahead of time, at 9 o´clock, and really happy after our weekend.

We had been to Salamanca previously, but that was almost 20 years ago. It keeps its glowing stones, red and golden, but it has changed a lot. Back then I remember the charros (people from the country around the city) coming into town with their black velvet and silver buttons suits, and nowadays there are plenty of language schools and internet cafes. But it´s still a good place to visit, and I think that it can make a good option for those who are visiting Madrid.

Regards, Covadonga in Bilbao (Spain)