|48 hours in Salamanca
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A short travel guide to one of the most beautiful cities in Europe: Salamanca, Spain. Learn some vocabulary about art and culture with this British documentary about the city where I live.
Sure, I adore the beaches and the mountains of Spain, but I have to admit I’m smitten by Spanish cities, which strike me as the most civilized concentrations of humanity in Europe. And if you twisted my arm about my favourites, well, see doubted, Salamanca has to be among the most alluring. The city’s ++++ that students know, perhaps it is time you find out before the rest of the world gets here.
Salamanca is half way to everywhere, but a brilliant destination in its own right. It’s astride an ancient super highway, the "Ruta de la Plata", which was one of the many things the Romans did for Spain. It took the silver that was mined about 200 miles north from here, in Asturias, down to the gorgeous city of Seville, 300 miles south, which is where the metal was traded and crafted. Oh, and the capital, Madrid, is just over 100 miles east.
Worried about the plummeting pound? You don’t have to be, thanks to this new generation of classy 3 and 4 star hotels that make you feel as though you’re in a kind of high-tech home from home, but without the high intensity bill at the end of it.
Uhm, this place is really Salamanca "centro". To prove it to yourself you can always log-on to the free wi-fi and check out your location on Planet Earth. Alternatively, just look out of the window.
There’s only one place to begin your exploration and that’s the "Plaza", that’s at the heart of everything, one of Spain’s most atmospheric central squares, perfectly proportioned and wonderfully decorated. The Plaza Mayor itself deserves much more than just a quick spin, the arcades that give it so much character are works of art in their own right, and each of the columns is decorated with a notable celebrity. This is the Duke of Wellington. Now, luckily, I’ve got my walking boots on. Time to go off on a tangent.
The Torre del Clavero, all that remains of a 15th century castle. But if you’re thinking "oh, I’ll add a vertical dimension to my hike", there’s no view!
When you’re walking around Salamanca you soon discover it’s a very spiritual place. Praise be to the makers of San Esteban, which is the finest example of Plateresque architecture. This is were the masons worked the stone with all the meticulous detail of silversmiths. And, did you know? San Esteban, Saint Stephen, is the patron saint of stone masons.
I’ve got to show you this, it’s my favourite building, I think, the local library. No, not this one, that one. You just get the best view from here. It’s the Casa de las Conchas, 400 of them. If you want to learn a bit of Spanish, you won’t be surprised to know that "concha" means "shell".
Architectural appetite sated, it’s time to be drawn back into the heart of things for a spot of lunch. The best kind of lunch on the run is lunch in the sun, and the Plaza Mayor has not a few of them, a dozen cafés and restaurants plus two ice-cream parlours and a sweet shop.
What’s astonishing is I spent all day so far within a tiny area, yet, I found a wealth of fascination. You should never come to Salamanca’s beautiful central market unless you’ve got a full stomach because everything is so fresh, so beautiful, so tempting, smells so delicious -"buenos dias"- that you want to buy the lot.
This is my favourite shop in all Salamanca. It’s called Mercatus and it’s the university shop -"buenos dias"- full of everything you need, beautiful quill pens, lovely satchels, globes, notebooks and there’s even a map of the student’s brain. I can see a bit marked "drink".
Studying in Salamanca must be incredibly tough judging by how hard the students play and there’s 36.000 of them. Don’t worry if you don’t match exactly the typical profile of a young undergraduate, you’ll be made to fill welcome anyway, and perhaps you can practise the local lingo. Salamanca is, after all, a global centre for learning Spanish and, if you want to practise, for example "dos cervezas, por favor" -dos cervezas, por favor- Ok, you’ll be able to do that here. I’m getting on to the next bit now, which is: "my friend is paying".
Look at the time, 11 o’clock, which means that applying the normal rule that everything in Spain happens about 3 hours after the rest of Europe, means it’s just time for dinner. Where better to splash out than the fantastic Casa Paca? which is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, serving very good food with a sense of style. This is a steak the size of Salamanca sizzling on volcanic stones. Mmm...
Morning! The Salamancan attitude to cathedrals is a bit like -"buenos dias"- my attitude to morning coffee: why stop at just one. So the city has two beautiful cathedrals grafted elegantly together. This is the "nueva catedral", the new cathedral, a mere 4 centuries old. The highlight of the new cathedral is this amazing dome. Then, when you come into the old cathedral you peel back another 5 centuries. The crowning glory of the cathedral is this magnificent 15th century altarpiece, the work of the Italian painter Nicholas Florentino, depicting in 53 panels the life of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ.
And, back outside again, local guide Isabel Cabaco pointed out that the ancient façade has some surprisingly modern retouches. This side was restored in the year 1993 and the stone mason wanted to sign his job in the same way as the stone mason in the 16th century. And it’s possible to see a lot of animals: a rabbit, a stork, a crab and a bull, the famous animal from the countryside of Salamanca. And look now the monkey eating an ice-cream. And, ladies and gentlemen, an astronaut!
Salamanca had an entire year in the artistic sun in 2002, when it was chosen as European capital of culture. One reason it won that accolade is right here, the university, the oldest in Spain, as celebrated as Oxford and Cambridge, with the added about it of being 1000 miles nearer the equator.
Brunch isn’t really a Spanish concept, but that doesn’t matter because any café that’s open on Sunday morning will fix you up with "tostada", toasted baguette, a “café con leche”, of course, and a freshly squeezed orange juice, so you can taste the sunshine.
At last, a Salamanca building that’s relatively modern, or at least "modernista", the style in which the Casa Lis was built in 1905. It was very controversial at the time, built on the old city walls. But now it is a magnificent museum of "art nouveau" and "art deco". Absolutely dazzling, especially its stained-glass dome.
They call Salamanca "the golden city" and there’s a passion and intensity about the place that I think sums up for me everything I love about this nation. Could Salamanca be the heart and soul of Spain? Come here and experience it for yourself.
Look, I’m really sorry if you are a vegetarian, but this is the absolute pinnacle of the pig: "jamón -ha, ha, ha- iberico".
SMITTEN= Very very impressed.
IF YOU TWISTED MY ARM ABOUT MY FAVOURITES= If you forced me to say which one is my favourite.
HALF WAY TO EVERYWHERE= Near everywhere.
ASTRIDE= On either side (left and right of a place). For example, if you sit on a horse you go astride it.
ANCIENT= /eɪnʃənt/ Very very old
HIGHWAY= A main road.
MINED= Dug out from a mine.
TRADED AND CRAFTED= Sold and worked into objects.
PLUMMETING= Falling quickly (at the moment this documentary was filmed, the British pound had fallen to half its value against the euro in just a few months).
CLASSY= Stylish, elegant.
HIGH-TECH= With high technology things.
BILL= The note with the money you have to pay at a hotel, restaurant, etc. for all your expenses.
WI-FI= A wireless connection to the Internet.
PLANET EARTH= A programme that lets you see any place on earth from the sky (satellite view).
ALTERNATIVELY,= When you have two options, you use “alternatively” to introduce the second option in a new sentence.
- You can come with me or stay here with Susan = You can come with me. Alternatively, you can stay here with Susan.
PLAZA= Spanish word meaning “square” (an open area among buildings).
A QUICK SPIN= A short tour.
ARCADES= A series of arches and columns usually making a passageway under a building.
A NOTABLE CELEBRITY= A prominent famous person.
HIKE= A stroll, a walk
PRAISE BE TO...= Glory to...
THE FINEST EXAMPLE= The best example, the one with the highest quality.
MASON= A bricklayer, a person who builds buildings.
METICULOUS= Extremely careful and precise.
SILVERSMITH= A person who works silver (the same as a smith is a person who works iron).
THE PATRON SAINT= In Catholic culture a patron saint is a saint who is the protector of a city, an activity, etc. For example, the patron saint of Spain is Saint James the Apostle (so Spain is under his protection), the patron saint of marriage is Saint Anthony of Padua (so if you want to get married you can pray to him).
STONE MASONS= Masons using stone to build.
SHELL= The hard part of some sea animals.
ARCHITECTURAL APPETITE SATED...= Now that we have satisfied our hunger for architecture...
A SPOT OF LUNCH= A place to have lunch.
LUNCH ON THE RUN= You are going from one place to another, or you are walking or travelling, and you stop for a while to have some lunch.
DOZEN= /dʌzən/ A group of twelve.
CAFÉ= A coffee shop. This is a French word with a French pronunciation, and it is usually spelled with that graphic accent at the end /kæfeɪ/
ICE-CREAM PARLOUR= A little shop selling ice-cream.
A SWEET SHOP= A confectionary.
ASTONISHING= Incredible, amazing.
SO FAR= Until now, up to this moment.
TINY= Really small.
YET, I FOUND A WEALTH OF FASCINATION= Nevertheless, I found lots of fascinating things (“wealth” means “richness”). Notice that we can use “yet” or “still” at the beginning of a sentence (followed by a comma) meaning “nevertheless”, “although”.
- It’s not beautiful but I like it = It’s not beautiful. Yet, I like it.
YOU’VE GOT A FULL STOMACH= You have eaten.
BUENOS DIAS= Spanish for “good morning”
YOU WANT TO BUY THE LOT= You want to buy everything.
QUILL PENS= The old kind of pens made from the feather of a bird (see picture)
SATCHEL= A bag (traditionally made of leather) to carry books and papers (see picture )
GLOBE= A sphere representing the planet earth.
UNDERGRADUATE= A university student (depending on the country it may refer to different parts of the university studies)
I’M GETTING ON THE NEXT BIT NOW= I’m starting the next part.
SPLASH OUT= To spend a lot of money on a treat or luxury.
SIZZLING= Making the hissing sound characteristic of frying fat.
MORNING!= Colloquial for “good morning”.
CATHEDRAL= In Christian faith, as a way of organization a country is divided up into “sees” (also called diocese or bishopric). Every see has a bishop (a high rank priest in charge of the area). A cathedral is the church where the bishop is. It is usually the most important temple in a city.
GRAFTED TOGETHER= Intertwined, connected together.
A MERE 4 CENTURIES OLD= Simply 4 centuries old.
THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE NEW CATHEDRAL= The most important/famous thing in the new cathedral.
DOME= A semispheric roof. /dəʊm/ (see picture )
THE CROWNING GLORY OF THE CATHEDRAL= The most important thing in the cathedral (but this expression sounds much more pompous than “the highlight of the cathedral”, which is a more normal expression).
ALTARPIECE= /ɔ:ltəpi:s/ A decoration (usually made with wood, stone or paintings), covering part or all of the wall behind the altar in a church. (see picture)
DEPICTING= Representing, showing.
FAÇADE= /fəsɑ:d/ The part of a building where the main entrance is. This part of the building was traditionally decorated in a fine way, while the other sides of the building had a more simple or non-existing decoration. Again, it’s a French word with a French pronunciation and spelling (always spelt with Ç), and not very usual in common speech (it’s more of a technical word in architecture).
BULL= The male of a cow.
ACCOLADE= Merit, recognition, award.
AS CELEBRATED AS OXFORD= As famous as Oxford. (A celebrity is a famous person, for instance, Tom Cruise or the Queen of England).
BRUNCH= breakfast + lunch. A meal typically eaten late in the morning as a combination of a late breakfast and an early lunch.
CONTROVERSIAL= If something is controversial it causes a lot of discussion and disputes because people have different opinions about it.
THE CITY WALLS= Old cities in Europe (and other parts of the world) usually had big walls for protections. The houses were inside the walls.
DAZZLING= Spectacular, amazing.
STAINED-GLASS= Artistically painted glass (see picture)
THE HEART AND SOUL OF...= The essence (soul = spirit).
THE PINNACLE OF X= The most important thing of X, the best part of X.
JAMÓN IBERICO= Spanish for “Iberian cured ham” (AmE Iberian prosciutto). It is cured ham (not baked or smoked) from a Spanish race of black pigs (more similar to wild boars than the common pink/white ones), usually fed with acorn and growing out in the open field (in that case they’re called “pata negra” or “black leg”, which is the pinnacle of Iberian ham and, doubtlessly, the best ham in the world).