Friday 7 April
Early start today, and left (after apartment inspection) at 7.30 on the first day of our official Eurail Pass travel around Spain. We are discovering that railway stations here are fairly difficult places to negotiate. The main rule of thumb is to leave plenty of time, to find the odd helpful official who speaks some English, and then to often cover a number of floors, and passages to find the platform you are looking for. After our Toledo experience we are now fully aware of how easy it is to miss a train.
Anyway, we found Madrid Chamartin station, sat and waited for the train with 30 minutes to spare. Salamanca is only 90 minutes from Madrid. A lovely trip over rolling hills, olive groves, tiny little villages, and our first sight of large banks of solar panels in the fields.
We walked the 15 minutes from the station to our room for 2 nights. We have just a room, a little table where we can eat our brekkie, and a bathroom, meant to be shared but there are no other guests. The hosts are Cristina and her husband, Osmond, who is from Senegal. Neither of them speak much English. She works at the hospital; he, we think, manages the Airbnb. We share the kitchen with them. Tonight they gave us some lovely Senegalese little cakes to sample.
We have a short 7 minute walk to the centre which is Plaza Mayor – the central plaza or square. The buildings are entirely made of golden sandstone, and it forms a 4 sided square about 4 stories high. Lined with eating places all the way around. We found a lovely spot there yesterday for lunch, gazing out at the square and the people.
While in the square we had a text from Katie. They are all fine, BUT – on the second night Alice broke her collar bone! It was almost a lot worse as she spent a night in hospital with concussion but recovered. She took a 2 metre dive off a wall Which only appeared to be a foot high on their side. All 5 of their two families of kids are with them, and it sounds as if everything else is doing well. We look forward to our next bit of news.
As well as enjoying the plaza we also spent a lot of time in two fascinating churches – one called the New Cathedral, the other the Old. The old, Catedral Vieja, was begun in 1120. It took a while to build but is largely Romanesque. The new, the Catedral Nueva, is late-Gothic with a huge tower seen from all over the city. The chapels and altars inside both are exceptionally ornate. The new was sort of joined onto the old when it was built. It seems only the new is used now as a worship space. They are both full of beautiful art, lots of it in gold altar pieces. As we find often, there was a very good audio in English and we again learned lots.
On our second day we spent a couple of hours before lunch at an astonishing gallery – called the Museum of Art Nouveau and Art Deco. It is a stunning collection of sculpture, paintings, and art nouveau and Art Deco in a quite new and beautiful art nouveau house called Casa Lis. It was built at the beginning of the 20th century by a Salamanca merchant called Don Miguel de Lis who loved art nouveau. It underwent a renovation in 1992 made possible by the donation of a collection what we now see, by Don Manuel Ramos Andrade. The house has the most beautiful stained glass atrium ceiling (as you can see in the featured image) and stained glass at other points. The house was designed by Don Joaquín de Vargas and the stained glass was created in 1993–5 by a Barcelona man called Villaplana. The many exhibits include glass, porcelain, bronze and marble figurines, toys, dolls – you name it, with quiet trad jazz playing in the background. A veritable oasis – a must on a visit to Salamanca.
A beautiful day today and we enjoyed sitting in the sun for lunch – as usual beautiful and tasty, including roast suckling pig on your recommendation, Pete. We then explored for another few hours, being aware that we are off again tomorrow. We went looking at the façade of one of the churches (now part of the university) where a cheeky stone mason – centuries ago – had carved a frog in with the serious church figures. We found it – with the help of a man who was selling frog noise clackers, and who had a photo with a red spot marking the frog. In the same square we came across a statue of Fr Luis de Leon, an earlier professor at the University who was examined by the Inquisition and released after five years and whomreturned to his classes with the words “And as I was saying yesterday . . .”.
We then spent time in a Dominican church with the finest cloisters in town and came across kids from some families picking up palm branches which no doubt they will bring to Palm Sunday tomorrow. While there we spotted five or six stork nests up in the highest bell towers or eaves. The nearby river with a plentiful frog population evidently makes this a popular site for storks.
We had a quick walk around on our last morning before boarding the train to Bilbao. We popped into a Palm Sunday service, and in the streets saw many with palm (real or artificial), olive, or bay branches. The artificial ones looked like a tall thin sheaf of wheat. It seems that people can go to the church – whole families – on Saturday and pick up leaves from church. Then on Sunday they carry these and others they have from home to the church. It also seemed as if after the service they take them home again – we thought a lovely touch. While down in the town we bought our lunch – a Bocadillo de Jambon Iberico. A ham roll – superb Iberian ham. We also bought some fruit to go with the left-over breakfast muesli – the journey is around 8 hours.
We have loved Salamanca and can’t believe how much we have learned about it. It has a warm and friendly atmosphere and is very pretty. There is a very large young population owing to the fact that it is a university town and has been since 1218. I think the largest university in Spain, and in the past was the largest in Europe. Also lots of babies. And as well, many oldies in their 90s, out walking on the arm of a son or daughter. Obviously a very family-centred town. It is possible that many stay there all their lives, although with unemployment very high, especially among the youth, maybe this is changing.