Salamanca, 200km west of Madrid, is much more than a University and church town. But these two reasons alone are good enough to visit even for an old Jew like me. I just feel old and cranky this morning, and need to think about happier places. Salamanca was a happy place. Watching World Cup Soccer in one of the most striking Plaza Mayors in Europe. Having a local show us around town. Looking for the mysterious astronaut embedded in the facade of the “new” church. Surrounded by the red Sandstone plastered all over the old town. And meeting the only English speaking nun we’ve ever met, selling delicious cookies from a convent (Convento de las Dueñas).
But you want to spend at least a few nights here to experience Salamanca’s magic. Its conveniently located if you are heading north to Asturias, or west to Portugal. In fact you are only 3 hours away from another University powerhouse, Coimbra in Portugal. You can also reach Avila, a walled stunner, within an hour or so.
Read about Salamanca and the frog that became its symbol. Look for it on the University’s famous facade, on a skull. Its not that hard once you know what it looks like (see pic below). If you fail to find it, you will struggle on your next exam. If you are not a student and you fail to find it, you will get Shingles within a week! The frog, or more likely a toad was a symbol of sexual temptations throughout Spain’s history. There were once prostitutes roaming the area, luring the male students, and the frog reminded the students of the consequences. The skull represents death, a possible outcome due to the many diseases the prostitutes carried. Thanks Obama!
Salamanca doesnt strike me as a foodie paradise but there’s plenty of good eats for a short trip. Plaza Mayor challenges the notion that main squares in Europe offer nothing but tourist traps. A local took us to Mesón Cervantes in the plaza where we enjoyed the local specialty Farinato – fried potato, eggs, and a sweet leaning sausage hash, among other things. Also on Plaza Mayor you got Las Tapas de Gonzalo (Best Patatas Bravas of the trip), and their finer sister El Mesón de Gonzalo not too far.
The same local took us on a mini tapas crawl starting with the ultra local Taberna Dionisos known for their Tostas (small open face sandwiches). And we quickly got hooked on Croissantería París and their ham and cheese croissants. Hornazo, the local savory pastry stuffed with pork, chorizo and egg I was so looking forward to try, surprisingly did not look too appealing and I never got to try it. The fact that I was stuffed every time I saw it didnt help. And dont forget about the nuns (most likely closed between 3-6) and their cookies. And make sure to visit the Convent of St. Stephen nearby.