My niece Jen suggested that we should stop in Salamanca on our way to visit her in northern Spain, so we did, on the principle that a traveler should always take advantage of local recommendation when you can get them. Salamanca is famous for its beautiful Plaza Mayor, for its university, and for its cathedral, and justly so. You can read about those things in Lonely Planet and Fodor, just like I did.
In twenty-four hours, guide books in hand, we did there mostly what tourists do, saw what the guidebooks said we should see. For every other stopover we had established a home base and enjoyed day trips. Somehow, the home base gave me more of a feeling that I was getting to know an area, where the one-night-stopover felt like… a one-night–stand.
On entering the outskirts of Salamanca we saw the evidence of the disastrous Spanish housing bubble – acres of empty scraped land, streets laid out, with sidewalks and street lights intact, but no paving, set with lollipop trees all dead of neglect except for the hardy pine trees, no sign of construction activity. Gives new meaning to the term “desert”.
After settling into the Hostal Concejo looking out at the small Playa de Libertad, we set out to see Salamanca, maps in hand, cameras at the ready. We toured the famous plaza and dutifully took pictures of the much-defaced, often-replaced plaque of Franco among the other Spanish dignitaries honored on the Plaza in bas-relief.
A better alternative: Down the hill along the Calle de San Pablo we found the convent de las Duenas. Here in the cloister the carvings of demons and souls in torment are much more lively and evocative than the formal portraits of the Plaza. One wonders what the nuns made of some of the more explicit carvngs – they would not seem to lend themselves to calm meditation and spiritual uplift.
We strolled our way down to the old Roman Bridge across the Rio Tormes, admiring the golden carved façade and gilded carved interior of the Cathedral on the way. It felt a little ho-hum after the Roman remains of Merida and the Conquistadors’ gold we had seen flaunted in Trujillo. From the bridge we turned back to look at the city and spotted the amazing blue-stained-glass Art Deco façade of the Museo de Art Nouveau y Art Deco soaring above the river.
Of course we had to go look. Totally not Romanesque, Gothic, Classic, Baroque, or Ho-hum! Very strict rules against taking pictures inside, though, so you will have to take my word that the interior includes everything from Limoges and Lalique figurines to Kewpie dolls and scatological ashtrays, in a setting inspired by Gaudi and Louis Tiffany. A must-see (and a nice change of pace from all that Old Stuff.)
In Salamanca we had our first real culinary disappointment. The desk attendant at our hotel was not the comfortable matron of the afternoon – perhaps it was her son. We asked him for a recommendation to a local tapateria and he sent us to just the place a beardless youth would like: noisy, crowded,cheap ,bright, beery, and full of soccer fans. We fled, but try as we might we could not locate the kind of cheerful,friendly conversation-friendly place we had enjoyed in Caceras. We ended up in a near-by and near-empty joint with only a few middle aged soccer fans clustered at the bar. Too late we realized this dearth was a reflection of the fare and the service, but we were too hungry to look further . We drowned our disappointment in striacchiatti (chocolate chip gelato) and fresh berry yogurt from a shop on the way back to our plaza.