Sunday, November 20, 2011

Salamanca, España

Salamanca is a great town for a day trip, especially if you're tired of seeing cathedrals.  It's a three-hour bus ride from Madrid.  Part of what attracted me to take a trip to Salamanca was that the university.  College towns tend to be a bit more modern because they're filled with students.  Not all college towns overflow with students like Boston, but Salamanca has a pretty good crowd.  As a recent grad, it shouldn't surprise you that I feel right at home in a college town. The Universidad de Salamanca is one of Spain's most famous universities.  Visitors can tour the old university building and search for the frog in the facade (right).  Supposedly, finding the frog brings you good luck.  Of course, we wanted to spot the frog when we went, but we didn't want to spend the whole day looking, so we asked someone to show us where it was.  In the photo, you can see a very tiny frog perched on top of a skull.  Do you see it?  
The frog looks like a dot on top of the skull.  It's in the right half of the picture.
Since frogs are lucky here, because of the university's facade, many gift shops sell frog merchandise.  Frog figurines, frogs in graduation hats, frogs holding books, keychains, t-shirts, etc.  They've really capitalized on the frog idea.  The Universidad de Salamanca gift shops are the only places I've seen thus far in Spain where you can buy a sweatshirt with the name of a college on it.  College sweatshirts are hugely popular in the US, but just aren't a thing in Spain.

While strolling through the Plaza Mayor, we happened onto a demonstration by the 15 M Movement, which is sort of like the "Occupy" protests.  These protests have been taking place all over Spain - mostly in Madrid, Barcelona, Málaga, and other cities.  Basically, people are protesting unemployment, the political system here and corruption of that system, the banks, and in favor of things they consider to be basic human rights.  The protesters want to be heard, yet do not feel that they fit into either the PSOE or the PP parties, hence their need to protest.  Read more about this here:

Aside from the protest, the Plaza Mayor is quite nice.  It's filled with clothing boutiques, bakeries, outdoor restaurants, shoe stores, and jewelry stores.  We sampled some perrunillas, a regional specialty cookie at a local bakery.  One of the main ingredients in a perrunilla is almonds.  Almonds, almond paste, and any pastry having to do with almonds seemed pretty popular there.  I'm not complaining - they were delicious, and we love trying the popular local pastries (and non-dessert items) when we explore new towns.

Though Salamanca has a lot of modern feels and fun quirks, like searching for a frog in a facade, or an astronaut on a cathedral, the buildings in the old part of the city and around the Plaza Mayor still look historical.  Many of the buildings, including stores, a convent, banks, and shops in general, are made of sandy colored bricks, giving the city a uniform look.  May walkways show off patterns made of rocks, kind of like mosaics.

The Astronaut
Though we are all really tired of seeing cathedrals (seriously, not everyone is Catholic/Christian), we felt the need to go in anyways simply because we were there.  After spending about 3 or 4 minutes wandering through the cathedral and appreciating the church-themed art, complete with way too many portrayals of Jesus hanging on the cross, we went to check out the exterior of the building with the facade where the artists had hidden a sculpted astronaut in the column of sculpted animals.  I'm not sure if the astronaut is meant to be an inside joke, a shout-out to science, or just a fun nuance in the facade.  In any case, we enjoyed finding the hidden astronaut.
After leaving the cathedral, we went to the Art Deco & Art Nouveu museum, and were delighted to see an exhibition of sculptures of dancers, which had been based on Diaghilev's Ballet Russes.  My favorite part about the sculpted figures was that they were made in such a way as to portray tension throughout their bodies, thus allowing the viewer to sense the tension required to hold the sculpture's pose.  The tension seemed realistic as compared with what would be needed to hold the sculptures' poses.  As a dancer, I appreciated this.  Sadly, the museum prohibited photography.  From there, we raced to the bus station, and departed for Madrid, satisfied with our day in Salamanca.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds amazing! I would have liked the ballet sculptures too.