Blog Tour: Throwback to Spain, Salamanca
Bring me Back to Salamanca!
Hola Everyone! Back when I was a student at James Madison University, I had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of studying abroad. At JMU, there were a plethora of exciting places to study abroad, but I chose to do my program in Salamanca, Spain based on my major/minor. This beautiful university city is located in northwest Spain, about an hour and a half from the Portuguese border. (Click here to read my blog post on Portugal.) Located in the Castilla y León region, the city of Salamanca is the capital of the Salamanca province. It is known for its ornate sandstone architecture and for the world famous Universidad de Salamanca.
I studied abroad in Salamanca during summer 2012 and it was one of the best times of my life. In fact, this experience was where the travel bug bit me! The difference between studying abroad and traveling leisurely for a week or two is that you have the opportunity to live like a local: go grocery shopping and run errands, interact with the locals, attend work or school and live with people you’ve never met before. I always love to reminisce back on the days I studied in Salamanca and I hope this blog post gives you the inspiration to travel to this beautiful region of the world and experience all of the amazing adventures I had during my time there.
Whenever someone asks me what other country, besides America, I could see myself living in, I always tell them Spain. I would love to live in a city where I could go sit at an outdoor café or restaurant and write while interacting with different people; have a nice siesta (nap) in the middle of the day and be able to travel around to other countries easily.
Below is a list of my favorite things to do in Salamanca, Spain. Enjoy!
(Ps. I went to Salamanca five and a half years ago when I was only 20 years old, in case you were wondering why I look so young (and different) in these photos.)
Hang out at the Plaza Mayor:
In Spain, every major city has a public square called the Plaza Mayor. This space is usually located in the center of the city and is used as a popular gathering area for locals. Restaurants, gelato shops, clothing and jewelry boutiques, pharmacies and other small businesses or tourist buildings line the plaza. The Plaza Mayor of Salamanca is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful plazas in Spain as it features gorgeous Spanish-baroque architecture.
The Plaza Mayor was surely one of my favorite places in Salamanca! During the day, the Plaza is filled with different people and entertainment. One of the best parts of the Plaza Mayor in Salamanca is when it lights up around 9:30pm at night! The magical golden lights make you feel like you’re in a dream.
You may even spot a flamenco dance show in the middle of the Plaza both at night and during the day!
Indulge in Spanish Delicacy:
Not only is Spain beautiful and fun, the FOOD is absolutely delicious! Since we were living on Spanish time, my friends and I would go to a café and sip on some delicious café con leche (coffee with milk) while enjoying a chocolate croissant, churro or elephant ear cookie (a pecan-cinnamon puff pastry). Around 1 or 2pm, we would eat a heavy lunch prior to taking a siesta (nap) for a couple hours and then enjoy a light dinner around 8 or 9pm. (I have to admit that the two-hour siesta made such a big difference during the day!)
Now, getting back to food, my favorite Spaniard dish was seafood paella. This meal is made of rice, shrimp, clams, mussels, peppers, fresh herbs and saffron. No matter what restaurant you choose to eat at in Salamanca, you are sure to get the best paella in the world!
Another awesome Spanish favorite of mine is a bocadillo (sandwich) with jamón Ibérico (Iberian ham). This amazing sandwich was the perfect afternoon snack to pick up after class or touring around the city. All throughout Salamanca, there are several butcher and sandwich shops to get fresh jamón on a baguette. One of my favorite things to do was pick up a sandwich and sit down on a bench in the Plaza or in a nearby park and people watch. In case you are wondering what jamón ibérico is, it is similar to Italian prosciutto, except it is a little thicker.
In addition to paella and jamón, I am psyched to say that Spain definitely has the best hot chocolate in the world! Even though Hershey Park is a hard place to top when it comes to finding amazing chocolate, Valor Chocolateria is definitely heaven on Earth!
Valor is conveniently located a little past the Plaza Mayor in Salamanca. This amazing place offers different chocolate of all types and you can get it on anything you wish. One of their signature items is melted chocolate on a baguette. It was so yummy! Although everything in Valor is amazing, the hot chocolate is hands-down my favorite! It is like drinking warm pudding or melted hot fudge since it is thick and rich. Even though Valor hot chocolate is the most satisfying when it is cooler outside, I easily drank it on Salamanca’s 80-degree days.
To top it all off, Spain is also known for their small plates called tapas. (I LOVE tapas!) Nearly every bar in Spain will serve a tapa with a drink order and you can get a few platters to share amongst friends. One of my favorite tapas are patatas bravas, which are potatoes served with an aioli sauce. My other favorite tapas dishes are chorizo (Spanish sausage), a tortilla (Spanish potato omelet usually served with jamón), calamari served with lemon sauce and croquettes (a fried nugget filled with potato and jamón). Of course, pairing this with a delicious sangria hits the spot!
Walk The Roman Bridge:
Another one of my favorite places in Salamanca is the Roman Bridge located on the Rio Tormes (Salamanca’s famous river). Built in 89AD, this great bridge leads from the center of the city to the outskirts of town.
The side closer to the city center overlooks beautiful houses and trees as well as Spanish countryside. The other side of the bridge has a gorgeous view of the center of the city with the beautiful Catedral de Salamanca in the background. In the middle of the bridge, you can look at a dam and the water that runs underneath.
The Romans built 26 round arches made out of granite, cement and concrete. During the 1600’s, a flood took away 11 of the bridge’s arches. Nowadays, the Roman Bridge is used for pedestrian use only.
Tour through the Cathedrals:
The Catedral de Salamanca has two cathedrals attached to each other: the Old Cathedral and the New Cathedral. The oldest of the two was built between the 1100s and 1200s and features romanesque and gothic styles. One of my favorite parts of this side of the cathedral were the chapels within that contained the solemn tombs of medieval bishops and nobility.
The new cathedral was completed in the 1700s and is enchanted with a mixture of styles within its architecture. Inside of the cathedral features beautiful renaissance paintings and details to admire for days.
Overall, the Catedral de Salamanca is one of my favorite cathedrals in Europe and I definitely recommend everyone to visit it, even if you’re usually not into visiting historical landmarks.
Wander through the House of Shells:
Home to Salamanca’s library is this wonderful Gothic palace that features decorative façades, walls with scallop shells and a wonderful interior courtyard.
Pretend You’re a Student at the Universidad de Salamanca:
Founded in 1134, the Universidad de Salamanca is the oldest university in Spain and the forth oldest in Europe. This beautiful university is one of the main reasons why thousands of international students study abroad in Salamanca.
During our first week in Salamanca, we did a fun scavenger hunt around the city and one of the first things we had to find was a frog sitting on a skull on the university’s main façade. It is extremely difficult to spot, but once you find it you have found good luck!
Just like most universities, the Universidad de Salamanca has a nice square where students will sunbathe; enjoy time with friends and study. It is a great place to read a book as well or even take a nap!
Visit the Palacio de la Salina:
This sacred palace offers beautiful medallions in their courtyard and you can even see a renaissance carving of Cleopatra. The courtyard is the palace’s 16th-century most sublime feature, where a gallery is supported by expertly carved corbels and an ornate renaissance clock keeps time. Another awesome thing about this place is that they even offer homemade cookies for visitors!
Take a Sacred Journey to the St. Stephen’s Convent:
This holy 16th-century Dominican monastery features a beautiful stone stairway and peace all throughout the building. When you step outside to marvel at the Cloister of the Kings, you can spot some of the world’s biggest storks and their massive nests overhead. It is so cool!
Have a Picnic in Salamanca’s Love Garden:
Another one of my favorite areas in Salamanca was the love garden. Hidden secretly in the town, the love garden is the perfect place to escape the busy city and enjoy peace and serenity, while admiring all of the beautiful flowers.
My friends and I used to enjoy coming to the garden with a bottle of vino blanco (Spanish white wine) and a few tapas. It was also a great place to get some homework done. If you come to Salamanca with a significant other, make sure to get a lock for the love lock well!
Dance the Night Away in Salamanca’s Famous Nightclubs
Being a world-renowned college town, Salamanca has some of the best nightclubs to dance the night away in. I LOVE Spanish music and one of the best things about going out in a small city where not many people speak English is that you get to really immerse yourself in the culture. Every place I have been to in Europe tends to play Top 100 American music, but in Salamanca you can really enjoy dancing to authentic Spanish music until the crack of dawn.
Salamanca, Spain holds a special place in my heart because not only did I live and study abroad there during summer 2012, it was also the first foreign country I visited and it was where my love for travel developed.
I hope you all get the opportunity to travel to Salamanca or Spain in general. I am so excited to share more of my experiences in this awesome country and show you more why I love it so much within the next few weeks!
Looking to experience Spain PLUS MORE? We have the perfect package for you!
Live my trip and check out our 12-Nights Iberian Explorer package. Ramble up Las Ramblas and through the zesty Iberian peninsula, from Barcelona to Lisbon, Salamanca to Madrid. Enjoy delicious paella in Valencia, see the troglodyte cave dwellings at Guadix and the medieval quarter of Lisbon with its Belém Tower.
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