The drive down to Salamanca from Miranda, Burgos and Valladolid did nothing to prepare us for Salamanca. Even the outskirts where we camped at Villamayor would lead you to suspect that Castilla y Leon province is a mixture of industry and vast plains of very basic agriculture. We saw a few small towns but virtually no villages at all.
We had read the limited coverage in the Lonely Planet which did wax lyrical about the city centre but, of course, a couple of paragraphs can never really paint a realistic picture.
The town center is magnificent, especially the Plaza Mayor.
The cathedral is awesome showing the skill of the stonemason off at levels seldom seen elsewhere.
It is a university town and so has a buzz that students bring. But the atmosphere is something else again!
This place is the product of a backwoods part of Spain that has remained virtually untouched by the disasters of most major cities. Salamanca is not on the mass tourist trail. It has no massive claim to have been instrumental in the shaping of history. There hasn’t been the acid rain, air raids nor earthquakes that shape other places.
Yet it has had the benefit of magnificent design and the wealth of the conquistadors to create the superb architecture that keeps you looking upwards as you walk.
What is it that makes it different?
It feels like an attitude of mind. A different take on living.
Here they respect the antiquities but they continue to use them without fear or risk of vandalism.
As we walked into the Plaza Mayor, expecting to see some impressive architecture because the guide book promised us that, we were surprised to be met by a book fair filling the square with neat temporary shed shops selling their books. In the middle was a larger shed provided by the city library service. Here a brass band is giving a concert. They are not the best in the world but their performance had enthusiasm and flair – especially when it came to Carmen! The place is full of people bustling to and fro.
Then you look above the stalls and see the wonderful architecture…
In so many places, such venues are cleared for the tourists and, frankly, most struggle to make a living out of it.
Here the tourists were not part of the equation. Life as it has always been makes use of the structure as it has always done.
The cafes are alive and plentiful. Even on a Sunday, there are busy working shops selling cakes, bread and other delicacies. The tourists is merely a welcome, and welcomed, addition. They are not a contrivance nor even the object of life. Some tourist, of course, need to concentrate on the local delicacies like this one enjoying Churros dipped in hot chocolate – bought for her husband, actually!
The walking is easy and the sights plentiful. But you soon notice that the majority of the crowd are residents going about their normal Sunday perambulations. Even the Plaza has residents. Real normal people live there not just pigeons. Having said that there are a couple of “residents” who surprised us by their presence – The Duke of Wellington (and us from Halifax!) and Franco!!!
The whole experience seemed to come into focus as we realised that this was a city we would want to return to – just for the sake of feeling part of it.