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Trip report - Salamanca & Segovia -a wonderful short trip

Bucharest
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Trip report – Salamanca & Segovia -a wonderful short trip

Hello everyone,

I spent 4 days in Spain, visiting Salamanca and Segovia, at the end of January, as solo female traveler (aged 50). It was a beautiful trip, both cities are breathing history, they have wonderful architecture, plenty of surprising sites to discover, delightful food and nice people.

I am not speaking Spanish (although I understand about 80% of the written language and about 60% of the spoken one); however my Italian was useful more than the English and I did not have any problems with finding my way around. And to answer a question asked many times on forums, linked to the solo female travelers, I found both cities very safe, with no areas to be avoided, pleasant to walk from early morning to late at night.

So, as a conclusion, I think both Salamaca and Segovia are absolutely worth a visit, with overnight stay, and should be on the “must see” list of anyone interested in cultural sites.

Writing this report is my way of thanking everyone that I met during my trip: personnel in the hotels and restaurants, museum custodians and people on the street that did their best to help me. I will split it in different posts for each day, in order to make it more manageable: there are many experiences to share, so I tend to make it (too) long. And if I make some mistakes, I do apologize but I am not a native English speaker.

Alia

Bucharest
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1. Re: Trip report – Salamanca & Segovia -a wonderful short trip

Day one – Tuesday, January 24

I flew Blue Air (Romanian low-cost company) to Madrid Barajas airport, leaving Bucharest at mid-day. It was a special air trip, in the sense that the plane flew quite low altitude and the day was exceptionally clear. Not many times one enjoys the opportunity to take perfect photos of Venice, the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Tajo and the Spanish Central Meseta from the air. I also took some exceptional pictures of the shadow of the plane while landing!

The plane reached Madrid at 4:15 pm, and after checking out I took the very convenient bus to Salamanca, that leaved from the parking of Terminal 1 at 5 pm. Price of the bus trip was 22 euros, ticket bought from the driver. A pleasant 2:45 hours trip in a comfortable bus; the scenery was kind of uninteresting, excepting for some quite unusual rounded boulders of stone that seemed to be thrown by a giant hand in some places.

I reached Salamanca’s bus station at night and took a taxi (7 euro) to my hotel, the Plaza Mayor Hostal. A perfect location and comfortable room, plus very nice personnel, real value for money (I paid 27 euro/night for a single). That’s a hotel I recommend, I made a separate review here:

tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g187493-d236…

I took just a few minutes to refresh and here I was, armed with a map provided by the hotel, I went to discover the city. The hotel was at the exit of Plaza Mayor, a wonderful square lined with baroque buildings, one of the most beautiful I’ve visited. After taking some pictures and stopping for some moments to soak in the atmosphere, I continued on an orientation walk, towards the University, then to the Roman Bridge and returning by the splendid New Cathedral. It was so charming, with streets lined with old buildings, clean and almost deserted, that seems to me almost magic under the yellow light of the street lamps.

Old Salamanca is quite small and easy to walk, in one hour I’ve discovered all the places I intended to visit the next day. It was then time to think about dinner, so I stopped and looked at what was on offer from the many small restaurants in the city center. The characteristic feature of Salamanca seemed to be having “menus of the day” offered both for lunch and for dinner, at really low prices: between 11 and 17 euros for a starter, a main course, a desert plus bread and a drink to choose (beer, wine and sangria – strangely enough, water was not always considered as an alternative). Usually I am against set menus, but in Salamanca the choice was between 5 and 15 alternatives for each course, so it was not the usual “tourist menu” and the courses on the list looked extremely attractive, so I said that it’s worth a try; and I did not regret it.

My choice was Erasmus Bruin Café, in Calle Mendelez, where I had a salad with chicken and mustard sauce and peppers filled with goat cheese, both absolutely delicious, followed by a desert (a vanilla cream with cinnamon), all for just 12 euros!. Service was prompt and the waiter helped me with explaining the Spanish menu. The setting was nice also, red painted walls decorated with old photos and… several bicycles suspended on the ceiling. Unfortunately – not being able to speak any Spanish – I could not find out if those were there just for decoration or there was a story behind it; if someone knows the place and could tell me more I would be delighted.

When I finished eating it was already late, around 11 pm, I was tired and the temperature was quite low (I think a couple of degrees below zero) but I was so charmed that I could not go to bed without another small tour in the Plaza Mayor and the nearby streets. I could not wait for the next morning, to see everything under the daylight.

I’ll post the story for day 2 in a couple of days; there is so much to say that it takes me some time to put it into words.

Alia

Malaga, Spain
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2. Re: Trip report – Salamanca & Segovia -a wonderful short trip

Alia:

Enjoyed your report. I have been to Salamanca several times and always enjoyed the city. So many beautiful churches!

karachi
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3. Re: Trip report – Salamanca & Segovia -a wonderful short trip

Glorious Salamanca! Your sincerely worded travel account brings back so many cherished memories, Alia. Thanks for the nostalgia trip! ...."peppers filled with goat cheese" did you say? ...mmmmm! .... really looking forward to the next installment of your report.

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4. Re: Trip report – Salamanca & Segovia -a wonderful short trip

Another "thank you" for the trip report. I can't wait to get back to Spain.

Wales, United...
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5. Re: Trip report – Salamanca & Segovia -a wonderful short trip

Excellent trip report once again. Look forward to part 2. Thanks for sharing.

Bucharest
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6. Re: Trip report – Salamanca & Segovia -a wonderful short trip

Day 2-Wednesday, January 25

My day started as early as the first light, which was at about 8:30 am; the morning was foggy but still a pleasure to walk through a city that just woke up. On the streets there were mostly students hurrying to their classes; some of them stopped when I asked to take me a picture. Seen through the fog, Salamanca was as charming as I guessed it the night before. I retraced the path I took the day before, wondering again at the beautiful buildings around. The building material was a porous limestone, which over ages did filter the rain water absorbing the iron ions, so the walls have acquired a shade of red. Latter I was told that the porosity allowed painting the name of the buildings with ox blood that was fixed inside the rock structure and some of the college names written like this are still visible.

I tried to find the curiosities of Salamanca (the frog on the University façade, the astronaut and the ice-cream eating dragon carved on one of the Cathedral portals) but my eyes did not seem to be sharp enough – I planned to ask for more hints latter.

The first visit was to the New Cathedral; it’s really impressive, once inside you find yourself like in a forest, with columns that expand like palm-trees to form arches and the carved ribs of the vault looking like interlocked branches. Unfortunately the light was quite poor; such a large space would have been much better admired during the full light of a summer day. But it was winter, so I did my best to supply what I was seeing with what I imagined.

Then I exited the New Cathedral and directed myself towards the University. Since it was still foggy I decided to spend the morning visiting the interiors and return later for admiring the ornate facades and portals of all the buildings.

The University was supposed to open at 10 and indeed it did the exact moment when the Cathedral bell sounded the hour. That was something that I noticed everywhere in Salamanca: all the sites doors opened exactly at the sound of the bell, not one second sooner, not one later!

Inside the old University building, several classes are disposed around a two-floor patio; note the wood ceilings, one of them in the beautiful mudejar style. Also to be noted is the chapel, with a central painting over the altar showing students and doctors in black robes that seem to be directed in their study by the Virgin. The stair leading to the upper level is decorated with plaster friezes depicting the vices, the passions and the life that controls those passions. Funny that what was considered as a vicious life seemed to describe very well the students’ environment: of then and now!

But one of the two treasures of the university, at least in my opinion, is the wonderful library, with tomes of books, geographic globes, astrolabes and study tables. A note on a wall said that anyone damaging or stealing the books could be excommunicated. Might be a better solution than the fees paid actually for the same “sins”!

The second highlight is the huge fresco of the “Salamanca sky”, in a second building, located in the lovely Patio des Escuelas Menores (did you know that around 1500 mathematics was considered a “minor” study?). It’s a perspective of the sky as seen from Salamanca, with representations of the zodiac signs and other constellations visible at night.

The next stop on my list was the Old Cathedral (opening latter than the New One). The map in my guidebook said it is near the New one, but I did not identify it. With some serious help (meaning a young foreign student that translated from Spanish to English and an old gentleman that seemed to know everything about the city providing the detailed explanation) I understood that when the New Cathedral was built it incorporated the old one, that is now more like a side chapel inside the new building. I was explained where to find the entrance inside the New Cathedral; the Old one is a museum, for which an entrance ticket is needed.

Between the highlights are the Chapel of Saint Bartholomew, with the tomb of the archbishop Diego de Anaya, founder of the college of St. Bartholomew (that offered a chance to study to poor but intelligent young men) and the main altar, with 53 paintings depicting the life of Mary and Jesus and a last judgment top painting; those are due to two Italian brothers, Dello Delli and Niccolo Fiorentino.

After I finished visiting the Old Cathedral, since the fog still persisted, I decided to abandon for a couple of hours my role of visitor and go browsing the shops on Rua Toro. Since I had to return in my room to leave the parcels, I used the opportunity to ask the nice receptionist, Mr. Oscar Borrego, for details helping me to find the frog and astronaut carvings. He was prepared for this, with photos zooming in from the large scale to the details, and, while there, he also told me to look at the top of the columns forming the arcade below the Hostel: the first seven columns symbolize the days of the week, with bas-reliefs of the Moon, the sun and the gods Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. Thank you once again!

Armed with those I retraced the way to the Cathedral and the University, this time under a brilliant sun! I stopped to take pictures of the New Cathedral portals (depicting the Nativity, the Epiphany and the entrance of Jesus in Jerusalem), of the University façade and of the lovely patio of the Minor Schools. And of course I finally identified the frog, the astronaut and the dragon eating ice-cream. The last two are somehow easier to find (as compared with the University’s frog), but still you have to know where to look, since the carvings are so complex and cover a so large surface that the eye is always lost.

I continued towards the Roman bridge, very well preserved, and admired the scenic view of the walled old city, crowned by the Cathedral, from the banks of the Tormes river.

In the afternoon, I entered briefly the House of Shells, to marvel at the beautiful patio lined by two ranges of columns and then joined the guided tour of the Real Clerecia de San Marco. The tour was in Spanish, however the nice lady offered to do it in English for me; I was surprised to find out that I did not really needed it, I understood most of what she was saying and I asked just some questions for the details I did not get.

There are many impressive places to be seen there. I will mention the chapel, with a gilded wooden altar and statues of the four Evangelists on the top, a beautiful staircase (note on the walls the names of the students of the Ecclesiastic University that have reached important positions in the Catholic church), the stunning baroque internal courtyard and the Senate hall, where doctorates in theology are awarded.

The last place to see in the afternoon was the Fonseca Palace, also a former siege of the University. Another gracious patio, with superposed arches supported by columns; these courtyards seem to be the distinctive feature of all Salamanca’s buildings, and if only for those the city is well worth a visit.

When all the sites did close, I returned to my room for a much needed rest before going out again to find a nice place to dine. I entered a restaurant called Rio de la Plata and choose from their set menu a sopa castellana (that I had to try, as a local specialty, it was good but not really my style), lamb on the grill (and I got something really huge) and a delicious lemon mousse. All was 14 euros, really good value for money.

It was late, but I could not just return in my room; I took some more time to walk at random through the old city. Salamanca is magic at any hour, with its clean narrow streets and its beautiful buildings. I liked the city so much!

Alia

Wales, United...
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7. Re: Trip report – Salamanca & Segovia -a wonderful short trip

Salamanca sounds fantastic. Looking forward to the next instalment.

Edited: 16 February 2012, 20:44
Athens
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8. Re: Trip report – Salamanca & Segovia -a wonderful short trip

Thankyou for sharing!!!!

Bucharest
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9. Re: Trip report – Salamanca & Segovia -a wonderful short trip

Day 3 – Thursday, January 26

I woke up early in order to pack my luggage; even if the nice people at the hostel allowed me to keep my room one hour after the check-out time (until the departure of my bus) I wanted to spend the day time visiting some more sites.

So, as usual, I took one hour before the opening time of the sites to explore the streets; this time the area around the San Esteban church. First stop, Cuesta de Carvajal, to see the Cueva the Salamanca, where, according to Cervantes, the devil used to teach. It is in fact the cancel of a ruined old church, under the level of the street, and it was closed (did not see any opening hours, so I suppose that for the moment it is not open to the public) but I could see the entrance arch from the street. Then I took again the road outside the city walls and returned on a side street towards the Clavero Tower and Columbus statue in the square with the same name. Afterwards I stopped for more than a moment in front of the impressive San Esteban church, with its ornate façade, depicting the stoning of St. Stephen. As usual, when the time was marked by the cathedral bell, the window of the ticket office opened and I was admitted inside. A wonderful inner courtyard, an ornate staircase, a beautiful gothic interior plus an exhibition of pre-Columbian artifacts collected by the monks that spread Christianity in those areas – all reasons to say that the visit was well worth.

The next stop was to the nearby Convento de las Duenas; I’ve read in my guidebook about the nuns living in reclusion that were selling sweets and I wanted to see how things happen. I entered a lateral cloister and from there a small room where there was a note in Spanish about the type of sweets available: no pictures, no samples on display, no prices; nothing to give any orientation for someone who was not a local or at least speaking Spanish. So I rang the bell, waited a few minutes and a very small window opened; behind the metallic grill I saw a part of a face and I was spoken in a Spanish that I could not understand too well. I said I do not speak Spanish, and I got something that was probably intended as an explanation, but I did not understood. So I put some money on the rotating table and I waited for the result. I got in return a closed box and some change; I repeated twice the process, and got 3 similar boxes. When I reached home I opened those and found some nice almond cakes (called polverone). An interesting experience!

Since the time to leave Salamanca was approaching, I went for my last visit, at Casa Lis – the Museum of Decorative Art. A beautiful Art Nouveau building, with stunning glasswork as roof of the central hall and with another stained glass wall facing the river. On display hundreds of lovely objects: porcelain, gallé glass, paintings, small metal statues, painted fans, dolls, old photos … a place deserving a lot more time than the hour I had left. Not to be missed in any case if visiting Salamanca.

And then I returned once again to the Plaza Mayor, to take advantage of the sunny day for examining the medallions in the arches of the square: all important rulers of Spain are there, plus some of the conquistadors (Pizzaro and Cortez) and, later added, Cervantes and Mother Teresa.

At mid-day I had to say, with regret, good bye to the city; I took a taxi to the bus station and boarded the bus to Segovia (12 euro). I slept most of the 3 hours of the trip, since the view was not too interesting. The bus stops in Avila also; time enough for smokers as myself to have their cigarette.

My first glimpse of Segovia was from the platform of the bus station: the Cathedral dominates the Old city – I was already impressed. A taxi took me to my hotel, Hosteria Natura. A nice place, located in the heart of the old city, for which I paid 30 euros for a single room. I was very happy with both the location and the room, I made a review here:

tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g187494-d106…

After leaving my luggage in the hotel room I hurried to see the aqueduct while there was still some light. A stunning work, that stands perfectly preserved since the 2nd century! I wonder if at least some of the buildings that we are making today will endure so well the flow of the time!

After a long time spent walking along the rows of superposed stone arches, I left the aqueduct and reentered the old city taking Calle de Juan Bravo. I stopped to look at Casa de los Picos and to the Church of St. Martin (unfortunately closed when I passed by), then towards Plaza Mayor (a nice place but not comparing to the one with the same name in Salamanca). I went around the impressive Cathedral (one of the most beautiful I’ve seen) and then towards the Alcazar.

One of the features of Segovia is the sgrafitti technique for decorating the walls of the buildings: two layers of differently colored plaster are superposed, and the outer one is partially removed, to form various decorative patterns, geometric or floral. It’s worth to take a walk just to try to discover as many as you can find…

While I was doing my orientation walk I noticed that people were leaving the buildings of the old city (that seemed to me to be mostly offices and shops) and gradually the place, that was full of life during the day, was emptying. Late in the night I was mostly alone, I had this beautiful place just for me. And I continued to wander through the narrow streets of the medieval town, that seem, in the light of the street lamps, to be part of a legend kingdom.

I had to think about dinner; I was amazed by the huge prices of most of the restaurants in the old city. But I had to taste the local specialty, the suckling pig in the oven, so I stopped at the “Tavern of the Barber” for this, accompanied by two tapas that I choose quite randomly from the list displayed on the blackboard, in Spanish: a fried egg with cured ham and liver mousse and a baked cheese and meat on a slice of toasted bread. All were delicious and the final price was very reasonable, 18 euros. In most of the other places I’ve browsed I would have paid double for the same.

That was the story of my third day, that I ended very happy to have discovered another gem city; I liked a lot Segovia and could not wait for the next day to visit the castle and the Cathedral.

Alia

Athens
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10. Re: Trip report – Salamanca & Segovia -a wonderful short trip

Thxs for sharing!! By the way..how much were the convent sweets per box?/Just curious!!!!

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