Salamanca

The bus was exactly on time, and I arrived in Salamanca – or at least the town I hoped was Salamanca – at a quarter to three in the morning. Luckily it was warm enough to be walking the streets, and they were well lit up so I felt safe doing so. Without the tourist information centres opening for another few hours I had to use my photo of google maps and the maps at bus stops to find the hostel. It was a few kms from the bus terminal, but I managed to use what I had to get there ok. I fell in love with the city in these early hours, and imagined I was walking home from a late night studying and felt right at home. There were some other people out and about, and I guessed that Wednesday night might be ‘uni’ night at the pubs. Even though those out were obviously drunk, I felt comfortable wandering around at that time of morning and looked forward to seeing the city in the daylight to see if had the same ‘romantic’ allure it produced at night.

I checked into the hostel at 4am, and the guy on reception kindly gave me a bed to sleep in for the remaining few hours even though I’d only paid for a bed for the following night. Whether that was because I spent a few minutes finding out his name was Gabrielle and he was from Venezuela and had lived in Spain for the last few years and he didn’t speak much English, or because I was a single female traveller or simply because he took pity on me arriving at that hour, I’m not sure, but it was a very nice gesture all the same. I slept until mid morning and woke up to find a large curly haired man snoring with his mouth open in the adjacent bunk. Eww, not what I want to see first thing when I wake up. Thanks mate. I usually choose the top bunk in hostels because it gives you a little more privacy, but I didn’t have a choice this time.

Heading out to explore, I walked up their main street and was struck by the uniformity of the buildings. Everything was old, but clean and built of similar golden sand coloured blocks. The place was also impeccably clean, and there were healthy green trees and landscaped areas throughout the city to contrast with the golden buildings and blue skies. I found everyone to be really nice, and the shopkeepers – probably used to so many students – were patient with my limited Spanish and tried to help me out by speaking English. There were cheap shops – being a University city one would expect that – and although the fashions were not really my kind the places with sales on were crammed full of girls with arm loads of bargains.

Plaza Mayor was a huge square, constructed of the same golden coloured buildings to form an open meeting place that got crowded as lunch time dragged on. There were shops at the perimeters, underneath the edge of the buildings inside the square, and although I’m not sure what business the buildings contained I guessed it was something Governmental because of the five flags on display on the main building.

I marvelled at the Conch Shell Palace, the New Cathedral, Puente (Bridge) Romano, and of course, their University. The oldest University in Europe is in Bologna, Italy, and Salamanca, Spain houses the second oldest. Above the main doors to their University are many sculptures and carvings, and amongst it all is a single frog. There were two theories I heard with regards to finding the frog. If you found the frog by yourself, without any assistance, one theory said you were guaranteed to get married, the other said you were bound to pass all future exams. Therefore, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to find the frog or not…! Regardless, you could spend hours looking for the frog, and since every tour group passed the doors and had the frog pointed out to them it was easy to cheat – if you wanted to. I didn’t, yet made the mistake of visiting the tourist shops on the way to the University, and there are postcards showing where the frog can be found. Even though I’d seen this postcard, finding the frog still wasn’t easy, so I was happy when I finally did locate it.

The city was built along a river, which no doubt contributed to the greenery around, and it gave Salamanca a feeling of being healthy and alive. I bought myself a Salamanca University t-shirt as inspiration to learn Spanish and with the hope of one day coming back to this city to do so. They speak the purest Spanish, Castilian, in Salamanca, which is why so many international students come here. I even looked at the Real Estate Agent’s windows and noted the prices of apartments for sale – if I deciphered correctly, the price range was about €50,000 – €90,000 and quite reasonable I thought!

In the hostel there were 10 bunks per room, meaning a possible 20 people could sleep in the room at once. It was a cheap hostel, and a great place to meet other people. One English guy was in Salamanca to learn Spanish, although he wasn’t taking lessons and figured he’d learn by living there; one very pretty French girl had been studying Spanish in Madrid for six months with Erasmus (the European University Exchange Program I had heard many people were participating in and of which I was quite jealous!) and was in Salamanca for a few days break; another few one-nighters I didn’t get to speak to; the curly headed Italian in the bed next to me who was working late nights and trying to get a permanent job in Spain – he seemed very proud of his hairy muscular chest and walked around the room with just his jeans on; and an older guy in his 60s who was in between two cruises around the world and who walked through to the bathroom in his underwear with his belly hanging out and was unfortunately an Australian.

I say unfortunately because no matter whether you like it or not you’re an ambassador for your country when you travel, and he was not giving anyone a good impression of Australia. I understand everyone gets old, but there is a time when you must stop staying in hostels. Some hostels have age limits, and I can see why. I think it’s a little more necessary for guys than girls, although I’ve never seen an older woman in a hostel dorm room – only blokes still seem to want to do that. I can guess why, and I’m a little grossed out by it even though I’m probably ten years older than the girls they’re looking at. I appreciate you’ve got to get to the loo, but put some shorts on at least. No one wants to see your skinny white legs and little jocks covering an even smaller appendage. It wasn’t made any better by the fact his hair was white with yellow ends and stuck up every which way possible, nor the fact he had a story for and about every situation possible. That night he announced that ‘lights go out at 12am, because I need to sleep’, which was met with a rolling of eyes en masse, and I bit my tongue from stating the obvious. Generally people in dorm rooms are considerate of others, but having someone declare a rule such as he did only creates tension and unease. Grow up and pay for a private room or stay in a hotel next time I say.

Apart from him the hostel was great! I hung my towel up lengthways underneath the mattress above me to give me some privacy from the Italian, and had a good night’s sleep. In the morning I got the French girl’s contact details and we arranged to meet in Madrid over the weekend.

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