Of all the places in the world, Spain is where my heart lives.
Tribe, what’s good! Welcome to my very first blog post! I couldn’t think of a better place to start than with Spain because, little did I know, it would be the place that changes me forever. Growing up in a low-income neighborhood in Miami, I had everything I needed – nothing more, nothing less. I was an ambitious student, got good grades, but my world was very small. It was as small as a caterpillar’s. Like most people from my neighborhood, the perception of leisure travel could only be done if you were rich. The idea of traveling was far outside my purview. I was to just keep my head down and, basically, try to stay out of trouble. It wasn’t until I went to college that, for first time, I realized how big the world is. Growing up in Miami, myself and most of my classmates were black. I didn’t share a classroom with white students until high school. Later in college, I had classmates of all backgrounds: Asians, Indians, Arabs, blacks, whites, Hispanics. I mean — it was a genuine culture shock.
I had met so many interesting exchange students from all over the world, and I said to myself, ‘dang, you can do that?!’ You can go to school in another country? Ya’ll, I really didn’t have a clue. My next move was to then seek out my advisor for more information because this was something I had to do. Spain was on the list of countries that my university partnered with. My background is half-Cuban / half-black. I speak Spanish fluently. Boom! It was a no brainer. Fortunately, my parents were able to support me financially, and I also had some additional assistance via a scholarship. Next thing you know, it was the night before my flight. All of my anxieties and insecurities began kick in. Up until that point, I hadn’t really given in-depth thought to that fact that I’d be traveling, for the first time, alone to a foreign country thousands of miles away from the safety and comfort of home. It was my first test of true survival. I stepped off that plane an ignorant, meek and scared person, and like a caterpillar evolves into a butterfly, I grew wings. With those wings, I could see the whole world, all of its people, and all of its possibilities – all of my possibilities.
HOW: Getting to Salamanca
Located in the province of Castilla y Leon, Salamanca is a small, college town approximately 2.5 hours northwest from Madrid. To get to Salamanca if arriving via Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD), I recommend taking the Metro at Terminal 4 (T4), which runs every 30 minutes to Chamartin Railway Station. You can purchase your ticket on-site near the Metro platform entrance. There are a handful of automated kiosks available that will accept most major credit cards and cash. A one-way fare will cost you around 5€. At Chamartin Railway Station, you’ll need to purchase a separate ticket at the Renfe ticket counter. You have the option of purchasing your ticket in advance but it is not necessary. Fares vary according to time of departure and type of service. Express trains may be more costly. Nonetheless, expect to pay anywhere between 24€ – 40€ for a one-way fare. During my latest visit in October of 2018, Uber was not available. This may change in the future but fear not. There are always taxis just outside the train station that are gassed up and ready to take you to your final destination.
WHERE: Places to Stay
Now, if you’re like me, I’d rather not spend a penny more than I need to when traveling. I’m a budget (a/k/a cheap) traveler all-the-way. That is why I prefer taking public transportation and staying in hostels or AirBnB’s. If you’re traveling solo, I recommend finding a good hostel inside of the Old City. You’ll most likely be spending your days exploring, so why waste loads of money on a fancy room that, let’s keep it real, will only be used to $h!t and sleep. Additionally, hostels are a great way to meet other travelers and to make new friends from all around the globe! Whether you are traveling solo or with friends, meeting new people is just as much an integral part of a traveler’s experience as meeting new places. Nuff said. Next!
Back during my semester abroad, I stayed with a host family. My second time around, my friends and I booked a quaint, two-bedroom AirBnB flat five minutes walking distance from the Old City. The flat was nicely renovated, clean, located in a quiet neighborhood, and, most importantly, budget friendly. Also, the churro stand on the corner of the building was a nice bonus!
Lastly, for those who have a few coins to spare and want something a bit more luxurious, I recommend the Hotel Catalonia Plaza Mayor Salamanca. It’s a modern hotel ideally situated in the center of town. Depending on the time of year and grade of room, your nightly stay could cost around $80 – $200 USD per night. While I was studying abroad, my parents stayed at this hotel during their visit and loved it!
WHAT: Things To Do
Salamanca has a population of just over 144,000 and is home to one of the oldest universities in all of Europe. It is also home, although I might be biased, to one the most beautiful plazas is all of Spain. Most Spanish cities have a central square where – let’s say, families of three generations, local residents, visitors, and tourists, will meet to have an afternoon cafécito or grab a glass of wine and tapas. Located in the Old City, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the Plaza Mayor of Salamanca. It is the heart of the city and should be your first stop.
As a traveler, one great advantage to visiting Salamanca is that the Old City is extremely walkable. Exiting out either vein from the Plaza, you’re instantly transported back in time. Between the cobblestone roads, baroque and Gothic-style buildings, it feels like you are on a filming set of HBO’s hit tv show, Game of Thrones. Constructed in the 16th century, the Salamanca Cathedral was declared a national monument towards the end of the 19th century. Don’t be surprised if, during your visit, a holy celebration is taking place. Religious processions through the streets Salamanca aren’t uncommon. Thousands of people will flock to the Salamanca Cathedral, drawn by the beat of drums, to get a glimpse of what appears to be a 5 ton Mother Mary floating on the backs of 100 men in perfect synchronization. Once during my spring semester studies, there was a night procession of dozens of men dressed in garbs that resemble Klansman hats and robes. Talk about freaking out! Obviously, it has nothing to do, nor does this display have any affiliation, with that hateful group. As my Professor later described, it’s always her American students that are the most shocked by this religious cavalcade, undoubtedly, because of American history. For my fellow #TravelingWhileBlack tribe, don’t be alarmed. It’s all good (lol). OK – moving on!
As I previously mentioned, the University of Salamanca is one of the oldest universities in Europe. Established in 1218, it is Spain’s first institute for higher education. The student population of around 30,000 allows for a young, energetic, stylish and lively ambiance throughout the entire city. Although my study abroad program was affiliated with a smaller institution for international students rather than University of Salamanca itself, I still felt a sense of pride to be studying down the street from the historic college. It was as if the entire Old City was an appendage of the Salamanca Campus because so much of student life spills over into the streets. That is why, in my opinion, a visit to the school is a must-do. The plateresque façade of the building’s entrance is totally instagram worthy. According to legends, if a student can spot the small frog, nestled on top of the head of a cadaver carved into the façade without any assistance, they’ll have good luck on their exams. The historical library is also worth a visit, but there is an entrance fee. Although pictures inside are prohibited (sorry Instagrammers), the grandeur and antique display of books reminds me of something out of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast’s castle.
If paying money to enter a library isn’t really your thing, you’re in luck! Casa de las Conchas is a 16th century, Gothic palace that functions today as an exhibition hall, public library, and admission is FREE! It is also an insta-worthy spot, as its façade is adorned with cutest seashell motifs.
The Roman Bridge of Salamanca (a/k/a “Puente Romano”) is a crossing located on the banks of the southern part of the city. It is one of Salamanca’s historical points of interest and offers some of the best skyline views of the Old City. Up until the 20th century, the bridge was a main access point into town. The date of construction is not precisely known. However, of its twenty-six arches, fifteen date back to the Roman era. As beautiful as the Old City appears during daylight, I highly recommend that you visit the bridge at night. After sunset, the entire city glows in this golden, amber lighting. Puente Romano is the perfect spot to capture some of the most spectacular views of this whimsical city.
Are you hungry yet? Now that we’ve worked up an appetite exploring Salamanca, let’s quickly go through some of my recommendations for where to grab a bite to eat or where to go for drinks!
With thousands of delectable restaurants and bars to choose from, you could literally throw a stone and it’ll most likely land in front of a great place to eat. The Plaza Mayor alone has many varieties to choose from. However, if you’re only visiting Salamanca for one day, here is my short list of places that are worth a visit:
- Chocolatería Valor is one of the most popular churros and hot chocolate cafés in town. Churros are swirly-stems of fried-dough, often dusted in cinnamon-sugar and are beyond delicious. They are a local-favorite pastry and are a must-try while visiting Spain. For my chocolate lovers, I also recommend pairing your churros with a cup of Valor’s famous, molten chocolate, perfect for dipping.
- La Chupitería is a small, corner bar that holds a special place in my heart. I spent many nights here – most of which I can barely remember, taking down euro shots like-a-boss. There isn’t much to the space. However, if you’re a budget traveler looking for a dope spot that plays Billboard music, has a great atmosphere, and sells dozens of different flavored shots for 1€, La Chupitería is the place for you. Personally, I could spend my entire evening here, but it’s also a great place for pre-game drinking. I should also voice an obviously disclaimer: please drink responsibly! Salamanca is a very safe city, but try to spare some of those brain cells in the rare case that you’ll need to use them (lol).
- Eramus Café is more of your typical dive bar but offers a restaurant menu, just in case sustenance is needed to soak up some of that alcohol (lol). My friends and I also spent many nights partying at this bar, which has a friendly atmosphere and a bit of a quirky/scandalous decor. Reasonably priced, the menu offers tapas and an expansive list of beers to choose from.
Salamanca will forever hold a special place in my heart. Even as I write this blog, my heart flutters with a sensation of indefinite nostalgia that no other place could ever replicate. Ten years later and those memories are still vivid and metamorphic. If I was like a caterpillar, Salamanca was my cocoon. I hope that you will find this blog helpful. Regardless of how you choose to spend your brief stay in Salamanca, I know that you will fall in love with her just as much as I have. Happy Travels!
“To change is to be greater than the conditions of your world.” – Joe Dispenza