Best of Salamanca

I love Salamanca. As my semester is drawing to a close, I’m reflecting on some of the best memories I have here and why this city is so special. Since I’ve been here around four months, I think I am qualified to give native advice about visiting and living in the city. Here are the most important things to keep in mind before a visit to Salamanca:

Top five things to do in Salamanca:
  1. Go to the top of the tower of the new cathedral: the view of the city is incredible!
  2. Sit for a while in La Plaza Mayor: people watch, order a coffee, take in the beautiful plaza.
  3. Watch the sunset over by El Río Tormes and La Puente Romano
  4. Find the hidden frog on the facade of the University of Salamanca
  5. Go shopping. Calle Zamora and Calle Toro have the best shops, and I’m lucky enough to pass by the multiple times a day on my way to class!
Top three places to shop:
  1. Zara
  2. Mango
  3. H&M

They’re my go-to’s. Clothes are reasonably priced and very stylish. One of the two Zara’s in Salamanca used to be a church, so it’s worth checking out.

Top three things to eat in Salamanca:
  1. Tortilla de patatas: egg, potatoes, and onion. In English, a potato omelette, the best ones are made by Spanish mothers.
  2. Chocolate con churros: you know it’s good chocolate if you set a spoon on top and it doesn’t sink. I recommend Valor or Las Torres for the best churros.
  3. Croissants: they’re good anywhere. My favorites have chocolate, I recommend a “Napolitana Blanco y Negro” from Croissantería París because it has white chocolate and dark chocolate and it tastes heavenly.

Honorable mention: Paella. A must-try, the classic is “Paella Valenciana” and is probably the most famous and most commonly served dish in Spain.

Top three things to drink in Salamanca:
  1. Café con leche: Coffee with milk. Coffee here comes in smaller serving sizes but it just tastes better.
  2. Zumo natural: Fresh squeezed orange juice. Delicious.
  3. Sangria: I recommend trying sangria from multiple places because some restaurants do it right and some just don’t. When sangria comes with fresh fruit, that usually means it’s good.
Top three things to learn a little bit about before coming to Salamanca:
  1. The Spanish Civil War and the Franco Regime: the most important part of Spain’s history from the past century. Modern culture relates to what happened during the dictatorship and it’s impossible to understand Spain without understanding that era.
  2. The Reconquest: very important to understand the history of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity in Spain. Nine hundred years of conflict, a general knowledge is a must.
  3. The current economy: not doing very well and unemployment is high.
Top three souvenirs to buy:
  1. Botón charro: the symbol of Salamanca! Check out any tourist shop and they come as earrings, necklaces, bracelets, bookmarks, etc.
  2. Una rana: the hidden frog from the facade of the University
  3. Postcards: send them to everyone! Keep them for yourself!

I’m so glad that I chose Salamanca as the city where I studied abroad. It is full of history yet not too big, and I’m happy that I’ve gotten to be involved in the Spanish culture. This is my best advice for people who might want to visit Salamanca, and it also gives a snapshot of what my life has been like for the past four months!

Semana Santa

The Spain version of spring break is Semana Santa, or Holy Week. We had an 11 day break that ended on Easter, and this is is when students studying abroad take advantage to travel Europe. Luckily, my break coincided with my Hope roommate’s break who is studying abroad in Liverpool, so we traveled the whole week together! We started the week off in Paris, then Venice, then Rome, and we finished our time off in Switzerland! Here are some of the highlights:

1: Paris

We started the day off bright and early at the Eiffel Tower, and made our way to all the sights by walking along the Seine. The Louvre was amazing, I wish we could have spent an entire day there because the building is so huge and it contains so much art. We saw the Notre Dame cathedral, ate pain au chocolat, and had lunch at Laduree. It was a perfect day in Paris!

 

2: Venice

In Venice we were welcomed to Italy by a kind, elderly Italian couple who spoke to us in Italian as if we could understand what they were saying. We spent our couple days here exploring the canals, getting lost, and entering most churches we stumbled upon. The Basilica of Saint Mark was beautiful and unlike any of the cathedrals I’ve seen. Naturally, we ate spaghetti and the best pizza I’ve ever had.

      

3: Rome

Our time in Rome was limited, so we really had to squeeze in all of the sights we wanted to see. Rome is very different from Venice and it astounded me how the city is so full of history. We sat outside the Coliseum, visited the Tre Vi Fountain, sat on the Spanish steps, and made a stop at the Parthenon. We also made spent part of the day in the Vatican City, where we visited the Basilica and then saw the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel!

   

4: Switzerland

After the whirlwind of we had, Switzerland was a bit more relaxed. Our first day we took a day trip to Lausanne and spent our time sitting next to the lake, admiring the mountains, and wandering around the city. The next day we took a trip to Chamonix, which is a small town in France where tourists go to ski and see the mountains. We started our day off in a coffeeshop that reminded us of Lemonjello’s, and then we took two cablecars to get to an altitude of 3,842 meters. At the top of the mountain we tried to take in the immensity of the Alps and we could see Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in the Alps. Our last day in Switzerland we spent in Geneva and we walked around the old city and explored, saw the United Nations from the outside, and ate Swiss cheese.

The weather was perfect during our whole trip, our travel from place to place went as smoothly as it could have gone, and I got to travel Europe with one of my best friends! Absolutely surreal.

Life at the Lake: Lago de Sanabria

A few weeks ago I took a trip with a small group of people from IES for a weekend trip to Lago de Sanabria. The lake is one of the largest lakes in Spain (nothing compared to Lake Michigan, though), and we hiked in the mountains surrounding this natural park. As we were driving into the mountains I realized how much I’ve missed nature. I’ve been in a city for so long, the mountains were a literal breath of fresh air!

Puebla de Sanabria

On Friday we had a tour of Puebla de Sanabria, a small town nearby. Our tour guide dressed in medieval attire to contextualize the history of the area, and she told stories to make us laugh and have a great time! After our tour, we stopped for lunch and then went on a hike. It was a tough and rocky trek up the mountain, but were rewarded by the incredible view of the lake once we made it to the top. We were also on the lookout for cows as obstacles on the way and navigating the rocky slope was a puzzle which kept us entertained.

                       Mountain Cows

Lago de Sanabria: view from the top!

Hiking day 2

The next day we went on another hike! The landscape on Saturday was very Lord of the Rings-esque, and once again it was incredible. After lunch we went to a famous wolf reservation where we could see the wolves that used to roam freely throughout the whole peninsula.

Wolves!

 

 

 

Sunday was our last day, and our activity was to take a boat ride on the lake! We were on a 100% eco-friendly boat that was created so that the lake can remain clear and unpolluted. It was a perfect relaxing weekend to be in nature, see a little snow, and prepare to be back in Salamanca!

Snow! Dare I say I missed winter in Michigan?

Getting Involved

I’ve written a lot about my travels away from Salamanca on the weekends, but having a home base in this city is very important for my experience. We were told when we arrived that we have to be careful if we were planning on traveling every weekend because we are here to immerse ourselves specifically in the culture of Salamanca, so it’s okay to stick around sometimes. During orientation we were also given ideas about how we can get involved while we’re here.

IES provides activities every month that we can attend if we wish. Many of these are cultural activities such as flamenco and salsa dance classes, paella night, and next week I’m going to a cooking class to learn how to make traditional Spanish food when I’m home! My favorite events (and the ones that are most attended) are the ones that include free food.

Giant paella for paella night!

IES has also hosted two “intercambio” events, one of which I could attend. “Intercambio” means exchange, so these events are essentially language exchanges. American students from IES come to speak with university students in English, and then we switch off and speak in Spanish. I don’t have pictures of the people from the event, but I did make sure to snap a photo of the food.

Tapas from intercambio night

In addition to intercambio nights hosted by IES, we have the opportunity to sign up for one-on-one intercambios. I put my name, age, and email onto the University of Salamanca website and students email me if they want to meet for an hour and learn English while I learn Spanish. I’ve met with one student multiple times for coffee, and it’s a great experience to meet natives, especially for those who aren’t taking classes at a local university.

Other students from IES have joined a choir, an ultimate frisbee team, and the mountain exploring club. On my own I’ve recently been getting involved with a youth group type organization for university students. There are many American students who attend as well as Spanish students. I’ve also met quite a few students from Germany who are studying in Salamanca. This organization provides activities throughout the week so that everyone can get involved, and it’s another cool way to meet other people in town. I usually go to the Bible study and the event that’s most like a typical youth group with food, songs, then a message or “algo profundo.”

Although the only photo evidence I have at this point are pictures of food, I promise that the activities here include people! While abroad for a semester, it is SO important to make connections with people and I’ve had the opportunity to meet some great people while I’ve been here. I’m thankful for the freedom to get involved during my semester and make Salamanca feel a little bit more like home.

Portu(girl)

This past week was midterms week, and to boost our morale after a tough week we took a trip to Portugal with IES. On Friday we left early in the morning excited to get away from studying and for a sunny weekend in Portugal. Our first stop was the city of Coimbra, where we visited the palace turned university. We had a tour, and we had a perfect view of the city from an overlook at the university. Most notable was that university students wore robes just like Hogwarts students. Apparently, J.K. Rowling was married to a Portuguese man and was inspired by the traditional university attire in Portugal. Portugal was also where she was inspired and wrote much of Harry Potter, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit that city.

University of Coimbra

From Coimbra, we made our way to Lisbon. There, we had time to relax in our hotel rooms for a while after a long day and then we met up to go out to a group dinner. We went to dinner and a show, so we were entertained by various songs, dances, and skits that are the traditional Portuguese “Fado.” Many of the songs are sad but they are used for all occasions. I couldn’t understand much of what was going on, but it was fun!

Lisbon, or San Francisco?

On Saturday we had breakfast in the hotel, which was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. Everyone was so excited because usually we only eat a piece of fruit or bread for breakfast so we couldn’t wait to eat bacon and eggs and croissants with Nutella. After the wonderful breakfast, we went on a quick tour of Lisbon by bus and then a walking tour of a palace. Lisbon has a San Francisco feel because of the hilly streets and the replica of the Golden Gate Bridge over the river.

 

 

Boca do Inferno

Next we went to Boca do Inferno, translated as “Mouth of Hell,” which are cliffs on the coast of Portugal that typically have rough waters but are a beautiful sight. After the cliffs, we had some time to explore the coastal town of Cascais and find gelato, which is always my priority when traveling.

Fátima

Sunday we started off with another spectacular breakfast. Then we started the trek home and we stopped at Fátima on the way. Fátima is a famous town in the Catholic faith because it is said that the Virgin Mary appeared there to three children. An enormous basilica and plaza were built after the appearance, and Fátima is now an important pilgrimage site. It blew me away to see people with such intense faith. There is a narrow white path that pilgrims walk on their knees to the altar, and we could see people walking while holding a family member’s hand. Something else that happens in Fátima is that people bring candles shaped like a body part that needs healing and they burn it there to ask for a cure from the Virgin Mary.

It was a perfect vacation with perfect weather after a crazy week of exams, but I’m glad to be back in Salamanca until the next adventure!

Field Trip to Atapuerca and Burgos

The religion class through IES Salamanca takes a field trip every year to Atapuerca and Burgos, Spain. La Sierra de Atapuerca is an archaeological site that contains some of the earliest human remains in Europe. We have been learning about prehistory and the idea of religion during that time, so the perfect place to visit is the most important excavation site in Spain. We left Salamanca promptly at 7 am for our trip. When we arrived, we met up with our archaeologist tour guide and drove over to the site. Most of Atapuerca is closed to the public, but we were able to see three excavation sites. Our guide told us about one area where archaeologists have to crawl through a long and narrow tunnel to reach one area with lots of human remains. At the excavation sites, we could see the stratification of the earth, and our guide pointed out where some of the most important artifacts have been discovered. The guide was great because he tried to keep what he was saying interesting and relevant. He also looked like Ross Geller from Friends, which was pretty perfect.

Excavation site at Atapuerca

After we had this part of the tour, we went to an outdoor interactive area where our guide taught us about how people lived during different eras. We went to a station where we learned the important technology of making knives by hitting a rock against another rock. We went to a cave painting station, then a hunting station where everyone had the opportunity to try out some bow and arrows and throw some spears. We ended the interactive part in a hut where our guide made fire out of a couple of pieces of wood and some flint. I’m glad matches were invented, it’s a much easier way to make fire.

After Atapuerca we took the bus to Burgos for some free time to eat lunch and explore the city. We had the chance to see the cathedral from the outside, and it’s an impressive cathedral. When we met up with the group again we went to the Museum of Human Evolution. This is where some of the real artifacts that were found at Atapuerca are displayed. They have areas that explore the evolution of the brain, the evolution of man, and modern science. It’s an interesting museum, and I would recommend it especially for people interested in science.

La Catedral de Burgos
El Museo de Evolución Humana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was not a traditional day, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to see that part of Spain!

Un día típica

I’ve had four weeks of classes so I’ve had time to establish a routine for school week. Although each day usually brings something new and unexpected, I have a general routine, so here’s a snapshot of a day in my life in Salamanca.

Desayuno

I wake up around 8:00am to get ready for the day and have a light breakfast. A couple of pieces of toast with jam, a cup of coffee, and a glass of orange juice is what my host mom sets out for me. Breakfast is usually very light and could also include a fruit or something small. My first class is at 9:00am, and I’m in class most of the morning. If I have time before lunch I will usually do some work at the IES center or stop by a café but I make sure I’m home for lunch around 2:30pm. In Spain, lunch is the largest meal of the day and we will usually have one plate that consists of soup or pasta or something else, and then a second plate which could also have meat and salad or a vegetable. For dessert we have either fruit or yogurt, I usually alternate between an apple or an orange.

After lunch, depending on the day, I will either have a few minutes to rest before going back to class or else I’ll have time to take a real siesta. The siesta is a wonderful part of the culture here, because it’s time built into the day to take a nap before getting back to work. If I don’t have class in the afternoon I will rest for a while and then usually go to a café to do homework. The café I have been frequenting is called “Manolita” and it has lots of seating and couches and great coffee. It’s frequented by university students, and I’ll usually run into other IES students when I’m there.

At Café Manolita

Whatever I end up doing during those after lunch I go home around 9:15pm for dinner. We usually have something lighter for dinner, like pizza or soup or a “tortilla de patatas” (my favorite Spanish food, a potato omelette which tastes great with some peppers or cheese or by itself). Again, dessert is a yogurt or fruit. After dinner I take time to finish up with my homework, talk to people from home, and relax.

One of the best things about studying abroad for a full semester is that it’s not just a trip, I’m actually living in one place for four months. This helps me better understand life in Spain and make more long lasting relationships with people. I still won’t ever be confused for a native, but I’m getting there!

Twelve Hours in Sevilla

This weekend I took my first non IES sponsored trip, and I went with two friends to Sevilla! We decided to take the six hour bus trip to Sevilla and back in the same day.

On Friday, our bus left at 1:20am from Salamanca and we arrived in Sevilla at 7:35am. After getting our fix of coffee at the bus station, we walked along El Rio Guadalquivir towards downtown. The first monument we passed was La Torre del Oro, a watchtower that was originally built for defense purposes next to the river.

La Torre del Oro

At 9:30am we visited El Real Alcázar de Sevilla, a palace built by moorish kings. The detailed architecture inside was incredible, but my favorite part was the gardens. I entered the gardens and then they just kept going, they included fountains, ponds, plants, a labyrinth, and more!

El Real Alcázar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After finding our way out of the gardens we stopped for a quick sandwich and then went to La Catedral de Salamanca. The most impressive thing about this building is the outside full of detail and overlapping parts. Inside the cathedral is huge and filled with art, areas dedicated to many saints, and Christopher Columbus’ tomb. We also saw one of the most famous landmarks of Sevilla, La Giralda, the belltower of the cathedral which was originally a minaret for a mosque.

La Catedral de Sevilla

The next place we went was La Plaza de España, which features a section for each Spanish city. This area of a park also includes an enormous fountain, a small manmade river for rowboats, and horse and carriage rides. By this time of the day it was sunny and warm, and we sat for a while soaking in the sun, eating snacks, and taking in the amazing plaza.

La Plaza de España: Salamanca

After a traditional Spanish lunch of paella and sangria, we visited El Metropol Parasol (a sculpture near Sevilla’s plaza mayor), the outside of La Plaza de Toros (the bullfighting ring), and wandered until it was time to catch our bus ride home. At 8:30pm we hopped on our bus back to Salamanca and arrived at 2:45am the next day.

It was a surreal 24 hours of travel. I got to see some of the most cherished landmarks of Spain on a beautiful sunny day, so the total of twelve hours on a bus were worth it.

Museums in Madrid

On Saturday, IES sponsored a day trip to Madrid to visit the museums. We arrived around 10:30am and immediately went to El Museo del Prado, one of the most important art museums in the world. We went on a guided tour to see the most important works of art, including art by El Greco, Francisco de Goya, and Diego Velázquez. It was amazing to see the art I’ve studied in Spanish classes for so many years in person. My favorite painting in El Prado was “Las Meninas,” a painting by Velázquez.

El Prado

After El Prado, we were given free time to eat lunch and explore a little bit of Madrid. I went with some friends to El Parque del Buen Retiro, a huge park near to the city center to eat our sandwiches.

El Parque del Retiro

There was so much to explore, and we saw everything we could before we had to meet back with the group. My favorite part was the glass palace installment, and there was also a section of the park where lots of people were spending the sunny day on rowboats. On our way back to meet the group we stopped at Nutellería Madrid, a small café/restaurant that serves Nutella on everything! I had a Nutella milkshake and it was fantastic.

 

Nutella!

When we met back with the group, we walked over to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid’s museum of contemporary art. Featured artists here include Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso. We learned that the era of contemporary art is defined by the year when Pablo Picasso was born, which is crazy because he essentially came into the world and redefined the timeline of art. The most important piece of art in the museum is “Guernica”, a painting by Picasso created as a statement against the violence of the Spanish Civil War. This painting was my favorite in both museums because it conveys the pain and injustice that the country experienced during the war, and my favorite touch is that Picasso also painted a flower as a symbol of peace and hope amongst the torment.

Painting by Pablo Picasso

It was a great day in Madrid, and I’m so excited to keep exploring Spain!

Studying Abroad (Emphasis on Study)

Studying abroad is an incredible opportunity to meet new people, see new places, and learn new things about how the world works. It’s also still a semester of college classes.

This week was my first week of classes and it was similar to any other first week of school. Each of my classes loosely followed the same format: Professor introduced him/herself, students introduced ourselves, and we were given many informational papers (syllabi, lists of dates, etc.). Once I felt sufficiently overwhelmed by all of the details I have to remember, the professor went on to give us a partial lecture. First week chaos.

Despite the typical information overload of a first week of school, I’m excited because I’m interested in the classes I’m taking. Students who study through IES have the option of taking classes at one of the two universities in town in addition to IES classes, but because of the complexities of scheduling I’m only taking IES classes. The first class I’m taking is a Spanish Language class that everyone takes where we are placed based on our level of Spanish, which is my favorite class so far. Advanced grammar and in-depth culture lessons sound boring, but the class and the professor make it fun. I’m also taking literature, religion, photography, and film classes. I’m most excited about the content of my religion class because of Spain’s complex religious history. I hope to better understand the history of Spain and how that has affected its modern-day culture, and it will be interesting to learn about religion from a non-Christian college perspective. A key part of the study abroad experience is increasing empathetic skills and becoming more open-minded to the rest of the world, and looking at the world through a new perspective is a great (and challenging) way to do this.

Now that classes have officially started, I know the rest of the semester is going to fly by, but I feel ready for the studying part of spending time abroad (as long as I have lots of coffee and pastries to keep me going)!

Coffee and pastries: the universal study fuel.