The bus station at Salamanca 

I sit in the Cafe of the main bus station it is almost noon. Already travellers breast the bar drinking wine and eating Tapas. Its an endearing custom across Europe and one which has not taken off in Australia much less Adelaide unless the more knowledgeable amongst you can prove me wrong? Not that I would breast a bar at noon. 

I was enchanted with Salamanca – in exactly the same way I was with Lecce in Italy. Both are inspiring towns of sandstone buildings the architecture being predominantly Baroque or Renaissance in style. These UNESCO proclaimed towns are now pedestrian oases surrounded on the outskirts by their high rise offices and apartments, where obviously the motor car rules supreme.

The beautiful buildings are either churches, palaces, university buildings or student residences. I can’t recommend these destinations highly enough. 
  

The Palace of Monterey

House of Shells to the right. .. A Jesuit seminary part of the university on the left

   
    
   

the crypt in the old cathedral … where I chatted to the Seminarian

  

the caption over the door ?

  

the square in front of the university

The original settlement occurred about 90BC. Celts apparently then naturally the Romans imvaded and there are ancient ruins attesting to the occupation including a spectacular bridge spanning the river which is in excellent condition to this day! Rugged up against the wind, the locals perambulate along the river and across the bridge.

the ancient Roman bridge intact and usable after 2000 years

Does Spain appear to be in the economic doldrums? Apparently not! At least in Madrid and Salamanca. It was my same perception in Athens last year! It is a food and alcohol led recovery.
   
   
The bus to Porto is about to depart!

The University of Salamanca 

Was founded in 1134 and given the Royal charter of foundation by King Alfonso IX in 1218. It is the oldest founded university in Spain and the fourth oldest European university in continuous operations. I would hazard a guess that the others would include those in Britain – Oxford and Cambridge whilst the University of Bologna is surely a candidate. Uppsala is a delightful university town in Sweden which I visited 3 years ago. Incidentally the Guinness Book of Records claims the oldest university still functioning in the world, is in Morocco!

The formal title of “University” was granted by King Alfonso X in 1254 and recognized by Pope Alexander IV in 1255.

So Salamanca is one of the oldest, most important and respected university towns in Europe. Economically the town thrives  in fact depends upon tourism and the university . Here are photos of its facade.
   
  

 

Salamanca 

The 8:55 train to Salamanca left the Madrid station on time. My car/coach (number 4) was full! The journey was fast and other than a rather unusual incident when the passenger seated next to me asked who I thought was the ticket inspector, for a “selfie”! He obliged and I thought nothing more of it until we pulled into Salamanca Central to be greeted by a crowd of excited locals with cameras poised. They formed a semicircle around the door as I alighted! Now I realise that Spain has fallen in tough economic times but I wondered do they really need to welcome who may be the sole international tourist on the train to Salamanca this morning in such a fashion? Sadly I was ignominiously ignored and instead I gather the current prime minister, masquerading as the ticket inspector, was a passenger in coach 4! Its the sort of thing that Malcolm Turnbull does! At least I think that was the Prime minister from my attempt to converse with a rather exuberant middle aged Spanish woman 

Salamanca is delightful! It yet again reinforces my 2 day rule when it comes to escaping the capital cities. It has a vaguely similar ambience to it as Lecce. The baroque style sandstone buildings, more yellow than the pale crumbling cream stone of Italian Lecce. The Hotel Don Gregorio is almost as good as that in Lecce as well! My travel agent has exceeded his brief.
Today, Sunday is sunny yet with a biting wind, ideal weather to test my thermal gear prior to the big bike ride! Tomorrow I bus to Porto and the forecast is for snow at least in Salamanca but warmer at my destination! At 10am this Sunday I am the sole human promenading around this world heritage site. The wind ominously cuts through my merino “skins”, I creep into the nearest cathedral. My cheeks a youthful healthy glow, confuse the seminarian in the ticket office who denies me a seniors discount! I try my next trick and discreetly mention my close personal friend Cardinal Pell! The seminarian becomes flustered and wrings both hands, then repeatedly tugs the tassels of his cassock. With a knowing wink he waves me through. As I am leaving he beckons me across to his window and with an endearing giggle, confides in me that when he was studying in Rome last year (“The Art of Genuflection”) he became a close personal friend of Cardinal Pell too! I was about to exclaim “well bugger me”… When I rapidly realised the handsome Hispanic cleric may well have misconstrued this uniquely Australian slang, even if he had hung around with the Cardinal for a few months. 

I am dining tonight at a restaurant a few doors up from the hotel. Again I am the sole customer but it is early for goodness sake – 8:30pm. The waiter efficiently produces the menu in English, I order “secret pork in mango chutney”. He disappears into the office and before I can say “swoon “, Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters croon their way serenely into the restaurant and at a thoughtfully discrete decibel level, I can hear myself think….this establishment has passed the first step and whats more the second step as the bread roll is crisp, warm and fresh. The house red is a local Tempranillo, I may just end up having a second glass! The main arrives!
It’s definitely local or home style cooking! The pork is essentially a sort of schnitzel, the mango chutney rather unappealing – a bright yellow side dish that looks like a good sized dollop of scrambled egg! I forego the iPhone photo and the second glass of Tempranillo instead settling down with an universally mediocre coffee. Bing is joined by Frank Sinatra and the dulcet duo sing about never ending love… Could things get any worse?…. tomorrow it is forecast to snow! 
   
    
 

Let’s get the food pics out of the way 

 I am staying at the Hotel Don Gregorio a refurbished palace. Here is the bedroom 

  
Surely fit for a King?        (Or Dr Kiley)

(Demeaning comments that amount  to slander or defamation of gender will not be tolerated on this blog).

And the breakfast offering ftom 8am till 10am. It is 8:45 and I am the only guest so far!

  

The one drawback of these tables groaning  with food is that whilst one would normally  have a healthy choice at home , the pull of the pastries is unstoppable. A bowl of fresh fruit is rationalised into the justification for not one, not two but several serves of glazed patisseries! “I will walk it off” I further  argue… And I  never lose an argument with myself!

In case you think I jest, my trusty phone records my daily average since arriving at 15 km a day! 

The concierge at the hotel in Madrid said that Salamanca was the place for tapas. So I fought off the pull of the mattress to stay awake till the Trip Advisor highly rated restaurant  Vinodiario opened at 20:00 hours. 

  

That is smoked cod with peppercorn “marmalade” and truffle infused olive oil! How do I know it was infused?  Because on waking around 6 am this morning in my Egyptian cotton sheets (1200 threads) I realised that I exuded a rather fungus tainted  sweat. Its one of the few advantages es of the solo traveller.

  

As I leave Madrid 

 As I have penned before, 2 days in a capital city is my limit and Madrid is no exception. In this case it was not that I was confronted by seething hordes as happened in other named European cities but rather that I had seen all that I needed to see and have developed a feel for the place. Its relatively quiet with few tourists… other than me.

 Its also a modern city with great architecture but lacking the ancient Roman or Greek sites of other European cities. I suspect that in fact I was the closest to an ancient ruin. 

My custom is to meander ( from the Latin “wander” and the eponymous River! I have reduced my tendency to rush headlong into every museum, mausoleum, monastery or indeed any attraction beginning with “M”! Thank goodness massage parlours also advertise a Sauna.

 I have developed an unique mathematical formula that has never proved me wrong : “if the number of tourist coaches parked outside is equal to or greater than the number of exhibits at a museum or gallery then the answer is a vulgar fraction”

ie : the museum or gallery is not divisible nor can it be entered into. I did explore the Naval Museum which had some attractive ratings outside. 
  

The Palace of Telecommunications was the second architectural wonder that I explored. It was built a century ago and was basically the GPO of Madrid. Think of the equivalent in Sydney or Adelaide in fact any of our own capital cities. A hive of activity, millions of letters being sorted an franked,  telephone switch girls ( not being sexist but simply factual) connecting and disconnecting, Telegram operators tapping the typewriters, was illustrated in delightful panoramic nostalgic black and white photographs. 

  

No wonder there was full employment in those days! Then it dawned on me that rubbing against my thigh in my right hand trouser pocket was the device that single handedly abolished overnight the meaningful employment of every mail sorter, telephone exchange girl and ticker tape operator in our so called Western civilisation. 

the cathedral like interior of the telecommunications “palace” which underwent an outstanding architectural redevelopment once the last Telegram was despatched in the 1950s

 

 The ornate marble staircase and glazed mosaic ceramics of the stair well