From the time I began searching for my perfect study abroad destination, I knew I wanted a city that wasn’t teeming with tourists. I wanted a city that was different from my hometown of Wilmington, NC and one that maybe not everybody had heard of. I hit the bullseye when I found Salamanca, a Spanish gem dating back to the pre-Ancient Rome period. What makes this town so special and under the radar?
1.The size of Salamanca is perfect (for me)! Having only around 150,000 in population (much less than the 3 million of Madrid and 1 million of Barcelona), this town was large enough to have everything I needed with lots of variety without being completely swallowed by the city. After living in Wilmington for over 18 years, I knew I wouldn’t enjoy a town that was too large and metropolitan. The best thing about the size was the fact that I never had to use public transportation! I could literally walk from one end of the city to the next (and yes, I did that quite a bit) in 30 minutes or less, all while enjoying the fall breeze and the Salamantino life around me. The fact that I didn’t have to pay to get to school or other activities saved me quite a bit of money, too. That leads me to my next point…
2. Salamanca is quite affordable. Not only was my program an affordable European option, but the cost of living was lower than any other place I visited in Spain or Europe. My wallet definitely appreciated the decision to study in Salamanca. This meant in the long run that I was able to eat out, shop, and travel more often. Do I really need to explain why this is a good thing?
3. People are straightforward in Salamanca. Sure, I had basically any amenity that I really needed, but I’m speaking more about lifestyles. People are incredibly straightforward and tell others how they feel. I really appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to guess if they were just trying to be polite (language barriers can be hard enough!) or if they truly liked me. The source of so many examples of this direct communication was my homestay, which is a form of student housing that allows students to rent rooms from local families. My homestay “parents” were older but, nonetheless, quick to say anything! I was constantly trying to improve my Spanish so I made quite a few linguistic and cultural mistakes. Instead of letting me continually make these mistakes and say something embarrassing in public, I was quickly told and sometimes shown how my phrase came across. Honestly, I’m glad it was my “parents” I made these language blunders with, and these instances were the funniest stories that I brought home with me. I loved to watch Real Madrid soccer games in the living room with them, but these times soon turned into situations that challenged me. My host “mom” would inch closer and closer to me on the couch speaking louder and louder, but I knew she was trying to teach me in her own way. Initially, I was put off by this directness, but the more I was able to understand, the more I could hear how much she cared about me and how sweet (although loud) the words she was saying right into my ear were.
4. Food! I know every place, city, and country boasts of having amazing food, but there’s nothing like curling up in the corner booth with a warm mug of coffee and a plate of churros in a café, watching families that seem like living storybooks just outside the window or even at the next table over. I also loved gathering around the table with my loud and loving homestay family to the heartiest cocido and tasting the love it was made with. When I strolled down the sidewalk with the bocadillos con jamon iberico (a specialty ham sandwich) my “mom” had packed, knowing I had a long day ahead of me, I just felt loved. I can go on and on, but, you know what? All of these examples show just how much love is tied in with their food.
5. The history of Salamanca is endless. If you’re a history buff, get down to the golden downtown of Salamanca! Do the names Christopher Columbus and Francisco Franco ring a bell? Yeah, the dictator of Spain decided that Salamanca was special enough to make it his headquarters. I saw the residual effects of Franco’s reign each time I walked past the sixty-something Salamantinos who dress like they’re living versions of 1940s styles. Rest assured that this city has the charm and beauty that can only emerge from a long historical past.
6. Salamanca’s plaza! Every town in Spain (and numerous other countries) has a plaza. I spoke with many native Spaniards in various parts of the country and the moment I said I was living in Salamanca, they would exclaim, “Salamanca has an amazing plaza!” The entire downtown is made almost exclusively of sandstone leaving the town a bright yellow while the sun is out, thus, earning the name ‘The Golden City of Spain.’ You may see others that blow your mind, but the true beauty of the Salamanca plaza is the social scene. In lieu of other social options, I often met with friends just to spend time together and people watch. So often I saw precious older couples walking in their traditional clothing, fashionable families toting around well-dressed toddlers, and college kids dressing up and usually making fools of themselves but truly enjoying it. The actual shops located in the plaza all tend to be restaurants and dessert shops. Overall, a plaza isn’t what you can do there, but who you’re there with. I made so many friends and lasting memories within those four walls. You really just can’t replicate that.