The last time I was in Madrid I saw most of the city because train and bus service had closed down due to the 3/11 train bombing, which made trips outside of the city impossible unless you had a car. Nevertheless, since this was the first time my Australian travel mates (Grant, Brendan, Krystal, and Emma) had been to the city, I happily accompanied them to see the many different city sights. I found it enjoyable to see some of the sights a second time, perhaps because seeing them with different people allows you the opportunity to view them with fresh eyes. Or, perhaps it was just nice to see Madrid without the pall that the bombing had cast upon the city. Likely it was a combination of both.
However, we didn´t spend much time in Madrid before we were off to some smaller locales in the western part of the country: Avila and Salamanca. Avila is a fortress town, with a medieval stone wall that surrounds the city. The town is probably most known for St. Teresa of Avila, a nun who founded a more primitive order of Carmelites known as the decalced, or “barefoot” Carmelites. After she died, her body was exhumed and found to be in pristine condition—so much so that the Catholics regarded it as a miracle and declared her a saint. As a reward for sainthood (okay, I am writing this part with a touch of sarcasm), a few fingers were cut from her right hand. Allegedly, Franco himself (Spain´s dictator until 1975) kept these fingers next to his bed.
Gruesome little anecdote, isn´t it? But then again, many religious stories are.
Avila itself is incredibly quaint in the way that many of the medieval towns in Europe are. The central structure of the town is the cathedral, but there are also many small shops that line the main, cobblestoned road that runs through the city and to a main square. This is a central theme that runs throughout all of the Spanish cities and towns that I have visited; regardless of the size of the city, all seem to have a major square where commerce can be conducted and entertainment can be found.
Though the medieval structures in Salamanca are similar to Avila, it is quite a contrast in both size and `purpose,´ for lack of a better word. Whereas Avila is centered around religion, Salamanca is centered around Salamanca University, which was founded in 1218. In fact, the university occupies much of the medieval structures that exist in old-town Salamanca, save for the Salamanca cathedral. The cathedral is beautiful inside with a dome that draws the eye to the heavens in true gothic fashion.
One of the interesting things for which Salamanca is known is a little frog, which can be found on the university facade. It is believed that if you can find this frog (which, by the way, isn’t easily spotted amongst the detail of the stonework) it will bring you good luck and romance. The frog sits atop one of the many skulls that are carved into the stone facing. I must sheepishly admit that although I did find it, it wasn’t entirely by my own efforts. You see, after searching without success on my own, I decided to wait. Eventually, some English-speaking tourist came along, pointed out the area, and voila! I found the Salamanca frog. Does that count?
I thought not. So much for good luck and romance.