With a lump in my throat I made my way to Terminal 2 to meet up with the rest of “El Grupo Salmantina de la Nueva Zelanda”. On to the next stage of my adventure…!
The bus ride to Salamanca took us through the landscape of the Madrid Region; we left the city behind us, the “cuatro torres” were visible for a while but as they disappeared behind us we could see the mountains in front of us. The tall cross that marked “El Valle de los Caidos” (The Valley of the Fallen) was visible on the horizon and appeared at first to be on the top of a hillside but as we got closer it was clear that it was not. Pablo explained that it was raised by Franco to honour the dead of the Civil War, both Nationalists and Republicans, and it also where he was buried, controversially, in 1975. He is the only person buried there who did not die in the conflict. It is controversial, too, given its proximity to “El Escorial” which has been the burial place of the kings and queens of Spain since the sixteenth century.
We headed into the tunnel through the mountains and emerged on the other side into Castille y Leon. I desperately tried to stay awake to take in the scenery but dozed intermittently so I only have fragments of memories of the landscape. I remember thinking at some point that it seemed quite flat. I also remember wind turbines turning majestically along a ridge of mountains in the distance and small settlements, with tall churches at their centre, stood out in the flatness of the terrain.
I awoke to find that we were in Salamanca; I had missed the build up to arriving and seeing the cathedral from afar. Others told me how impressive the towers looked, dominating the skyline as they approached. Theresa, my homestay host was waiting with all the other hosts and we had those slightly nervous few moments as we waited for our names to be called out, trying to identify who would come forward to meet us and wondering whether we would get along. Theresa is a small, trim lady in her 60s, dark hair and a friendly smile. We walked the ten minutes or so to her home, dragging my suitcase over the kerbstones, cobbles and uneven pavements and then trying to squeeze it and me into the tiny lift that took us up to her second floor apartment.
Theresa has a small flat, three bedrooms with a tiny kitchen, bathroom and living room. I think there was a small dining room too but we always ate in the living room where there was a small dining table. It is very typically decorated for a woman of her generation (maybe I am generalising rather here..?). Everything is neat and tidy, clean, polished dark wooden furniture, photographs of her sons and grandchildren on the sideboard and chests of drawers, elegant uphlostered settee and armchairs and polished wooden floors. My room is small but sufficient; there is a comfortable bed, a desk and a wardrobe. A small window looks out onto the street below.
I spent a few minutes sorting out my things before we had dinner. First impressions of food were not great – chicken croquettes and a few chips and a green salad. I guess it was a quick and easy meal to make for someone who had been travelling and was possibly tired. Not too heavy but enough to fill me up but it was not what I had expected. I was pretty tired and ready for bed but Theresa suggested a walk into Salamanca, ostensibly to show me where to go the next day for university.
I was glad we went for a walk; it gave me chance to unwind and also gave us the opportunity to chat and get to know each other. there was plenty to talk about as Theresa pointed out the buildings and told me some snippets of history and information. I managed, just about, to get the general gist of what she was saying although I had to ask her to repeat quite a lot and also to speak more slowly. She took me to the Plaza Mayor which is beautiful; at this time of night it is all lit up and the golden sandstone glows. She treated me to an icecream from the best “Heladeria” in town, apparently. It was delicious but huge and I struggled to finish it all! We also went to the university doors and she told me the story of “La Rana“; there is a frog carved into the intricate design of the “fachada” and the story goes that if a student can find the frog amongst the rest of the ornate carvings without help then they will be successful in their studies. If they don’t they may as well go home! The town has adapted the story for the tourists; instead of being successful in studies, the finder will be lucky in love!
I was suprised to find that it was after eleven o’clock when we returned and that we had been out for nearly and hour and a half. Early for Spaniards! The night may still have been young but I didn’t feel it and with the prospect of an early start the next day I was ready for bed!