May 21, 2007

Salamanca es bella

Hola, chicos! Finally a new blog entry.

We are studying Spanish at the University of Salamanca (see map at right for location). Established in 1218, it is the third oldest university in Europe and it is considered by Spaniards, at least, to be the fourth most important university in Europe. Like all old european universities, it was established by the Catholic Church, and eventually split from the church to become independent. Its heyday was the 18th Century, but the early 20th Century was also an important time as that is when Miguel de Unamuno was president of the university. Unamuno is one of Spain's most regaled and prolific writers, and one of his most famous books (Niebla) is very similar to Will Farrell's new movie "Stranger than Fiction" (a great movie, by the way).

At left is a picture of the university's oldest and most important building.

The early 20th Century is also when Franco came into power as dictator of Spain. Interestingly, besides the university, Salamanca is a very conservative town and Franco had a lot of support here and thus built a large office and bunker here (which has since been destroyed).

Salamanca is replete with old buildings, including two beautiful cathedrals (most towns only have one; picture right), monasteries, palaces, and university buildings. Our classes are held in two different buildings, both of them very old with the original facades maintained but the insides totally modernized to serve students and professors. One of the buildings is a former palace where the Duke of Wellington once stayed. Wellington was apparently in Spain quite awhile helping Spain push Napoleon out in several battles, including the Battle of Salamanca in 1812.

We live in central Salamanca, in a large apartment in an urban area very close to everything, including our classes and the Plaza Mayor. Salamanca's Plaza Mayor is considered one of the most beautiful main plazas in all of Europe (each city in Europe, more or less, has a main plaza). Overall, Salamanca has been labeled by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. In fact, Spain has the most number of towns in all of Europe labeled as UNESCO World Heritage sites for one very logical reason: Spain did not participate in either World War I or II and thus was saved from the bombings that destroyed large portions of other european countries.

At right is a picture of the Roman bridge (circa 1 or 2 A.D.) with the Catedral Nueva behind it.

One downside to Salamanca is our homestay. It's less of a homestay and more of a boarding house. The lady has five bedrooms in her house (which is really just a large apartment, but in Europe it's considered a house because more people live in apartment buildings than in standalone houses). One is for her usually grumpy and rude 24-year-old daughter. The other four are for foreign students and adults studying in town, either at the university or at a private language school. The lady sleeps in the living room, which allows her to rent another bedroom and also to keep an eye on whoever comes in late and who they bring home, which is important since many of her residents are minors -- european high school students who come for a few weeks as a school program. She's very stingy, loud, often rude (in our opinion, although that can often be considered a difference of culture), and has a lot of rules. In general, she fails to make it feel anything like a home and we spend as little time there as possible. We should have rented our own apartment, but we were told it was prohibitively expensive. When we arrived, we found out otherwise, but it was too late.

One more downside to Salamanca: everyone smokes. I don't think it's an exaggeration to estimate that 90 percent of Salamancans smoke. It's true for much of Spain as well. There are only two restaurants we know of with non-smoking sections. Every other place we find allows smoking everywhere. When the weather is nice, we spend time at a large city park, Parque de los Jesuitas, and nap and read in the grass. But the weather is actually much cooler than we expected it to be in May, or then weather.com told us it would be, so there's not a ton of park time.

We have one more week of classes here, then we leave for two weeks of traveling. We are still enjoying Salamanca and reveling in the ancient beauty of it all, and we are excited to explore more of Spain together. It will be fun and wonderful. But we are also very excited about the prospect that in about a month, after 10 months of being away from home, we will be able to sleep in our own bed again.

1 comment:

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