Saudade in Salamanca, Spain

sau•da•de (souˈdädə) noun: “a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese temperament.”

I first heard of this word “saudade” while watching Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” episode on Porto, whereby he states it’s “…a kind of melancholy – a yearning to get back to something or someone lost, perhaps to a happier time.”

Many sources say the word saudade is untranslatable. If you don’t speak Portuguese, you can’t really understand the meaning. While this may be the case for the written word, I don’t believe it is true for the emotions, as this feeling penetrated to my core upon leaving Portugal. I make no claims to the word, as it truly belongs to the Portuguese.

However, I felt a true kinship with Portugal, so my remorse and melancholy was palpable. So much of the country resonated with me.  Its historic ties to the sea. Stately, stoic lighthouses standing solitary along the coast serving as a beacons to navigators for centuries. Soul-soothing white sand beaches adjacent to calm turquoise waters punctuated by towering stacks and bluffs of multi-layer, multi-color sandstone. Colorful tiles covering street scenes from top to bottom, spilling down onto the mosaic sidewalks.  The mournful music known as Fado. Friendly, welcoming people, eager to show off their country and make travelers feel at home.  Fresh, affordable seafood served in keeping with the healthy Mediterranean diet. And a menu page filled with wines by the glass, all under €3.  Portugal was my kinda place.

ALSA is the very modern bus company that goes between Portugal and Spain. Funny, when I caught the bus near my Porto guesthouse, it took me a few minutes for it to sink in why I understood instructions from the bus driver.  Since ALSA is a Spanish company, he was speaking Spanish, not Portuguese.

The seats were very comfortable, and the ride very pleasant.

The border crossing between Portugal and Spain.

The border crossing was also a lunch stop, so they had lots of products for sale from both countries. Spain is known for its jamón ibérico, or Iberian ham, sold by the hind quarter.

Crossing the border into Spain, I feel “saudade” in my body, mind and soul.  Being in Spain isn’t “less than,” it’s just different. Unlike Three Dog Night, I have been to Spain (and I kinda like the music.) I like Spain. I would like to explore MORE of Spain. They speak Spanish in Spain! So why am I feeling so melancholy about being here?

Well, for one, gone are all the whimsical tiles. All the buildings here are the same color. Restaurants which opened at 7:00pm in Portugal, (an hour already too late for me,) now don’t open until 8:00pm! The tapas are not only more expensive, they are smaller and less imaginative. And the temperature jumped 20 degrees in one bus ride. The cool coastal region of Porto was topping out at a high of 70 degrees, but I am now sweating in Salamanca to 90 degrees and soaring.

Ahhh, Portugal. If only you spoke Spanish, I might have never left you.

But enough with the sulking! It’s time to explore Salamanca!

Known as the ‘living room’ of Salamanca, the arcaded Plaza Mayor is considered to be one of the most beautiful plazas in Spain. This circle of young students is enjoying the living room, each with a bag of McDonald’s fast food.

The Plaza Major is a very festive meeting place. There is even nightly dancing.

The arcade is lined with shops and restaurants.

Things really slow down here during the “siesta time,” and come back alive once the scorching sun goes down.

This was my favorite building, the “La Casa de las Conchas,” or the House of Shells. A former palace, it’s facade is decorated with sandstone carvings of over 300 scallop shells, the symbol of medieval pilgrims traveling the Way of Saint James to Santiago de Compostela. It’s now Salamanca’s public library.

If you;re not a meat eater, you will be challenged in Salamanca, as meals mainly consist of meat. the most famous of which is jamón ibérico de bellota, ham from free-range pigs that roam oak forests feeding on acorns. It is obscenely delicious, served thinly sliced with a little bread and a cold beer.

Prepping for a big sold-out concert tonight.

My stopover in Salamanca was pure happenstance. My only option for a flight back to the USA on AA points was out of Madrid. In looking at the map to see how I might break up the 10 hour bus journey between Porto and Madrid while at the same time, visiting a part of Spain I had not yet been, I noticed the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Old City of Salamanca. It would make the perfect stopover to break up the trip.

The old city centers around the University, the first in Spain founded in 1218, and one of the oldest yet still very active universities in Europe. As is typical for University towns, the youthful vibe keeps the town vibrant and full of energy. Its known for its Spanish language courses, attracting more than 2,000 foreign exchange students of all ages every year.  One can even complete a Masters program over the summer, provided they have a fairly decent command of Spanish.

The “new” cathedral begun in the 16th century, and completed in the 18th century.

There is a fee to tour the two side-by-side cathedrals, but it includes a very informative self-directed audio guide tour.

This photo is included for scale. Note the tiny person below in white pants to show the height of the cathedral.

The intricately designed ceilings of the new cathedral.

While the new cathedral is very light and open, the old cathedral (12th Century) is much stockier with thicker columns, more heavily reinforced arches and more frescoes, less carvings. It contains tombs of the bishops and members of nobility.

It’s possible to climb up to the top of the cathedral and walk along the rooftop.

A walk along the rooftop offers some beautiful views of the old city.

Ahead is the Torre del Gallo, or Rooster Tower, named for the rooster weather vane on top. It is part of the 12th century “old cathedral.”

I climbed up to the bell tower just as the five o’clock hour was approaching. It was deafening, but also fascinating to watch the automated bells.

Otherwise, it’s all about the architecture in Salamanca. All the buildings in the old city are made from golden sandstone that takes on a radiant glow in the sunlight, turning to a cool silvery luminescence at night.

There is both an old and  new cathedral side by side, sharing a common wall, while the 18th century University buildings resemble cathedrals in their own right.  A mix of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles, their facades are a sculpted work of art containing age old symbolism. While I enjoyed visiting both cathedrals and most of the University buildings, to be honest, they all looked a lot alike. More than once, I stood at the tall arched doorways or stared at domes and steeples trying to decide if I was at the cathedral or the University.

Statue of Christopher Columbus, navigator, explorer, and first white guy to visit America.

Exterior walls of the University are ornately sculpted. There are a few hidden figures, the most famous being the skull with the frog on top. You can see it just to the left of center of the photo. Tradition dictates all students must locate the frog before they can graduate.

Another hidden figure, this one placed by the renovation team who obviously had a sense of humor, since there were no astronauts in the 16th century.

The University is open for tours, and it is possible to view the old library through a plexiglass alcove. Founded in 13th century, rebuilt in 1749 to its current state. Among the contents are 2,805 manuscripts, the oldest of which dates back to the 11th century.

Like many of the towns in Portugal, Salamanca has a “toy train” for touring the historic old city.

Tapas are still good, but not as imaginative as I had in Portugal. This is tomato bruschetta with anchovies.

Roman Bridge spans the River Tormes, and dates back to the first century, with more than half of its original stone arches still intact.

There appears to be a bit of a role reversal going on here from the traditional wedding getaway car. You go, girl!

Still, Salamanca is a beautiful city to explore for a day or two as a stopover enroute to Madrid. Or to linger longer for linguistic studies, as it makes an excellent “escuela de español.” Or just as place to sit in the sun, stroll along the ancient streets, and walk off a bad case of “saudade.”

As beautiful as Salamanca was during the day, the buildings were equally enchanting at night. Here are a few shots taken during my evening walkabout.

10 thoughts on “Saudade in Salamanca, Spain

  1. jamón ibérico de bellota, just the sound causes me to salivate. Sorry that the food has been a bit less than experienced in Portugal. My first introduction to escargot was in Palma de Majorca in 66 then a few days in Barcelona that year introduced me to more Spanish delights, but much time has elapsed and Salamanca is far from where my experiences occurred. As to architecture other than as being a great place to climb and see the surroundings the churches only impress me with their ages and need to show man his basic insignificance. The Roman bridge is fantastic and a tribute to their engineering skills. The electronics which I and my peers made are already on the garbage heaps of time. Thanks for another great one. I have acquired some interesting cheese and this weekend Deede and I shall partake of our Porto and share our impressions with you.

    • Allen, it does my heart good to know that beautiful bottle of Port is soon to be enjoyed! I can’t wait to hear how it goes down.

      Happy Thanksgiving to you and Deede, and thanks for being such a loyal follower of the blog through the years!

  2. The Porto/Port post must have similarly affected Allen (above) and me. I found myself at the local wine and spirits store yesterday picking up a couple bottles of Tawny port (from Porto, of course!) for Christmas gifts. When I got home I was sorry I didn’t get one for myself. 🙂 Wait! I have plenty of time before Christmas…maybe I’ll pry one open this afternoon and hoist a toast to all us Tx3Highway peeps! Happy Holidays to one and all… 🙂

    • My dear friend, I was once told that the best gifts you can give are those you would like to have yourself. So POP THAT CORK! There’s plenty more where that came from! 😉

  3. I wrote this comment at the bottom of my previous post, but it occurred to me that some may not go back after the fact to read the comments. So I am going to repost it here:

    As we lead in to Thanksgiving, I want to thank all my friends, family, and followers here, not only for your kind feedback on the Portugal series, but for sticking with the blog, even when it’s so far behind! As I reflect this weekend over all the things I have to be grateful for, having great “travel companions” such as yourselves will be high on my list! Wishing you all a happy, healthy Thanksgiving!

  4. Finally finished reading all of your Portugal posts and thoroughly enjoyed them. Since I don’t know when or if we will ever get there, I plan to pick up some port and imagine we’re in Portugal drinking it 🙂

  5. Number three is the charm!
    It has been so wonderful to share all this time with you in Portugal! Your great pictures, evocative and descriptive writing have left us all with that same feelimg of “saudade”. Thank you!

  6. I’ve never thought of myself as someone that would travel to different countries. Reading your posts on Portugal have me rethinking my travel style. I would love to visit Portugal. Thanks for sharing.

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