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.
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!
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.
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.
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.