A couple hour’s drive west of Madrid lies one of my favourite cities ever, Salamanca. With two cathedrals over 500 years old, the House of Shells and beautiful sandstone buildings, it’s a beautiful place steeped in history. I first visited with my school Spanish class in February 2018, when we stayed with host families and attended classes at ISLA, the language school just a ten minute walk from the Plaza Mayor. My friend and I loved it so much that we returned the following August to stay with the same host!
With our school group we did activities such as salsa dancing, a guided tour of the city and a visit to the bullfighting museum. They were an incredible insight into Spanish culture and great fun. Lots of the activities were organised by ISLA themselves, so they were cheap and safe too. It meant that when my friend and I returned in August we didn’t feel like we had to see the entire city in a week, because we’d already done a lot.
The beauty of visiting with only the two of us was that we were in a group of international students of a similar Spanish ability, not just our school class split in thirds through the register. Apart from us, there were two other brits, one who was our age and actually lives very nearby in England, two German uni students, a German lady who taught languages in England, a young man from Morroco who loved to show us how Spanish compared with his native Arabic, a lovely lady from Italy, and a French guy studying for a masters in quantum computing at Oxford.
So. Not intimidating at all.
In reality it genuinely wasn’t intimidating; the class had a friendly atmosphere and our teachers were amazing. We did grammar work for a few hours every morning with Rosa, then after a short break we did an hour of general conversation with Vicky. The classes were based on discussion rather than written work, although we did get given workbooks and short assignments to complete as homework. It occurred to me that this was a great taster of what a year studying abroad at university might be like!
ISLA were very good at organising social activities for all the students to get to know each other regardless of what class we were in. On our first night we all met in a bar to get to know each other in a hilarious mix of languages as there were so many different abilities and nationalities. For the rest of the week, there was a list of activities in the main office and we could sign up to as many or as few as we wanted, most for free, some for 10-15€. We joined in on the tapas tour and listened to a talk on the Spanish Civil War, which was great to hear from a Spanish person. I realised how conflicted the city was in terms of political ideology, which I didn’t see the first time I visited. During the war it was a nationalist stronghold and many residents still hold these views, but with the passage of time as well as the influx of students bringing contrasting opinions, I can imagine this causes conflict.
Because our week wasn’t as full the second time round, we had plenty of time to shop, eat tons of churros even fit in a bit of exercise! We spent one evening at the local swimming pool and another at the community athletics track, where I had my first conversation with someone who wasn’t a tutor, a shopkeeper or my host. That was cool. Even if I was haunted for the next few days by all the errors I made.
Speaking of our host, Angela, what a gem she was. She was so hospitable, and genuinely as interested in our hometowns as she was happy to share details of her own city. And her cooking – I don’t have words in either language to do justice to her cooking! Safe to say, we ate VERY well!
In our February trip we walked to the newer, more commercial side of the city to a big cinema – their version of Vue or Cineworld – to see Coco, which is just the cutest film ever, an animated one based on the Day of the Dead in Mexico. The second time, my friend and I didn’t trek quite so far and instead visited a smaller cinema which Angela recommended and watched a sweet family comedy, El Mejor Verano de mi Vida. The best thing about the city is that it’s so gorgeous that you don’t mind walking anywhere! One of my favourite things to do was to sit outside one of the cafes in the Plaza Mayor late at night as it got dark and all the streetlights came on. I love the way the Spanish start and end their days later, so at midnight, when British streets are usually cold, dark and filled with stumbling people leaving bars, Spanish ones are full of families treating their children to ice cream and the delighted shouts of friends catching up. Sitting outside the cathedral listening to buskers and finishing our homework was amazing too. I’m getting nostalgic just thinking about it…
I know Salamanca will always hold a special place in my heart and I have lots of cherished memories from that place. One day I want to take my family there so they can understand why I love it so much! It’s also the place where my Spanish ability improved drastically, so it’s actually a big part of my education!
Thank you for reading. If you have any special memories of Salamanca or any other Spanish cities, please do share!