Madrid and Barcelona are two very big (and very different) cities in Spain. To break up the hustle and bustle, I took a 24-hour trip to Salamanca, Spain to enjoy a little bit of the small-town life. Salamanca’s Old City is historic and home to one of the oldest Western universities. I took my chances with a bus ride and lucked out with a great quality company for dirt-cheap prices, spent the day exploring the Old Cathedral and the University, and ate one of the best meals I’ve ever had (seriously, in my entire life) in the town’s Plaza Mayor.
Early on a Sunday morning, I checked out of Hostal Astoria in Madrid and made my way to the bus station. I decided to walk, and while it was definitely doable with the light load, the walk was much longer than I had anticipated since the bus station is outside of the city center.
We took Avanza Bus for less than €40 round trip. The website is difficult to navigate, and my experiences with DC-to-NYC buses had me very doubtful of what such an inexpensive fare would get us. However, the bus experience was wonderful! The seats with oversized, very comfortable, and provided tons of leg room. Each seat also had outlets available, so we were able to charge up, and best of all, they ran on time.
Unfortunately in a planning fail, I didn’t realize we could have taken a return bus from Salamanca straight to the Madrid airport (where we would immediately need to be to board our flight to Barcelona) instead of the original bus station, but it was a minor inconvenience in the big picture.
Once we arrived and met up with yet another friend-of-a-friend (someone-who-knew-someone was common and helped us out a lot on this trip) who was attending University in the town, we set out on foot to explore. The University is over 800 years old and it’s rumored that Cervantes, the author of Don Quijote, studied there. It was Sunday so it was closed to visitors inside, but the outside was intricate enough to keep me entertained. The facade of the main doors is covered in intricate stone carvings, collages on top of each other. (It’s really interesting to see the recent architectural additions, like astronauts, on the same facade as carved skulls and animals.) It’s good luck for University students to see the symbol of Salamanca, a little frog, in the stonework on the building. (I couldn’t find it, but our friend pointed it out, so if you plan on visiting comment and I’ll help direct you!)
We stopped at a nondescript restaurant for lunch, and between three people having tapas and sangria, our total bill came to just €10! This was the cheapest thing we paid for in Salamanca overall, as the town is generally more expensive than the rest of Spain I visited.
After lunch, we bought tickets to climb the towers of the Old Cathedral. There’s no shortage of churches in Europe (I lost count of how many I saw on this trip alone) and this one was truly gorgeous in a really old, Gothic way. We had to climb a lot of stairs, but got to spend time looking out the bell towers and walking on the rooftop patios.
Salamanca is a small town, and I was looking forward to relaxing a little bit while I was there. After exploring, I sat in the Plaza Mayor with a tinto verano (red wine and Fanta Limon mixed together) and wrote notes in the little notebook I travel with. For dinner, the three of us went to Las Tapas de Gonzalo and while it was the most expensive meal of the entire trip (€115 for 3 people) it was also one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. If you get the chance to splurge on a meal here, I suggest:
- Share a plate of the Jamón ibérico. This is Spanish cured ham that, dare I even say it, is better than prosciutto. Pretty sure my Italian great grandmother just slapped me from the beyond.
- Share the Pulpo braseado. This is braised octopus. Stop making that “ew gross” face. Don’t knock it till you try it. I’ve tried octopus a handful of times, and this was by far the absolute best, and nothing like the rest.
- Order the hake fish. This isn’t on the menu online anymore, but it’s a big portion of light and flaky white fish that was cooked to perfection.
- Order the cochinillo asado. This is roast suckling pig, so obviously it is amazing. Basically don’t bring a vegan to Spain.
While Salamanca may not have been the highlight of the entire trip, it gave me an opportunity to witness history and up my foodie status in the world. Exactly 20 hours after arriving in Salamanca, I boarded the bus back to Madrid in order to catch my flight to Barcelona!