Friday, 19 February 2010

Salamanca and Valladolid

We arrived in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Salamanca just after midday, easily slipped into an underground car park and made our way into the city. On every visit to Spain I seem to be visiting a new World Heritage Site so when I counted them up I was interested to discover that I have now been to sixteen and that is over a third of them. In 2005 I visited Barcelona in Catalonia and saw the works of Antoni Gaudi and Palau de la Música Catalana and the Hospital de Sant Pau. Then in 2008 I saw the Historic Centre of Córdoba, the Caves of Altamira in Cantabria, the Old Town of Santiago de Compostela and the Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville. In 2009 in the motoring holiday around Castilian cities I visited the Old Town of Segovia and its Aqueduct, the Historic Walled Town of Cuenca, the Historic City of Toledo and the Old Town of Ávila.

It was still misty even though the sun was struggling to break through and we walked through cobbled streets and buildings of rich caramel coloured Villamayor stone directly to the centre of the city. Then around the University buildings and visited the public library and after that the centre of the city and the inevitable Plaza Mayor where because it was too chilly to sit at a pavement café groups of men were wandering around deep in conversation discussing the important matters of the day. It was a good Plaza, not the best, but still worth a visit and when we had finished admiring it we left through a stone arch and looked for a bar and somewhere for lunch and we found what we were looking for just outside the square so stopped for tapas and a beer.

As we ate an old lady passed by selling sprigs of rosemary and I didn’t know why until later when I looked it up. Rosemary, apparently, is widely thought to be a powerful guardian and to give power to women and is therefore it is used by many people to ward off evil in the home and bring good guck in family Matters. If I had known this at the time I might have bought some to see if it might improve the weather because the mist wasn’t shifting when we left and went to visit the cathedral.

I should say cathedrals because Salamanca has two, an old one and a new one that are joined together into one massive structure. We paid €3.50 each for tickets to visit and then commenced a tour of the towers and the balconies that involved an awful lot of spiral staircases. It was a spectacular building and well worth the money but it was a pity about the weather because the drab overcast sky and persistent patches of mist spoilt what would certainly have been spectacular views from the top.

After the visit we returned to the streets and walked to the 1st Century Roman Bridge across the River Tormes, which was flowing west towards the Embalse de Almendra that we had visited yesterday and then we abandoned Salamanca to the mist and returned to the car.
Leaving the city we joined the Autovia de Castilla for the one hundred and twenty kilometre journey back to Valladolid. It was too early to go straight back to the airport so shortly after crossing the Douro for the final time and as we were passing it seemed impolite not to visit the city so we left the motorway and headed for the centre. Valladolid is a sprawling industrial city, the tenth largest in Spain and does not feature on many tourist itineraries even though it was the city where Christopher Columbus spent his last years and died. For a big city there was surprisingly little traffic and we followed signs to the centre and the Plaza Mayor and made our way to a convenient underground car park right below the main square.

It was late afternoon and predictably after failing to make an appearance all day the sun was breaking through now and this was good because the expansive Plaza was really very attractive and all decorated and carefully colour coordinated in various complimentary shades of crimson red and the sun settling down low in the west made the whole place feel warm and hospitable. There was just time to walk the main shopping street, admire some fine art nouveau buildings and have a snack and a drink in a café in the Plaza before it was time to go and return to the airport. We felt a bit rude leaving so quickly but if we fly again to Valladolid we shall pay it the courtesy of staying longer.

Back at the airport we returned the car, Kim thrashed me at cards again while we waited for departure, the flight was on time and soon we were back in the United Kingdom and on our way home and as we drove along the M11 and A14 we reflected on what had been three excellent November days in Castilla y Leon.