Sunday, June 29, 2014

Salamanca: the original college town

The University of Salamanca was founded in the year 1218, and boasts some incredible alumn, including Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quijote, Fray Luis de Leon, a Spanish poet and author, and Hernan Cortes, a famous explorer. 
Its halls and ancient libraries are still filled with students today. Actually, the entire city of Salamanca is filled with university-aged people (like me), carrying on with their daily lives in the midst of hundreds of tour groups. Personally, I would love to go to school here...
Salamanca is a perfectly sized city, much smaller than Madrid, with a young population and lots of history. 
This wall, on an entrance to the university, was made famous by the tiny frog that was hidden in its intricacies, called "la rana de buena suerte," or the frog of good luck. I was told that, if I could find the frog without help, I would have good luck and be able to pass all my exams.
Across from the façade was a statue of Fray Luis de Leon. Prior to taking my Spanish Literature class last year, I would not have known who this guy was, but after doing my final project on him and his works, he's kind of a friend of mine. I stopped so we could get a photo together. 
Above is the House of Shells, beautifully decorated with, well, shells.
The Pontifical University of Salamanca towered over us during our entire time downtown. It was definitely worth seeing up close. 
Above is St. Stephen's Church, which we were able to snap a few photos of. 
Above are some storks who made their home on top of the convent's belltower! Storks mate for life and meet up at the same place every year to build their nest. 
The NEW Cathedral is pictured above, even though it really is quite old. It was consecrated in 1733, and is actually connected to the Old Cathedral. You can even pass through from one to the other through a little door to the right of the main entrance. 
Love me some symmetry...
Love me some jamon serrano. 
We walked around amongst the university student population on a Thursday night and found them relaxing and getting ready for a night out. We passed by the round church, above, that made for a good photo. 
We also hung out with the rest of the locals on Salamanca's Plaza Mayor. It was a great feeling to be out there around 10pm. There was still some daylight, and young people were walking around on dates, riding by on bikes, and eating pizza on the stone floor. 
What a great place to go to school!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Fatima and Porto

Portugal has really grown on me... I've gone from knowing very little about the country and its culture, to wanting to learn more and explore more of its cities in depth. I am also interested in picking up some Portuguese, which shouldn't be exceedingly difficult because of my background in Spanish, and both languages' Latin roots.
Fatima is a city of spiritual importance to Catholics, located in the center of Portugal. It is believed that the Virgin Mary appeared to three children in a field in rural Portugal in 1917. Here is the full story and a few photos of this powerful place: 
Before booking this tour, I had never heard of the city of Porto, but now I can honestly say that I would love to visit Porto again... Even just to take a stroll along the River Douro. 
While walking around, I noticed many preserved facades of buildings, beautifully decorated with the tiles that Portugal is known for.
I also noticed that there were many other buildings where only the facades remained. Behind these walls was empty space due to abandonment and lack of restoration. It made me very sad to see the amount of broken window panes and resident-less buildings. I wonder if it would be possible for private owners to buy these buildings and restore them... maybe if more people knew about the city and took in its charm, this could happen.
We visited the old Stock Exchange building, which is now used for private parties and films.
Every single room was decorated differently, and each one of them was a new masterpiece to take in. 
After taking some photos of these awesome boats on the Douro, we took a tour of the Sandeman winery, located right on the River.
Oh yeah, the tour included a Port wine tasting, as Port wine is what Porto is known for. 
We crossed the bridge that was designed by Gustave Eiffel, and took the funicular up the hill to explore the upper part of the city and to see the view.
Then, we took an adorable tram down to the main part of the city. Tram 28 creaked loudly as it went up and down the city's many hills. The trip gave us a mini tour of the city, and wowed us with just how close it came to the buildings while making its way through very narrow streets.
Like I said before, I really enjoyed Porto and I hope that more and more people decide to visit this hidden gem of Europe.

A little bit of Lisbon, Cascais,and Sintra

Our beautiful, sunny day of touring began at the monument to Henry the Navigator, right in front of the Presidential Palace. I really enjoyed seeing this monument, featuring Henry in the front, with others who helped with exploration, including other members of the Royal family, the church, and explorers. All the figures face to the New World. 
Near to this incredible monument that honors Portugal's strong history of exploration is the Belem Tower. It sits nicely on the bay:
Cascais is a small fishing village on the Atlantic Ocean. It has become a huge place for visiting tourists to spend some time by the ocean and in the shops. 
Sintra was a small town, built on the side of a hill. The winding roads and (steep) uphill sidewalks were quaint, and the uneven cobblestones were nearly lethal.
We visited the Sintra National Palace, or Town Palace, which is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here are some photos:
Above is some of the incredible tile work that Portugal is known for.
And then we went back to Lisbon for the remainder of the evening.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Olá Portugal!

When my parents and I decided on visiting Spain, we also had the desire to see a bit of Portugal. Although often overshadowed by its larger neighbor, Portugal has an entirely different culture and is definitely a country worth visiting. Obviously, Portuguese is the official language of Portugal, not Spanish; however, a good amount of Portuguese is similar to Spanish, which allowed my family and I to navigate easily ( especially when reading signs and asking for directions from locals). 
Upon crossing the border from Spain into Portugal, we passed many cork tree groves and spacious bull farms, where fighting bulls are raised. We also kept a sharp eye out for farms with Iberical pigs, which are special to the region and are used for prosciutto.
The first city that we stopped in, on a rainy afternoon, was Évora. This smaller city is known for all the incredible souvenirs that can be made out of cork from the cork tree... They had hats, purses, and even umbrellas that were made out of thin cork.
There were also some ruins and many statues of people I don't know, which made for some nice photos.
For lunch on an especially cold and rainy day, we had some vegetable soup and followed it with "Portuguese cake" made of cookies and filled with cream. 
We then drove on up to Lisbon, or Lisboa, as they say in Portuguese. Here we had a delicious dinner of grilled sea bass, which we accompanied with a nice glass of white house wine. Portugal has always been known as a "poor country," as in, made up of mostly middle to lower class people. This is a reason as to why traditional cuisine includes a lot of fish rather than meat, as well as grains and beans.