Day Trip – Around the World Day 9

Salamanca has been a great town with a lot of interesting things around every corner, but I have been there for four days already and it was time to go check out other locations. Another town in the area that attracts tourists is Segovia, and even though this town is smaller than Salamanca there are a lot of get things there to look at, and makes for a perfect day trip from the my home base in the college town. It is only an hour train ride away and the people are warm and friendly, willing to take in the thousands of visitors that travel here during the summer months.

The most obvious feature is the old Roman aqueducts that run through the town. They were built in the first century A.D. without using any mortar, and I am told that even though they are not in use right now, they could still supply the town of Segovia with water. There are many spots in town that you can inspect these impressive feature because they run 15 kilometers throughout the city landscape, and they are always in the background.

But this is not the only feature of the town. Of course there is a cathedral, and I did not chose to visit it because I have been to enough of them on the course of my travels already. Instead I went to the other place that you do not get to see as much in European towns, the Alcazar. Alcazar is Spanish for castle, and this is one of the more impressive castles that I have ever seen. It is also an important part of Spanish history as this is the place where Isabella was crowned Queen of Spain and set off one of the most impressive times in European history.

The place holds many pieces of artwork from the time period as well as a bunch of suits of armor, medieval weapons, and maybe one of the largest collections of cannons ever. The castle sits on top of a large wall that would have made it a very difficult building to siege, making sure that the monarch was safe against any attacks that might have come their way. The artwork can be a little disturbing from time to time. There is a depiction of one of the kings ridding the land of moors by decapitating them and riding over their heads on his white horse. There is also a large painting depicting the coronation of Queen Isabella, but the painter only left black holes in place of where the subjects eyes should be, giving it a feeling that everybody in the picture actually belongs on another plain of existence. I am surprised that parts of the picture have not been used in some horror movies, but I can see how it has been the inspiration for some of them.

Wandering through the town is also a treat. There are many places where you can grab some tapas, or a cool cup of gelato. There are also tons of shops in the area if that is your thing to do, even though they are pretty much the same as you can find in any other town in Spain. In other words, they sell lots of zapatos here as there seems to be at least two or three shoe shops on every street.

But the real joy from this place comes from looking at the building that come out of many different periods of time as it is easy to see that Segovia has been around for many centuries. Every corner has a new statue or government building, castle, or cathedral. It is a wrapped safely in the confines of a medieval city wall that would have protected the citizens from conquering armies but somehow cannot keep out all of the visitors that come here all of the time.

I was not the only person going on a day trip to this great little town. It seems as if a lot of Spaniards had the same thought that I did because the train station was packed when I decided to head back to my little hotel room in Salamanca, except they were going the other way to the even closer town of Madrid. There are tons of towns like this all over Europe and it is worth taking the time to find them and journey away from your home base to enjoy a change of scenery. I would be willing to bet that you wouldn’t even need to travel to Europe to find that little small town in your corner of the world, so maybe the next day you have off, instead of spending it milling around the house, you could go enjoy a day trip.

A Different View from a Cathedral – Around the World Day 8

As I’ve stated before, when you go to Europe, you spend a lot of your time touring various cathedrals. You become well versed in the ways of architecture, and you can start to tell the difference between the gothic style and the baroque style. You also get to see the Catholic church’s collection of great pieces of art. After awhile they start to blend together unless you come across something completely new and unique with the cathedrals that you tour. Catedral Nueva in Salamanca is one of the cathedrals that adds a new twist to the experience.

It has its various chapels like all the other cathedrals in Europe. It even has a special artifact, the left forearm of saint that they have preserved in a case that you can pray to. It even has a boring audio guide that explains all of the things you are looking at by some old British guy with a monotonous voice. So then why should this be one of the places that you visit while you are in Salamanca. Well, because after you take the tour, you will notice a small door off to the side of the building that will give you access to the roof. This is where the views are spectacular, and you really get to see Salamanca from a different perspective.

The winding paths that they give you access to will allow you to view the main cathedral from up above, and will actually take you all the way to the bell towers high above the streets of Salamanca. The give you access to this part of the cathedral even at night while it is all lit up and Salamanca looks completely different from this perspective. I do recommend that you watch out while in the bell tower because they do ring the bells every fifteen minutes and they are really loud when you are right next to them.

But you start to feel like Quasimodo in Notre Dame Cathedral as you get to skip around the rooftops. Not many people know about this access either, so while I was up there I ran into only a handful of people, and there are so many hidden little corners up there that even when I did run into these people it did not feel like I was overrun by tourists. And you just want to take pictures of everything because there are so many photo opportunities up there.

And you do get to watch the people as they make there ways down the winding paths to their jobs or their lunches or to their classes. It is the hidden gem of this city. If you do find yourself in Salamanca, I do recommend that you visit the cathedral because it is a nice example of gothic architecture, and it is connected to the old cathedral, so in one visit you can see two great buildings. But make sure you find that door that gives you access to the roof because that is where the great views actually are, and it makes the visit to this site truly memorable.


Wandering the Streets – Around the World Day 7

Yes, Salamanca has some great sites that as a traveler I will visit, but that was not the goal of my first complete day here. When I get into any new town I like to get my bearings by wandering around the streets, and I did not do that the first evening I was in town. I had an important soccer match to watch. (I know I should call it futball because of where I am, but some habits die hard.) But it was a beautiful day to see what the city had to offer today.

I enjoy this activity a lot, and Salamanca is the perfect place to go out and stroll its streets. It is an old city filled with a tannish brown stone that makes every street I wandered down feel as if I was back in the twelfth century. But it also has little gems that the guide books do not like to highlight. There are numerous plazas, and shady spot to escape a hot summer’s day, and my camera went crazy trying to capture all of them.

There are also lots of cafes and restaurants all through the windy streets. It is not an officially a car free zone, but so few cars come down these streets that it gives it that pedestrian mall feel. The center of the city is ringed by a single busy road, and this is the heart of the tourist’s place. It houses the university, and Plaza Mayor, and it is big enough that you could easily spend a day exploring all of the crooks and crannies. In this way it reminds me a little of Venice. You can get a little lost wandering the streets and never get so lost that you will never find your way back to your hotel room. Any time you come to the major road that rings this area, you just dip back into the old streets and get lost some more.

This is when you can find the small little details that the city has to offer. There are enough carvings into the buildings or crazy models in shops that you will easily be entertained all day. And you do not have to do the usual tourist thing in Europe by visiting the cathedrals, or watching people at the major plazas. That does not mean that I still won’t do those things, but by doing Salamanca this way I felt like I was being a tourist on my own terms.

And by doing this I got to enjoy the city on a different level. I was able to watch the street performers and their unique style. I got to stop in a cafe to get a cafe con leche any time I felt a little thirsty or needed a boost of caffeine. I got to sit in the shade of the trees and laugh at the herds of tourists being led around by their tour guide. It wasn’t a busy day, and I can’t say I saw anything that was worthy of a guide book, but in a way I saw a whole lot more.

Salamanca’s Living Room – Around the World Day 6

I have left behind the busy pace of Barcelona on my quest to constantly head west to the slower pace of Spain’s college town, Salamanca. The major feature of this town is its university which was established in 1154 and at one time was considered one of the more prestigious learning institutions in Europe. Even though it is still held in high regard today, it is not considered at the level it once was. It does not matter much because it is not like I am going to take the time to enroll in a class, and I am pretty sure that there are not many classes going on right now due to the fact that they are probably out for the summer. Either way, it will be a change of pace from Barcelona.

Most of the day was spent on a train transferring in Madrid, so when I finally arrived at my final destination I was looking forward to some tapas, a quick beer, and an early night so I could really explore this town the next day. I was in for a little bit of a treat though. Christine had booked a hotel room overlooking one of Salamanca’s greatest features, Plaza Mayor.

A plaza is the main feature of any Spanish town. Barcelona has a few of them, and they were interesting, but nothing like the one in Salamanca. The whole square is surrounded by one single large building with arches placed strategically in many places to allow entrance into the place. On the ground floor, there are numerous tapas bars, gelato shops, and restaurants. Because of this this is where the people of Salamanca come together to catch up on their days.

On a typical Wednesday night this might mean a few people, but the thousands of seats were all taken up last night because what better way to enjoy your city’s family than to get together to watch a World Cup match where Spain is looking to overcome the tie they had the opening night against Portugal. There was a lot of excitement as people found a place to settle in to watch the game, and even though I was hoping for an early evening, I knew I wasn’t going to get it because this place was going to be loud tonight and my room overlooked the noise.

Now as an American, I don’t understand the mass appeal to World Cup soccer, but as a world traveler, I do understand that it is the largest sporting event in the world, and if your country happens to make it, any time there is a game, it becomes a major event. It becomes a completely different sport when you find yourself in a large group of people who are excited about the outcome, and it is also a way to show national pride as people wore Spanish jerseys, waved Spanish flags, and even draped them over their shoulders to wear like a cape. It made for a memorable start to my visit to Salamanca, and I can’t wait to see what other exciting things this town has in store for me.

Let’s Talk About Food – Around the World Day 5

People love to travel the world for many different reasons, but the one reason that is included in what everybody says when they talk about the places they will be visiting is they are excited to try the food there. The dishes that places make are the things that make one culture distinct from another one, and there is nothing more enjoyable than experiencing what these cultures have to offers. Plus it something that we have to do on a daily basis. If we do not eat we can not live, so why not enjoy it while you have the opportunity.

But it is not only restaurants where this experience can be enjoyed. Many places around the world have markets where you can try many different types of food, or get the fresh ingredients that you need to make an amazing meal. There is a great one right off the Ramblas in Barcelona call the Boqueria. Even if you do not buy any food there, it is still a fun place to visit to see all the city has to offer in fine ingredients. There have been many times on my travels where I have had more fun going to these markets without a clue as to what I was going to make, but finding great ingredients and putting together one of my favorite meals I would have on that trip. It is one of the advantages of staying at a hostel because they usually have a kitchen that you can use. With the inception of Air B+B, this perk has been made available to more people without having to cram into a room with a bunch of strangers.

Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to make a meal yet, but it has not bothered me much because I am in Spain, the land of the tapas. A tapas bar will serve small portions of food, allowing you to have many different bites along the way. There are some traditional dishes that all bars will include, but it is fun to see the different creative ways a chef can piece together a meal out here. One of the best ones that we were able to experience was called Tapeo. It is a small place next to the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. They have many traditional items, but they also blend in some Japanese flavors into their dishes such as this salmon potato dish that included a wasabi sauce that you could sprinkle on the top of the dish.

The dish was really amazing, but it was the bombastas they were so good that we kept ordering them right after we had finished eating them. They are a meat a potato ball that is fried so when you bite into them you get an explosion of flavor. It is dishes like this that make me know that I am in Spain and I will only be able to find these flavors in this corner of the world.

And of course, if small dishes are not your thing, you can still wander the streets of whatever place you are in until you find the perfect dish that you would want to try. If you are near the coast, try a plate full of fresh seafood. If in the center of a country, enjoy the hearty dishes they have to offer. The point is that wherever you go, make sure you eat, and eat well. It is part of the experience of travel and it makes each voyage even more memorable.

The Sagrada Familia – Around the World Day 4

I feel lucky that I have been able to come back to Barcelona after I visited it eleven years earlier, and not because it is an amazing city with wonderful and spectacular history, but because it means that I have been able to tour the Sagrada Familia twice. Now, I know that this is a cathedral, and anybody who has been to Europe knows that there are so many cathedrals that they start to blend into one another, but there is something special about this cathedral. It was originally supposed to be another gothic cathedral in the heart of Barcelona, but then Antonio Gaudi was given the privilege to design it, and what was created has turned into something that is unlike anything else that has been built. It is a tribute to architecture, and in my humble opinion, the most beautiful thing that man has ever created.

The design starts with the pillars inside of the cathedral. Gaudi was inspired by nature, and wanted the inside of the cathedral to reflect this connection. Instead of having the pillars reach to the ceiling and connect in four spots to hold up the mighty structure, he designed them so they would continually branch out like trees. It give the space inside the cathedral a more airy and open feeling as if you were walking through a forest. He added to this motif by designing stain glass windows to let in light that reflects the time of day, cooler colors on the east side for the morning, and warmer colors on the west for the sunset. The stone that is used for each pillar is different and the carving on the side is specific to different trees to give his forest an eclectic variety of tress. With all of this, the brilliance comes with the fact that structurally this is more sound than the designs of gothic cathedrals, and more pleasing to look at.

He also removed a lot of the clutter that can be found inside gothic cathedrals and instead placed the statues outside so everybody can enjoy the impact that these points of Bible stories might have on the general public. So far two of the sides reflect two of the more important points in Jesus’s life, the nativity and the passion. The nativity side faces east towards the rising sun, and the intricate carving were designed to give the feeling of the explosion of nature as if life is just beginning for the first time. The whole side of the cathedral has moments from Jesus’s earlier part of life such as the arrival of the the shepherds, and the three wise men, the exile from Bethlehem, and Jesus working on a project with his father, Joseph. I spent some time on this side marveling at the intricacies put into the design, making walking through its doors a spiritual moment.

But this is in stark contrast to the opposite side of the building with its angular statues, and harsh motifs. This side depict many moments of Jesus’s death, and Gaudi wanted to remind people that this was a brutal moment in history. Even the pillars that hold up this side of the building remind me of taut muscles and stiff bones. But this side captivates me more than the nativity side. Gaudi dies before its completion, so he was never able to see it as he intended, but the artist that took over the construction made sure to give enough hints to its creator to make it even more interesting to look at. There is a magic square in which the numbers always add up to 33, how old Jesus was when he dies. There are also Roman soldiers wearing helmets that are actually chimney rooftops from another Gaudi structure in town, and the face of the architect is on one of the disciples of the left side of the relief.

It is a great building that is filled with surprises at every turn that highlights Gaudi’s love of nature, God, and the city that he lived in. It is still being built and they hope to finish its construction by 2026, one hundred years after the death of its designer. And I am lucky to have seen it at two different points during its construction, and I hope to come back again some day to see it again when it is complete.

Fighting Jetlag – Around the World Day 2

Yes, it took a long plane ride through the night, but we finally arrived in Barcelona, Spain, and were able to go and look at the statue of Columbus pointing east over the Mediterranean Sea. (Yeah, I’m just as confused as you are.) I was excited about getting to explore this great city, but I had one big problem, my head still floated in a different time zone. So like so many other travelers who hop from continent to continent, I tried to figure out how to get over my jetlag so I could enjoy my trip with a clear head. I had an even harder time with this time because we arrived at 8 o’clock in the morning and we had the whole day to deal with this feeling before we could go to sleep and try to adjust to the time zone that we were in. So I thought I would share with you how I attacked this problem, and hopefully they will help you if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

First off, never lie down. That will kill you every time. Even if you think that you are just doing it to rest for a little bit so you can recover from the way your eyelids feel super heavy, it will not help you. You will eventually close your eyes and you will never recover from the mistake. You will find yourself waking up at two o’clock in the morning ready to take on the day. Which if you find yourself in Barcelona, it might not be a big problem because the bars stay open until 4 o’clock in the morning, but what will you do after that?

Because you shouldn’t lie down, the obvious thing to do is to walk around the neighborhood and check out the sights. It will keep your mind active and it will also allow you to know where the things you really want to see are. I suggest that you do not go into the museums and the cathedrals yet because you will not be able to enjoy them the way that you are hoping to, but there will enough going on around you that will allow you to keep you awake. It is also when your freak radar is on high alert, and you will see some of the greatest moments on your trip, things that will make you laugh, like people dancing to jazz music across Spanish plazas, or strange advertisements pasted on stores to attract you interest.

If though I recommend that you do not go into anything significant, that does not mean that you can’t still get a cultural experience. Hey, that is part of the reason we travel in the first place. The best way to do this is to enjoy the architecture of the city that you find yourself in. Europe has a lot to offer in this department, and I had found a new corner of Barcelona that I did not know existed. I always assumed that it was a more modern city ruled by the art work on Antonio Gaudi,  but I discovered the medieval part of the city that was built on the ruins of Roman buildings. It has amazing gothic buildings and give you the feeling that you are in Europe. Find this part of the city you are in because there is a treasure around every corner that you turn.

Lastly, find the crowds and enjoy the local cuisine. Your mind not be in the right place to have deep conversations with these people, and if you don’t speak the language really well, you are not going to be able to do it anyways. But it is fun to people watch. There are so many stories in a city like Barcelona, and you can exercise your mind by trying to tell them. You will also be able to start to pick out the difference between the locals, and the ones who are out there for vacation. (Don’t worry, they are doing the same thing with you.) It is a great way to exercise your brain without making a big fool out of yourself, and as a writer, it is a great way to collect stories for later use.

The food is really important too. Don’t go big on your first day. You will have an opportunity later to have that relaxing meal that you are looking for. Try to sample the local flavors. If you find yourself in Spain, you can do this by eating tapas. They are small bites that allow you to taste a little here and little there. It also allows you the pleasure of hopping from place to place. You can have a small tapas at one place than you can skip across the street to try a different one over there. It will engage you enough to keep you awake and willing to stay up even though your eyes my burn and your head might float around the stratosphere.

There are many other things that you can do to try to get over jetlag, and people are always willing to offer their advice on the subject, but these are the things that help me. You might still want to go to bed early and that is okay. I went to sleep last night at 8 o’clock which is ridiculous, but I was able to sleep throughout the whole evening and woke up at 6 o’clock to take on the second day in this city. Each night I will stay up later and later and within a couple of days I will be on this time zone, and I won’t be up at weird times wondering what I will do while others are sleeping.