Thursday, 27 November 2008

Salamanca: two-cathedral city

On 31st October, after saying goodbye to the Russells at Madrid Chamartin - they were off to Bilbao and home - we caught a Pendolino for the next leg of our trip. We glimpsed the huge Escorial (mausoleum/palace/monastery), and - with the sun setting behind it - the walled city of Avila, both World Heritage Sites, en route to a third, Salamanca. My expectations for this city were not that high. Knowing Oxford and (a little of) Cambridge, I couldn't believe that Salamanca would be comparable. It isn't. It's far better!

We were fortunate to have chosen a hotel well-placed for its view over the city: the Parador must be the ugliest building in Salamanca, but at least looking out from it you are spared looking at it. On our arrival there, all the main buildings were floodlit (er, yes, energy-wasteful, but magical all the same).

Before dinner - we were still getting used to Spanish hours - my young cousin Martin Williams and his charming fiancée Victoria led us through car-free (and, cf Oxford, bus-free) streets to the 12th Century, circular church of San Marcos for mass to celebrate the vigil of All Saints; and - the following day - they guided us again round the two great cathedrals, the church of San Esteban and the Pontifical University (with its Mudejar ceilings and library of 60,000 pre-19th Century books). In warm sunshine, we marvelled inside the Casa Lis, temple to Art Nouveau, and more still at Plaza Mayor: the world's grandest open-air drawing-room.

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