This past July I had the pleasure of participating in a Centennial College Short International Program (SIP) language and cultural exchange in Salamanca, Spain. Salamanca is located in the community of Castile and Leon, in the north-west region of Spain. I attended Spanish lessons in the morning at Universidad Pontifical de Salamanca, one of the best schools to learn Spanish, and I spent my afternoons and weekends sightseeing. Salamanca is a popular student destination and I met students from Italy, England and the US. The other university in Salamanca, Universidad de Salamanca, celebrated its 800th anniversary. Is there anything in Canada anywhere close to 800 years old?
Spanish lessons consisted of the basics – counting (cero, uno, dos, tres…), eating (yo como…), drinking (tu bebes…), days of the week (lunes, martes, miércoles…), months (Enero, Febrero, Marzo…), and colours (negro, blanco, naranja, roza…). Did you know that there are 27 letters in the Spanish alphabet? The additional letter is between N and O and looks like this – ñ – and is used in words like “niño” and “niña”. Even though our classes were 4 hours a day for 4 weeks, we learned quite a bit in that short time span. Everything from animals to different verbs to family members, we learned it. During our last week was our final exam, graduation and grad party. Graduation Day was absolutely one of my best days in Salamanca.
When I wasn’t learning in the classroom, I was immersing myself in Spanish culture, which is its own education in and of itself. My first week in Salamanca coincided with 4th of July celebrations, and those of us that found our way to Plaza Mayor was fortunate enough to be serenaded by a mariachi band. That weekend I rented a bike, grabbed a map and took off on my own Tour de Salamanca. The city is small and compact with loads of bike trails, so it was very easy to navigate. I rode along a Roman bridge, through Jesuit Parque that had a pond in the middle of the park, filled with swans and ducks. That same week my flatmates and I went to a Flamenco show which was outstanding, and the rest of the audience must have agreed as shouts of “Ole!” and “Guapa!” came from the crowd.
Being the adventurous type, I took a bus from Salamanca to Saville one weekend, the capital of Andalusia community. First up was the Real Alcázar, which is Spanish for Royal Palace. The palace is still the primary residence used by the royal family and certain rooms were closed to the public. I have no words to describe just how drop dead beautiful this palace was. Gorgeous doesn’t even come close to describing its stunning beauty. I could’ve spent all day there and still not see everything. Everywhere you looked, there was art to be found, even on the ceiling! The palace is the perfect mixture of Christian and Arabic influences. And if I was gobsmacked by the inside of the palace, I had a shock waiting for me on the outside. Real Alcázar has not one, not two, but three gardens, the next one more beautiful than the last! Up next was Plaza España (Spain Square) which was walking distance from Real Alcázar. Also another piece of stunning architecture, that was relatively quite new compared to Real Alcázar. Plaza España was built in the 1800’s for the Ibero-American Exposition World’s Fair. It is a semi-circular park with a large and beautiful water fountain in the middle and a pond that surrounds it. You can rent rowboats that take you around the pond and under gorgeous bridges. While exploring Plaza España I ran into impromptu Flamenco dancers and singer. I ended my day with tapas and a well-deserved sangria.
My final weekend in Spain was by far, the best of my entire trip! Our school organised weekend trips for my classmates and I so that we could practice our Spanish. On Saturday my classmates and I went to Segovia to see the Roman Aqueduct, Alcázar of Segovia, and Segovia Cathedral, which was absolutely beautiful. Alcázar of Segovia is now used as a war museum and had a very pretty garden in the shape of a maze. After lunch we made our way to Avila, which was only a short bus ride away from Segovia. Avila is famous for its medieval wall, which provides beautiful views of nearby cathedrals and the town. On Sunday, some of my classmates and I went on one of the school-organised weekly beach trips to playa Suances. Suances is a 3.5 hour drive north of Salamanca and it was the best 35 euros I’ve ever spent. The beaches were spectacular, clean and not over-crowed, the ocean wasn’t cold, and the weather was hot, hot, hot!
Living in Spain means adjusting your expectations. It means getting used to small elevators and weird bathrooms. It means getting used to the heat and not expecting AC everywhere you go. And you can throw your diet out the window and forget about having a curfew! Lunch was anywhere between 2 or 3 in the afternoon, then siesta. Sinner was around 9:00pm.
What I’m going to miss about Spain and Salamanca particularly is the manana lifestyle and siestas (seriously). I’m going to miss going to Plaza Mayor after school for frozen yoghurt and people watching. I’m definitely going to miss the food, the beautiful architecture, the gorgeous beaches, and going to bed every night to this view.
If you get a chance to participate in a SIP, I highly recommend it! You won’t regret it!
Ouida Shiers – SIP, Salamanca, Spain