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Journeys : June July 2009
The surprising side of Spain Wendy Zukerman The Plaza Mayor, Salamanca Chocolate, frogs and religious relics Think of Spain and you might picture bull fighting and flamenco dancing. But heading northwest from Madrid to Salamanca and beyond to Santiago de Compostela, I found a different world – a world of of ancient religious relics, rich chocolate and lucky frogs. headed to the Plaza Mayor (Main Square) for some chocolate con churros. Day or night, big city or town, the Spaniards know how to make hot chocolate. As I dipped the crunchy traditional donuts into the steaming mug of dark chocolate I looked around me – the Plaza was stunning! A It was built from 1729 to 1755 and decorations on its pillars represent important historical figures. The city houses one of Europe’s oldest universities, the University of Salamanca, and its golden buildings made of Villamayor stone are dotted around the city centre. One such building is Casa de las Conchas (House of Shells) which is covered in 300 scallop shells. This is a city to explore on foot, but just about the only thing that you won’t find by meandering is the rana de suerte (lucky frog). The rana is carved into the walls of the Universidad Civil (another golden s I arrived in Salamanca, the small city was snow-covered. I quickly Salamancan building). But the frog is hidden among a detailed façade of carvings. If you find it, according to legend, you’ll have academic success. I wasn’t sure if the legend would still work if I asked a local, but I didn’t travel half way across the globe not to see this frog! After a few minutes of blankly gazing at the wall, and watching children a quarter of my age gleefully spot it, I asked for some help. Yes, there it was – and let’s hope it works for me, back at uni in Australia. From Salamanca I took a bus northbound to the World Heritage town of Santiago de Compostela. It is said that the body of Christ’s apostle James was brought here, and for this reason, the towering Santiago Cathedral in its centre is the final destination for old pilgrimage routes that cover Western Europe. For centuries, pilgrims have walked – and still walk – thousands of kilometres to reach the sacred cathedral, and it is a very impressive place. Different parts of the cathedral have been built over the eras. Its Romanesque entrance was constructed around the 12th century, while the Baroque façade was added 600 years later – it’s a living architectural history museum, housing the relics of St James. Feeling a little cold and hungry I wandered the streets of Santiago and was lucky to find Café Metate. It’s a former chocolate factory that now makes homemade hot chocolate. Forget flamenco and bull fighting – this is what Spain is really about! Chocolate con churros June / July 09 53 The author below the ‘lucky frog’ wall, Universidad Civil, Salamanca Santiago Cathedral, Santiago de Compostela Wendy Zukerman Wendy Zukerman Wendy Zukerman
April May 2009
August September 2009