After seeing Ávila, I continued my tour of Castilla y León. Next stop was beautiful Salamanca, which is a place I’ve dreamed of going to ever since I saw photos of the incredible Plaza Mayor.  It was also the weekend of the National Event in Salamanca where they invited all the exchange students in Spain to come to their city for the weekend. So my expectations were pretty high!

Imagine my crushing disappointment when we parked outside the hostel and saw…this:

We were in the middle of track housing that could have been anywhere in the world. There was nothing remotely cathedral-like in sight. It was freezing and threatening to rain. Everybody was exhausted, dirty, and on edge. Where was the beautiful fairytale city I’d been dreaming of?

After a shower and a nap, I went out walking. The air was cold and clean, and slightly painful in my ears because of my wet air. I love warm weather, so I was a bit put out and still a little (okay, a lot) crushed.

But then I rounded the next corner and suddenly, all my hopes were back. I could see the tops of stunning towers that could have been cathedrals or palaces or university buildings. The river was sparkling in the late afternoon sun, and there were lots of people out and about.

A little ways up the hill leading to the city center and all my bad mood was wiped away. The whole city glowed with an amazing bronze color as the sun started setting, and I happily snapped away at all the amazing buildings.

As soon as it started getting chilly, I walked back to the hostel and stopped for a café con leche and a piece of tortilla with chorizo. Eventually I got back and got ready for the night’s craziness, which started with a tasty tapas dinner. Check out this slideshow of the beautiful city (I couldn’t quite figure out how to make it do what I wanted, but it’s there!).

The restaurant was kind of crazy, with the food getting eaten as soon as it was brought out. Then the endless pitchers of beer and wine started, and pretty soon it was a full-on party. The fiesta ended up in an underground nightclub until 4 a.m. (for me…some people stayed until 7 a.m.!).

Of course, next morning was pretty difficult. The trip coordinators came in shouting at us with megaphones to rustle even the most hungover of travelers out of bed. We then got a full walking tour of the city with a local guide. He spoke suuuuuch clean Spanish compared to the accents I’ve learned Spanish from (Andaluz, Catalan, and Argentine for my fellow Spanish students). Plus, he made extra sure to explain all the dirty/slang phrases that had originated  in Salamanca.

See this tiny door? It’s the reason for one of those phrases. Students who failed their exams had to exit the exam room through it, and people waited outside to throw pumpkins (calabasas) at them. So today you can ask people how many “calabasas” they got, i.e. how many classes they failed.

Another one we learned was “irse de picos pardos“, which basically means to go out for a crazy night on the town. It comes from the ‘pardo‘/brown tights that prostitutes wore as a subtle way of letting people know what they did by lifting up their long skirts to show their brown ankles. (It literally translates as “to go out as brown beaks”, which makes zero sense.)

The tour was a ton of fun. We also saw these cool paintings on the walls above, which are the names of everybody awarded a doctorate of the University of Salamanca (it’s a famous one, just a few years younger than Oxford). They’re painted in a mixture of water, rust, and bull’s blood. But there was one condition – the candidates had to kill the bull themselves!

Today they don’t do that anymore, which might go without saying. Instead they use paint. But you still get to permanently paint your name in red on the city walls.

Another thing our guide pointed out was this frog balanced on top of a skull. If you found it on your first day at school, you were going to be lucky that year. If you didn’t, it meant you had good traits like patience and a good work ethic.

During the afternoon, there was a gymkhana contest going on, which basically involved lots and lots of drinking. At the end there was a flash mob in the Plaza Mayor. The local news thought it was so hilarious they came and videotaped it. Here’s the segment featuring the trip:

After the tour, I spent a chill afternoon eating lunch, visiting cathedrals, and napping. And then it was time for the Spanish Gala Night that the Salamanca students put on. Everyone dressed up in fancy clothes (well, almost everyone) and there were tapas and endless beers once again. The students put on a short flamenco show and there was lots of music. It was kind of like a slightly older version of prom with lots of booze.

I went to bed relatively early (4 a.m.) to try to catch up on missed hours of sleep. We got woken up mid-morning again so we could do the tedious hostel check-out (remember, there were 160 of us). Luckily I got some reading in, and two hours later we were finally on our way to the third and final stop of our trip: Segovia, with its famous aqueduct.

¡Hasta luego, Salamanca!