Travel Tips for Salamanca, Spain

Salamanca, SpainTravel to The Golden City of Salamanca, Spain.

Salamanca is my favorite city in Spain! I have been there so many times and in all weather conditions and it is still top on my list.

Salamanca is said to have the most beautiful plaza is Spain, or even Europe – and I do believe it is one of the most beautiful. Most of the buildings in the city are made with sandstone that comes from the village of Villamayor. These stones have given Salamanca the nickname “The Golden City” or “La Ciudad Dorada.”

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As with most of the other cities I have covered in Spain, I got there by train from Madrid. Salamanca is a three hour train ride from Madrid and I have often done Salamanca in a day – so early train there and late train back to Madrid. So if you are short on time, it can be seen in a day.

Before I list what to see… why do I like Salamanca so much? Well it is a wonderful city in any weather which says a lot since weather can really affect you impression of a place. It does rain a lot in Salamanca but rain there still makes the city look amazing, perhaps it is the Villamayor stones. But aside from the beauty of the city there are the churches and the university which are interesting in a never ending sort of way.

Each time I go I visit the same sights and never tire of them. Plus there are gargoyles all over the place which are always intriguing. And one of the best features is that you can walk on the Cathedral roof! (You can also do this in Milan, Italy and I am sure in other places…. But this is about Spain so…). And how often do you get to walk on a roof, let alone a cathedral roof? And the old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and rightly so!

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So… What to see in Salamanca, Spain:

1 – Plaza Mayor – As already stated this is one of the most beautiful in Europe. The Plaza was originally used for bull fights but now you can have a cup of coffee or dinner on the plaza and in the summer you can attend a concert here!

2 – Casa de las Conchas – This building was 15th century and was originally a palace but now it is a public library. There are over 300 shells on the facade, sea shells that are the symbol of the Order of Santiago. (There are often art exhibitions in the courtyard. And make sure to note the gargoyles!)

3 – The University of Salamanca is the oldest University in Spain, it was founded in 1218.  You can tour parts of the university and this is a must!

4 – Catedral Nueva – This is the Cathedral with the roof you can walk on. The Cathedral was built in the 16th and 17th centuries. It is a marvel inside as well as outside. The views from the roof of the old city are stupendous! Oh! And you will see many storks up close from the roof as well.

5 – Convento e Iglesia de San Esteban – One of my favorite locations because of the convent and courtyard with all of the gargoyles and creatures carved into the columns. (See a photograph of one of the column capitals by clicking here). The whole complex was built in the 16th and 17th century.

6 – Convento de las Duenas – Another magnificent building with a courtyard lined with incredible gargoyles (these gargoyles are much different then the ones in the San Esteban convent as they have a more dramatic and eerie feel to them – click here to see a photo).

7 – Colegio del Arzobispo Fonseca – This is another attractive building with another splendid courtyard. The college was founded by the archbishop of Toledo, Alonso de Fonseca, and the building was constructed in the early 16th century.

These are the main highlights and the sites I see on every trip I take to Salamanca. I did stay two nights in the city once, instead of my usual one day trip and it is more leisurely, plus you get to see the city at sunset (for a photo of Salamanca at sunset click here).

So hopefully you find time to see Salamanca as it truly is one of the most beautiful cities to see!

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Helpful Info for traveling to Ronda, Spain:

1 – For train information visit Rail Europe for schedules and fares.

2 – For the Official Tourism Site for Salamanca click here.

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What to see in Madrid, Spain – Part One

Madrid, Spain

Travel tips for Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain is a city that truly never sleeps. You can stroll along the Castellana to the Museo del Prado and the monumental Palacio de Comunicaciones. Walking through the downtown you stumble upon hidden streets with cafes and small plazas. From the Royal Palace one can see panoramic views of the city and mountains in the distance. There is so much to explore in Madrid!

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First I will start off with the main sights to see in Madrid.

A great place to start is downtown with Plaza de Oriente and the Royal Palace. The Plaza de Oriente is a gorgeous plaza with the Opera House at one end and the Royal Palace at the other. I recommend getting a coffee at one of the restaurants and simply admiring the scenery. The Royal Palace is the official residence of the King of Spain, however the Royal Family actually lives in a palace outside of the city. Portions of the Palace are open to the public and should not be missed! (If you are visiting Madrid around the holidays you will see many Nativities called Belens in Spanish, and you can see one at the Royal Palace that is very elaborate, just be prepared to wait in line).

Next to the Royal Palace is the Catedral de la Almudena. The construction of the Catedral de la Almudena has been an extremely long process. The exterior of the Cathedral matches the white exterior of the Royal Palace, however the interior of the Cathedral is modern.

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From the Cathedral you can make your way through the old town streets and over to Plaza Mayor. The Plaza Mayor in Madrid is a major point of interest and a good reference point too. The Plaza was constructed in the early 17th century and has been used for bullfights, markets, soccer games, and concerts.

From the Plaza Mayor I recommend walking down towards the Castellana. You can stop in the Puerta del Sol which is another main plaza. However this plaza is more crowded and not my favorite place but it has become more pedestrian now with many pedestrian only streets leading off of the plaza. This is also the site of the bear statue – a bear eating a madrone tree – the symbol of Madrid. And the marking of kilometer zero which symbolizes the center of Spain, the start/ end of the Spanish road system, and the site of protests.

You can reach the Gran Via from Sol and if you like a busy main street with lots of shopping, Gran Via is the street for you to walk down.

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Personally I recommend going from Plaza Mayor down either Calle de Atocha or wandering through the streets to get to Paseo del Prado. Visiting the Prado is a must! The museum is huge so you do need a good amount of time, most of the afternoon! The newest portion of the Prado is an incredible exhibition space and the classical building has the must see painting: Las Meninas by Velazquez.

Also on the Paseo del Prado is theThyssen-Bornemisza Museum which is one of my favorite museums in Madrid. The building itself is beautiful and they have an amazing permanent collection and excellent visiting collections. My advice is to also allow a good full afternoon for this museum as well. Also for any special exhibitions, it is wise to buy tickets in advance (you can buy them days and weeks in advance) because there can be very long lines for these. Don’t miss this museum if you are an art lover!

Then just walk down the Castellana (main street) and you will pass significant buildings such as the Palacio de Communicaciones, the National Library, and Plaza Colon.

Another main site is the Jardines del Buen Retiro, usually just referred to as El Retiro. The park has main statue lined paths, a popular fountain/pond with a Monument to Alfonso XII, and there a crystal palace! After walking through the park you can explore the neighborhood near by and walk down the Calle de Serrano for a look at ritzy stores, restaurants, and apartment buildings.

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These are some of the main sights to see in Madrid, Spain. In part two about Madrid I will list one of my favorite locations in the city along with information about a couple of festivities.

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Helpful Links for Information about Madrid:

1 – For the Royal Palace hours and admissions prices click here.

2 – To read more about the Prado Museum’s history click here.

3 – For the official Prado website click here.

4 – For the hours and admission prices for the Prado click here.

Travel Tips for Alcalá de Henares, Spain

Alcala de Henares, Spain

Summer is here and that means travel, and for many that includes a trip to Europe. Spain is a popular vacation spot attracting over half a million tourists a year. I have traveled to Spain multiple times and visited over twenty cities within Spain.

The summer of 2010 is going to be all about Spain starting in alphabetical order with the cities I have visited. I hope to give some background of each place, along with a few travel tips, and of course photos. Enjoy! and please remember to visit my store site where you will find more photographs and fun facts about each location.

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Travel Tips for Alcalá de Henares.

Alcalá de Henares is just a short train ride from Madrid; see below for specific information about how to get there.

The city is mainly known for its university. The old Alcalá University has magnificent buildings and you can tour parts of them to see the magnificent courtyards, stairways, and architecture. The tour includes historical antidotes, many of which include hilarious old customs and student traditions.

The University was originally founded in 1496 by Cardinal Cisneros and named the Universidad Complutense. This University eventually moved to Madrid and the buildings in Alcalá became the Universidad de Alcalá de Henares in 1977. The University is highly regarded for it’s Spanish language and literature programs.

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Alcalá de Henares is also known as the birthplace of Cervantes and you can visit the original house today.

Other main sites include the main square, Cervantes Square that is a large open square that acts as a divider between the Medieval and University portions of the city.

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Another site that I think should not be missed is the Laredo Palace. This palace was built in 1882 for Manuel Jose de Laredo. The building has interesting architecture with geometrical patterns on the façade and decorative motifs in the rooms that are similar to the Alhambra along with paintings by Laredo himself.

Alcalá de Henares historical center is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. With cobbled streets, medieval buildings and historical sites, Alcalá de Henares is a pleasant and easy day trip.

***To see more photos of Alcalá de Henares visit The Monica Store.

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Links and Useful information about how to get to Alcalá de Henares:

1 – Alcalá de Henares can be reached by the Cercanías trains with several departures every hour from Atocha railway station.

2- For train times and fares visit the Renfe Cercanias Madrid site click here.

3 – For more information about the main sites and what to see visit a helpful tourist information website by clicking here.

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Interesting Facts:

1 – Spain has thirty-six cultural UNESCO World Heritage Sites. For the complete list click here.

2 – Alcalá de Henares is often just referred to as “Alcalá” which comes from the Arabic word al-qal’a, which means fortification.

3 – Christopher Columbus had his first meeting with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella at the “Casa de la Entrevista” in Alcalá de Henares.