I think many American iPhone users take for granted the treasure that is the Maps app. Yes, Siri may direct you down an inconvenient route every once and a while, but at least she navigates you towards your destination and can joke about her mistakes.
In Spain, Siri is as lost as I am. While exploring in Toledo and Salamanca this past weekend, an old-fashioned map became my best friend. What is greatly underappreciated about maps, or planos, is how they manage to pinpoint all the historic buildings in a city. However, tiny European streets are either impossible to find or are not drawn on the map at all. As always, getting lost makes for some good memories.
On Friday morning, my friends and I visited Toledo. Only 30 minutes away from Madrid lies the ancient city, famously known for its fusion of religious cultures and military presence. The heart of the city is small. Realistically it should take a native 45 minutes to get around it, but as tourists it took us about 3 hours. The winding streets were filled with tiny trinket shops, which sold medieval swords and knives to Spanish tiles. Yet, the narrow streets made it difficult to find one’s way around. Especially when a car decides to drive through, in which case you find yourself up against a wall, mostly because you don’t have any other choice.
We spent most of our day visiting the city’s famous religious monuments. Toledo is nicknamed the “City of Three Cultures” for once housing Catholics, Jews, and Muslims before the reformation. Our trip would have gone to waste if we did not visit them. For only 8 euros, we were able to go into six churches, synagogues, and mosques, which is quite the deal for a college student’s budget.
While each building is architecturally unique, they are all linked by the Catholic faith. After the reformation, the mosques and synagogues became Catholic churches. Both buildings are now named after Jesus and Mary respectively and house Christian symbols. The juxtaposition was the ultimate game of “what doesn’t belong here.”
In a way, the whole city is like that. The modern world functions within the centuries old landscape. One could easily eat some churros and watch a fútbol game on TV in a café just across the street from an El Greco painting. While I was walking on the cobbled streets I kept wondering what life would have been like centuries ago.
From one time vortex we stepped into another in Salamanca. Although it is primarily known as a university town, trust me when I say it does not look anything like the University of Alabama or Florida. Salamanca gets its charm from being an impressively clean and organized inner city. Around the university, the area looks romantic. Tall birch trees line up against the streets and black gothic fences accent wells, balconies, and doors. As the most prestigious university and Spain, one can almost feel the stimulation of thought bouncing off the walls. Remember when you visited Harvard for the first time and suddenly felt smarter? That’s what its like walking around Salamanca.
Our first stop was to visit the Salamancan Cathedral. For about five seconds we were hesitant about going in, but thank goodness we ended up doing it! The Cathedral is separated into two parts—La Vieja and La Nueva. The Old Cathedral was built in the 12th century and is somehow still standing. It was insane to think that my footsteps were matching up with someone’s who lived an inconceivable amount of years ago. It was amusing to see how short the doors were and how tiny the keys were on the first musical organ. Not going to lie, I felt like a giant for the first time in my life standing next to most things (I am 5’2).
The New Cathedral looks like any other Gothic church in Europe. It is massive, overly ornate, and divided into three sections: the altar, the choir, and devotional rooms. By this point, I had already seen a ridiculous amount of Catholic churches in Spain, but this cathedral intrigued me. The way it was built reminded me a lot of the cathedral in Cuzco, Peru. They are almost identical. In protest against the new faith, Peruvian builders would carve what was common for them into Christian narratives. In between the chorus chairs, they carved Incan-looking characters instead of angels. It’s quite comical how symbols change.
For the rest of the day we managed to trudge through some extreme wind gusts to visit other popular monasteries and historic sites. However, what I noticed the most about Salamanca was their Spanish language. They do not have a strong Spanish accent, which was refreshing since in Peru our accent is so soft its considered not to have an one. They also speak without using “vos” and instead say “usted,” which is something else Peruvians do. Because of this, Salamanca was a comforting place to be in.