La experiencia de Salamanca

I won the photo competition of the school with this photo for most creative photo with a graffiti work. Photo taken at: Barrio del Oeste, Salamanca. The only place in Salamanca where graffiti is allowed for licenced artists. They create places like this garage door to paint, so that the rest of the city stays clean from graffiti.

After I graduated from the Aeronautical Engineering study, I started working in a hotel. I also did some car driving lessons (unsuccessfully) and spent time on my hobbies. Still, I had time left. Part of that time I wanted to spend on learning a language. It didn’t matter which one. It would be a good pendent of my interest in beta subjects and my completed technical study. A friend said that his mother taught Spanish in a very informal way. So I chose that language. I heard multiple times that you learn a language the best in the country where they speak it as their first language. A friend of another friend of mine studied Spanish at Colegio Delibes in Salamanca. Salamanca is the capital of learning castellano (the Spanish they speak in Spain). She was very positive about this experience. This knowledge together with the need to escape my life in the Netherlands for a bit and especially the need to step out of my comfort zone, made me decide to go there.          

I booked my classes at the school, accomodation, bus and my plane ticket at the end of may. The 2nd of June, I flew to Madrid. This wasn’t my first time flying alone, but it was my first time flying alone to a place where I didn’t know anyone. 

Perrengues chiques
Problems started in front of Madrid Airport: I couldn’t find my bus that would bring me to Salamanca. I didn’t speak Spanish and nobody there could help me. I am not a person that stays tranquilo (calm) in those sorts of moments. So I called my parents in panic. I already wanted to go home. They used Google maps to find the bus stand, just when I saw it driving away from the airport. I now knew where I needed to go, but there would be no bus. My parents bought a new ticket for the bus two hours later. In the sweltering sun I waited for the bus to arrive. There I met some Irish girls who, funny enough, were also going to Salamanca to study Spanish at Colegio Delibes. A German woman, about to do lab research at la Universidad de Salamanca. She tried to find a new cure against cancer. An American Broadway director, on her way to Salamanca to pick up her Spanish for a (Spanish) play. And a woman who could tell me from a (to her) reliable source that the best tennis player of all time, Roger Federer, was gay. Not that I cared, but I told her my doubts about this statement, since he has been married with his wife for more than a decade and has four children with her. She countered: “Exactly. Two twins! What are the chances of that?”
I didn’t try to calculate it and rejoined the young Irish girls to charm them with the food and drinks I had in my maleta (suitcase). On the bus itself, I took place next to another girl. The trip to Salamanca took 2.5 hours. When we arrived, we both went our own ways. I arrived at the house, and who was the first person I saw? It was her! She was one of my housemates from Poland.  

Why am I telling you all of this? Most of this didn’t even happen in Salamanca itself…
Because these experiences, initially bad, but later fond memories are part of every trip, when traveling for a longer period of time. They call this perrengues chiques in Brazil. I learned this from a Brazilian friend I met in Salamanca. I think this is a good moment to talk about her and another friend I met in Salamanca. 

Chiquitilla y Cuqui
Sometimes my Brazilian friend was referred to as Chiquitilla. Chiquitilla means so much as a little ‘chica’. A small woman who does not have to be very attractive but is just very cute and sweet. She is all, by the way. I met her during tapas. The typical well known small spanish bites.
Cuqui means so much as cute. Cuqui was the favourite Spanish word of one of my American friends I met in Salamanca. I met her while going out. The first thing I said to her was: “I like your… face.” She is such a person who smiles with her whole face. I haven’t met anyone in my life who can make so many facial expressions as she. The rest of her time in Salamanca, I spend almost everyday with her and my Brazilian friend Chiquitilla (Carolina). One day we went for a picnic and went to the movies (the then new Lion King movie). I was going to miss them, since they almost went back home. So that day I wrote a poem for them: 

Chiquitilla and Cuqui
With Chiquitilla and Cuqui
On adventures together
Wishing it could be forever
But if the summer is ending
So are we
Wishing it would never be

But with you two going to the other side of the Atlantic
Spending time together will be problematic
But there will always be a triangle that connects us
Wherever we are in the world
Thus, 
Always a connection on which we can build

The summer is ending
And so are we
But don't worry
In my thoughts, you will always be with me
In my thoughts I will make this summer last till eternity

With Chiquitilla and Cuqui
Carolina and Niki.

Chiquitilla en Cuqui are two of my friends I met in Salamanca. Very good ones. Respectively from Salvador de Bahia, Brasil and California, the United States of America. Luckily I still have contact with them, just as many other friends. 

Los Otros amigos
I met many fellow countrymen of Niki from different states. Carolina met her American boyfriend in Salamanca as well. Anyway, this is something I was really worried about, but happens when you go abroad for a longer time: you meet people and make friends! Especially in an international hub, such as Salamanca. Especially when you go alone! I met one friend at the food truck festival of Salamanca. The first thing she said to me was: “Can I take a picture with you?” I said, “Of course!” I am never against taken a picture with someone. Definitely not with a beautiful woman.

This photo was taken 10 seconds after meeting this, now, American friend of mine. She is lovely.

All these people know I care about them and love them, so there is no need to mention all of them by name in this post. Now, more than a year later, I still have friends who I met in Salamanca from The United States, Brasil, Ireland, La France, Italia, España, and Polska. (Night) walks, school, going out, having dinner together, shopping, going to museums, picnics, watching fireworks, going to the movies, excursions and having interesting conversations were some of the activities I did with them. I could spend pages and pages about all these experiences, but that would make this post much longer than it already is. Most important to know is that they, ladies and gentleman, made my trip so much more interesting and fun than I thought it would be. They contributed to making my time in Salamanca the best three months of my life. And they keep increasing the quality of my life, even if we don’t see each other any more. Having spent time with them there and having them as friends makes me a lucky man. 

Mí familia español
If you study at Colegio Delibes, you can choose your accommodation. I choose for a host family. With the accomodation and the host family, you always have to be a bit lucky and I was! They are amazing people, and it didn’t take long before I felt they were my spanish mama and papa. And I was like a son to them. A third child, next to their two daughters. We lived in the middle of the city, 3 minutes walking from the Plaza Mayor (the main square), and 5 minutes walking from my school. In that first apartment there were around 12 other students from different countries. Which I didn’t expect, but it was nice. We ate together at the big table and they could translate for me in the beginning. Since I didn’t speak spanish at all, if you look at what was necessary to conversate. At the beginning of the second month, everyone went back home, but I wanted to stay longer. And I could! Luckily I learned enough Spanish to not need translators anymore at the dinner table. But we moved outside of the city. More space for me, but a longer walk to school (45 minutes). Also, I noticed I had withdrawal symptoms from not being able to bike. You can’t change the fact that I’m dutch. So I needed a bike for the 6 more weeks I would be there, to at least bike to school. And for that time, I got the bike from one of the daughters. A bit small, and compared to the Netherlands, biking is very peligroso (dangerous) in Spain and more ‘hilly’ then the Netherlands. Once, after a few weeks of cycling, I was stopped by the police, and they told me that I couldn’t bike against the direction of other traffic (which I did only one time) and that it is obligatory to wear a helmet. Both had a fine of around €200. I wasn’t looking forward to paying that, so I told them I was Dutch and have full control over riding a bike. They let me go with a warning. But anyway! I could bike again after 5 weeks! So I was very happy. Back in the Netherlands I noticed what a dream biking is here. The infrastructure is built for it and car drivers pay attention to cyclists since we dominate the roads…
If I would return however, I would love to stay with the family again and bike!     

Because I stayed longer the family couldn’t go on vacation. So instead we went for a weekend to a small pueblo (village), next to Santander, in the north of Spain. Which was a very nice trip!

A picture of the idyllic place where I spent the weekend with my host family, close to Santander, in the North of Spain. I forgot the name, but I’ll come back if I remember it.

La ciudad
The city of Salamanca is so amazingly beautiful. It’s a medieval town with very beautiful buildings. I would advise everyone to go for a weekend or a midweek. Or as long as I did if you are interested (3 months). I felt at home right away. When I was walking from the bus station to the first address with my maletas, I crossed the Plaza Mayor. I looked around at the beautiful architecture and I just knew I was going to enjoy it.

A photo of the main facade of the building that surrounds the Plaza Mayor, taken at night.

Two weeks later I knew all the buildings and important places of the city centre. I felt I was a resident! And partly, I was. I lived there! It has become mí segunda casa (my second home).
Just as my first home/city, Leiden (where I live and was born), Salamanca has the oldest University of the country. More than 800 years old. For that reason it is also a student city, just as Leiden. And this brings a very comfortable atmosphere. It’s this atmosphere that made me feel at home, since it has similarities with the atmosphere in Leiden. And yes, you can go out and party at night as well. Which I did, more than at home. So if you like that, you don’t have to stay away from Salamanca either. In contrast with Leiden, Salamanca has two cathedrals though. The old one and the new one. Built against each other. Built respectively from 1120-1236 and from 1533-1733. 

The two cathedrals of Salamanca, beautifully lit at night.

They also have el puente romano (the Roman bridge) that is estimated to be more than 2100 years old!

El Puente de Tormes/The Roman bridge of Salamanca. From my second month, I walked or cycled over this bridge everyday to and from school. The bridge is more than 2000 years old!

And many other old buildings, gardens and parks where people in the United States can only dream of. It’s just a magical place. Especially to just stroll through, also at night.           

Aprender español y Colegio Delibes
As I told you: the positive experience of someone else and me wanting to learn Spanish was the main reason to go to Salamanca. And the school and the people working there, would have been worth it by itself. I was so happy there. I went to school everyday for 4 hours, from 9:00 to 13:00 (9 am to 1 pm). Two hours of comunicación (communication) and two hours of gramática (grammar). After that, I always went home for la comida (lunch) and then had siësta. I arrived on Sunday in Salamanca, went to the oldest church of Salamanca (at the end of my street, around 1000 years old) an hour after my arrival with some religious, now, American friends from my home, because they invited me.

The inside of the oldest church in Salamanca where I went to after being in Salamanca for only an hour. No, I didn’t understand a word of the ceremony that was taken place.

At night we went all together to the show with acrobatics and fire spitting men on the Plaza Mayor. So it was a good first day, but the next day (monday, my first school day) I overslept. Luckily, I still made it to be in school a las neuve (at 9:00, 9 am). And I wouldn’t have wanted to wait a day longer. They make you feel so at home and comfortable in the school. I became friends with many of my teachers and went out with some of them. It was the place where you met a lot of people you later hung out with. Also because they organised many activities in which you could participate. Which I often did. Such as going to other nearby places. Avila, Segovia, Toledo, Madrid… 

The defence walls of Ávila.

The Roman aquaduct of Segovia that is around 2000 years old and is visible when you enter the city.

The cathedral of Segovia.

The Alcázar of Segovia on which the castle of Disney was inspired. See the resemblence?

In the streets of Toledo with my golden hearted Brazilian friend Carolina (Chiquitilla).

And of course: I learned Spanish!
If I will go to Salamanca again, I will go to Colegio Delibes!

My school where I learned Spanish with so much joy and met friends so many lovely people.

All and all it was an unforgettable experience, that I didn’t dare to take for 24 years, but finally did. And the things I was most afraid of; not learning the language, not meeting people and not feeling at home turned out to be the opposite. And it was the best part! Also, I came back as a more developed man that helped me deal with the things I had to deal with. Of course, I took much more pictures than the ones included in this piece, but to many for this blog piece. Contact me if you want to know about Salamanca, the other places I visited, learning Spanish, how to meet friends or how to deal with fears far from home. Or if you would like to see more pictures from the trip.

Gracias Salamanca!
Nunca adios.
Siempre hasta luego.

*It could be that this article is updated from time to time.

Published by Vincent Donders

Groot muziekliefhebber en erg geïnteresseerd in wetenschap en educatie. Instagram: vincentdonders.

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