A year ago I was in Europe and lately I’ve been thinking over some of the places that were the most memorable from that trip. If you read my travelogue posts from back then you already know the details of each place I visited, but I thought I’d do a series of short writing pieces over the next three or so weeks where I give my thoughts on particular cities or regions as a whole. I’m not going to talk about every location; just the ones that have been on my mind. The order that I write about them will be in the approximate chronological order of when I visited and each writing piece will feature two locations with a photo from the trip to accompany each of them. As a bonus, at the end of each writing piece I’ll note where I was, one year ago that day.
A friend of mine once described Madrid as the “Denver of Spain,” by which he meant it was just another city with nothing particularly remarkable about it. While I wouldn’t completely agree with him, I can understand why he would say that, as Madrid probably was the least unique of the larger cities I visited in Spain. Even so, I would never have an objection to coming back to Madrid in the future, and whenever I do, I will always start it the same way—with chocolate con churros. This very Spanish dish of pastry and warm chocolate can be found all across Spain, but for whatever reason I really go overboard with it when I’m in Madrid. Granted, I don’t eat it in anywhere near the same quantities as I eat gelato when I’m in Florence, but I did six or so servings during my time in Madrid last year. As for the city itself, Madrid reminds me of the sun, in that you have the center at Puerta Del Sol and the rest of the city seems to radiate outwards from that point. Walk west and you hit the royal palace, walk east and you hit the Prado Museum and Retiro Park, walk north and you hit Gran Via, and walk south you hit El Rastro. You can walk everywhere, to the point where the only time I use the metro is if I have to get to Charmatin Station, the far northern train station, or to the airport. But wherever I walk, I always wind up back where I started, at Puerta Del Sol. A similar thing seems to happen when I’m traveling around the rest of the country. No matter where I go in Spain, I always find my way back to Madrid.
Some people say Salamanca is the best city in Spain. The locals seem convinced of it. I really can’t say myself, partly because I was only there for two nights, and partly because my first concern in Salamanca was not assessing the city’s travel-worthiness. No, I was there to find a bench. A bench a friend of mine sat on years ago while being enraptured by the magnificent light he experienced back then. I couldn’t find the exact bench he sat on, so I just settled on a random bench in town and declared my search over. Perhaps it’s fitting that I was checking out benches, as I found Salamanca to be a place of rest while I was there. I slept in, kept a slow pace, and tried to not exert myself too much. It was late October when I was in Salamanca, so there weren’t too many other tourists, and it was midweek, so there weren’t many visitors from other parts of Spain. I stopped by the university, the cathedral, a few museums, and some other places in town, but unlike most other cities I felt no rush to get anywhere. Things were quiet at my hostel too, which was mostly empty, and in my own room there was only one other person occupying one of the beds. Maybe this relaxed pace is what people love of Salamanca, or maybe that was just my particular experience. If Madrid is the Denver of Spain, then perhaps Salamanca is the bench of Spain.
On this day, one year ago, I was in Sarajevo, making the most of my short time there. Among other things, I visited the street corner where Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, thus sparking World War I, and later that evening I ate some Bosnian food with two other people from my hostel.
From what your description evokes in me, I can tell that, at least spiritually, you found the bench.