Spain is one of my favorite countries, probably because I love practicing my Spanish language skills. When I was there earlier this year, I spent a few days in Madrid by myself, and then Andy met me and we spent a week in Toledo and Salamanca. These were repeats for me but new for Andy, and it was nice to show him Salamanca since that’s where I did my study abroad program in college. Here’s what we did plus lots of photos of Madrid, Toledo, and Salamanca.
I didn’t have a ton of time in Madrid before the immersion program in Ubeda in Andalucia, but I did one of my favorite things to do anywhere: a food tour! I read good reviews about Devour Madrid Food Tours, so I booked their Tapas, Taverns, and History tour.
The tour guide took me and the other three women who signed up to several tapas bars to try local specialties.
Madrid tapas tour
We started off with olives, Spanish tortilla, ham, and vermouth. Now, I hate olives. They are awful, and sometimes I have a hard time even being too close to them when Andy is eating them because the smell is too gross to me. But I was on a food tour, so I tried one. Surprisingly, these weren’t terrible. They were mild, no overwhelming flavor, but still not something I want to eat.
The vermouth and the ham were quite tasty though, and I enjoyed learning about Madrid’s tapas traditions.
At our next stop, we learned about tinto de verano, a wine-based drink that locals drink instead of sangria. It’s red wine mixed with either sparkling water or Sprite, and I really liked it. We also ate pimientos de padron, which are grilled peppers, and grilled mushrooms that had olive oil, garlic, and a few other things. I’m not a fan of mushrooms normally, but these were really good.
Stop number 3 was a place known for their sizzling garlic shrimp. The chef grilled them right up front so anyone could look through the glass and watch the flames make their magic. The smell of garlic was constant, and I wanted to bottle it up, it was so good.
At this point, I started thinking, there’s only one more stop, and we haven’t had as much food as I expected. But our 4th and final stop was loaded with all kinds of delicious foods. Chorizo, gazpacho, patatas bravas, tomatoes drizzled in olive oil, cookies, and several other things. This was the only restaurant where we sat down, and we just kept eating and chatting.
As always, taking a food tour was a fun and delicious experience, and I’m so glad I signed up. Devour also has food tours in many other cities around Spain, so I might book another tour someday. I highly recommend them.
I paid 95 euros for this tour, and it was worth every penny.
How to find nun cookies in Madrid
While on the food tour, one intriguing food we learned about was nun cookies. There’s a convent near Plaza de la Villa, which is a small square west of Puerta del Sol. These are cloistered nuns so they don’t go out in public at all. But they also make incredibly delicious cookies that you can buy.
I took a picture of the little sign by their door while I was on the food tour, knowing I wouldn’t have time to go before I left Madrid. But Andy and I had to go back through Madrid in order to get from Toledo to Salamanca, and we had several hours there. So we went back to find these cookies.
It’s all very strange, but you ring the bell, they buzz you in, and then you just walk down the hall following the arrows and turn through a tiny courtyard, until you basically dead end. There you’ll see a small window with a lazy susan.
Sometimes they have several types of cookies to choose from, but on that day we didn’t get a choice. We simply put our money down, gave the lazy susan a little nudge, and around came our cookies. Not a word was spoken, though I don’t think they’ve taken a vow of silence. I said “gracias” and back down the hallway we went with our prize.
They were very tasty cookies, and a fun little adventure.
Toledo is one of the most popular day trips from Madrid, but since we tend to travel a little slower, we decided to stay there for a few days.
Toledo free walking tour
The city has a rich history of both conflict and coexistence between Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and their influences can still be seen in Toledo today. We signed up for this free walking tour (but always tip your guide!) and learned a lot about the city’s history and sights.
Toledo from above
Many people climb the tower of Toledo’s cathedral, but when we went there, the line for tickets was rather long, and the tickets were expensive. We weren’t so interested in the cathedral itself, just the views from the top of the tower, but the only way to get to the tower was by buying the ticket to both. Discouraged, we decided to skip it.
But we later learned about another church with a tower we could climb. It turns out we could see Toledo from above, including the cathedral itself, from the Iglesia de los Jesuitas. I actually think that was a better view because the cathedral is an impressive building, plus climbing this tower was cheaper and there were almost no other people there. We paid 2.80 euros per person.
More views of Toledo
We found out about a really good lookout point for some great views of Toledo, but the bus schedule to get over there was a bit painful. In the end, we decided the best way to do it was to take the little tourist train that looped around the city for 5.50 euros per person. It was a little frustrating because we ended up on the left side, and since the train goes around clockwise, we were on the wrong side. But at least it stopped for 5 or 10 minutes at the lookout point we were really interested in, so we could get out and take pictures.
A long time ago, I spent 4 weeks in Salamanca for my college study abroad program. Not only was this the first time I traveled outside the US for more than a 10 day vacation, but it’s when I became friends with someone who played a big role in shaping my wanderlust: my good friend Amanda, who was my roommate in Salamanca. So this city holds a special place in my heart, and I wanted Andy to see it.
A room with a great room at a steep price
We found a hotel room right on the Plaza Mayor for an amazing price, so we grabbed the chance to have a wonderful view. And it really was a great view. But OMG the bed. This bed was one of the hardest beds we’ve ever experienced, and for four nights, we barely slept. It was not worth the good deal or the view.
One of the native Spanish speakers in my Spanish immersion program lives in Salamanca. So when I mentioned we’d be there a few days after the program, she offered to show us around. First she brought us to the cathedral. This is a rare case of the old cathedral being integrated with the new one. It’s a huge building.
One thing I love is a small part of the new cathedral. In 1992 during restoration work, one craftsman carved an astronaut into the facade as his signature, and I think it’s a wonderful little detail.
Next she took us to a park with a lookout, the university area, and a few other places around town before we all grabbed some lunch.
Having a local show us the sights was a nice treat, and Andy managed to understand enough of her Spanish from context and his Italian language knowledge. She even had us over for dinner while we were there!
Salamanca from above
The Salamanca cathedral is one of the best places for views of Salamanca from above. But it’s not like most other churches where you simply climb a tower and admire the views. This cathedral had walkways around several sections of the cathedral so we could see different views from different angles and heights. It was really interesting and well worth going.
More views of Salamanca
The weather was much better during our time in Salamanca than it had been in Toledo and Madrid, so we were happy to do more wandering. We checked out the Roman Bridge. We tried to get pictures of the cathedral at night. And in the afternoons, we enjoyed relaxing in Plaza Mayor with a few cocktails and our Kindles.
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