Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Frog of Salamanca

When walking through Salamanca, one of the things I noticed was the abundance of frog paraphernalia, key rings, t-shirts, mugs, pretty much every tourist thing you could think of! The frog is the symbol of Salamanca and is said to be good luck. I thought I'd give you a brief overview of the story behind the frog and why it's supposed to bring you luck.

The famous frog of Salamanca can be found on the main university building's most famous architectural piece 'La Puerta de Salamanca'. The University's facade is a plateresque design (a type of intricate stonework seen on many of the famous buildings of Salamanca) containing many highly decorative stone carvings. The facade was an addition to the university in 1592 by the Catholic Kings, though the building itself was built in 1134, making it one of the oldest universities in the world.

You can find the frog sat atop a scull carved into the facade, and there are a few different theories as to why it's there. One such theory is directly linked to the university. This story says that the students studying at university had to try and find the tiny frog amongst the carvings on the facade, and if they managed this without help they would pass their exams and have good luck.

An alternative story gives a slightly darker meaning, saying that the frog is a symbol of sexual temptation and the skull a symbol of failure or death. A toad was often used in Spanish history as a symbol for prostitutes and sexual temptation, and some argue that the frog is actually meant to be a toad. According to the legend the frog on the skull was there to warn the students to be aware of women, as they may distract them, thus not focusing on their studies. There used to be a high volume of prostitutes in Salamanca due to the large university filled with young men, some of whom carried diseases that could be fatal, thus the image of the scull a as a reminder of death.

Though this has been the legend for many years, recent studies have offered a different story behind the famous frog. Historian Benjamin Garcí-Hernández argues that the scull represents Prince Juan, a son of the Catholic Kings, who died in 1497 before reaching 20. The frog is said to represent his physician Doctor Parra, who tried as hard as possible to save the prince but without success. This is why the frog has been given the nickname 'Parrita' (Little Parra) as a symbol for the doctor.


Regardless of the story the facade is a very impressive piece of art, maybe you can come and search out the frog for yourself in Salamanca, and hopefully it will bring you good luck in your studies!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Activities 18/08/14-24/08/14


This week we have lots of activities going on with Tía Tula. Come for a guided tour of the city to learn more about its history on Monday, or visit the Cave of Salamanca on Wednesday to learn the legend behind it. Fill your belly with great Spanish food with our cooking class and tapas tour. Once again at the weekend you have two different opportunities to travel, with a trip to Leon on Saturday and a trip to relax and enjoy the beach in Aveiro, Portugal on Sunday. Which activities will you go to this week!?

Monday 18th: Guided tour. A member of staff from the school will take you around the city telling some of the stories and history of the most important monuments of the city. Meeting place: Tía Tula 18:50. Approximate duration 1h.

Tuesday 19th: Cooking class. We are going to learn how to cook the famous Spanish tortilla, alongside another tapas dish, then we will eat what we have made afterwards! Meeting place: Tía Tula 18:45. Approximate duration 1h.

Wednesday 20th: The cave of Salamanca. We will go to discover the Cave of Salamanca and it's mysterious legend. Meeting place: Tía Tula. Approximate duration 40 min.

Thursday 21st:  Dance class. We will go to learn the first steps of the Latin dance. It is important to let the receptionist know before Tuesday at 14:00 if you are interested. Meeting place: Tía Tula, 19:30. Approximate duration 1h. Minimum 8 students needed.

Friday 22nd: Tapas tour. We will go to some of the best bars in the centre of Salamanca to try some of their local tapas specialities. Meeting place: Tía Tula, 19:30. Approximate duration 1h30.

Saturday 23rd: Excursion. We will be going to the beautiful town of Astorga in Leon for the day. It is important to let the receptionist know before Wednesday at 14:00 if you are interested. For more information about prices contact reception. Leaving at 8.00 am.

Sunday 24th: Excursion. We will be taking you to Portugal to spend a day relaxing on the beaches of Aveiro. It is important to let the receptionist know before Wednesday at 14:00 if you are interested. For more information about prices contact reception. Leaving at 8.00 am.

*Note: Please contact reception for information about prices for any of the activities. If you are interested in any of the activities, it is helpful if you contact the reception to let them know beforehand. Minimum 3 people for each activity unless otherwise stated.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Gin Tonic

After my post last week about sangria, I thought I'd keep with the drink theme, moving on to something slightly classier that has recently become hugely popular in Spain, the gin and tonic, or 'gin tonic'.

Gin and tonic has historically been a British drink, created by the army of the British East India Company in the early 19th century. In the 1700's it was discovered that quinine (the base of tonic) could be used both as a prevention and a cure for malaria. Each British soldier had a ration of gin as part of their daily rations, so gin and tonic was a natural progression due to the dangers of the disease faced by many of the soldiers. The first 'gin and tonics'  were a mix of water, sugar, lime and gin mixed with the quinine to dilute it's very bitter taste. Nowadays quinine is no longer used as an anti-malaria treatment, and the tonic water today contains far less quinine and is often sweetened to deter the bitter taste.  

Though many people view gin and tonic as a British drink, which it undoubtedly still is, it's popularity has soared in the last few years in Spain, so much so that Spain is now the biggest gin consumer per head of population in the world, with demand growing on average 18% each year for the last five years.

A British gin and tonic is usually served in a small thin glass with a slice of lemon or lime and a couple of cubes of ice. You get the choice of one, maybe two gins if you're lucky and slim line or regular tonic. In Spain however, many bars now stock a wide variety of gins and tonics, and are garnished with a wide range of fruit, herbs and spices. When working in the Pyrenees over the winter, the bartender at my hotel made the best gin and tonics I have ever seen or tasted. Here's a step by step method to make one:

1.  Put between 7 and 10 cubes of ice in a 'copa de balon', or a balloon glass. These glasses seem like fish bowls compared to the tall thin ones you find in England, and are often bigger and wider than a red wine glass.

2. Swirl the ice in the glass to cool the glass down, a good gin and tonic needs to be cold!

3. Squeeze some juice from a lemon, orange or lime (or a mixture if the three) into the glass.

4. Add the botanicals and a bit of sugar. Many different botanicals are used to compliment the ingredients used in gin production, though José uses lavender, star anise, cardamom pods, juniper berries and some scrapings of raw liquorice.

5. Add a swirl or two of the peel of whichever fruit you have used the juice from. There are special tools to create a thin spiral of peel, though a potato peeler will do the job just fine. The peel of fruit actually contains the most flavour, which is why you won't see a slice of lemon in many gin and tonics across Spain.

6.  Rub some of the raw liquorice and fruit peel around the rim of the glass to flavour it.

7. Add the gin, a double shot at least. I have been told that the best gin and tonics have a ratio of 1:2 gin to tonic. Adding the gin first gives it a chance to mix with the juice, sugar and botanicals to bring out the flavours of it.

8. Add the tonic. Even this was done differently, rather than opening the bottle, he pierced the lid with a knife, shaking the tonic into the glass to fizz it up, again this was to bring out and fully mix all the flavours of the drink.

9. Enjoy!

Naturally this is a very extravagant version of the drink, and you can still make a great gin and tonic with the four basic ingredients, gin, tonic, ice and citrus. Due to the popularity of the drink in Spain it is now possible to find gin botanical sets in supermarkets and shops, containing a selection of the ingredients and spices needed to make yourself a special gin and tonic. As well as the aforementioned ingredients, I have also seen pink peppercorns, cucumber and strawberries used in a gin and tonic, and I'm sure there are many other combinations used across Spain.

Today you can find many specific gin and tonic bars across Spain, especially in the big cities. These bars often have over 30 different types of gin, such as the British Beefeater, Gordans or London No.1, the French G'Vine, or the Spanish Tanqueray or Larios gins. Many also stock up to 5 or 6 different types of tonic from brands such as Schweppes, Fentimans or the very natural Fever Tree.

You can get a gin and tonic in pretty much every bar in Spain, ranging in price from around €5 to up past €20. The best gin and tonics in Salamanca I have tried so far are from a bar called 'Hernández y Fernández', set in a small square with outside seating, they have a wide variety of gins to choose from and create a refreshing smooth drink.

So next time you go for a drink and fancy something a bit different to wine or beer, give a gin and tonic a try, and hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised!



Monday, August 11, 2014

Activities 11/08/14-17/08/14

We have another great timetable of activities planned for you this week. Come and soak up some Spanish culture with a trip to see a Spanish film on Tuesday or a paella and tapas cooking class on Wednesday. Enjoy one of the best views of Salamanca from the top of the clergy tower on Monday, or come and sample some of the local tapas delicacies in some of the best bars in the centre of the city on Thursday. We are making use of the national holiday this Friday by offering you an excursion to visit three cities of Portugal on a two night trip, as well as a trip to France on Saturday and the chance to relax on the beaches of Portugal on Sunday. Plenty to keep you busy this week!

Monday 11th: Cathedral Visit. We will visit the 'Scala Coeli', going up the tower of the cathedral to enjoy the great views it offers over the city from above. Meeting place: Tía Tula, 18:45. Approximate duration 45min.

Tuesday 12th: Cinema. We will take you to see the Spanish film '3 Bodas Más' (Three Many Weddings) at a local cinema. Ruth, a young researcher in a university, attends the weddings of her ex-boyfriends who were the 'men of her life' at one stage, but without finding the soul mate she is looking for. Is there something bad about your ex getting married and inviting you to the wedding? Yes, if it happens to you three times in a month, and you don't know how to say no, and if the only person who is persuading you to go is the new man in your life. Meeting place: Tía Tula 19:45 (we will take you to the cinema). Duration of the film, 94min.

Wednesday 13th: Cooking class. We will go to learn how to make the famous Spanish dish Paella and one other tapas dish, and afterwards we will eat what we have made. Meeting place: Tía Tula 18:45. Approximate duration 1h.

Thursday 14th: Tapas tour. We will go to 2 or 3 of the best tapas bars in the centre of the city to try some of the typical Salamancan tapas on offer. Meeting place: Tía Tula 19:30. Approximate duration, 1h30.

Friday 15th: Excursion. We will be running a trip to Portugal visiting the cities of Lisbon, Sintra and Cascais. The trip includes 2 nights in a hotel and breakfast each morning. For more information contact reception. It is important to let the secretary know if you are interested by Wednesday 13th at 14:00.

Saturday 16th:  Excursion. We will be taking you to the French Sierra to experience some of the culture there for the day. For more information contact reception. It is important to let the secretary know if you are interested by Wednesday 13th at 14:00.

Sunday 17th: Excursion. We will be taking you to the city of Aveiro in Portugal to enjoy a day relaxing on the beach. For more information contact reception. It is important to let the secretary know if you are interested by Wednesday 13th at 14:00.



*Note: Please contact reception for information about prices for any of the activities. If you are interested in any of the activities, it is helpful if you contact the reception to let them know beforehand. Minimum 3 people for each activity unless otherwise stated.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Sangria

One of the most famous Spanish drinks is Sangria, and you can find it in pretty much any bar you go into in Spain. The word 'sangria' comes from the word 'sangre', meaning blood due to the dark red colour of the drink.

The history of sangria is quite a simple one. As the Romans were extending their empire through the Iberian Peninsula over 2000 years ago, they planted vineyards along the way. Due to the unsafe drinking water at the time it was common practice to fortify it with alcohol to make it ok to drink and kill off any bacteria. The first Sangrias are thought to have been a heavily watered down mix of water, wine, herbs and spices.
Modern day sangria is more of a wine/fruit punch. Usually made with a mixture if different fruits, wine and spirits. However there is no standard recipe for sangria in Spain, and you can find many different varieties of the drink, including versions with white wine or cava! Other popular variations of the drink include 'tinto de verano' (red wine, ice and lemonade or sweetened tonic water) and coming from the Basque region of Spain 'calimocho' or 'kalimotxo', which is basically a mixture of red wine and cola (it tastes a lot better than it sounds!)

Sangria is really easy to make, and a great addition to a party. Here is a simple recipe that I used a couple of weekends ago for a party:

Ingredients:

  •        Fruit: I used apple, orange, peach and pineapple, but pretty much any fruit will do!
  •     Red Wine: We had a lot of people coming over, so brought 3 litres of red wine, you can alter the amounts of everything depending on the size of the sangria you want to make. The better quality the wine, the better quality the sangria, and the better your head will fell the day after.
  •          Soda water: use to dilute the drink a little and give it a bit of fizz.
  •         Sugar: many people use sugar to sweeten the drink a little, again this can be done to personal taste, I also heard that the more sugar you use, the more the alcohol affects you, and the worse the hangover is the next day! As an alternative to sugar you can use lemonade or fanta in place of the soda water.
  •      Spirits: I used brandy and liquor 43, however a splash of most types of spirit will help to give your sangria a little bit of an extra kick! Common spirits used are rum, triple sec and brandy, or a combination of different ones!


Method:

  •          Cut the fruit into small to medium sized pieces and place in a bowl
  •          add the wine, spirits and sugar to the bowl and stir the mixture together (use as much or as little spirit as you like)
  •          leave in the fridge for 24 hours for the flavours of the fruit to mix with the alcohol and wine
  •          before serving, add ice and the soda water
  •          enjoy!


There are now many different versions of sangria across Spain, and even the world. Have a look here  for some recipe ideas such as white wine peach sangria and watermelon sangria. I hope you enjoy your sangria experience and make a great summer drink!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Activities 04/08/14 - 10/08/14


Come for a fun tour of the city with us this week on Monday, or come and learn about the evolution of  the motorcar with us on Tuesday. For a piece of Spanish culture, we have a gazpacho and tapas cooking class and Latin dance classes on Wednesday and Thursday. Come with us to Segovia and Ávila with our excursion on Saturday, or if you fancy a break from Spaish culture come with us to Portugal for the weekend on Saturday to see the cities of Aveiro and Porto.  

Monday 4th: City tour. We will be shown around the city by a Salamancan local, telling us some of the city's famous history whilst playing some fun games along the way! Meeting place: Tía Tula 18:45, approximate duration 1h30.

Tuesday 5th: Automobile museum:  We are going to take a look at and learn about some antique cars in the Salamanca car museum. The museum hosts a permanent exhibition containing more than 90 different vehicles with which you can follow the evolution of the car from the first attempts at powered transport in 1BC, to the modern day, and even into the future with the help of prototypes. Meeting place: Tía Tula 18:30, approximate duration 1h.

Wednesday 6th: Cooking class: Gazpacho + 2 tapas. We are going to learn how to make the famous Spanish dish gazpacho as well as two different tapas to go with it, then afterwards we will eat what we have made! Meeting place: Tía Tula 18:45, approximate duration 1h.

Thursday 7th: Dance Class: We will go to practice some famous Latin dance moves in preparation for the bars and clubs this weekend! Meeting place: Tía Tula 20:00. Approximate duration 1h.

Friday 8th: Micro Theatre: In the 'Malhablada' space we will go and see a short play in Spanish. Meeting place: Tía Tula 19:15, approximate duration 30min.

Saturday 9th: Excursion: This Saturday we will be going to visit the beautiful cities of Segovia and Ávila. Meeting place: Plaza Gabriel y Galán, 08:00am. For more information please ask at reception.

Sunday 10th: Excursion: This weekend we will be going to the Portuguese cities of Aveiro and Oporto, leaving Saturday and returning Sunday with one night in a hotel with bed and breakfast and a tourist guide. Meeting place: Plaza Gabriel y Galán, 07:30am. For more information please ask at reception.

*Note: Please contact reception for information about prices for any of the activities. If you are interested in any of the activities, it is helpful if you contact the reception to let them know. Minimum 3 people for each activity unless otherwise stated.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Skateboarding in Salamanca

I have been skateboarding for many years in England and as I'm sure you all know, the weather in England is far from perfect, and living in a small rural town in the north of the country there aren't any skate parks within skating distance (the best I get is a smooth driveway/car park at our village hall) Therefore when I knew I would be coming to Salamanca to study and work here at Tía Tula language school I was really excited to explore what the city had to offer in terms of skate spots. I'm sure I still have a lot more to discover but will try and fill you in on my findings so far!

Naturally the first difference to skateboarding in Salamanca compared to back home in England is the weather. Even if it does rain (which is rare) the weather changes quickly enough in the summer months that within a couple of hours everything is dry. Another benefit of being here is Salamanca is a small city, therefore most things are only a 10-15 minute skate away from each other. Further to this many of the streets are paved with smooth concrete or marble like slabs which make for a smooth roll around the city. I came with a cruiser board (mindless 24/7) which is such a great way to get around and see the city, as well as a normal set up to take to street spots and down to the parks.


Now, the skate parks that they have here are nothing like the ones you can find in some of the bigger Spanish cities such as Barcelona and Madrid, there are also many superior parks in England, however there a good crew of skaters in the city who can make any session into a fun one. The main skate park in the city is situated next to the river just next to the start of the 'Puente Romano' bridge. The park has some small metal features-a fun box, a manual pad and two small kickers, one of which is moveable and the other crosses a gap. They also have a grind rail and a couple of grind boxes, as well as a covered area with small stair set and down-rails leading up to it. Though it might not seem like much, I have never been bored skating here, and the obstacles are both good for learning tricks and for pushing your skating. Some are easy, such as the 2 set up to the covered area, whilst others are hard to skate-a steep flat bank next to the fun box and a bigger stair set near one entrance to the park. There are also some good skaters here, and I've already seen some good stuff thrown down (hard flip off the kicker and over the gap, blunt stall flip out on the flat bank...) The skaters who frequent this park are all very friendly and helpful, and there is no feeling of intruding on their session. Games of skate are a common thing at the park, I've played countless games against different people since I've been here, so get learning some strange tricks to catch people out with! The location of the park next to the river means it stays slightly cooler than other parts of the city, and with the water and some greenery it really feels that you have got out of the city (despite the park only being a ten minute skate from the centre). This is definitely the place to come to meet other skaters in the city, however don't expect it to be full all day. Due to the heat and the general Spanish way of life people don't usually start showing up until around 6 or 7 in the evening at the earliest, however due to the floodlights and the cooler temperatures sessions can go on late into the evening.

There is also another park I have found set in the lower end of one of the bigger parks of the city 'el parque de los jesuitas'. This park is smaller than the main one by the river, but has concrete features and some transitions so if you are more into ramps than street skating this could be a better option for you. The park has a couple of quarter pipes, a small concrete launch pad and some flat banks linked to one of the quarter pipes to act as a kind of fun box. This isn't the easiest park to skate which makes any tricks landed that bit more impressive. This park is generally quieter than the main skate park, though I'm sure with the right crew a good session could go down there. There are also basketball and football pitches right next to it, and a bar in the middle of the park if you feel like you need a bit of refreshment!

One of the best street spots I have seen is on the main shopping street of Salamanca, the 'Calle Toro' by the side of the church of 'San Juan de Sahagun'. Though right next to the church I have never seen skaters get any trouble skating here. The spot consists of consecutive 2 and 3 sets with well waxed ledges next to each one. This is a good spot for learning new tricks down stair sets and for trying to put lines together down the stair sets or with the ledges. This spot is easy to find and right next to a supermarket. Not that I've tried but I would imagine Sundays to be a no go as Spain is a very religious country, but I can't say for sure!

There are many other waxed ledges of varying heights dotted around the city as well. One I've spotted is on the Rua Mayor as part of a statue/monument. It has both a tall straight ledge and a curved one to try some tricks on.


In terms of equipment there are 2 main skate shops in Salamanca, both close to each other in between the 'Calle de Toro' and 'Gran Via'. 'First Love' seems to be the main skate shop, stocking everything you need to get set up and with a range of clothing from brands such as Element, DC and Vans. Check out their website here for more information and some videos and pictures. The other skate store nearby is called 'K-Lab'. Compared to 'First Love' it seems more of an all round outdoor extreme sports shop selling snowboard equipment and clothing as well as skate stuff. See their website here for more info and an idea into the kind of things they sell. A bit further out of the city you can also buy complete skateboards, penny style cruisers, long boards and skate clothing from brands such as DC and Hurley at the 'Corte Ingles' on 'Calle de Maria Auxiliadora'. This is a big department store and the sports section is on the 5th floor.

I hope that this gives you a good introduction to skateboarding in Salamanca. If you are a skater and are debating whether or no to bring your board, do it! Maybe I'll see you down at the skate park for a game of skate some time this summer!