I say that, but it feels infinitely longer than a single day: A stressful Monday morning that became a three-hour wait at the airport that turned into a six-hour, sleepless transatlantic flight that merged into a two-hour bus ride, my aching head leaning on cold glass as dawn colored the landscape between Madrid and Salamanca.
The bus wound through poetry: Dirt roads that themselves wove through fields that were just beginning to trade earthy browns for springy greens; the morning sun sparkling on distant lakes; and about halfway through the journey, Avila, far to the left, a fortress looming out of the Middle Ages.
And then there was Salamanca itself. Our homestay family is a mother and daughter, Basila and Maria – the former a stout, cheerful old lady with graying hair and a warm smile, and the latter a tall blonde woman whose sharp, rapid-fire Spanish belies a sweetness that she lavishes upon her miniature Yorkie, a tiny dog called Chiqui. They welcomed us – Kelsey, Maria and I – into their home with white beans and chorizo, followed by a siesta that was, for me, something closer to a dead faint than a nap.
Then, on a tour with yet another Maria, we saw the city: A blur of beautiful facades and centuries-old buildings and a man playing the bagpipes (bagpipes! I truly am in Europe!) on a busy street corner. There were cathedrals and lovers’ legends and a frog that somehow signified both luck and lust; and there were stone statues and a stork’s nest and musicians and tourists – tourists everywhere. We ooh-ed and ahh-ed and buenos dias-ed our way through town, taking photos, comparing homestays and finally learning one another’s names.
By day’s end, we were beat.
We filled empty bellies and rested weary feet at Vida & Comida, a restaurant tucked into one of the cobbled calles. Wine was served, of course, as were salads, prawns, risotto and octopus – and those were just the appetizers. We feasted on tuna and codfish and duck and oxtails; some went for the really exotic and ordered hamburgers (shout out to my roommates! J). Dessert was a delicious, nutty tart; a zesty, creamy mousse; and arroz con leche, a sticky rice dish with milk.
Now we’ve dragged our tired selves back to what will be our homes for the next two weeks. We tap into our laptops in bed, in the dark, trying to capture and utterly overwhelmed by the endless day we just put behind us. Time to get some rest (i.e., pass out again): Mañana we begin business.