We have all heard various renditions about the importance of blazing our own trail, standing out from the pack, leading the change, and the pitfalls inherent in following the crowd. While in most cases we agree, there is one exception we were reminded of recently on our 2,400 mile (3,800 km) road trip through Portugal, Spain and France.
Follow the Crowd
Whenever we visit university towns, we follow the crowd. In fact, we are so dedicated to this strategy we intentionally don’t do any research before arriving that may jade our faith in the pack and their chosen path.
Salamanca, Spain is not just any university town. The University of Salamanca was founded in the 13th Century and the city of Salamanca was founded in the 4th Century by the Celts who called it Helmantika. In other words, the vibrant, youthful magnetism we love about University towns, is an art form in Salamanca.
While you may not have plans to visit the Castile and Leon region of Spain in the coming months, here are our tips for following the crowd at a university town near you.
Find the Commons
Take public transport if possible, or park your car and walk or bike around town. Follow the crowd to the center of everything. In Salamanca, Plaza Mayor was the place, and oh what a place, to gather. We spent hours bathed in the golden light of the sandstone square drinking in good vibrations. No matter where you are, make sure you linger in the public square long enough to feel the pace wash over you.
Discover Good Eats
University towns are notoriously full of boutique eateries catering to a diverse population of international proportions for a fair price. Follow the crowd and you will be rewarded. If there is a line, all the better. In Salamanca, we lined up for mouthwatering ham sandwiches using jamón ibérico, the local specialty. Late morning we followed the crowd to a hole in the cathedral wall for mouthwatering churros and hot chocolate.
Nap if you Must
Staying up late is mandatory so napping is perfectly acceptable when visiting university towns. Napping in a park after a picnic is even better! If you want to deepen your experience, many universities rent out student housing to tourists when school is out. Another great way to extend your stay is to find a funky, boutique hostel, in the heart of it all. We loved our stay in a private family room at Revolutum Hostel in Salamanca. Strolling down the Calle de Rúa Mayor at dusk was unforgettable. We followed the crowd to the Roman Bridge to watch the sunset over the Tormes River. As we walked back up the hill, musicians were beginning their sound checks and art galleries were serving inviting tapas, as the evening cracked open before us.
There are a few ways to take a break from the crowd in university towns. We often get up with the sun in order to experience a place before it comes to life. We also find peace and inspiration in university libraries where we have been known to pass afternoons opening books in foreign tongues just to smell the pages of history. One other idea is to look for observation towers or decks in university buildings. We have scaled the stairs of observatories and marine science centers that have landed us alone at the top of the world, watching real life happen below.
Miguel de Unamuno, one of the great literary and philosophical figures in Spain, who was also a teacher and dean at the University of Salamanca wrote, “Passion is like suffering, and like suffering it creates its object. It is easier for the fire to find something to burn than for something combustible to find the fire.”
Are you ready to ignite your youthful glow? It is as easy as a visit to a university town near you. (tweet this) Warning: You may return home feeling like anything is possible and the world is your oyster even if you only go for the afternoon …