Days 31 and 32 in Spain: Finally Seeing Alcalá de Henares

On my third and second to last days in Spain, I decided to explore the city I had been living in, Alcalá de Henares. “Alcalá” comes from the Arabic word “citadel” on the river of Henares. The city is about 30 minutes away from the center of Madrid, but is known to be a famous World Heritage Site due to the fact that Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quijote was born here. My friends and I walked through the “Casa Natal de Cervantes” (birth house of Cervantes) but to be quite honest, it looked more like a museum than a house. There is a hospital right next to the house where Cervantes’ father used to work as a doctor, back in the day, so you can definitely get a feel for the history that this city has to offer. Not to mention, there are columns on the main street from the Roman times, in addition to remnants from a fallen Roman cathedral from this era. The city prides itself off its history, but more so than anything is the fact that famed author Cervantes was born here. Their main plaza is called “Plaza de Cervantes,” with a big statue commemorating his work in the center, there are various murals of different scenes of Don Quijote painted throughout the city, and of course, every souvenir shop sells some kind of Don Quijote related item.

In my opinion, life in Alcalá is definitely more relaxing and stress-free than that of America. Well, to put something out there, the unemployment rate in Spain is in the high twenty percent area, so don’t get me wrong, life here can be very difficult if you are in fact unemployed. However, people make time to surround themselves with friends and family, make time for themselves, but more importantly, they make time. Period. Between the hours of around 2 o’clock to 5:30 in the afternoon, all of the shops close for “Siesta.” During this time, people go home, eat lunch, and take a nap or relax. The reason behind this is because the heat is so incredibly unbearable during these hours that the people go home to take some needed time off from work and stay out of the heat. After 5:30, people go back to work and for those who are either finished with work, or aren’t working at the time, they go and hang out outside in the local parks or in the main plaza. I couldn’t believe that people were actually sitting outside, talking and enjoying the scenery because it isn’t often that you see something along these lines back in the states. We tend to become so focused with work and with our own lives that we don’t make time to appreciate our surrounding environment and to just relax. It was great to see such a refreshing sight here in Alcalá, as the people were able to put aside their daily stressors to just  connect with one another.

The school we attended, Universidad de Alcalá is a school with lots of history (being hundreds of years old), and has agreements with many American universities with regards to study abroad and exchange programs. The school and the city are both beautiful, and even though there wasn’t as much to do here as bigger cities, the local transportation was never a problem, so we were able to have both the incredible scenery and history of this city, while having the fun nightlife and excitement of neighboring cities; the perfect combination for a great study abroad trip!

Days 3 and 4 In Spain

Yesterday was my last day in Sevilla, and was definitely a day well spent. I woke up and made sure to check out el Museo de Flamenco Baile, which is a popular tourist attraction being that it’s the city’s most well known Flamenco museum and school. My friend and I walked around the museum, learning about the origin of the incredible dance, as well as the various types of flamenco dances there are, each based off emotions. We got to see videos of the different dances and techniques and learned about great dancers of the past and present. After the museum, we grabbed lunch by La Giralda (the tower I mentioned in my previous post), and took in the city’s beauty before it was time for us to leave. When we returned to the hotel, our suitcases had finally arrived, and we took a cab to the train station, and then a train to Madrid. Upon arriving in Madrid, we boarded the metro to go to our hostel for the night. When we got off at our stop and exited the metro, we had to ask numerous people to point us in the direction of our hostel. After walking through the city with our luggage (for what seemed like forever), we finally made it to the hostel.

Upon arriving at our new destination, we pushed the buzzer on the door and were let into the building. When we walked in, we noticed the huge spiral staircase that seemed like my worst nightmare. Just like the movies portray, we walked up two and a half flights of stairs, just to check in and be told that our room was on the next floor up. For those of you who, like me have never stayed in a hostel, well, don’t. (I’m kidding… kind of). There was no air conditioning, which normally wouldn’t be too bad, but considering that the only thing saving us from the 100+ degree weather was a small fan made the hostel quite an experience. And a tip for anyone planning on staying in a hostel anytime soon: when showering, make sure to hold your toiletries firmly or else you may end up dropping them in the toilet. (True story).

My friend and I made sure to leave the room before we had time to suffocate, and we headed over to eat dinner, and then to a pub in the middle of the city to watch the Spain vs. Portugal Euro Cup game. The game was incredible, seeing as everyone around us was full of spirit and energy as they cheered on their team the whole time. In the end, Spain was victorious and won during penalty kicks after overtime. The streets were filled with happy locals and the celebrations had begun since Spain was now going to compete in the Euro Cup finals. We headed back to the hostel to try and get some sleep before an early start this morning, but when the room was too hot for us to handle, we walked around the city to hang out with the locals, as they celebrated their victory.

This morning we made our way to the Madrid Airport and met up with our group, because today was the first official day of our study abroad program. Once everyone had arrived, we all hopped on a bus to Álcala de Henares, where we met up with our host families. My host mom greeted me as I got off the bus, and graciously welcomed me into her apartment with her eight year-old son. My host mom speaks Spanish and German, and nowhere in between those two languages is English, so whatever Spanish I know will definitely come into use, and if I don’t learn fluent or almost fluent Spanish by the time I leave here, well, for the sake of my study abroad funds, I won’t have to worry about that. But the biggest culture shock so far (well, at least for today) had to be learning that most of the houses and apartments in Spain don’t have air conditioning, which is something I’m going to have to get used to. And quickly).

I recently received a comment on my previous blog post asking me what the weather here is like, so if you still can’t tell (as I sit here sweating while writing this), it’s in the mid nineties at night and low one hundreds during the day. Hopefully the weather will cool down soon, but one can only hope so much.

In the morning, we’re going to have a group orientation where we will purchase our school books, take a tour of the campus, do whatever else the orientation entails, and take a trip to Madrid (which is only 25 minutes away from us) to check out some of the big tourist attractions. That’s it for now, but I will leave you with this; a new addition to my posts here in Spain.

Spanish lesson number one: When in Spain, you’ll notice that the people use a “th” lisp. In a book I recently purchased here, it explains that there is a popular legend in which Ferdinand I (also known as Felipe IV), a Spanish king, had a lisp when it came to pronouncing the “s” sound. A while later, all of Spain ended up mimicking his lisp, which apparently is how the Spanish lisp began. However, this story is just a myth, but the real “th” sound is only pronounced with the letters c and z (whenever preceded by an i or e), while the letter s remains the same as in English- all of which is a selectiveness due to the way Spanish evolved from Latin. The book hits the “don’t judge top soon” point right on by stating, “So when you hear someone say gracias (gra-thyas), they are no more lisping than when you say ‘thank you’ in English.”

The Beginning of a Great Adventure

As I mentioned a while back, today is the day I am going to study abroad for six weeks in Spain. Since I was younger, traveling to Spain seemed to make it on my to-do list each year, so I guess I’m finally getting around to crossing that off the list! I’ll be staying with a host family in Alcala, forty five minutes outside Madrid and traveling as much as possible on the weekends. I think it’s fair for me to speak on behalf of us “Word-pressers” when I say that we love looking at pictures from other trips and hearing about amazing excursions from fellow bloggers, so I’ll be trying to best to blog about my experiences in a new country, a new school, speaking a different language, and of course the exciting travels which will be taking place as much as possible. Here we are on Day One as I head off to Spain! Let’s begin the journey, shall we?