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!