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!

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Days 23 and 30 in Spain: Exploring Madrid

In an attempt to spare everyone from various posts each time I travel to Madrid, I decided to combine two different trips into one post. Last Tuesday, a few of my friends and I went on a field trip with our program director to see the Museo del Prado in Madrid. We walked around the city for a bit at first, but as you’ll notice, I won’t be posting any pictures of that since most of my pictures are the same as ones I have previously posted. We started our trip off by passing the National Library which is closed off to those who don’t have a specific library pass, and made our way over to a local brewery. I was one of “those” people who ordered a soda at the beer factory so try not to judge me too much. The reason why we held off on going to the museum until later in the afternoon was because most big tourist attractions in Madrid as well as throughout Spain have free visiting hours (which is definitely something to look into before making plans when traveling around Spain) and it just so happens that the Del Prado Museum’s free hours are in the late afternoon. By the time 6 o’clock in the evening came around, we stood in line and got in for free. (Something you’ll quickly realize when traveling abroad is that anything free is a huge perk!).  Seeing as the Del Prado Museum has over 7,000 paintings and is known to be one of the biggest and most famous museums in the world, it was jam-packed everywhere we turned. Our professor walked us around and showed us the main paintings and gave us a history lesson on each one and unfortunately, the museum prohibits picture taking, but I was lucky enough to get one picture in before finding out that I wasn’t allowed to do so. We saw paintings by famous artists including El Greco, Murillo, Goya, and Velazquez, and each one was more interesting than the next! It was truly amazing to see what kind of history and in-depth background information each and every painting has. Museo Del Prado is definitely a “Must” on any to-do list in Madrid, and it was really a great, culturing experience as well!

This past Tuesday, one of my classes took an excursion to Madrid as well, and we went to el Barrio de Letras, a quarter in Madrid dedicated to famous authors and poets from back in the day. As we walked around the quarter, we saw where certain authors grew up, where they gained inspiration for novels and stories, and even a famous cathedral where a lot of them got married. I had to write a paper on our trip so I’m pretty much just going to translate it into English and use it here. (Hey at least I’m honest).

Before the excursion officially began, we saw the House of Congress, surrounded by police officers (which was definitely a cool sight to see). Our trip to el Barrio de las Letras commenced at a statue of Miguel de Cervantes. Cervantes was the one who wrote Don Quijote de la Mancha, the second most translated book in the world (after the Bible). We then walked over to Lope de Vega’s house which is also a museum. Cervantes and Lope de Vega didn’t exactly see eye to eye, and Cervantes even referred to him as a “monster” because Lope de Vega wrote over 3,000 plays during his lifetime, an incredible number of works! (And most of us find it hard to find enough days in the week to keep up with our blogging). Not to mention, Vega was recognized for them while he was still alive, whereas Cervantes was recognized after he died.

After learning about the rivalry between the two authors, we walked along a street famous for providing inspiration to Cervantes. He was known to write various scenes of Don Quijote on this particular street, so it was pretty cool to see where he gained some of his inspiration from. We progressed on and saw yet another famous author’s house, Don Francesco de Ovedo Villegas. Not too far from here was a street dedicated to gossiping. Since works from this time period were known to criticize society, authors had the actors of their plays gossip as a means of getting the critizing across. So it was only suitable to have a street dedicated to gossiping and criticizing society and the lives of others, right?

Back to Cervantes, he had requested to be buried in the Convent of the Trinity (el convento de las trinitarias) and was in fact buried there, but his tomb was removed a few years later to an unknown location. Finally, we concluded our trip with la iglesia de San Sebastian (a church) where Cervantes had his funeral (not burial) and where many authors of this time were baptized or had their weddings and/or other processions. Unfortunately, the museums and the cathedral were closed by the time we got there, but it was still neat to be able to walk through “literary history” in Madrid.