Monday, May 19, 2014

Alcalá de Henares

On the first Friday of May, Susan and I had made plans to go to Toledo, as I'd never been. We got up somewhat early and headed to the Atocha train station. Although we arrived around 9:00, we quickly found out that all of the trains until 3:00 in the afternoon had already been reserved. We decided to change our destination and instead headed to Alcalá de Henares.

I'd only heard of Alcalá de Henares when Susan mentioned it a few times before when we were discussing day trips near Madrid and on an ad for a museum exhibit entitled La cuna de la humanidad, which I really wanted to see. Apart from that, it does seem strange that I wasn't very aware of it, because it is the supposed birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes (author of Don Quixote) and has one of the oldest universities in the world (or at least the building).

We arrived and grabbed a coffee at a little coffee shop and I watched some Spanish news. It is always fun to watch how other countries portray the United States' interactions with other countries. They were showing Obama's recent meeting in Japan and also covered the South Korean ferry sinking. One of the things I've noticed from my limited viewing of Spanish television is that there seems to be pressure to have pretty women in news and commercials, but men don't necessarily have to be good-looking (though it may just be due to my limited sample size).

One of the first things that really stood out about Alcalá de Henares was the stork population, which seemed to have taken over the city. Upon further investigation, it is apparently a city-sanctioned preservation initiative. In the 1980s, the storks were in danger of disappearing. Now, they are just chilling in giant nests all over the place.

We walked leisurely through the city, looking at various historical landmarks and pretty little streets. We didn't really have much of an itinerary apart from eventually ending up at the museum to check out the exhibit I had seen advertised. We saw some of the buildings that made up the university campus, which were impressive.

We reached the main square, which was full of beautiful flowers, a statue of Miguel de Cervantes, and a bunch of book vendors. It was heavenly. As usual, I had to show superhuman constraint to keep from buying more books.

We eventually ended up finding the museum, which was located a short walk from the main street. The exhibit was free for us and I actually found a euro in the locker where I stored my backpack. We definitely came out ahead on that one. The exhibit featured a lot of prehistoric fossils and tools, focusing on the evolution of our ancestors and the animals that they lived alongside. There were signs in both Spanish and English, but I stuck to reading the Spanish ones until I ran into a difficult word. It's strange how infrequently some simple words come up in conversation, like hand ax or hare. I did pretty well, but I ended up adding a few words to my list.

After finishing up at the museum, we decided to get some lunch. It seemed like most everyone had the same idea, as the main street was packed. A lot of the restaurants were pricey, but we found a little bar that had cheap bocadillos. Susan stopped in one of the sweet shops and got some kind of caramelized almonds, promising not to eat them while I was around.

We spent most of the rest of our time just walking around and looking at pretty buildings and streets. It's nice to go on little day trips without any real direction and just get lost. I'm sure we may have missed some of the historical landmarks, but we saw a lot of cool stuff anyway.

Our last major stop was the Museo Casa natal de Cervantes, where you weren't allowed to take any photos. The house was set up similarly to how it would have been set up some five hundred years ago, with descriptions posted in each room. One room had original copies of Don Quixote in various formats and translations. Some of them were even illustrated.

Alcalá de Henares turned out to be yet another successful day trip. It's kind of nice just hitting up nearby places and not having to work out CouchSurfing or hostel reservations for staying the night somewhere! Hopefully we can plan a few more of these trips before we run off to far-away places.

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