About Me

My photo
Alcalá de Henares, Madrid, Spain
I recently earned my Masters in History at NWMSU and am now working as a language assistant in a Spanish elementary school.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Every Great Day Begins With Miel Pops

Today I had nothing to do, so I explored some more of the town of Alcalá de Henares. I found the University of Alcalá which is about ten minutes from my apartment on foot. I milled about here taking pictures and got asked by a Spaniard with a cigarette for a light. No tengo un fuego, lo siento. The university was founded in 1496 by Cardinal Cisneros, a powerful figure who brought many religious and political reforms to Spain during the rule of Fernando and Isabel. The university still functions and I actually met a girl from Dresden, Germany while I was taking pictures who was visiting the campus and planning on enrolling in the engineering program. Here are some photos of the university:

After leaving the university, I wandered through some more back streets and finally chanced upon the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes. Outside his house were statues of the main characters from his masterwork, Don Quixote, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
After this, Cody and I went grocery shopping at the local supermarket, Hiper Usera, and I bought a type of Basque sausage and bread casserole and some Spanish omelettes. It was a very relaxing day. Tomorrow I start work, then have a three-day weekend after that.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Training and Some Free Time

I attended two training sessions for the language assistants yesterday and today. Cody and I had to wake up at six and catch the train (located just a five minute walk from my apartment) at seven. The location of the training was on the western side of Madrid. The sessions covered some pretty common sense topics the first day, but today we talked about more practical classroom management skills and ideas for activities in which we can present our culture and experiences to the kids while maintaining the focus of the curriculum. We also had to fill out a lot of mind-numbing paperwork. From the endless stream of questions about which box to check and what phone number to write, I came to the conclusion that, as a whole, humans are too inquisitive to be left alone safely with a government form and a pen.

I met several people at the training who seem nice. There is a great variety of personalities participating in the program. My school has four assistants including Cody and I. The other two assistants are from England. Since these two days of orientation were for non-European Union assistants I haven't met them yet. I have tomorrow off and then begin work on Thursday, which I have been told will be another orientation to introduce the four of us to the children, staff, and resources at my specific school in Alcalá de Henares.

The meeting today ended at two in the afternoon, so I took the opportunity to head to Gran Vía, a main street in Madrid which is often compared to Times Square in Manhattan. I took several pictures of the surroundings.
The following building is the Palacio de Comunicaciones, the headquarters of the Spanish postal service. It's located near the arch known as the Puerta de Alcalá. I plan to visit both of these places at night sometime as they are lit up with colorful floodlights.
From here, I went down the adjacent Paseo del Prado, a walkway lined with trees near a tomb of the unknown soldier from the Napoleonic Wars, the Palace Hotel, and several high-profile art museums including the Prado. Here I saw a pigeon with a numbered tag on its wing, which I assume means it is either a carrier pigeon or used for racing.
I walked from here to the very large and tranquil Parque del Retiro. There were many people lounging on benches or in the grass among trees, fountains, and statues of former Spanish monarchs. In the center of the park is a pond, on the edge of which lies a colonnade with several fountains and an equestrian statue of King Alfonso XII. The boats which you see on the pond below are rented out. There were many more on the water than are visible in this picture.

More to come soon!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Moving In and the Old Town

I moved in to the new apartment yesterday and am getting everything adjusted. As I said in the last post, it's in a nice location and I've been able to take my lunches of ham sandwiches out on the balcony where I can watch the people, walking in and out of shops on the street, or doing their laundry and watering plants on the balconies of the building across the street. The weather has been warm and dry during the day and cool at night. Here are some pictures of the new place:

Today I got up early and went to the historic district of Alcalá de Henares which is about a five minute walk from my apartment. The area was crowded with people on their way to church. Many vendors set up stalls along the narrow streets to hawk cheap touristy items (buttons, patches, flags, ceramics, etc.) at higher prices than the stores found elsewhere. There were many street performers as well. This was my favorite street performer I have seen yet (possibly my favorite ever):
She had a recording of Camille Saint-Saëns' "La Danse Macabre" and other songs playing as she controlled the skeleton's playing of the violin. She made it sit on the little stool during the breaks between songs. Here's the street the performer was on:
Down this street I came upon the Plaza de Cervantes, named in honor of the famous local writer whose statue stands in the center of the square. Not much further was an old church, the name of which I do not yet know. There are many more places downtown which I have yet to visit extensively, such as the old university. Here are some scenes from the plaza and churches:

I also went to Madrid today to time the trip I will make to the meeting tomorrow morning. I will visit it more extensively soon and post some pictures.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Apartment Found

Lot of walking today. Cody and I found an apartment not far from the school in the downtown (and older) area of Alcalá de Henares. It is on the eighth floor of a building above a butcher's shop. It is shared with two Spaniards whom I have yet to meet. There are many shops and a grocery store nearby. I will put some pictures of the apartment online soon. We move in tomorrow. We visited some other apartments, but they neither as nice nor as close to the school. We also visited the school where we will be assisting (CEIP Federico García Lorca) and met some of the other teachers. Here's a picture of a statue of Cervantes and his creations, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, which is located outside the school:
The director of our program, Pilar, showed us around the downtown area and recommended some restaurants. (I'll post some pictures of the area later.) Afterwards we went back to La Garena, the district near out hotel. Here's some more pictures from the Plaza Garena:
We also ate at a restauarant on Plaza Garena called Indalo. I ate a dish called sepia a la plancha, which was grilled cuttlefish. It was very rich and delicious. I don't know why we don't eat this stuff back home.
Tomorrow we are going to buy a few things for the apartment and possibly take the train to Madrid to find where our training (which begins on Monday) is located.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The First Day

Cody and I arrived in Madrid today around 8:30 in the morning. After arriving at the airport we took a bus to Alcalá de Henares, which lasted about twenty minutes. We got off the bus in the center of the town and searched for our hotel with the use of maps and bus schedules posted at stops. We passed the Universidad de Alcalá de Henares, an old university founded in 1499 where the playwright Lope de Vega once taught, and the Plaza de Cervantes, which was surrounded by trees and shops. In the center of the plaza stood a statue of Cervantes. I'll write more on these two locations later when I visit them some more. The hotel
is far from the city center in a fairly new commercial and residential district. Here is a nearby street:
We slept for a while after arriving, then looked online for some apartments. After that, we walked around area near our hotel, La Garena, and ate at a small restaurant called Carena Real. There was a Real Madrid soccer game on the television, so several people were sitting, eating tapas and watching the game. I had a sandwich made of jamón iberico, a local type of cured ham. The restaurant was also a bakery, so the bread was very good. It was toasted with a tomato rub.
Tomorrow we will look at some apartments and will also look for the school at which we will be teaching.
I'll post more soon!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Leaving Tomorrow

As many of you know, I will be living in Spain for the next nine months to act as an assistant in an English-language elementary school. My friend Cody is also participating in the same program. I fly out of Kansas City tomorrow morning around ten and will reach Madrid at eight in the morning, Thursday 24 (Spanish time). I will live in a suburb of Madrid called Alcalá de Henares, home of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote.

I had to fly to Chicago last Wednesday in order to pick up my student visa from the Spanish Consulate. The collecting of said visa was very easy. After getting off the plane at Midway Airport, Cody and I took the L to the downtown area, walked a few blocks to the consulate, rode the elevator to the fifteenth floor, sat for a few minutes in a waiting room, and was then handed the visas (along with some complimentary buttons). I hope officialdom in Spain goes as swiftly. I had enough time to wander the city, eat at a pub, and visit Millennium Park (seen here).

Right now I am packing and double-checking to make sure I have everything I will need for the next several months. The preparations have kept me quite busy for the past few months and have been a little frustrating at times, but as was advised to Don Quixote, that befuddled knight-errant, "Be patient and shuffle the cards." I am looking forward to constantly renewing my perspective and experiencing new things in the months to come.