About Me

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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.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Hercules: The Legendary Journeys

I find it funny that one of the weekly prime-time shows on TVE 2 (One of Spain's main television networks) is the cheesy 1990s American show, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. For the past week, Cody and I have marveled at the adventures - in Spanish of course - of Hercules and Xena (Warrior Princess) as we ate dinner. Last night we ate at a kebab place in Alcalá de Henares. We were the only ones in the restaurant (most Spaniards eat later) and this show was on. The two workers came out from behind the counter and sat near us so they could watch the show. "Do you know this show?" they asked us. Most television here is American shows and movies dubbed into Spanish. We watched Terminator 2 with out roommate Alfonso last night.

Last Sunday I visited the nearby river, Rio Henares, with Cody, Emma, Liz, Jacqui, James, and Kevin. We found a semi-hidden area behind some trees where the water rushed over an old dam. Cody, James, Kevin, and I braved the chilled waters and walked across to the other side where there stood an old abandoned house.
We returned to the other side shortly, but made plans to climb the surrounding mountains the following weekend. We went to eat afterward at a restaurant that offered a menú del día. This literally means menu of the day, but it is a three-course meal for a cheap price. You are able to choose each course. I had a red wine with blood sausage and eggs for my first course, followed by lamb chops, and a lemon cream dessert all for ten euros.

During the week, we planned more things for the school's Halloween party. We found some supplies at a local toy store for the school decorations and the haunted house. One day Tamara showed us a cheap sandwich place nearby and I got a one euro foie gras sandwich. I started a conversation class with some of the school's teachers who are not proficient in English this past Wednesday. It was fun. I also continued my private tutoring lessons and learned from the two I teach that there are the ruins of a medieval Muslim castle on the other side of the river behind the mountains I and the others had planned to climb. They told me that few of the people in Alcalá de Henares knew they were there. I told the others and we made plans to search for these ruins.

We went today again at noon, Cody, Kevin, and I. We crossed the river at the same location as some local fishermen posted nearby watched us. Once there we headed up the closest hill, a wooded and steep incline. The view from the top was amazing. We would likely have been able to see Madrid from here, but it was a hazy day.
We also saw the castle ruins from here and began the hike over. The castle was likely from the 8th (when the Moors arrived) to the 11th century as the Moors were forced out of the Castile (central province of Spain) region in the late 1000s by the Spanish Christian forces. This castle served as a fortress, or "al-qal'a" in Arabic. This is where the town's name comes from.
It was an arduous journey involving a lot of climbing and navigating of steep declines, but the end result was great.
Most of the castle is yet to be excavated and is still under the hill it rests on. Cody found an underground chamber that could be viewed through three openings in the ground. We found a safe way into this chamber, which was probably a storage room as we saw no doorways in the room. The roof was still largeley intact save for the three holes. The red paint on the walls was also still visible.
Here is a picture of Cody and Kevin on one of the castle's former turrets:
We headed back to town after this and I relaxed a while before heading out to the town again. I went to one of my favorite restaurants in town, El Baserri, and had the tapa of chorizo cooked in wine. Here and at some other places, tapas are free if you buy a drink.
I also happened to stumble upon a festival on Calle Mayor as I was eating. I'm not sure what the celebration was, but there were fallas (papier-mâché costumes of giant-sized local figures) on parade. The parade passed right by my table.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tutoring, Tombstones, and Romans

This week at the school we have been planning things to do for Halloween. The Spanish don't normally celebrate Halloween, which is more of a British/Irish/American tradition, but we are bringing the holiday to the school as part of the cultural exchange. I have been put in charge of translating a storybook into English and reading it to the pre-school kids. It's called "¡Fuera de aqui horrible monstruo verde!" or "Go Away Horrible Green Monster!" We are also planning on doing activities such as a haunted house for the kids.

I started tutoring English to the sons of the school's gym teacher this week. One of the sons is in college and the other in high school and they have had several years of English classes, but have never had the opportunity to put it to practical use. I act as a conversation partner to them, telling them about life in the United States while they speak about growing up in Spain. I tutor them at their house, which is on the far south side of the town in a new neighborhood. They have an olive tree in their front yard and I met their grandfather who was gathering these fruits in a plastic five-gallon container. The container was nearly full and the tree still held several olives.

On Friday, Cody and I had to set up a bank account as the school pays us by direct deposit. We opened an account with Santander, Spain's largest bank, which was much easier than I thought it would be. We received a debit card, account book, and online and international banking all for no charge.

Yesterday we walked around the city. We came across one of the local cemeteries, which had been founded in the late nineteenth-century. There were many statues and ornate mausoleums.
After this, we walked to La Garena and I had a tapa of pork meatballs in tomato-garlic sauce at one of the restaurants on the plaza. We sat at the plaza for a while then walked to an archeological site known as Casa de Hippolytus. This building was believed to have been an academy in the ancient Roman town of Complutum which sat on the present-day site of Alcalá de Henares. It is one of two Roman archeological sites open to the public in the town and was built sometime during the third-century AD. Excavations are ongoing at the site and a well-preserved mosaic floor has been uncovered. Other excavations were underway nearby which may reveal finds from the Iberian settlement that pre-dated the Roman presence. Here are some pictures of the site (which is kept under a metal roof) which included a courtyard, pool, latrine, steam room, and an outdoor garden:
We then went back to our apartment for a while before walking to the nearby area of El Ensanche. This is a new neighborhood much like La Garena with many restaurants and markets. Here we found the Plaza de Toros (bullring) and a large shopping mall. The mall was much like an American shopping mall with two levels of various clothing, book, computer, and toy stores along with a food court. Between the mall and the bull ring was a good view of the nearby mountain:

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sunday in Madrid

I spent most of this Sunday in Madrid. I took the 11:00am train to the city and went to the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, a museum of 20th-century Spanish art named after the current queen, Sofia, wife of the acting monarch, Juan Carlos. The museum is most famous for housing what is possibly Pablo Picasso's most well-known painting, Guernica. He unveiled the painting in 1937 soon after the German bombing of the town of Guernica in the Spanish Civil War. The painting is often interpreted as the chaotic aftermath of the attack with several symbols thrown in.
The museum also held several paintings by Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró.

After the museum I took the metro to the old section of Madrid and visited the Plaza Mayor, the great square where many bullfights and public executions took place in the past. Today it is full of cafes, street performers, people sitting on blankets, and fat Spider-Man. In the center is a statue of King Felipe III.
Outside the Plaza Mayor is one of Madrid's oldest covered markets, Mercado de San Miguel, which was constructed in 1915. It was very busy and included fish, meat, produce, and tapas bars.
I also found this very tranquil street nearby. Notice the slanted buildings on the right. (This reminds me of a word you often hear in Spain, "tranquilo," which means "relax" or "don't worry.")
I also returned to Gran Vía to take some pictures of the Edificio Metrópolis, a landmark building in Madrid which was covered up for renovation the last time I was in the area.
From here I walked to the area near the Plaza de Oriente where the Catedral de la Almudena and the Royal Palace are located. Here is the Cathedral:
America celebrates 12 October as Columbus Day, but in Spain, this is a larger holiday. Christopher Columbus sailed under the Spanish flag, and while he may not have actually been the first European to land in the Americas (and actually never believed he had discovered a new continent), the expedition sparked a new wave of exploration toward the Americas which Spain led. The Spanish domination of exploration increased the wealth, power, and prestige of Spain immensely. As a result, in Spain, Columbus Day is the national holiday, much like our own Independence Day.

I was lucky enough to visit the Royal Palace (or Palacio Real) on the day before this holiday and witnessed a performance of the Spanish military's bands. Several people were in attendance, watching the performance from the courtyard of the palace, which stands across from the Cathedral seen above. Here are the photos:
I was in Madrid for almost a whole day, but there is still much of the city that I haven't seen yet.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cervantes Festival

This weekend was the Cervantes festival in Alcalá de Henares. Cody and I went to the Plaza Cervantes Friday and Saturday. There were many street vendors selling crafts, spices, and foods. I had quite a bit of chorizo and a kebab. There were also several people displaying certain trades like blacksmiths, printers, marble sculptors, and ceramicists. All of the vendors and workers wore period costumes as seen in the pictures and many street performers from Madrid showed up. The festival attracts people from all over Spain and I even heard the people in one booth speaking Portuguese. Here are the pictures:
I didn't have any of the octopus from the picture above, but I wanted some. It was quite expensive at ten euros for a small dish.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


My job has been moving along smoothly. I've been planning some learning materials to implement in class and setting up individual tutoring sessions outside of class for extra money. The physical education teacher wants me to tutor his two kids on Tuesdays and Fridays in the afternoon. I will be a conversation partner for them, correcting any mistakes in their speech. I will begin next Tuesday as this upcoming Friday is a local holiday for Alcalá de Henares.

A couple of days ago, Cody and I wandered through the town and found a building called the Laredo Palace. It is part of the University now, but was originally built in the mid-nineteenth century in the style of the Islamic architecture of medieval Spain. The brickwork on the building was amazing.
We then walked past the Plaza de Cervantes where the town was preparing for the upcoming Cervantes festival which takes place this weekend. The people of Alcalá de Henares recognize Cervantes' birth on 9 October every year with a series of plays, games, and street vendors. The Plaza, as seen here, is being decorated in a style similar to Renaissance Festivals.
After class today I ate at a tapa bar called El Baserri and had some chorizo cooked in red wine. The wine gave a strong flavor to the sausage and the dish was again served with bread. I'm relaxing the rest of the day, getting ready to visit the festivities downtown this weekend.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Relaxing Weekend and Paella

I didn't do much this weekend other than walking through town more and sitting at some plazas. I'm making plans to visit the Old Town in Madrid where much of the Renaissance architecture is in the upcoming week. Cody and I found a supermarket in the commercial district of Alcalá de Henares called Carrefour where I bought some groceries. There is a huge seafood section in the back where we watched a woman chopping up fish. They also sell entire legs of dried ham. Near the grocery store stands a modernist statue of Don Quixote which everyone refers to as "the alien."

On Sunday I took the opportunity to photograph some detailed aspects of the town and to watch some artists at work on the streets.
Today I returned to work and assisted in four classes, grades 3, 4, and 6. They are doing very well with their English. I read verbs to one class today and had them mime the actions. Another class worked in small groups to attempt to solve a riddle. They could ask "yes" or "no" questions, but only in English.
After school, Cody, Tamara (another assistant), and I went downtown and had lunch at a restaurant called Maimonides, named after the medieval Jewish philosopher from Spain. I ordered a two course meal of paella and pork. Both were very good. The paella included full-bodied shrimp (the first I have ever eaten) and mussels with rice and peas, all flavored with saffron. I wish I had had my camera with me because it was a very interesting-looking dish. One which I will surely order again.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

First Day at Work

Thursday was my first day working at CEIP Federico García Lorca. Cody and I met the other assistants, Tamara and Emma, who are both from England. Our coordinator, Pilar, showed us some of the teacher's resources and showed us around the school for the first hour. After that, we went to our respective classes. My first class was a fourth-grade science class. The teacher, Maite, had me introduce myself to the class. They were very excitable children, yet well-behaved. I then read some science vocabulary words to them and had them repeat each term, checking their pronunciation. At the end of class they asked me questions about life in Missouri.

My next class was fourth-grade English, which Pilar teaches. The children were drawing advertisements for vacations which they then had to present to the class. Some of the children were very inventive, such as one who created a one-billion euro vacation package to Las Vegas. The package included "travel by giant chicken." One of the girls in this class asked me, "Where does Hannah Monatana live?" "Hollywood, I think."

These were my only two classes for the day as my schedule on Thursdays is only three hours. We all took a break in the teacher's lounge after this second class. Coffee and pastries were served. I waited in the lounge for an additional hour as the other assistants had another class. After that Cody, Emma, and I went to eat lunch at an outdoor cafe in downtown Alcalá.
This looks like onion rings, but they are the fried calamari I had for lunch. All meals are served with a tapa, in this case the olives in the background, and bread. The food was great, especially the olives, which were grown in the region and not pitted. While we were eating here, we ran into Kevin and Liz, two other American assistants who are living in Alcalá, but teaching in a neighboring town. Later that night we me them and their Londoner roommate, James, who is studying at the University of Alcalá, and walked around the town, going from tapas bar to tapas bar.

The next day Cody and I visited more of Alcalá de Henares, finding the medieval city wall, which was surrounded by an outdoor sculpture park. We also found some more plazas and a Don Quixote reenactor.

I also found a statue of Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII of England. She was born in Alcalá de Henares.
Also, these make me laugh: