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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.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Country and the City

I've gone on quite a few field trips with the students recently. Kristin's sixth grade classe took a trip to a driving school last week. Spaniards do not get their driver's license until they are eighteen, but they are taught the basics early on. Most of the time was spent with a local police officer who told the students about road signs, traffic laws, and pedestrian crossings. The stop signs in Spain are written in English, so the officer told the students the word STOP stands for "Siempre Tenemos Obligado Parada" (We must always stop). After this, the students took electric-powered go-carts on a track complete with traffic signs and stop lights. Many of the students complained that the carts did not move fast enough.

This week the whole sixth grade took a field trip to some of the high schools in Alcalá de Henares. High schools in Spain consist of two cycles which are in the same building, but separated from each other. The first cycle is seventh and eighth grades, the second consists of the grades we would consider high school, and the third cycle is an optional cycle which works similar to a community college in the US. Tamara went on the field trip as well. We toured the building which seemed very similar to an extraordinarily clean American high school except for the addition of a concession stand which sold coffee, soda, and candy all day. Perhaps this was a high school tapas bar. We visited another high school as well which was not as well laid out and resembled a prison. It had a French bilingual program rather than an English one. I had seen the school before from the bus, but had assumed it was a hospital judging by its size and enclosure behind a wall. In fact, I learned it is the largest high school in Spain and is used as a setting whenever Spanish movies and shows need a high school scene.

Last weekend, Cody was sick, so I did some exploring on my own. I decided to visit a small town in the north called Buitrago del Lozoya, which is named after the Lozoya River which runs from the Guadarrama Mountains. The weather was chilly that day. I took a bus from Plaza Castilla in Madrid to the small town. The wall that surrounded the medieval town was still intact in some areas:
I walked down this little alley and through a gate in the wall that led to a church built in the 1600s:
The church was unique as its interior showed signs of Jewish and Islamic influence with horseshoe arches and ornate wooden ceilings. Beside this church was a set of stairs which led up to the top of the city wall. The walkway of the wall was closed off, but from the top of the stairs I took some pictures of the town:

I walked from here to the alcazar, the castle ruins of Buitrago. The origin of this structure is not clear. It was once believed to have originally been a Muslim castle, but now, that is doubted by the local historians. It was probably built around the 1200s-1300s.

From the castle ruins, a path led outside the city wall and to a road which followed along the river. This was probably the best place in the town for pictures:
Buitrago del Lozoya is a very small town and despite the wall, ruins, church, and scenic river, there isn't much to do there. The town itself is run-down and few restaurants were open. But Buitrago is famous for something else. Can you guess? Perhaps this photo can help:

Yes, of course, this is the town where Pablo Picasso was from. No, wait, that's not right. This is the town where Pablo Picasso's barber was from. As a way of better connecting itself to the great modernist painter of Spain, Buitrago has a museum of some of Picasso's sketches. The museum, however, was closed that day.

I decided to go back to the bus stop, even though the next bus wasn't set to arrive for another hour. On my way there, I heard someone say my name nearby. I was shocked to hear my name spoken in such a small town 90 minutes north of Madrid and even more shocked to find that the one calling me was my Spanish roommate Alfonso who was with his girlfriend and her sister who was my age. They had been skiing in the mountains nearby before deciding to visit Buitrago. After the brief moment of us being surprised to see each other, they asked me when I was leaving, then told me to walk with them through the town. We walked around the wall and back to the church and castle ruins as I practiced my conversational Spanish.

They told me they would walk with me to the bus and wait there with me. We went to a small cafe near the bus stop and had some coffee at the bar where a man who appeared to be in his eighties told us about the local type of cheese and then apologized for not having any on hand. The bus arrived shortly after and we said our "see you laters."

The next morning I woke up early and went in to Madrid. I visited the Reina Sofía Museum again. I took this picture in the modernist courtyard of the museum:

After this, I got some lunch and took it to Parque del Retiro. I got quite a few pictures there.
While wandering through the park I found this odd fountain representing Satan's expulsion from Heaven called Fuente del Ángel Caído:
After leaving the park I headed back to the Atocha train station when I came upon a small parade:
Carnivale is coming soon and there are many celebrations of local saints, so I am guessing this is what the above was. Those involved played drums, clarinets, and the women clicked canastas as they stopped and danced. A crowd gathered around to watch and cheer as the paraders danced to the music. After the brief stop, they picked up the saint again and headed down Paseo del Prado.
At school we are preparing for Carnivale, which should be interesting. We are going to dress in costumes, as will all the children.

1 comment:

  1. Fun trip and great pictures. Give us a ring on Skype when you get a chance.