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.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My Parents Visit Spain: Part Dos

After our day in Segovia, I took my parents to see Toledo, the capital of the province of Castile-La Mancha, which I went to back in October. We left by train from Atocha and took a thirty-minute ride south of the city. When we stepped off the platform we were met with wonderfully warm weather. I had forgotton how beautiful the interior of the Mudejar-style train station was:
We got off a bus at Plaza Zocodóver, then walked up to the Alcázar. We stopped in some shops and looked at the Toledan crafts (swords and damascene). We returned to Plaza Zocodóver and looked at the shops selling marzipan. Here is the plaza:

We walked from here to a lookout point where you could see the river and the Alcázar in opposing directions:

This statue stood in front of the Alcázar:
The Alcázar was built in the 16th century atop the ruins of a Muslim fortress. It served as a military fort through much of its subsequent history and is most famous for its role in the Spanish Civil War. In 1936, Franco's Nationalist forces were besieged in the fortress. The Republicans held the son of the colonel commanding the troops inside the Alcázar and demanded the Nationalist officer surrender or his son would be killed. The colonel supposedly told his son to pray and to die like a hero as he refused to surrender. Some accounts claim the Republicans shot the colonel's son immediately after this while others claim he died later as a prisoner of war. Nontheless, the attempt at the siege failed and the building sustained heavy damage, being restored soon after.
After leaving the area of the Alcázar, we walked down some winding streets on our way to Toledo Cathedral (built from 1226-1493).

We finally emerged upon the Cathedral and spent some time in the plaza in front of it, taking pictures:
We went inside the Cathedral and saw some of its famous paintings including some by the famous Toledan resident, El Greco, along with Caravaggio, Raphael, and Rembrandt. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering through the streets of Toledo, passing the house of El Greco and arriving in the old Jewish quarter. One of the things Toledo is most famous for is the flourishing culture in the early middle ages in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived in peace for several hundred years. Beside the former synagogue stood this statue of Samuel HaLevi, a Jewish poet, theologian, and warrior from southern Spain who lived in the early 1000s:
We passed through some neighborhoods with horseshoe-arch doorways inspired by Arabic design. Not far from here I dropped my camera and the focus broke on it. My parents bought me a new camera as my birthday gift after this, for which I am extremely thankful. We left Toledo and returned to Madrid where we ate at a little bar near Museo Reina Sofia. I ordered octopus in marinara.

The next day I had to work, but met my parents after school and we went to Madrid. We spent most of the afternoon walking through Parque Retiro. I tried out the new camera here:
We admired the crystal palace and the pond in the park.

The next day I got off work and met Mom and Dad at the train station near my apartment. We went to lunch at a tapas bar I had never tried before which was away from the city center, past the Cathedral. We then walked around town some more before I left for tutoring. After that I met up with them at Plaza Cervantes and we took the train into Madrid. We visited the Prado and got to see most of the main exhibits: Goya, El Graco, Velazquez, and Bosch. After the museum closed, I took them to Malasaña, where we walked around the nightlife and ate at a tapas bar, which was very good. I ordered migas, breadcrumbs, sausage, ham, and potatoes fried together. After dinner, we visited the Belgian bakery nearby where Dad and I got a coffee.

The next day I met Mom and Dad at the train station after work and I took them in to see the apartment. We went to Madrid to see the Harley shop in the AZCA district. We got some pictures of Plaza Castellana from here:

After this we took the metro to Plaza de España and took pictures of the monument to Spain's Siglo de Oro (Golden Century) the 1600s, when Spain's economy was falling, but its cultural accomplishments thriving. The monument shows figures representing the Empire on one side and Cervantes and his fictional creations on the other.
We walked from here to the Egyptian Temple of Debod and took pictures as the sun set:
After the temple, we walked to the gardens of the Palacio Real and took pictures of the garden and palace grounds:

We then walked into the center of Madrid, heading to Plaza Mayor where we were going to eat at Museo de Jamon again. On the way there, we ran into Cody along with Nicole and Lindsay (friends of ours who were also visiting that week). They were leaving an Irish pub, celebrating St. Patrick's Day. We all stood outside Plaza Mayor and talked for a long while, noting how strange it was for us to bump into one another. We parted after this and Mom, Dad, and I went to eat. This was their last night in Spain and I was very sad to see them go. It was a lot of fun being with them and showing them the things I had been doing and seeing the past months.

My Parents Visit Spain: Part Uno

Two weeks ago my parents arrived for a weeklong visit. Their flight came in on a Wednesday and I met them at the airport and helped them get their luggage to Alcalá. We checked into their hotel in La Garena, then went for some tapas at El Tapón which was nearby. After this we took a walking tour of Alcalá. We got to see the main sights in the town including the old city wall, the Cathedral (which we went inside of), Calle Mayor, Palacio Arzobispal (where Christopher Columbus met with Queen Isabel on the subject of financing his voyage to the Americas), Plaza Cervantes, and Alcalá Universidad. Afterward we ate at an American restaurant near their hotel, Pinky Burger. They were quite tired from their long voyage over the Atlantic so they went to bed after this. It was great to see them and I was very excited about planning an itenerary for the rest of the week.

The next day I met them for lunch at Indalo in Plaza Garena. I took them over to the big department store in La Garena, El Corte Inglés (The English Cut). We looked at some of the strange European appliances there such as irons with a hose connected to a steam pump. Later that evening we went to Madrid. We took the metro from Atocha to Puerta del Sol where we saw many street performers such as the decapitated-head-on-the-table-man who scared passersby with sudden shouts and the street-sweeping-living-statue. Dad enjoyed watching these people get scared and took some video of it. After a look around this lively center of Madrid we headed down the street to Plaza Mayor where Mom and Dad took some pictures of the 17th century buildings. We went to Mercado San Miguel after leaving the plaza and saw some amazing things: local foods, giant chocolate egg sculptures, and a man making intricate designs in espresso foam with a stylus dipped in chocolate syrup. This was one of Mom's favorite places we visited. We ate at the Museo de Jamón on Plaza Mayor. We sat in the basement and ate next to a group of Italians. Mom ordered a roast chicken, Dad had a fried whitefish, and I had a plate of Iberian ham and cheese.

I had the whole of the next day off work. I met Mom and Dad at their hotel and we went to Casa de Hippolytus, the ruins of what was once the academy of the ancient Roman town of Complutum, which sat on the site of present-day Alcalá de Henares. The ruins were discovered not long ago and were better preserved than some of the excavated Roman houses in Rome itself. We and at Casa Rojas then went to the village of Chinchón via bus from Madrid. It was nice to visit the town again and to show Mom and Dad around. We went into a food store I had visited the last time. The same old man who had talked me into buying a bottle of anís last time took us around his shop and showed us all the local products. We bought some olives and almonds thanks to his salesmanship. After this we walked around Chinchón's Plaza Mayor/bull ring. We went into a bakery and bought some pastries from a woman who seemed rude at first, but warmed up to us soon. She asked us where we were from, then told us she had some apple, strawberry, and kiwi pastries ready to come out of the oven if we wanted to wait. She had several intricately designed breads on display, molded and twisted into flowers, wreathes, and the crest of the local soccer team, Real Madrid. She asked us to follow her around the back of the store where she took us to see the ovens and the fresh pastries she mentioned. We bought one of the strawberry ones. We walked through the town some more, stopping in another food shop. Out front an old man cut up cardboard boxes and put them in a bin. While inside the store I noticed him walk inside, grab a beer from the cooler, and return outside to continue his work. Dad bought some sunflower seeds here (a popular item in Spain). We walked from here to the castle atop the hill, then wandered around the outskirts of town before catching the next bus into Madrid. In Madrid we went to Gran Vía and walked up and down the crowded streets, looking at the art deco and art nouveau architecture. We also stopped by an outdoor market which displayed items from different regions of Spain. We tried some Manchego cheese (Spain's primary cheese export, made from goat's milk) and some cider (sidra) from Asturias (a province in the north). We then went to Paseo del Prado and ate at a bar. The bartenders here wore black waistcoats and bowties and were more concerned with whistling to dogs and watching the Barcelona vs. Valencia game than serving the customers, but they were funny stereotypes of Spanish waiters (two old men with wry looks and a younger man who seemed to be in training). They seemed to come straight from a Hemingway short story.

The next day we went to Segovia. We had to buy our tickets and catch the train at Chamartín on the northern side of Madrid. The train moved fast and got us to Segovia in thirty minutes. Along the way we viewed the mountains of the Guadarramas and the darkness of two tunnels as we passed beneath some mountains. From the train station we had to catch a bus into the town. We ate a chain restaurant called Pan & Company. We finished our food and coffee then headed out, seeing this 11th century church:

It was quite a bit colder in Segovia so we bought some gloves and hats at a store in town. As we walked down the street, we emerged upon this amazing sight:
This is the Roman Aqueduct of Segovia, constructed sometime between the year 50-110. This is one of the largest and best-preserved aqueducts outside Italy. It is over ten miles in length. An aqueduct was a marvel of Roman engineering which served as a plumbing system. It carries fresh water from a source (in this case the Guadarrama Mountains) to a settlement by means of a pipe located through the top of the gradually-declining sloped structure. The aqueduct was built without mortar. The Romans invaded in the first century AD and took Segovia from the Celtiberians, the ancient people who likely gave the town its name. Monuments such as this and the road systems in Spain are the legacy of the Romans, along with the Spanish language, which is derived from Latin. We climbed a set of stairs near the aqueduct and took some more photos:

We walked further into town from here, past a former mansion called La Casa de los Picos which is now an exhibition hall which features traveling displays:
We walked further down a street then emerged upon a Plaza dedicated to Juan Bravo, a rebel from the 1500s. Bravo was from Segovia and led a group against King Carlos I (Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) in the Castilian War of the Communities. The Comuneros, as they were known, fought against the king whom they saw as a foreign invader who imposed high taxes, and against the feudal system of lords and vassals. Bravo and his followers were defeated and executed in 1521. Here is the plaza dedicated to him:
We walked down some winding streets of the old Jewish quarter, past a former synagogue which had been converted into a church soon after the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. (The Spanish Jews, known as the Sephardim, left for the Netherlands, North Africa, and Brazil. They are still a major Jewish community in some places ).

We soon came upon the Cathedral of Segovia, Catedral de Nuestra Señora. From the street, the several spires rising from the back of the building look like a stone pine forest:
The cathedral was built in the late 1520s. It's front was impressive as well:

We then went inside this Gothic cathedral, constructed after the Castilian War of the Communities. We admired the stained-glass windows, the highly decorative and colorful altars, and high, columned vaults:

We then went to the Plaza Mayor and had coffee at a little café. From here, there was a good view of the Cathedral:

We walked past the Cathedral until we came to the Alcázar of Segovia, a large, fairy-tale style castle originally constructed in the 12th century and later renovated in the 1800s. The castle was originally a fortress. (alcázar is one of many Spanish words adopted from Arabic. It means "fortress," and also serves as the root of the name of Alcalá de Henares). It was later a royal residence and a military academy. Here is a view of the outskirts of the town from the high cliff on which the Alcázar stands:
Here is the Alcázar itself:

The inside of the castle was amazing. There were suits of armor:
Islamic-inspired ornamentation:
and weaponry:

Here is a view of the towers fromt the courtyard:
We then climbed a (at the time) seemingly unending spiral staircase to the highest tower of the Alcázar. The staircase was narrow and at times this was difficult with people coming up and going down. However, from the top there was a beautiful view of the city and the Cathedral:
There was also a good view of the castle spires and countryside:

We left the castle and headed back through town to the bus stop, getting another look at the Cathedral and Aqueduct along the way. We arrived back in Madrid and looked around for a place to eat before deciding upon returning to La Garena and eating at Gino's, an Italian restaurant. We finished dinner late (as most Spanish people do) and went to bed to prepare for the next day.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

New Apartment and Malasaña

Cody and I moved to a new apartment last week. It was really a last-minute decision. One of the secretaries at school asked if anyone was looking for an apartment, telling us that a friend of her's had one for rent. It is a two to three minute walk from our school, very large, and the same price as our last apartment (with utilities). The apartment is located a five minute walk from the town center and right across the street from a bank, grocery store, and the train station. It belonged to the mother of our landlord, Antonio, who passed away a month prior. He told us that everything stayed (including the furniture, television, dishes, and trinkets). He even bought us new dishes. Katie and Kelsey moved in with us as well as they had some problems with their old place. Antonio even bought two beds for them. Here are some pictures of the new place:
Last weekend I went to Madrid and visited a neighborhood called Malasaña. This is a trendy neighborhood popular with artists and musicians. It originally became a popular area during the Transition, the period after the death of Spanish dictator, Francisco Franco (1975-1980s). In Madrid the Transition produced a cultural movement called La Movida ("The Movement"). La Movida was a period in which many of the restrictions of the Franco years, now gone, transformed into a whirlwind period of sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll. American and British rock of the era was popular at the time, namely The Ramones and David Bowie. Both still have a large following in Madrid (The Ramones logo is seen quite a bit in Malasaña). A large number of nightclubs and bars opened throughout Madrid, but those in Malasaña were the most popular. Possibly the most internationally famous figure of La Movida was the Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar. Many of his films are set in the area of Malasaña. Today the area consists of many cafés, trendy clothing and thrift stores, tattoo parlors, and music/book stores.

La Movida died out in the 1980s, but caused some major changes to Spanish society. For example, the new Spanish Democracy also gave more rights to women (during the Franco years, women were basically possessions of their husbands or fathers and relied upon their permission to engage in any social situation). This resulted in a new dynamic between men and women in Spain, as the concept of machismo had goverened Spanish society for nearly its entire history prior to 1975. Here are some pictures of Malasaña from a warm, sunny day:
The area of Malasaña is much older than the 1970s/80s, however. There are many nineteenth-century churches and plazas. The central plaza is Plaza del Dos de Mayo, named after the day on which began the popular uprising against the invading French army of Napoleon in 1808. The uprising itself began near the Royal Palace (quite a bit away from Malasaña) but it spread throughout the city and sparked rebellions elsewhere in Spain. The following day was equally notable as the French army responded to the uprising with a brutal attack on the citizens of Madrid. One victim of the French response was a fifteen-year old seamstress named Manuela Malasaña. Manuela was attacked by French soldiers during the chaotic fighting in the streets. She attempted to resist their attack and when the soldiers discovered she was carrying scissors they executed her for carrying a "concealed weapon." The neighborhood and one of its main streets are named in her honor.

The fighting against the French continued for years after this uprising. The common people took up arms to fight off the invaders. These people used hit-and-run tactics, attacking squadrons of French troops by surprise. This type of fighting was given the name guerilla, which is Spanish for "little war." Today the name is still used to describe a similar type of warfare. The British eventually arrived in Spain to fight the French at the same time Napoleon's forces were having a tough time, on the opposite side of Europe, in Russia. The French left Spain in 1814, but the politcal and social chaos from the years of foreign occupation bred more than 100 years of civil warfare and military coups in Spain.

Here is the statue from the Plaza del Dos de Mayo. The sculpted figures have become enmeshed in the bohemian atmosphere of Malasaña:
Here are some of the churches of Malasaña:
Here are some of the cafés and restaurants of Malasaña:
The last restaurant, El Carpincho, is Spanish for "The Capybara." A capybara is the world's largest rodent. It lives in South America and also goes by the name "grasscutter" or (my favorite) "Master of the Grasses," as it is known for consuming large amounts of grass.

I also came upon this building which housed a clothing store and apartments:
I walked from Malasaña to Gran Vía, which was particularly crowded that day. I walked down Gran Vía until I came to the area of the Royal Palace at Plaza de Oriente. From here I walked to the old area of Madrid, known as Bourbon Madrid. This is where much of the oldest architecture exists, dating to the 16th century when Madrid became the capital city. Prior to this, Madrid was little more than a small town with several monasteries and large hunting grounds favored by the Castilian monarchs. The area is known as Bourbon Madrid as the current ruling family in Spain (which has been the same family since the early 1700s) are the Bourbons (originally of France). The ruling family which established the area, however, were the Habsburgs (originally of Austria). Here is a Habsburg palace I had never seen until that day:

There are also some interesting back alleys in the area. The Mudejar style of architecture, which shows a heavy Arabic influence, is evident here:
I then passed the strange tapas bar I mentioned in an earlier post, Rey del Piminento:

I then walked to Plaza Mayor and took some photos in the sunset:

Plaza Mayor was constructed in 1617 during the reign of Felipe III. It became the center of Madrid and many ceremonies and events took place here. It was often used as a bullfighting arena. Felipe III's father, Felipe II, had enlarged the Inquisition during his reign and it was a powerful force during his son's tenure. The Inquisition came from the time of the Reconquista, when the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula joined in an attempt to oust the Muslims who had controlled much of the Southern three quarters of Spain since the year 711. These kings believed they needed something to unify their cause and the most obvious symbol was that of the Catholic Church. In the final years of the Reconquista and the centuries that followed, the Inquisition sought to ensure that only one faith existed in Spain. The Catholic Church had most of the control over the Inquisition and thus gained more power than it did in other countries. In the years that followed the Reconquest (which ended in 1492, an important year for Spain), the Inquisition expanded as the Catholic Monarchs (Fernando and Isabel) wanted to ensure their dominance. That same year saw the forced expulsion of the Sephardim, the Jewish community of Spain. Jews could remain in Spain, but had to convert to Christianity, and the same applied to Muslims. Those who were suspected of practicing their old religion in secret were brought before the Inquisition. This consisted of a questioning by church officials, often accompanied by torture until the accused confessed. Following confession, an auto de fé was performed. This is a Portuguese phrase which means "act of faith." This consisted of a religious ritual in which a confessor's sentence was read. This was sometimes followed, in a separate ceremony, with a public execution (often burning at the stake or administration of the garrote, a typically Spanish method of execution which consisted of a device designed to crush the windpipe of the condemned). These executions took place in the center of Plaza Mayor.

In the following centuries, as the Protestant Reformation spread through Europe, the Inquisition kept such new Christian sects out of Spain. Those accused of reading works by Martin Luther, John Calvin, or other Protestant leaders were subject to the Inquisition. While Rome had its own Inquisition, which banned many secular books, the Pope never officially supported the Spanish Inquisition. While its influence rose and fell over the centuries, the Inquisition remained until the French invasion in 1808.

History is everywhere. You can walk past a building or down a street completely unaware of the lives that passed by, the ideas that that necessitated the construction of a landmark whose original purpose has been lost in time, or the laws and restrictions which governed the lives of a city's ancestors. Occasionally you will see something, a reminder left by some bureaucrat from the city offices, which will tune you in with history. Such as this plaque indicating the birthplace of cubist painter Juan Gris:

It can sometimes be difficult to understand how we are connected to the past. Yet here, you only have to look around to see how La Movida, Franco, Napoleon's invasion, the Inquisition, and the inventive artwork of people like Juan Gris have made Spain what it is today.