Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Journey to and First Impressions of Alcala de Henares

Well, I’ve made it. I am a current resident of Alcala de Henares, Spain. We’re about 40 minutes from Madrid by Metro.

I started my journey on Thursday and flew from Phoenix to D.C. Next was the transatlantic flight to Vienna, Austria. That seemed like such a long flight. They did a good job of entertaining you—if you wanted it, but all I wanted to do was sleep. That plan didn´t work out all that well. I couldn´t sleep as much as I wanted. By this flight, I had found two other girls in my group. We landed in Vienna and slept for 3 of our 4 hour layover. We met up with the rest of our group—about 14 total, and went on the smaller plane to Madrid. I´ve always wanted to fly in a plane where I had to get on it from the tarmac—this was my chance. It was slightly raining and extremely cold in Vienna—not to mention insane fog! I couldn´t see anything past the airport, and I had no idea how we landed, everything was a cloud.

So, we arrived in Spain safe and sound, no one in our group lost any luggage, and we slowly but surely found our way to the metro. We found our way to the metro, got on and then transferred to another train line. That was where we met some girls who pick-pocketed me. Funny part though, we were buying train tickets at the little machine and those girls were in front of me. One left her change in there and I gave it back to her.

So, it wasn´t too bad. They only got cash, and two letters I had. Usually, they would have taken my passport as well, but for some unknown reason to me I put it in a different pocket in my bag than usual. I thought they had taken my wallet—I went through and cancelled all my credit cards—but turns out I had put that one in a different pocket for some reason as well. And the best part, I handled it all extremely well. I didn´t panic, I wasn´t hurt, and I immediately (well as soon as we got off the train) took steps to correct the situation. I promised myself before I came that if I was stolen from I would not let it ruin my whole trip. I´m happy to report that I have succeeded with that goal. We had been warned in our prep-class about thieves in Madrid, and I definitely took them seriously, but I underestimated how good these people are at thieving. I didn´t notice a thing, and it wasn´t until after they had gotten off the train that I noticed anything.

After we finally arrived in Alcala, all 14 of us--with two massive suitcases in tow--made our way to our professors house (la casa de Shumway). He had offered to put us all up for the night since we came in a day early. It was hilarious to see this massive train of people--it sounded like a herd of cattle, no joke. It was exceptionally noisy--especially since we went over cobbled instead of paved roads. So, the 23 of us (he has 7 kids) squished our way into his town house. It was actually pretty funny. People were sleeping everywhere--couches, beds made out of suitcases, actual mattresses--there were legs, arms, and blankets everywhere. The two boys in our group were on the top floor.

The next day we met our host families. I´m with two other girls--Suzanna y Missy-- and we live with Chielo and Faustino Lopez and their two children still at home, Noami and Julio. They´re actually members of our church and Faustino is our institute professor. This is the view outside of our bedroom window.

That night we explored Alcala with Andrew and John-Charles. It was so much fun. We just walked around getting a feel for the city and a tour from the boy´s host parents. Needless to say, we ended out getting lost once the parents left. It was fine though, Alcala is relatively small and everyone is extremely helpful. We ended out asking an older couple for directions and they walked with us for about a half hour. They said it was no trouble at all they were just out for a walk. That´s what people do here, they take walks at night. They have no destination, nothing to do, they are simply walking to enjoy the night and enjoy each other´s company. I love it, it´s refreshing after the constant rushing of life back home. (Juan-Carlos eating, and not so well at that, a Spanish pastry--at a Spanish McDonald´s no less!) ( Missy y yo during our paseo. Keep in mind, this is now the second day--traveling--that I haven´t had access to a shower. )
Sunday we went to church. I was extremely pleased that I understood almost everything. I was really worried I would be completely lost. Fortunately I wasn´t! I can´t say the same for other members of our group--we nearly doubled the congregation! But they´ll get used to the speed and accent quickly.

Sunday night was spent at Shumway´s house. We played games and just hung out with everyone. It was really, really fun. I loved it! I also love that two of the four boys live near us. That means we can go out, and we have someone to walk with us. We would meet at the mall nearby and walk to La Plaza de Cervantes o la casa de Shumway o para un paseo alredador de Alcala. (Apparently Cervantes was born in Alcala (he wrote Don Quixote) and he is a huge deal here. They have a statue erected in his honor in the middle of the main plaza.)

Monday came and we went to Alcalingua (school) where we received my new favorite toys--bus passes (en espanol: abonos--new palabra!), and mapas de la ciudad--which is perfect, I love maps. We´ve been using los abonos ever since--they definitely make for quicker and warmer travel.
Today is now Tuesday and school starts today. We have Spanish today and history tomorrow. I cannot say enough how much I love it here. Everything is different, the people, smells, sights, and even the pace of the city. And, the best thing yet, we´ve finally managed to sleep off our jet lag! (Suzanna trying to catch up to our new Spanish schedule)


tiny said...

I didn't even know you were studying abroad this semester. How exciting!! I am glad you arrived safe and almost with all your things. :) What a great way to use the Spanish you've learned! Have fun and take lots of pictures! Love ya!

Briana said...

AAWWW how exciting! i totally want to do that! keep me posted! love you cousin!

Kelsey said...

Enjoy every minute of Spain! I studied abroad in Italy this summer and it was amazing! It was hard work, but probably the best time of my life! I would write something to you in Spanish, but Italian has completely erased my five years of spanish study! So, in Italian, buona al lupo! (Good luck!) Love ya! - Your cousin Kelsey