Alcalá de Henares from a Madrileña

Over the course of the semester, us Madrid kids developed a deep-seated rivalry with our Acalá peers. Since our pandilla is a pretty passionate bunch, it got a bit intense. Though by default I was on the Madrid side and played soccer for about five seconds on our team, I decided to check out Acalá and find out why my Acalámigos were so crazy about it. We were about a month into the semester, and us Madrid kids were still a bit overwhelmed by the enormity of the city, the new culture, and our new lives. Instead of staying in Madrid and exploring our city, a friend and I trekked over to Alcalá to see how our buds were faring. Personally, I was shocked to find that two of my good guy friends knew the city like the back of their hands. They took us out to tapas at a place where for the price of a caña, you would get an enormous and delicious tapa. This specific tapas place had a restaurant-wide game of bingo, with drinks as prizes for the winners! We walked to two different dance clubs, danced the night away, and ended our night at a churreria. My Alcalámigos knew how to get everywhere on foot. They knew all the clubs, tapas places, and churrerias. They knew the history and culture in Alcalá. And what shocked me the most: they were friends with Spaniards everywhere we went. They had become conocidos in a matter of weeks.

In less than a month, I felt like my friends owned the place in way that us Madrileños wouldn’t have down until at least two and half months in our city. After a couple of nights in Alcalá, I understood the love for the place and became incredibly fond of the beautiful little town that was thankfully super close to us. Alcalá is small enough to master quickly and walk everywhere, and its size allows the students studying there to make closer connections with their classmates, intercambios, and other students throughout the city. It’s also THE place to tapear and a very cost-effective place for a night out!

Personally, I don’t regret studying in Madrid. But I know I would have had just as great an experience had I been in Alcalá. I never became conocida in Madrid (except for at the Starbucks close to the program center, oops), but with time I gained the same control over Madrid that my Alcalámigos had over Alcalá. I made friends with Spaniards in my city and even made friends with some Spanish friends from Alcalá! And with that said, I’ll leave you with some insider info from my Alcalámiga, Anna:

Fun facts about Alcalá:

-With a population of about 200,000 Alcalá has the numbers of a midsize city with the feel of small town charm.

-Alcalá’s center is called La Plaza de Cervantes, and is named for the famous author of Don Quijote. There are statues, paintings, and various references to the famous character around the city. The plaza itself is an old market square with what appear to be stunted trees with stumps for branches surrounding it, but which I’m told produce a beautiful flower in the spring, blanketing the peatones (pedestrians) with a ceiling of floral beauty.

-Not only is the plaza named for Miguel de Cervantes, but he was born here and baptized in 1547. His house has since been renovated- in the center of Calle Mayor (the main street), it is one of the city’s great attractions.

-Alcalá distinguishes itself from nearby Madrid in the form of a formidable wall encircling the city. This medieval structure was erected to ward off unwanted visitors.

-The original university of Madrid was originally in Alcalá, where it was founded here in the 15th century (take that, Harvard!). Since that time, Alcalá has become a cultural and intellectual center- a place where many academics (from North America and Erasmus scholars from Europe) come to live and study.

-Alcalá is very famous for its tapas- many madrileños (people from Madrid) make the 30 minute trek by train just to come and taste the tapas. Tapas are smaller meals that are complimentary when accompanied with a caña (house beer) or any other drink at a restaurant or bar. They could be anything from nuts to sandwiches, and are always delicious. Tapear (go to for tapas) is a favorite pastime for those in this area- you can easily hop from bar to bar, snacking and drinking–so much more fun than a pub crawl.

– Two sayings about Alcalá de Henares: one, in song, “Alcalá de Henares, dónde cuatro cuevos van en dos pares,” (Alcalá de Henares, dohn-day quah-troh coo-ay-bohs vahn ehn dohs pah-res) and another, short and sweet- “Alcalíno, borracho, y fino,” (Al-cah-lie-een-a, bohrrahchah ee feena). The first is a euphemism for describing people from Alcalá as gutsy, brave, or, literally translated, “ballsy.” The latter describes people from Alcalá as drunk, yet elegantly dressed and beautiful.

Anna Larson Williams, Tufts in Alcalá Spring 2012

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