While I’m working on our posts from Barcelona, I figured I should publish our post on the place we went the weekend before.
Alcala de Henares is an interesting place for many reasons. First, is it’s university. Alcalá de Henares was the world’s first planned university city… the first city to be designed and built solely around a university. It has served as the model for many other university towns in Europe and the Americas (UNESCO World Heritage Website). All universities before this one existed because there was a city already there. That fact alone put it on my ‘must see’ list. I must admit though, neither one of us thought the university itself was that special.
What we liked much better was the medieval part of the city that was next to it. The old, narrow, cobblestone streets, the buildings with lots of ironwork, and the huge covered sidewalks. It reminded me of New Orleans, but cleaner and nicer. There were so many churches, convents, and monasteries in that area that steeples and spires were sticking up all over….making for some beautiful photo opportunities. And on the tops of these classic old buildings were (what I enjoyed the most about this city) – the beautiful white storks. The city claims to have some 90 pairs of storks living there. Just about every time we looked up we could see them either in their nests or flying around. Some buildings would just have one nest, but most had more. There were 14 nests on an old building beside the Archbishops Palace.
There are lots of other interesting things about this city. It was here at the Archbishops Palace where Christopher Columbus met with King Ferdinand for the first time and planned his excursion to the West. Catherine of Aragon was born in the Archbishops Palace as well (she ended up being the first wife of King Henry VII of England). And guess who else was born in this town? Cervantes, the great Spanish author of Don Quijote. The main plaza in the city’s center is named after him and you can visit the house he was born in. On the second floor of his house are old editions of his books (in many different languages). The oldest one we saw was 1605. There are also two child saints (Justus and Pastor ) buried in the cathedral. The city has Roman, Moorish, and Jewish history associated with it as well. We briefly stopped in the archeological museum which displayed various mosaics and artifacts from these and earlier settlements dating back more than 2,000 years. Everything we saw was very interesting and educational. In a way, I felt like I was in school all day.
The last thing we decided to do before heading back home was have lunch. This city still preserves the old Spainish tradition of getting a free tapa when you order any drink. The inside of the restaurant we ate at was beautiful: brick archways, wooden beams on the ceiling, a copper bar, chandeliers, and old wooden tables (I really should have taken a picture). I ordered a glass of wine, and got some ham croquettas and french fries for free! Robert ordered coffee and got a plate of ham, eggs, and potatoes for free! We could have chosen from a number of different tapas – including hamburgers, calamari, salmon sandwiches, etc. Our total lunch bill ended up being only 5.50 euro (about $6.50) – not bad for Europe.
Alcala was a much bigger city than the places we have been visiting. It is definitely interesting and the most lively and youthful place we’ve been so far – I’m so glad we went. However, other than the storks and free food, I’m not sure there is anything here that would keep bringing me back….unless I was 20 years younger. It’s a great college town but it’s definitely geared more toward singles and young couples.