A Tale of Two 'A' Cities


This place is green. I mean seriously green. If you took the colour green and then added another pot of green to it, upped the fluorescence and set brilliance to 1000, you'd get Aranjuez. It's only a short hour long train journey south, but it couldn't look and feel much more different to Madrid if it tried. Sure, there are parks and trees in the capital...but they're not as green.

We (Anna and I) pulled into the station, debarked and, mapless, started walking. The area around the station was - as the area is around almost any station in the world - a bit bleak and grimy. These were not the luxurious palaces and gardens we thought we would find. However, after a short walk a vast creamy pink palace flickered into view through the trees. It was very casually placed. No massive signs or 'THIS WAY TO THE PALACE' boards. It just sat there, subtly majestic, 10 minutes from the station. The Palacio Real was fantastically beautiful, maybe because of the contrast with the station and the way it sat adoringly amongst the gardens. It could have been more due to the fact that it was originally built by those Spanish bourbon monarchs to be a Spanish Versailles. It isn't, of course. Versailles is frankly ridiculous. Aranjuez is more quaint and shrunken. Nevertheless the building is gorgeous. Smaller, but more personable than the vast, cold Palacio Real in Madrid and un-touristy enough to feel like you are one of the few people enjoying it. Around the place are the wonderful gardens. It felt like I was walking through England, like I had absent mindedly tumbled into Much Ado About Nothing. There were copious fountains and benches and bushes and flowers and statues (my favourite being a naked Bacchus riding a barrel of wine). Lots of water in Aranjuez, clever irrigation and a lot of rain in winter made for a turbo-charged vegetative experience.

We had some cheap-o tapas at a franchise tapas joint, stole a glass, saw some more historic buildings and then bought an ice-cream. On buying the ice-cream the heavens finally opened. Why should we be allowed to remain dry all day. We scampered to safety under the archway of the palace where a few Spaniards were hiding. My umbrella took a beating - 3 euro piece of crap.
When the rain finally stopped and the little girl who was staring maniacally at Anna eating her ice cream had left with her parents, we walked back to the train station.

Nothing remarkable about the trip back apart from a far off city on a hill that sat bathed in the sun's rays while everywhere else was cloudy and black. The golden city.

Alcala de Henares

Another day-trip with with Anna. Alcala de Henares boasts one of the oldest universities in the world and the second oldest in Spain behind the larger Salamanca one. We left the little modern station and wandered out into the town and its 28 degree sunny weather. Shorts weather had finally arrived [Note: it is currently making teaching almost intolerable]. We chose a direction, based on the other people leaving the train, and headed off. We had no maps. Maps aren't fun. We soon - after I expertly noted a bus with 'Universidad de Alcala' on it going past - went along the road that lead towards distant old buildings. Thinking back on it, buses can go one way or the other. Thank God for spires, they also help.

The main square and centre of the casco historico, historic quarter, was like a toy town. A plaza with a bandstand and Cervantes statue in the middle, lined with trees and surrounded by low ornate buildings. Only the spires felt brave enough to try and touch the sky. The spires themselves weren't that tall so the juxtaposition between this non-height highness and the apparently grand small buildings made it feel like you were walking through a large miniature. Then there were storks flying heavily through the cyan blue sky and crunching down on their massive nests that clung to the old catholic crosses like mistletoe on a tree. The roads were mostly unpopulated and we walked for over an hour around the academies and holy buildings almost alone.
We then attempted to locate a tapas bar I was tipped off about. Around 4 o'clock the main street had burst open. Scores of restaurants down its length had spilled their guts out onto the pedestrian area that passed Cervantes' birth home. Chairs and families and friends all tucked into their lunch (except the chairs of course, they tucked into the ground). We found our place - Indalo. Why did I want to go there? Well, you get free tapas with drinks almost everywhere in Spain. Not usually in the Madrid Community does that tapas turn out to be toasted ham bagels or small hamburgers and chips. Bless you Alcala. Fed and rosy we got an ice-cream and lolled about in the remaining sun for a while before trudging back to the station.

We finished that weekend off with a Sunday in retiro park with some other teachers and an evening bbq-ing on Nick's terrace. Well done Nick and well done weather.

Bidding you a sunblushed goodbye until the next one!