I have to confess a secret, so secret I barely know it myself.
I love Alcalá.
Alcalá is like that dull, serious, stamp-collecting boy you meet at university, the one that never gets drunk and seems indifferent to you, even though you have your share of admirers. You think he´s a bit of a weed and he irritates you in a way you can´t put your finger on. He´s not bad-looking, but lacks sex-appeal. You think you can´t stand him.
Then one day at the Refectory there´s no place to eat except opposite him. You notice his good manners, his short, clean fingernails and how he makes formal, intelligent and completely impersonal conversation.
You choke on your spaghetti bolognese.
You´re in love with him.
Alcalá´s a little like that for me. First up, dull and dowdy. When you study Spanish In Depth you can´t avoid hearing about the city. Well, you could, but in my day they wouldn´t give you your degree without it. You had to read the literary superstars, Cervantes, Quevedo, Lope de Vega and Tirso de Molina, the first of whom was born in Alcalá and the other three students at its university.
I never suspected for one moment that I´d end up living in Alcalá de Henares (perhaps more on that later). I wanted a Glasgow, a Madrid, a Los Angeles in my life.
But I got Alcalá.
And I realised that these writers did not shy away from the city´s raucous and informal motto of putas, curas y militares, (whores, clergy and soldiers). My Spanish wasn´t up to grasping this notion as a student, but it is now. Alcalá, like any Spanish city, has its brothels, now inhabited by immigrant women. The city is also chock ablock with churches and convents and its barracks were the site of conflict during the Civil War. But that´s not all there is to the town.
Because Alcalá is safe, quiet, cultural – with its own film festival – and modern, even though it has a very pretty historic centre with a small town pueblo feel. This is surprising, since it´s one of the largest towns along the River Henares Corridor towards Madrid, twenty-five minutes away by car. We´re always happy to get back from the exhausting Metropolis to peaceful Alkie.
The city is also multicultural with well-integrated, resident immigrant populations that are beginning to leave their mark on the city. There are Romanian and Polish festivities every year and you can sample these kinds of cuisine in shops and restaurants. Hundreds of American students attend the University every year – though these are short-stay foreigners. The expat community is pretty much inexistent, but I live in hope ….
Alcalá is great for shopping too with good transport networks to make getting around pretty easy. The people are welcoming and friendly and the availability of quality nightspots is growing. There´s plenty of sporting facilities and well-kept park areas and an absolutely wonderful Archaeological Museum that runs hands-on events for children. The new Parador breaks with the historic Casco Viejo look and is chic, minimalist and contemporary.
Frankly, Alcalá is a very nice place to live. There´s much, much more, too, but I´ve gushed enough about this World Heritage Site for one day.
My secret´s out.
I love Alcalá!
P.S. And then, of course, there´s the storks!