The last few days have been full of traveling and sleep, but I have finally settled in my Spanish city of León. The city of León is a neat, little European town about 4 hours northwest of Madrid. It has a population of about 200,000 but it seems like a bustling, old town full of life, food and historic architecture.
I have been getting by with minimal Spanish thus far, in order to order food and such, but the language barrier looks to be quite daunting. I haven't heard English since my arrival in León, and have only seen a few signs and restaurants in English (Burger King, McDonald's). In Madrid, English seemed to be the second language of most working people which allowed me to easily navigate the city. However, in León learning Spanish is the only option in acclimating myself to their culture.
Croquettas Caseras para mi primer almuerzo
Furthermore, León initially reminded me of Athens, Ohio, the small college town of southeastern Ohio. I stood on a bridge over the river Bernesga that runs through León and couldn't help but think of Athens which has a small channel of the Hocking River run through its own town. Also, Athens has the Hocking Hills in the distance; whereas, León has mountainous regions on the outskirts of the city as well. The demographics, population and city layout may differ drastically, but my initial perception of the environment in León was that of Athens, Ohio, the home of Ohio University.
León is Spanish for Lion
Other initial perceptions are that this is quite the European-style city. I have never been to Europe before but from what I've heard or seen about the style of European cities, León is no exception. The streets are extremely narrow, often times uneven or unpaved. Major intersections revolve around a cyclical roundabout with numerous lanes within the roundabout as well as six or seven exits. Saying the city is dirty is redundant, it of course has that dirty urban aura to it, but much less compared to even a city like Cincinnati.
In addition, U.S. cities are laid out on a grid (1st street, 2nd street, 3rd street...etc.), León, on the other hand, has narrow streets that meander through the city like veins and contains numerous "Plazas," which can be either very small or very big town squares. My hostel is actually located above La Plaza Torres Omaña, which just has a few restaurants and bars and some tables and benches. The smaller ones are usually triangular shaped and pop up wherever you walk in the city. Street signs are nearly impossible to spot as they are usually the size of small box plastered onto any given building where a specific street begins. Getting lost is almost inevitable at first, but makes for some fun meandering.
There is a "main street" called La Calle Ancha, which is double the size of other streets and features some of the best shops León has to offer. Just south of this street there is the bar district, famously known as "Barrio Humedo." Here, bars nearly outnumber the people and the age-old custom in Spain of serving free Tapas (similar to appetizers) if you buy a drink is still intact. This district is full of youthful faces and jam-packed bars and restaurants.
In terms of architecture, I have already stumbled upon two of the most famous landmarks in León, Basilica de San Isidoro and León Cathedral. León is very famous in Spain for its cathedrals and in general its architecture.
Basilica de San Isidoro
In general, León will be a great place to live and study for six months but most importantly it will be a conducive environment for learning Spanish as there will be a lot to do and see while I am here.
Hasta la proxima.