A Travellerspoint blog

La Historia de León

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Roman Times

Beginning in 1 BC, the Roman Empire set up a legion in what is today León, Spain. This basic military camp served as a fortress to protect Rome's interest in its most Western territories in Hispania. Specifically, Rome was interested in this region because of its abundance in gold, most notably from a site called Las Médulas (pictured above), located near the city of Ponferrada just west of León. This site served as one of Rome's most important gold mines following large scale production which began during 1 AD.
The name León derives from the Roman Legio (Legion), and the first legion in León was Legio VI Victrix, created by famous Roman Emperor Octavian in 41 BC. In León, this legion first set up an encampment officially in 29 BC. By the time gold production took off early in 1 AD, a more fortified encampment was built, complete with Roman walls, in-roads and gates, in order to protect themselves and the extracted gold from neighboring tribes, the Astures and Cantabrians. Today, several of these Roman walls as well as the in-roads and gates still stand in León. The city would expand and evolve over time but its Roman roots would never be forgotten. In fact, I walk through what was the ancient Roman encampment/fortress en route to class everyday. The fortress, itself, stretches six or seven blocks within the city and is designated for pedestrian use only, although, vehicles can pay to enter since the ancient encampment drastically separates the different parts of the city. Imagine a U.S. city where six or seven blocks in the downtown area are blocked off by 40-foot ancient, Roman walls and only three or four entrances exist to enter this area. And let's say you work on one side of the enclosed area and live of the other. Perhaps, paying a small fee to drive through this area could save some time instead of having to drive around the area. But I digress.

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Roman Walls in León

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During the Roman Empire's golden era, León served as an important outpost in Hispania and obviously as a vital exporter of gold to Rome. Despite the decline of the Roman Empire that began in 476 AD, León remained a Roman entity for several decades. In 540, however, León fell to Liuvigild, King of the Visigoths.

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The ancient Roman courtyard in the city of León

Visigothic Era

The Visigoths were extremely instrumental in the decline of the Roman Empire (they demolished Rome in 410), but their long-term historical presence in Europe was short-lived, especially in León. Following their Roman destruction in 410, they established the Kingdom of the Visigoths in what is today southern France and the entire Iberian Peninsula. In France, they were defeated by the Franks in 507 and established a more permanent kingdom in Spain and Portugal. By this time, the Iberian Peninsula (Hispania) was open to Visigothic rule as the Roman presence had drastically declined. Thus, the Kingdom of Hispania was established, but their rule would only last several decades. However, the Visigoths contributed several churches and artifacts to Spanish history and King Liuvigild was an important figure in creating peace between the Visigothic people and the Hispano-Roman population. Although, the Visigoths and Hispano-Romans differed on their Christian beliefs (Visigoths were Arian, Hispano-Romans were Roman Catholic), Liuvigild created a code of equal rights, Codex Revisus or the Code of Liuvigild that helped unify his people and prevent significant turmoil.

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The Visogothic Kingdom of Hispania before Muslim invasion in 700

The Brief Muslim Takeover

Despite Liuvigild's powerful unification of the Iberian Peninsula, León and the rest of the peninsula were overtaken again at the beginning of the 8th century, this time by Moorish (Muslim) forces. The Moors were from Northern Africa, often times referred to as the Berber-Muslims of present-day Morocco. By this time in history, Islam had quickly spread across the Middle East and Northern Africa from Mecca, and as the Moors overtook Iberia it became a symbol of Islam's first initiative into Europe. León, itself, fell to Moorish forces in 711 but Christian forces recaptured the city as soon as 742. The rest of the peninsula; however, would be populated by Moorish forces for over 700 years.

The Kingdom of León

Under Visigothic rule, León was part of a territory known as Astura. After the Moors were driven out, León became a part of the Kingdom of Asturas, a Christian kingdom. Asturian king, Alfonso the Great, eventually divided the kingdom into three separate entities, for each of his sons to rule. The Kingdom of León was inherited by Garcia I in 911 and under Ordoño II, León became the capital city in 914. Today, there is street in León named after Ordoño II found near the center of the city and stretches across the River Bernesga. Ordoño II was a military leader and led several expeditions south into Muslim territory during his ten-year reign.
However, it was Ramiro II (his reign was from 931-951) who would become the greatest military leader in the kingdom's history, receiving the nickname "the devil" from Muslim forces. His greatest contribution was his creation of a significant land barrier between the Christian kingdoms in the north of the peninsula and the Muslim-ruled cities in the south.

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The Christian Kingdoms of northern Iberia circa 925, prior to Ramiro II's advances south

These northern, Christian kingdoms had now established firm separation from Muslim forces by 1000; however, fighting and conquering erupted internally between each other, ultimately resulting in the dominance of the Kingdom of León, after several kingdoms merged while others disintegrated following various throne changes and feuds. Thus, by 1037, the Kingdom of León stretched westward from the coast to the Kingdom of Castile just west of the city of León.

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The Kingdom of León circa 1037

In 1077, one of the most important Christian rulers in Iberia came into power as the King of León. His name was Alfonso VI and he would later conquer all of Galicia and Castile becoming the Emperor of all Spain. In addition, Alfonso VI captured Toledo from Muslim forces in 1085 marking a significant change in relations between the Muslims and Christians in Iberia. Prior to this defeat, the Muslims had lost some ground in Iberia and were paying tribute to the Christian kingdoms to avoid further exploitation. After the capture of Toledo, however, the Christian kingdoms saw fit to expand significantly beyond Toledo ushering in the era of the Reconquista. Despite this significant progress for the Christian kingdoms, Alfonso VI had political trouble dealing with the mixture of Muslims and Christians in the newly obtained Toledo. Up until the end of his rule in 1109, he struggled with maintaining order as the grand Emperor of Spain but is always remembered as initiating the Reconquista which eventually resulted in the complete eradication of the Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula.

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Alfonso VI

Following Alfonso VI's death in 1109, his unification of Spain fell into shambles and the kingdoms of Castile and León separated once again in 1157. León as a kingdom was losing ground and its best days were behind it. However, the last two kings of an independent Kingdom of León, Ferdinand II and Alfonso XI, made significant contributions to not only their kingdom but Europe as a whole.
First, Ferdinand II began expansion southward and conquered the city of Mérida. Alfonso XI finished the job by taking all of Extramedura, today an autonomous region in western Spain that borders Portugal. In addition, Alfonso XI is considered Spain's first "modern king" as he created the University of Salamanca and made other modern contributions, most notably the Cortés of León. This brand-new legislature, first established in 1188, is known as the first ever parliament in history with representation from the citizenry. In essence, the Kingdom of León, under Alfonso XI, is responsible for giving representation to the citizenry in what today is known in several countries as a parliament. Most importantly, the Cortés of León, convened in the Basilica of San Isidoro in the city of León.

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Basilica de San Isidoro in León where the first form of a parliament convened in Europe

Following Afonso XI's death, the kingdoms of Castile and León were reunited under the rule of Ferdinand III but essentially the Kingdom of León disintegrated. All kings after Ferdinand III are considered kings of Castile only. To most of the Leonese people, this reunification became a dour subject as the Leonese language was replaced by Spanish and all governmental symbolism (crests, titles...etc.) were of Castilian descent. However, the Leonese people kept these traditions alive and the Crown of Castile allowed separate Leonese coins, flags and parliaments to exist, but all major decisions were made under the Crown of Castile.

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The Crown of Castile following the 1230 unification

In a sense, this unification marked the end of the Kingdom of León, but on the other hand it also initiated a modern era of Spain. Portugal had become its own entity under the Kingdom of Portugal and the Muslims had been declining rapidly following the capture of Toledo and the Reconquista. In addition, a more parliamentary style of government was established as the Cortés conventions continued during the Crown of Castile. The Crown of Castile became the dominant kingdom in Spain for several centuries following expansion well into the south. Spain continued to modernize through its use of Spanish as a uniform language and created several universities throughout the region. The late 15th century saw significant unification within Spain as Isabel I of Castile married Ferdinand II of Aragon and in 1492 the last Muslim forces were conquered at Granada marking the official beginning of Spain as a country. The year 1492 also marks the year Ferdinand and Isabel financed the expedition of Christopher Columbus to the New World, in essence, ushering in the golden era of Spain.

León in Modern Times

León officially became an autonomous region following Spain's remapping in 1833 when most modern provinces and regions were created. Since the beginning of the 20th century, Spain as a whole has experienced significant turmoil and León as a city was no exception. The Spanish Civil War that took place from 1936-39 resulted in the beginning of a dictatorship under Francisco Franco that lasted until 1975. During the civil war, the city of León fought on the side of the republicans, who were against Franco. Obviously, these efforts were to no avail and many republicans retreated from the city.
In addition, León grew significantly during the 1960s following the migration of rural people to the urban center of León from nearby regions. Today, the city of León exists within the autonomous community (state) within Spain known as Castile and León. For many in León and in nearby cities, there still exists the celebration of the historical Leonese culture that existed during the Kingdom of León. There is even a call for a separate autonomous community or state for the areas surrounding the city of León. Lastly, at the University of León there are even classes offered to learn the historic Leonese language.

Hasta la proxima.
-Michael

Posted by topmillerm2 05:37 Comments (0)

Mis Clases

On Wednesday, I began my academic journey in Spain at the Centro de Idiomas (Center of Languages) in León. This center, in fact, is not located on the actual campus of the University of León, which is located in the northern part of the city; but rather, the language center is situated closer to the middle of the city. From my apartment, it is a good 15 minute walk which is a little long, but it gives me 30 minutes of exercise a day. In León, like many other European cities, walking is a crucial element to the culture and lifestyle; therefore, as a car-loving American I will be forced to adjust to this cultural dynamic as I anticipated.

I arrived at the language center, on Wednesday, at 9:30 a.m. and was directed to a small auditorium for a presentation. The auditorium looked as if it doubled as a chapel as a balcony hung over the seats and a small stage was placed in the front of the room. Above the stage, a huge, projectile screen hung from the ceiling with the word "Bienvenidos" (Welcome). In the auditorium, I took a seat among perhaps 15 other students, mostly Americans, Europeans and Asians. Then, five or six Spanish professors entered and a small, introductory presentation began. After this, we were told that everyone would be taking an oral and written exam to specify our level of Spanish. Quite the welcome indeed.

03a.jpg El Centro de Idiomas
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I was a little nervous for the oral exam, as most everyone was, but in the end it wasn't too difficult, merely a conversation about who I was, how long I've been in León and how long I've been studying Spanish. After this 5 minute exam, the professor placed me at a level and I proceeded to another room to take a written exam based on that level. The written exam, all multiple choice, was significantly challenging but many concepts began to recollect in my head and I finished in about 35 minutes. Afterward, it was about 11 a.m. and everyone was given an hour break before we reconvened and would be given a small tour of León by a professor. The short tour, which was slightly diminished by rain, involved a quick history lesson of León and a visit to a few notable landmarks, all of which will be discussed in the next blog. After the tour, the day was over in terms of school, classes would actually begin the following day.

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The following day I arrived at the language center at 9:30 a.m. for my first class of the day. The structure of school for the next six months will involve two classes per day, one from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and the other from 12-2 p.m. For both classes I am with the same students, who tested into the same level. There are only nine students in my classes, three Chinese students, two Japanese and four American students including myself. Both classes are strictly in Spanish and I find myself nowadays speaking Spanish to the other Asian students, which becomes quite an interesting encounter since they don't speak any English. For example, I spoke with a Japanese student, Suichiro, over a cup of coffee and a sandwich about his winter vacation, all in Spanish. The conversation was limited and somewhat grammatically incorrect; however, we did understand each other despite several moments of confusion.

Furthermore, the morning class focuses on grammar and some writing and the afternoon class involves oral communication, Spanish culture and writing. The professors are knowledgeable, nice and funny although listening to their extremely fast Spanish can be a little difficult at times. However, I can already notice a difference in my listening abilities and I've only had two classes. The next six months of class will certainly test and improve my knowledge of the grammar, pronunciation and writing of the Spanish language. Although it will be difficult, I look forward to this endeavor for it is my number one goal for being in Spain.

In addition to my class and our group of students, there are three other Spanish classes at different levels. There 9-12 students in these classes as well, with individuals from the U.S., China, Japan, South Korea, U.K., Russia, Ireland and the Netherlands. Speaking only in Spanish to international students is certainly a new experience for me; however, I gladly welcome the challenge as it will not only introduce me to new individuals from around the world but also improve my Spanish at the same time. And these are two things that I thoroughly enjoy and intend on doing more beginning next week.

After two days of classes, I have met several international students, learned a few things about León and improved my listening skills substantially. Lastly, all of this knowledge will greatly enhance my living experience with my three Spanish roommates as I begin to gain more confidence with speaking and listening. I have already engaged in several conversations with my roommates only in Spanish and they will be great influences on my time here.

Hasta la proxima.
-Michael

curso-ingl..tro-idiomas.jpg "If you speak languages, the world is not so big"
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Posted by topmillerm2 14:59 Comments (0)

Mi Primer Fin de Semana

My First Weekend

A New Place

Un Nuevo Lugar

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I have since relocated from the hostel (above) to a cozy, four bedroom apartment in a district called Barrio San Mames, with three Spanish roommates. However, I have yet to meet any of them since the University of León is still on winter break. I eagerly await for their arrival in order to practice my Spanish and finally meet people from the university. I haven't met anyone from the university since my arrival six days ago, it seems the city is still enjoying the winter holiday vacation.

2013-01-04_11_55_19.jpg My luggage arrived the same day I moved to an apartment!

However, my most notable Spanish encounter came when I had to call a landlord in the city to set up a meeting to look at the apartment. I carefully practiced what I would say but of course these things never go as planned. The landlord's name was Paloma and the events transpired like this:

First, I had to ask the hostel manager if I could use the phone. I convinced her that I would not be calling anywhere outside the country and was calling a lady in León. She agreed and I picked up the phone and called Paloma's home phone and asked: ¿Es Paloma allí? (Is Paloma there?). The lady on the other line responded that she wasn't and if she could take a message for me. I simply stated that I was looking for an apartment and wanted to talk to her. The conversation deteriorated after that and I hung up unsure of what exactly to do. I had Paloma's cell phone number but was told to call her home phone first which made me wonder if I should attempt her cell phone. After concluding to myself that I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, I picked up the phone again and dialed Paloma's cell phone number. As I sat in the living room of my hostel, I was feeling confident at this point with my Spanish communication; but the phone was ringing several times now and I was getting worried.
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But, then Paloma answered:

Me: ¿Es Paloma? (Is this Paloma?)
Paloma: Si, yo soy (Yes, I am)
Me: Si, me llamo Michael, soy de los Estados Unidos y estoy buscando un apartamento en León. He estado hablando con Alex Prieta Revilla sobre una habitación en su piso. (My name is Michael, I am from the United States and I am looking for an apartment in León. I have been talking with Alex (my roommate) about a room on his floor).
Paloma: She responded too quickly for me to fully understand but it seemed like she had been expecting my call.
Me: (getting to the point) ¿Quieres conocer hoy? (Do you want to meet today?)
Paloma: Eh, hoy, ¿Que hora? (What time?)
Me: Um....Dos. A Le Bon Cafe. (I had found a cafe on the street where this apartment was via Google Maps and figured this was the best meeting place)
Paloma: She spoke too quickly again for me to fully understand. But I understood 8pm and we can't (no podemos).
Me: (I reiterated) A las dos en Le Bon Cafe?
Paloma: Si, vale
Me: Hasta luego, gracias.

Well, I had a meeting with the landlord and more importantly my first full conversation in Spanish (and it was over the phone). However, the part I misunderstood about 8pm and we can't would unravel itself soon enough. I had already packed my suitcases and convinced the manager of the hostel to let me keep my luggage in the living room of the hostel until after my meeting.
So, I set off for the meeting at 1:15pm and stopped to have a quick lunch. I ate some sort of bowl with beans and pork and then a tiny cup of coffee, all while watching the Spanish version of Wheel of Fortune.

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Afterward, I walked to Le Bon Cafe and discovered that it was closed. I put two and two together and figured that this is what Paloma was trying to tell me, but it didn't turn out to be much of a problem in the end, for when I turned around I heard English. To this day, I'm not sure if it was Paloma's son but I presume so; he greeted me in excellent English (the only English I have heard since being in León) and then introduced me to Paloma, a small, Spanish woman who could easily be my grandma. We proceeded to the apartment which was only two doors down from Le Bon Cafe and took an elevator to the apartment. It is quite possibly the smallest elevator I have ever occupied and with three people we were nearly touching elbows. I thought perhaps it would serve better as a laundry chute since there is a laundromat next door to the apartment complex.
We entered the apartment and I was immediately impressed by the amount of space, wooden floors and basic set-up. We did a basic tour of the apartment and with her son as my translator I was able to understand Paloma's instructions. There are four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a washer, dishwasher, kitchen and a living room with a television. The room that would be for me, is the smallest of the four but has everything that I need: a bed, a desk and a closet. It's no bigger than a dorm room but the overall price per month plus the apartment's location within León seemed like too much to pass up. I told them I'd like to sleep here tonight and just like that I paid Paloma a deposit and the room was mine.

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Eating and Drinking

I have yet to fully adapt to the eating culture here in Spain or the time shops, restaurants and grocery stores open and close. This past weekend, I failed miserably at finding an open grocery store. Saturday, I went out too late in the afternoon; Sunday was the Catholic holiday of the Epiphany and most stores I imagine are closed on Sundays anyway; and the day after the Epiphany is considered a holiday here as well so once again grocery stores were closed. Aside from feeling like I live in 1940s America, I suppose I should embrace this age-old custom of a city shutting down on Sundays and holidays, it allows families and friends to bond and this particular holiday allowed individuals to finalize their winter holiday vacations. But, it has been a royal pain for me. But, this upcoming week, I imagine things will return to normal and I'll feel like I'm living in the right century again.

In addition, the time Spaniards eat lunch and dinner has been so foreign to me for some reason. First off, they rarely eat breakfast it seems, besides juice, coffee or tea and something light like toast. Thus, by noon, Spaniards begin "pre-lunch" by munching on small snacks and drinking something else, often times a beer or wine. They do this until about 1:30 or 2 when they eat an actual lunch, which is the most important meal of the day. It is so important, that workers even get a 2-3 hour lunch break complete with a siesta. Siestas tend to be small naps (10-15 minutes) designed for resting the body before working the rest of the afternoon and early evening. After this extended lunch session, I presume workers work well into the evening, perhaps 7 or 8 p.m. One would think after getting off work at this hour, individuals would want to eat dinner. But no, not in Spain.
From 8 p.m. to around 10:30 p.m., Spaniards will engage in what is known as tapas (tapear, ir de tapas). This activity involves buying some sort of drink (most often times alcohol), and being served small dishes of food known as tapas. And in the city of León, if you buy a drink, you get free tapas. It's an age-old custom in Spain and usually lasts a few hours. Often times, Spaniards will bar hop to numerous bars and nearly intake a mini-dinner with these tapas. By dinner time (10:30 p.m.), individuals have satiated their palates with several tapas and tasty beverages and finally sit down at a restaurant or head home for dinner. To me, it seems tapas is designed solely for socializing as opposed to getting drunk, in any case it is quite the event every night0.

2013-01-05_23_10_44.jpg An example of tapas
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2013-01-05_23_10_51.jpg Tapear

I've yet to discover whether Spaniards go out again after eating dinner, but I'm sure I will in time. At first, it seems awfully strange but in a sense it is comparable to what many U.S. workers do for happy hour. The only difference is the time of day. U.S. workers get off work at 5 and sometimes imbibe before eating dinner. This is essentially what the Spanish are doing as well, but the elongated lunch/siesta time pushes the events of the day back several hours.
I have had a couple experiences with this eating culture thus far. One time I sat down to eat some Turkish food at around 9:45 p.m. The place had maybe 10 people in it and I was served my meal fairly quickly and finished around 10:20 p.m. In just that amount of time, the restaurant was packed with people, they couldn't wait for me to leave my seat.
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Another time, I had no intention of waiting until 10 to eat so I sat down to eat dinner at 7:45 p.m. I was literally the only person in the restaurant while I ate. Certainly, 7:45 p.m. can be considered late in U.S. dinner time but most Spaniards we're probably still getting ready to go out for tapas at that time. Often times, I find myself eating lunch at dinner places or eating dinner way too early. All the preparation in the world could not have prepared me for what time they eat or how often they socialize here. But, it's just different and in time I will come to enjoy it I am sure, but right now these are just a foreigner's observations.

Hasta la proxima.
-Michael

Posted by topmillerm2 13:34 Comments (1)

Getting to Spain

My journey abroad began in the Dayton International Airport on New Years Day. My flight schedule consisted of a short flight to Chicago's O'Hare Airport, then a non-stop flight to the Madrid-Barajas airport. As I sat in the Dayton Airport, at my gate, I looked at the clock: it was 3:55pm, my flight was supposed to have taken off ten minutes ago. This wouldn't have been much of an issue if my layover in Chicago hadn't only been for an hour.
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By the time we boarded and took off from Dayton, it was 4:05 p.m., which meant my flight wouldn't land in Chicago until 4:15 Central Time. My flight for Madrid was scheduled for 4:45 Central Time, I knew it was going to be very difficult to make it. As I exited my flight, it was 4:20 and I was forced to wait in a line on the boarding platform in order to get the luggage that I had checked for the flight to Chicago. The baggage people were taking their sweet time as I checked the clock again: 4:27 p.m.. Moments later, I had my carry-on luggage, a backpack on my shoulders and two coats in my hand, walking briskly into the Chicago Airport. My flight to Madrid was at gate K19, I was at gate H18. I saw a sign for the direction to K19 and took off, weaving in and out of the crowd of travelers in the airport. I reached K9 and briefly stopped to look at the departures board, my flight read: FINAL BOARDING. I immediately picked up my carry-on luggage and sprinted to my gate. I had arrived just in time as the boarding attendees annoyingly allowed me down the boarding platform. I entered a jam packed plane, one of these huge jetliners with seats 3x4x3. Of course, I found my seat in the middle of the middle; but, I couldn't complain: I had made it.

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Iberia Air wasn't so bad, but any flight for 8 hours becomes gruesome by the end, especially when I had a backpack under my seat along with two coats and a sweater. On top of that, there weren't any personal televisions for each seat, but I didn't necessarily mind. I mostly read and listened to music. And ate! They fed us quite well, with a three course meal (airplane portions) for dinner and then an hour before landing, they provided a small breakfast. Landing in Madrid, I was already feeling tired, as it was 1:40am in the U.S. In Madrid, it was 7:40am.

Entering the Madrid airport, I was surrounded by groups of Americans who either were on high school trips or other college students like myself who were on their way to other universities in Spain. I wasn't inclined to figure out which, but I followed them through the aesthetically appealing interior of the Madrid airport.

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I arrived at the customs checkpoint and anticipated some heavy questioning, or at least more than what I received. The interaction with the customs official went as followed:

Spanish customs official: Hola
Me: Hola
Spanish customs official: [looking at my passport/visa] Where are you going?
Me: León.
Spanish customs official: [stamps passport]
Me: Gracias. [I walk away]

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After this subtle entrance, I continued my journey to the baggage claim, up and down escalators and on an indoor airport train. My arrival at the baggage claim was met with a considerable amount confusion as my big suitcase never arrived. I checked other baggage claims but to no avail. It was time to talk to customer service. Sure enough my luggage was left in Chicago, which came as little surprise considering the dramatic catching of my flight. However, the feeling of being without my luggage and completely exhausted in a foreign country is not a feeling I want to feel again. Luckily, the customer service man gave me good advice and I wouldn't let this get in the way of getting to my final destination of León.

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After my feeling of helplessness subsided, I left the baggage claim and made my way to the subway in the airport. After careful perusal of the map and a little help from a Spanish worker, I bought a subway ticket and set off for the train station in the northern part of Madrid, it was called Estacion de Chamartin. I made a subway transfer in the middle of Madrid and then arrived at the train station in about 20 minutes, approximately at 10:30am.

2013-01-02_04_06_25.jpg I snapped this outside Estación de Chamartín

I purchased a train ticket to León for 11:40am and took a seat in the station feeling appropriately exhausted.

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Once the gate was announced for my train around 11:20am, I picked myself up and headed for my ride, a slick and modern train. I boarded this splendid machine:

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The inside of Renfe trains are clean, quiet and comfortable, at least for someone who is exhausted. The efficiency of these trains is phenomenal. If I hadn't known better I wouldn't have thought I was even on a train considering how quiet and smooth the ride was. As the the train headed north from Madrid, the beautiful countryside of Spain emerged, while simultaneously the Spanish country folk began to outnumber the Madrid urban dwellers on the train. The train made several stops along the way en route to León as I enjoyed the countryside as well as a little shut eye.

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At 4 p.m., I awoke to the announcement of our arrival in León. I groggily gathered my belongings and exited the train to a delightful warm and sunny day. After approximately 24 hours of traveling, I had finally arrived at my final destination, short a suitcase and completely exhausted.

But I still needed to find a place to stay for the night...

Utilizing Google maps (which somehow is still accessible without cell phone service), I navigated my way to the hostel, well at least I tried. Of course, I got lost! First, I had my first encounter with León Cathedral which was quite the sight to see given my woozy condition. Then, in another attempt to find my hostel, I stumbled upon Basilica de San Isidoro. In a failed attempt to find my hostel, I discovered two of the most remarkable landmarks in the city. But then I found the hostel. Hostal San Martín. I walked up the steps to the second floor and in so many discombobulated Spanish words requested a room for two nights.

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Afuera de Hostal San Martín

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I entered my room and immediately crashed on the bed and slept for ten straight hours. From Dayton, Ohio to León, Spain, I had completed my traveling.

Hasta la proxima

-Michael

Posted by topmillerm2 14:57 Comments (0)

My First Impressions

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.
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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.
2013-01-03_13_12_34.jpg 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.
2013-01-02_16_11_06.jpg 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.
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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.
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Basilica de San Isidoro
250px-Fachada_de_la_Catedral_de_León

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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.

Posted by topmillerm2 17:06 Comments (0)

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