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Words & Photos by Kelly Khong

Hola como estas! What makes you think “Spain”? Flamenco dancers, bullfights, tapas, soccer, Don Quixote or paella?

My journey to Spain explored more than the usual must-sees: the world heritage cities around Madrid, the capital of Spain, proved that Spain is a land of bountiful natural beauties and colorful legacies.

Thanks to Thai Airways for sponsoring my journey to Madrid. Transiting at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thai Airways operates direct flights between Bangkok and Madrid, one way for 13-hour.

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The Thai people, widely known for service excellence, have further exemplified this in Thai Airways. The crews were attentive and friendly to ensure that we had a pleasant overnight flight. The cabins are spacious with relaxing décor and ambient lighting. Besides comfortable seat and roomy legroom, the latest in-flight entertainment offers a variety of entertainment and information options.

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Satisfying inflight meals with various selections to choose from.

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Alcala de Henares

My first stop for the journey of Spain began with Alcala de Henares, literally means “Citadel on the river of Henares”. One of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, the city stands out for its rich archaeology and is one of the first bishoprics founded in Spain. Driving on the road takes about 30-minute from Madrid Barajas Airport with approximately 15-kilometre away.

The historic centre of Alcalá de Henares still retains its medieval look, with winding cobbled streets and historic buildings. The city centre surrounds Cervantes Square (the famous Plaza de Cervantes) and is traversed by a long pedestrian main street, the Calle Mayor. With the Moorish quarter, the Jewish quarter, and the Christian quarter, these distinct neighbourhoods have given Alcalá de Henares the name of “the city of three cultures.”

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The beautiful Cervantes Square is the main square of Alcalá de Henares, and the essential crossing point to visit the historic centre of the city. It is full of life over weekends with carnivals and street buskers.

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A young boy was demonstrating his football skills in the public.

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Immersed in the cultural atmosphere the city transpires, and be awed as you walk along the city street and discover the significant events that happened throughout the history of time.

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“When thou art at Rome, do as they do at Rome.” – Miguel de Cervantes

It is time to put a name to this famous quote. Alcalá de Henares is homeland to the most important figure in the Spanish literature, Miguel de Cervantes. He is universally admired for his creative works and masterpiece Don Quixote, which is considered to be the first modern European novel, a classic of Western literature, and is regarded amongst the best works of fiction ever written.

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Alcalá de Henares is the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes. Traces of him can be found everywhere in this city.

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Climb the tower of the former church of Santa Maria Maggiore to get breathtaking bird’s-eye views of the square and the city.

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In Alcalá de Henares, take a campus tour in The University of Alcalá (Universidad de Alcalá), a public university renowned in the Spanish-speaking world for its annual presentation of the highly prestigious Cervantes Prize. It was the world’s first planned University City in the early 16th century, which subsequently served as a model for universities in Europe and beyond.

The plateresque facade of the University of Alcalá.

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The highly prestigious Cervantes Prize for Spanish literature is held annually in this hall.

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Our guide brought us for a tour about Corral de comedias, which means “theatrical courtyard”. While the theatre is still in use for plays until today, theatrical courtyard was very unique of Spain which blossomed during the Spanish golden age showing plays with themes like tragedy, drama, and comedy. In the past days for university towns, it was forbidden to perform on weekdays, so the students would not be distracted, but of course, it no longer applies to today’s context.

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In Alcalá de Henares, we also went for wine tasting at Esencias Del Gourmet. Situated at Calle Mayor 52, we had an informative session on wine appreciation.

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Spain is the third largest producer of wine in the world and the country has an abundance of native grape varieties. We were told that Spain has quality wine with affordable prices, unlike other European countries that jacked up the prices of wine. Francisco, who is the owner of the store and a wine connoisseur, demonstrated the slicing of Jamón ibérico to pair with wine. Bread sticks, cheese, crackers are good to go with wine as well.

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Salud! And a good bottle of Spanish wine to bring home!

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Take a stroll after lunch to Palacio Arzobispal (Archbishop’s Palace), a venue for important event in the history of Spain, such as the first interview between Catholic Kings and Christopher Columbus, which eventually led Columbus for his exploration to discover America.

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Along the street under the warmth of the sun.

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Alcalá de Henares can be visited all year around, as each month there are festivals, celebrations and performances to praise and re-live the heritage since medieval times.

Up next, Spain (Day 3): Toledo,  aka the “Imperial City” and the “City of the Three Cultures”!

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