Monday, February 15, 2010
A Rock and a Hard Place
Well here we are in Madrid on the first day we have been deterred from having a complete day of sight seeing. We have managed through the pouring rain in New Zealand, through 48 degree heat in Australia and cold and snow in Turkey but the wet snow and wind we faced in Madrid soaked and froze us by noon and we called it a day. This would not have finished us under normal circumstances but three of the four places we set out to see were closed, so wet cold and shut out did us in. We have discover that Monday closings are a normal thing in this part of the world and as we don't plan our stays around Mondays or much else for that matter, this has effected us on a few occasions. The funny thing about this is that we usually lose track of the days anyway, so we get surprised regularly when Mondays come. We have had a few surprises on this trip but that can be expected when away for such a long time. We have also had lots of cultural experiences to compare to Canadian culture and culture of different countries. Spain we have found to be wonderful after just two days. The people are happier here then even Greece, always helpful and much, much calmer. We met a friend here, Silvia Roman, for just an hour and a half. Silvia, we met through Groundswell in Alliston and she lives in the south of Spain and was in Madrid for the weekend visiting family at the time arrived. Silvia introduced us to her father, David and her younger brother, David. David (I'll let you figure out which one) took us for a short tour of Madrid and we had some interesting conversation. Between Silvia, David and David and some sign language we worked out the translations. One of the things David mentioned was how Madrid was the same as Athens with it's noisy traffic and crowded streets but sorry David, no comparison.
I have to say some of the most intense traffic we have experienced was in Istanbul, Thessaloniki and Athens. Madrid does not meet the scale of those places. It is calmer, more sophisticated and cars actually let you cross the street. There was no way you could take a chance in the aforementioned places that traffic would stop for you. Even if you were walking with the light, which no one did, were in a marked crossing area and had the benefit of addition people around you, you could still have to "run" out of the way of cars and trucks. I think the biggest difference we have seen has been the lack of police presence here in Madrid, I say lack comparatively. The exception to this has been in the train station which was attacked on March 11, 2004. Terriosts set a bomb here which killed 176 people and police protect the station and the memorial there. Police seemed to be everywhere in Turkey and Greece.
While in Turkey we ran into a large protest close to our hostel. We followed innocently behind and found as we went the number of people grew, especially when the ferry from the Asian side of Istanbul landed. We let this large protest get well ahead of us and were ready to cross the bridge over the Golden Horn when the riot police emerged from the underground right in front of us. They came out fully equipped with shields and batons and headed after the protesters. We stepped aside. In Thessaloniki we found ourselves right in the middle of a national strike. Protesters blocked major roads and police were everywhere. Out for a walk in Athens we stumbled upon another battalion of riot police. This group were armed right down to their feet, shields ready and accompanied by an armoured bus. We made an about face. While on the Plaka in Athens about a dozen police appeared, it seemed, out of no where, on foot and on scooters chasing street vendors through the walkways. We watched with amazement. After this we noticed patrols all over Athens, four to six constables together, often checking papers or running down someone. Madrid has none of this and seems at peace to us. So here we are, safe and secure and loving the differences. Wes