We at GUIDEPOST, or least some of us, look on Madrid as our special city. After all, we were “born” here. (That was nearly 56 years ago when GP was first published.) We take the triumphs and trials of the Capital of the Kingdom (note the caps!) as ours. We rejoice and mourn with it.
So you can imagine how pleasant a surprise it was that the majority of the Spanish people chose to spend the first puente (long weekend) of December, from 6th, which celebrates Constitution Day, to the 8th, in Madrid. After losing our bid the third time around to host the Olympic Games we felt like orphans that nobody wanted.
The street sweepers and garbage collectors’ 13-day strike last November, when Madrid was flooded with filth, couldn’t possibly boost our badly sagging morale though many put up with it stoically to show their solidarity with the hapless workers who were going to lose their jobs and with those who would be able to keep theirs but only if they accepted what would have amounted to beggar’s wages.
The strike was a success. Nobody lost his job. But the feeling that things could still go downhill when least expected hung like the sword of Damocles.
Then came the Puente de la Constitución. On the Friday evening of the long weekend we went out for our usual brisk stroll and were utterly surprised at the avalanche of people from the Plaza de los Cubos on Princesa Street through the Gran Via to the Puerta del Sol. We were pushed and had to push fellow pedestrians to advance a foot when we weren’t dodging head-on collisions.
At first it was sort of exhilarating. This massive crowd chose to come to Madrid instead of other Spanish cities! And to think that we were beginning to develop this niggling complex on being stuck second best to Barcelona.
But by the time we reached the intersection of San Bernardo Street and Gran Via we just had to make for the Plaza de Santo Domingo for fear of getting crashed on the sidewalk. We figured that there would be lesser concentration of people at that plaza.
Once there we decided we weren’t letting the crowd cow us out of our nightly walk; we were determined to reach the end of our pre-arranged route: Puerta del Sol. So we turned onto Preciados Street. But in Callao we thought it wise to detour onto a side street which turned out packed with unbelievable throngs. We inched our way back to Preciados which was at least a much wider street.
It was a futile struggle. We’d go to Puerta del Sol another time.
We left Preciados for the street which we didn’t know parents were all headed for with their kids. It was the street of Cortylandia! We thought we’d faint from sheer asphyxiation before we could reach a street corner – any corner – to beat the scary crowd.
Many frantic pushings and twistings and turnings later we finally made our way out of the heart of our beloved city.
Back in the shelter of our living room we learned from the TV newscast that the police had to take over the Sol Metro station where the train service had to be suspended for nearly an hour because of gigantic chaos.
Where local tourism is concerned, the Canary Islands sent the biggest number of visitors to Madrid. Forty-one per cent of the Canarios who travelled on the Puente de la Constitución came to visit Madrid, as compared to the 8.7% who went to Barcelona. Nearly 22% of the folk from Galicia preferred Madrid to Barcelona which was the choice of only 17%. Twenty-one percent of the tourists from the Balearic Islands came to Madrid. Less than 14% went to Barcelona.
The size of the crowds we encountered in the center of Madrid on Friday night was mind-boggling. But, hey, we’re NOT complaining! Just surprised (to the point of near-panic).
Things couldn’t be so bad in this capital city if it could still make it to the top of the list of favorite holiday destinations once in a while. Or is it more often than that?
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