This article was accepted for Austin Traveler's e-zine, but I elected to wait and rewrite it with updated material.
Traveling with Terror
“Are you planning a trip to London?” accused my friend.
I was stunned. “How did you know?”
“Turn on CNN.”
I watched in horror as the injured and the dead were carried from the London tube and a double-decker bus. Déjà vu flooded me, making me dizzy. I put away the articles and brochures I’d been reading in preparation for our London vacation.
The last time my travel plans collided with terrorism was in Madrid. My daughter and I were thrilled to be going on a student tour of Spain during Spring Break. The day before we were to leave, four bombs exploded in commuter trains during rush hour, killing nearly 200 and wounding 1800. Family and friends called to make sure we canceled the trip, but I was determined that we were going. I figured security would be tight after the tragedy and our main means of transport would be a tour bus, not mass transit.
Approaching the central part of the city, we passed the Atocha train station, where the first bomb exploded as commuters were arriving. The station – barricaded shut – was covered in banners: “No terrorism, no war”, “We will not surrender”, and “Terrorism is the enemy”. I was gratified that the Spanish blamed terrorists, not Muslims as so many Americans had concluded after 9/11.
Our hotel was one block from the Puerta del Sol, the traditional geographic center of Madrid from which all distances were measured. A large government building on the square was covered in floral arrangements, red candles, photos, and more banners. Crowds gathered in the square at all hours, praying and crying.
The mood evoked 9/11. Such grief and anger, yet such resolve and pride. Spanish flags with black ribbons streamed from balconies throughout the city. The first bullfight of the season was canceled, a testament to the extent of national mourning.
The first time my life aligned with terrorism was in 2001. It was 9/11 – the Monday after my birthday. My friend called to get the details on the birthday lunch celebration and I had to break the news, “Turn on CNN.”
I think that next time I plan a trip, I’ll send the State Department a warning.
Copyright 2005 Beth Schrader