After three glorious days sight-seeing in the sassy city of Madrid it was time for me to return home to London. However, unbeknownst to me until the night before, a General Strike across the country had been called by the two main Spanish unions in protest of proposed austerity cuts to be announced by the Government two days later. All public transport and services, including flights in and out of the country would be severely affected.
Thankfully, my flight was one of the lucky ones not to be cancelled and the staff at my hotel – who were just fantastic – reassured me that there would be some bus and train services running, albeit skeletal.
Having had plenty of experience trying to get from A to B in London during a Tube strike, I decided the bus with hours of time on my side would be a better option in getting to the airport. I could walk up the Gran Via (which was where my hotel was situated) and catch the bus at Ciebeles just by the Communications Palace. I went to bed on my last night in Madrid feeling confident I would get to the airport without too much hassle.
On the morning of the strike however, the sight out of my window onto the Gran Via did not fill me with the same confidence the night before.
I watched for half an hour as hundreds of fairly peaceful protesters (apart from a lot of whistle-blowing) filed past the hotel with the Police in tow.
Then suddenly the crowds were gone. The Gran Via was silent. My chance to escape!
I grabbed my bags, checked out and set off as planned.
The Gran Via was in a bit of a mess with many shop fronts and doorways graffitied over and in some cases vandalised. My hotel faired well …
… but I was surprised to see this particular shop front of all along the Gran Via to be treated in a similar fashion to the branch of Santander a few doors further down …
I headed down the now deserted Gran Via towards Ciebeles, only to see in the distance the march coming back up towards me!
There was nothing else for it. I would have to take the Metro after all. I ducked down the nearest side street and headed north. Plan B was to walk as far as I could to pick up a train along the number 8 line which would bring me direct to the airport avoiding any laborious line changes. Typically, the nearest Line 8 station was at Nuevos Miniterios, about an hour’s walk away and smack in the middle of the Parliamentary district – not the best place to be heading for during a General Strike against Parliamentary cuts.
It was however a rather nice walk. The streets were quiet – good for avoiding protesters, bad if hoping to hail down a taxi – and the early afternoon sun was pleasantly warm. And, surprisingly, there were no protesters whatsoever at Nuevos Miniterios. Even the station was quiet. I only had to wait a quarter of an hour for the train and when it did arrive it was practically empty. I even managed to get a seat.
I arrived four hours early for my flight which was still scheduled and apparently on time. Although just glad to have not missed my flight, those four hours were very long and not particularly pleasant as the airport was a true victim of the strike. There was litter everywhere (primarily made up of disgarded protest flyers) which made walking through the terminals precarious. As for the toilets … well, the one time I couldn’t hold on any longer I had visions of a skin-headed Ewan McGregor popping out of the bowl and throwing two suppositories at me. Very grim indeed.
And as all the catering staff were on strike, all the restaurants and cafes were closed, so all there was to eat and drink in the departure lounge were metre-long tubes of Toblerone and Chanel No 5. Even the vending machines appeared to be on strike. One passenger attempted to purchase a sandwich from one but it refused to dispense the goods. It was a blessing in disguise though as that egg mayonnaise sandwich had probably been festering in there for the best part of a day considering no one would have attended that machine since the day before.
My flight was on time and I got back to London no later than planned … until that is, I had to get the Piccadilly line home. Delays due to signalling problems. Oh, that old chestnut! A journey that usually takes fifteen minutes took over an hour.
God help anyone travelling around London if ever a British General Strike is called in the foreseeable future.