My travel moment in Madrid

It was a night that I would never forget, but not for the reasons one might expect. It wasn’t romantic. It wasn’t even fun.

I threw open the hotel room’s double windows so I could look upon the street below. It had been raining all evening and the sepia glow of streetlights reflected upon a damp street that sparkled like a sea of amber diamonds. A cool breeze blew the gauzy curtains as I leaned over the narrow wrought-iron balcony to gaze upon the somber procession making its way down one of central Madrid’s busiest streets. Calle Alcalá—a street normally pulsating with a frenzy of traffic—was now completely emptied of vehicles. In their place was a massive procession of mourners holding candles and umbrellas.

The previous day, bombs went off at 7:39AM in the morning. At the time, my husband and I were sound asleep between the crisp clean sheets of our bed, oblivious to what was happening at Atocha train station just a mile away. We awoke not to the sound of sirens, but to the ringing of the phone on the nightstand. It was the hotel concierge calling to check on us and to tell us to avoid the train station and the Metro. There had been a bomb. That was all we knew.

As the day unfolded, the full horror of what had happened slowly revealed itself. A series of bombs planted in four commuter trains were detonated during morning rush hour. The trains originated from Alcalá de Henares, a small city outside of Madrid, and were headed to the crowded Atocha train station in the city center. In all, 191 people died and 1,800 were wounded. The papers reported that the din of the wreckage was accompanied by the surreal sounds of cell phones ringing—calls from loved ones who, after hearing the news, tried in vain to make sure the victims were safe. It was the largest terrorist attack ever to happen on Spanish soil.

As I stood before the open windows, I glanced behind me at my husband. The hotel room was warmly lit by lamplight and a look of concern filled his face as he fretted over our safety (Who set off the bombs? Why? Will there be more?). I returned my gaze to the mournful crowd in the street below me and a few errant drops of rain dotted my skin. I thought of those morning commuters—men and women reading the paper, students mulling over the day’s assignments, parents holding their children closely—and my heart ached for them and their families. My eyes welled, and the heavy night sky released its sorrow.

C Finn

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