"SAINTS AND SINNERS" Europe Travelogue by sirgaw

Europe Travel Guide: 701,254 reviews and 1,885,640 photos

Being older than the majority of travellers, at times we struggled with suitcases in and out of railway stations and particularly metro stations - they ALL should have at least one set of escalators. Sadly we found very few metro stations that we could navigate without a lot of grunting and groaning.

As we'd heard many horror stories of baggage being stolen, we were also being wary of strangers. We travelled with a wheeled suitcase and a day pack each. The suitcases weighed around 20 kilos each, so sets of stairs produced more than a shower of perspiration.

I would take one suitcase up or down to about a half way point and then my wife would leave her suitcase, walk up or down the stairs to that half way point while I went and got her suitcase and took that up or down to where the first was waiting. Then a sip of water and a "breather" and then to make me feel just a little better, I'd let out a curse at the rail authorities for failing to provide adequate ways of getting to and from their trains. I dreaded to think how disabled people, young mums with prams and other laden down with too much luggage travellers would cope under these circumstances.

Mostly we had to struggle by ourselves and some of the fitter, younger people would almost trample over us in their quest to rush to whatever they were doing and usually with a mobile phone almost glued to their ears - maybe they were the sinners, or to be fair, so wrapped up in themselves to give a hoot about anyone else.

I'm happy to say that there was more than a smattering of people prepared to help us - and we were VERY grateful for help given out freely by complete strangers.

Perhaps in hindsight the funniest was in Marseille where a beggar watched me approach (it was a hot day and I was dripping in perspiration). He tried to get me to donate a few coins to his tin, but I was otherwise occupied. Instead of glaring at me for the lack of donation, he left his post and gave us a hand up those steps. I should have given him a few coins for his trouble, but I was feeling less than charitable. Any other so laden traveller beware - that beggar won't feel quite so benevolent next time.

The real surprise was at the Sol metro station in Madrid. It was a Sunday morning and the streets were almost deserted. We'd made it quite easily the 200 metres or so from our apartment hotel to the stairs leading down to the metro station. I'd made it down a staircase and was just about to head up and grab my wife's suitcase, when I saw it in the hands of a young man. My Spanish was very limited but I knew Gracias and a huge smile of appreciation - but wait there's more. He even wanted to take my suitcase and help me too, which I politely declined

I went to the ticket box to buy metro tickets for our short trip to Atocha - the main rail station - and my wife said, "That young man is waiting for us by the turnstiles," which is another in the problems of getting in and out with suitcases.

Yes he did wait and yes he did help us through the turnstile and down yet another flight of steps. His English was far better than my Spanish and he asked which way we were going. He then took my wife's suitcase and headed to the right platform - down yet another flight of stairs. We chatted to him and found out he came from Columbia in South America.

I have no idea of the customs in cities like Madrid, but thought I should give him some money for his trouble. At first he outright refused to take anything from us - and I believe that was genuine, but I can be a persistent so and so and really wanted to give him some money. With reluctance he finally accepted 2 Euro out of the 4 that I offered him. We shook hands and he departed.

Until then we had assumed he was travelling on the same metro train and were surprised to see him disappear up the set of stairs he had helped us down. A few moments later we spotted him again - on the other side of the rail tracks on the platform for trains going in the opposite direction. Not only had he helped us, but gone out of his way to do so. I pulled out my camera and signalled a question, "Is it OK to take your photo?" I got a "thumbs up" in reply.

Our metro train pulled in, we entered, parked our suitcases against a wall in the semi-packed train and I looked at my wife who's eyes were brimming with tears that someone - a complete strange - could be so kind to us.

If you happen to know the young man in the photo above PLEASE send our best wishes and thanks to him and please tell him that us 2 slightly older Aussies helped others too - we called it "pay back time."

I should also like to make a plea - probably sadly to deaf ears - to younger readers. You'll get old one day and I'm sure you'll appreciate some help from strangers and whatever happened to the idea of standing up in trains, trams and buses for older people? Don't they teach manners anymore? Rant over, sorry to interrupt the mobile phone call - :(

  • Page Updated Mar 12, 2008
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