travel and accessibility.

11 Apr

I am on vacation in Barcelona at the moment. Not thinking about anything particularly religious, but thinking a lot about being welcoming.

Not being a welcoming congregation, but being a welcoming country.

I have not taken Spanish, besides a little adult enrichment class that never really got beyond colors or numbers. I have picked up a little over the years, but not enough to get around effectively.

But here – none of that matters. Everything that this tourist needs is labeled in three languages: Catalan, Spanish, and English. The ATM machines and the Metro (Subway) ticket machines have little flags that you can push to get a variety of languages even beyond these three.

Buses are easy to navigate, next stops are shown on a screen as well as announced. Maps are easy to find for public transportation, and almost everything is clean. Not everything – some of the tunnels for changing metro lines have been a bit messy, but still, on the whole, quite a sparkling city.

Trash cans are everywhere and I see people emptying them every day. In addition, there are these enormous (as in, taller than me) recycling bins, clearly marked (in multiple languages) for paper, plastics, glass and organic material.

The only complaint I have had is that road signs are hard to find – on buildings. But since we are riding or walking, not driving, it has not been a problem.

Speaking of walking, every sidewalk I have walked on – and at this point that is an awful lot – has wide ramps to make rolling a stroller or wheelchair up and down the sidewalk a piece of cake.  I am not talking 2 feet wide (at most)  but a full 4 foot wide ramp, built into the sidewalk.

I love it.  I find this city to be terribly welcoming.  Though at the end of the week, we will have seen most of the major sites to see, I would not hesitate to come back.  And I would recommend it to anyone who is afraid of international travel – its that easy.

And I think about the cities I have lived in during my lifetime in the United States.  And about public buses I have ridden, subways traveled, sidewalks walked.  I think about the struggles I have had in my own country trying to find a place where I could push a stroller safely across a street, about going in scary places because the elevator for the subway was in some hidden corner, impossible to find.  I think about folks in wheelchairs and how difficult it is for them to manage.  I swear, I may consider moving to Barcelona if I end up in wheelchair.  And I think about how I know people who still don’t have recycling pickup!

I think about the arguments we have in our country about labeling things in Spanish, which a good percentage of our country speaks.  And a very large percentage of our tourists speak.  And I think about what it would mean to welcome the poor, the tired, the huddled masses – even if just for a short vacation.

I would gladly pay more for this kind of welcoming – forget healthcare for a minute (not any longer than that, I promise) – what about the right to simply walk (or roll) down a street, get on a bus, throw away your trash in a safe and effective manner?

Travel can teach one a lot.  Including ways that the “greatest country in the world” falls far short of our goal on a day to day basis.

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