Thursday, 17 February 2011

Bullfighting and the Ban.

Ecuador have just finalised the questions for a referendum due to be held later in the year, which include the issues of cockfighting and bullfighting.
Bullfighting in many forms takes place in nine countries across Europe and Latin America. Its future is uncertain, however, as more and more countries are starting to look at their laws and whether animal cruelty issues should take precedent over tradition.

A major blow has been dealt to the blood sport's fans, as Spain, the home of bullfighting has now ruled live fights cannot be broadcast on state television before 10pm. This is the time of the watershed and it has been decided children should not be able to watch such animal cruelty.

The running of the bulls, such as that of San Fermin in Pamplona, can still be shown, but not the fights, which generally start at six or seven o'clock in the evening. So is it possible to moderate some aspects of the practice and allow others to continue?

In Costa Rica bull fights take place, but it is illegal to kill the bull. This could be considered more humane, but does make it less of a spectacle. The issue of drugging the bulls and shaving their horns has also come to light in recent years.

In a watered down version of the famous Pamplona running of the bulls in Granada, Nicaragua I saw people running through the streets ahead of a tired old bull. In an attempt to keep with tradition the community staged the event, with a bull more inclined to sit down in the street and have a rest, than make headlines by goring a participant to death.

Bullfighting is inherently bloody and gory - something it is hard to get away from. And this is why more and more societies are questioning whether to allow its practice to continue.

Every town in Spain has its own bull ring and it has always been an important part of the country's cultural identity. Huge cut outs of bulls populate Spain's landscape and famous matadors are household names.

Standing on the Monte Gibralfaro in Malaga I remember looking down on the town and seeing the distinctive shape of the bullring. I young matador was practicing with a cast iron representation of a bull on wheels. He elegantly swooped and moved around the arena practicing his moves.

But Catalonia have already decided to ban the sport from 2012 and it is hard to believe it will survive in the rest of the country for much longer. Now the questions are starting to be asked, action will surely follow.

Has this bull had its day?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

A World of Trains

It's ironic that I read about Spain's new high speed rail link between Madrid and Andalucia on a delayed service to Manchester. The new service, which was officially opened in December puts Spain at the top of high speed rail services in Europe. Even so, France is not far behind it and in fact, I have always had very good experiences of rail travel all over Europe.

As train travel is set to get even more expensive in this country it's embarrassing to think just how unreliable it is. In 2007 I embarked on five weeks of rail travel around Eastern Europe. The trip was great and travelling by train really makes you feel like you've travelled. My friend Rebecca and I flew to Prague and undertook a huge loop taking in Hungary, Romania, Russia, Latvia and Poland to name but a few of the countries we visited. When we got back to the airport in Prague to fly home we looked at the departure board and saw many of the destinations we'd visited. "Oh," said Rebecca, "we could have just flown." But the truth of the matter is that in going overland we saw much more of the countries we visited, met some very interesting people and had a real sense of achievement from our travels.

By the time we got to Russia, the signs on the trains were translated into three languages, none of which were even vaguely recognisable t0 us and not even in Roman script. Nothing else makes you feel quite so far away from home. Standing in front of the iconic St Basil's Cathedral in Red Square almost exactly midway through our trip I felt like a great adventurer - after all it had taken numerous train journeys to get there, some of which lasting over ten hours.

Having been to Africa and the Americas this wasn't the furthest away from home I'd ever been geographically, but it certainly felt like it was. Sitting telling ghost stories on a night train through Transylvania; cramped in a carriage full of farmers who spoke no English, but offered to share their food with us in Northern Romania; and nursing Rebecca through a bout of food poisoning in the Ukraine all added to the experience.

And the truth of the matter was this: not a single train on our trip was delayed. Never did we experience technical problems, crew shortages or the like. In fact, the only time I was delayed the whole summer was when I was taking the train from Newcastle back to Wales. There were delays, I missed connections and the air conditioning broke down. Maybe this country could learn a thing or two from trains on the continent. Some high speed rail services in countries like Spain offer a money back guarantee which means passengers delayed for more than five minutes get a full refund. That sounds pretty impressive to us in a country where being delayed for only five minutes is considered a rare good journey.

All over the world high speed rail is being invested in with Japan and the United States enjoying reliable services. When train travel is that good, there is less need for people to fly. Surely a great thing in a time when the world should be looking to cut its carbon emissions. I love to travel by train, I just wish it wasn't such an epic hassle in this country. And perhaps there is hope for the future as public consultation about a high speed rail route between London and Birmingham is due to start in February. The line would then be extended north to Manchester and Leeds. It's about time Britain came into line with the rest of Europe.