Frustrated French flee to make merry in Madrid
French tourists weary of their strict national lockdown are flocking over the border to Madrid, where bars and restaurants are open and people can stay outdoors until 10pm, even as COVID-19 batters Europe in a virulent third wave.
“Here, there’s life. Everything’s happening,” said 22-year-old student Clara Soudet as she left a live music event near Madrid’s bustling Gran Via. She arrived in the city just before New Year’s Eve to visit her boyfriend and taste the different vibe.
“It’s all open. Even with a curfew, you can still do lots of things, so we make the most of it ... I felt such relief when I sat at my first terrace.”
With France’s cultural venues shut, restaurants unable to serve meals on-site and a strictly-enforced 6pm curfew, leisure-seekers have eyed their southern neighbor’s capital.
Though it made mask-wearing mandatory and slashed occupancy of public spaces by half, Madrid’s conservative regional government has set one of Spain’s loosest curfews, defying national recommendations to shut hospitality venues and non-essential shops.
“Seeing the restaurants open was a little shock, because in Paris it’s depressing ... all the blinds are lowered,” said Sorbonne student Adrien Durand, as he savored his first sit-down terrace meal.
The city’s counter-current policies stand out in Spain which, like France, is being pummeled by the pandemic.
“Without tourism ... we have no-one,” said Lucio Burgos-Cespedes, who manages a restaurant on Madrid’s Santa Ana Square.
Head waiter Edu Luna, who works at a tapas bar across the plaza noted that the French now take six out of 10 tables. He was comfortable with the foreigners’ patronage due to good workplace safety measures such as disinfection, mask-wearing and reduced occupancy.
“I think it’s great, business-wise. Without tourists, we don’t eat.”
French tourists overtook Britons and Germans by the dozens of thousands in December, a report from Spain’s National Statistics Institute said last week, representing one in four foreign visitors.
Spain reached 2.95 million coronavirus cases and 61,300 deaths on Friday, while France registered 3.29 million cases and 78,600 deaths.