Monday, November 30, 2009

Safe Travelling

~ My entry about an encounter with pickpockets in Greece (see Three Man Crush) got me thinking about the issue of safety and security while travelling. As I wrote then, this failed attempt at stealing my wallet, was the only negative experience regarding my personal safety I faced in seven months of travel.

The problem with having been brought up on a steady diet of feature films, television news items, and a host of TV shows old and new depicting life on the streets of major American cities, is that a traveller can end up thinking these shows represent 'real life' as it is being lived today. Modern programs such as the plethora of CSI-type dramas are full of multiple murders and psychopathic killers who seem to lurk on every city corner.

Thankfully, the reality of life in cities like New York, London, Paris, and Athens, Greece, is nowhere near as dramatic for the average traveller.

In New York, for example, it helps that the Greenpoint YMCA, where I stayed for a large part of my visit, is directly opposite the 94th Police Precinct building, which certainly promotes a feeling of safety - and maybe even a degree of complacency.

On the other hand, reading the police reports in the Greenpoint Star (the local paper), did alert me to the fact that I should not take my personal safety for granted. There will always be some individuals who are quite ready to attack and rob people in broad daylight, let alone late at night, which encouraged me to keep my wits about me. I decided to get about with a minimum of cash on me, and to leave my wallet and credit card back in my room whenever I went out and about. That way, if the unexpected did happen, I would hopefully only lose $50-60 dollars at most.

Of course, there was also the issue of the safety and security of my YMCA room, but the more I stayed there, the more relaxed I become about my fellow residents. Besides, in my Internet research for accommodation in New York, any discussion about the Greenpoint 'Y' only touched on the state of the bedrooms, bathrooms, and the helpfulness (or otherwise), of some staff. I did not see any reports from former residents complaining about having their rooms broken into or being robbed while staying there.

How about safety on public transport? My understanding is that the New York subway system is a lot safer than it used to be in the 1980's and 90s, and one of the things I soon noticed while travelling on the subway late at night was the number of young women travelling alone who still used the service. I figured that if the local women felt safe enough to travel alone on the subway system at 2am in the morning, then I had little to worry about. And so it proved.

I also spent several weeks at the North Brooklyn/Tweleve Towns YMCA (570 Jamaica Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, 11208. Phone: 718 277 1600 or 1601) in Cypress Hills (click here for map).

Initially, I felt a loss less comfortable walking through the neighbourhoods surrounding this facility, but once I relaxed and began to observe the daily life of the mostly Hispanic immigrants around me, I realised my initial fears were unfounded. Directly opposite the North Brooklyn 'Y' is the massive Highland Park. On several occasions I wandered through the park and saw baseball competitions taking place. I also watched as local youths played basketball, handball and tennis on a series of well kept playing courts. In addition, every evening the childrens playground with filled with the laughter and shouts of young children who were out with their parents or older siblings, enjoying the warm evening air.

The YMCA ran many programs for its members which were always well patronised, including volley ball, basket ball, aerobics classes, and more. Everytime I walked past the gym it was always busy and filled with sweating bodies working out on the equipment there. All this activity seemed to indicate a vibrant, active community going about its daily life just like any other American community.

At some point you just have to stop worrying, and remember why it is you are travelling in the first place - so relax and enjoy your travels wherever they may lead you.

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