I had so looked forward to visiting Barcelona. I read about the architecture, I loved the operatic history of the city, the cultural riches.
I knew it would be a trip to remember. The only thing that worried me was dreading the return home after my visit there. I envisaged chaining myself to a Gaudí lamppost in Plaça Reial, with a “hell no, I won’t go” placard around my neck.
I didn’t have to worry. One by one my cherished illusions were ripped to shreds, and all the positive thinking in the world couldn’t change the reality of the city I tried so hard to like.
You write this blog post.
The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are. – Samuel Johnson
The Good Stuff:
Through Airbnb I found a lovely young expat Brazilian couple who could not have been more welcoming. Bruna as warm and exuberant as Daniel is relaxed and calm:
The weather. The photo below shows the apartment’s balcony, and my breakfast; I’m from Montreal, Canada, and it’s February 27th – mid-winter weather I will gladly accommodate:
Cadafalch and Montaner’s architecture.
The tour guides at the Liceu Opera House and the Palau de la Música Catalana. Their passion for their respective music halls was palpable and contagious.
Dinner and drinks with Gloria, an expat Argentine woman (here with her cat Gaucho); I met Gloria through Women Welcome Women Worldwide (see here)
How to Annoy Tourists – Part 1
You’re partway between groggy and medicated, at the tail end of a bout of flu and still jet-lagged. The idea of booking a guided tour to Figueres and the Dalí museums pops into your head, since doing the train/taxi/getting lost route on your own is too much for your physical stamina at that point. It seemed perfectly rational at the time.
Plaza Catalunya Tourism Office
The Plaza is pretty darn big, and home to Barcelona’s main tourism office.
On the opposite side of the photo above, airport shuttles line up near the massive Corte Inglés department store. Hop on/hop off sightseeing buses congregate on this side of the square.
Tourists and locals amble slowly, rush nervously, or seem totally lost.
There is an underground entrance that leads to the tourist office.
If you can find it.
You approach a woman at an information booth (you’ve even memorized: “no parlo català, només castellà” (I don’t speak Catalan, only Castilian Spanish).
You try it out. And get a flick of the wrist in response – like swatting a fly. Accented by an irritated frown.
Since you speak Spanish, you switch languages (doesn’t matter, it won’t help).
You smile through your headache and stuffy nose:
“I’m looking for the tourism office.”
“There are many.”
You’re a bit perplexed because two days ago it was somewhere in this Plaza, according to city’s website.
“Isn’t there one in Plaza Catalunya?” .
“Yes. The main one.” The woman then stares at you, loathe to offer details.
When you stubbornly remain in place she finally points behind her.
“The other side of the Plaza, near the corner, go downstairs, it’s there.”
Now why on god’s green earth would she mention many other tourism offices if the main one is here?
Maybe you should have found it on your own. But the fountain, statues, benches and trees tend to hide things from view.
And this is, after all, a tourist information booth.
How to Annoy Tourists – Part 2
Undaunted, you head over to the main office.
Still stupidly optimistic, you try your Catalan one more time.
Get the brush off.
Switch to Spanish (or English, again, it won’t much matter):
“I’d like to know about guided tours to Figueres and the Dalí museums.”
“Take a train,” the curt response.
“I’m interested in guided tours.” Emphasis on “guided”.
“Take a train,” the woman snaps. “Two hours.”
Okay, you’re jet lagged, sick, and getting fed up.You want to spend money here, dammit, not hold people for ransom.
“There are guided tours. I’ve read about them.”
“They start in April. Not now.”
So why not say so right away? Maybe even smile?
“Take a train. Two hours.”
Did I go to Figueres?
By the time I was feeling better, I had activities scheduled and ran out of time. But had the tourism employee pulled out a map, indicated where to go for the train station, in other words, been a little helpful, I probably would have gone there (and spent more money; as it was, I was under budget for this trip, a rare, somewhat unsettling experience).
In an economy that is – by everything I’ve read and heard – still struggling aren’t money-wielding tourists a good thing?
How to Annoy Tourists – Part 3
Next day, put on your Positive-Thinking-This-Is-Going-To-Be-A-Great-Day-Isn’t-Humanity-Wonderful outfit and head back to Plaza Catalunya.
Today is the hop-on/hop-off city bus tour, with its various colour-coded routes. You want the “green” route, up Montjuic hill, past the Olympic installations and then the Miró museum.
You have your ticket – no thanks to the tourism office, but another booth in the Plaza.
A bus pulls up with a “green route” sign on the front. You embark and show your ticket.
“Wrong company,” the driver says, then picks up his newspaper.
The guide next to him also looks over.
They both stare at you.
Jeez louise, could you be more helpful?
Do I need information ration coupons or something? Two coupons for a slice of info?
Finally you ask: “Where am I supposed to go?”
The guide points towards the far end of the square.
“Wait over there. Different company.”
You should have figured it all out for yourself, of course, especially since it’s your first visit to the city and have never seen either “Barcelona City Tours” or “Turistic Bus Tours”. Both, of course, “green route” buses.
This is a phenomenally beautiful city, yet so many people seem to be at odds with their surroundings. The four tourism employees I met were not the only Grumpy and Grumpier I encountered.
Grocery store clerks, subway officials (an endangered species, rarely found), museum employees – all harvested from some anti-social, acid soil.
I spent almost two weeks in Barcelona, going to grocery stores, drugstores, health food stores, lots of walking, taking the subway. My positive feelings ended up being no match for the surliness.
I was only too happy to leave.
At least the brusque manners are indiscriminately shared with tourist and fellow Catalan alike, as I was about to find out during my much-anticipated evening at the Liceu Opera House.
What About You?
Any similar experiences? How long were you in the city? Did you get to interact with a lot of (non-hotel) local people?
I hope yours was a positive stay.