I love Barcelona. Imagine my horror when I watched a YouTube video (Bye Bye Barcelona) that identifies tourism as the scourge that threatens to destroy this city I love. In fact, Barcelona’s new mayor, Ada Colau, has pledged to somehow keep the city from coming to the fate of Venice, a city where tourism has all but cancelled out the possibility of a normal life for locals.
Is it possible to be a traveler, a visitor, and avoid at least some of the impact tourists inevitably have? For — like it or not — I am a tourist in Barcelona even if i never set foot on La Rambla and stay away from Sagrada Familia and Park Guell. And what’s the problem with tourism anyway? Isn’t it a great source of income?
The problem is that in order to accommodate tourists with hotels, apartments, restaurants, fast food, tchotchkes and tee shirts, space is taken away from the normal functions of residential life, and the space that remains becomes much more expensive. Crowds make it difficult to move. The narrow street outside the Picasso Museum can get shoulder-to-shoulder intimate due to the waiting lines for the Museum (which is a beauty and seems well-managed). Traffic can become impossible, as it has near both Sagrada Familia and Park Guell, driving out families who have lived in the area for generations. Sometimes I think Gaudi has a lot to answer for.
While I know tourist apartments have an impact on local real estate, renting has given me a different perspective on the place I visit. Even when I’ve traveled as the leader of a student group, I’ve believed that something as simple as cooking your own meals can shift your relationship with the place you visit. Negotiating a food market in a foreign city is a learning experience.
In my tiny apartment, I soon realized I needed clothes line and clothes pins (hardware store), a small pillow (dry goods store), food (veggies, cheese, coffee, wine), a caving block (art supply) and sundries (a pharmacy). I had chosen this apartment for its proximity to Santa Catarina Market, but I quickly realized that lovely as the market is (and much more patronized by locals than La Boqueria), it was the green grocer a street away that had the greens and artichokes I wanted at a much lower price.
And one shop led to another. A few doors down from me there was a small wine shop that had both the cava I wanted, good cheese, and a cashier who could point me toward a hardware, itself in a pretty tourist heavy area, El Born. I found a great art shop, Vicente Piera on Corsega, a long hike from home, but every excursion took me past other noteworthy sites. For instance Raima on Comtal, the most luscious stationary store I’ve ever been in.
And as you track down the clothes pins, you find yourself in the company of people like the woman with her shopping bag rather than the couple with their backpack.