Barcelona is a great city but are tourists really welcome?

I recently spent a few days in Barcelona, the cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region.

I had a great time doing what I do best, just wandering around with my camera in hand, drinking it all in and hopefully getting one or two decent photo’s along the way.


Getting there

It’s only a couple of hours flight time from Bristol so it’s easily a long weekend destination. It was a fairly uneventful flight and before I knew it I was there.

Clearing security at Barcelona Airport is great if you have a new biometric e-Passport like I do. They have a snazzy new system which allows you to process yourself through security. Basically you scan your own passport and fingerprints and then let the machine scan your face, then a magic door opens up and you’re in.

I got to Barcelona – El Prat Airport which is nothing remarkable in itself and found myself walking around it like a plonker looking for the train station because it’s not particularly well signposted.

Eventually I worked out where the train station was and crossed a rather grubby overpass to reach it. I then queued up for a few minutes and bought myself a T10 transport ticket which entitles you to 10 journeys on the train and metro system. I bought a couple of these during my time in Barcelona. They are about 10 Euros so they are very good value.

T10-Barcelona-Metro-Ticket

All of the trains from the airport run via the Sants train station (Sants Estacio) which was where I was heading so I jumped on the first available train and sat on it for about 30 minutes before arriving at Sants.  I then walked about 15 minutes to my hotel.


Where I stayed

I stayed at ‘Smart Hotel Barcelona’

It’s a very clean and ‘smart’ hotel tucked down a side street near to the Metro in the Sants area of Barcelona.

This is the room I stayed in. Perfectly adequate budget room with a nice balcony, shower room and double bed.

 

view
The view from my hotel room.

I had to pay a few Euro’s for Breakfast each morning as my package didn’t include it but it was worth it. I ate a hearty continental breakfast and drank as much tea and coffee that I could without drowning.

The staff were friendly and helpful, there’s lockers and a coffee machine in the lobby. All in all it’s a great hotel to stay in for a budget price.


Getting Around

The nearest Metro station was about 5 minutes walk away. As I mentioned above, make sure you buy a T10 Travelcard, it’s well worth it.

Trust me, I did a lot of walking (about 30 miles is my estimate), it’s impossible to get around everywhere you might want to within a few days so definitely use the Metro to get around.

If like me you’ve lived in London or New York where they have underground / Metro systems then getting around Barcelona will be a doddle for you. If not it might take you a while to get to grips with it. I did notice that there were several befuddled tourists who looked as if they had just landed on a different planet staring at the map for many minutes. As i’m a helpful soul I did help out one or two people to get to their destination.

The Metro lines are colour coded so it shouldn’t be too difficult for anyone who is in possession of a handful of brain cells.

Safety

Barcelona has a bad reputation for pick pockets and petty street crime so bare that in mind while you are travelling around on the Metro and generally wandering around the streets and crowded areas.

In fact, my neighbour’s wife had her handbag stolen on the Metro last time they were there.

I generally keep my camera bag in front of me at all times when travelling on any train/metro anywhere in the world.

One piece of advice that always stuck with me was given to me by someone I was staying with in Cape Town many years ago:

“Walk with confidence not cockiness”.

I’ve always kept this in mind when travelling around the world. Believe me i’ve been to a few very dodgy places but so far so good.

If you look like a target then you very well may become one.


So what did I see and do?

I hadn’t done any research so I went with the view that I would just turn up and work it out when I got there.

In a nutshell I……

  • Walked up and down La Rambla more times than I can remember *
  • Did the hop on and off bus tour (which I can highly recommend)**
  • Ate lots of tapas
  • Drank lot’s of Estrelle (a very fine beer brewed in Barcelona)
  • Walked all around the harbour area and beaches
  • Wandered around ‘Barri Gotic’
  • Went to Mercado de La Boqueria a fantastic indoor market off La Rambla
  • Spent a few hours wandering around Plaça de Catalunya and Plaça d’Espanya
  • Saw several of Gaudi’s buildings
  • Ended up with very sore feet

In my humble opinion Barcelona has got the lot.

I like any city that is near the coast. Comparable cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Cape Town spring to mind.

*You might be surprised to see prostitutes plying there trade in broad daylight at the southern end of La Rambla. I was most surprised to see a more mature lady sitting there legs akimbo showing off her wares to all how cared to look. 

** If a hop on hop off tourist bus is available I will always take a ride on it. It’s a brilliant way to see everything worth seeing in a day. I generally do the whole tour without getting off and then work out which places I want to go back to and explore later on.


Photo’s

I took about 600 photo’s while I was in Barcelona which isn’t bad going.

I generally don’t bother taking loads of photo’s of tourist attractions because they’ve been photographed millions of times and it’s unlikely you can compete with photographers who live there who have plenty of time to think about what they are doing and can also keep going back to a location if they need to.

My motto is “Going to the places you know, taking the photo’s you’ve never seen”

So generally I’m gonna walk down side streets off the beaten track, go to places that the locals frequent and live and look for new angles if i’m taking photo’s of touristy stuff.

Here’s a screenshot of a selection of photo’s I took in Barcelona. You can view and buy them here. BTW you can also order framed photo’s through my online gallery.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 20.29.41

View my Barcelona Gallery here


Are tourists welcome in Barcelona?

One of the things I will always do with this blog is provide you with a completely honest account of my travels and experiences. I will never sugar coat anything, I will always tell it as it is.

On the whole my experience in Barcelona was a positive one but I did get the impression that in certain places I may not have been very welcome.

I did a general search on Google and found this story, i’ve highlighted the bits about Barcelona and provided a link to the rest of the story below.

‘Tourist go home’: Why you’re no longer welcome in Spain

Last year, just as Barcelona earned the title of the third most visited city in Europe, it got a new mayor, Ada Colau — an outspoken critic of tourists in the city.

After being elected to office in June 2015, Colau threatened to put a cap on the number of visitors to Barcelona, fearing it would “end up like Venice”, a city in which tourism has been blamed for driving locals away.

The number of annual visitors to Barcelona — about 7.5 million in 2013 — grossly overwhelms the number of actual residents, of which there are about 1.6 million.

Concerned about a growing inequality between tourists and locals, especially with regard to the rise of tourist apartments, Colau put a one-year moratorium on new licences for hotel and tourist apartments in the city.

Barcelona also recently introduced a restriction on tourists visiting the famous La Boqueria markets, banning groups of more than 15 tourists from entering the market during peak hours.

Residents in Barcelona’s beachfront areas have previously been vocal against drunk and disorderly tourists.

Read the full story here…..

A couple of times when walking in less populated areas I experienced young men spitting (not at me) but just after they passed me on the street. This happened three times if I recall correctly. I doubt this was a coincidence.

I also heard a few mumbles of “Americano” followed by what sounded like fairly derogatory words. I probably do look like an American while I’m wandering around because I very often wear a baseball cap to cover my ever expanding bald spot and I also wear my favourite blue checked shirt which to the untrained local obviously makes me look like an American.

If only they knew I was English but to be honest I don’t think it would have made any difference. I was a tourist and obviously not welcome.

I came across the following graffiti while I was wandering around:

Touristgohome

And this on a toilet door at the airport on my way back.

barcelonahatesyou

This image was lifted from the story below:

Read the rest of this story here.

To be honest I wasn’t aware of this anti-tourist sentiment before I went. I doubt it would have put me off going though.

Here’s the thing. There must be thousands and thousands of businesses that rely entirely on tourism in Barcelona so they need to be a bit careful about putting tourists off visiting. If all tourists stopped going to Barcelona completely i’m sure in time it would have a fairly devastating affect on jobs and the local economy.


Conclusion

On the whole I did enjoy my time in Barcelona. I covered a lot of ground, saw a lot, ate and drank a lot and had some fairly decent weather, apart from the first day when it absolutely pissed down with rain and I got drenched.

I like the fact that it is a city with a coastline which i’m generally a big fan of. You can eat as cheaply or expensively as you like. It’s got history and modernity which is always good for a photographer. It’s also got a big street art scene going on which is another bonus for someone like me.

Would I go back? Yes, but I probably wouldn’t rush to go back. When I compare how welcome I was made to feel in the Greek island of Kos recently going back to Barcelona would be fairly low down on my list of places to revisit.


Top Travel tips

Cheers, JV

Wales, Brecon Beacons – Amazing Scenery – What a great day

I’ve just returned from a fantastic couple of days in the Brecon Beacons which is a spectacular area of natural beauty in South Wales, UK.

Living near Bristol means that Wales is practically on my doorstep so I like to go there as much as possible.

I wouldn’t class myself as an out and out Landscape Photographer but the Brecon Beacons are so breathtaking that it’s hard not to want to capture the amazing landscapes there.

I didn’t really plan this shoot too much. I thought i’d drive to the Brecon Beacons National Park and see what happened. I got lucky with the weather and I think I managed to get some nice shots (even if I say so myself). I took approx 400 photo’s during this trip. You can access a selection on my portfolio site at the bottom of this post.

I got to the base of ‘Pen Y Fan’ known as ‘Pont Ar Daf’, parked up (there’s free parking by the way), put on my trusty walking boots and within about 60 seconds was shooting away.

Pont Ar Daf entrance

There is so much photographic goodness in the Brecon Beacons. As soon as you walk through the gate you are confronted with a bridge over a stream and a fairly small but pretty waterfall so there’s lots to shoot right there. In fact I said hello to a fellow photographer who was heading towards the waterfall with tripod in hand.

Pont Ar Daf entrance

I then spent a couple of hours heading up towards Corn Du which is the second highest peak in South Wales at 2864 feet.

The weather constantly changed from clear blue skies to blanket cloud to snow blizzards to almost total whiteout within a matter of minutes. You definitely need to wear clothing for all seasons if you are planning a trip up there at this time of year.

I passed a mountain rescue team on the way so it’s reassuring to know they are out on patrol if you get into trouble.

The walk is not particularly steep and is more of a gradual incline so it’s not too hard on the body. My knees were aching a bit on the way down though but that is probably because I was walking gingerly because of the icy and muddy conditions.

Here’s a selection of snapshots taken with my iPhone:

JV

Here I am with Corn Du in the background.

Brecon-Path

Heading along the path towards Corn Du.

Brecon-Snow

Stunning scenery – moody clouds

Brecon-sky

Looking back towards the lake. Nice light rays.

Brecon-Whiteout2

From blue skies to whiteout in a few minutes.

Brecon-Whiteout

Brecon-Mist

The mist and cloud starting to clear.

I stayed at a hotel in Crikhowell called the Manor Hotel – it’s got a three star rating and is perfectly fine, it’s actually the birthplace of Sir George Everest who was the first person to survey the Himalayan Peak. You’ve probably worked out that Everest is named after Sir George.

The food was really nice and the view is excellent from the hotel. I’d stay there again.

They even have a ‘Hitler Cat’. That’s two ‘Hitler Cats‘ i’ve come across now on my travels.

HitlerCat

My hotel was about 20 minutes away from where I started my shoot.

I’m planning another trip back to the Brecon Beacons but this time i’m going to stay within the National Park itself because The Brecon Beacons are classed as a Dark Sky area which means that it is one of the best places in the UK to see the sky at night. You can even see the Milky Way on a cloudless night.

Here’s a taster pic from my Brecon Beacons shoot:

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Here’s a screen grab of some of the photographs I took in the Brecon Beacons:

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 23.58.48

Click here to view / buy photographs and order prints from this trip.

Nepal – Kathmandu

It was heartbreaking to see the devastation wreaked upon Kathmandu after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in April 2015. It killed over 8000 people and injured more than 21000 and hundreds of years of historical buildings were destroyed.

Thankfully our guide ‘Puspa’ who is based in Kathmandu who lead us across the Himalayas on the Annarpurna Trek was ok.

Many of the buildings and sites in and around Kathmandu that you will see in these snapshots and on my portfolio web site are now sadly no longer there.

Kathmandu 1

Kathmandu2

Kathmandu3

Kathmandu5

Kathmandu6

Nepal jv

Kathmandu7

Kathmandu8

Here’s a screen grab of some of the photographs I took in Kathmandu:

Kathmandu

Click here to view / buy photographs and order prints from this trip.

China – The Great Wall

The Great Wall of China is one of the greatest wonders of the world.

It snakes across deserts, grasslands, mountains and plateaus, stretching approximately 13,170 miles (21,196 kilometers) from east to west of China. It has a history of over 2000 years and many of it’s section have now disappeared.

Great Wall1

GreatWall 5

I had no idea how steep the Great Wall of China was in places.

Great Wall2

GreatWall3

At least you know you’ll never get lost on the Great Wall.

Here’s a screen shot of some of the photographs I took while I was in China:

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Click here to view / buy photographs and order prints from this trip.

 

Sri Lanka – Exploring the hill country

Sri Lanka hills

It’s called the hill country for a reason and the reason is there are lots of hills….

Sri Lanka waterfall

And waterfalls…

Sri Lanka torrent

Here’s another waterfall torrent

Tripod

Oooh look at my big tripod

Misty hills

Mist can descend in minutes in them there hills.

Sri Lanka

Tea plantations

Here’s a screen grab of some of the photographs I took in Sri Lanka:

Sri Lanka

Click here to view / buy photographs and order prints from this trip.

Peru – Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and in Andean belief it is known as the birthplace of the sun. We spent a couple of days here and enjoyed every minute.

Lake Titicaca

The view from our joint at Lake Titicaca.

Titicaca bedspread

Our rather fetching bed spread

We took a day trip to see the Uru people who live on a series of forty two floating islands on Lake Titicaca. To me this is what traveling is all about, experiencing ways of life that are totally different to the way we live. We had a great day with the Uru people, I also got a few decent photo’s as well.

There was a film crew there at the same time so I wonder whether we are on a documentary somewhere.

Uru village

The Uru people selling their wares. There were some amazing arts and crafts for sale.

Uro boat

Uru ceremonial boat.

Here’s a screen shot of some of the photographs I took while I was in Lake Titicaca:

Lake Titicaca

Click here to view / buy photographs and order prints from this trip.

Peru, Iquitos – Exploring the Amazon

Iquitos is linked to the outside world by air and by river only. It’s the worlds largest city that can’t be accessed by road.

We flew in to Iquitos from Lima.

We went there so we could access the mighty Amazon river.

There’s plenty going on in the city and there are loads of decent restaurants but because of it’s location everything has to be imported so costs tend to be a bit higher.

The ‘Yellow Rose of Texas’ restaurant is worth a visit, it has a very eclectic interior and the food is very good.

Yellow Rose

It’s also worth visiting the Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm which is also the home of the Amazon Animal Orphanage. It’s located in Padre Cocha which is on the Nanay river so you will need to take a boat to access it.

Make sure your boat driver takes you to the right butterfly farm!

Here’s a message that currently appears on the original Pilpintuwasi butterfly farms web site:

For Our Visitors: Please know that a previous employee of the refuge has recently set up a new butterfly house and is offering boat-drivers commission to take visitors to this alternative centre rather than the real Pilpintuwasi. The true centre offers homes to a number of rescued animals in addition to the butterfly house. 

Iquitos shack

View of the river at Padre Cocha.

Iquitos

Having a wander around Padre Cocha.

Snake skin

Drying out snake skins in the sun.

JV Snake

Me and a very large Anaconda. I couldn’t stand upright because it was so heavy.

Pepe bird

Pepe the very colourful and friendly bird.

Manatee

A very cute Manatee at the Amazon Rescue Centre. I didn’t realise how soft to the touch these animals are.

Smiling fish

Hello. Please feed me.

Arrow man

I bet the first thing you looked at was his hair??

My mate

My little mate.

Inca Cola

I drank gallons of this stuff.

Here’s a screen shot of some of the photographs I took while I was in Peru / Amazon:

Peru Amazon Screenshot

Click here to view / buy photographs and order prints from this trip.

Sri Lanka – The first stop on our epic trip around the world

Sri Lanka was the first country we visited on our mammoth trip around the world. I loved Sri Lanka, it’s a beautiful country and the people are very friendly and proud of their country. We were always getting asked what we thought of Sri Lanka by the locals.

Sri Lanka beach

Not another soul on the beach (apart from Serena) and a few washed up jellyfish. Do jellyfish have souls?

Sri Lanka beach

Lovely Sri Lankan beach

Sri Lanka Train

Enjoying the view from the train

Sri Lanka palm trees

Palm Trees in the evening.

Tree

Have you ever seen a tree like this?

Whale tail

Whale Spotting

Stuffing my face

Stuffing my face again

Mosquito

Mosquito’s love me and yes it itched like feck.

Sri Lanka train

Dog hassle on the train platform

Here’s a screen grab of some of the photographs I took in Sri Lanka:

Sri Lanka

Click here to view / buy photographs and order prints from this trip.