Sunday, 16 July 2017

Category The Ugly: Anti-Tourism in Barcelona

Barcelona anti-tourism
 Barcelona is, like a few other Spanish regions, in the throes of a real zealous anti-tourism movement theses days. One constantly runs into “Tourist Go Home” posters and graffiti around town. Rising prices on rental apartments, congestion in popular spaces and noise level all contribute, and are reasonable concerns. However, the level of xenophobia and political laziness that shine through in the discourse make it hard to sympathize.

There’s a genuine concern regarding housing prices being pressured from many angles, but that is just the point, many angles! In fact, new research from the consultancy agency InAtlas shows that vacation rentals has no - ZERO impact on rental prices in Barcelona! The recurring argument contra the tourism industry in Barcelona is this, vacation rentals drive up prices and drive out the locals.

Personally, I’m all for regulating tourist licenses etc. in pressure neighborhoods, taking steps to preserve authenticity and ensure a vibrant city center makes perfect sense. A “Disneyfication” of this city benefits no one (except the usual global brands). However, one will not achieve a sustainable politics on tourism based on the wrong facts or on promoting regressive measures like stopping advertising or introducing (more) taxes on tourists visiting the city.

So, what’s the real issue then for the anti-tourism movement; xenophobia, misplaced ideology or ignorance? All of the above I suppose. When you read “No guiris” on walls, that’s the rearing of the ugly head of Xenophobia clear as daylight. “Guiri” is a derogatory term for Europeans, especially from Northern Europe. No doubt “incidents” (mainly) featuring drunken tourists don’t help, but really there’s no excuse for the use of derogatory terms.

Ideology, then? I confess to being a lefty myself, but the blind resistance to any type of gentrification, normally on the political left, seems completely reactionary to me. Large parts of the center of Barcelona has been in dire need of improved infrastructure and general standard of housing. It’s a complex political and fiscal process to do this well; to respect the architectural and demographical history of an area while renewing. However, a by default resistance to the process in itself is a knee-jerk opposition to progress.

Ignorance is bliss, or in this case, breeds contempt. Much of the arguments by the anti-tourism movement is based on ignorance. This, in part, because it serves certain politicians. If you can blame tourism for all housing issues it’s great tactic for diverting attention from failed politics in other socio-economic areas.

“Tourist go home. Refugees welcome.” is another slogan winner, although it’s hard to see what negative effect tourism might have on the ability to receive refugees. In fact, tourism contributes to 15% of the gross national product of Spain. I wonder how much zeal there would be to receive refugees if you cut the GNP with 15%?

Lately, things have taken a turn for the worse, including violent attacks on tourist buses, bikes etc. led by the Arran organization whose mix of (Catalan) nationalism and use of violence has some historic predecessors that give any democratic minded individuals the chills.

It’s pretty amazing that the number one concern for Barcelona inhabitants in 2017 isn’t unemployment, nor littering, pollution or lack of security, but tourism! Admittedly, the congestion represents a real problem, certain areas have serious issues with noise and crowds and would benefit greatly from a sensible plan to regulate the influx of tourists.

A well-structured plan to keep tourism in check, by all means, but please stop this “Tourist go home” nonsense, you’re embarrassing yourself, the region and the amazing city that is home to people from all walks of life from across the globe!

Friday, 19 August 2016

Category The Bad: Barcelona in August

10 Reasons to hate Barcelona in August

Landed in Barcelona for your August getaway? 
One piece of advice, get out!

Why? Let me count the (10) ways I hate Barcelona in August;

  1. Heat and humidity, and what it does to people. August is the hottest month of the year, so most sensible people will leave the city and head for some coastal resort with a soothing sea breeze. Those staying behind, do so at their own peril.
  2. Clerks and waiters in heat. People tend to get irate in the heat, and none less so than those bitter and resentful for being made to work in August. You will meet plenty of these poor souls when trying to order a beer or when doing some necessary shopping.
  3. Joggers in the streets. What are you thinking you masochistic lunatic?!
  4. Closed for vacation. Trying to find anything slightly out of the ordinary in August, and you’ll spend half-a-day running from closed signs to closed signs
  5. Corte Inglés. In desperation you end up in Corte Inglés trying to find that slightly out of the ordinary thing, which they eventually will not have, and you waste another hour going up and down escalators becoming increasingly agitated because people in Barcelona are oblivious to the concept “walk on the left, stand on the right”!
  6. People who are oblivious to the concept of “walk on the left, stand on the right”!
  7. Overfilled subway, bus, tram, beach, whatever! Barcelona fills up like a rush-hour subway car in Tokyo in August, and any kind of public transport can quickly turn into some kind of 21st century version of a Medieval torture chamber. The beach. I won’t even go there… No, seriously, don’t go there!
  8. Tourists. Let me get one thing straight, I am not among those locals (mainly because I am not one of them) who immediately puts on a sour face and loudly complains that the street is filled with individuals who are not 11th generation Catalan, when the summer hoards arrive. Yet I can’t help grumble each time I’m trying to find a seat at my favourite hang-outs, and they're either closed, so as not to deal with tourists, or they are filled with coconut smelling individuals who really should be somewhere else listening to Keisha.  Or, when a gang of half-naked Italians are sweating over the seats designated for the elderly and the handicapped on the bus.
  9. “Tourists go home” signs. Yes, it is a nuisance with too many tourists at once and not all of them being on their best behavior, but running around posting those signs just make you look like a Xenophobic a-hole.
  10.  Parties everywhere. Go home! It’s getting late. I am old.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Category The Bad: The closing of BarcelonaReykjavik

Barcelona Reykjavik, bakery Barcelona

Sometimes things are just too good to last. The closing of eco-bakery BarcelonaReykjavik is a recent example, leaving Barcelona less rich in fiber and variation.

Before BarcelonaReykjavik, the city was a desert of white, bland bread. Personally, I was in excellent shape, back then, running for miles through the city trying to find a bread that was a slightly darker shade of white.

When BarcelonaReykjavik opened their first bakery in El Raval my aimless bread hunts through the city stopped and my relationship with ecologic “turgidum” and “dicoccum” began. Through the years I’ve always dropped in to get a potent dosis of carbs and rich tasting baked goods.

Their downfall? Prices, I guess. Bread heavy in content, fermentation time and weight (as you normally pay bread by the gram) tends to be costly and Catalans are (in)famously stingy and not always willing to accept that quality and manual labor have a cost.

Today, the bread “apartheid” of “white only” is a thing of the past, and most neighborhoods have the darker variety, but it is truly sad to lose the original!

Monday, 6 July 2015

Category: Society - The Bad: Working in Barcelona

Working in Barcelona still has a ring of the good life about it for foreigners, and company’s promote the beachside lifestyle for all that it is worth. The ads don’t tell you the real story; that for most people working in Barcelona means a pay check so thin you can use it to slice open the can of soup you’ll have for dinner five days a week, you’ll encounter 19th century style management and a monotonous work situation with no real prospects.
So, how did it come to this?

It is about the money

It is rather sad that Barcelona is a place where you come to leave your (professional) dreams behind, not to fulfill them. I recall talking to an American friend as she was leaving Barcelona to go back to the States. She had left an executive job with a comfortable salary to live for substantially less in Barcelona, but being here to enjoy the lifestyle that the city offers more than compensated for the pay cut. Now, however, it had become too hard to hold on as expenses kept accelerating and income stalled or even slipped down. 

This was about five-six years ago, and the situation has hardly improved since then.
Unemployment is skyrocketing and It doesn't help the country that they are under the rule of the most incompetent and corrupt government in the democratic history of Spain, whose only response to the crisis is to cut pensions,  unemployment compensation and wages and raise costs for education etc. while ensuring it is business as usual for the corrupt politicians and bankers.

It is not all about the money

For people in the Northern part of Europe the impression is that the Spanish work life is all about the siesta, conveniently overlooking that the amount of hours put in are not any fewer than in Scandinavia or Germany. I would argue that systemic inefficiency and lack of incentives are key issues. Old-fashioned hierarchies dominate here. The management level in Spain receives a markedly higher percentage of salary payments of the European Union average.


In many companies in Spain there exists a mouldy, old-fashioned hierarchy with a clearly marked demarcations between employees and management levels. Often these hierarchies are rigged such that the person at the level above always takes the credit.

Many managers (high and low level) seem to confuse fear with respect whereas the two could not be further apart! I actually know of one company where the support department is run after the fashion that when the service is up to scratch, middle management lets someone go to show their superiors how efficient they run the shop. Way to keep the staff inspired!

Fear is a lock on creativity and efficiency whereas respect is a door opener for loyalty, dedication and consistency. 

The less distance between levels, the faster ideas travel and they arrive at a higher momentum, and easy just to implement with a "nudge." Levelling out the corporate structure and getting rid of middle management, that in many cases only function is to act as bottlenecks for creativity and productiveness, would be an excellent start.

The “shrugged shoulder policy”

What the failure of management leads to is a “shrugged shoulder policy”: why do a decent job if there are no incentives to? This is why calling any kind of support, dealing with plumbers, the postal service etc. is always such a hassle. So, your Wifi doesn’t work, your toilet is overflowing, the DVDs ordered never arrived. What are you met with? The shrugged shoulder. Furthermore, if taking a decision is more risky than not to, much better to shift the responsibility to the co-worker, your superior or to the customer.

I have no doubt about the ingenuity and the willingness to excel among the Barcelonins, but a government that is destroying social structures, and outdated attitudes towards leadership and organization will spur on an exodus of young talent with higher ambitions for their work-life, and quell the influx of young talent from abroad. Then, the managers of these outdated institutions can close shop and head for the beach.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Category: The Ugly - Cyclists

Look, I am as much a fan of bicycles as the next guy. In fact, I think we should have a lot less cars and a lot more of stuff with pedals and two wheels.. Mother Nature would appreciate it and we could all live happier, healthier more fulfilled lives. Cyclists, on the other hand....Something happens with these spandex dressed bundles of carbon dioxide guzzling health fetichists flock together. They seem to feel more sense of entitlement than a Tea Party zealot with a great great great grandfather who arrived on the Mayflower and has Manifest Destiny as a religious belief.

I used to think Spanish drivers were the most aggressive representatives of road rage and ignorance in Spain, but that was before taking a short drive from Sant Celoni to Montseny, where two different groups of cyclists managed to halt all traffic through the city main street, jumping pedestrian crossings, holding back traffic on the main road, and causing dangerous situations up the narrow mountain road when other drivers decided to overtake the group at any suitable and non-suitable spot.

It is true that cycling raises the pulse and makes the blood run faster - at those in the car behind stuck watching the backsides of a group of pedalling maniacs oblivious to te world, for miles!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Doble Zer00

Category: Restaurants - The Good: Doble Zer00

address: Carrer de Jaume Giralt, 53, Ciutat Vella.

Doble Zer00 is located by a small plaza around the corner from the Santa Caterina market. It is a discreet location for a pretty exciting take on Asian fusion. Nice selection of sushi plates, but also some Thai and other "exotic" varieties. A favorite is the steak with foie on volcanic rock on a bed of maldon salt. The ambience is laid-back, Barcelona chic and well suited as a first-stop on an evening out in El Born.

The service is, ...let´s say relaxed. Not overly professional, but friendly. The kitchen is not without some minor mishaps, but we've been there on numerous occasions and never left less than content with the experience. Medium priced with the lunch deal offering especially good value for money.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Category: General - The Bad - Drivers

In Catalonia a worryingly large number of drivers seem to drive with two demons on each shoulder: Incompetence & Recklessness.
One can make a list of typical driving errors and tick of every box when observing traffic here during longer drives. The most dangerous being overtaking other cars and the most inopportune times and places. Here is a typical example from a narrow mountain road.