For noen uker siden utdypet jeg påstanden om at vi som kommer fra land som Norge, ser på det å reise som et nødvendig og ganske selvsagt gode. Jeg tok opp at reising i nåtiden for de fleste av oss handler om noe mer enn ferie og rekreasjon, at det handler om selvrealisering, utfoldelse og utvikling. En slik situasjon bør i det hele tatt anses som luksuriøs, hevdet jeg, og påstod at det med luksusen kommer et ansvar.
I know. Kjedelig ord det der. Ansvar. I mangelen på et bedre begrep for det engelske konseptet Responsible Tourism, må jeg be dere ta til takke med ansvarlig turisme/reiseliv. Eventuelt etisk turisme/reiseliv. Slik også Ethical Travel beskriver det samme på engelsk.
Britene har i det hele tatt skjønt poenget med ansvarlig reiseliv lenge før oss nordmenn; som her bekreftet av TV-stjerna Simon Reeve.
La det være sagt først som sist: Selv har jeg (og kanskje noen av de menneskene jeg var inne på i tidligere nevnt artikkel), kommet ut av tellinga hva angår utenlands ferieturer og lengre opphold i utlandet. Flyturene har rett og slett blitt pinlig mange i løpet av mitt voksne liv, og jeg planlegger ikke å stoppe dem i å bli enda flere. Hvorfor? Fordi jeg bare må oppleve det verden har å by på!
I stedet for å gå videre inn på selvmotsigelsen om “å ta ansvar for klodens vel og ve selv når man reiser” og samtidig innrømme å fly så mye i det hele tatt, henviser jeg til en selvransakende post fra en stund tilbake om rollen som miljø(aktivist)svin.
I denne posten derimot, vil jeg ta opp hvordan jeg selv fikk øynene opp for dette med ansvarlig reiseliv gjennom egne reiser. Jeg har mange synspunkter om at selve industrien bør ta mer ansvar den også, for at reiseliv skal bidra til mer bærekraftig utvikling enn det gjør i dag – da spesielt i fattige land. De ble publisert i Dagsavisen for litt siden.
Først noen tall som kan sette den utbredte reisingen til oss nordmenn i perspektiv: Det anslås at kun 5% av klodens befolkning, altså 5% av over syv milliarder mennesker, har sittet på et fly én gang. Man kan kanskje tenke seg at det er vanskelig å regne ut verdensbefolkningens gjøremål på den måten, men de som har peiling på det hevder altså det er ganske enkelt å regne omtrentlige tall utifra kunnskap om den ekstremt skjeve fordelingen av rikdom på jorda.
Som påpekt i teksten om reising og selvrealisering, hevdes nordmenn å være blant de som flyr mest i hele verden. Tygg litt på det opp mot påstanden om at kun 5% av klodens befolkning i det hele tatt har sittet på et fly. Jeg vet ikke med dere, men personlig har slike tall – i tillegg til personlige reiseinntrykk og studier om fattigdom – gjort meg veldig ydmyk på mine eldre dager. For ikke å nevne hvor bevisst jeg har blitt på hvor heldig jeg er.
Jeg husker veldig godt når det sistnevnte skjedde meg for første gang. Det var etter et to måneder langt opphold i Kariben, som – i tråd med det jeg skrev i artikkelen Reising = selvrealisering – naturligvis var en veldig lærerik og eventyrlig opplevelse.
For meg i alle fall. Og skulle man tro reisemarkedsføring er jo det det viktigste.
Neida. Når sant skal sies fikk tiden på Cuba meg til å stille noen høyst nødvendige spørsmål om verden jeg lever i, og min plass i den. På ganske kort tid ble jeg klar over at jeg nærmest tok for gitt de mulighetene jeg hadde til å realisere det som var en drømmelivsstil for min egen del.
I de utallige unge såkalte vertinnene jeg møtte (hvor i blant mange av dem kjapt viste seg å være prostituerte), så jeg etter hvert meg selv – om også jeg hadde vært født der. Etter å ha blitt veskenappet på åpen gate to ganger, skjønte jeg fort hva jeg ville bedrevet tiden med om jeg var i deres situasjon.
I møtet med meg selv som enda en – for dem– utenkelig velstående turist som trålte Havana gatelangs daglig, skjønte jeg at det overhodet ikke var min rett å overse de som ropte og løp etter meg i håp om å selge meg frukt eller suvenirer. I møtet med utallige flotte kubanere – som etterhvert som vi ble bedre kjent – fortalte meg om problemene sine og ba meg vennligst huske på dem når jeg dro, skjønte jeg hvor arrogant, bortskjemt og heldig jeg var.
I løpet av oppholdet på Cuba – og senere andre fattige land–, fikk jeg nye perspektiver på mye. I tillegg til plutselig å se meg selv som turist/ reisende gjennom øynene på lokalfolk, begynte jeg å se på turisme som et fenomen med store konsekvenser på lokalsamfunn. Jeg observerte andre turisters fremtredner og studerte lokalfolks oppførsel ovenfor turister. Jeg innså stadig mer av hva turisme kan by på av lærdommer for reisende, og hva den kan gjøre med et samfunn og folkene som bor der. På godt og vondt. Jeg gikk gjennom et tankeskifte fra å mene mye om en fremmed kultur – hvor eurosentrisk nok det meste i min egen var mest rett – og kom hjem med et løfte om å aldri noengang klage på noe som helst i Norge.
Eller, jeg kunne kanskje klage, men i såfall ville det være over de som klager på og irriterer seg over alt av idiotiske og trivielle i-landsproblemer. Temaer relatert til den slags, og problemfikseringen enkelte alltid skal fremme, fikk jeg rett og slett lite til overs for.
Slik har jeg det enda.
Elleve år etter det løftet, må jeg fortsatt minne meg selv på det i blant – og det er greit. Det vidunderlige på veien hit har uansett vært å kunne selvrealisere meg gjennom reising – både faglig, kreativt og medmenneskelig. Ved å bli bevisst min priviligerte status som globetrotter i en ellers ekstremt urettferdig verden, fant jeg ny mening og videreutviklet en nysgjerrighet ovenfor alt fremmed. Opptatt av å bevege meg utenfor min egen komfortsone, bega jeg meg også tidlig ut på soloreiser, som kjapt representerte noe enda bedre enn en reise til en gitt destinasjon noengang kunne gjort.
Jovisst. For oss heldige fra nord er reising selvrealiserende, og mange tar det hele for gitt. Utifra historien vår og utviklingen i Nord-Europa å dømme, er det ganske forståelig. Men vårt forhold til kloden, og eget liv på den – hvor enn vi befinner oss – kommer med et ansvar. Både for at det skal smake bedre for vår egen del (et typisk mantra blant folk i i-land), men også for å gjøre det beste ut av det for andre. Det er nemlig ikke slik at vi velger hvor vi er født, eller hvilke liv samfunnet vi er del av har tillatt oss å leve. Og selv om det svir å erkjenne det, vet vi jo at måten vi lever på i verdens mektigere land, går på bekostning av andres lykke.
Derfor mener jeg det gir full mening ikke bare å gjøre sitt beste, men også å sette seg inn i de forhold i verden som vi er med på å påvirke, samt hvorfor vi i det hele tatt lever – og reiser – som vi gjør. Hva vi tenker omkring dét, oss selv og andre.
Igjen kan jeg bare snakke for min egen del – selv om jeg er veldig interessert i andre menneskers syn på saken – og for meg har det å studere meg selv som reisende, samt reiselivs påvirkning fått meg til å innse hvor viktig konseptet ansvarlig turisme er. På lik linje som etisk produksjon er viktig innen tekstilindustrien, kjøtt- og landbruksindustrien.
Som forbrukere handler det derfor om å sette seg inn i hvordan bli en mer ansvarlig forbruker. Så får vi stemme på de politikerne og støtte de organisasjonene som fremmer de verdiene vi tror er best for en mest mulig bærekraftig utvikling her på jorda. Når vi først tar aktive standpunkt til slikt og lærer mer om hvordan ting henger sammen, er min oppfatning at vi opplever en slags mening i dét også.
En ekstra dimensjon av forbrukerlykke om du vil. 😉
Pst! Apropos ansvar innen turisme, og til konkrete forslag til hvordan du kan påvirke mer positivt som reisende. Sjekk ut denne!
Apropos de mer dystre sidene av næringen (kvitre, kvitre): Visste du at den faktisk er ansvarlig for tvangsflytting av lokalbefolkning, elendige arbeidsforhold, utnyttelsen av kvinner og barm, vannmangel og miljødegradering? Lær mer om organisasjonen Tourism Concern som jobber for å bekjempe slikt innen turisme her.
For over three and a half years now, I’ve been working voluntarily for the UK-based charity Tourism Concern, that through campaigning- and lobbying try to fight exploitation in tourism. The organisation’s vision is that tourism always benefit local people and their work often concerns awareness raising of the sector’s different stakeholders about serious issues in the industry.
If this is the first time you’ve ever heard of such a concept, let me quickly inform you that the tourism industry (part from being a force for good in terms of increasing mutual understanding between people and cultures and a facilitator of peoples’ possibility to enjoy a holiday), also is – like many other industries – notorious when it comes to facilitating powerful actors’ means to earn money in a dirty way.
Personally I’ve given good reasons for why the work for a more ethical/ responsible tourism is so crucial. I’ve written about orphanage tourism, and suggested what it takes of responsibility policies among tour companies and governments to hinder that slum dwellers exist as pure tourist attractions, and I’ve mentioned why I’m so interested in the topic myself.
Today I’ll write about something that’s been on my radar for long, since I first started studying issues within the field of exploitation in tourism.
I still remember the picture in the brochure; of three ladies with Asian features sitting on a bench in traditional colorful clothes and metal rings around their long necks. In front of them was standing a corps of tourists shooting pictures with their massive cameras. The women with the metal rings were of the Kayan tribe, living in Northern Thailand, and the photographing charade was categorised in the brochure as a ‘human zoo’.
In tourism they go under the name “long-neck women” and occasionally also giraffe women, although they refuse to adapt the latter themselves.
Since working with Tourism Concern I’ve learned that they’ve – together with other human rights organisations – flagged their concerns about the exploitation of various tribe people in tourism. With regards to the Kayans, Tourism Concern has campaigned against tourism that involves them, and pushed tour operators to stop offering trips to their villages.
From what I’ve understood there are also several organisations that have pushed for governmental actions. But as with other similar stories of exploitation in tourism, it’s very complex. Poverty and means of oppression are complex. So is tourism.
Back in 2011, one of the first in-depth articles I posted on my blog concerned the exploitation of the Kayan people. I called the post the trapped giraffe women, unaware of the Kayan’s own opposition to the Giraffe- reference, so my apologies for that. I also referred to the women and their tribe as both the Kayan and Padaung in that post, but recently learned that Padaung isn’t really what they like to call themselves either. According to new sources I came across Padaung is a Thai-implemented categorisation of the Kayan tribe. Lets thus stick to calling them the Kayan (people).
In the mentioned post, I shared my frustration over not finding more than a few articles online about the Kayan people despite quite a lot of research. I was looking for content concerning the exploitation of them and their current situation, and most of the articles and blog posts I found were typically based on people´s tour experience in a tribe village. Commonly, (uncritical) travel writers seem to retell stories that guides have told them, and write about the situation in supportive manners. This isn’t new at all in tourism of course, nor very illogical, yet it can be dangerous if what people are told isn’t not true at all.
Since the last time I wrote about the long-necks, Ive not investigated much about the topic, but as I’ve just made a dream come true and booked my tickets to South East Asia for 2015, I recently went back to it.
For now my plan is to travel in three countries (Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia) for approximately three months, and I’m of course going to the region where the 1 day sightseeings of the long-neck women’s villages are taking place. I want to find a way to not only see it with my own eyes, but also talk to people involved in the sector and understand more about what is actually going on. How tour companies are marketing it, what the guides say, what tourists think about it and especially what the ladies themselves feel.
The latter is the most difficult part though; also considering I’m not going as a long time researcher with the access to a neutral translator. Nevertheless, Ill do my best in getting a local translator, and who knows: My previous research experiences make me believe Ill be lucky this time too, and that things will fall into place.
So, preparing for my trip, I’ve done some new secondary research in order to renovate my knowledge about the matter, and found out that not only has the subject been flagged again since late 2011 and throughout 2012 and 2013, but the history of Westerners’ fascination of the women that coil their necks with big brass rings is much crazier and longer than I knew of!
Just take a look at this picture! What does it look like to you?
To keep posts in suitable lengths for reading, I’ve made a new post about the matter. Go here to learn about Westerners longtime facination with the long-neck women from Burma and to get some additional information regarding the reasons behind tourists’ interest in visiting them. I’ll also present some reasons for travelers to think twice about supporting the concept of so called culture tours, as they often include complex issues of exploitation.
Har du noen gang tenkt på at i ferie- og reisesammenheng, så produseres omtrent alt det du betaler for, mens du er på tur?
Enten om du er på chartertur med svigerfamilien i Tyrkia, eller på en helt fri ryggsekktur i India, så “lages” reisen din hver time og hver dag av (lokale) arbeidere i området du besøker. Og stort sett, i alle fall på de mer impulsive turene, vil du direkte kunne møte nesten alle de arbeiderne som påvirker reisen din til å bli det den blir.
Dette betyr at vi forbrukere av reiser hele tiden kan ta valg som påvirker arbeidsdagene til de som er med og produsererer reisene våre. Jeg vet ikke med deg, men jeg ELSKER den tanken!
Det er nemlig nettopp dette som gjør turismeindustrien så unik, sammenliknet med andre industrier. Det at dens forbrukere direkte møter de som lager/ serverer oss varen de har kjøpt/ kjøper. Dette betyr at turister som forbrukere har en unik og enorm kraft til å bekjempe menneskelig og miljømessig utnyttelse.
Dersom reisende tar noen enkle bevisste og ansvarlige valg, selv i en feriesituasjon hvor fokuset i utgangspunktet er langt ifra ansvarsbasert, kan de bidra til en stor forskjell i andre menneskers liv.Jovisst handler ferie for de aller fleste om å slappe av og kose seg, oppdage/ se/ føle noe nytt. Eventuelt handler det om å glemme for en liten stund hvor man kommer fra i det hele tatt. Eller kanskje blir man påminnet nettopp det, alt ettersom hvordan du ser på det…
Uansett. Å ta ansvar som reisende kolliderer overhodet ikke med noe av det. Man kan få en fantastisk ferieopplevelse OG underveis sette seg litt inn i situasjonen til de lokale man møter på sin vei. Det hjelper for eksempel å huske på at mange lokalfolk man møter har det å yte tjenester for rike reisende, som sitt levebrød. Min erfaring er faktisk at reisene og ferieturene blir langt finere og mye mer interessante jo mer jeg tenker/ opptrer slik. Både for meg selv og de jeg møter på hvorenn jeg ferdes.
Så. Over til tipsene som kan hjelpe deg å bli mer ansvarlig som reisende. De er tatt fra organisasjonen Tourism Concern som i over to tiåar har jobbet for menneskerettighetsbeskyttelse innen turisme, og som snakker mye om det å utgjøre en forskjell som reisende. Deres mål er at turisme alltid først og fremst skal tjene lokalsamfunn, som er helt i tråd med konseptet ansvarlig turisme som jeg skriver om titt og ofte, og tok en mastergrad i (!).
Jeg har tatt meg friheten til å språkpynte litt på tipsene og ellers legge til et par punkter, i den tro at de alle – og spesielt totalt sett – bidrar til enda bedre reiseopplevelser.Please ikke heng deg opp i at tipsene er mange, for bare ved å gjøre noen av dem om til handling på din neste reise, hevder Tourism Concern at du personlig er med på å bekjempe utnyttelse innen turisme.
Here we go:
1) VÆR BEVISST. Start å reflektere over og nyte reisen allerede før du reiser. Les om destinasjonen, sett deg litt inn i dens historie, politikk og religion. Undersøk hva som er typisk for kulturen, hva som ses på som høflig og ikke. Finn for eksempel ut hvilke kleskoder som er passende både for menn og kvinner dit du skal. Hvis lokalfolk dekker til visse deler av kroppen, hvilke beskjeder sender du ut dersom du velger det motsatte?
2) VÆR ÅPEN. I ulike destinasjoner du besøker kan noe/ mye virke uvant eller merkelig for deg, men det kan være helt normalt, eller rett og slett bare måten ting gjøres på av folk der. Prøv å ikke anta at “den vestlige måten” å gjøre ting på er den riktige eller beste. Snakk med lokalfolk. Hva tenker de om ditt verdensbilde, din livsstil, klær og vaner? Finn ut av deres.
3) VÅRE FERIETURER – DERES HJEM. Før du tar bilder av folk, barn og eiendelene deres spør alltid om lov. Respekt reaksjonene og ønskene deres.
4) KJØP LOKALT. Bidra til lokal økonomisk utvikling ved å handle fra lokale butikker, spise på lokale restauranter og overnatte på lokale familiehotell fremfor hos ulike internasjonale kjeder. Tenk over at pengene du bruker i destinasjonen, helst skal forbli i destinasjonen.
5) PRUTE RETTFERDIG. Bidra til lokal økonomisk utvikling ved å prute rettferdig. Hvis du pruter alle varer ned til den laveste mulige prisen, kan kuppene du ender opp med koste selgeren dyrt. Hvis du heller går med på å betale ti-tretti kroner ekstra, betyr det virkelig noe for din lommebok? Du kan være sikker på at de samme pengene betyr veldig mye mer for selgerens familiebudsjett.
6) IKKE GI PENGER TIL TIGGENDE BARN. I know, dette er et komplekst tema, som mange mener mye om. Hovedargumentet for å ikke gi dog, går ut på dette: Å gi til tiggende barn kan oppmuntre til mer tigging. En donasjon til et prosjekt, helsesenter eller skole er langt mer konstruktivt. Uansett, hvis du besøker et sted hvor du treffer på mange tiggende barn, slå for all del av en prat med de, og kjøpt evt. noe mat til dem om de er sultne.
7) TENK FØR DU FLYR. Bruk alternative former for transport når mulig. Jo mer og lengre du flyr, jo mer bidrar du til global oppvarming og miljøforringelse. Vurder å fly flere dirketeruter fremfor ruter med mellomlandinger, samt evt. å bli litt lenger i destinasjonene du besøker.
8) VÆR EVENTYRLYSTEN. Bruk gjerne guideboka di eller hotellet som et startpunkt, men ikke som den eneste kilden til informasjon. Finn ut hva som skjer ved å snakke med lokale, og dra ut på egne eventyr. Reising bør inkludere opplevelser utenfor komfortsonen sin. 🙂
9) SPAR PÅ DESTINASJONERS RESSURSER. Vann- og elektrisitets-ressurser er ikke uendelige bare fordi du er på ferie og ikke betaler strømregninger. I mange (spesielt tørre) destinasjoner er vannmangel for lokalfolk en tragisk følge av utviklet turisme da hotellkjeder har kjøpt opp rettighetene til vann. Sørg for at folk får sin rettferdige del av rent vann ved å være varsom med bruken, og gjerne still kritiske spørsmål til hotell og reiseselskap dersom du observerer en stor ubalanse i vann- og strømtilgang.
10) SPØR SELSKAPER OM SAMFUNNSANSVAR. Dersom du kjøper en pakkereise for hele familien, eller booker det meste av eskursjoner via et selskap før avreise, er signaleffekten stor om du spør turoperatøren din om deres engasjement i lokalsamfunn – hvis gjestfrihet de drar nytte av. Bare tenk hvor mye bedre selskaper hadde oppført seg, om alle forbrukere hadde gjort dette hele tiden! Det holder dessverre ikke lenger å bare lese det som står på selskapers nettside om samfunnsansvar. Still gjerne også spørsmål til hotellet – og andre turismerelaterte næringer i destinasjonen– om deres engasjement. Dette er spesielt viktig i fattige land.
Og helt til slutt; mitt eget lille mantra: VÆR GLAD & UREDD. Joda, mye rart kan skje når man er ute og reiser. Og spesielt i møte med fremmede kulturer hvor ting gjøres annerledes enn hjemme, og årsakssammenhenger mellom fattigdom og kriminalitet kan synes sterkere. Likevel, med en positiv, tålmodig og nysgjerrig innstilling står man mye sterkere til å få maksimalt ut av de fleste situasjoner, enn man gjør med en bekymret mine og eurosentriske briller på.
Altså, det urgamle uttrykket Smil til verden og verden smiler til deg, er aldri så treffende som når vi er ute og reiser.
P.S. Det du nettopp leste er en fortsettelse på posten Utgjør en forskjell som reisende fra mars, 2013.
P. P. S. I 2013 økte turismenæringen med 5 prosent fra året før, til 1,087 milliard reisende!
Like so many other Burners said before him and will say after him.
Still, watching Playa personalities unfold via a screen gives yet another good impression of the mind-blowing journey of a people & nature spectacular Burning Man is. And of what to expect this year. For old Burners and Burners-to-be.
Oh, forgot to say… I JUST GOT THE TICKETS FOR THIS YEAR TOO!!!
Today I’ll share a piece with you that I wrote for the organisation Tourism Concern, about my township tourism research in Cape Town.
Feel free to contact me to discuss the findings or other relevant topics related to this.
During a holiday in Cape Town in 2009 I went on a township tour. Not knowing much about tourism to urban impoverished areas at the time, but concerned about how the communities would benefit from my visit, I looked for an ethical company I could trust.
To my positive surprise I found out that not only tour companies, but also the government’s tourism body assure that tourism is beneficial to the township communities as well as very educational for the visitor. Any specific initiatives were not indicated, yet tours were promoted as a ‘must’ to learn about African culture.
I decided to book a tour with a small local company and liked the experience as it was indeed eye-opening and the residents I met were welcoming. However, ever since I was unable to stop thinking about what is in it for local populations.
Therefore, three years later, the choice of subject for my final research project during the Master’s program Responsible Tourism Management was easy. I went to Cape Town to investigate the scope of community beneficial initiatives within township tourism.
During the 4 weeks of fieldwork in the townships Langa and Khayelitsha I explored six tour operators’ actions and opinions related to previously identified issues of concerns in the field of slum tourism, by interviewing them about their responsible practices and participating on their tours.
I also interviewed forty inhabitants from the most visited areas about their perceptions of tourism impacts and four representatives from the local government about current work on responsible tourism in the field. I will here reveal some of the findings from my research.
While there is no doubt that the South African township tourism sector holds a large number of professional tour operators that mean well for the communities they visit, the evidences of their many positive impact claims are few.
And although I experienced that both companies and guides conduct tours respectfully in terms of friendliness, photography policy and information giving that assist in combating stereotypes, I detected ambiguity regarding fair pay of involved hosts, as well as several untapped potentials for maximised positive impacts on the communities.
One example of such is tour companies’ avoidance of fairly compensating the most deprived households they involve in their tour. During the distinguishing ‘labour hostel visits’ tourists are taken into the shared bedroom (which also serves as their living room) of four families to see and learn about poor living conditions.
Of the eight such interviewed households in my research half of them claimed to get more than five visits per day, and none stated to benefit economically, unless tourists occasionally left some money. Regrettably I was repeatedly told that donations occurred to a decreasing extent after more local guides had penetrated the market and the competition for the much wanted tourist money had grown.
Another example regards the creation of interaction, which ironically is one of the main promises on the many company websites. It may be a coincidence of course, but sadly I only experienced twice during ten tours that we as visitors were given the time and possibility to interact with the locals (even during the popular hostel visit as described above). The consequence of this is that the hosts (or any inhabitant present) turn into passive objects rather than active participants, hindering them to exploit the big potential for social and economic empowerment.
Regardless of these issues of concern, it became clear to me that township dwellers do welcome tourism because it represents the only industry through which many can enhance their living conditions and situations, in areas that are longtime forgotten by the government.
Throughout my time in Langa and Khayelitsha I couldn’t stop thinking that it is on behalf of this very hope, in addition to the inhabitants’ tremendous hospitality, that the majority of the tour operators earn very good money. And personally, until I know better how that income is redistributed and put back into the community, and the government begins to take the sector seriously and regulate it, I have my doubts for its sustainability. Sadly those thoughts reflect previous research within not only township tourism in South Africa, but also about slum tourism globally.
Lastly though, let it be clear that there is no doubt that good initiatives exist in this field, and some township dwellers indeed have got their livelihood enriched due to tourism. Besides, whether people like it or not, there are reasons to believe this phenomenon is here to stay. Hence is it crucial that the way forward is to actively find ways to awareness rise about its issues and require that government acts, while highlighting and rewarding the many (hopefully) ethical initiatives in place.
FYI. The above article was first published on Tourism Concern´s webpage.
Did you ever reflect over how some cities in the world seem to be loved by everybody? Like, when you’re having a conversation and the name Barcelona comes up, haven’t you noticed how everyone always goes: Oh, Barcelona! Yes, I freaking love that city, man. It’s so cool, it has everything! I really need to go back there. And if someone in that conversation reveals they haven’t been they’ll probably be told: What, you haven’t been? It’s such a must. Trust me, it’s the best! If the person himself didn’t already interrupt: I know, I know, Barcelona is definitely one of the places I have to visit asap. Everybody always tells me that. It’s on my bucket list this year.
No wonder you’ve been in a similar conversation, because sure thing; Barcelona is one of those cities you just fall in love with. In almost all rankings of Best Cities, Barcelona is among the top 3. The other highly ranked cities are almost always New York, Berlin, London, San Francisco, Cape Town, Rio de Janeiro, Copenhagen, Buenos Aires and Tokyo… Why is that so?
Personally I’ve been a devoted urban traveler for a long time and consider myself a bit over the top interested in trends within the travel industry. Although there obviously are several factors – e.g. geographical, historical and political – that count for a place to become a popular destination among many people (from many different countries), I personally think a city is amazing when it has a mix of great geography (sea, mountain, forest, rivers), friendly locals, vibrant city life (including a variety of food, art, night life & fashion), and a somewhat characteristic architecture. And that’s why I think Barcelona scores so high. It has all of that!
Since my first visit in 2003 and a six months stay in 2005 Barcelona has been one of my favorite cities – thus a city I make sure to visit every year (though I still haven’t visited half of the cities I’d like to). Out of my love for Barcelona I’ve decided to repost a popular city guide from my blog called 14 musts in Barcelona.
Starting off with the obvious temptations:
1. Gaudi, of course. The extraordinary architecture by the highly admired architect Antoni Gaudi (1852- 1926) is known for having made Barcelona into such a uniquely looking city. There is no place in the world you will see anything like the buildings he constructed over hundred years ago. Sagrada Familia, Casa Gaudi, The Guel park (see point 6), Casa Mila and Casa Batllo and much more. At the tourist information in the airport, or downtown (or at your hotel) you’ll get maps over where to find the marvelous constructions. There is also a Gaudi museum in Barcelona that can be good to start a full-on Gaudi day with. My recommendation however is to divide the Gaudi tours into two days according to where the spectaculars are and mix the go-see with other interesting things in each part of the city.
2. Understand the Spanish VS Catalan issue. The sooner you learn some about this, the better. It can in fact affect even a short stay in Barcelona, if the (wrong) person confronts you with this and feel you’re ignorant to the topic. Respect the locals’ feelings about this topic. Advice: Learn to say good day and thanks in Catalan – they’ll love you for it. “Bon dia” & “Merci” (NOT “Buenos dias” & “Gracias” – that’s Spanish!).
3. The beach! When cultural and vibrant cities have a coastline, they often get considered much more beautiful. This fact certainly concerns Barcelona with its not too polluted beaches, despite of occasionally being pretty over-crowded. The beach is long and I always make sure to spend one day strolling from one end to the other along the well-kept promenade. There is a good chance you’ll find whatever you consider is “the perfect beach slot” for you – it be more family-friendly, party-like, high-endish, or hippie-ish. There are small beach bars every 100 meter and good restaurants along the promenade. Make sure to choose local places over major chains like KFC.
4. The different barrios. In my opinion you don’t actually get to know a city before you get to know the features of its different neighbourhoods. Some cities may not have too defined neighbourhoods (something I quickly find boring), but luckily Barcelona does. You can say Ciutat Vella is what makes up the “city center” and within this area you’ll find the gorgeous and well-kept old towns Born & Barrigotic (see the Gothic Quarter!) on one side of the (extremely touristy) avenue La Rambla, and the vibrant (and very popular) immigrant area Raval on the other. And yes; all the barrios are brilliant for people watching, drinking, eating and shopping.
Then you got the area La Barceloneta & La vila Olimpica by the harbour. Here you can look at the boats, eat in a fine restaurant, stroll down the beach promenade and if you’re interested in such visit the Aquarium. If you got plenty of time, and/or are not interested in walking where all the other tourists are, consider visiting the surrounding Le Corts (a little west-endish), Gracia and Glories (though the most famous tourist attraction in Spain (La Sagrada Familia) is situated in between the two latter so you do indeed meet foreigners here too).
5. The plazas. Because Spanish people love getting together for chats and drinks (and are privileged with a climate that allows it pretty much all year), small and big squares packed with restaurants, bars and fountains are characteristic in South European cities. In Barcelona they are everywhere, however not always that easy to find on a map. Plaza Real (at La Rambla) is one of the bigger and very touristy, Passeig del Borne (Born) is more of a street than a plaza but cool (young, hipstery) people hang here, Plaza del Sol (Gracia) is small, young and hippie-ish, the huge Plaza outside of MACBA in Raval is chilled and full of skaters and tourists, Plaza triangular (Barrigotic) is tiny and quite local, Plaza de Sant Jaume connects two barrios and this and that plaza, oh I could go on forever… Just sit down for a beer or a cold Clara (Spanish for shandy), some tapas and enjoy.
6.The parks. Barcelona has many small parks hidden between streets and buildings, but Ill highlight the bigger parks where you can spend a day relaxing and enjoying a taste of nature within the hectic city. (All the parks are perfect for people traveling with children). Parc de la Ciutadella is ground of both the Catalan Parliament building and Barcelona Zoo and part of its charm lies in its ornamental waterfall and artificial lake. You can take a boat out onto the lake, play table tennis, or enjoy any of the seasonal activities and events the park hosts every week.
Montjuïc park got world known during the 1992 Olympic Games and currently offers a green oasis for culture, sports and entertainment in Barcelona. It’s located on the mountain Montjuïc with a spectacular view of the city and offers theaters and museums, fountains and gardens, sports facilities and fairground pavilions.
The park Guell, built by Gaudi between 1900 and 1924 was originally going to host around sixty houses and a chapel, but was never finished. As a result, it became the property of the city of Barcelona in 1922 and is today one of the main tourist attractions in the city. The view from here is stunning and Gaudi’s particular style is clearly noticeable in the uncommon architectural forms and bright colors.
And for even more stunning views (and potentially some hiking) you go to Tibidabo, which happens to not only be Barcelona’s highest mountain but also represents an old amusement park. The place is well known from the movie Vicky Christina Barcelona and for yet another precious cathedral.
7. Tapas! Though some Nationalistic Catalans (they’re plenty) would disagree, Barcelona is in Spain, and the Spaniards love their tapas. Get used to eating your lunch and dinner like them – and remember tapas is to be shared between people. The classic ones: aceitunas (olives), pan con tomate (bread with tomato), aioli (thick white sauce made of garlic and olive oil, to eat on bread and with seafood), patatas bravas (thick fried potato chunks with a special spicy tomato sauce), tortilla (thick egg omelet with potatoes) and albondigas (meat balls with a touch) and gambas a la plancha (grilled shrimps, or shrimps cooked in a dry-fryish way on a pan).
For the seafood lovers there are plenty of options – especially for the valiant. Grilled pulpo (octupus) and calamar (squid) is very common and delicious! Chipirones en su tinta (mini squids served in their ink!!) as well, and trust me- it’s yummy! Grilled or dry-fried boquerones (anchovies) you eat whole, and various bacalao (cod in sauce) dishes are served many places. And don’t forget your sangria, it’s just a myth that Spanish people don’t drink it themselves.
8. La Champañeria. Actually I was unsure whether to post about this, or not, as it’s one of these places you love just the way it is. But I hate it when others keep those secrets away from me, so here it goes. La Champañeria is a gem of an authentic Spanish cava & tapas bar. It’s located at the bottom of Born, in the small street Carrer de la Reina Cristina 7 (close to the harbour). You find it by noticing the crowd of people outside, especially around midday (lunch time for locals). In my opinion it’s the perfect place to go as a couple or with a small group before or after a day on the beach. The bar is tiny but takes surprisingly many people that don’t mind squeezing together..
Beware! You go to La Champañeria to get some local, historic vibes and taste their Cava and tapas (both simple, but delicious). Here you’ll kick your way through used carton plates and tissues, and order at the bar with jams hanging over your head. The old sweaty waiters are in a hurry and don’t speak much English, so be patient and speak clearly as it’s normally crowded and noisy. One bottle is served with three plates of tapas.
Open from 9am – 10.30pm, closed on Sundays.
9. La Boqueria. Originally called Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, this market is one of the oldest in town, dating back to 1217 (!). It’s easy to find on a map and by walking up La Rambla (with entrance from La Rambla). A perfect place to suck in some history and watch how a typical old Spanish market works, and to buy fresh bread, cheese, fruits, fish and meet (if you’re keen on a picnic in a park or live in an apartment and want to cook).
10. Get inspired! Absorb quirky art and fabulous street performance. Regarding street performance, many seem to think that the street artists in La Rambla are of the best in the world! Regarding contemporary art, visit MACBA in Raval, follow this and google where to find different galleries. Between Barrio Gotic and Born you have two streets full of photo shops and posters and quirky art that I love to visit. For graffiti-interested, the whole city is a gallery actually (just read this). You’ll also find plenty of inspirational stuff by googling the topic.
11. Bars! Oh yes: BARcelona! First of all; the nicest bars are obviously not the ones you find in the middle of La Rambla. Then again some of the most historical bars (and also frequently visited by locals) are very close by. Just google and mark them on a map and start your round. The level of cocktail making skills is high! In Raval you have Rabipelao, Ambar and Lobo bar: all stylish, yet odd, chilled & fun. Close by are the two old and unique bars Bar Marsella (be careful with the absinthe, they’re not joking), and Le Pastis (Raval). However Boadas in Barrigotic claims to be the oldest in Barcelona and you should definitely go here if you want a peak into the 1940′s. Sugar bar, Pipa club and Le Petit Jet lag are also all in Gotic, tiny and innovative. In Born around Passeig del Borne and its side streets (mentioned above) you have many more! Not to mention in Gracia.
12. Nightlife! My favorite club when I lived in Barcelona was Sala Apolo; An old small theatre situated in Raval (metro stop Paralel). It still exists and hopefully will forever, has amazing bookings and loads of experimental electronica and hip hop. Razzmatazz is also great, a huge venue with 5 rooms and good concerts from time to time (but check their events online first). La Paloma is a historical gem but be sure to check if it’s open. It constantly has neighbour trouble as it’s in the middle of a resident area in Raval. La Terraza is beautiful and located up in the hills of the city (perfect for warm summer night), though it’s not my kind of vibe (quite high-endish). City Hall (on Placa Catalunya) also had some good concepts going on, but I’m afraid you have to find out of these things yourself when first deciding to go somewhere. It really depends on your music and style, amigo, hence I’d check ResidentAdvisor.com and Timeout.com to find recommendations for the style/music I’d fancy.
El Row 14 is apparently a mad club where they play with inflammable toys and dress out. It typically offers electronic music and is probably for the more party valiant as it’s situated a bit outside town and in the Spanish clubbing-way open til early morning (I’ve heard many people start their daytime party here around 10am). Very good bookings of national and international DJs. (EDIT: This place is closest as of 2014)
13. Festivals. Sure thing, the Spaniards embrace their festivos (“holy days”) and find any excuse to throw a party or celebrate something with a festival. Ill mention the most known events for now. Late March: Sitges (gay) carnival has become a wild tourist attraction. Late May: Primavera sound. Mid June: Sitges gay parade. Mid June: Sonar: Barcelona’s biggest festival – and one of my all time favorites (thus promoted several times before). It offers electronic music but also all kinds of experimental stuff including old school hip hop etc. June 24: San Juan (celebration of a saint (generally speaking: a massive beach party). Mid September: Merce. A massive traditional carnival alike party in which locals, families and tourists gather to celebrate Catalan traditions, watch endless parades and intense street fireworks (!).
14. Avoid getting pick-pocketed or mugged! With mass tourism Barcelona – that unfortunately holds a large number of poor inhabitants – has become a Mecca for pickpockets. Like in any other place in the world you have to take precautions, and the typical advices are: Don’t watch street performers in crowded areas/ stand on crowded metros/ walk in crowded streets without having control of you valuables. It’s also common that poor kids wander around tourists’ tables asking for money, cigarettes or directions, but with an attempt to steal. I’ve been to many places considered more ‘dangerous’ than Barcelona (and it may of course be a coincidence) but I’ve honestly never heard of/ seen (and even stopped) as many robberies as here.
General points: Barcelona is perfect for a lot of walking so wear good shoes. To travel further you depend on taxis and public transport. The latter is more environmentally friendly and a cheaper and fun way to see the city. Also, Barcelona is very children- and gay friendly.
The reason for the sudden silence during my adventure in Mexico is that the trip took a brutal turn when I got the message from Norway that my grandmother had fell ill. And this time they said, she didn’t seem to be willing to recover.
I was biking around in Tulum at the time, soaking in the cliche looking Caribbean landcape, chugging coconut milk, petting stray dogs and bumping into iguanas, swimming in the turquoise sea and drinking mezcal with random locals I met on my way.
Needless to say, I was far away in all senses from even thinking about Norway where autumn was turning into its last colorful shedding. I’ve probably not said it out this public by now, but after an amazing trip to the US since the end of summer (of which Ive shared some stories already), I was for good reasons – yet now suddenly unexplainable to me – very dedicated to go through with a solo trip to Mexico. I’d been living through a difficult emotional time as my man and I had decided to separate from each other after the US trip, and thus my mind was completely set up on the journey to Mexico. I felt happy and free in a beautiful and frightening way while I took off.
To be honest, I didn’t think much about others than myself while in Mexico, and on how to make sure to explore as much as possible about both myself and this – to me – new country.
Therefore, when my mum told me three days before granny passed away that it looked serious, none of us actually understood what was about to happen. Or perhaps we were in a state of denial? It wasn’t until Friday October 18th, after a phone call from my mum and a text message stating the situation had gone a lot worse over night, that I finally understood I had to get my ass out of Mexico.
Despite of being in a state of panic and self-judgement, I managed to get dressed while throwing my things into my backpack and order a taxi to the airport with good help from the hostel manager. While waiting for the taxi I was on the phone with Delta airlines that after only twenty minutes could confirm they had found a flight for me leaving Cancun within 2,5 hours. It meant I would be home in another 16 hours.
As we hugged farewell the hostel manager kept telling me everything would be alright, one way or another. I left the hostel crying and sat in the taxi on the way to the airport crying. The taxi ride took about 45 minutes and what I remember the most is holding a neatly packed sandwich in my hand that the hostel keeper had prepared for me before leaving. I spent the trip looking down at it, thanking the beautiful soul of its maker, while occasionally looking outside the windows at the numerous hotel chains along side the highway in Playa del Carmen.
Now and then I begged to all major forces I could come up with that I’d reach all the way to keep my grandma company during her last breaths. I knew she was ready to leave us now, and I hoped she weren’t suffering. Still, in my selfishness I wanted her to live some more hours so that I could be there with her and hold her wrinkled hand.
The coming flight was obviously the longest of my life. I spent the hours both thinking and trying not to think too much, until I found a way to focus on my gratitude for having had a grandma like the one I had. I watched childhood pictures on my Mac and reflected over how much she actually had meant to my life. To my personality. This isn’t a new thought to me in any way, but under such circumstances they feel quite different.
When I arrived to Amsterdam for my connecting flight and hadn’t got any answer back from my mum to my text message sent ten hours earlier, I understood it. Grandma was dead. I figured my mum would have told me in a message if she still lived, but not if she had died. By realising Ill never talk to my grandmother again – a moment I’ve feared since I was a teenager, I felt like a part of me died. I had never felt anything like it, not even when my grandpa died.
My grandmother was perhaps like any other grandmother in many senses; at times a little narrow minded and old fashioned, out of tune with what youth is up to, and worrying too much about what if this and what if that. To me in my life though, she has been my dad, my second mum and the funny sister all in one. For some reason we’ve had this special connection since I was born and I can recall years of making a lot of silly jokes of one another.
I knew it would happen, and now I can confirm it: I’ll miss her as deeply as I’m ever grateful for everything she has given me of love and caring.
When I arrived to Norway my phone didn’t work as I had left my sim card in Mexico DF where I was supposed to go back after four more weeks of traveling. I asked a random lady to borrow her phone, and she had to stand there watching me getting the message from my mum that I was eight hours late to sit by granny’s side. The lady wept as I finished the phone call and gave me the warmest hug before I ran off to find my mum outside on the parking lot. I will never forget that lady and her hug.
By realising that my longtime fear ahd turned into reality: That my grandmother died while I was on one of my many travels, I began on a new journey. Tthe exhausting journey of a guilt trip. Yes, I know: There is nothing I can do about it! And I know I had the right to live the way I wanted, to travel and to say goodbye to her time and time again. I also know my grandma knew that I loved her deeply and that she loved me regardless of my gipsy lifestyle.
Still, it will take me some time to reconcile the fact that I wasn’t there with her.
Fortunately she had a close person with her until she took her last breath: Thanks to my wonderful and caring mum, granny was in safe hands until her very last breath. And as for the things I wanted to repeat to her and thank her for, it was delivered by my mum instead. I can’t express how happy it makes me to know that she finally could relax and let go to the sound of my humming and story telling mother, without fearing to meet death on her own.
It’s only been three weeks since she passed away. I’ve tried to look back at where I came from prior to this time, but find it difficult. What’s weird when a far-away-trip ends tragically like this, is that your mindset about the whole journey instantly changes to something very blurry. Meaning that the place you left behind – full of so many inspiring and joyful memories – suddenly feels further away than ever before.
I look forward to going back to Mexico one day. With peace of mind and plenty of desire to explore again. But as for now, the only place I want to be is home, close to my beloved ones. After all, that’s one of the best side effects traveling comes with.