There are many things synonymous with the beautiful, glorious Catalan city of Barcelona: Gaudi’s daring and melting architecture, the city’s winding streets and a world famous epicenter for skateboarding and graffiti cultures. One thing that’s also widely accepted when speaking of BCN and not quite as celebrated is the city’s street crime and pick pocketing problem, one that’s almost as famous as the network of streets entitled Las Ramblas where many of these misdemeanors and robberies take place. This is a letter to the thieves and the police that patrol Las Ramblas, one of the most crime-ridden hubs in Europe. And the fact that the both of them are utter c***s and contemptuously shit when someone is in real danger.
But of course, this writer didn’t heed the warnings or at least, tried to, with the entire trip taking a detrimental nose-dive from the moment we set foot out of our hotel. The establishment in question was The Gaudi thought to be one of the higher clientele establishments in the city housing my girlfriend and I duringa trip to celebrate my 25th birthday. A real surprise for me, given that at the time, I was obsessed by the graffiti, skateboard and anarchist culture that was woven into Barcelona’s fabric. A surprise until the moment we set foot inside Gatwick airport, the trip was meant to be a dream come true, one of the most exciting pilgrimages of my life as a fresh faced young man with built up images of the coolest Metropolis’ in Europe. In reality, it ended up with tears, frustration, loneliness and fear in a city that, despite its beauty, isn’t quite so forgiving to those who don’t come prepared… especially if you’re a ‘Brit Abroad’ with a reputation for being naughty, too.
After a rather relaxed morning, we took a trip to find something to smoke the first big error when visiting Barcelona. Like most cities in the world, don’t go hawking on the streets for substances… you will get absolutely and utterly ripped off for being the mug that you clearly are.
After acquiring a stone wrapped in cling-film (if you wrap Cling film around itself enough times, the transparency eventually becomes brown) from a moody teenager on a moped, I eventually became the proud owner of some shit crumbly henna plant gak that had a plastic bag molded into the center of it. The tourists had landed and this fellow was going to teach us a lesson. To the dealer who sold me a stone yes you saw me coming and actually got me “STONED” but one day someone is going to make you swallow that shit and dump you in a wheelie bin around the back of El Raval somewhere.. Oh how I wish it could be me.
The next evening, we were in one of the club’s most notorious clubs, Be Cool, known for its up-for-it crowds and inch perfect musical programming (never mind the ghastly revolving Dancefloor). What it’s not famous for is the risk of being spiked with a lesser-known chemical substance that makes you dance like a nutter and gurn like you don’t have any teeth already. Who knows what was slipped into my lukewarm and foul tasting bottle of Estrella (or my girlfriend’s flat JD and coke) but we were going through the motions. My girl kept throwing up. I kept running to the toilet. One minute we’re raving like our lives depended on it, the next standing about like lumps of deadwood, floating and dampened by our own uncontrollable quagmire of synthetic feelings. Debilitated by the mysterious and bad quality drug, we hauled ourselves through La Ramblas for home, where illness and oversleeping made us burrow into our own hovel of despair, depression and furious arguments. To the tosser/s who spiked us with this disgusting substance I hope you are either in prison or being kept locked up in someone’s basement with nothing more than a bag of M-kat as a friend.
Bad luck, they say, comes in threes, but nothing could have prepared us for the final fuck-up of our ill-fated birthday trip. After wasting our time arguing and complaining for the rest of the holiday about wasting money on dodgy dealers and going to dodgy clubs, we packed our bags in preparation to head home and essentially shut the door on a less than perfect holiday. Rifts healed, blame straightened and hearts pieced back together in unison, we waited in the hotel lobby for our taxi to take us to the airport, and then back to the UK.
I turned around to Kate and said “watch the bags, I’m just going next door to buy cigarettes, ill be 2 seconds”. Considering the Tabac shop was next door to the hotel, I think I may have been out of sight for all of five seconds. Nevertheless, this was still enough time for her to fall asleep while on bag watch and, horrifically, for our bags to be stolen without a trace. Not just one bag, but four, completely vanished, with my girlfriend deep in slumber, mouth open and catching flies. Furiously I poked her awake, asked her what the f*** had happened to the luggage to which she replied, “I’ve only just dozed off”… after a very short exchange of fierce expletives, the sheer hell of the situation hit home ALL of our bags had gone. They contained our passports, our flight tickets, our money, bank-cards and our clothes. Aside from the 23 euros we had on us combined that is we had been stripped of everything valuable and dear to us. With zero Spanish skills, no identification and no way of escaping, the anger turned to fear. We cried. A lot.
The hotel refused to check their cameras. An entire lobby full of people had all of a sudden had a lobotomy, meaning their thoughts couldn’t stretch back longer than the previous 3 seconds. Hotel staff gave us a number to the British Consulate and told us to do one. We asked them to check the cameras (the monitors are behind the receptionist’s head). They said the cameras weren’t on. We said we could see the screens and that they were working. The woman smiled mischievously, turned around, and turned the screens off. When we asked for the police station, she walked into the back room and slammed the door behind her. I would love to be re-united with her someday to give her a piece of my mind Kate, I’d imagine, would give her a piece of her fist judging on the way she screamed at the girl like a raving banshee. To the utter jobs-worth working on the reception we hope you have received karma in a similarly frightening manner, when you’re in a strange city that’s miles away from home.
The Ramblas branch of the police station was full to the brim. We asked for a crime report form, of which took the police three hours to deliver to us from their desks, minus a pen. At this point we were aware that our flight had left, that we were stranded in the wrong part of town and that we were being ignored and dismissed by police as ‘dumb English tourists’ (exactly what the duty manager referred to us as after a two hour wait).
After searching bins for our bags and being brushed off by the local Guarda, we realized that in our panic we had taken a wrong turn. 5 euros of our 23-euro budget had been spent on a train ride to the Airport, where we were faced by more of the same unhelpful police and a refusal to contact the British Consulate and arrange temporary visa for our safe return home.
Two days had passed and without a cent to our names left, we had reached desperation point. Stuck between a mixture of despair, hatred and anger, we had no choice but to wait and look for our chance to escape. An Irish man who had come to Barcelona 6 months previous, only to have his passport robbed and beaten within an inch of his life had been stuck in the airport for three months. He extended his hand of which the nails of his fingers had been completely chewed off in panic brandishing a book. “You may as well take this I’ve finished it anyway. You’re probably going to need it as you may be stuck here a long time”. The book, coincidentally, was “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, translated into Spanish language text. The Police threatened to arrest us and throw us out of the terminal for ‘loitering’. “That’s it” I thought. “We’re stuck here. We are a homeless couple stuck here.” Our reality was almost like a modern day Dickensian nightmare, on the verge of becoming sucked in by warring classes. We had become part of the city’s growing contingency of homeless vagrants, struggling to stay alive.
It was only down to the industriousness and kind hearted vigor of Alfonso, an Easy Jet representative working at their counter, who managed to fast track us to safety. He dealt with the police, made the appropriate calls (we didn’t even have enough to make a call from a phone box), had a temporary passport application form faxed over (rather than us tracking down an internet café) and even printed out a temporary ticket all on his cherished lunch break. He even stayed after his shift had finished, running us through security and dealing with obstacles that arose on route to the seat of our plane. Forever scorned by the majority of travelers for their herd-like handling of customers and blasé response to panicked travelers, it turns out that Alfonso at easy jet had literally saved our skin, when we needed help the most. To Easy Jet your man Alfonso deserves a promotion of the highest order you should encourage more people to be as helpful and humanitarian has him. Because of course, it wasn’t a lost receipt or faulty item it was the lives of two naieve travellers at risk and Alfonso was he last and final hope.
So in this open letter to Las Ramblas, its undesirables and to the utterly discriminatory attitude of The Police fuck you, and fuck you forever. If I was powerful enough, I would make it a mission to stamp you all out, to erase you from society so you can’t do anymore wrong doing. Thanks a million for your lack of help, lack of interest and dedication to seeing us stuck in the most useless of positions. In short, you are all the scum festering on the toilet seat of life. Make sure, dear reader, that when you travel to Barcelona you never lose sight of your valuables. Never trust the hotel you are staying in and never look to the police for help – they have no time for you and will be looking for people like us to profit from and make an example of us. It took some years for me to return to Barcelona without experiencing gut-churning fear and uncontrollable panic attacks at the mere thought of the place. But nowadays I am more careful and take on board the warnings I failed to do way back in the first place. Take heed of this letter – then you can enjoy the city for the truly magnificent place that it is.