On the About page of this site, you will find the words:
I travel to see how people are living. Through their food and drink, laughs and loves, art and architecture, buses and trains, cities and villages, young and old, rich and poor, I seek and find personal connection.
As the world becomes more globalized and the cost of travel falls lower and lower, everywhere begins to look a little more like it does back home and the personal connection becomes yet harder and harder to find. These days, often that which is authentic and unique to a place becomes hidden under the commercial and behind the crowds of bustling tourists.
There are few places where this is more the case than Barcelona. The British newspaper The Guardian recently published an article which reported that on one Sunday last May, 31 000 tourists arrived in Barcelona by boat. Though this was a record, similarly high numbers arrive throughout spring and summer each year, and it is believed that these numbers are only going to rise. On the central street of the city, La Rambla, you are far more likely to find yourself walking alongside tourists than you are Catalonians. Local shops and bakeries are being priced out by souvenir stores, and traditional tabernas that have served Barcelonans for decades are being replaced by budget bars selling buckets of cheap booze.
The transformation of the city is the theme of a documentary by Eduardo Chibás entitled Bye Bye Barcelona. In the trailer of the film one resident says that, ‘Barcelona now only sells itself as a tourist destination. It has no other attraction.’
If you are looking for the taste of Catalonia and the spice of a vibrant and diverse town, you don’t have to join the throng going to Barcelona but instead can visit the nearby town of Sitges. It is only 30 kilometers down the Costa Brava from Barcelona, nestled between the Balearic Sea and the Garraf mountains. Sitges is an old shipping town which has kept much of its traditional architecture in good condition. It is perhaps most famous for its annual film festival, but is also known for the variety and extent of theatre and musical performances that it showcases each year.
It is a bohemian town loved by artists, and due to its diverse community it attracts the young and the old, the adventurous and placid, all in equal measure. There is a wide selection of French restaurants for the foodies and the infamous ‘Street of Sin’ for party animals. Four kilometers of glorious beach can be enjoyed, and there are plenty of shaded areas such as the Terramo Park which are perfect for young families to play in and set up picnics. In short, Sitges has the charm and energy of Barcelona, without the destructive tourism.
When travelling to Sitges, your best bet is to go from Barcelona which, let’s be honest, you were never going to miss anyway! To avoid the bustle and sweat of public transport, you can arrange a chauffeured service with this company who will take you from El Prat Airport into the city. From the center there are regular buses between Barcelona and Sitges. If you prefer, both at the airport and in the city you will be able to hire a car.
Of course, when going to either Barcelona or Sitges, it’s not just about barging your way through the crowds, but actually making a conscious effort not to contribute to the disturbance such crowds can cause. Barcelona is just one of the places suffering under the weight of tourism (other European cities such as Prague, Vienna and Florence are similarly). It is important when we go to any of these destinations not just to find that personal connection but to ensure that we do not destroy that which we seek.