As a long time user of airbnb I want to feel like I can support this company and the homeowners who choose to participate but the more I travel the world and see the effects it is having on other major cities as well as my hometown the less comfortable I am with using its services. While I enjoy the feeling of being in a city and making it home for a brief moment I am becoming increasingly aware that my footprint isn't the only one that has or will be in that place. Not every neighborhood or neighbor wants a constant flow of tourists on their street or in their building. One could argue that with globalization on the rise this will just be a continuing issue we have to deal with, especially if we live in a place that relies heavily on tourism spending. I am not quite sure what the best solution is and honestly that is not the main reason I am writing this. I travel quite a bit to Barcelona and have taken many opportunities to stay in both hotels and airbnb properties. When I was in BCN last May I started to notice a growing movement AGAINST illegal short-term rentals and even tourism in general. I thought what an unfortunate situation, this city has so many amazing people living in it and they are starting to feel overrun by tourists and the mark they are making on this town, I don't want to be that burden, but I also want to continue to come here and feel welcomed. I came home feeling torn and decided to research what their tourist numbers looked like. The city of Barcelona has a population of nearly 1.6 million residents and saw over 8 million tourists last year. I wanted to compare it to my hometown of New Orleans with a permanent resident population of just over 375,000. To my surprise, my tiny city (by comparison) saw over 9 million tourists last year. We are a quarter of the size and saw approximately 1 million more tourists than Barcelona. Where did they all stay?!?! My guess is after hotels, illegal short-term rentals. I started to wonder how many of my friends and family members were affected by these crowds. After asking around, it seemed to be a split group, depending on what part of the city you are living in you either dealt with a bachelor party every weekend or barely a peep the whole year. Upon my return to Barcelona this past month the movement seemed to have grown stronger and more organized with almost every building posting official signs that basically say, you rent this apartment illegally and I have no place to live. The long story short is that this system isn't working for a lot of residents in cities around the globe. And my point is from here on out, I will choose to do extensive research before traveling and renting an illegal apartment again because while I consider myself to be a fairly respectful and conscientious traveler it does not mean that every one else is nor does it mean that I, along with other renters, am not making it harder and harder for locals to find affordable places to rent. I urge everyone to strongly consider the impact tourism has on major cities and be respectful of its residents, streets, artwork, historic buildings and culture. If we want to be able to continue to travel freely we must respect the concerns of the people in the cities we love so much.
The first time we went to Cal Pep was when we were in BCN last May. I had heard first hand from friends how great it was and had read numerous reviews touting the same. I looked up the opening time for dinner and made sure to be there 30 minutes early since I had heard the line builds quickly. After a much anticipation we filed in to grab our seat at the long bar facing the chefs and our servers for the evening. I will preface the next part with this- you are not given a menu and we weren't sure if you got to choose any of your meal, whether you spoke Catalan and/or Spanish or not but we decided to go with the flow and just let our server bring us what he thought we would like. The only guidance we gave him was, we eat anything and we want vino blanco. The meal was off to an ok start with padron peppers and a fried mix of seafood. Next came croquettes and then tortilla española. The meal continued along in that fashion, it definitely felt like we had been pegged for a typical tourist. Not to say it wasn't good but looking around at the Spanish and Catalan speaking patrons who were getting razor clams and tuna tartar and steak, we felt a little stereotyped. All in all, the meal was a bit of a let down. The service was excellent, but we obviously hadn't conveyed that we weren't your average Americanos.
Bringing you to the present, last night we were hoping to make it into El Xampanyet for a late (for us) dinner and to no surprise, it was packed at 9:30pm. So we thought "should we give Cal Pep another go? They will probably be swamped too, but maybe it's worth not writing off just yet." So we head over and it looks like we got lucky, only 9 people were ahead of us in line! Side note- no one in Barcelona is ever in a hurry to turn over seats so 9 people ahead of us meant an hour of waiting. While in line though we made sure to note all the amazing food things that we would insist we wanted. We finally sat around 10:15, the last seating of the night. Our server came up and asked "do you eat everything? may I order you the mix of tapas?" Part of me always wants to say "YES! I love when the server orders for me!" but I knew better here. We had to be more assertive. So we said "we were here a year ago and had a decent meal, but we want something different." We were delighted when he asked us what we actually wanted. We picked out botifarra with beans as well as padron peppers and left the rest to him. What came next was hands down one of our favorite meals in Barcelona. We had confit octopus with potatoes, berberechos in a briney, garlic broth, creamy tortilla española, sauteed spinach and squid and crema catalana. WE ATE IT ALL. We had a fantastic rapport with our waiter, he guided us to all the right places with our meal. At the end, he treated us to shots of an herbal Galician liqueur and cervezas as well as toast with chocolate and sea salt. He tried to keep us longer with offers of more shots and beer and chocolate, but we didn't want to ruin the fantastic feeling of that great meal with a hangover the next morning.
Needless to say, we couldn't have been more excited and surprised by trying Cal Pep again, it was totally worth the wait!