I’m not much of a tourist. I hate sandals and museums, and I resent being preyed upon by people who secretly hold me in contempt. And I don’t like doing things tourists have to do, like being guided. The internet has ruined travel anyway. My first thoughts upon visiting the Coliseum or the Acropolis for the first time are that they look pretty much like all the photos I’ve ever seen, but with added hordes and car parks full of coaches. I tend not to enjoy the sights much in general. I haven’t studied religious architecture so one cathedral looks pretty much like any other to me, which I’m sure is the case for 90 % of the people you find shuffling joylessly around them.Tourists, like junkies, undergo a process of dehumanization and loss of identity as they become subsumed to the collective. They are not even viewed as a group of people. They are a group of tourists, and no-one likes them, not even other tourists, and especially not rival groups of tourists competing for shade and weird trinkets. When you become a tourist you are immediately subjected to the universally applied gullible tourist tax which is levied mercilessly on every ice cream and every pointless souvenir. You also have to submit to people talking to you as if you were a slow child. Patronizing guides, jaded by a lifetime of exposure to the masses, have long since ceased to treat the tourist as a genuinely sentient human. And people who live near tourist areas find tourists at best a nuisance, and at worst a pestilent scourge, constantly in the way.
If cultural tourism isn’t bad enough then the grisly offerings presented to beach package tourists are simply chilling. I once went to Benidorm. It was the 1980s so it smelt of coconut. There were lots of comatose Brits asleep in the rubbish skips while the more active ones amused themselves by throwing objects, and sometimes themselves, off the balconies into the pool. Mindless entertainments that you would never contemplate in your normal life were thrust upon you, such as medieval banquets, or “games” designed to make you look like a twat. Wet t-shirt competitions were the cultural highlight. The only entertaining aspect of the entire stay was watching the British and the Germans squabble over the sun-loungers.
In tourist mode, being on a bus in a traffic jam actually becomes a genuine leisure proposition. They make a big thing about you being able to get on and off whenever you want as if you should be grateful for not being kidnapped. Then there’s the word “typical.” Tourists are always on the hunt for something typically local. It’s an artifice. If they were genuinely looking to experience local life they would spend 8-10 hours doing something they didn’t want to, followed by a couple of hours in front of the tele. Instead at some point they inevitably succumb to a “typical Spanish menu” aimed at people who have been dispossessed of their critical faculties. These contain nothing that any normal Spanish person would ever go anywhere near, are always overpriced and usually overcooked, and are occasionally served with a salmonella garnish to give it an extra kick. For reasons I’m not entirely clear about tourists act as kryptonite to chefs. One whiff of a tourist and they ditch all professional pride, overcome by the primeval urge that eventually consumes all people who work in the tourist industry to fleece the visitor. It’s a powerful instinct. Merely overcharging is not enough. The food and service must be crap too.
Tourists are of course destroying the world. It is true that they bring in a lot of money which is great if you own a hotel, or a cruise ship, or can pay the increasingly ludicrous rents required to run a bar or restaurant in a tourist zone. But most people who work in the tourist industry earn a pittance and I don’t really see how this money benefits anyone else unless it somehow trickles sideways. Mainly tourists just block the pavements, and encourage people to set up shops selling a load of old shite. Some of the world’s greatest cities have already irredeemably lost their souls to tourism. Venice is the obvious example, but Barcelona comes close. Ports are particularly vulnerable as giant cruise ships disgorge their hapless human cargo onto the shore, unleashing thousands of lost souls brandishing selfie sticks, and inane list of things to see, upon metropolises that are already reeling under the weight of those who have descended from the sky. The cheap unpleasant flight is for many an essential beginning to the whole holiday experience. Up until now Madrid has got away relatively lightly. It’s a much better city than Barcelona but it keeps that fairly quiet. It also doesn’t have any sea and tourists like to gaze upon water. Inevitably, though, the hordes have started to arrive. Prices have gone up and waiters have even started speaking English which they then attempt to practice on proper residents like me, an appalling development.
I don’t blame the individual tourist anymore than I would blame the individual leper for his afflictions. I too have been a tourist and have been shunted up the Seine, and dragged around the Duomo. But I do at least try and avoid the sights. If you are an art lover, then I’m sure Madrid is thrilling. The Prado, the Thyssen and the Reina Sofia apparently house endless treasures. I wouldn’t know. I don’t know much about art and neither does anyone else I know. Not that that stops them from trudging around vast galleries pretending not to be bored by endless paintings of chinless aristocrats and fat angels.
If you really want to have a good time in Madrid, forget the Royal Palace, avoid the annoying artistes pretending to be statues who blight nearly all modern European capitals, and try instead to engage with the city as it actually is. A few beers on a terraza in Lavapiés will give you more of an insight into the Madrid than a whole day of culture. As a general rule you should go to the bars that look unappetizing. And do not under any circumstances go into anywhere calling itself a “tapas bar.” There is no such thing as a “tapas bar.”There are bars. That’s all. And in Madrid when you order a drink in a bar you get a tapa which is free. In Granada you get half a meal. In Barcelona where there is no tradition of tapas you get nothing. This hasn’t prevented “tapas bars” that actually charge you for the tapa from springing up all over the city. It’s as unauthentic as you could wish for, and therefore a key part of the tourist experience.
In this globalised world we inhabit it is difficult to avoid being a tourist, and the neo liberal economy has been designed maximize revenues ie to rip you off. But it would help if we could all agree never to buy souvenirs, and never to go to “typical” eating establishments. I lived briefly in Barcelona a while back. Most of the graffiti was the political nonsense but one day on the way up to the now totally ruined Parc Guell I saw that someone had written TOURISTS FUCK OFF HOME on the wall in enormous letters. A bit harsh, I thought, and not very welcoming. But nobody could fault the author’s honesty, and most of the locals probably thought fair enough. Right, I’m off home to pack. Enjoy your travels Dear Reader.