Scunnered in Barcelona

Mar 24, 2013 by

Or, how a peace-loving vegetarian was turned into a screaming banshee googling ‘shooting ranges in Barcelona’.

This wasn’t the post I was expecting to write.

What I actually wanted to talk about were the best apps for living in Barcelona. That was the plan. However, for that you need an actual iPhone.

Deserted Barcelona street

Arriving home from a night out last Saturday, having got a taxi home, about a block from my flat I was attacked and mugged. The guy came up from behind, from the shadows, from nowhere. Luckily I had just taken the (only set of) keys out of my bag a split second before, because he made off with the whole handbag – all cards, all money, new iPhone – in tow.

I gave chase but he was fleeter of foot. Something about not wearing high heels. And having done all this before.

I staggered down to Consell de Cent, a main street, well lit-up, where a few men and women were still strolling around. “I’ve just been mugged!”” I screamed. “Help me find the thief!”

Bear in mind, at this point I’m a foreign single woman, alone, clearly traumatised, on the street at night holding nothing but a bunch of keys.

They all glanced at me and kept on walking. No-one gave a shit.


The police the next day were sympathetic and apathetic at the same time. It was quite a feat to behold.

Clutching my passport, my NIE certificate and my insouciant Spaniel, I answered all of their questions by rote, having internalised it all already. No, I couldn’t recognise him again. Yes, he had hurt me physically. Yes, I think he was Spanish. Sorry if that doesn’t fit with the stats.

Inca was a big hit in the station. Burly policemen in uniform, passing by, did a double take on seeing her there, and stopped in their tracks to tickle her head. “Hola, perrita!”. I smiled, they smiled, everyone smiled. The pup gladly gave paws a-plenty.

The aftermath

This city needs to get its hands off me. That’s now twice in under two months I’ve had to defend myself physically, either inside my own flat or just a block away. Having got a taxi home both times.

I’m still processing the rest. No doubt in future I’ll publish something a little more coherent.

For now, I’m still jumping at shadows. Everyone is a potential aggressor. Shame on you, Barcelona. You’re changing me in ways you were not supposed to.

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  1. Julie,

    I carried pepper spray for years. You can get it at this ‘spy’ shop in Barcelona. Get some spray and a bag with a long strap that crosses your chest. Nothing you can do about looking like a foreigner, I’ve got the same issue. If you’re coming home late, have your spray out and be aware. It’s terrible that all this is the case in Eixample Barcelona. So sorry it happened, and, let’s hope it never happens again.

    • Thanks Regina. I might get some pepper spray, but the chances are it would have been in my bag, so inaccesible. Otherwise I’m going to have to walk about the streets with it in my hand at all times. Which seems bloody farcical. I work with a girl whose best friend was wearing a chain-bag strap across her chest. The guy wasn’t put off, and the girl now has welts across her body where he ripped it off her. Tonight I went to empadronarme in the main town hall. I was aware of a tall black guy staring at me. I just knew he would follow me when I left. Which is exactly what he did. It’s interminable.

  2. Bill

    Wow, that’s tough. We live in Sants and until recently I imagined this barrio was free from the problems facing the center (immediately around Sants Estacio being the exception). That changed last year when a female friend rang our buzzer then failed to appear in the stairwell. A man had followed her into our building’s courtyard, snatched her iphone out of her hand and violently removed her bag from around her body. This happened in the middle of the afternoon. She was shaken and bruised but not seriously hurt.

    I’m a 6’1″ guy and fast when I need to be, but for the first time I find myself worrying about my girlfriend when she ventures into the neighborhood alone at night.

    • Hi William, cheers for the comment. I know, I specifically chose not to live in the centre precisely to avoid this sort of thing – where I live in Sants is supposed to be a quiet, residential area. The problem then is that when something happens – a guy following me into the lift of my building in January, another guy ripping my bag from my shoulder in March – there is no-one around to see it or help. I got a taxi home both times, and I honestly don’t know what else I’m supposed to do in this city to protect myself.

      Actually, when I came for my interview in Barcelona two years ago, in L’Eixample Dreta, I was waiting outside when an old guy approached and tried to grab my handbag out of my arms. Welcome to Barcelona. In my experience there really are no safe neighbourhoods. I just wish people took more individual responsibility for it. These guys don’t operate alone.

  3. That’s a sad story. I wish the Police in Barcelona concentrated on the real crime like this more. Instead they just seem to pick on easy targets like the blokes selling Beer and fining people for walking around in swimwear. I hope it doesnt put you off Barcelona!

    • Thanks Jim. It has definitely affected how I view the city. If it was a one-off, random act of aggression I could probably move on easier, but the problem is the constant (and I mean daily) negative attention here from men. It probably shouldn’t surprise me but it does – women’s rights in Spain have a long way to go.

  4. Katy

    Hey girl! Firstly, amazing that you have kept up such a detailed blog into your stay in Barca, mine lasted a day! Secondly, thank you for this post – I’ve been living here six months and (touch wood) have had no troubles, I have this idea that if I walk around not looking like a tourist I’ll be fine – clearly this is not the case and thanks to this post I will definitely keep my awareness up! Just think back to my drunk staggers home alone, terrible!

    • Thanks Katy – do plan on writing more soon, honestly:) Yeah, you really need to be careful. The worst thing is to get complacent, and let your guard down. It’s a whole other level of awareness, living here. Am heading out on a trip to Central America soon and am sure my Barcelona training will come in handy:)

  5. Thediaryofacakemaker

    This has happened to me twice too. The second time was this time last year in Badal, Rambla Brasil they pushed me to the floor to steal my back. First time was about 7 years ago in El Borne where I was strangled by three guys. Absolute scum of the earth…..hope you are ok though.

    • God, that sounds very rough. Am feeling better, now, thank you:) But ever vigilant and trusting no-one…the sad reality.

  6. Esther

    We are planning to visit and the first thing I will do is buy pepper spray and I WILL carry it around in my hand if I have to! We are looking at renting an apartment for the week and can’t tell which area might be the safest.

    I got to your blog by reading a post about Pappa Serra and hope to tour with him during our visit. Looking to find local Barc foodies and want to bring items from the US as gifts and barter. Would maple syrup go over well as I am from New England and it is one of our primary exports. It seems when looking at what to bring back from Spain/Barcelona the suggestions seem to be regional items that are not produced in too many places.

    Are there a lot of home canners in Barc? Someone mentioned that Ball Glass jars are at a premium over there while Wecks, produed in Germany, are dear over here! Any info would be appreciated!

    • Hi Esther, and thanks for commenting:) I hope I haven’t put you off visiting Barcelona too much.

      If you’re planning a class with Joel from Papa Serra you will be in great hands. Say hi from me! Can’t say if I’ve ever had maple syrup but I’m sure it would be a big hit here.

      In terms of stuff to take back, the obvious choice are ’embutidos’ – cold cuts like chorizo, salsicha, Serrano ham. If you like Joan Miró’s art, the museum devoted to his work up on Montjuïc has some decent gift options. You could always opt for a ‘porrón’ as well – a glass wine bottle with a pointy spout, used for glugging the wine down your throat. As long as you could wrap it carefully in your hand luggage. I have one and it sees a lot of use at dinner parties.

      Ball glass jars are indeed plentiful here. You can pick them up in local bric-a-brac shops, which tend to sell everything. They are pretty cheap, yeah.

      If you’re looking for an apartment to rent here, I recommend I work with the company and would be happy to send you more details on flats and safe-ish areas if you want to send me a private email (



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