Ok, I get it, it's summer, the high of European holiday season and Barcelona is packed with tourists. But, I've been in the beautiful city of Barcelona for less than 24 hours and already had an attempted-rip-off scheme. After this little interaction I realized that in all my travels, in so many places, I have never once been the target of a scam and even though I've read about them and been warned, I was still somehow surprised to find myself in the middle of one. Here's what went down - and what to look for if you're in Barcelona.
I decided this morning that I wanted to visit the park that holds the namesake for one of my all time favorite artists - Joan Miro. So I hopped on the metro out to Placa Espanya (which is stunning and grand and totally incredible) and found my way to the the park. Thinking that it would be an entire Miro sculpture garden I was somewhat disappointed that there was only 1 - albeit enormous - sculpture. Ok ok, it's really impressive and I was happy to see it.
But thinking that there might be more smaller sculptures hidden in the little palm-tree lined garden beside the sculpture I started walked through the shaded pathways. This was at about 11:30 in the morning.
Not far past the gate a young man came up to me and asked me where the Olympic Park was. Although I thought it odd that he was clearly Spanish, I figured that there are a ton of Spanish tourists and maybe he was just lost, so I looked at his map (which was completely in tatters) and started to help him find it. Bizarre event #1.
At that moment another guy came up and said he was a policeman (undercover of course - but why would you say that?!) and that there was a lot of drug trade in Barcelona and that he needed to see our ID's and make sure we weren't doing a deal (really!?). He proceeded to flash some kind of identification card - and by flash, I mean there wasn't an opportunity to even look at it. Bizarre thing #2.
Bizarre thing #3 happened with the guy who was "lost" gladly whipped out his wallet and ID, opened it up and handed it to the "plainclothes policeman" who thumbed through it and said, "ok no money." Then he looked at me and asked if he could see my passport (which I did not have on me).
I then proceeded to ask him if I could actually see his ID, to which he flashed it again, and I said, "Um sorry, no you can't see my ID, there's no problem here, I'm leaving." And before I could walk away the "policeman" turned on his heal and left. The guy with the map didn't seem interested in knowing where the Olympic park was, but I told him anyway.
Upon walking away it dawned on me that this interaction could have gone in several much more unfortunate ways for me, as in I was kinda surprised that one of them didn't just take my bag. I also realized that they had probably been watching me take pictures of the sculpture so they knew I was a tourist. I'm generally pretty discreet about such things, but hey when you want to take a picture of a giant sculpture you gotta take it.
Looking back on it I also see that the 'policeman' played his part terribly and really wasn't convincing. However if they had wanted to make a quick getaway, they both had the moment of hesitation that was needed. I guess that's my fault for wanting to help a seemingly lost person.
Of course I'm grateful for being safe, I still feel at ease in this great city and am looking forward to enjoying the rest of my time here. It just goes to show that jam-packed-tourist time really does equal scam time.