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On my last visit in Milano Italy, i went to the Duomo. It was the first day of my trip, and definitely the worst. On the second I stepped out the subway, "Tourist hunting gangs" jumps from all over, trying to force me to buy fabric bracelets, picture me with my own camera, let me hold a peagun and dozens of other things. It was very much disturbing, and i felt like i'm going to be robbed any minute. I believe most of them were immigrants since between themselves they spoke other languages.

The days after I continued to north Italy, to the Dolomities and the Trentino/Alto Adige regions. And it's like a whole different place, totally different people, and a feeling of true authentic Italian culture.

My next destination is the Spain/France. I land in Barcelona, and will spend a day or two there. And then continue to the Pyrenees.

And my questions are:

  • What are the places/regions to avoid of visiting inside Barcelona and around the Pyrenees?
  • I never used a travelers safety wallet belts and stuff like that, are those any good? Can you please recommend on any precautions I should take?
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4 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Barcelona is like every big city in Europe. Generally very safe, but obviously there are some pickpockets especially in tourist region. But normal precautions should be way enough. I would just pay special attention when visiting Las Ramblas. There are a lot of tourists and a lot of pickpockets and other dodgy people. In night time, you will also met some prostitutes or drug dealers there, but it isn't annoying because they do not advertise themselves really aggressively.

If you travel on to the Pyrenees, you will, as mouviciel already mentioned, be in a very rural area. There are almost no pickpockets or other tourist annoying people.

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Agreee - I came here to say be careful on Las Ramblas. Aside from that, the city is fantastic :) –  Mark Mayo Aug 28 '11 at 0:31
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+1: Barcelona (especially Els Ramblas) has highest density of pickpockets per square meter I've seen anywhere. I've have been only robbed once in my life and that was there. –  vartec Aug 31 '11 at 13:24
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Be careful in the subways, you're distracted and pickpockets take advantages of this –  Nikko Sep 1 '11 at 22:01
    
@vartec I've visited Els Ramblas for evedy day I've been in Barselona, and all was fine :( –  VMAtm Sep 2 '11 at 5:45
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Barcelona had more pickpocketing than any other city I've gone to for a conference. One year every single person I spoke to had a theft story. One person had been mugged, a woman had her laptop bag slit in the elevator and the laptop removed without her knowledge, and I was in a group of 4 who ate in a sandwich shop with our bags at our feet and stood up to go only to realize one of the bags was gone. That said, the trouble all happened at the convention centre - word was that pickpocket gangs came in to town when big conferences were on - or at night on Las Ramblas. I never felt in danger on Las Ramblas at night (and I have been known to feel in danger in Toronto at night, so my danger bar is set awfully low) but I was never completely alone: usually I had two or more men with me, and sometimes I was in a group of 20 or more. We took the subway without incident, btw.

My tip for those tourist-harassers is to learn to say no thankyou in the local language. It made all the difference for me in Paris and I'm sure that holds elsewhere. Don't sound flustered or scared; sound bored, like "geez here I am just going to work as usual and you idiots are treating me like a tourist." Say it like you've said it a thousand times. The one time I said "no thankyou" instead of "non merci" to the Eiffel Tower crowd I really was shocked at the aggressive "sell" they switched into. It had been a total non-issue up to then because I had spoken French when approached.

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Yes I don't recall any problems on the Barcelona subway either. –  hippietrail Aug 29 '11 at 19:05
    
I can tell there are a lot of problems in Barcelona subway :) And in Paris too. Lots of pickpockets. –  Nikko Sep 1 '11 at 22:02
    
Ah well I suppose I'm comparing to Mexico City subway (-: –  hippietrail Sep 4 '11 at 12:08
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I have to say that Las Ramblas in Barcelona is the most thief-ridden part of the world I've been to. Moreso than all the other big cities I've been to in Europe east or west, Central America, or India. In the week I was there I either saw at least one person robbed or met at least one person who'd been robbed each and every day, some involving violence. It really is a great city though. You may be able to use it as a place to "toughen up".

(The main train stations in Amsterdam and Milan were next worse for me)

The Pyrénées will be perfectly relaxing and stress free though. Visit Andorra if you can while you're there.

I don't like traveller's safety wallets that go around your neck or like a belt. When you need to access them you have to find a totally hidden place or reveal to the world that you're carrying a precious goldmine. Dress cheap and drab. Leave the most fancy and valuable stuff you won't need in the hotel. I prefer cheap digital cameras over DSLR's for this very reason. Just have enough money in your wallet for what you'll need. Not in your back pocket. Don't walk with your fists jammed into your pockets either. Adopt a hardened "seen it all" look. Sometimes you can learn it from the locals. Scan crowds for dodgy types. Don't trust anybody that wants to be your friend in a dodgy area. Make eye contact with safe looking couples and families. Learn the words for "thief" and "help" in the local language. The locals have also been robbed and also hate thieves and they will be on your side.

I think I've made it sound too scary. Sorry for that. Those are my techniques for the medina of Casablanca at dusk so you won't have to go so far (-:

And have a great time!

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I really don't want to even put you off Las Ramblas. It's a really cool street. If you leave all your money and valuables some place else and feign cool/tough/jaded. I was warned not to go on the one side where the immigrants live, I think mostly from Pakistan when I was there ten years ago. But I liked going there. They had great food and seemed happy that I would go there as a tourist. It must be tough being a poor immigrant I suppose. I don't want to say it's OK for so many to turn to thievery but I always want to see things from both sides. Also some of Gaudi's buildings are in this area. –  hippietrail Aug 30 '11 at 0:58
    
@hippietrail: Funny that you got even warned about it. A few years ago I stayed in a hostel on that side with lots of immigrants (Raval neighbourhood, on Carrer de l'Hospital), walked around by myself any time of day, etc, and encountered no problems whatsoever. On the contrary, I liked it too. –  Jonik Sep 4 '11 at 11:51
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Common sense invite to take precautions in big cities and touristic places. But this should not prevent you from visiting great sites. Just avoid to show your high-end smartphone to everyone in the subway or in crowds.

Anyways, The Pyrénées region is very rural and exempt of the kind of harrassments you experienced in Milano. Even Toulouse is safer. Enjoy your trip.

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