Reverse culture shock: battling with Barcelona.

Arriving fresh from Bolivia and alone for the first time in months, I internally struggled to see the beautiful city of Barcelona as anything more than a teeming hub of privilege, greed an excess. Sleep deprived, with ringing in my ears, I visited the landmarks on foot...

Stone carved figures -Guadi - La Sagrada Familia- Barcelona
Stone carved figures on Guadi's La Sagrada Familia. Unfortunately the church was mostly covered in scaffolding.
Torre Agbar - Mercat dels Encants flea market- Barcelona
Torre Agbar in the distance- as seen from the Mercat dels Encants flea market.
Columbus Monument, Barcelona
Angels decorating the Columbus Monument
Lion- Columbus Monument- Barcelona
Pompous lions around the base of the Columbus Monument

Forgetting to eat and with no real plan in mind, I walked until my legs were sore from the unforgiving tarmac and further. Past open air restaurants and girls who in another life could have been me- an expensive smell in the air- a mixture of perfume, food and cocktails that now stuck in my throat.

Eating out- Barcelona
Giant shiny silver face- only 372 Euros!
Giant shiny silver face- only 372 Euros!

There were wide, clean streets, unnaturally pruned trees and push buttons for everything. Though I'd never been to the city, I felt like I'd seen everything before and began to search for artistic details. Barcelona is brimming with these, but despite finding something on every corner I felt nothing. 

Street art- Barcelona

At the beginning of a big adventure I'm prepared for anything, but returning to Europe from eight months in South America, I hadn't anticipated how difficult it would be to readjust. A group of fat German men mocked an old lady begging- leering over her, hunching their backs and pointing to imaginary Euros on the ground. I felt sick. The more I walked the emptier I felt and the more I missed the sound of the river and the butterflies around me.

Marc- Barcelona- art
Columbus Monument- Barcelona
Sculpture- Barcelona

It was sunny and warm, but I kept on my paint-stained hoody and walked for hours until I reached the sea. Though after three months inland it wasn't the deserted paradise I'd been dreaming of, I was happy to look out and see the flat blue horizon. 

Beach- Barcelona


I considered my scratty old shoes on the manicured sand and mentally shook myself. This was my continent and a city I'd always wanted to visit.


With an aching body, but more positive mind-set, I laughed at the ludicrousness of rich city life- families whizzing past on their Segways, well groomed meat-heads flexing on the outside gym and a voluptuous lady forced by social correctness to clean up the mess of her top-knotted chihuahua, but there were some I could relate to. A tired looking couple lay next to their suitcases in the sand, expensive boots kicked off and toes out in the sunshine. A man selling coconut smiled at me like an old friend.  

Segways Barcelona
smart-phone- beach- Barcelona

Looking at a still silver man on a horse I overheard a tiny child in pink heart sunglasses ask her businessman father "Why?". Having just spent the last five weeks living on money we made selling bread, a recipe taught to us by a (now-settled) street performing clown, this fat man's answer- "Because he doesn't have a job", hit some kind of nerve with me. I didn't know this painted man's story, but from my experience talking with street-performers, I didn't feel this explanation could have done him justice. In my sleepy haze I decided to look out for other people making their living in alternative ways. The port end of La Rambla is a good place to start...

Human statue- La Rambla - Barcelona
Street artist- La Rambla- Barcelona
Street artist- La Rambla- Barcelona

Further on, from a distance I spied into the closed circus and wondered what their lives were like inside. Despite having no skills whatsoever meeting other performers had given me a strange fascination with this way of life. The dedication and talent needed to perform their acts and the obvious care with which their wagons and tents were maintained suggested that this was not a home for jobless bums, but for people too easily bored to withstand normal life. 

Circus- Barcelona
Circus- Barcelona

Along the seafront the next day, I wondered how the sand-sculpting men had kept thier intricate creations safe overnight and hoped that they made enough money for a bed when they wanted one. 

sand sculpture- beach- Barcelona

AngloItalian's Feeling like a foreigner at home. sums up a lot of the problems you can experience fitting in when you return to a familiar place feeling like you've changed. Though I wasn't even back in the UK yet, I already felt detached from modern life. Nevertheless, as well as the ready availability of toilet paper, there were other things I couldn't help but feel grateful for despite my mopiness- people were kind to me, I could walk around the streets completely anonymously and there was readily available cheese.


Useful Information


The cheapest place I could find at the time was the invitingly named Cool Hostel. It's absolutely tiny, but has a kitchen and I found the staff really friendly. I could have easily stayed a little longer. The entrance is a little difficult to spot and you need to speak into an intercom button. 


  • Long distance: I haven't tried, but hitch-hiking is notoriously difficult in Spain. Travelling to France, England or even Scotland can be ridiculously cheap and horribly arduous with Megabus. It cost me only £25 and 42 hours of my life. You can obviously fly, but I'd rather not promote Ryan Air or carbon emissions. Check out Skyscanner to compare flights, but be aware of hidden fees. 
  • City transport: The metro is extensive and easy to use, but I enjoyed walking through the streets to get a fuller picture of the city centre. 
Boats- Barcelona
Bubbles- Barcelona

Write a comment

Comments: 9
  • #1

    zoe (Sunday, 22 February 2015 21:41)

    I really enjoyed reading this... It captured the feeling of seeing europe with different eyes - I'd always rolled my eyes a bit when people say "travel changes you!" (really? your contiki tour *changed* you?) but sometimes it really does give a new perspective.

  • #2

    Dan (Sunday, 22 February 2015 23:37)

    I know how this feels. Madrid was such a strange place after South America. Everything was so functional and sterile. I felt so out of place - like I looked homeless even though the same clothes had served me well in almost every concieveable situation in South America

  • #3

    featherytravels (Monday, 23 February 2015 00:13)

    Zoe, I definitely know what you mean about those cringey moments... I once met a guy from a contiki tour who said he'd had a spiritual awakening, then later in the same conversation was telling me about how many girls he'd 'scored' during the trip.

    I miss those clothes and that hair Dan!

  • #4

    Nita (Thursday, 26 February 2015 21:38)

    Aww! Sounds like you really miss South America. I haven't been to that part of the world but I'm sure it's very special. I don't travel long-term, and usually take short trips but can imagine how difficult it must be coming back to things that are supposed to be familiar, but realising they're now strange. Travel gives you a new perspective on life, that's for sure! All the best with everything, Katie :)

  • #5

    featherytravels (Friday, 27 February 2015 12:18)

    Thanks Nita, yeah maybe short-term trips are a better way to stay sane! You've managed to do a lot of travelling that way too! Thanks for dropping by. :)

  • #6

    Becky Padmore (Friday, 27 February 2015 23:07)

    Love this post, I had the same feeling going from spending many months South East Asia and then going to Australia. It felt very strange and dull in comparison!

  • #7

    featherytravels (Sunday, 01 March 2015 16:17)

    Yeah, I remember that transition too. Malaysia to Sydney was such a shock!

  • #8

    Mary {The World Is A Book} (Saturday, 07 March 2015 19:07)

    This was such an interesting read. I can't imagine the type of reverse culture shock you experienced from South America to Europe transition. Some of your street stories really makes one question humanity in this world. I haven't been to Barcelona so I love seeing the architecture and scenes through your eyes.

  • #9

    featherytravels (Monday, 09 March 2015 16:11)

    Thank-you for stopping by Mary. Yeah, I'm not sure if that kind of thing goes on everywhere all the time and I was just ultra-sensitive or it was just a particularly bad set of coincidences. I don't blame Barcelona. It's a beautiful city full of history.

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