Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

Hotel Homeless

Por: | 30 de octubre de 2011

This is a disclaimer: the following words are an entirely experimental mixture of journalism and fiction (journafication). If you are sensitive to opaque interplays between objectivity and creativity in writing, please discontinue reading now. 


This is funny (, thought the idealistically inclined woman. The hotel is there, in real life, real flesh, real bricks and real bones (of the people who have taken it over). But in reality, it is much more of a metaphor. A utopia. Or should you say an utopia, she wandered, walkingly? No matter about insignificant linguistic differences. Creativity matters in the end. Not conformity. Creativity. Creating a new way of life in the limited confines of an abandoned building.


What this was was a Brave New World. A temporary idea inside the rushing, beautiful bubble of troubled humanity in Madrid.


The protests began in late spring, when the trees were full of blooming flowers which would soon bloom no more, and continued in autumn, when the leaves began to fall softly, noiselessly, brownly, to the floor of the nearby Retiro Park. They called the Retiro ‘The Lungs of Madrid’. In that case, what would this hotel be? The feet, possibly, she thought.


She walked up to the idea within the autumnal bubble with the quiet, good intentions of a woman believing in a better world and yet not quite sure how to bring it about. She ran her plan through her head again so she could tell her children all about it when she came home. The protestors are occupying the empty hotel for the good of the people. That is the idea. Since no one was using the building they thought they might use it to make a difference.


Hotel Homeless. That is what it might be called, if there was an official naming to be done. Then you could smash a grand bottle of champagne against the first floor balcony there, where the signs hang and where people look down at the un-revolutionary people passing by with shopping bags below. Right in the heart of the shopping district.


Again, she thought walking carefully up to it (as careful as if the mere placement of a wrong stop in the approach might cause the police to clear the whole place), the hotel is a metaphor for all of society. Only in reverse. Those who check in to homelessness want the stay to be as brief as possible. And they cannot hope for any luxury when they pass through its revolving doors. Also, the stay threatens to become permanent, with the current eviction laws in Spain needing to be changed radically ( to favour the banks less and the people more.


She had very grand ideas, sweeping, large, mushy, tender, hopeful ideas, and she wanted none of them dashed ( as she turned now and entered quite easily into the occupied hotel. A few days earlier she had read about the new organisation of the hotel into thematic floors and that an elderly lady and a baby were amongst those occupying the hotel. (


Now that very article hung up there on the wall in the first floor. It hung there on the wall. Without moving. But moving something. But that was a bit later, when she had swirled magically up the red stairs. Now she walked in to the place. There was a dark feeling at first in her stomach but then it was gone inside, and she was free and lightly dabbled along. The radio played in the reception. No one stopped her.  


She twirled up the stairs. Then she was in the new world, the brave new world, this brave new world which had a chess board sitting there on the inside of the room you saw from outside with the people leaning out. There was no one playing chess. But the possibility of chess was there. Intellectual, this revolution, she thought, and noted it down in her mental notebook. Then she talked to a man from communication. He said that the protest movement needed a warm place to stay in winter. Pictures were exchanged.  


Then there were more notes to be made. The board with necessities. Coffee. Milk. And tomato sauce. These were the very basic necessities of the new world. A few moments later she saw the toilets, which looked normal too. And then there outside the toilets stood the baby cart. It was empty. So it was true what was written. There really seemed to be a baby involved in this.


The top floor of the hotel was the place for evicted people to live. This is ideal, she thought. Because whoever will forgive us, in 20 or 50 years when we have become less selfish and more human, for having left buildings standing empty and unused when thousands were sleeping on the streets? Where is the humanity in that?


Matthias Krug ( ) is a Madrid-based writer of fiction and journalism, whose first novel is entitled ‘Selfishness’ and is available on Amazon.  

Where Learning is Against the Law

Por: | 24 de octubre de 2011


“What did you do today at school?”


“Come on! You always say that. Now tell me, what did you do today?”

“I am serious! We did nothing…well…at least for one hour.”

And while Jr. can be a bit of a hormone-driven pain in the neck these days, at least this time, he is telling the truth…and for that matter, so is every student in the entire Spanish public school system. Or to be more exact, those who choose not to take as truth tales where freak storms and perfumed mists are caused by petrified foreskins found in quaint Italian villages.

Because for two hours every week, those kids who are somewhat sceptical about tales of a man finding gravity a nuisance in Jerusalem and shooting into the air on a flying horse or others moonwalking on the sea of Galilee, sit in class and do…nothing.

Welcome to the clase de nada, an educational black hole where learning is forbidden by law, one that was passed by the PSOE in 2006. Since then, for two hours a week, those who aren’t so sure of the infallibility of an elderly German living in the centre of Rome are taken from their classrooms and thrown into limbo, and we’re not talking about Hawaiian shirts balancing under a pole, nor the one where unbaptized children float above bubbling lakes of burning sulphur.

In this limbo, their teachers are meant to monitor but in no way are to reinforce core subjects and thus exercise the verb form of their calling. For this would give the limboers an unfair advantage over those who do choose to remain in the classroom to learn about legal land deeds given to a ‘chosen’ people several millennia ago.

As there is no defined curriculum for this particular dance class, each school becomes a sort of free zone where it’s up to the Director of Studies to choose what to do over the hundred or so hours that the students will lose over the academic year. Classes can range from homework time and extensive reading to chess and most frequently, Jr’s aforementioned nothing.

In schools where there are few abstainers, the unchosen infidels are left to color at the back of the Gallery-24-hours-in-pictu-0015 classroom while the teacher presents as truth a book that finds stoning an adequate response to things like adultery. Perhaps worse yet, the little ones are sometimes bundled in with special needs classes (when they themselves need no extra support) and often mistakenly feel that they are being punished for the simple fact of not believing that women were created from Adam’s rib.

This situation might be conceivable in a modern democracy if the demand for religion were overwhelming throughout the ages of obligatory education. However statistics show that, while the majority of parents of very young learners choose religion classes for their children, the numbers sharply drop off after that special age here in Spain when kids receive Playstations, mobile phones and trips to Disneyland in return for taking the first communion. In fact, once they reach secondary education, less than half choose to sit through sermons about the evils of pork products and masturbation.

A closer look at the misleadingly named Religion class shows that it also discriminates among believers. To date, only the Catholic Church, Evangelical Christians, Muslims and Jews have been given the right to assign teachers to impart their beliefs in the public school system, leaving the children of Buddhists, Hindus, Scientologists and followers of Odin and Baal in the same situation as non-believers, back in the clase de la na’.

But even though these few faiths have been given the right on paper, according to the United Islamic Community (UCIDE), 90% of Islamic students do not have access to classes on Islam. Other religious communities have even less representation. The socialists’ weak attempt to obviate the Catholic Church’s privileged position falls completely flat when you leave the bigger cities in the country.

This burning bush situation can only be explained by referring back to the infamous concordat that was signed with the Vatican just months after the current constitution became law. A treaty that has since saddled its Iron Age commandments on this relatively young democracy. A legal agreement in which the Spanish government agrees to offer religious education in its public school system and to allow the Catholic Church to appoint its own teachers. Educators who don’t have to go through the ordeal of public examinations that other teachers do yet are paid by the tax payer. Jesusanddinosaur

Richard Dawkins has said it on many occasions, there is no such thing as Muslim, Catholic, Hindu, Zoroastrian or Jewish children. Just as there is no such thing as Fascist, IU or PP kids. These are ideas that their parents are free to hold in an open and just society, but ones that have absolutely no place in public schools. A place where learning and instilling curiosity should be paramount, where classes teaching children to be happy with nonanswers are relegated to history books and where invincible concordats and fairy tales of Adam and Eve riding on dinosaurs are saved for Sundays.



Sweet Sweet Burgers

Por: | 21 de octubre de 2011

Hamburgers 2

There’s no avoiding it: hamburgers are all the rage in Madrid right now. They pervade the menus of restaurants that range from the corner bar on my street to those of Michelin starred chefs. And while they seem to be everywhere, in my humble Midwestern opinion, the good ones are few and far between. Do I sound bitter?  I might. Years ago when I opened my restaurant in Madrid, I propositioned my partner to create a menu of ‘gourmet’ burgers and was promptly shot down. Alas, I could be a burger-baron right now – if only I’d had the gumption. Despite my shortcomings, I do consider myself to be rather an expert in this field, so imagine my shock upon tasting the surprising ‘hamburger’ made by chef Manu Jara at the Millesime Madrid gastronomic event, being held now (from October 19-21st) in the Casa de Campo.

The twist to this appealing slider, with its apparently juicy beef patty, slice of cheddar cheese, dab of ketchup and sesame seed bun, is that it’s actually a dessert. The ‘bun’ is made from artisanal brioche sprinkled with black sesame seeds and brown sugar, the ‘cheese’ from Andalusian oranges with a touch of mango and the ‘ketchup’ from fresh tomato jam infused with vanilla, while the burger itself is a chocolate (and I want to say Nutella) patty that is crunchy on the outside and soft and yielding within. And though I’m not much for sweets, the illusion of the savory hamburger is so great that I ate two of them, one right after the other, as if trying to make sense of it all.

Manu Jara’s workshop, Mas Que Postres, is located in the town of Mairena del Alcor in Seville. Born in France, where he completed his studies and began a career as a pastry chef, Jara eventually made his way to Spain. He spent five years as Head Pastry Chef at the Michelin star Restaurante Zalacaín in Madrid, among others, before moving to Seville over ten years ago. He now divides his time between teaching his trade, writing about it and creating these magical sweets, which are often as deceptive as they are delightful: a bar of soap made of chocolate and rice pudding, a tin of cheesecake that might be mistaken for a can of sardines, or a miniature jar of preserves that is actually a rum-soaked cake with pineapple jelly. And all the while, I just can’t stop dreaming about those burgers.

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