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:

Madrid: Craft Beer O'Clock

Por: | 25 de julio de 2012


North of Madrid, in the town of Colmenar Viejo, a German man and his Cuban wife are brewing beer. I visited their craft brewery a few weeks back, with a hiking group, after a walk in the mountains. Stefan and Lena – the founders of Cervezas Lest – gave us beer to drink and told us about the burgeoning craft beer scene in Madrid.

“I like the northern gods,” says Stefan as he hands out bottles of Thor, one of his three beers (the other two are Odin and Freya). While we sip the dark, smoky-flavoured brew, he talks about the state of Spanish beer. The country remains largely in the grip of a handful of industrial brewers, and has been left a little in the dust when it comes to the internationally-flourishing craft beer movement. Catalonia does have a ten-year-old craft beer scene, with a number of local breweries and a string of craft beer bars. Valencia also has a clutch of small-batch breweries.

But Madrid, despite posing as a cosmopolitan powerhouse, hasn’t kept pace. Apart from a couple of small brewers, the capital has remained stubbornly soaked in Mahou.

Finally that’s changing. Stefan and Lena launched Lest in November. And they’re part of a rising tide of craft breweries, shops and bars opening up throughout the city.

“There are thousands of rumours of local breweries that are going to start up,” says Juanma, co-owner of La Buena Pinta, a new craft beer shop in Lavapiés’ San Fernando market. The shop's shelves are a kaleidoscope of different brews – pale ales, lagers, lambics, Trappists, Belgians, stouts, porters – from Madrid, Spain and the world. And Juanma keeps a few in the fridge in case you feel like a drink and a chat.

A telecommunications engineer by trade and a beer lover from way back, he was laid off two and half years ago. “I was forty-six and unemployed, in the middle of an economic crisis.” The time was ripe for personal reinvention, hence La Buena Pinta. And therein lies a curious rub – Spain’s economic armageddon is helping bring good beer to Madrid. The two guys who last year opened Cervezorama, a craft beer shop near Metro Bilbao, were also out of work. As was Javi, who runs El Pedal, a craft beer bar on Calle Argumosa. He lost his job as a photographer in 2008 and opened El Pedal last September.

“What gets me is there’s no proper beer culture here,” says Javi, as he mops the bar five minutes before opening. Behind him one hundred and thirty craft beers line the wall. “People in Madrid just aren’t used to drinking different beers.” I ask him if the economic crisis is the right time to try to open Madrilenians’ minds, as well as their wallets (small brewers by their very nature can’t compete with the big guys on price). He says as the beer culture develops, people will spend the extra money. “Little by little, we’re creating a market.” In the meantime, a fair few customers still sit down and order a caña of Mahou. And Javi abides, sort of. “I’m no beer Nazi. If people ask for Mahou, I’ve got Alhambra.”

Unimaginative beer drinkers are shown less leniency at Irreale, a beer bar that just opened in triBall. Behind the burnished-brass bar top there are six (soon to be nine) beers on tap, all of them craft. The selection is curated by Iacopo, an effusive Roman beer aficionado. “Most customers start with a lager or a blonde and then go from there,” he says. Beside me, a craft beer virgin peers at the menu and says in a hushed, apologetic tone that he knows nothing about beer. That’s exactly what Iacopo wants to hear. He asks the man his likes, his dislikes and slowly leads him into a brave new world of Indian pale ales and chocolate stouts.

Still to come is Fábrica Maravillas, a Malasaña brewpub being set up by six Malasaña locals. I met two of them – Thierry, a Frenchman, and his Spanish wife Estefanía. Their pub is still being fitted out and, once done, they’ll be brewing several varieties on-site – to drink in the bar or take away in six packs. They hope to turn on the taps in a couple of months.

“We believe beer consumption can go back to what it was 100 years ago, when it was truly local,” says Thierry. Back in his native Brittany, he says the Bretons imbibe – for the most part – local, independent brews. And that’s the culture they want to create in Madrid.

What does Mahou think of all of this? Are they anxious about the capital’s craft beer rumblings? No, says Thierry. He adds with a laugh that Spain’s big industrial brewers control 99% of the national market. But small breweries are thriving overseas and Thierry believes craft beer will take root in Madrid, despite the city’s caña culture. “The beer revolution is happening and once you’ve tried good beer, it’s very hard to go back.”

We drank to that.

James is a Madrid-based travel writer (, @jamesblick78)

Bologna Universities: All work and no play?

Por: | 19 de julio de 2012

The end of an ERASMUS year signals countless despedidas, frantic searching for low cost airfare (as you’ve been in denial about leaving and left it to the last minute), and more than anything reflection. Not only how you’ve developed as a person, but also on the institute where you’ve just spent the past year as an alumno.

I came to Spain with some firm stereotypes in mind. Largely derived from its mañana reputation and the brilliant French language film ‘L’auberge espagnole’, it is fair to say siesta, tapas, fiesta y un poquito de estudio would be a wholly accurate summary of what I expected to encounter – all different to work oriented England.

Typical Spanish: What I was expecting (Photo: BeLiP, Flickr)

Well, the differences between English and Spanish universities ARE immense – and that’s excluding the fact it’s all in a different language. Spanish Universities implement the Bologna Higher Education System, a framework developed by the EU to level out the varying types and difficulties of degrees in Europe. Bologna is designed to give students more contact hours with teachers, which inevitably means more modules, and as a consequence more work. In this respect it is a positive move, certainly some of the most frequent complaints to come out of my mouth – or that of my compañeros de clase back in Blighty - are annoyances such as “This just hasn’t been explained properly”, “they went over that topic too quickly” and “we don’t get anywhere near enough contact hours for our tuition fees”. These negatives are expelled with the heavily work orientated Bologna; in fact, you actually do far more than is necessary. 

Here the immediate difference with (certainly my, and I presume other) English universities becomes apparent: a minimum of four hours a week (normally two in large theory classes and two in smaller practical, seminar type classes) per module – as opposed to two. Five modules each semester – as opposed to three, adding up to 60 credits over the space of an academic year, with an average of 20 mandatory hours a week in the classroom with a small number (usually three) of faltas (absences) granted at the discretion of the professor. Medical absence without a signed doctors note is not tolerated and a registration (yes, seriously) is taken during some point of the class. I use the word class rather than lecture throughout I feel it is more appropriate given the system is more school-like than that of one that should be in an institute for adult higher education. Under Bologna you are not permitted to pass the module if you have more than the permitted amount of absences from each module, and this writer for one spent many an early morning groggily chugging down big bottles of water and espresso coffees to avoid the, quite frankly embarrassing fate of being told you’ve missed class too many times, don’t bother coming back.

Practical classes generally consist of supervised work on something that you have prepared the week before the class, which you hand over to the professor for marking, and the cycle is repeated week after week. A mark is given for each class, and if you don’t pass the practical part of the module, you can’t pass the module full stop. Not even if you get 100% in the exam – it’s that simple. The practical modules can be a drag on students as often they are asked to read several chapters, if not an entire book for the next class. I personally had a module where we were asked to read two 400 plus page books for next weeks lesson, something I’d find pretty daunting in English. Needless to say, I scheduled an appointment at my local centro de salud for the exact time and day of said class before dropping out of the module soon after.

The lecturers seem to forget that students have four other modules for which they also may have to do a lot of work, putting an incredible amount of strain on students who, let’s not forget, have the right to a life outside of the faculty doors. “It’s an utter joke, this” said one of my classmates, “I want to go to the language college (an activity growing ever more popular as job prospects diminish) and learn English, but I can’t as I’m always doing ‘homework’ or reading”. Another added “I’m lucky that I live with my parents. I know a lot of people who need to work to help whilst living away from home but can’t because (of the university)”. Indeed, a lot of students feel patronised by the system of education and feel they are being treated like children, still in secondary school, joking they may get a detention for not doing their so called ‘homework’.

What I got: Is too much being asked of Spanish students under the Bologna Plan? (Photo: cara.lepore, Flickr)

It becomes obvious that under the academic umbrella of Bologna, in Spain students are not afforded the luxury of free time (something we take for granted) that is enjoyed in British universities, with part-time jobs, social lives and general pursuance of other extra-curricular activities extremely difficult to combine with degrees, especially in my faculty where the workload is demanding, with many classes starting at 8am, and going on until as late as 9pm.

I therefore return with a completely new al revés outlook on both the Spanish and English higher education systems. Maybe our home universities aren’t all work, work, work after all, and are in fact more fiesta, siesta y un poquito de estudio than we realise. It’s just a shame I’ll be leaving the tapas behind.


¡Adios España!

Por: | 18 de julio de 2012

Many Spaniards are heading abroad to look for work as the economic crisis worsens 

Aeroplane el pais

Mariano Rajoy’s announcement last Wednesday 11 July of a new, €65 billion austerity plan means Spaniards look set to be hit harder than ever by the economic recession that is ceaselessly ravaging the country. With unemployment figures even higher than Greece at 24%, there is a stagnant feeling among many that the situation is likely to remain this way for a very long time. With the light at the end of the tunnel growing dimmer and dimmer, young graduates and older professionals alike are setting their sights beyond Iberian borders in search of work. 

When I arrived in Madrid last October beggars here looked like beggars you might find in Paris, London or New York. Hard on their luck men and women, disheveled and homeless, they would wander the metro or sit on street corners asking for money. More recently though, another category of beggar has become more noticeable. Last week on the metro man got on. He was wearing trousers and a shirt, smart, but creased and fading, as if they had been worn for a few days in a row. His face was tired and the bags under his eyes weighed heavy. He explained, almost embarrassedly, to the carriage that he was out of work, received no benefits and had a family to support. Any help would be most appreciated. Passengers averted their gazes awkwardly, many, I’m sure, not wanting to confront what the recession is doing to people, and could quite easily do to them. 

While many average Spaniards are getting by with a sharp tightening of their belts, the new wave of people being driven to beg surely points to a worsening situation, one that is becoming precarious for many families. Especially those without savings, who could go from relative comfort to poverty in a matter of weeks if the main breadwinner loses his or her job. The sense of doom at an unknown future is causing many Latin American immigrants to return to their home countries - figures for emigration are now higher than immigration - and many professionals to look for jobs abroad. Lots of people are already teetering on the edge, and many would prefer to jump into the unknown of working abroad than wait and see how bad the Spanish crisis gets. 

Noelia Soriano, 24, has just graduated from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid with a degree in Nursing. She has been unable to find a job related to nursing or otherwise, and estimates that only around 20% of her classmates have been successful, “It is practically impossible to find work when health workers are being made redundant throughout Spain,” she says. For Noelia’s classmates, further study seems to be the best option, as most are currently pursuing postgraduate qualifications. But, however well qualified you may be, the situation in Spain is worrying, and unemployment figures are set to continue to rise with the new bout of cuts. 

“Moving abroad is definitely something I haven’t ruled out,” says Noelia, who acknowledges the importance of language skills in making the decision to move, “Knowing more than one language definitely means you are likely to find work abroad that would be impossible to find here in Spain.”

One language in particular is top of the list for Spaniards looking for work abroad - English. There had been a huge surge in the number of professionals taking English classes during the economic crisis. Parents, more than ever, want their children to learn English from a young age in order to give them better chances in life, while English after school clubs and summer camps are more popular than ever. In fact, the teaching of English is perhaps the only sector in Spain that is flourishing rather than suffering. 

Rajoy el pais

Mariano Rajoy's announcement of more austerity measures has angered many Spaniards

The number of Spaniards looking for work abroad has risen by 22% since 2008, when unemployment figures reached record levels. The top destinations for Spaniards seeking work abroad are the United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland; the United Kingdom having seen an increase of 16% in the number of Spaniards moving there since 2008. Browse the internet and you will discover the array of websites and companies now offering to help Spaniards relocate and find work abroad, the business of moving itself is one that is booming. 

The United Kingdom is, without doubt, the top destination for Spaniards. They can legally work there under EU law, unlike the USA or other English-speaking countries. It is also close enough and has good enough air links that they can regularly return to Spain, for you find that Spaniards, on the whole, are moving out of necessity and not because they want to leave their beloved country. 

Spaniards are particularly attached to their country and the Spanish way of life is one that can be difficult to emulate abroad, especially in radically different countries like Britain or Germany. According to a Spanish friend of mine, Spaniards would much rather stay in Spain earning less money, but retaining the same lifestyle, friends and family than move abroad in search of higher salaries. 

But with last Wednesday’s news of yet more cuts, Spaniards will find it increasingly difficult living in their own country and inevitably, the number of Spaniards leaving Spain will only continue to soar. 


Photograph 1 Kuster & Wildhaber Photography (flickr) 

Photograph 2 Contando Estrelas (Flickr)  

The Spanish revolt

Por: | 13 de julio de 2012

Spaniards have finally lost patience with their government and are showing their anger through a series of protests

Miners madrid

Having lived in Spain during the past year when unemployment figures rose by 4% to 24%, the highest in Europe, I have noticed that Spaniards have been, well, how to put this, calm. Not a trait usually attributed to Spaniards, I have been surprised at many of my colleagues’ and friends’ attitudes towards the economic crisis. Many people have taken an almost resigned attitude, no one likes or particularly supports the cuts, of course, but many people feel that they are necessary to get Spain out of recession. 

With the exception of the one day general strike on 29 March this year, there has been little unrest, certainly nothing to rival the Greeks, who have seen a tumultuous year of, sometimes shocking, acts of protest, such as the 77-year old man who shot himself outside the Greek parliament, writing in a suicide note that the government had cut his pension to nothing. Nothing even close to the kind of unrest that has occurred in Greece has hit Spain, but this week, there have been signs that perhaps Spaniards’ patience has been tested too far, that maybe Spaniards have just had enough. 

On Tuesday evening, thousands of miners, some of whom had marched for days from the north of Spain, marched down the Gran Vía, Madrid’s main street, their headlamps lit. They made for an impressive and arresting sight. They were marching towards the Industry ministry to protest against plans to slash coal industry subsidies from €301m last year to €111m this year. Unions say the cuts threaten 30,000 jobs and could destroy their industry.


Wednesday saw yet more protesting along the Castellana, once of Madrid’s main streets, towards the Industry Ministry, with police firing rubber bullets at crowds of protestors. Photographs published soon after showing a blood-soaked woman show how suddenly serious the atmosphere of protest has become in Madrid. Wandering down the Castellana yesterday after the protest outside the Ministry of Industry, banners bearing slogans of, ‘Sin pan, sin paz‘ (without bread, without peace),justicia’ (justice) and ‘no’ next to a picture of some scissors (no cuts) lay strewn across the street. 

On Thursday, civil servants protested against the planned cuts to their Christmas bonus pay, stopping traffic on some of Madrid’s main streets. They are planning to reconvene to protest at midday and six o’clock everyday from now on. 

There was a sense at the beginning of Rajoy’s presidency that, despite not necessarily liking him or his party, he was only doing what was necessary to rescue Spain. Now, after breaking a campaign pledge not to raise taxes, Rajoy risks turning the entire population against him. 

“I said I would reduce taxes and I am increasing them...the circumstances have changed and I have to adapt myself to them”, Mr Rajoy said. 

Many Spaniards are becoming desperate and there are very few who have not felt the difficult effects of government cuts.They are less inclined to give Rajoy the benefit of the doubt, and now protesting has really got going, protests could very well continue and increase over the coming weeks. Reactions look set to get angrier as an increasing number of Spaniards feel the effects of even more cuts. 

Photograph - agm92 (Flickr)

El País

EDICIONES EL PAIS, S.L. - Miguel Yuste 40 – 28037 – Madrid [España] | Aviso Legal