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:


“Spring,” I say, looking out from the balcony at a beautifully sunny day, “has sprung.”

My Catalan girlfriend looks at me suspiciously.

“No,” she replies, “spring starts on March 20, the first day of the vernal equinox. We’ve talked about this.”

And indeed we have. Many times. There are not many things we argue about, my girlfriend and I, but the passing of the seasons is one.

Let me explain: as someone who grew up in Britain I have a rather hazy, non-constrictive view of the seasons. They start, I have always believed, on a rough date that has everything to do with the weather and little to do with the calendar. So if there is a day of beautiful spring-like sunshine in early March, say, then spring has to all extents and purposes started.

For my Catalan girlfriend, however, the seasons have very definite dates for starting and finishing. These are based on the vernal equinox (March 20), the summer solstice (June 21, when summer kicks off), the autumnal equinox (September 22, when autumn boots summer out of the way) and the winter solstice (December 21, when winter takes its grim hold).

As you might imagine, this inconsistency in definition, tied to the depressingly real differences between the weather in Scotland and Barcelona, gives us very differing views indeed about what each season contains. And this leads to arguments.

In the interests of inter-European peace, then, I have decided to explain definitively here the differences between the Barcelona seasons - as my girlfriend sees them – and the British ones, in the hope that you, too, may avoid an argument one day.


In Britain, winter is the evil overlord of the seasons, typically running from November to March, inclusive. It will be cold and / or wet, the trains will probably stop running and most foreign visitors will finally realise why central heating is in fact a very good idea.

It is a depressing season, in other words, only enlightened by Christmas, drinking and the very slight possibility that heavy snowfall will keep you off work for a couple of days. Needless to say, going to the beach and – heaven forfend – swimming, should only be done a) as a dare or b) for charity, preferably both.

The Barcelona winter, meanwhile, is seen as something of a relief after all that relentless heat. You will need that heavy coat you so usefully brought from the UK for, maybe, one week total, during which time you will also wonder for the first time why your flat doesn’t possess any heating.

All this will be soon forgotten, though, when March comes around and you realise you could, just about, go swimming in the sea, even if only to tell your friends you did it.


In Britain spring is the most elusive of seasons. It lasts for about a month and mainly consists of moderately sunny days, which each last about 12 hours before winter kicks back in. Spring is a tease, then, and the most deceitful time of the year.

The problem, really, is that spring is actually rather nice in Britain: the sun comes out at last – although not enough to merit the suntan lotion – plants show their bedraggled faces and you can finally ditch the heavy winter coat in favour of the optimistically thin one you bought in the sales. At the back of your mind, though, you know it’s going to be raining again tomorrow.

In Barcelona, “spring” runs from March 20 to June 20, a time when temperatures average about 24 degrees centigrade. You can go swimming, sunbathe on the beach and invite your friends to a barbecue, safe in the knowledge that it won’t be too cold. This, you will hardly need me to tell you, doesn’t exactly constitute spring weather for the British.

Ah but it does rain, the Catalans will say. True: they even have an expression for it: “En Abril, aguas mil, el Maig cada dia un raig” (basically, “In April, lots of rain, in May, a little bit every day”).  But spring in Barcelona is so hot that this rain will be a genuine relief, rather than the guaranteed party pooper it proves in the UK.


Summer is the blessed season in the UK: the sun comes out, everyone goes to the park and not stopping to have a pint in the local beer garden is punishable by law. It’s lovely.

Then again, it only really lasts about two months – July and August – during which time some 80% of the population will go abroad to somewhere warmer anyway. Even then, you’ve probably got about 10 sunny days, unless there’s a “heat wave” (three consecutive days over 30 degrees) during which the trains will stop working again.

Expect to see at least one newspaper headline during the British summer that declares “Britain hotter than Majorca / Ibiza / the Costa Brava”, which you will inevitably read in a thunderous deluge of rain. Nevertheless, summer is basically everyone’s favourite season in Britain and if anyone disagrees they’re just trying to be different.

By contrast, summer is, for many Barcelona dwellers, their least favourite part of the year on the grounds that it is – brace yourself for this, British readers – simply too hot, as if averaging above 30 degrees for three consecutive months was somehow a bad thing.

This partially explains why everyone who is anyone abandons Barcelona in August, leaving just American tourists who spend much of their time wondering why they can’t find a dry cleaner that is open.


Autumn is, according to John Keats, the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. Accordingly many British people will put up an argument for autumn being the most beautiful season and it is, certainly, rather attractive, as the leaves turn a goldy red and the fog rolls in.

Rather like spring, though, it is marred by its elusive nature: it is pretty much guaranteed in Britain that the moment you conclude that autumn is here it will be replaced by the freezing winds and rain of winter. And, quite honestly, who wants to go outside to look at the lovely trees when you know you’ve got a 50% chance of picking up a cold and the pub’s fire is incredibly warming?

In Barcelona, however, autumn is essentially summer 2. There’s a little less humidity, sure, and the mosquitos may retreat an inch. But essentially it is still summer, with all the warmth and outdoor leisure that implies.

Indeed, if it wasn’t for having to go back to work and the fact that the local dry cleaner is open again, then you probably wouldn’t even notice the season had changed. Which is how it should be, surely?



 Madrid abortion protest 1
Police and protestors during February 1 protest against the Ley Gallardón

A leading official in the Spanish Catholic church has likened abortion to a ‘silent holocaust’ and said abortions were evidence of a ‘backward society’.

Bishop of Alcalá de Henares, Juan Antonio Reig Pla, was speaking last week in the run up to Jornada Mariana por la Familia y la Vida, a religious event involving the defence of family values, which will take place on 29 and 30 March. Reig said that women’s freedom cannot be “corrupted” by the defence of “the right to terminate the begotten child”.

His comments come against the backdrop of the controversial Ley Gallardón, a new abortion law recently approved by the Spanish Cabinet, and, unsurprisingly, championed by the Catholic church.

The new law would make it illegal for women to have an abortion except for in the case of rape or if there was a proven risk to their physical or mental health - it would be illegal to abort in the case of fetal malformations. Women would need the signed permission of two separate medical professionals before being allowed to seek a termination.

Contrary to Bishop Reig’s claims that abortions are evidence of a backward society, it is the new law which threatens to set back women’s rights over thirty years.

Spanish women’s groups have said the new law will plunge women’s rights back to the days of the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, “The changes represent a reversal of our right to decide, which will take us back to another era,” said Feminist Coordinator, an umbrella organisation of women’s rights groups.

The new law would make Spain one of the most restrictive European countries on terminations, along with Poland and Ireland and the first EU country to do a U-turn after legalising abortion. The previous Socialist government relaxed abortion laws, giving women the right to abortion up to 14 weeks of pregnancy.

The vast majority of Spaniards disagree with the Reig’s comments - four out of five Spaniards are against the bill and even most Partido Popular (PP - the ruling party) voters think it is unnecessary, with several PP politicians speaking out against the law.

Polls show that over 80 percent of Spaniards, including practicing Catholics, support abortion on demand. 

Madrid abortion protest 2
Protesters during the February 1 march in Madrid 

Protestors have taken to the streets in recent weeks, armed with placards decrying the bill. “I'll be mother if I want to be,” “Bishops and PP, against women” and “Get your rosaries off our ovaries,” were just a handful of the signs carried by protestors in Madrid on 1 February. 

The new law is an issue that cuts to the heart of Spanish society - traditionally Catholic, but increasingly socially liberal - Spain was the third country in the world to legalise same sex marriage, in 2005, and the previous Socialist government of Jose Luis Zapatero made a concerted effort for gender equality - Zapatero’s first government comprised of eight men and eight women.

Critics have pointed out that severely restricting the availability of terminations will not stop terminations, it will merely make it more dangerous and difficult for women to terminate their pregnancies, resulting in women either travelling abroad or going through with unregulated illegal terminations.

The law has even been debated in the European Parliament, with Social Democrats, Greens and other left-wing parties joining forces to reject the proposed changes. Women’s Committee Chairman, Mikael Gustafsson, expressed concern over the new legislation:

“It’s a question of human rights; that women can decide about their own body and that it is not men who decide.”

Many have questioned why the Spanish government would reopen an always controversial and divisive issue when it should really be focusing on the issues most important to Spanish people - the economy and the unemployment rate of 26 percent. 

Spanish inquisition
"Nobody expected the Spanish inquisition"

Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy has consistently defended the bill, arguing that he is fulfilling an election promise.

Justice Minister, Albert Ruiz-Gallardón, has defended the law. “You have my word that no screams or insults could provoke me to abandon my commitment to comply with the (Partido Popular's) platform to regulate the rights of women and the unborn.”

By shifting so far to the right Rajoy risks alienating centre voters, a risky move for an already unpopular prime minister, distrusted by the majority of Spaniards, a year before elections.

Bishop Reig’s comments this week are reminiscent of a time when the Catholic church had an iron grip on the politics of Spain and shows that it still enjoys a great deal of influence among certain sections of the Partido Popular and the right.

Many Spaniards would argue that the backwards society is not the one that allows free access to terminations, as Bishop Reig claims, but one that returns to Franco-era abortion policies, forces women to seek unregulated terminations and most importantly, ignores public opinion, which is clearly and overwhelmingly, against the law.

Why changes to Spain's Erasmus programme are a bad idea

Por: | 07 de marzo de 2014


Cristina Gullón contributed to this article.

It is a “virtuous cycle” according to this Harvard Business review article: better levels of English go hand in hand with an improving economy.

Government plans to cut spending on the Erasmus programme, a scheme offering grants to students wanting study or work abroad, could therefore be stunting future economic growth. Many commentators, including in this paper, have been rather scathing.

Research suggests a raft of economic indicators such as gross domestic product (GDP) and gross national income (GNI) are improved by a good level of English in the general population.

Indeed if we look at this graph comparing GNI per person across Europe with scores on the English Proficiency Index, there aren’t too many surprises. This graph looks a bit boring and serious, but the illustrations do get more colourful. Bear with me.

Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands do well on both counts and Switzerland, whilst sitting half way along the EPI axis, is a country where three other languages are often spoken and  is something of a special case anyway.

Poland Estonia and Hungary all have growing economies and high-levels of English. Their weaker economic starting points make them ones to watch in the future.

But what of Spain?

Spain sits about half way up the chart in terms of income but has the fourth worst English in the sample. Incomes are dropping as the government seeks to get the deficit under control.

France and Italy, behind Spain on levels of English but above on per capita income, should probably rethink too: investing in education including languages is the type of forward thinking that can make all the difference to an economy a couple of election cycles down the line.

When it comes to the Erasmus programme Spain seemed to be doing rather well, perhaps sending disproportionately large numbers of students abroad:

Cutting the number of months that a student spends abroad seems to be the solution the government has plumped for. But four months is a very short time to master a language, meaning less return for investment (see case study).

This could have been used as an indication that Spain is spending in a profligate manner compared to most EU countries, but once we adjust the graph for population any hint of disproportionate spending vanishes.


In this collage Spain is behind many other countries, including those with more successful language teaching in early education, an area where Spain falls down.

Then again, perhaps it is better to look at the figures through the percentage of students in higher-education who take an Erasmus placement. Spain is high on this list, behind only Denmark.

Depending on the glass through which you view this, Spain has either been spending too much or spending wisely.

Looking only at those in education is a narrow way to view the problem, however. After all, this generation’s taxes pay for the last’s state pensions and the next’s education. An investment in education is one for the whole country, not just students. That’s really what the first graph was all about.

How much does Spain spend on the Erasmus programme anyway?

What is more, Erasmus spending isn’t even really that much. With the grand total for mobility spending (helping students with the cost of living abroad) costing €32,251,971 it’s hardly breaking the bank.

Just think: people in the UK spent £1.2billion (1.2 thousand million) on fish and chips last year, according to the Federation of Fish Fryers, whom I suspect may have their numbers wrong.


With joblessness high and more youngsters than ever looking for opportunities abroad, it couldn’t hurt foreign investment in Spanish business, the jobs market or the future of the economy to bolster this important strand of education.

Spain is the most popular destination for Erasmus students

And we shouldn’t forget the boost to the economy provided by Erasmus students coming to Spain: over 39,000 of them.  More than the 26,000 odd that left to study overseas. Spain is the most popular destination in the whole of Europe for Erasmus students and assuming each of those students pays into the country what he or she receives in grants, Spain’s economy may actually gain from the program.


Case Study

By Cristina Gullón

Being an Erasmus student was one of the most important experiences of my life. While I lived in, Siena, Italy, I had the opportunity not only to learn a new language, but also to broaden my horizons and learn a lot about the Italian culture and traditions.

I stayed there for around a year, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have had the same experience if I had spent only four months there.

During my first two months I was lost in the middle of a new country, with a language that I barely spoke, and attending lessons that I couldn’t really understand. But after the first four months, I was fully adapted and I could enjoy all the new great things that Italy had to offer.

Cristina Gullón is a presenter and writer at Deverdad TV.

PerhApps, perhApps, perhApps

Por: | 04 de marzo de 2014

Ear recognition and wrist-worn devices are just two of the eight potential developments in the cellphone market identified in Javier Martín’s article in El País last week about Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress. There are, however, eight other innovative functions and applications that it would be nice to see by the time the city hosts the event in exactly twelve months time, from 2-5 March, 2015. The following list is intended for the benefit of everyone, whether you love or hate, are addicted to or irritated by, your essential communication companion. Of course, as research and development is always top secret, the legitimacy of the information cannot be guaranteed:

InvisiBar This is a service whereby high-tech voice recognition doesn’t permit the user to make a call if he or she is drunk. Market testing suggests that the application has already saved several relationships and prevented hundreds of calls to ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends. A ‘mildly tipsy’ state can be detected, which allows the call to proceed and has the additional attraction of eliminating background noise such as music, social conversation and the clinking of glasses. Auto-correction is carried out for comments like ‘Hi darling. I’m lust jeaving the office, it’s been a dong lay.’

KittyKill Let’s face it, just about everyone is addicted to circulating photos and videos of their cute cat or kitten. Enough is enough, so this proposed facility would automatically delete any message with that content, ideally when the originator presses the 'upload' or 'send' button. Exemptions are being considered if your feline friend can really achieve something unusual, such as unicycling along a curtain rail or playing a ukulele. EP_Phone_crop_Loeil_etranger
"Oh no! Not another cute kitty!"  Photo flickr (CC): L'oeil étranger

2dull Even though your friends and family may not realise it, information about many of their daily activities are often of no interest to you whatsoever – ‘I’m having a cup of coffee’ and ‘Have arrived at the office’ being two prime examples. The 2dull function identifies a pointless message and eliminates it, making sure it never reaches you at all. It would also rule out the worst culprit, ‘What are you doing?’, which craftily feigns interest in you but, in fact, only originates because the sender is completely bored.

Dead-SeeScrolling An option that should be included on all models to assist in breaking the habit of users scrolling their cellphones solely for want of something better to do. If that situation is identified, the function prompts the cellphone to automatically emit, very loudly, the first four lines of ‘Help’ by The Beatles. Embarrassing for the user, but hugely entertaining for everyone else, especially fellow passengers on public transport.

Coooo!!! Still very much in the development phase, this idea incorporates genes from homing pigeons. As a cellphone owner, a small transmitter would be implanted under a your skin, and activate a homing signal automatically if you stray too far from your device. After the activation, the cellphone picks up the signal, sprouts wings, and flies after you. EP_phone_bird

Coooo!!! An early prototype?

Voice-Over Amazing new developments could give sensitive electrodes in a cellphone the potential to identify if using the device is causing anger, irritation and discomfort to people within earshot. Detection would result in a call being cut off automatically, for example if the user is speaking loudly in public places. Call termination is particularly quick if a conversation veers towards the medical history or recent surgical operations of the user’s family.

MoleculArrive May not be available in the near future, but this teleportation application (think ‘Star Trek’) involves setting coordinates that will actually allow your cellphone to ‘beam’ you from point A to point B. Designated as a ‘wearable’ because at present the amount of power required means that the batteries have to be concealed under a hat the size of a large sofa.

U.R.ME The pièce de résistance for cellphone designers. Your cellphone carries out a life analysis by accessing your phone conversations, messages and diary. It will then answer your calls, accept or decline invitations, and organise your entire existence, telling you when to wake up, get dressed, visit the bathroom, eat, work, party or sleep. The cellphone must be plugged in to the back of your head at all times. However, unresolved teething troubles in the testing process have included low batteries, which have resulted in the users having breakfast at nine o’clock at night, bedwetting, and going out naked.

Only time will tell if any of the above come to fruition, but remember that today’s science fiction is tomorrow’s science fact, and for cellphone technology, there’s always a gApp in the market.

El País

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