Category Archives: spain


I wrote this short piece about Christmas in Spain before I realised I would in fact not be in Spain for Christmas.  Nevertheless I hope it might be of some interest to the lovely family coming to Spain to look after my cats whilst I am gone – and anyone else experiencing Christmas in Spain for the first time.

feliz navidadSo here is what I can expect from Spain for Christmas (or Navidades in Spanish). Despite the Chinese Bazar’s being ahead of the game (probably to please their British clientele) – decorations should not appear until December, and if trees are bought into the home, they are put up in mid- December. As well as a tree, some homes may have miniature nativity scenes called Belénes (in fact this was much more of a tradition in Britain when I was growing up in the 1970s than it is today in the UK). In San Pedro del Pinatar, where I live, the Mayor has recently announced a Christmas market between 6-9th December on the main road through town – Avenida Emilio Castelar.  I am hoping for some promised Spanish crafts and less imported tat – fingers crossed.[Ed’s note: I went, it was disappointing and not very Christmassy at all]. There are always Christmas markets in Cartagena and Murcia for more authentic Christmas atmosphere.


Despite Christmas being clearly less commercial in Spain, the festive season is usually kicked off by a session of money worship – the biggest lottery draw of the year on the 22nd December. The numbers take hours to draw and it is one of the most watched things on television all year. I don’t think I will be buying a ticket!


Christmas dinner is likely to start with seafood – usually prawns, followed by either roast lamb or turkey (filled with truffles), with a dessert of turrón or polvorones – both sweets made from almonds, washed down with a glass of Cava. The big family Christmas meal is likely to be eaten with much extended family on 24th December – known in Spain as Nochebuena before the main event, which is a visit to church for Midnight Mass. After the service, which includes carols accompanied by drums, tambourines and guitars, the celebrations continue with a noisy walk through the streets, many bringing the musical instruments with them.

On 25th December, when the British celebrate Christmas day, the Spanish nurse hangovers, remain with family, and may go out for a meal.  Shops are all closed, but there are no real presents exchanged until January. On the 28th the Spanish celebrate a kind of “April Fools Day” and tricks are played on one another to reveal who is the most “inocente”.


New Year’s Eve or NocheVieja is a big celebration all over Spain. People tend to stay at home until midnight then party in the street or in hotels and clubs. Traditionally the Spanish eat 12 grapes on the 12 strokes of midnights to bring in good luck for every month of the new year.


As in many European countries, Epiphany or Fiesta de Los tres Reyes Mages is celebrated on 6th January – the 12th night after Christmas. The day before sees places all over Spain celebrate with processions of sweet-throwing floats. In San Pedro del Pinatar the “kings” arrive by boat in Lo Pagan and catch the road train to the town centre, showering treats as they go. In the Sierra Nevada it is rumoured the kings can be seen skiing down the mountain. It is believed that the 6th is the day the kings bought presents to baby Jesus, so it is when most Spanish children will open their presents. In recent times, however Papá Noel also brings presents on Christmas Eve. Traditionally on the night of the 5th January Spanish children leave their shoes on their windowsills or doorsteps overnight (or more recently under a Christmas tree) in the hope they will be filled with sweets and treats by the three Kings. A drop of Cognac or fruit is sometimes left for the Kings and even water left for their camels. If the Kings are displeased with the children they might leave coal. Whether you get coal or sweets you are likely to be enjoying a Roscón de Reyes (a ring shaped cake) for breakfast.

Wherever you are in the world – I wish you a Feliz Navidad!



Costa Calida Chronciles

Since embarking on another adventure to Spain, I have barely written here.  This is partly because my creative writing juices have been depleted by writing a monthly column in the Costa Calida Chronicle (Septembers article at the bottom of this page, but you can catch up on other months on their website).

Another draw has been the novel I am writing (18,000 words so far) and the amount of time I have spent painting and photographing my surroundings.  For this blog entry I thought, therefore to illustrate my experiences so far with a slide show of images.  Click on an image if you want to know more.

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costa calida chronicle CJ article september-2014


San Pedro del Pinatar – first impressions

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Saturday a group wearing pointed capirotes (hoods with eye holes) marched around the small Spanish town of San Pedro del Pinatar. Drums thumped, police blocked roads, and a small crowd gathered. This procession has taken place every day during my first (Holy) week here. Yesterday was Easter Sunday and the parade had grown twenty fold at least, as had the onlookers. Drummers were joined by a brass section and toddlers in white tunics and adolescents wearing mirrored sunglasses tossed cheap sweets at scrabbling, laughing children. Black-laced ladies paced morosely behind and a statue of Jesus rose again and again on the shoulders of cassock-wearing locals.

The procession circled the centre of town, passing bars and shops, banks and offices. Ad hoc food stalls were set up and many of those witnessing the spectacle were tourists, a handful of Brits among them. Having recently moved to the town to see whether a life can be made here, I wasn’t sure quite how I fitted in. My camera annoyingly ran out of batteries at the crucial moment of Jesus passing, so I reverted to quick-sketching what was around me. Pressing myself against a wall in the cool of the shade, I self-consciously scribbled away – the procession thankfully moved at a snails-pace and stopped frequently. But pencil couldn’t capture the gold-braid, the ruby red cloaks, the whiteness of the St Peter’s church against the blueness of the skies. Eventually I closed my notepad and just observed, as did many of the townsfolk – emerging from their homes, arms folded in quiet stillness.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlthough quite famous, the Easter parade had a gentle modesty that impressed me. It is the same modesty that led me to choose San Pedro del Pinatar as a place to live. The architecture doesn’t shout at you – there are no bold or flamboyant statements to be found and the clean(ish) streets are lined with simple palm and pine trees (as the name suggests). Perhaps the town’s ease with itself is down to the natural landscape surrounding it: There are breathtaking views across a colossal sparkling salt-water lagoon that take in a hulking mountain range alongside the equally hulking man-made high-rises on the spit of La Manga. The local waters are also home to flocks of pink flamingos, yachts and kite surfers. With sun, sea and landscape presented in such an extra-ordinary way – it is no wonder the charm of the people and the town of San Pedro appears so effortless.

In a Spain that we are told is struggling with unemployment levels and economic pressures, there feels like a subtle resilience at play in this small town. The are some boarded up shops and evidence of building projects started but not finished – but the town seems to shrug it off and get on with life. Whatever hardships there may be, the San Pedro del Pinatarians are hiding it well – and with good spirit – in just a week we have met friendly neighbours and exchanged holas with everyone who passes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe surprisingly unpretentious yet glorious Easter parade is no signal that the town is not modern. Wifi zones are popping up everywhere, not unattractive graffiti art covers walls and the town has a state-of-the-art skate park. I look forward to reflecting on this place more with my art and writing in the weeks and months to come and ultimately inviting friends to be inspired by this place too.

The Passion of Catalunya

I have recently noted an internal decline in my desire to write.  There is no decline however in my desire to make and take images.  So, as I have done with Islamabad, Baghdad and Kabul – here is Barcelona in pictures.  See if you can tell what I am trying to say without words.  Apparently a picture paints a thousand of them.

(double click on images to see them as a slideshow)

Majorca, Multi-culturalism & Michael Schumacher


Those of you who know me well, will know of my fascination with the perception of people and places.  I have to admit, before I arrived in Majorca I thought of Spanish tack, red-neck Brits and cheap beer.  Because I am a Formula 1 fan, I also held a view that the Spanish were racist (remembering times when Alonso was Lewis Hamilton’s teammate at McLaren).

The beer was not that cheap, the tack was well….tacky and the Brits?  Surprisingly were a delightful  eclectic mix.  This week I spent a couple of cheap days in Porto d’Alcudia in the north of Majorca.   It was a refreshing experience for many reasons – not least because it challenged by own perceptions.  For a start the “Spanish” were in fact Catalan. And some of them were African, some Chinese and scoring a delicious saag paneer, coconut rice and mushroom curry washed down with a mango lassie, I discovered that some Majorcans originated from the Punjab.

The supermarkets were well stocked up with crates of some of the cheapest, craziest alcohol in Europe (absinthe for example) – but the clientele (at least out of season) did not appear that interested.  Bottles were not flying off the shelves, and tourists seemed more impressed with bicycle rickshaws which whole families could hire for as cheap as 6 Euros an hour.Image

There were Muslim Brits from London, Jamaicans from Birmingham, Groups from Ulster, Yorkshire and Devon. There was middle class triteness and a certain up-tightness.  There were coffee-coloured babies.  Asian babes.  Red skins, white skins. White Irish gypsies getting their hair braided. And more mixed-race couples than Nick Griffin could shake a stick at. In response to this deluge of British diversity Majorca responds with Chinese restaurants, curry houses, Irish pubs, Italian pizzerias and Mexican bars.

This might not be a revelation to some, but coming from an industry which patronisingly acknowledges the importance of “grass roots” initiatives (in other words “working class”) it was a real pleasure to witness a multiculturalism that hadn’t been fabricated by Guardian-reading liberals, where people from all walks of British (and German) life rubbed shoulders in apparent harmony.

Not only that, but the island was beautiful.  The perception may be of tatty tourism, but the rolling mountains were bigger than that.  Rural Majorca could have been mistaken for Tuscany, and the turquoise seas as clear and perfect as any in St Juan-Les-Pins.

Once I managed to tear myself away from the only Go-Kart track on the island (who celebrated Lewis with a giant cut out of him) – my only problem was that I had forgotten to pack a beach towel.  No fear – the bargain kiosks that lined the street to the beach had plenty – at 5 Euros a pop.  I was drawn by a towel bearing the beaming grin of Michael Schumacher. Tic Tac logo on his helmet from his Ferrari days. On enquiring I discovered no Lewis, no Jenson, not even Alonso graced the space on a beach-towel in Majorca.  Clearly Michael had discovered what I had – that this island of the Balearics, was a good place to be.