My Erasmus Experience – Post #6 – The Festive Period

Christmas and the festive period is probably my favourite time of year, as cliché as that might sound, it’s true. Summer is great and all, with the hot weather and holidays, but as I’ve got older I’ve found less excitement in being able to go outside in t-shirt and shorts. The transition between Autumn and Winter is a brilliant time for photography. It’s as if the whole colour palette of the world changes, bringing a blue hue to everything and being accompanied by deep oranges, yellows and golds. That’s what winter in the UK is like, but Spain was different. The day before I left to go home for Christmas, I was sitting outside on our balcony reading a book wearing a t-shirt, jeans and sunglasses. It felt like a slightly colder summers day, and didn’t give me ‘that Christmas feeling’ at all. Which was disappointing, as I’d hoped to be in a festive mood for my journey home. I didn’t even have ‘Driving Home For Christmas’ on my iPod.

The centre of Madrid had been decorated for Christmas in a truly outlandish manner. In truth it was pretty, especially in the late evening when the sun was setting and the lights came on. But something I hadn’t considered was just how religious this country is. Now I have nothing against religion at all, and I am in no way slating the Christian faith, but a person can only see so many fake plastic recreations of the nativity scene before believing their going a little mad. Everywhere we seemed to go there’d be another beautifully crafted, perfectly arranged recreation of Our Savior’s birth, set into huge glass cases or wooden houses. They looked wonderful and seemed to make a lot of people happy, but what annoyed me was that nearby to these displays would be a conveniently placed, brand new cigarette machine, or a pop-up bar or baked corn stand of some kind. Any excuse to make money of people during the festive period seems to have been put in motion.

The festive period is definitely a lot shorter in the UK. After Christmas it’s just a countdown until the New Year, and then after that it’s a slow trudge back to school, uni or work. In Madrid the celebrations keep on going for a while afterwards, with a festival called The Three Kings being one of the main highlights of the year. This article explains it very well. I’ve heard this festival is more beloved than Christmas, as it’s the Spanish time for giving gifts more so than the 25th of December. Not that festivities should be enveloped in the glory of the modern Capitalist world, but who doesn’t like opening presents under a tree that was more expensive than the neighbours’. So the decorations are still hanging and the parties are only getting better. As I write this I wonder if our town of Villaviciosa de Odon are having some kind of community wide celebrations, and if come this evening of the 5th of January, I’ll be watching a float go past in the street with three men dressed up as kings throwing sweets into the crowd. I doubt it. Clearly the only way to bring the masses together to celebrate an ancient tradition on a national scale is to give away free food.

The image with this weeks post is titled: “New Years Walk”


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My Erasmus Experience – Post #5 – The People of Spain

It’s not often I say this, but I absolutely adore this photo. There’s just something about it. The woman in the dress pulling an awkward face, the fact that the man’s head in the suit is half covered by the baby, the fact the baby has spotted something off-camera? I think it’s the feeling that it’s not quite 100%. It’s an image that came about almost by accident. I was taking a shot of the people across the street, when they (seemingly a wedding party) emerged from around the corner. I had only a split second to frame the image, focus and snap. Thankfully the settings were near perfect and I managed to capture one of my favourite photos I’ve taken so far in my photography life.

Now that I’m comfortable in Madrid, one of the most entertaining things to do is people watch. The culture out here is so vastly different from back in Coventry, but also incredibly similar in some areas. You still get the classic stereotypes within the crowd, but the people just seem much more entertaining and care-free than in any other city I have been to. For a country that isn’t used to saying please and thank-you after every phrase, it’s a nice surprise to find that the majority of people are welcoming. Behind this image is the end of the Royal Palace of Madrid, which is regularly swamped with tourists from every country imaginable. It’s the Buckingham Palace of Madrid, if that helps you imagine. The proximity of the palace to the bar we were sitting in would suggest that it was a busy place to be. Not at all. Madrid is full of these quiet little havens of beer and free tapas. (I should explain, there’s a law in Spain unwritten or not, that means if you order alcohol you get free tapas either in the form of a bowl of olives, crisps, bread and meat or something similar). We sat out in the sun after a long day of filming a music video for the Coventry band Flygone, and watched the world go by.

Back to the people of Spain. The only issue I have had so far are the street vendors and the Policia. The street vendors seem to pop-up out of nowhere, and have refined the art of running away quickly when the police arrive. They could be selling anything, from legit-fake Ray Ban sunglasses to designer handbags and other items of expensive clothing. All fake of course, but not that that’s stopped me from spending a fiver on a pair of sunglasses at 6 in the morning on the walk home from a club. It feels like there are a fair few of these unsavoury characters, especially as it’s the capital city, but the police seem to have everything under control and the tourists can mince on by without any worries at all. In contrast, I recently took a trip to Paris for Pitchfork Festival, and on one of our first trips on the metro my friend nearly lost his wallet to a pickpocket. We were in France for less than a day.

The Policia here are incredibly intimidating. Being a big group of students who like to make inconceivable amounts of noise at 3am in a residential area, we’ve had a few run ins with the local authorities. There is a strict noise curfew here, which means that if you make any loud noise after 11pm, the neighbours have the right to call the cops who’ll turn up at your door, armed to the teeth with pistols threatening you with a €300 fine. Me and a friend were once chatting on a street corner after a few drinks at a local bar in Villaviciosa, when the Civil Guard came out of nowhere, hopped out of their 4×4 and demanded that we empty our pockets onto the nearby wall. Safe to say the event with humorous to us, as we weren’t drug dealers, but if you were you would’ve been in for a rough night.

Obviously the police are there to keep the neighbourhood under control, with it being rumoured that our local area is the Breaking Bad of Spain. However, the general public are some of the friendliest people you could ever meet, and it has definitely opened my eyes to the contrast that the UK has to other countries in Europe. We just need to lighten up!

The title of the featured image is ‘Wedding Party, Royal Palace of Madrid’.