A Learning Experience

We don’t call it failure; we call it a learning experience and a lot of fun…

Note to self and others who may be considering moving overseas—

  1. Give yourself time to settle into retirement. Leaving 45+ years of employment, clearing out your home and moving to a new country should be tackled over a multi-year period—not a matter of months.
  2. Try living in the new place for 30-60-90 days over two to five years. Check out the culture to be assured you click. Does smoking bother you? What are the things you can adjust to, which are deal breakers?
  3. Does your lifestyle fit with your new home? We came from a large, clean, quiet, private home to a noisy, city apartment with neighbors on top, below and ten feet across from us. You can hear your neighbors sneeze. The Spaniards love to celebrate and do so with gusto and fireworks! Partiers revel down the street until dawn.
  4. Are you a light sleeper? City life can be extremely noisy. Besides the revelers coming home at all hours, three dumpsters (full of glass) are picked up outside our window every night between 2-3 am–this goes on for 5-10 minutes every night (not kidding!) They say that lack of consistent sleep is tied to wellness. After four months of interrupted sleep, I believe it. Craig and I have been under the weather more than we wished.
  5. How well do you handle noise? It’s come to the point, where we hardly hear the church bells anymore. However, they do start ringing at 8 am and the last bells are at midnight. The bells have become our guide to when to sleep. We can live with the bells, but the constant construction noise has us going bonkers. With a city that is more than 700 years old, there is ALWAYS a lot of repair and remodeling going on around us.
  6. Do you have a plan for post employment? Are you really ready to quit working? I have devoted the past 30 years of my life to helping others. I had no transition plan from work to retirement to make me feel that I was contributing to society. This was extremely difficult for me. I miss working!
  7. Love, true love? Going from spending 8-10 hours a day to 24/7 with your spouse is difficult in the best scenarios. However, it is quite different when you have only each on which to rely. Back home we have our escapes from one another through friends, sports, hobbies. While we have met lovely folks, it’s not the same after a lifetime of friendships and ability to getaway when necessary.

The Good We Discovered

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Spain has so much culture, art and history—we could spend the next ten years here and never see it all. We stayed pretty close to home, but took some amazing holidays.

A restaurant with a chef, server and four tables can serve up gourmet food as well as any four-star restaurant.

Our local bodega sells thousands of varieties of wine as well as vermouth stored in old wooden kegs!

We found the Spaniards are very open and warm if you respect their culture and try to speak their language. Even when we didn’t speak the same language, we found ways to communicate and made some lifelong Spanish friends.

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The history, art and architecture are mind-boggling. Its sense of history is different. Unless something is more than 500 years old, Spaniards don’t consider it “old.” Funny, a 100-year-old home in US is historic, here that’s considered new.

From small villages to large cities, there is great emphasis on local customs and culture. Their pride is evident in their music, dancing, food, festivals more.

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This is one of dozens of fabric stores where locals shop to create the traditional dresses for Fallas. Valencianos prepare all year for Fallas, a celebration each March that lights the city ablaze!
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Towards the end of our holiday, we contacted last year’s Airbnb host from Vila Franca to reconnect and take to lunch. Next thing we know, we are back out at their organic farm for two days of pure delight! We visited his family’s farm and horse ranch, 800-year-old homes, picked grapes and blackberries and visited a wonderful winery. Ferran’s Airbnb listing: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/3738382

It has been wonderful relying on our feet or bicycles to get around Valencia, and it shows! Craig and I both have lost considerable weight. This is from much more exercise that we were getting in the US as well as eating fresher, healthier foods on the Spanish schedule of a large lunch between 2-4 pm and light dinner.

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While we used electronic communications like wifi calling, instant messaging, Facetime and Duo, and were truly grateful for them, none replace the warm embrace or kiss from a loved one or friend.

So with heavy heart, we have made our decision to move back home. We want a “do over!” I plan to go back to work fulltime, Craig may go back to his health clinic a few days a week, but begin to enjoy retirement back home—painting, tennis, golf and bicycling. We’ll be refurnishing and restocking our home—but plan to do so with a minimalist frame of mind.

First things first…visit the families! Ben and Gabby had their little boy on July 1. I can’t wait to meet Mr. Mason! Ruthie turned one year on September 1 and is getting ready for her first steps. I want to be there to see her milestones. Craig and I both miss our 90-year-old dads and our kids. Craig plans to go back to Michigan to play golf with John and visit his sister and family. I already booked tickets to take Al to the symphony.

Starting over (again) is very exciting. It is our hope that we will spend four weeks each year getting away to a new place—in the US, Canada, Europe or who knows where. We’d like to spend time in many places that we might revisit for our “real retirement” down the road.

We depart Valencia in three days. The past four months have been a roller coaster—lots of splendid memories of new friends, great food, wonderful discoveries of art and culture. We’ll be sure to add our last few trips with pictures on the blog, as we still have many entertaining stories to tell about Spanish wines, cava and vermouth; tasty tapas and much, much more.

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A Lot of Catching Up to Do

It has been quite some time since I blogged. Adjusting to our new home, new culture, new language has been far from easy. We knew it would be difficult, but there are days I wish I could just wiggle my nose and return to our lives in Arizona…but only for a moment! My meltdowns seem to dissipate once the heat subsides, the breeze blows and we enjoy a meal or drinks with friends and an evening stroll.

We have met wonderful people, both locals and expats who are friendly, kind and helpful. When meeting locals, we receive nearly immediate acceptance by sharing that we moved to Valencia to study the language, we love their city and we despise Trump. The expats we have met are smart, fun and outgoing. We enjoy coffee, lunches, cocktails and get-togethers as often as possible.

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Morning at the Mercado

Our trips to the Centrale Mercado for our groceries every few days are both fun and challenging. Our language skills have improved greatly due to taking the time to study at least one hour every day and our new language instructor, Cristina. Between my limited Spanish and lots of hand gestures we are able to purchase what we need to eat and drink. Oh, the flavors of the fresh fruits and vegetables. Peaches and cherries that taste as though they are dipped in sugar; the crisp cucumbers, sweet Valenciano tomatoes, fresh from the sea mussels, shrimp and fish that taste unlike anything we’ve ever tasted stateside.

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Olives by the quart…can’t get enough of them! Along with pinchos, small snacking tapas.
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The butcher filets the chicken into “wafer thin” slices that cook up moist and deliciouso!

Shopping for household items are another story. Our choices: IKEA, Amazon.es and El Corte Ingles (Spain’s major department store). Each has its pros and cons. Outside the old town about 15 minutes is IKEA. Moving into our new apartment, we made shopping lists of all the items we needed for our new home—sheets, coffee maker, kitchenware, vacuum cleaner, printer, storage containers, etc.

Our first stop at El Corte Ingles was fruitful, but expensive. The Spanish-speaking employees did their very best with our limited Spanish and Google translate. We stumbled through a very expensive excursion, returning home with more than we anticipated. Note to self—return policy is not as liberal as US.

Heading to IKEA with a specific list kept us on task and on budget. And for a 39€, they will deliver everything to your apartment the same day!

But Amazon…that’s a different story. We joined Prime here for 19,95€, much cheaper than US, but it is not quite the same. While we receive free shipping, items take anywhere from one day to three weeks to get here. And, many larger items must be picked up. We selected a location nearby our apartment, only to discover they no longer had a delivery office there and had to 1) first figure out where our items were 2) contact them (in Spanish) to determine how to get our purchases 3) walk 2km to another office 4) gather the boxes 5) call a taxi 6) taxi back home and carry everything three flights of stairs. We haven’t even been able to take advantage of Prime Video and we can’t figure out why!

Days & Nights

Our days are spent somewhat similar to home. Outside our window, the morning bells begin at 8 am and ring every quarter hour until midnight. However, here our timetable follows the church bells. While we go to bed and wake up later, we typically handle our laundry, shopping, emails, catching up on news in the morning. As I have shared in past blogs, the Spaniards work from 9-11, break from 11-noon, work from noon-2, lunch and siesta from 2-5, work from 5-8, dine at 10pm. While this took a bit of adjusting, we discovered having a large lunch, either at home or dining with friends is a delightful way to spend an afternoon.

Lunch is now our main meal of the day. Typically, the restaurants offer a luncheon Menu la Dia that consists of starter(s), entrée, drink, dessert and coffee for 8-20€. We have found these to be fresh, tasty and filling. The seafood—calmari, sepia, gambas, colchinas, continue to amaze us. I have learned to make a mean “drunken” mussels with lemon, butter and wine; curried mussels, traditional Basque bacalo stew and more. The paella, which I have not tried to duplicate, is a blog onto itself.

After a two to three-hour lunch with friends we return home for a siesta in the heat of the day. Upon waking we return to business, emails, etc. As the heat begins to subside around 8 pm, we take an evening stroll to people watch or discover a new barrio. We return home to read or watch TV until we hear the final bells at midnight. Funny, when we are chatting on the phone or FaceTiming back home, folks will inquire about the bells they hear…we hardly notice them anymore!

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Interesting folks on our evening strolls

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Summertime and the livin’ is easy…but hot!

We continue to adjust and are planning a few getaways over the next weeks to relive us from the hot, muggy days and the opportunity to discover new places. This week we head out of town 45km to Cofrentes to explore a natural park and spa. At the end of the month we travel north, almost to the French border to the Dali’s museum and home, parks, kayaking and more.

 

I Promise I’ll Write Soon!

Busy with life–learning a new culture, new language, adjusting. Here’s a few photos to let you know we are alive and well and promise we’ll get you up-to-date soon!

The rain in Spain…looking down from our third story walk-up
Spanish horchata comes from tiger nuts that are farmed nearby in the Alboraya area. Craig and I biked through the region last weekend.

 

 

 

Kindred Spirits–or Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon

Since discovering Valencia, I have been following a fellow Valencian blogger, Jill’s Urban Food Crawl. She kindly reached out upon our arrival to share info about an expat group that meets regularly. @InterNations has over 500 members here in Valencia and thousands around the world. It organizes and matches individuals by their interests to events—i.e. hiking, arts and culture, jazz, etc.

Friday evening Craig and I headed down to the Marina Real for an InterNations gathering. We intentionally got there early to get our bearings and meet people before it got too crowded.

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Magic at the Marina

The first folks we met were couples Leslie and Dwight, Richard and Tom. Former Chicago educators, Richard and Tom have spent most of every year here since 2015, returning home to Florida from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Retiring, selling their high-rise apartment in downtown Chicago, Leslie and Dwight came to Valencia permanently in September last year. People were surprised we found InterNations so quickly and chatted us up about all the Valencia had to offer, things we had in common, our take on American politics, et al.

Within a very short time we learned that we all rented from Anthony of @PerfectSpain in Barrio del Carmen and live in the same building with Leslie and Dwight—and it is only a six apartment building! The evening breeze arose off the Mediterranean and the light began to diminish around 10 pm as the gathering continued to go on strong. Our new friends were kind enough to invite us to dinner, walking just a few blocks to their friend Sheree’s restaurant, Hosteria El Vizio. Upon arrival, Sheree, welcomed us warmly. An expat New Zealander, Sheree gave up a super busy, high-stress job in Rome ten years ago to start her restaurant. With a heart of gold and a laugh to light up the night, Sheree had her very accommodating staff placed three tables on sidewalk so we could enjoy our dinner and evening breeze.

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Her friend Vanessa is an Australian expat, who also came here years ago for America’s Cup. Her husband is a professional America’s Cup-level sailor, participating in the last nine… yes, count them… America’s Cup competitions! She and her husband are raising two teenage girls and are spending much of this summer taking in friends and family from around the world. While we were dining, Vanessa’s husband FaceTimed her from Bermuda where he was working this year’s America’s Cup, however sailing on a different category boat.

Sheree brought out a refreshing white wine and ordered three pizzas that turned out to be a multitude of delicious toppings—including eggplant and prosciutto. Everyone shared their travels throughout Spain, paradors (old converted castles and convents that are now incredibly luxurious hotels), trips to Ibiza, day trips to Albufera national park, and lots of other great hints they have come to know.

As we ate, drank, shared stories and commiserated, I thought to myself, “I could get used to this.” Meeting new people; warm, welcoming companionship; great food and drink in a picturesque city.

We walked to the street to catch taxis home, Leslie said, “Nights like this are exactly why we came to Valencia.”

I couldn’t agree with her more.

 

Drawn to Masterpieces of Talent, Whimsy, Social Statements

Valencians are appreciative of arts and culture. As such, shopkeepers commission local artists to create masterpieces on their security shutters and walls. The result is a plethora of fun, whimsical and often political and social statements. Craig and I are drawn to these masterpieces (pun intended).

 

After our morning visiting Gran Via, we headed down to the Alternative Festival along the Jardin del Turia.

The Turia Garden is a 110 hectacres (270+ acres) public park, with a length of more than nine kilometers. Crowned by 18 centuries-old bridges the garden was built on the river Turía bed that was diverted to avoid the continuous floods that the city suffered. After the great flood that desolated the city in 1957, the city channels the Turia to the south leaving this strip of land that crosses the city from west to east, surrounding the historic center. Inaugurated in 1986, several urbanists and landscapers designed the different stretches, reproducing the old river landscape and creating a unique route populated by palm trees and orange trees, fountains and pines, aromatic plants and ponds, sports courts and rose gardens. Each evening after dinner, we stroll over one of the historic bridges or down into the park to watch a fütbol game, cyclists and runners.

The Alternative Festival was filled with thousands of Spaniards, eating, drinking, shopping and dancing to live music. It felt like a throwback to the 60’s filled with artists selling their wares– weaving, woodcarving, leatherworks, handmade children’s toys and more. The welcoming of diversity of Valencia is one of the reasons that drew us to this special place.

Local children making a mud-wall casa

The evening features teams of drummers vying for top honors. While we didn’t stay late enough to watch the competition, we did watch the “green team” practicing on an earlier evening.

The folks here are apologizing for the weather. It topped out at 84° here today and it is a tad humid.

Safe, Sound and Tired!

Ah, jet lag! While the flight LAX to London was the easiest, we were looking forward to a nice rest and meal in the Norwegian lounge, we were turned away at the door. “We are a contractor for Norwegian and other airlines and do not honor your Premium ticket while traveling from London to Barcelona because this leg of the journey is not Premium.”

“But Norwegian does not offer Premium on its flights within Europe,” we replied.

“Tough noogies…” or something to that effect was muttered (in a British accent).

After spending five hours in a loud, bustling Gatwick airport, we headed to Barcelona, arriving at our hotel around midnight. We had a restful night’s sleep and awoke at 11am, hurrying back to the airport to pick up our car rental, load our 120 kg of bags and onward to Valencia.

The trip was uneventful…one promise we made to one another years’ ago when traveling in strange places was to remain cool and calm…despite the fact that we often get lost and end up taking roundabouts numerous times before succeeding. It’s kind of a joke now to see how many times it takes us to find a destination—all in good fun. I often chant, “serenity, now.”

Our accommodations for the first 30 days in Valencia are very comfortable. Using the service @PerfectSpain, and working with a fellow ex-pat Anthony from NYC, we rented a small two-bedroom flat in Barrio del Carmen. It is a charming neighborhood with cobblestone streets, just a few minute walk to the Central Market and top tourist sites such as Plaza de la Virgen, Iglesia de San Nicolas and Torres de Quart.

                        Home Sweet Home for the Next 30 Days

Once we settled in, we were afraid to nap in case we’d never wake again, so we kept going until we headed out for dinner around 10:30—which as many of you know, is prime dinner hour for the Spaniards. The late evenings dinners began when Franco wanted to be aligned with Hitler’s Germany. Recently, the government has tried to return to Greenwich Mean Time, putting Spain on the same time as Portugal and UK (along similar longitudinal range). However, the working class has strenuously objected, afraid the government will do away with the afternoon siesta from 2-5 pm.

We found a small local restaurant run by two women and enjoyed tapas and drinks. Actually, all the cafes and restaurants here are small and local…no Olive Garden or Starbucks for Spain!

The Berenjena Montaña was a layering of roasted eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini “scalloped” with delicious Spanish cheese and topped with fresh herbs. Champiñon Rellanos con Gambas were mushrooms stuffed with fresh shrimp, cheese and herbs. Their best wine…$2.80€ (around $3) a glass!

While Barrio del Carmen is a lovely, charming area, being in the old part of town in an older apartment has its drawbacks. Noise is one of them. While it wasn’t terribly noisy, we are used to absolute quiet in our Phoenix home, so it will require adjusting. We are not expecting our lives to be the same as back home and welcome learning and adapting to our new life.

This morning we strolled to the Central Market to pick up fresh fruit, cheese and bread and returned to the apartment to meet our relocation assistant, Linda from @MovingtoValencia. We reviewed available apartments, discussed neighborhoods and mapped out the next few days of house hunting. The jet lag hit this morning around noon—I could hardly keep my eyes open during our meeting and took a wonderful two-hour siesta this afternoon. It was followed by a stroll through the neighborhood to check out the shops, cafes and attractions. Along our journey, we found some great street art!

 

Our top priorities—continue studying our Spanish, find an apartment.

While we’d like to adjust to the late night meals, we’ll be showing up at 9 tonight to eat. We just hope there are a few local spots that will serve us this early!

We Could Get Spoiled

The view from LAX One World Lounge

Flying business class or premium on  airlines typically costs an arm and a leg. Since we had to reschedule our departure, the usual economy+ class was booked. So rather than scrunch in the back of the greyhound (so to speak) we opted for premium. Making it through the  TSA in LAX Bradley terminal is about as degrading as it gets. The business line wasn’t too bad, once we made it through we headed to the #OneWorldLounge where we could relax in a quiet, comfortable atmosphere, eat from a pretty nice smorgasbord and enjoy a nice glass of cab.


With a four hour wait here at LAX and couple of hours at Gatwick, we are ecstatic about @fly_norwegian premium. We’ll keep you posted on the flight.   

Good news–Norwegian flies nonstop from NYC (Newark) to Barca and beginning June 15, nonstop from LAX. This should make our future travels much less physically taxing. 

All Our Bags are Packed, We’re Ready to Go… Well, Almost

One week from now we will be landing in Barcelona to begin our adventure! Unfortunately, no time for the Gaudy sites this trip.

This past week was a busy one in the Wells home. Thursday was my final day with my client with my client @MesaArtsCenter. They gave me a wonderful send off with cake, card and gift. It is truly wonderful to retire on a high note. My clients are appreciative and poised for success. I feel very grateful to have been able to serve so many worthy nonprofits over the past 30 years.

As many of you saw on our social media accounts, we packed our items that will be shipped to Valencia via freighter. That was a chore onto itself! Weeks of packing, down to the wire, Craig palletized all of our boxes on a nice cool day of about 105 degrees+ in the garage! The evening before the trucking company was set to arrive, we wrapped the entire contents in plastic and strapping. Talk about hot, hard work!

The Shipping Surgeon!

The trucking company arrived with a 40ft. semi to pick up our pallet. The driver gave us an A+ for our packing job. He said we wouldn’t believe how many folks are completely unprepared for shipping. I am so glad that Craig is a great researcher and does his homework.

Holy moly! An 18-wheeler picked up our “life on a pallet” Valencia here we come!

We had a dry run packing our suitcases last week, and are convinced we are not going to get everything we want into four bags. Now we have to determine if we will ship one more box and if so, what items to include. Flying premier on @Fly_Norwegian we are able to bring four bags of 22kg each. Decisions, decisions.

The movers come tomorrow to pick up our belonging to store in a 5 x 15’ container. Family photos, artwork and our few favorite pieces of furniture.

The holiday weekend was spent with friends sharing memories, food and wine. While there is sadness in leaving our close, cherished friends, we hope they will come visit so we can share our new country with them. Both being outgoing individuals, we plan meet new folks who will become our new Spanish amigos.

 

 

 

 

It’s All in the Details

Two weeks…down to the wire…the devil is in the details…do or die…ahhhhhh!

It’s really happening! Visas in hand; flights booked; packing, packing and more packing.

When we first took an inventory (metaphorically) of our home, we determined everything would fall into three categories:

  • Storing items to save
  • Shipping to Spain
  • Selling everything else

You might think this is a very difficult process. While it was emotional, it has been very liberating to rid ourselves of the belongings of our 3,000 square foot home, 50+ years of collecting “stuff.” The challenging part was determining what items we REALLY cherished that would fit into a small storage unit. What would you save/store? This is what we decided to keep:

  • Our mid-century modern teak dining room table
  • Handmade leather chair and ottoman (family heirloom)
  • My mother’s maple dressers (used by my grandmother, mother and both my boys)
  • Ten pieces of our favorite artwork – with both being collectors prior to meeting, then collecting together for the past eight years, and Craig taking up painting in 2010, we had an enormous collection of paintings, ceramics, glass, etc.
  • Four plastic storage bins of family photos and keepsakes

On New Year’s Day we began decluttering by inviting our friends to an open house/art sale. While we relieved ourselves of quite a bit, we probably have 100+ paintings and other pieces of artwork left.

All other furniture has been given to family, sold or will be sold by our estate sale company within the next few weeks.

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Storing Items to Save

After much research, we chose Closet Box @ClosetBoxMe. Our decision was determined by price, service and offerings. In digging around for suitable storage facilities, we discovered that Closet Box stores all contents in one large climate-controlled warehouse in specific-sized boxes or storage containers. Based on what we plan on storing, we will use a 5’ x 15’ container. However, if we can fit into a smaller, or need a larger box, that will be determined when they pick up our items. Closet Box contracts with local moving companies to pick up, blanket and wrap furniture and our boxes for delivery to the storage facility. Every time I spoke with a representative they were articulate, knew their product and were not pushy sales people. Our space is running around $100 per month. Unfortunately, without owning a home, no insurance company will cover our items in storage, so we will have to fork out $40 mo. for $5K of coverage.

Shipping to Spain

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Our boxes getting ready to palletize to ship to Spain

Our original plan was to pack two large suitcases each and one carry-on. However, Craig’s art supplies are in abundance, very expensive and seemed ridiculous to sell everything for pennies on the dollar only to repurchase in Spain. And, trying to figure out where to find the best art supply stores would be a chore onto itself.

We originally looked into the typical freight carriers, which, when shipping overseas, the price varies greatly. Fortunately, we are not in a hurry to have our belongings join us, so ocean freight carrier seemed a great route. Reading other expat blogs, we found an ad for @ShippingQuest and reached out for a quote.

With a minimum of 35 cubic feet, we realized we might as well fill the container with additional clothes and household items. Pricing for pick up at our home, delivery to LA, shipping to Valencia port for approximately 16 boxes/600 lbs. will be around $500. So far we’ve got 12 boxes/400 lbs. and still have bathroom and office to pack. We just received our bill of lading and shipping labels with instructions that we must palletize the boxes. This should be an adventure unto itself!

FYI–we marked each box heading to Spain and each box we are saving, keeping a detailed inventory on a spreadsheet. This will assist with tracking down any items needed during our adventure.

Selling the Rest

The last of our furniture, belongings and our two cars will be sold via estate sale after our departure. Thanks @IntegrityEstateLiquidations.

P.S. You may wonder why we have Craig and a puppy for our featured image. 1) Pictures of boxes don’t draw much attention–but puppies do! 2) This past weekend we were in Flagstaff visiting our daughter Lauren and her partner Kevin who were fostering this adorable pup. We absconded her for the night. If we weren’t leaving the country, she would have come home with us!