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.

 

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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.