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.

 

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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.

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. 

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! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eating Your Way Through The Turia Garden

This is my favorite Valencia blogger. Always great info about dining, history and more! Can’t wait to try her recommendations and perhaps go on a food adventure together. 21 days to Valencia!

Jill's Urban Food Crawls

We love living in the city but I must admit that, now and again, it is nice to escape the noise and the crowds and get back to nature. Fortunately, here in Valencia we can immerse ourselves among the trees, lakes, flora and fauna only a few blocks away in the Jardin del Turia.Jardines-Turia-Sun-Lounging

The Jardin del Turia (Turia Garden) is a nine-kilometer linear green space that runs through the city. Affectionately referred to as “El Rio” by locals, the park was built on the former riverbed of the Turia river, which was diverted to the south of the city after a devastating flood in 1957.Separate paths designated for pedestrians, runners, or bikes pass through wooded areas and manicured gardens.

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Throughout the park you will find fountains, sculptures, playgrounds, dog parks, skate parks, athletic fields and sport facilities of all kinds. Monuments and museums of the city line the edges…

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We Did It!

We picked up our visas from the Spanish Consulate yesterday. The woman who assisted was lovely (as was the previous) and was delighted for us. She asked where we were planning to live and when we said Valencia, the gentleman next to us said, “That’s where I am from! Valencia is the best!” The Consulate employee said, “Yes, Valencia is lovely, but San Sebastian is best!” We all chuckled and told them we were looking forward to exploring all of Spain and San Sebastian was high on our list. This pleased her very much! Their warmth reminded us why we chose Spain and the kindness of its people.

But the best part of the day was spending time with our LA kids and beautiful granddaughter! Thank goodness for FaceTime! It would be a lot more difficult without being able to connect daily if necessary to see her and our newest addition (due this July in NYC) regularly, as well as our son and daughter here in Arizona. While it is very emotional to be moving far away, we know Ruthie has competent, capable, amazing parents–who promise to bring her to Spain every year!

Our singing sweetheart serenaded us on the way to dinner! 

As the final days tick by, we are reminded of lots of work still ahead–sorting, packing, selling, cleaning, storing. The saga continues…

The Saga Continues…

Just like the saying, “there’s an app for that,” there should be one that says, “there’s a way to accomplish just about anything.”

So, to remind you; we did not get our visas immediately approved because we did not have our FBI clearance apostilled by the US State Department. Here we are in Arizona and our paperwork must be hand-delivered in DC.

Rather than expect my colleague in DC to drop everything she is doing to schlep across town at 8am (yes, the State Department only accepts walk-ins between 8-9 am!) I found the saving grace—Help Me Rhonda concierge service http://www.hmrconcierge.com. Rhonda was quick to respond to my request, professional and even knew the State Department drill. Drop off one day, set an appointment to return three days later to pick up the docs. Within 11 days of returning from the Consulate, our FBI apostilled clearance docs are on their way to LA!

We continue to post our stuff on Craig’s List and whittle things down. It is our goal to put one 10×20 container in storage, sell all of our belongings, cars and home and relocate to a 1400 square foot (if we are lucky) furnished apartment in central Valencia. We’ll be walking, using mass transit and hopefully purchase two of those cool, folding bikes to get us around town.

Are we scared? Yes. Are we crazy? Hell yes! Eight weeks until we take the leap!