Countdown…

A quick update on our move to Spain—

Countdown. . .eight weeks away from our move to Valencia. Since returning from Spain last fall we have been on a mission to make this dream a reality. The past three months have been spent cleaning and clearing things out of our 3000 sq ft home to get it ready to put on the market that was listed in mid-Feb.

Getting prepared for our trip to the Consulate in LA on March 27 to apply for our non-lucrative visas consists of a ton of hoops to jump through, paperwork and translation services. We are hoping that we will receive approval quickly and easily as we feel we have dotted our i’s and crossed our t’s on every item they are requesting.

Our departure date is June 4 with arrival in Barcelona for a night’s sleep before heading to Valencia. We have a short-term rental for the first 30 days, with hopes of getting our National ID card, bank account and apartment rented by mid-June. Our relocation expert, Linda Svilane of Moving to Valencia http://movingtovalencia.lbiz.es/ has been a huge help!

IMG_2885.JPGNow that we are getting closer, it is apparent that everything seems to be moving like clockwork… and believe this move is meant to be!

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Onward to Valencia!

By noon Sunday we headed to Valencia to begin our weeklong Spanish immersion classes and investigative journey. We zipped into Valencia only to get lost multiple times—first, trying to find our AirBnB, which fortunately, Google Maps had no trouble locating and routing us. Having to park illegally, again, bothered me immensely, but it was the only way we could drop off our belongings (and boxes of wine and oil) before returning our rental car at the central train station!

Our hosts recommended heading down to the beach to join all the Valencian families who dine at the local beachfront restaurants for Sunday lunch. The restaurants, boardwalk and beach were packed with locals. We chose the restaurant of our host’s recommendation. Enjoying our first paella of the trip, we delighted in watching the huge Valencian families having a joyous time together—three and four generations gathered at long tables filled with laughter and joy. Family is a big deal here and Sunday is the day to gather and enjoy breaking bread.

After our meal, we quickly dipped our toes into the Mediterranean Sea and headed back to our rental car to return it at the Norte train station. But quick note to self and others—mark your car’s position on Google maps BEFORE you leave it parked! Always trying to enjoy our journey, we discovered a few extra areas before arriving back at our car.

Our experience with EuroCar had been great, with the gentleman who checked us in days ago in Barcelona quite helpful. Unfortunately, finding our way into the rental car area at the train station was a different story! After six attempts (I am not kidding…six!) we finally entered the proper area. Mind you, if you miss an entrance, you must follow the main artery down and around numerous roundabouts to try again. My guess is we added an extra 20 km just trying to find the drop off point!

We mapped our way home and decided it would be great to walk back to get the lay of the land. Unfortunately, Sunday evenings are barren wastelands of questionable streets, although we felt a bit uncomfortable, we never felt threatened.

From the outside, our AirBnB wasn’t much to write home about. Our “penthouse” apartment was however modern and clean with a beautiful terrace. While the weather was perfect, our first night in Valencia was not very restful. With families gathering for their Sunday dinner well into the morning, there was lots of noise…open windows makes it feel like the entire neighborhood is in our bedroom! We decided that moving forward we would use the A/C for a few hours, then after things quieted down after 1am, we would turn it off and open the windows. We enjoyed beautiful sunrises and sunsets across the rooftops dotted with antennas.

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The Chicken Man, Mercado & Cava

We headed into to VilaFranc to experience the town market to find great photos and so much more—chickens, families and food. The town was bustling with thousands of people—the plaça was filled with a swap meet of such—clothing, housewares, tools…anything you could imagine. Just around the corner we found the market extending for blocks! Fresh fruit and vegetables, olives, olive oils, cheese, meat and chickens! Yes, live chickens, roosters, chicks, ducks and ducklings. The Chicken Man chatted with every shopper, showing his pride. When a customer picked a chicken, he swooped into the cage, grabbed it by the wings and proceeded to hold it, prepare a box for the customer to take home the newest addition to his/her farm or dinner table. It was a blast to watch him and the children who were fascinated by the chicks and ducklings.

Our AirBnB host, Ferren, helped us make reservations at a nearby winery for a tasting. This region of Catalon is known for its Cava—a delightfully refreshing sparkling wine Spain called Cava after the cellars in which the wine is produced. Created by a Catalunyan, Josep Raventãs, in 1872, Cava has played a central role in the everyday life of Spaniards ever since. Cava is very fresh, light and clean. It’s very easy to drink. It’s perfect for the Spanish climate. Cava is not as alcoholic as red or white wine, so it’s perfect – you can drink it all afternoon long. Bottles are popped at baptisms, weddings and other celebrations, but Cava is also drunk more casually at family meals or after work drinks.

After 45 minutes of driving in circles, we finally came upon our winery, Parés Balta, founded in 1790. Now an organic winery, our host Gisela provided us a delightful tasting of Cava, red and white blends and fresh, bright olive oil. So excited, I now realize I may have shopped a bit too much, having selected six bottles of Cava and wine and four bottles of olive oil. How we are ever going to schlep this over the next two weeks, I have no idea. So for now, I will enjoy great wine every night!

From our winery, we drove to Peñiscola (not pronounced the way we say the city in Florida, we were quickly taught). While it is great to “wing it,” from place to place, when you are hunting for a great place and are having difficulty finding something suitable it can make one nervous. Hopping around from AirBnB to Expedia to Booking, I finally found a top-rated B&B, Luz de Azahar that offered us a junior suite for $114. The room and bathroom were gigantic with a huge soaking tub (oh, how I missed mine back home!).

The property was home to a charming couple, immaculate lodgings, 200 orange trees and a sprinkling of the most delightful smelling jasmine. The entire B&B experience was lovely, but unfortunately the town was absolutely nothing to write home about. The beachfront was filled with thousands of people, hundreds of vendors selling junk and dozens of bikers and Porsche drivers zooming up and down the avenue. After a mediocre dinner we rushed back to the serenity of Luz for a very restful night’s sleep.

Human Towers of VilaFranc…no kidding!

Drove magnificent countryside and mountains throughout Catalan region. Stopped in Vic for lunch. A charming undisturbed village with an historic church (surprise?) and Roman ruins from second century. Our final destination being VilaFranca del Penedé in the Spanish wine region. Fortunately did not get lost too many times. We found an exceptional stay at an organic farmhouse with the kindest people ever! We were able to purchase a food basket of freshly picked white eggplant (aubergiene blanca), cherry tomatoes like candy, heirloom tomatoes, fresh peppers, Italian parsley.

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Our Spanish Farmhouse

Our host also provided a bottle of their own rosé wine and handmade olive oil. OMG! Instead of driving back into town, we fixed a delicious dinner with our farm fixings.

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Our host took us into town this evening to watch the community practicing human towers or “castells”. The town of VilaFranc has won the contest numerous times against many other communities. The group’s headquarters is Cal Figarot, Casa Via Raventós, a house located downtown with specially with high, indoor ceilings for year-round practice in preparation for huge competitions attended by tens of thousands Catalans and tourists.

The Castellers de Vilafranca is a cultural and sporting association founded in 1948. The human tower building is a Catalan tradition that has evolved since the 18th century. There are around 400 members of all ages – some as young as four-years-old, with no discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, sex or social status. They share the common goal of building human towers, democratic values, cooperation and teamwork, a constant desire to surpass themselves, and a will to maintain a lead over a select and competitive group of rival human tower associations. The pride and determination we saw in the Castellers was phenomenal! This was truly the highlight of our trip.

My Girona

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Girona Selfie

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Yes, the streets are really this narrow!

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Arab Baths from the 13th Centur

Our drive to Girona was relatively uneventful—only missing a few roundabouts. But getting into old town Girona and our hotel was a completely different story! We ended up G-d knows where, on a one-way dirt road that was extremely steep and narrow and appeared to go nowhere. Somehow, we made it down the steep hill to where we thought our hotel might be located. “Ah-ha,” Craig exclaimed, “a parking spot!” While it wasn’t painted red, it did look like an entrance to a shop door and I was very concerned. Nonetheless, we traipsed into the old town and found our hotel literally right around the corner where we had started!

Girona lies in northeast Catalonia, just 99 km (62 mi) from Barcelona. One of the most historic sites in Spain, it was originally founded by Romans, the city later was taken over by Moors and Franks before finally falling under the rule of Barcelona. Influenced by different cultures and religions, the city beckons visitors with beautiful architecture. The Jewish Museum provides an in-depth history of the Jewish community before they were expelled during the Inquisition.

Our hotel, Museu Llegendes de Girona is TripAdvisor’s #2 hotel in Girona and was exceptional. While touting that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife stayed in room 302, it was the room and the service that wowed us. While in a 400-year-old building, our room was ultra-modern with a fully encased glass bathroom. Luckily, the glass was frosted, so the shower was not so intimidating.

Once we checked in we headed out to explore old town Girona, and for the next three+ hours we had an opportunity to visit Arab baths from the 4th century, cathedrals from to 12th and 13th centuries and much more.

As we headed back to the hotel I got a sinking feeling we should check on the car and low and behold, there was a ticket Upon returning to the hotel I told Craig I simply wanted to move the car into the $23E hotel parking area and know that I could sleep well at night. Good thing I did! When I returned to move the car the policia and tow truck operator were trying to figure out how to tow our rental car. “Los seintos, señor,” I exclaimed!

I quickly moved the car and brought it to the hotel where I had to squeeze—and I do mean squeeze, into an underground garage and pay a mere $23 Euro. Every corner of the garage was chipped. I had never been so nervous parking in my life!

We had tried months earlier to get a reservation at the number one-rated restaurant in the world, El Celler de Can Roca, with no luck. Fortunately, the hotel staff had another great recommendation, Arros |Peix. I’ve never selected live seafood for my dinner, but that’s exactly what we did! While the restaurant wasn’t fancy, it was certainly the best seafood I’ve ever had. The owner had us select each course including scallops, prawns, razor clams grilled octopus – the most amazing EVER with red potatoes soaked in the octopus brine. Then, for our main course we had a huge turbo filleted at our table!

img_2323Talk about fresh seafood…they were still moving!

img_2335Our first course, scallops

img_2332Ode to Mama Lola

The Spanish are known for being late diners. So when we went to our 8:30 reservation, we were surprised to see the place packed. But it was packed with Swiss, French, German, British and us! Apparently the rest of Europe dines earlier than the Spaniards! Seated next to a charming Swiss couple, we dove into great conversation about food, travel and even a little politics.

We strolled back to the hotel under the stars, along the cobblestone streets, back to our hotel for one of the best night’s sleep one the trip. However, students partying outside our window woke us in the middle of the night…ode to a college town!

Day 1: Barcelona

Arrived in Barcelona at midnight and hopped a cab to our apartment. Our host Juan Luis met us here to go over everything in the place AND provide dozens of recommendations. Who does that?

Slept until 11:30! Major jet lag, but proceeded to two Barcelona highlights, Gaudi’s La Padrera – the apartment building was outstanding. The highlight was the rooftop with its people-like chimneys and arches in which you would view La Sagrada Familia through an arch.

Next stop was another Gaudi favorite, Casa Batlló—this home is unlike anything you have ever seen—truly Gaudi-esque. The woodwork followed soft curves, with each room designed to capture outside light. Raised tiles that were situated throughout were another Gaudi detail. We were able to see how people lived in this apartment in the early 1900’s complete with nursery, maid’s quarters and kitchen. My favorite detail—vents that were finished wood that opened and closed to provide unique ventilation.

Lots of walking. Rather than get lost on the bus or subway, we figured we needed the exercise. Day one about five miles.

We stumbled around looking for a good place for dinner. Constantly getting lost, but discovering great photo and people watching opportunities. Headed to Vigo only to find it closed for vacation. Luckily, we fell upon another place just a few doors down that offered fine Barcelona tapas.

Our dinner started with the region’s famous “tomato bread” y jamón. They create a spread or jam of fresh tomatoes on their wonderful crusty, fresh bread. We followed with another Barcelona favorite, an egg dish with potato pasta of sorts. It had a nice kick to it, but not too spicy. Last, we had skewers of prawns and calamari—so fresh tasting…nothing like back home. We returned to our modern apartment to plan the next part of our journey to Girona.

Our First Blog

Over the past few years, my husband and I have been on the lookout for places to retire. Leaving the Arizona desert after more than four+ decades, we wanted to find a new home that was 1) affordable 2) cultural 3) urban 4) provides mass transit 5) bike friendly, and of course, had good medical facilities.

We set out to explore Portland and Seattle and were pretty set on moving to the Northwest until my husband read an article about living overseas. “Would you consider it,” he asked? “Hell yes,” I responded. And the search was on!

We quickly agreed that we would prefer to live in Europe versus some of the other affordable places to live in Central and South America and began our exploration.

A little background on us—Craig and I met eight years ago online. He had lost his wife of 32 years; I was in the middle of a lengthy divorce after 25 years. Our children had been out of the house for two years or more and we settled into an enriching life in Phoenix. We both enjoy travel, music, art, food and wine. He paints, plays tennis and cycles. I am an avid reader and hiker, who has enjoyed hundreds of miles throughout Arizona. Together we have explored Mexico, Belize, Italy, Hawaii, Oregon, New York, San Francisco, et al. Craig was a commercial photographer for 25 years prior to returning for an additional bachelor’s and master’s in nursing, now working in a community health clinic as a Family Nurse Practitioner. My first career was in advertising, marketing and public relations before shifting to nonprofit management. For the past three years have had a successful consulting business.

We like to immerse ourselves in cultural experiences, staying away from large hotels and typical tourist attractions, much preferring local flavor. On our trip to Belize, we borrowed the help’s rusty bikes to ride into the neighboring village where we participated in a fundraiser for a local woman undergoing cancer treatment. There we met Belizean soccer players, woodcrafters and many folks with “local flair.” The others at the hotel were surprised we ventured out for this experience, until they saw the handmade wooden bowl a local craftsman made especially for us. Picking out the log and design together, he carved a magnificent piece for us. When the guests heard about our artisan experience, they all wanted to purchase a piece from him. Of course we were delighted, helping this young man substantially boost his income.

WHAT WE LEARNED:

Research, research, research! Craig is the ultimate researcher and investigator. In a few short months, we had established a large ex-pat retirement and travel guide library. Our first inclination was Portugal—super affordable, beautiful. The drawback for us—we wanted to live in a cultural hub, not in an expat community, leaving Lisbon as the primary choice. After consideration, we felt that the language barrier would be too difficult and turned our sights to Spain. Living in Arizona, we had a much better sense of Spanish than Portuguese and thought the language would be much easier to master.

PLANNING OUR INVESTIGATIVE TRIP:

Our first trip is planned for September this year, when we planned to spend three weeks in the Costa Brava. Here’s a synopsis of what we have done to get to this place—

Subscribed to Expat Blogs – Other blogs served to be great resources of information

FlipBook – We download this great app on our iPads. It provides news and articles based on your personal interests. We each receive daily articles on Spain, Europe, retirement, travel and have found many other resources and innovative ideas through it.

Booked Our Flights – Try using the app #Hopper and ? to watch for falling airfares. After reading an article on #FlipBook we discovered #NorwegianAir and although we hail from Phoenix, found it worthwhile to fly to LA on Southwest, then flying LAX to Barcelona via Oslo. Waiting until #Southwest had a sale, we scored round-trip for $99! Using #SeatGuru.com we were able to read other’s experiences on the aircraft and the airline, identify the best seats without having to pay premium prices. Compared to the other airlines, we saved over $400 per ticket, even after paying for our Phx-LA leg of the journey. And that my friend, is a lot of paella!

Selected our Lodging – Traveling throughout the world via #AirBnB we have found unique, comfortable, quiet lodging. In planning our trip, our evenings were spent searching destination cities for best neighborhoods and favorite apartments. With AirBnB, you can choose to have your own place or share a home. We prefer our own space, but have had some nice encounters with shared space as well. Sharing our favorites with one another we whittle down neighborhoods, price and amenities. Lodging in Spain is hugely affordable—renting a one-bedroom apartment in city center for as little as $40 per night! Best of all, we have the opportunity to meet wonderful hosts who provide their own recommendations for things to do, places to see and eat.

In Country Transportation – We much prefer to use mass transit whenever we travel overseas. However, because we plan to visit many small cities and towns on our three-week journey, and we didn’t want to be committed to an itinerary or bus schedule, we found it necessary to rent a car. We’ll go into a little more detail about that experience at a later date.

Future Posts
We hope to provide you

  • Banking
  • Medical
  • Choosing a place to live

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