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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The Beginning of Goodbye

We adore our friends and families. That being said, I believe the next few weeks saying goodbye to those we love will truly be the most difficult. Both Craig and my fathers are 89 years old. Fortunately, Craig’s dad is active and in great shape, playing golf and living quite well. My father has gone down hill since my mother’s passing in September—he misses her terribly.

Craig returned to his birthplace in Michigan to visit his father and other family. This weekend I returned to the town where my kids grew up and I lived for 20 years before moving to Phoenix in 2008 for my farewell to a few of my dearest friends.

The girls planned my going-away dinner at one of Prescott’s best restaurants, El Gato Azul. Owned and operated by phenomenal chef and restaurateur Barry Barbe. Gato is a crown jewel in the small town of Prescott, AZ. For more than a decade Barry has featured scrumptious tapas and Spanish-inspired, fusion entrees created for adventurous palates. The tiniest of eateries, tucked along-side Granite Creek and a huge office building, Gato is always packed to the hilt with locals and a few visitors lucky enough to discover this gem.

Round I – fresh, specially prepared tapas por mi y amigas.

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo

As we ordered our drinks, Barry returned to the kitchen to get creative with a Cinco de Mayo-inspired menu. He proceed to serve us four specially created tapas. The first was a duck taquito with a cilantro crème fraiche, mini chicken mole enchiladas that were savory and scrumptious. Barry filled a margarita glass with smoky and spicy colossal shrimp, and completed the first round of tapas with gazpacho-inspired salsa and chips.

We sipped our refreshing sangria and continued to enjoy our meal as we reminisced about all the special meals Barry created for us over the years including both my sons’ high school graduation parties, numerous holiday events and more.

Even though Gato was packed to the gills, Barry took the time to create three more personally inspired tapas. The next by far was totally Spanish and by far one of the extraordinary flavor—saffron croquette with a mushroom ragu and rosemary cream. OMG! The flavors melded together in delight!

Saffron Croquettes – LOVE!

Next was a roasted duck breast with goat cheese crostini with a Jezebel sauce. This sweet and spicy sauce gets its sweetness from apricot preserves and a spicy kick from mustard and horseradish.

Roasted duck & goat cheese crostini…it kept getting better!

The second round was topped off with a crab Caprese salad with fresh basil, tomatoes and mozzarella pearls.

Chunks of fresh crab meat melded beautifully with the mozzarella pearls and sweet tomatoes.

Stuffed to the gills, we had to finish our meal with a shared crème brulee that melted in our mouths.

The rest of the evening was spent walking around the quaint Courthouse Square and sharing stories of the past 25+ years and thoughts of what Craig and I will discover in Valencia. My friends reminded me at I would not have any trouble finding new, wonderful friends in Spain. (It’s my reserved and quiet personality that keeps me from meeting people…not!) I can only hope and pray they are as dear as the friendships I have developed here in Arizona.