We’ve packed away our three giant suitcases, made two agonizing trips to IKEA, purchased the wrong size sheets for our bigger-than-a-full-but-smaller-than-a-queen mattress, and successfully planted a mini herb garden. Just now, about a month after moving in, we’re starting to realize (holy s$*#!), we actually live here. Like, we have refrigerator magnets and own furniture and pay electricity bills and everything. This is happening.
It’s no wonder it has taken so long for this obvious fact to settle in. We moved into our new apartment right before the beginning of August, the mother of all Spain shutdowns. Move over siesta, step aside, Sundays. For four weeks each summer, Spaniards (and many other European nationalities) shut down their businesses, close up their apartments, and go on vacation.
What does this mean for all the newbie expats who didn’t get the memo and can’t afford to vacation for a month at a time? It means everything is closed. Even more so than the regular Spanish everything-is-closed schedule. All of those things we’ve been putting off until our summer work was finished and we were settled in the new apartment… closed. Even the swimming pool is closed for the month. Of August. Go figure.
And the good ‘ol lack of efficiency is brought to a new level. Nothing can be accomplished in August. Government buildings and post offices have “summer hours,” meaning they leave early for siesta and just don’t come back. We have tried to go out to a few restaurants that we’ve been meaning to try, only to be faced with a “closed for August” sign. Our refrigerator is running at sub-arctic temperatures and our landlord told us it can be fixed in September. Evidently this is par for the course.
So, here we are. The people who haven’t had a normal life - home, routine, etc. - in over a year, in somewhat of a forced vacation scenario. We’ve taken our 5-day vacation to the Costa Del Sol (a perfectly reasonable vacation length by American standards) and have returned home ready to get our daily life on. For the past three weeks, we’ve been somewhat successful at setting our own routine: working from cafes, running in the park (no laps in the pool, it’s closed), squeezing in a little beachtime, planning our upcoming wedding, and cooking at home. We can’t lie, the August shutdown forces us to relax and not feel obligated to figure out how to go to the dentist, schedule residency meetings, and attend Spanish class. But we’re also hyper aware that all of these things will need to happen, all at once, in about one week. Then there’s a slight chance that we may go from laid back to a frazzled all at once.
Now that it’s the last week of August, the city is starting to wake up. The park is full of landscapers, workers wading in the fountains cleaning out the August beer bottles, and teams wearing orange vests painting bridges. It’s very much like those last few days of summer before school starts when you’re a kid. We think we want it to happen, but we’re not entirely sure.
Moving to a new country halfway across the world is anything but boring. We’re constantly discovering new things, many of which we love and others that, well, maybe we don’t love so much. Being so far from home sparks some intense reflection and often, a good deal of nostalgia over seemingly insignificant parts of our former lives. Today we’re reflecting on our new home; what we love, what we like, and what we’re still getting accustomed to. We’re also reminiscing on the small things we miss.
We LOVE the sunshine that radiates over Valencia on a daily basis. If the weather along the Valencian Coast, nestled against the Balearic Sea, isn’t perfect, we’re really not sure what is.
We MISS our personal space. Maybe it’s a product of growing up in the new world, where freeways connect us to our jobs, homes, friends, parks, stores, and pretty much everything, but we do occasionally yearn for those few inches of oxygen which separate us from our closest neighbor. But since the personal bubble, in any form, doesn’t seem to exist in Spain, or most of Europe for that matter, we’ll just have to adjust. But people, please remember… showers and deodorant are both beautiful things that god/motherearth/scientologyaliens truly wanted us to use.
We LOVE Spanish wine. Yes, Ryan is from Sonoma, the epicenter of great California wine. But there’s something different about Spanish wines. Maybe it’s the 2 euro price tag that accompanies bottles from 2014 and 2009, either of which can stand up to any $12 California bottle. Maybe it’s because the Spanish chill red wines so that they can be drunk comfortably at a corner cafe in the 90 degree heat. Or maybe it’s because they seem to lack pretension. Wine is drunk by all in Spain. Out of short, regularly-sized glasses instead of fish bowls perched atop an 18 inch stem. Whatever it is, we like it. Check that, we LOVE it.
We MISS communicating and having things make sense. Sure, we’re learning Spanish. Sure, a few Valencianos speak English. But the reality is the far majority don’t and our Spanish still isn’t good enough for a long, thoughtful conversation. There’s an ease that comes with understanding how things work, what people are saying, and what to expect. In Spain, and much of Europe, that ease is missing. And in its place is the slightest level of anxiety, created by the difficulty in doing just about anything. To be fair, this anxiety too is disappearing over time. Until it’s gone completely though, we’ll miss communication.
We LOVE the relaxed lifestyle of Spain. The “no pasa nada” life is real here. Nothing really happens, or matters, too much. Don’t be worried, or stressed, or concerned, the Spanish might say. It’s a goal of ours to become more relaxed, have fun, and find the many pleasures in the small things the way the Spanish (and Italians, Portuguese, French, etc., etc.) do. Until we get to that point, we will continue to have a...
LOVE/HATE relationship with siestas and the Sunday shutdown. Sure, both are incredible ideas in theory. But when you’re a product of American society and want to go shopping on a Sunday, get a haircut in the afternoon, or do just about anything between the hours of 2pm and 5pm, it gets a little frustrating. But is it really that important to get those things done right then? Probably not. The Spanish certainly don’t think so. They’ll tell you to try in the afternoon, which we’re quite certain they consider to be the period of time between 6pm and midnight.
We MISS Mac ‘N Cheese. And if you don’t understand, try living somewhere without easy access to Mac ‘N Cheese. You’ll get it.
We LOVE olives. Holy moly, olives are f*cking incredible in Spain. We even eat the kind with pits now, because *gasp* they’re better that way. If we weren’t positive they are part of the formula for a long, happy, and healthy life, we might worry that we’re eating too many. But no, that’s actually not possible.
We MISS having options. America is the land of options and we can’t lie, we love the option of having so many options. Valencia has Spanish food, a bit of Italian food, some sushi, and most of the things you find in the U.S. and the stores have plenty of food items, so we really don’t want to complain. But coming from the states, where every grocery store presents you with 17 different types of mustard, 22 different varieties of craft beer, and an aisle dedicated to every ethnic group that ever set foot in the U.S.A., Spain can feel a bit limited. But still, we’re trying hard not to complain. So the next time we go to the store, or out to eat, we’ll keep the great words of Aziz Ansari close in mind and remember that “All of my options, are still options.”
We LOVE eating tapas outside. Again, eating outside is something the near perfect Valencian weather affords us and we simply cannot get enough. Olives or potato chips come with every drink and delicious Spanish tapas are cheap and tasty. Having this experience on the patio of a restaurant in a 500 year old plaza just makes it that much sweeter.
We LOVE the fun, vibrant and generally friendly, people.
We MISS the guarantee of a quiet night’s sleep. Having drunk people (Spaniards and tourists alike) turn our tiny downstairs street corner into a late night gathering place seems to be an all too often occurrence. We’ve practiced saying “go home” and “be quiet” in Spanish and have fantasies of pouring a bucket of water out the window disguised as some late night plant watering. We’ll see how this unfolds over time.
We MISS efficiency. In any form. Like, seriously Spain. Do you even know what efficiency is?
We LOVE how inexpensive Spain is. Dollar for dollar. Ahem, Euro for Euro, there cannot be a better formula for location and quality of life for so cheap. We’ll talk more about this later, but everything from rent, to groceries, to dinner and drinks, to travel, is extremely cost effective here. It’s truly the reason we’ve been able to start our own business and focus our time on the things we love most.
Okay, that’s it… for now. We’ll surely have more to share soon and fully expect some of those “Miss” items to go away and find plenty of new things we “Love” as we venture through this adjustment period.
A couple years ago we were living what some would consider the “American Dream.” We both had great jobs (like the kind people dream of landing), solid professional networks and careers that were moving along an upward trajectory. We were making the salaries necessary to support living in two of the most expensive places in the U.S., with solid benefit plans, health care coverage, and 401k contributions. Life was good and we felt secure.
When we met and decided to move in together, we could have combined our savings to buy a (somewhat) nice (tiny) apartment in SF, or a newish home near the beach on Maui. But instead, an inspired, lovestruck craziness set in and we saved enough to circle the globe, visit 21 countries, and come back with a little nest egg to start something new. Even though this was the option with more risk, less security and less long-term investment, we felt the investment in experiences and memories was well worth the cost.
There’s something equally crazy and magical that happens when you travel for a long period of time. Maybe it’s the realization that you can be happy and comfortable without many things. Or how you define “home” and what (or who) you need to find it. Or it could be seeing how other people in different parts of the world live and what they value most. Or maybe it’s just as simple as assessing how our precious time and hard earned money are used. But, with the risk of sounding completely cliche, travel changed our perspective.
We decided early on that our next career move required two things: 1) the freedom to live the kind of life that brings us happiness and 2) a contribution to something bigger. So as we were traveling, we started a website focused on sustainable and socially responsible travel. We worked along the way, telling stories, seeking out the best, most responsible (environmental and social) hotels and activities. Building a website and writing stories gave us routine and a purpose on the road. Not surprisingly, it also led to connections with some very cool business owners, employees and philanthropists. Without even realizing it, our professional network had expanded around the world and we found that this - helping people experience the same freedom of travel and satisfaction of making a contribution to the places they visit - was really, really rewarding.
Earlier this year, in safe little Sonoma, CA, we spent hours on the business plan for Cohica 2.0 - evolving our previous passion project into a real, money-making business. We became officially accredited by IATA, meaning we can book travel to those amazing places we visited at rates that are not accessible to the public. We reached out to our network of sustainable hotels, voluntourism, and responsible tour operators throughout the world. And now, half way through the year, we’re proud to offer both experiential travel packages and custom/curated trips that are unlike anything you can find online.
Oh yea, and we moved to Spain. The low-cost of living and public benefits (virtually free, high quality health care!) here provide less financial pressure than we would have starting a business in the US. Living in Valencia still does require a regular income (we need to support all that wine drinking, after all), so while we’re getting Cohica up and running, we’ll each be teaching English for about 15 hours a week starting in September.
If we can make this work, then we will really be living the American, um, expat dream. We will be working on something we believe in, offering experiences that are both inspiring and responsible. We’ll have time with one another, time to travel and have the incredible gift of feeling challenged, humbled, scared and alive. It’s not for everyone, but it’s our dream. And, with time, effort and patience, we’re slowly getting there.
Open Google Maps, type in “Valencia, Spain" and zoom in to the little red marker in the center of the city. If you move up and to the left, slightly, you may see Torres de Quart, The Central Market of Valencia or the Catedral de Valencia. Well, that’s us, right smack in the middle of these historic landmarks. In the middle of Centro Historico, on the southern edge of El Carmen, one of the oldest, and liveliest (as we’ve come to find) areas of the city. Yep, this is our new home.
After two months desperately navigating Spanish rental websites, pushing through a dazzling array of Mediterranean bureaucracy, staying in four different AirBnB’s, having three surefire opportunities disappear out of thin air, and a negotiation process which consisted of a 3 hour Spanglish back and forth over beer and espresso, we FINALLY found a home. For the first time in almost a year and a half, we have a place to live that’s ours. And with a flat in the middle of a 2,100 year old city in Spain, comes some unique situations.
Built in 1840, the building we’ve just recently moved into is almost as old as the country we recently left. Our new street, Calle Rey Don Jaime, runs perpendicular to Calle de la Conquista. Both are short, narrow and seemingly insignificant. But as we’ve learned, these street names are anything but. Rey Don Jaime (translation: King James) conquered (hence, Calle de la Conquista) the Moors in the early 13th century, officially creating the Kingdom of Valencia (so, basically, there’s some history here).
We enter our new (old) building through 15 foot doors, walk past the Porteria, past a pulley-operated basket for transporting heavy groceries to the third floor, and up tiled stairs which are as Spanish as any we’ve seen since our arrival. The apartment itself is an experiment of old, new, weird, and purely awesome. There are wood beams throughout the living room and hallway, terra cotta tiled floors, 8 foot glass doors in the foyer that open into the inside of the building, and a kitchen which looks onto a small terrace and ancient walled-in monastery garden. The washing machine is in the kitchen, which has no oven (we bought a giant table top - sobre mesa - toaster oven). And yes, the bathroom does have a bidet, which we weren't entirely sure what to do with for the first 10 days. We get it now.
We’ve tried putting a few small nails in the walls to hang photos and prints, but failed miserably, because, well, they’re two feet of pure 19th century stone. The flat was rented partially furnished, a 6-hour adventure to IKEA in a rented van has allowed us to mix in some modern furniture with the existing antiques. Since we’re on the first floor (second, by U.S. standards) the balconies off both our bedroom and the guest bedroom have steel security bars to protect from any overly curious or overly intoxicated passersby. While not ideal, they serve as a perfect place to put plants, which we’re collecting at a rapid pace.
All in all, it’s a wonderful, strange, and beautifully different place. Inside our new apartment, we feel at home for the first time in months. Step outside and we have any number of incredible new things to explore within just a few minutes walk. Restaurants, bars, markets, cathedrals, museums and parks are all at our doorstep.
Finally, a home. All of this may be just what we've been searching for.
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