It's 2018, and we’re reflecting on the best parts of last year as we adjusted to our life as expats in Spain and explored new travel destinations throughout Europe.
In 2017 we finally started to get the hang of life in Spain and are wrapping up the year feeling more at home in Valencia than ever before. Afterall, in the last year we…
Living less than 200 miles away in Valencia, it’s hard to understand why it took us so long to go to Mallorca. The largest of the Balearic Islands archipelago, Mallorca (also spelled Majorca) is home to some of the most absolutely epic beaches we’ve ever seen.
Happy Spanniversary to us! We’ve officially survived year number one of expat life (undoubtedly the hardest one, right? Wait, right!?). In some ways it’s hard to believe– we’re just now starting to feel more settled, more secure and more at home. But in other ways, so much has happened over the past twelve months.
Oh hey. It’s been awhile. The past two months have been a whirlwind of long weekends, exploration, visitors, Spanish classes and, well, “real” life in Spain. We’ve both been working 25-32 hours and taking 4 hours of Spanish each week. Taking advantage of Spain’s generous holiday calendar (five paid holidays over the last two months), we’ve managed to squeeze in two trips to Barcelona and long weekends in both Ibiza and Scotland. Although we very consciously manage our budget and time to include travel, we're still pinching ourselves that we've been "weekending" in these types of places.
Ahhh, the New Year. A time to reflect on all that was the previous year and compensate with resolutions for the year ahead.
We’re firm believers in living big - making bold moves, no matter how risky they feel in order to create the life we want to live. So, we’re wrapping up 2016 with nothing but love! After all, we got to spend time with both of our families in California and Colorado, drove the entire West Coast from LA to Vancouver, moved to Spain and have started to learn Spanish, evolved our website to a real, money-making (not much, but still) business, got married in a Tuscan villa, and spent the holidays in Germany and Belgium. No complaints here.
A few days ago, we were walking down our street in the El Carmen neighborhood of historical Valencia, Spain and found ourselves stopped in front of this door. It's one of many, incredible, unique, and MASSIVE doors that we walk past every day but rarely pause to appreciate. We started thinking of all the cool doors we've come across over the past 18 months. Evidently we have a thing for doors because we've stopped and photographed them all over the world. They say when one door closes, another one opens. We're not sure how that applies here, but these are 29 of the best, most beautiful doors we've found, in no particular order.
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.
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.
Living in Spain is like going back to college. You work sort-of hard during the year until summertime, at which point you get a part time job, party until the sun comes up, spend hours at the beach, and go on vacation for a minimum of four weeks. Businesses operate under summer hours, meaning elongated siestas to avoid the heat. And the entire country essentially stops functioning for the month of August to go on vacation (or “holiday,” considering the rest of Europe also takes part in this awesome ritual). Needless to say, moving to Spain in late spring, just in time to experience the summer, has been a beautiful transition back into the workforce.
One of the primary reasons we chose Spain is to dedicate time and energy into growing our experiential travel business (which we’ll be relaunching in the coming days). Along with public benefits (including virtually free healthcare), Spain offers a very low cost of living, giving us the flexibility to work less than 20 hours a week and still focus on designing incredible travel experiences for our customers. That being said, we were both very eager to land a job in Valencia, not so much for the pay, but more for the opportunity to be a part of the community, be challenged, and meet new friends.
Mission accomplished. For the past three weeks, we’ve been teaching little Spanish kiddos at a local English Academy. The summer program is four weeks total (it ends just in time for that August holiday) so we’ve been working Monday-Friday for four hours each day. With a newfound respect for our friends and family who are accredited and professional long-term educators, we step into our (still temporary) apartment every day at 1pm, completely exhausted and with songs like “hello, how are you” and “what do you like to do in the summer” permanently lodged in our minds. Unable to break the late dinner + wine and bed at midnight habit, we’re also now officially experts at siesta-ing (that didn’t take long!). The experience has been incredible and has reminded us how refreshing, inspiring, and flat-out fun it is to spend time with kids. Especially the adorable, inquisitive and mostly well-behaved Spanish ones.
As these things usually go, the job has also led to meeting a handful of awesome people, a new friendship and a job contract (11-15 hours) for nine months starting in September. It’s a perfect scenario and we’re starting to get a glimpse as to what life here will look like long-term.
Now we’re concentrating on nailing down an apartment (we’ve looked at a million and have had three legitimately fall through); desperately hoping this is something we can accomplish before August when the city empties out and we hunker down to work on Cohica. And we’re working on getting Ryan residency, which means more meetings, paperwork, and Spanish bureaucracy, so he can legally work in the fall and won’t be deported when his 3-month visa expires in a few weeks.
The part-time work schedule is quite a departure from both of our previous professional lives, which is perfect for us right now. Ultimately, we hope that Spain can provide the flexibility, balance, lifestyle, and time with one another that we’re looking for.
It's the final countdown. This Sunday night, we’ll drive to SFO, coincidentally where our relationship began, to embark on another new beginning. We’ll strap on our trusty backpacks, to which we’re weirdly attached after visiting 21 countries together, and drag our three giant suitcases to the counter, praying each weighs less than 50 pounds.
Right now, as we write this, the fact that we’re moving to Spain in just a few days is finally sinking in. But we’re ready. Well, sort of.
Those of you who've traveled can relate… when we first returned from 8 months on the road, everything about home was exciting. Catching up with family and friends; the number of choices at the grocery store; a cup of coffee larger than an espresso shot; unpacking without repacking; a tall glass of tap water. But it didn’t take long to slip back into “normal” life. We even went on an amazing road trip to the Pacific Northwest, spent a month in Colorado, explored a good portion of California (including the redwood forests, Mendocino, Santa Barbara and Palm Springs), and had a couple of major life altering events, both good and bad. Yet still, we managed to fall into a routine where the days began to run together. It made sense - we had gotten comfortable.
There are benefits to being comfortable. It can be less stressful. It’s easier in ways. Mostly though, you know what to expect. But for us, right now, it’s an indication that it's time to move on to something new. We’ve begun to crave the discomfort that comes with traveling and exploring somewhere new. We miss the challenge of speaking a new language and the stimulation of learning a different culture. We’re actually excited about not knowing what to say or how to act in certain situations- completely comfortable with the fact that we’ll look like idiots... daily. We’re ready. Mentally, that is.
Logistically, we’re not quite there yet. We've yet to fill those three giant suitcases with the prized possessions that made the cut from Maui. We don’t have Spanish bank accounts, credit cards, or any Euros. We have a few recommendations on neighborhoods that are considered “young and hip” but don’t quite know how to rent a flat (through an agency? Idealista, Spain's version of Craigslist?). We’re not sure where to apply for residency and social benefits. We literally booked an AirBnB apartment five days ago for the next two weeks and remembered yesterday that we should arrive in Spain with a European plug adapter. Seriously.
But the thing is, we’ll figure it all out. It’s part of the fun, part of the adventure, part of why it’s called “taking a leap.” We have tools, resources, and each other. But above all, we have the desire to try; to give it a real shot. We have no idea how the future will unfold. If we’ll be living in Europe five years from now with funny little bilingual children, or if we’ll crave the comfort, security and relationships that come with a home in the U.S. All we can do now is slowly cross items off our moving “to do” list, pack our bags, take a deep breath, get on the plane, and go. One giant leap.
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