We moved to Valencia about 2 months ago, so I thought I’d share some of my first impressions, both the good and the not so good. Keep in mind that we’ve only lived here for a short time, and much of that time has been spent finding an apartment, and setting up our household. We’ve been eating out a lot during this time, and since it was summer, TJ was not in school and we were working hard to try and keep him entertained. (Note: We now refer to our home in San Jose as “Home Sweet Home” and our apartment in Valencia as “Home”. It just makes it easier in conversation so we can distinguish one from the other).
What I’m Loving So Far…
Definitely one of my favorite things so far about Spain! These are a dream for a light-sensitive sleeper like me. Imagine a steel blind, on the outside of the window that opens and closes at the touch of a button or a pull of a cord. It can be closed partially, or all the way to create total darkness. I can sleep in complete darkness no matter what time of day. I’ve always loved the blackout shades in hotel rooms because I could never achieve the same level of darkness at Home Sweet Home. Persianas are one of the best inventions, and have been common place in parts of Europe for ages.
Walk To Everything, At Almost Anytime Of Day
We live in the center of Valencia, in an area which is referred to here as Ciutat Vella, meaning Old City. We can just walk downstairs, step outside our building and are within a few minutes walk to stores, restaurants, and sights. A frozen yogurt place is literally under our apartment, and it’s open until 1am every day! The post office (Correos) and Metro are one block away and all the buses stop in front of our building. There’s a pharmacy across the square from us, and countless restaurants nearby. These conveniences are probably normal and taken for granted by anyone who grew up in a city, but for us suburbanites it’s a brand new experience, and something I’m really enjoying. Living in the city does come with some downsides, particularly in the kid department (see the Not So Much section below), but the convenience factor is great.
Beautiful Old Buildings and Charming Squares
The streets of the old city are crooked and winding, rather than set on a grid like more modern cities. As a result, you literally weave your way around, without knowing what to expect around the next corner. Still being new here, it’s always a fun adventure to just wander the streets and be surprised by what you’ll find. We are constantly discovering new little nooks and squares with cute cafes, fountains, and old world architecture. I imagine we’ll need to be here a while before we’ve discovered all of these “hidden gems”.
Inexpensive Wine and Bocadillos
The wine in Spain is good, and not expensive. In most restaurants you can get a 5-6 oz copa de vino for 2-3€ (and beer is often less). In grocery stores, there’s a wide selection of wines for 3-5€ per bottle. However, you can expect to pay 7-10€ for cocktails.
Bocadillos are baguette sandwiches, usually containing some type of jamón or tuna. You can get one for about 3€ and be pretty satisfied. There’s usually a good selection pre-made so if you don’t want to sit down you just ask for it para llevar – to take away. In this part of Spain, it’s also common to find bocadillos made with Spanish tortilla, a simple egg and potato omelette/frittata.
El Corte Inglés
Or “ECI” as we’ve come to call it. We’ve been there countless times since moving into our apartment. It’s every store rolled into one – home goods, groceries, clothing, office supplies, hardware, fabric, furniture, electronics, and it goes on and on. All of this contained within two 6 story buildings, just 5 minutes walk from our apartment. No need to accumulate a big list before heading out for a multi-stop shopping trip. Instead, we just take quick trips as we need things, as often as necessary. It couldn’t be more convenient.
Imagine an IKEA for sporting goods and you have Decathlon. Originally based in France, you can now find them all across Europe. It’s a big box store and they’ve got sporting and exercise equipment, athletic clothes and gear, camping equipment, bikes, scooters, etc., all at very low prices. Granted, it’s not the highest of quality, but it’s pretty great if you’re a family that just moved to a new place with nothing and only needs it to last for 2 years! We fully equipped ourselves for a weekend at the beach for under 50€.
Cheap, No-hassle Medications
It’s normal here to get almost all medications over the counter, for about a quarter of the price of Home Sweet Home. Pretty cool! It makes me realize how over-regulated the U.S. health care system is and how much mark up there is on meds and doctor’s visits. There’s a Farmacia on almost every block. Just look for the flashing green cross signs.
I’m not a “beach person” normally, and probably go to the beach in California once a year at most. Even though it’s only about 45 minutes away it seems like a production to pack everything up, make the haul over highway 17 and then have to deal with parking. Then once I get there I never go in the water because it’s too cold. But here in Valencia we’ve been to the beach three times already. It’s an easy metro ride away and it drops you right in front of the beach, which has umbrellas and chairs, and restaurants nearby. And the water is warmer than any ocean I’ve been in, so I actually go in!
And, Not So Much….
Lack of Variety in Food
We’re enjoying Spanish food, but you can only eat so many tapas and bocadillos before you start yearning for some variety. There isn’t much of that here. It seems that every restaurant you come across has a very similar menu. We felt the same about Germany and Italy after traveling there for several weeks. We suspect there is probably more variety than we think and we just haven’t found it yet. As Californians, particularly in the Bay Area, we’re really spoiled when it comes to the variety and quality of food choices. How I long for an Adelita’s taco and a big fragrant bowl of pho. Those will be my first stops when we return.
You Can’t Just “Go Out And Play”
Living in the city is very different from the suburbs for a kid (and his parents). As a 9 year old in the city, you can’t just go outside by yourself and play with the neighbors at any time and take a spin around the neighborhood on the scooter or bike. Toward the top of the list of things I’m missing from Home Sweet Home is taking my folding chair out to the front lawn, watching TJ and the neighborhood kids play, and chatting with my neighbors. I’m sure we’ll find our own version of this in the city eventually, but I don’t think it can ever live up to what we’re used to. I’m just a suburban girl at heart I guess. But that’s okay, this is about experiencing something different and getting out of our comfort zone. We are definitely doing that.
From what I can tell so far, Valencia lacks good playgrounds for older kids. There are lots of playgrounds for toddlers as well as one huge “playground” called Gulliver park which is a large concrete structure to play on. And of course the Turia greenbelt that runs around the city. But when it comes to actual play grounds and play structures for older kids to climb, hang and slide on, we haven’t really found any. Recently I set out to research all parks within 30 minutes on the bus/metro and found one that looked promising. It had really positive Yelp reviews and I was excited to see it. TJ and I jumped on the metro and got off to see what was probably an amazing park in it’s heyday. The reviews must have been old, because this place looked abandoned. There was one family playing, but it was totally overgrown with weeds, garbage scattered everywhere, and just generally forgotten by the City. Oh well, we will continue to search!