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Friday, August 24, 2007

Being There, Getting Here

Being There, Getting Here

I don’t think that I have ever really explained just how I came to live in Valencia, Spain from Seattle, U.S.A. I had wanted to live in Europe since I lived here before many years ago. Ever since I was about 17 or 18 I have wanted to live in Paris, and although I have traveled there many times, I am still waiting for that dream to come to happen. One life-long dream at a time is all I can seem to muster at this stage of the game. I haven’t given up on living in Paris but I have a few detours to live out along the way.

But why did I choose Valencia, Spain? Living here was never anything like a life-long dream. I barely knew anything about it before I got here. On my first trip to Europe when I was 20 years old I passed through here very briefly. Spain was a lot different back then. It was still struggling to define itself after the death of Franco and 40 years of dictatorship and repression. Nothing that I saw in Valencia back then impressed me enough to make me think about living there one day.

The time came for me when I knew that the day had come for me to move to Europe; it was just a matter of where. I had recently visited Madrid and really was impressed with how Spain had been steadily and rapidly advancing through all of the years that I had been traveling there. It had gone from what was practically a third world country to an advanced and modern society that had surpassed the United States in areas like mass transit and public health. My Spanish as well as my French had been sorely neglected over the years although I made efforts to hold on to what I already knew. I tried to improve my language skills but this is a Herculean task when living in the United States.

I needed to make a decision as to where I was going to live when I moved to Europe. My thinking about this matter was heavily influenced by the fact that my Spanish was better than my French. I felt that moving to Spain instead of France would be an easier adjustment. I also wanted to finally get around to speaking at least one foreign language really well after spending my whole life studying languages. It was kind of like betting on a horse race and I chose Spanish and Spain. Spain is a big country so I had to narrow it down a bit. As much as I love Madrid, I wanted to live on the Mediterranean Sea again after spending three idyllic years as a resident of Athens, Greece with a spectacular view of the Saronic Gulf from my fourth flood apartment.

Barcelona is a beautiful city but I felt that the people there spoke Catalan so much that it would hinder my study of Spanish. Of course, people in Valencia have their own language as well, but I felt that Valenciano wasn’t as prevalently spoken in Valencia as is Catalan in Barcelona. I think my original assumption was correct. Valenciano is not widely spoken in the city.

I wanted to live in a fairly large city. Valencia is slightly larger than Seattle and has the urbanity I like while there is fairly easy access to the country. Valencia doesn’t have the best airport or rail connections but neither does my former home on the West Coast. I did put some thought in where I was going to start my new life just in case you thought I just threw a dart at a map.

I would have to say that Valencia turned out to be an excellent choice. I feel more and more at home here and I think that I know the city about as well as a veteran cab driver. Spending countless Sunday mornings pedaling through every nook and cranny of the city tends to make you pretty knowledgeable about local geography. I could work as a guide in the Albufera Nature Park to the south of the city because of the hundreds of hours I have spent bike riding along every bike lane, road, foot path, and goat trail in that area.

Right now I have to find another apartment, always a horrible experience. When I heard that we were losing our lease where I now live I contemplated moving to another city in Spain, or perhaps even across the border to France—not Paris, mind you, not yet. In the end I decided to stay here in Valencia a while longer. I love it here and I hope that my new accommodations don’t do anything to change my opinion. Where I live now will be almost impossible to beat for a lot of reasons, but change is usually a good thing for me. The change I have experienced these past 9 months certainly have been.

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