It is February, which for many of us still feels like the middle of winter. Everyone is longing for sunshine and springtime and dreaming of the summer vacation. This month is the ideal time to start planning ahead and grab some good deals for your next holiday. A friend of mine asked me recently whether I could recommend somewhere to go as a young family. I remembered the resort we booked ourselves two years in a row on Tenerife and for good reason. As a mum of two active small boys I know what it’s like to be in need of a well deserved break, and this place ticked a lot of boxes. It has an outdoor soft play….and a spa!
We never ever thought we would enjoy an all-inclusive holiday, travel snobs as we are, but when we caved in one year, we booked again the next. And to the same resort, what were we like! Be Live Family Costa Los Gigantes, on Tenerife. The first time we went, we had a toddler and a baby in tow and we were quite frankly, exhausted! If you have ever traveled with small children, you know that you often wonder why on earth you even make the effort. To just stay in one place and not having to think about logistics, money, meals and laundry for a week was amazing.
It’s a big resort, with hundreds of rooms. The room we booked was a large family room with a lounge (sofa bed) and separate bedroom. The buffets were very good quality, and all fresh, despite having to serve hundreds of people and such a large hotel. It had something for everyone and enough choice for picky eater too. In between the mealtimes you were able to get snacks and drinks from the poolside bars as well as small meals, fruit and yogurts for hungry kids.
Other things it has are free wifi, a laundry service, a few shops and theatre (with some cheesy shows, but hey, the kids loved it). As in many resorts, there are also many daily activities, such as yoga, tennis and other fitness classes. And a high rope and zip wire for the older children.
eat, play, swim, nap, repeat
The swimming pools were great for all ages, including a nice bit for babies and the resort was big enough to go for a wander around. The main pool was a a bit lively at times with music and entertainers doing their bit, but there were plenty of other spots you could spend the day. There is a quiet pool on the other end for those wanting to enjoy a bit of zen.
At the resort, we just ended up doing the same boring round each day: breakfast, then down to the outdoor soft play area (where we often met other nice parents from various places around Europe – all in the same phase of life). Then we’d have a splash in the pool, go for lunch, have more pool time or just a nap, and then if we made it, dinner. It may sound like a nightmare for people with no kids, but for it was exactly what we needed!
I used to be a backpacking adventurer and we probably will be in the future, but in this phase of our life it was just bliss to be looked after and have a proper rest. I would recommend this place for any of you with children, and especially young children.
We moved to Valencia in February 2018 and have now been here almost a year. Valencia is becoming quite popular with foreigners moving to this wonderful city and I think we are all struggling with the same questions. Moving to Valencia with kids means questions around schools, family friendly neighbourhoods, healthcare and other issues. Where to live, which schools to choose and where to start with your paperwork.
So how do you organise an international move like this? Where do you start when moving to Valencia with kids? When still living in Scotland, where we came from before settling in Valencia, we were already planning our move for about a year beforehand. Once we picked our destination, I did a lot of research online, printed out info about neighbourhoods and schools and I joined a number of online forums and facebook groups. Some useful groups to join beforehand are:
Internations is an international forum for expats all around the world.There are free and paid for memberships and I chose to pay for a basic membership for six months, to get access to the forums and being able to ask questions to other members. It was worth it, as I ended up making a few great contacts and even friendships, before we even moved. To already know a few people in Valencia who had made the move before us, felt comforting and reassuring in the run up to our actual move.
Facebook groups for expats in Valencia
This is a bit of a hit and miss in my opinion, because there are all kinds of people in these groups, from all walks of life and each with their own very personal opinion. Ask a question about schools – or anything really – and you are often none the wiser. Still, you may get the odd gem of information or end up making a few contacts who you are on the same wavelength with.
Type in ‘Expats in Valencia’ in the search bar and you’ll get a number of groups you can join. If you are a mum with children under the age of 14, the (private) group Bumps and Babies has been the best source of support, information and friendship in my opinion. If you are a ‘digital nomad’ or you run your own business, the groups Valencia Coffees and Co-working and Expats and Business in Valencia have been useful for me to make contacts and even find some freelance work.
Handy maps to buy: know your whereabouts
I love maps and I am very happy we bought some before we moved. We stuck them on our wall in the study and used them to circle our favourite neighbourhoods, school locations and potential places to move to. It really helped to narrow down places to look for accommodation, as well as to understand the city and surroundings, distances and the whole region better. These maps were very good in my opinion:
Moving to Valencia with kids means you have to find schools. Many parents worry about this as of course we all want to do the best thing for our children. Most of us expats are worried about the kids struggling with the Spanish language and school system and maybe not thriving. Most kids do perfectly fine though and pick up the language in no time, especially when they are young. It is good to prepare yourself for an initial adaptation period which requires a bit of extra love and support from the parents (we had this too! Read my post about that here).
International, bilingual or Spanish?
There are a LOT of schools in Valencia. I don’t think there are many other cities where there is such a vast choice in public, semi-private and private schools; Spanish schools, bilingual schools, American schools, French schools and British schools; and then there is the choice of curriculum. My advice? Write down your criteria for a school and don’t let yourself get caught up in the heated online discussions about which school is best. It is VERY personal and what works for someone else may not work for you.
My other bit of advice? Visit a number of schools beforehand so you get a good idea of the different facilities, atmospheres, etc. Many expats end up choosing one of the big private American or British schools, but your children may actually be just as happy in a public Spanish school (which could save you a ton of money and your kids may end up speaking Spanish a lot quicker). It all depends on what you want for your family.
One thing to remember is that to get into a public or semi-private school (called a ‘concertado’), you will need to live in the catchment area as the local municipality will decide whether your children get a space or not, if they have availability. The private schools do not have this criterium. Alhough you can try and get into a school all year round, the general enrollment time is one week in May, where you can apply for a spot in the schools of your choice. Your local municipality, wherever you end up, will have the dates on their website around that time.
As an expat arriving in Spain you will not be able to join the free public healthcare system unless you have a Spanish work contract and are an employee. If you are registered as an autonomo (self employed) person and are paying into the social security system you also have access.
So what most do, is get private health insurance which then gives you access to the private hospitals. We have done this for our family. To give you an example, for our family of four we are currently paying about 200 euro per month with Adeslas, one of the main insurance providers. We have been happy so far as you get very quick appointments with any specialist in hospital and good care overall. The public system however is also very good in general, but of course, waiting lists are a little longer than with private healthcare.
Accommodation in Valencia
Now, where to find a house! Again, a bit of research beforehand is useful, so you can narrow down the areas you would like to focus on when house hunting. Most expats start renting first, which is a good idea as you just don’t know how you’ll feel until you’ve lived somewhere for a while. With that in mind, it should take the pressure off a little bit about whether a flat or house is perfect or not. As more people are moving here, great rental homes are becoming a little more in demand, so prepare for having to be a bit more flexible with your preferred location, budget or space criteria.
Renting an AirBnB to buy time
For us, the main criterium was location, because we wanted to have our children in a certain semi-private school, so we had to live nearby. We were lucky to secure a rental agreement on a house before we actually moved, but many expats rent an AirBnB for a month or longer when they arrive after which they take their time to figure out where to rent or buy.
Property websites for homes in valencia
The main websites to look on for houses are Idealista and Fotocasa, although there are others too. These two have the largest amounts of property advertised. Most estate agents will ask for one month of administration fee. They will also ask for at least one month deposit. Some landlords require a few or more months rent up front if you can not yet provide enough proof of income or have only just arrived here. Private landlords will not ask for the administration fee, but a deposit and some rent up front is usually standard.
Hiring help: a relocation agency
It can be useful to hire someone to help you with all the paperwork. It can take a lot of headaches out of the process and you will save a lot of time. We hired an agency and it was worth every euro. They helped us set up a bank account, arranged all house viewings, organised rental agreement and liaised on our behalf, set up the internet and accompanied us to acquire our NIE number (tax number) and Empadronamiento (registration with the local council). These last two things are essential papers to get as soon as possible as you’ll need them often.
Moving to Valencia was the company we hired. We still hire them for help sometimes when we need that extra bit of reassurance when tackling the Spanish bureaucracy. They have a lot of information on their website about how to organise paperwork like NIE, how to find accommodation, articles on neighbourhoods and more. So even if you decide to do it yourself, it’s a helpful site.
Have you ever thought of doing a home exchange during the vacations with a total stranger in a totally different country? The first thought that pops into people’s head is often “oh, I don’t fancy having strangers going through my drawers and what if they wreck the place?” But we have now done home swaps on a number of occasions and we absolutely LOVE it. Here’s why.
new toys and a home from home
The first time we swapped was with a family in Edinburgh during the October holidays and it was amazing. All we needed to do was drive for a couple of hours and we didn’t spend much more money that week than entries to the zoo, a few meals out and normal food shopping. We enjoyed experiencing life in a city neighbourhood, in a gorgeous Victorian house. The kids had the best time, discovering millions of ‘new’ toys. Since then we have done it a number of times, nationally and internationally and it is positive every time.
Risky? Stranger-danger? Sure, there is always a little bit of risk doing something informal like this, but from experience I can say that most house swappers are kind, caring, helpful, generous and welcoming people. They are willing to give you the keys to their house after all. It is a matter of trust. And, by the way, we have always found our house ten times cleaner than we left it and our cat spoiled rotten.
The pros of home swapping for the holidays
Well, I could make an endless list, because I am such a fan of the concept, but here are my main reasons for opening my house to people from around the world in return for a stay in theirs.
You cut out the accommodation costs
Let’s be fair, home swapping is not just fun, it also saves you a heck of a lot of money. Imagine having to fork out nightly hotel costs or the rental of a holiday home for a couple of weeks. Even doing AirBnB adds up for a week, no matter how low the price per night is. Home swapping can drastically bring down the cost of your holiday, especially if you are already paying for flights.
It is a home from home
No swanky hotels during a home swap but the comforts of a home. You literally move into someone’s house, so you find their fully kitted out kitchen, comfy sofa’s, a beautiful terrace or garden, shelves full of books and – if you swap with a young family – plenty of ‘new’ toys for your own children to get excited about. You move into a whole new neighbourhood for a bit, get a feel for what it’s like to actually live here. In fact, we once felt so at home during our home swap with a family in Valencia that we ended up moving here permanently, haha!
You get to stay in incredible houses around the world. For free.
You can keep it local and swap with someone in your own country. We have just agreed an exchange to stay a week in a beautiful house in the mountains near Alicante, Spain, which for us is just a short car journey away right now. You may find surprising locations just on your doorstep.
Someone with a quiet cottage in the wilderness may love to come and stay in your inner city apartment. But likewise, someone with a beach house in a hot climate may just be dying to come to the misty west coast of Scotland. Also, if you have always wanted to visit Canada, Australia or the Far East, you can try and swap with someone over there. The flights will be the only pricey aspect, but you’ll be saving a LOT on accommodation. And what better way to travel and get to know a different culture, than by living like a local?
You get insider tips from the home owner
Most home swappers, including myself, find real joy in preparing a welcome pack full of insider tips, hidden gems, maps, brochures and itineraries for lovely days out. It is a great way to get to know a new city or area through the eyes of someone who lives there.
You have pet care sorted
Got cats (or goldfish or chickens…) that need looking after during the holidays? Many home exchangers are happy to look after your pets as well as your home while you are away. Saves additional expenses on catteries and they can stay in their own environment. Of course check with the people you invite whether they are happy to do this kind of thing.
You can even swap cars
If you are not too precious about your vehicle, this is another great saving you can make during a home swap. In the UK you will need to put an additional driver on your car insurance, which won’t be much more than 60 pounds usually and most home swappers are happy to pay this as it is way cheaper than hiring a car. In Europe the car itself is insured, hence you won’t need to pay for additional drivers on your insurance. Not everyone will want to swap cars, but it is especially great when you are unable to bring your own because you are traveling by plane, so worth asking!
Are there any cons at all? Not many in my opinion, but of course there can be issues which would make you not want to do a home swap.
You will have to tidy up and clean your house beforehand
We underestimated this the first time we swapped, haha! But yes, before you leave your house to your visitors, it is only good manners to clean the house top to bottom and put the clutter and stray clothes and toys away. This can take longer than you think, so good to start early. On a plus note: you will probably come home to your house in an even cleaner and tidier state than you left it. After which my home returns to its usually happy, messy state within half a day.
Things may break
Got a Ming Dynasty vase from your great grandmother on the sideboard? A beautiful, delicate set of glasses you don’t want anyone to touch? Your kids got some new or expensive toys they don’t want to break or get lost? While 9 out of 10 times nothing will go wrong, we are all human and things can break. Guests broke one of our plates, we broke one of their toys. People are mostly honest and tell you immediately, offer to replace the item or leave a bit of money as a ‘sorry’ gift. Still, if you have stuff you definitely don’t want anything to happen to, put it away safely.
If you have a spare room that doesn’t need to be used during the swap, put all your private or fragile stuff in here and ask your guests kindly to respect this room and keep it closed. If you have a key, lock it. We usually let friends of neighbours look after our computer and financial documents for the time we’re away. Not because you expect the guests to rummage through your files and steal your money, but since you haven’t known them for very long, it is only common sense to keep your valuables safe. The rest? Just stuff.
Home swap tips and home swap websites
home exchange websites
Want to give it a go yourself? There are a number of websites you can advertise your house on. You usually pay an annual subscription fee and then you can swap as often as you like. We are currently members of Guardian Home Exchange, which is a UK based website part of the Guardian (newspaper) but it has many international houses on it – including our own one in Valencia. We pay 59 pounds a year membership, which really is not much if you think what you would spend on one night in a B&B alone. There are many others you can try of course, including Home Love Swap, which is the biggest of them all.
find Pet sitters
Another website, which is a slightly different concept, is TrustedHouseSitters.com, a site which doesn’t offer home exchanges (although you can swap in some cases), but on here you’ll find people who offer pet sitting services for free, in return for a stay in your home while you are away. You can also offer yourself as a pet sitter, to find somewhere ‘free’ to stay during the holidays. Again, a huge saving because you don’t have to fork out money for a kennel or a cattery, plus your house is looked after during your vacation. And vice versa, you get to stay in someone’s house for free in return for walking a doggie.
We invited a couple into our home over the Christmas holidays as we were unable to find anyone to look after our cat Buster. I must admit I was slightly apprehensive at first, as it wasn’t a straight swap…Total strangers would pick up our keys from the neighbours and move in…without us having the keys to their property. But I needn’t have worried, because the retired Belgian couple who came were the sweetest cat sitters we could have wished for and when we returned they welcomed us back in our own home with tapas and cava. It seems that it is a certain type of person who is attracted to this kind of holiday. Open-minded, caring, curious, kind and interested in other people, other customs and exploring new locations.
How to prepare your home for listing
Take good photos
A tidy house gives better pictures and better pictures attract more home swap requests. make the beds, clear the clutter, put some fresh flowers on the table, etc. You can shove all the clutter into one room just for the time being until you got your photos done, it doesn’t matter, but make sure that that first impression of your house is good. It’s a bit like getting your house ready for selling. Make it look fab!
describe your house
Place yourself in the shoes of someone who is looking for a house to exchange with. They will want to know how many bedrooms you have, bathrooms, sofabeds etc. Also what kitchen equipment perhaps or things like baby cots and high chairs if you own them. Each exchanger is different, but it is good to describe how your house is suitable for different types of people. Not want tiny sticky fingers on your wall? Make this clear in your listing that you rather want older families or couples only.
Describe your location and area
You may not think of your street or neighbourhood as much, but your guests are excited, it is all new to them and they want to explore. Describe the highlights of your village or town, maybe there is a fine bakery around the corner or some splendid woodland walks. Describe how far larger towns, cities and other attractions such as beaches or mountains are. Tell them about castles, museums, swimming pools or zoos in the area. Anything that will persuade them to get in touch with you for a swap. The nice thing about a home exchange is that you often end up in places you would never normally have gone to, but they turn out to be real hidden gems.
Respond to your messages
If you own a fabulous house in an even more spectacular location, be prepared for lots of messages. We certainly received a few more now we are in Spain than we did when we still lived in Aberdeenshire! Just make sure to respond. You decided to list your house on the site so be polite and reply to people who are interested in coming to stay in your house. Of course you don’t have to sit and wait for an email, you can also fire off requests yourself. Most people are lovely and will tell you straight away if they are happy to arrange an exchange.
Make a welcome pack
A welcome pack can be as simple as an A4 with the workings of your TV, oven and heating system. However, it’s nice to include some ideas for excursions, directions to the nearest bank, shop and public transport, etc. I usually include tourist brochures that I pick up from around town, cultural agendas and business cards of my favourite restaurants. People are very grateful if you take the guessing out of their visit. Provide them with some tried and tested tips for visits you enjoy yourself. Also include some emergency numbers, names of neighbours that may be able to help out in case of anything happening and other info you may think is useful during their stay. I usually also leave a bottle of wine or a yummy delicacy from the local area on the table for the guests on arrival. It is nice to make people feel welcome, and you will likely find similar kindness on the other end.
I can’t tell you how amazing it felt to scoot away on my brand new ‘patinete’ or adult scooter, when I bought it in Valencia this spring. I felt like a kid again! Living in a city where you use public transport a lot and distances are sometimes a little bit far to walk (and arrive on time), it is extremely handy to have a portable vehicle to get yourself from A to B just that little bit faster. Adult scooters are perfect for short journeys, the school run or your daily commute with public transport.
My little boys have scooters and yes, they are usually associated with children’s activities, but believe me, the adult version is just as much fun. Wind in your hair, stepping away, gliding with ease, passing pedestrians and saving time. What’s not to like?
Scooters or patinetes (for the Spanish people among us) come in all shapes and sizes, with or without hand brakes. I bought an Oxelo adult scooter from Decathlon recently, for 119 euro. No hand brakes (instead you have a foot brake – you slow down by pushing the mud guard down on the back wheel with your foot), but it is foldable with a strap for easy carrying. Even the handle bars fold inwards so you basically carry a scooter over your shoulder the size of a large bag. And not too heavy. Very useful when getting on public transport! You can get actual carrier bags too if you want to take your scooter with you on longer journeys.
There are also electric scooter available these days, which I must admit, look very attractive, especially at times when I am trying to push my non-electric scooter uphill, in 32 degrees heat. They are quite a lot more expensive, but would be a good option if you have difficulty walking long distances or need something a bit faster but still portable and easy to manoeuvre.
Which surfaces are best for adult scooters
Non electric scooters are particularly great on the flat or downhill, on smooth surfaces. Unless your scooter has big rubber tyres, don’t ride with them on old cobbled streets or very uneven roads. You get the idea, bumpetybump. Not great. Tiled paths are fine, although the bigger the tiles the better. In quiet residential streets I sometimes ride on the tarmac, as this surface is obviously ideal. Just make sure you watch the traffic and get back onto the pavement when it gets busy (yes, mum).
Wearing a helmet is always a good safety measure. If you live on a hill, it is a must. These scooters gain speed fast when going downhill, especially with a 75kg/150lbs adult on it. You really don’t want to hit a rock or curb and go flying without being protected.
Scoot to the gate: your micro scooter with built-in case
For the geeks among us, or rather the commuters who are traveling a lot, there is the Micro Luggage Scooter. No more running to the gate at the airport pulling your trolley case on wheels or clutching your cabin bag. And killing time waiting for your flight will never be the same again. Imagine the smooth surfaces in that departure lounge…
Valencia is a city where you can walk around aimlessly for days and still not get bored of the abundance and vibrancy of colours, street art, cafe’s, parks and many different little shops. Of course, with such a great vibe, there’s bound to be some real vintage treasures to be found. Do you love vintage shopping and finding a unique vintage souvenir when visiting a different city? Here is my Top 10 of vintage shops in Valencia.
1. Madame Mim
Calle Puerto Rico 30, Russafa, Valencia 46006 Hours 11:00 AM – 2:30 PM, 5:30 PM – 9:30 PM Facebook page
Dimly lit as if entering the costume department of a 1920s theatre, you will find a weird and wonderful cabinet of curiosities. Glamourous sequined evening wear from bygone eras, retro telephones, a wall full of shoes, sparkly jewellery and racks of wearable vintage fashion, all reasonably priced. They call themselves a ‘second hand freak shop‘, but this is certainly one of the best vintage shops in Valencia.
Packed with fashion from mainly the 1980s and 90s, this shop is a great place to stock up on vintage jeans, dungarees, crop tops, maxi skirts and floral dresses. Also the perfect place for guys to get kitted out with a cool hawaiian shirt and denim jacket.
Probably the one with the best shop front of any of the vintage shops in Valencia, there is no way you will walk past this one. Aiecle Vintage Store is located just around the corner from Flamingos Vintage Kilo in Russafa. The shop stock is similar, with plenty of colourful 1980s and 90s vintage to choose from. Wearable outfits for OK prices.
Calle Pinzón 1, Old town, Valencia 46003 Hours 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM, 5:00 PM – 9:00 PM Facebook page
Used is a popular shop, online and offline and sells quality vintage, ranging from 1980s sports wear to vintage Levi’s denims. The hipster in you will drool over its collection. Find Used in the old town in the centre of Valencia.
5. Needles & Pins Vintage
Calle En Bou 3, Old town, Valencia 46001 Hours 10:30 AM – 2:00 PM, 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM Facebook Page
A gem of a vintage shop right in the middle of the historic city centre of Valencia. Here you will find a colourful collection of vintage and handmade clothing and accessories. Plenty to choose from, whether you are on the hunt for a special summer dress or a cute top.
6. Ruzafa Vintage
Calle Puerto Rico 33, Russafa, 46006 Valencia Hours 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM, 5:00 PM – 8:30 PM Facebook Page
Vintage for the home has not really caught on here in Valencia yet, but there are some great little shops if you look for them. For midcentury furniture and retro accessories, try Ruzafa Vintage in Calle Puerto Rico. A mix of chairs, storage, lots of lighting and smaller items. And a lovely purple shop front.
7. Second Chance
Gran Vía Germanías 41, Valencia 46006 map Hours 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM, 5:30 PM – 9:00 PM Facebook Page
Now don’t be put off by its unattractive shop front, because inside it is a treasure trove. Find anything from Atari computers to 100 year old oil paintings, and from vintage trunks to second-hand bikes. Prices can be a bit steep for some things, but nothing says you can’t try and do a bit of haggling. Worth a browse, for sure. Find it on the edge of Russafa, along the busy Gran Via near Estación del Norte .
8 Studio vintage
Calle Purisima 8 bajo, Old town, Valencia 46001 Hours 10:30 AM – 2:00 PM, 5:30 PM – 8:00 PM. Closed on weekends. Facebook page
A lot more upmarket than the previous shop and particularly interesting if you actually live in Valencia and want to invest in some gorgeous midcentury pieces for your home. But we can look, right? This shop sells vintage design from Spain, France, Britain and Scandinavia. Go here for a good sideboard, some funky lighting or a comfy teak Danish armchair.
9. El Monstruo
Carrer de Calatrava 11, Old town, 46001 València Hours: 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM, 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM Facebook Page
El Monstruo is one of the vintage shops in Valencia offering a fabulous eclectic mix of vintage, customised and handmade. There is in fact an in-house taylor. You can choose a vintage fabric and get your own shirt made. If you want to browse ready-made clothes, there is plenty on the racks, ranging from 1950s petticoats to cute sixties blouses and much more.
Calle Purísima 5, Old town, Valencia 46001 Hours 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM, 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM Facebook Page
This concept store and gallery, across from Studio Design in the old town of Valencia, has a wonderful mix of art, prints, handmade and vintage finds. Some amazing framed artwork as well as screen printed bags and other handmade items by local artists. Well worth a look.
More tips on Valencia
Lonely Planet Pocket Valencia is a handy pocket size guide to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. price 12,30 euro
Two weeks since we moved to Spain and so far so good! In between the hectic times of organising our new life as an expat, I have discovered the little perks of living in a warmer climate. Cycling! Oh my, how I’ve missed cycling. I don’t mean sporty cycling in lycra on a racer or a mountain bike, no, just using a bicycle to go from A to B. To do the shopping, to take the kids to school. In just a thin jacket. Wind in my hair, sun on my face, smiling from ear to ear. Wonderful. Now I just need to train those leg muscles to get me uphill. Ouch.
Have you ever noticed how there seems to be more colour in warmer countries? The blue sky for a start (although lately it’s been grey and rainy too – still 10 degrees warmer than Aberdeen though), but also the architecture. Even the children’s school has great happy colours painted all over the outside walls. The older, colonial style houses in the various town centres dotted just outside the city, as well as old city parts like Cabanyal, are often bright blue or yellow or covered in colourful, patterned tiles. The sub tropical plants in front gardens and on balconies make the streets look so pretty. I realise that being surrounded by lots of colour really energises me. Having lived in the silver city of Aberdeen with its grey granite architecture, makes your eyes used to seeing in black and white. Valencia is a feast for the eyes.
Valencia is also well known for its bold street art. In parts of the city centre whole sides of buildings are covered in cool graffiti. I managed to have a day to myself last week and thoroughly enjoyed wandering the streets, taking it all in and pinching myself for being here.
feeling better in a light filled house
Then there is our new house, which has giant windows, lots of space and is mostly on open plan. I love it! White walls, sunlight streaming in. (Oh, and look who’s arrived too?). It is a joy to hang up our artworks and make the house homely, room by room and I will post updates on the blog of my decorating attempts, as much as that is possible in rented accommodation. I was shopping for blinds and curtains today at the local Bauhaus store nearby and it is funny how I am suddenly drawn to bright, bold colours, whereas in Scotland I would have gone for the more muted greys, greens and darker tones. I guess yellow blinds just go better with a blue sky.
We’re finally moving to Spainas a family. D Day is here. “Why are you so stressed, we’re only moving!” my husband said to me after I had another meltdown in the past few days. I know, right? He wasn’t even joking! Well, he must be the exception to the rule, because I do feel like all those people stating that moving house is in the top three of most stressful things in life.
Packing, cleaning and a broken elbow
Moving house as a family with lots of stuff and two pets, that is, if it had been just me I’d been fine. The packing for the removal lorry was one thing, it was all the stuff that was left to do afterwards that made it feel never ending. Cleaning up and sorting out. Loads of admin. Finishing at work. Getting our cats prepped for the cattery and planned pet transport journey. An X ray to see if my youngest’s broken elbow is healing ok (it’s ok!).
Adios leaving parties
Then of course there are the many leaving drinks, meals and parties to attend and host. Even though my tired body told me it really rather wanted to go to bed, it was lovely to be able to catch up and say goodbye to our Scottish friends, neighbours, band members and colleagues. After moving to Spain as a family I would be able to have plenty of siësta’s, wouldn’t I? No rest for the wicked. Hell yes, throw in a 4th birthday party for my little one as well while we’re at it, one day before departure! Crazy.
Ready for a new adventure
Leaving our home and the local area on D Day was pretty emotional, even though I often cursed the place longing to be somewhere more exciting, feeling cut off and stuck in a far grey, chilly corner of the Great British island. Still, I am grateful, as I believe all things happen for a reason and so I spent over twelve years of my life in the North east of Scotland, always feeling the colourful Dutch outsider but adapting and making it my home. The truth is, no matter where you go, if you open your eyes you will find what matters to you. In some places you just have to try a little bit harder. Up there I found like-minded creatives, found a great band to sing in, started my business and started a family. Aberdeenshire is beautiful and full of hidden gems.
Goodbye beautiful Scotland, thank you for having me
The train journey from Inverurie to Aberdeen was like a trip down memory lane…passing familiar scenery, a previous work place, my husband’s city flat where I started a life in Scotland many moons ago. Goodbye Aberdeen! Thank you for having me and making me work hard, push myself, mature and become resilient.
Looking forward to a brand new life
The night before we left also happened to be the night when labour kicked off for the planned home birth of my second baby boy, exactly four years ago. It was a strange feeling to be sitting on the floor in our empty living room, the same spot as where my youngest was born after a lot of drama and life threatening complications (he was a big 10lb baby and got stuck with his shoulder – BBC’s Call the Midwife anyone?).
Four years later we are sitting here again, excited and slightly nervously awaiting another brand new life. I always dreamed of this moment, moving to a sunny climate, moving to Spain as a family. Let’s hope this birth will be a smoother one!
It’s all happening. We are moving to Spain. But what a month it’s been. The thought of a glass of wine on the other end, enjoying the warm spring sunshine, is what’s keeping me going just now. The movers have been a few days ago. A great big artic lorry parked outside, loading in my house contents. Everything is on its way to Valencia and we’re sitting on camping chairs in an empty house, scrambling for cutlery and cups. Food is now kept in our baltic utility room as even the fridge freezer is gone. Our goodbye party next weekend will be a blast, with so much dance floor space!
What to bring when you move to Spain?
We decluttered a lot beforehand, but still we managed to fill around 50 boxes and load a almost all of our furniture. The idea of going with just a suitcase full of clothes did sound very appealing and quite liberating, but at the end of the day, you need something to sleep on and sit on and you’d only be buying stuff again over there. And hey, I did want to bring my vintage sideboards! Grant of Buckiewere great, offering us part load to keep it affordable, as international removals can get up to 5 figure sums which is not what we wanted.
How to rent an apartment in Valencia?
Luckily we have an address. I know a lot of expats arrive in Valencia having to rent an Airbnbfor a month before finding something more permanent. It made me feel a bit nervous not knowing where we’d be living as a family, and not knowing where our furniture and belongings would have to be stored. Back in November we had already done a recce trip to visit some schools, but in January my husband went back on his own to look for accommodation. There a few helpful websites to find homes for sale or rent in Spain, such as idealista and fotocasa.
hiring a relocation assistant when moving to spain
We decided to rent first, because we don’t know the city and surrounding areas yet so buying would be too much of a gamble if perhaps a year down the line you felt you didn’t like the neighbourhood. Still, finding a rental house in Valencia proofed trickier than we expected, with houses being snapped up quickly. We made the very wise decision to hire a brilliant relocation assistant called Linda from Moving to Valencia, who is a true wizard and geared my husband up with 17 properties to view in two days, doing all the Spanish communication with estate agents and landlords in the background.
Husband himself lost the will to live after two days and 400km driving from one house to the next. We kept on missing out on the ones we liked and disliking others. We managed to secure a townhouse in the suburbs very last-minute, literally hours before he flew back. Unfurnished, thankfully, and within walking distance of schools and tram stop into town. Oh, and with a roof terrace! See that blue sky?
Meanwhile back home…
In the meantime life back home in Kemnay was not particularly stress-free, with builders coming in having to do a few repairs before we could put the house up for sale. Our two cats were now advertised on a cat adoption website (it broke my heart), but still no suitable homes were found and time was running out.
And then my youngest son, almost 4, broke his elbow in a local soft play. Yup, great timing. He jumped like a superhero down one of the cushioned slides and landed badly on his arm. Elbow fracture. He needed surgery the next day and now walks around with three pins in his arm and a big gold sprayed cast (his big brother was well impressed). He will need surgery again once we are in Spain unless we fly back for it. I suppose it’s one way to quickly start finding our way around the Spanish healthcare system!
But here we are. Just over a week to go until we are moving to Spain. I am sitting on a camping chair, laptop on a camping table. It feels weird leaving this house behind. The garden we spent so many hours in, planting, shaping and building, the house itself, remodeled, redecorated, modernised, made into something beautiful and totally our own. I had my babies here. My youngest son was even born at home, right here in the living room. Such a lovely street, great neighbours. Nice walks in the countryside, right on our doorstep. So many memories. Ten years of our lives. It’ll soon become someone else’s home. I know they will love it.
Ready for the next chapter
But I am excited for the next chapter. Excited for the unknown. Even though I know there will be plenty of challenges once we are there, from registering ourselves everywhere (hola, Spanish bureaucracy!), getting our kids into school and making them feel settled, finding our way around, building a new network of friends, learning to speak decent Spanish! And the cats? They’re coming! Even though we initially felt they belong in Scotland, with access to the wild, they will probably enjoy spending their retirement stretched out on our sun deck. I am relieved and happy they are coming, now we have made the decision, as they are part of our family after all and now we will all be together. They will be following us in March, overland in a fully kitted out pet transport van. I hope they’ll be sending us their road trip selfies!
I am moving to Valencia, Spain! Having lived twelve and a half years in Scotland, my family and I are preparing to emigrate to sunnier climates. Although this is not the first time I am swapping countries (after all, I moved to Scotland from the Netherlands when I was in my mid twenties), I am a bit overwhelmed by everything that comes with moving house, let alone moving to another country! Back then, all I was moving was my granny’s old cupboard, four vintage dining room chairs, some clothes and six boxes of books on one small pallet. Twelve years later it’s a family of four and the contents of a four-bedroom house.
from Dutch to Doric and now spanish. being an expat all over again
I moved to Scotland in 2005 to be with my husband, who was working in the oil industry. I had never heard of Aberdeen before meeting him in a Dutch pub on a Friday night in The Hague, and certainly never thought I’d be making it my home. But I did, for far more years than I had ever imagined. Living in the North east of Scotland was a learning curve. English was not my first language and the local tongue Doric was like Chinese to me (my first job here was in an office, regularly answering the phone – you get the picture!).
I had to start from scratch in my career, in finding friends, in building a new life. Getting to know a new city, a new country, with all its foreign rules and quirks. Being an expat can be hard work!
twelve years in scotland
Aberdeen was a bit of a bleak contrast to the colourful, cultural Dutch cities I was used to back home. No, it certainly wasn’t love at first sight! But you either sink or you swim, so you adapt, you carve out a life and find the things you love when you open your ears and eyes – and you make new friends anywhere if you try. I feel living here has made me more resilient, more flexible and more confident in my ability to adapt in new situations while staying close to myself.
Although I still feel very Dutch at times, even if it’s only because I am taller than most Scots, I no longer feel like an expat in Scotland. I made it my second home. I love the stunning beauty of country, the honesty and down-to-earth-ness of its people, the traditions, the music, its pride in Scottish culture. I had my children here, I started my business here, I have matured here. Scotland will be in my heart forever. I even understand Doric now. Kind of.
keeping our promise: a life in the sun
Why are we relocating to Valenciathen? Brexit? Well, no, that’s not the reason, although it certainly made the choice easier for me as a EU citizen. On a night out a long time ago, long before we got married and had our boys, my husband and I wrote our dreams for our future on a napkin. One of the agreements was that we “would go and live in the sun at least once in our lives”. Because well, yes, Aberdeen is pretty cold and miserable most of the year.
Of course, life and bills got in the way and we ended up spending the next ten years working very hard, buying a house and staying put. Then around three years ago, when the oil price dropped and jobs were at risk, we remembered that napkin. We even found it back in an old notebook. What if a redundancy meant we could actually make that life change? Would we? Could we? And where would we go?
discovering spain and taking the plunge
In 2016, it was as if fate struck. Redundancy became a fact for my husband, which despite our wish for change, still came as a shock. Then within months, my shop burnt down to the ground. From having very busy lives, we were all of a sudden both sitting at home with our head in our hands, wondering what to do next. We decided to pack our kids and camping gear in the car and drove off to the continent for six weeks. With no jobs to go to and school closed for the summer, we went on a big road trip to clear the cob webs and get ideas for our future.
We drove through France, thinking that could be our new home perhaps, but fell in love with Spain after accidentally ending up in San Sebastian and traveling through the Spanish Pyrenees. Still, what location to pick? Where could we see ourselves settling? The choice is endless. Then at Christmas we got a request for a home swap in Valencia.
falling in love with valencia
We spent two weeks holiday in Valencia in August, while living in a homely flat in a residential neighbourhood rather than a hotel. It’s a great way to get a feel for the place. We met some lovely expats who had made the jump before us and all seemed a lot more doable. The idea of bringing up our kids in the sun, enjoying the good weather, the food, the culture and meeting new people made us feel excited for the future again.
preparing for the big move. moving to Valencia spain
Back home we did the sums (spreadsheets galore!) and started the process. We went back to select a school for our boys and are now hunting for a rental home to move into. It’s all getting very real! What will we be doing when moving to Valencia, Spain? It’s the one question we get asked all the time. Live!
We will live, bring up our children, learn Spanish, get healthy, get out of the rat race, meet new people, see new things. Be an expat all over again, with all the challenges that come with it. I will work as a freelance copywriter and marketing consultant (check out my other website Copy Por Favor). I will also continue Nina’s Apartment in Spain, blogging and offering design services where possible (E design can be done everywhere!). Who knows, I may even be opening another vintage shop in the future? And I’m sure we’ll come back to Scotland for our holidays, to see old friends and to cool off in the height of Spanish summer.
one way flights booked
First things first though, a house move, which means packing up, selling stuff, decluttering (you don’t need five warm winter coats in Spain, do you?). One way flights have been booked at the end of February. Better get going.
This summer my family and I did a house exchange with a lovely family in the city of Valencia, Spain. It is a fantastic city for families with children and there is plenty to see. So what to do in Valencia?
Valencia seems to be a city of many layers. At first sight, it’s just like any other big city: lots of high-rise buildings, busy traffic and not an awful lot of beauty about it when you first arrive on the outskirts of town. It is after all Spain’s third largest city and has just under one million inhabitants. But when you dive into it and stroll around – or rent a bike – you discover a wonderful, laid-back, colourful place full of art, parks, cafe culture and last but not least…the beaches. Oh and also plenty of vintage shops. Did we love it? Oh yes, we did.
Street Art in valencia
The Ciutat Vella, including Barrio del Carmen, is the old town. Now as any old town this one too has plenty of little streets, old buildings, cathedrals and historic squares, but what makes Valencia different is the street art. What? Graffiti and historic buildings? No way! Yup. And it looks pretty good. Definitely a big hit with my 5-year old who loves drawing (why are they allowed to draw on walls, mummy? Erm…).
Now I would use all of my own photos in this blog, but unfortunately my dear husband left our camera on the plane to Madrid. Ouch. Fingers crossed we’ll get it back. In the meantime, you’ll get my iPhone shots and some beautiful images I found around the net.
City of Arts and Sciences
The City of Arts and Sciences is a world in itself. This impressive part of Valencia, whether or not you end up actually going inside any of the buildings, is worth visiting. It consists of the Oceanographic (Europe’s largest sea aquarium), The Science Museum, the Palau des Arts and the Hemispheric. Plenty to keep you occupied. More info here: www.cac.es
Turia gardens in valencia, great for bikes and kids
Rerouting the river Turia and turning the old riverbed into a 9km long park must be one of the best decisions ever made by city planners. What an asset to have for the people of Valencia. Full of play parks, fountains, cultural events, free outdoor gym equipment and cycle and footpaths. We rented bikes from Valencia Bikes (although there are many rental places everywhere) which kept us entertained all day and was great to move around quickly from A to B with the kids. Valencia is super kid-friendly by the way. Mini play areas next to the cafe terrace, why doesn’t anyone else think of that as standard?
discover The beaches in valencia
One of the great things about Valencia is the proximity to the beach. Different from what most people think when they hear the words ‘beach’ and ‘Spain’ in one sentence, the ones in Valencia are nothing like the package holiday type. We experienced some fantastic beaches, quiet and more lively, but never overcrowded or lined by tacky bars and souvenir shops. A breath of fresh air. You can easily reach them by public transport, bike or car.