Imagine being a happy freelancer, doing what you love, and then from one day to the next, all contracts stop and you have no idea when work will pick up again. Yep, it happened to many this year, as we all know. Ryan Godwin was one of them, a theatre set builder from London, now living in Valencia. Like everywhere in the cultural sector, all work suddenly disappeared when Covid arrived, and not just in the UK but across Europe. How does a theatre set builder reinvent himself in times of a crisis?
From flipping burgers to West End shows
“I always liked making things, being creative,” Ryan says, as we sit down in his big rough and ready workshop in the area of Cabanyal, near the beach. “I actually ended up as a set builder in the theatre world totally by accident. I was flipping burgers at an event, and got annoyed by stuff strewn on the floor of the van. So I just built some shelving to tidy it up. Turned out the owners of the burger place were West End actors. They were impressed by my carpentry and introduced me into the theatre world in London. That was the start of a 10-year career. I since worked as a set builder for many West End shows, major TV/film productions and events, including the London Fashion Week and the X Factor. It’s been a fascinating job.”
“In 2019 I fancied a change though, and with set builders from the UK having a good reputation across Europe, I managed to secure some big jobs in Spain and Italy for 2020. So I was looking forward to continuing my trade, but now based in Valencia. Unfortunately the pandemic threw a spanner in the way.”
“I was faced with a sudden harsh reality of sitting at home, in Spain, with no work, a loss of identity and feeling quite depressed as a result, to be honest. I didn’t know what to do with myself. There was no work for any of us in the industry. I heard of colleagues back in London being contracted to build coffins instead. It was grim. It’s only been a few weeks or so that I am beginning to pick up the pieces.”
Spice racks and bedside tables
This Autumn, Ryan decided to go back to his trusted carpentry skills and start making things for fun. Usable stuff for the home, made from scrap wood, which he finds in the street. First just some shelves, but people like his work, and he has already been commissioned to make a set of bedside tables. He is now making coffee tables, spice and wine racks, bookshelves and other unique pieces of furniture, from his Cabanyal workshop. In a corner of the large brick, industrial looking space, stand a number of cool looking pieces of furniture, made out of recycled wood. One of them a coffee table made from slats, on top of an old metal single bed frame.
Upcycling old wood and telling its story
“It feels good repurposing old wood, it balances things out for me.”, he explains. “You wouldn’t believe how wasteful the set building industry is. I once worked as a set builder at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park and remember being horrified by the sight of four articulated lorries stuffed full of wood that had been used for the food stalls. None of the material could be reused, and was taken straight to the dump, only because it was covered in some food or oil. There are companies who take stuff away for recycling, but half the time it just ends up in the incinerator.”
Ryan finds usable wood and other materials left next to bins and in skips in Valencia, on the streets, anywhere, and keeps it from going to landfill. He takes stuff apart, cleans it, cuts it to size, sands it down, finishes it, and turns it into beautiful designs. “It’s fun creating things. I am a big fan of history and love the fact that something has a past. I try and leave the patina, so you still see some of that history in the wood.” He is slowly expanding his collection, trying to find out what people need and like, and then making it. An online shop is in the making too.
Ryan decided to name his new venture Made in Valencia. But perhaps it should be called re-Made in Valencia. After all, it’s not just the wood that’s been given a second chance.
You can find Ryan’s upcycling business in Valencia currently on Facebook. His set building work can be found on his website.
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You want to live abroad? What is the secret of settling in and being happy in your new country? In a nutshell: being open-minded and proactive. Oh, and cycling. I started as a tour guide on a bicycle this year and I love it. It never crossed my mind to be a tour guide in the past, but somehow it came on my path and it suits me. Tour guiding is social, it is outdoors and it keeps me fit. It is the perfect job alongside my other job: writing.
Two questions I get asked on a daily basis by my Dutch tour guide clients: how did I end up in Valencia en what is life like here? Everyone on holiday always secretly wants to figure out if they could move here too and what it would take to make it happen. “You are so lucky to live here”. Let me tell you.
1. Only sunshine is free
Living in Spain has nothing to do with “being lucky”. It takes a long time and many headaches to make the decision to emigrate, to plan the move, to make it happen. It takes a lot of effort to settle in, to navigate around your new country and all the new rules and systems, to try and speak a new language. And of course, to start earning money. There are a lot of hurdles along the way. If I tell people that the average wages here are around €1,000 net per month full time, a little bit of the glamour soon disappears. Living abroad can be amazing, especially when there are 300 days of sunshine year, but you still got to pay the bills.
2. Reinvent yourself
To live abroad and be happy means you have to be flexible and proactive. The alternative is to be stuck indoors waiting for something to happen.You’ll soon end up being pretty lonely. And broke. You also have to put set ideas a side about who you are and what you do. You have to reinvent yourself a little bit. My career has always been in arts marketing, but when you move to Valencia, you’re simply not going to be able to find a similar job. Speaking Spanish is one thing, but Valenciano, the lingo of the public sector, is another. And then there is the high unemployment rate down here, which basically means saying goodbye to your previous line of work.
3. Be realistic and flexible when you live abroad
This is the second time in my life I have emigrated. Age 26 I moved from the Netherlands to Scotland, to be with my now husband. Not too big a deal when it came to cultural differences, but it still took a while to feel at home. In the Netherlands I had left a pretty decent job in the cultural sector. Expecting to “just continue my career abroad”, ended up being an illusion. I applied for a few jobs that were in my field and at my level, but my English was not fluent yet in terms of professional jargon and I made a complete fool of myself at one interview. I can still recall the shame, frustration and sadness I felt afterwards.
Now I could have done two things: go home and give up, or get back up for round two. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, right? I however chose to be realistic and go for something a bit less ambitious that would at least get my foot in the door. I soon got hired as an admin assistant at an arts centre, and a year later I got promoted to their marketing manager. Learning the language however is often the only way to get anywhere in a foreign country. If you don’t, then that law degree or masters in business administration is not going to get you very far. You just got to start somewhere. If that is in a coffee shop as a waitress for a year (nothing wrong with doing that forever either by the way), then enjoy it and pick up the language while you work.
4. Transfer your skills and find your niche
What skills do you have that are transferable? What are you good at? Other than that as a Dutchie I was born on a bike, I have always been a communicator. I am good at writing, am creative by nature and I like helping others. I’m a practical ‘tick those boxes’ kind of girl. Those skills are useful in all kinds of jobs, you just have to recognise them and put them to good use. With high unemployment here in Spain and not speaking Spanish much yet, I decided to set myself up as a freelancer, or autonóma, in marketing for expats.
In a city like Valencia however, there are many other expats doing similar things and the competition is high. Time to zoom in and stand out from the crowd. Yes, I can design a WordPress site, a flyer and I can keep a facebook page alive, but my strength lies in writing. And I am bilingual: I speak and write fluent English and Dutch. Although I focused on English speaking clients at first, soon I received more requests for web content in Dutch. I unexpectedly realised that is my niche. Writing web content in Dutch. Who would have thought.
5. Look for local clients…or go online
If you live abroad and are looking for clients s a freelancer – whether you are a writer, designer or even an English teacher (another job usually available for foreigners), you can do two things. You can advertise your skills locally and try and find clients nearby. The other thing, which I found is what most other expats do over here, is go online – and work remotely. Sites like Upwork, Fiverr and others enable you to attract clients from all over the world. This means you can also do your job anywhere in the world. The digital nomad is born! Even better is to bring existing clients with you. If you set yourself up as a freelancer abroad, then you can offer your clients back home prices VAT free, as countries have a tax agreement for these kinds of payments. And offering things without the added VAT is of course attractive.
6. Talk to lots of people: be visible
Unless you have all your clients online, it pays to show face. Go to network events, especially those with other expats. Talking to people might bring opportunities. If others know you are looking for work, friends, things to get involved with, sooner or later something will come up. For the introverts this is not always an easy thing to do, but it is pretty much essential if you want to get out of the house and integrate.
Even ‘showing face’ in local Facebook groups can help you become more visible. It’s been vital for me, especially in Valencia, to get to know people, look for work, make connections and feel a bit more part of the community. Social media has its flaws, but it has also made it so much easier to find like-minded people in a new environment. If you are self-employed being visible on social media is very important. Advertise your services to other expats or locals and before you know it, you have your first little contract – which, if you’ve done a good job, may lead to more.
7. Learn the language when you live abroad
First it was English and the local Scottish dialect Doric, now it is Spanish – and even Valenciano – it is a constant adaptation process. If you want to live abroad and just be in your own little bubble, not learning the local language will keep you there for sure. And no, it isn’t easy, but what in life is? Lucky to live here? No, hard work, baby. You feel like a right idiot a lot of the times and you sometimes feel you’ll never ever going to be able to hold a conversation…but you just have to keep going, mistakes and all. Tranquila.
Anyone who has ever moved abroad has had to learn a foreign language at some point, if the locals didn’t speak yours. The other day I heard a great phrase that applies to all of us migrants:”A foreign accent is a sign of bravery.” I’ll take that. Bit by bit. Poco a poco.
We moved to Valencia in February 2018, from Scotland. 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.
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46 pages of tips & advice about schools, housing and healthcare in Valencia, real life stories and useful links to schools and other essential information for families.
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
Most of us want to integrate and make friends with the Spanish, but when you first land, this is not going to be the case. To feel at home, happy and keep your sanity, I recommend hooking up with some other expats straight away. Facebook groups are a good way to make contacts quickly, especially if you look in the right groups. Ask a question about schools in the general expat groups though and you are often none the wiser, with so many opinions out there. 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.
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.
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.
YesValencia 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.
Moving to Spain with children means making important decisions around schooling. Choosing schools in Spain means getting to grips with a whole new system, and lots of choices. Do you put them into a local school or a more international one? We moved to Valencia early 2018, and had to make decisions about schools in Spain for our native English speaking 4 and 6-year-old sons, who had no Spanish whatsoever. Here is some information about schools in Spain and the different aspects to think about.
Buy the E-Book Moving to Valencia, Spain, with children
My brand new E-book is an excellent place to start, to make you feel a little less insecure and more ready to make your dream reality. As a mother of two young children, who’s gone through the process, I am sharing my knowledge and first-hand experience as an expat in Valencia.
The e-book includes:
A list of the best neighbourhoods for families in Valencia
A list of expat family-friendly towns and suburbs
A clear explanation about the difference between schools and what they offer
First-hand experiences of an expat family in Valencia
Information about healthcare
Useful links to international and other schools of interest
Because really, it all seems impossible….until it’s done!
Before the move we had done some research into choosing a school in Spain and particularly schools in Valencia. We visited a few too while my husband and I were over for a recce trip. Were we going to go for an English, bilingual or Spanish school? And what curriculum is best? It is hard to know where to start and like most expats, we looked at the best known private international or bilingual schools first. This was only because they are mentioned most in forums and on expat websites. There are so many other choices which could be much better suited to your children and your lifestyle. It is worth ‘shopping around’. They may also save you quite a bit each month if you don’t have the funds or the desire to commit to private school fees.
Schools in Spain: Public, semi-private or private
I was blown away by the vast amount of schools Valencia. They range from public schools, semi-private schools (‘concertados’) to private schools. Many schools have nursery, primary and secondary school/baccalaureate all in one building. That way your child can stay in the same school their entire childhood. No wonder parents get quite anxious about finding the right school.
Public schools in Spain
Public schools are state-run, Spanish, and many parents are happy with their children to go here. They are free, but you pay monthly for the ‘comedor’ or dinner hall at school. That is if you want your children to eat at school and not come home for lunch. The public schools, there are of course many, are the trickiest to select as an expat. You just don’t have any knowledge about which ones are good. Also, if you don’t know where you are going to be living yet, it is pointless trying to enroll them since you need a postcode within the catchment area. But if you are looking for a way to get your children to speak Spanish as quickly as possible, going to a local, Spanish school is a good option.
Semi-private / concertado
The semi-private, or ‘concertado’ status means that they are run and paid by the state but as a parent you contribute a monthly fee to receive the extras that a school offers. This could mean perhaps an extra teacher per class, more freedom in terms of their curriculum and how they design their classes and activities. A lot of the semi-private schools are religious (Catholic). And whereas some of them charge about the same as most private schools (which is around a minimum of 300-400 euro per month per child, often more), others charge very little and are in fact very affordable.
Even though a lot of the private, bilingual or English-speaking schools in Spain call themselves ‘international’, almost 100% of the pupils are Spanish children. Many Spanish parents nowadays want their offspring to become fluent in English. Future job prospects are important in a country where unemployment rates are still at almost 25%. Being English speaking therefore has advantages. The ‘international’ part has mostly to do with the fact that half or almost all lessons are taught in English or the curriculum is based on the American or British system. It also means for many of these schools there are waiting lists.
Schools in Spain: in what language will they be taught?
Choosing schools in Spain, and Valencia, comes with another question. What language will my child be taught in? I believe that the younger the child, the less important it is what the main language is they are taught in and whether or not it is a British (or other) curriculum. Obviously children will learn Spanish much quicker with full immersion. Most expat parents with teenagers say their children adapted better to their new environment in an international school with a curriculum similar to what they were used to back home, especially if exams are on the horizon. A toddler? They just want to play and within weeks they’ll come home using a handful of Spanish words already.
Bilingual schools in Spain
There are a lot of bilingual schools (English and Spanish), with some following the Spanish curriculum, some the British. Some are 100% English spoken schools and then there are some other foreign languages with their own schools too (French, German). Last but not least, this is Valencia and they have their own language called Valenciano which is a bit like Catalan, although I am sure the locals will tell me otherwise.
Valenciano as a compulsary subject
Valenciano is compulsory in all schools in the Valencian region, private or not, with a minimum amount of hours per week. It is a political thing, and depending on who the mayor is in any particular year, the hours could go up or down in the curriculum. Most schools choose to teach subjects like music, religion or science in Valenciano in addition to the actual Valenciano language classes, to make up for the required hours.
How to get a space in a Spanish school
Spanish parents often start looking at their preferred school almost as soon as their baby is born. Then they enroll their kids as early as they can possibly start. In Spain this is the year they turn 3 and in the private schools that are offering preschool childcare, they even babies accept babies. So by the time you arrive from abroad with your 4 and 6-year old, especially halfway through the year, classes are full. You may find yourself having to put your kids in a school that wasn’t even on your shortlist.
School enrollment times in Spain
Enrollment time is usually mid May and school websites and the local municipality publish the exact dates on their websites . To enroll your child in a public or concertado school you need to live in the right catchment area to score enough points. Other factors are whether you already have siblings in the school and some other criteria – check your council website for the details. For private schools the postcode area is not a concern, but they may still have waiting lists. Many private schools have school bus transport around the city.
Moving to Valencia with children can be a bit overwhelming. Where do you start? Moving abroad on your own is one thing, but when you have two kids, a husband and a couple of cats tagging along it is a different ball game. Especially when half of the family is Dutch and the other half British (hello Brexit!). Think about all the paperwork you have to get organised, in particular when you are not fluent in the language of your new country yet. Our first quarter was one with ups and downs. Moving abroad as a young family is wonderful, but not without its challenges.
We decided we were moving to Valencia with children earlier this year and it was hectic! Our boys, 4 and 6 years old, are at the perfect age for moving abroad, at least, that is what people keep telling us. Still, it is a huge change for these little ones. It certainly can cause a lot of anxiety and meltdowns. After all, we took away all they had ever known in their short lives. Their home, their garden, their school and nursery, their wonderful childminder, their friends, neighbours and village.
The kids, I must admit, are OK now. But not without a good two to three months of very emotional behaviour, abandonment issues and absolutely not wanting to go to their new school. It has been in the past month only that both of them have been happy to walk into their classrooms by themselves. I am very proud of them. It must have been a nightmare those first weeks, being in an unfamiliar environment, not understanding a word.
Moving to Valencia with children: anxiety the first few months
My boys were proudly announcing to every man and his dog back in Scotland that they were going to go to a Spanish school and making new friends. The actual settling in phase however was far from pleasant. Once the novelty had worn off after a very exciting first day, they soon realised this was reality. It was not nice at all being put in a strange Spanish school ALL day and having lessons different from their old school. The times were weird and the days long (9am to 5pm!). There were strange teachers, strange children, all speaking in a strange language. How scary can you make it for little ones without their mama by their side? Needless to say, for at least eight weeks every single morning was a drama.
“I just waited for you to come back”
I had to walk my normally very confident, happy 6-year old into his new classroom where the teacher literally had to peel him off my legs. He was clinging onto me, begging and screaming not to be abandoned. It was awful. I left many a morning in tears, feeling so, so guilty about the whole move and what I was doing to my children. Was this really worth it? Why was I being so selfish? Had I been naive?
This was not what I had in mind at all for my family, starting a new life in Valencia. My youngest was only slightly better, but also always crying at drop off. At pick up time both boys were generally calm, usually telling me their day had been ‘ok’. But I shall never forget the day when I asked my youngest what he had done at school. He replied with:”Nothing mummy, I just waited for you to come back.”
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Ending up in a 100% Spanish school with zero Spanish
The selection of schools did not go entirely to plan either. In November of last year we selected this great bilingual semi-private school on the outskirts of Valencia. We even chose to rent a house in the right postcode area in order to be eligible to enroll the boys. A bilingual school would be best in our opinion, to learn Spanish but also still get a good English based education so they would not struggle too much.
We arrived in Valencia late February. Although the staff of our preferred school suggested that there was a high probability of at least one of our children getting a space (in infantil, the Spanish equivalent of nursery), this unfortunately turned out not to be the case. With the school not being fully private, it was the council who eventually decided and they were unable to provide a space for either children. What a disappointment! We had already moved and the children were at home. What to do next?
Our 6-year old has to be in school by law, so the council was obliged to find us a school in our area. They were only able to offer us two spaces in a local Catholic ‘concertado‘ (semi-private) school we had never even heard of (S Bartolome, Godella). We are not religious ourselves and were also worried about the 100% Spanish school they were suggesting for our children, so we were apprehensive. We were also very annoyed with ourselves for not visiting more schools beforehand (top tip visit many!!). But we shouldn’t have worried, as when we arrived at the school for our first introduction, the staff greeted us like family, kissing us on both cheeks and making us feel very welcome. We were the only foreigners in the school. The school turned out to be lovely.
The kids in school, young and slightly older, are all very kind. And although my eldest son gets a tad bored of them all trying to practice their two words of English during break-time, he has already made friends. Teachers all work together to adapt lessons for our eldest, who of course didn’t speak a word of Spanish.
The local language Valenciano (yes! another issue when enrolling your children in a school over here, as they have at least four hours of it each week!) is toned down for the time being in order to bring the kids up to speed with Spanish first. During the first few months at nursery, his lovely teacher let our exhausted 4-year old nap in the classroom while she took the rest of the kids outside to read them a story so he could fall asleep. How sweet is that?
No homework, vegetable plots and trips to the theatre
Another plus at this school is that there is no homework, which is rare in Spanish schools. I am so grateful for this! School days in Spain are very long, so having to spend even more time staring at letters and numbers really isn’t what I believe any kid age 6 should be doing. The school also has their own vegetable plots. They do plenty of cheap school trips to museums, theatre and other out of school places. A downside? Teachers with terrible Spanish accents teach English at the school. But my kids being native English speakers already, I don’t mind at this point in time. We do plenty of reading with them at home.
For now, it is good, so we will stick with this school for at least the next year before reviewing our decision. We will then have time to decide whether this is going to be the school for our boys long term. Just now, all we care about is that our boys are happy. We want them to fit in socially, make friends and become fluent in Spanish. Within two months my children were able to understand basic sentences and count to 30 in the most adorable Spanish accent. That is at least something to celebrate!
Moving to Valencia with children…four months later
We are now almost four months here and the boys are doing much better. They are integrating at a faster speed than us. Both are happy to go into school by themselves, no more tears. They are having swimming lessons in Spanish and will also be going to summer camp in July. On the weekend we often hang out with international families. This gives them a bit of a break so they (and we too!) can ‘just’ chat in English. Learning a brand new language is tiring!
Our youngest is a sponge, knowing so many words in Spanish already. I guess for him it doesn’t really matter what language he is learning, as he is only 4. He is still developing his English grammar and vocabulary as well. He happily picks a Spanish book at bedtime now, rather than English or Dutch and is hardly aware of it.
Routine, cuddles and a safe home environment
Our six-year old is still showing some anxiety and a need for reassurance, especially at home. I can understand the reasons why and we are trying our best to just be there for him. Being in a Spanish speaking environment all day not knowing what is going on, must play havoc on your brain! Sleep, routine, cuddles and a safe family home is the best cure.
Now summer vacation is here (oh my, nearly three months long!). Perhaps the boys will have their huge anxiety issues again in September when school is back. Still, a teacher told me that most Spanish kids have exactly the same issue after such a long break. At least a row of other parents and their upset children will join me in the first week of school. To be continued…
Essentials for moving to Valencia with children: city and regional maps
To get an idea of all the neighbourhoods, where the schools are, to figure out where everything is, this Michelin map is an essential purchase. Price 5,45 € ORDER HERE
If you are planning to live outside of the city itself, it is very useful to have a map of the province of Valencia, showing all the towns and suburbs where many expats tend to move to. Many international schools are situated in the outskirts too. Price 8,06 € ORDER HERE
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 (and valenciano!). 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 website content writer (check out my other website Copy Por Favor). And of course I will also continue this blog Nina’s Apartment – now based in Spain. 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 was the second time we swapped our house for the holiday and we love this concept. It’s personal, you get free accommodation (and pet-care!), insider information and you get to live in a real neighbourhood for a few weeks, rather than a hotel. We even swapped cars. It’s not for everyone (if you are particularly sensitive about your house or people sleeping in your bed!) and it does require a deep-clean beforehand, but I would thoroughly recommend it. It’s great fun.
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. Did we love it? Oh yes, we did.
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.
Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciencies
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
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?
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.
So how did the Valencian family get on who came to stay in our house in Aberdeenshire? They had a fantastic time too. Glad to be getting away from the Spanish August heat (it was VERY hot and humid at times – no wonder most of the city had escaped), they enjoyed the Scottish fresh air, being outdoors, climbing hills, watching seals on the beach, visiting castles and whisky distilleries. They even saw the queen at the highland games. A win-win for us all.