Friday, May 14, 2021

Moving to Valencia, Spain (During a Pandemic)

 After our (everyone's) weird year, it feels pretty amazing to say that we managed to move to Spain before 2020 ended. Here's a bit more about how our pandemic journey started and what happened from there. When I last wrote, I was excited but filled with anxiety about the trip to Spain. Certainly, traveling in a pandemic, let alone moving countries, is nerve-racking. We had essentially been relegated to the house with brief trips outdoors for the previous eight or so months. 

So, it was truly surreal to be heading to the airport. Our entire lives (what was left after leaving most things behind in China) were packed into the max # of suitcases we were allowed and we were off to the next adventure!

The Actual Moving Process

Fortunately, the trip itself went quite smoothly. We had chosen TAP, the Portuguese airline, from Dulles to Lisbon and directly on to Valencia. It is tough to know what's the smart decision in these crazy times and we'd heard plenty of complaints about TAP. But, we decided to take the risk, given the much preferable route and the fact that we could afford Business Class which we felt would expose us to fewer people. It also came with extra baggage, since we were moving all our belongings with us. Of course, since we left behind a good chunk of our belongings, this was quite doable. But, many airlines charged crazy fees if we wanted to just add one piece of luggage, so in the end, we could travel TAP's Business Class for a similar price and be much more comfortable.

TAP's staff at Dulles were friendly and helpful. We worried about strict baggage sizes and weights, and the logistics of travel during this time with the ever-changing rules. But, no need to worry. The airport was ghostly silent and we made our way to the Business lounge at Dulles and briefly took off our masks for a soda and snack. When you haven't been around other people in months, it is disarming to suddenly be in a travel situation, but this first leg sort of eased us into the experience. The flight itself was wonderful. Though we were feeling paranoid and getting used to flying with our N95 masks on, it actually felt somewhat exciting to be back into the world of travel, if by necessity.

We had a stop in Lisbon, which was really weird as the airport there was pretty packed. 100% mask usage, but not easy to stay distant. But, once we made it through immigration and security, we found a quiet spot to wait for our next flight. The small plane to Valencia was far from the luxurious feel of the overseas flight, but it was relatively quick.

Arriving in Valencia

Easy, peasey! We showed our QR code/health form and collected our bags.

At the time we came to Spain, Americans were only permitted if they had residence (ie our residency visa that we'd been granted). They were only requiring a health form, which we completed electronically and stored the QR code on our phones, while also printing one out to be safe. We put the wrong flight # (our flight to Portugal, not the final leg to Spain) but it turned out fine. They also have forms you can fill out on the spot if needed. Not too long after, they started requiring COVID tests within 72 hours of landing, but that was not the case when we arrived.

We had the Cabify app from our time in Madrid in early 2020, but ended up just grabbing taxis (yes, taxis...too much stuff for one car and no minivan taxis around). They made their way efficiently to our new home.

We were so lucky in our "apartment search". The guy we had rented from before showed us some photos online, and we pretty quickly realized that one was perfect for us. We rented it sight unseen (helps to have a trusted resource). He was there waiting for us and we quickly looked around, got contracts signed, and the initial rent transferred. All in all, a pretty painless process and we're home!

Outdoor space was one of our top criteria, especially given the pandemic. Our new home has a terrace that is almost as large as the apartment itself. 

Evening view from our terrace

Our outdoor dining space, all dressed up for Halloween

The place came furnished and fully equipped (has enough towels for twice as many people) so all we had to do was unpack our clothes. Over the first few weeks, we bought a few little items. A printer was top on the list and we filled the gaps with a few other kitchen items and such. The handy "bazaars" (also known as "Chinos", as they're all run by Chinese owners) are as good as ever for the array of little things you might need!

It's Been A Dream

Valencia is as gorgeous as we remember it. The first evening, we sat outside at one of our favorite spots eating the most delicious cl√≥chinas (local mejillones/mussels) feeling like we were in a dream. 

The day-to-day tasks of life and work go on, but to be able to walk around and see some of the most beautiful architecture just outside your door makes it all seem different. 

I take almost daily walks in Turia Park and have explored many new neighborhoods, parks, and gardens.

We've had a couple afternoons at the beach for a long paella lunch. 

And, we even managed a trip down to Denia, our first home in Spain.

A remake of a similar photo taken almost 10 years ago near Denia, when we first arrived in Spain

...With the Ups and Downs of COVID

Of course, it's been a little different this time. When we first arrived, there were mild restrictions. Masks were required and everyone was compliant. But, you could still go to restaurants and shopping and other activities were mostly normal. Things weren't open late and occupancy was limited. We haven't eaten inside a restaurant since the start of the pandemic even if we can, so we got used to layering up to eat outside.

After Christmas, the COVID situation got pretty horrible. All restaurants shut down (except for take away and delivery), shops and non-essential services were very limited and the curfew was pulled back. Additionally, along with regional perimeter restrictions (not being able to leave the Communidad for other areas of Spain, except in very limited situations), we started having weekend perimeter restrictions in towns and cities (i.e. can't leave or enter the city of Valencia). 

Without being able to socialize in person, ducks and feral cats have been my main outside company. I have participated in virtual events and we even led a trivia quiz for the charity with which I've been volunteering.

Cautiously, things have started opening up. The national state of emergency expired, leaving all decisions in the hands of the Communidads. Valencia's curfew is now midnight and it seems European tourism, at least, is ramping up (based on the number of young Germans and French people I see around town on holiday). I think once things fully open up, we will be in for a bit of a shock. Valencia was a lively city when we lived here before (and we were right in the heart of El Carmen, one of the big nightlife spots) but apparently, prior to COVID, things were on a whole other level of crowds.

In the meantime, vaccination is going quite slowly. We got through the various stages of bureacracy for our residency and are officially registered now with our SIP card, so our local health center can contact us when it's our turn to be vaccinated. They've just approved the J&J vaccine and have been doing mass vaccinations in the park. They've been saying we'd be vaccinated by July, so we're practicing patience with hope that things may speed up.

"We don't have the vaccine but we have homemade vermouth"

Nowadays, the weather is really warming up so it's time to get out and enjoy some fresh air in Valencia bonita!

I admit to becoming a little obsessed with taking photos of flowers and street art (note: I finally gave in and started an Instagram: