Editor’s note: Longtime Santa Monican Charles Andrews is traveling across Europe in a camper van for one year, with his family.
I’m no expert on Europe even though I’m midway through my second yearlong trip here, nor on Spain even though our family unexpectedly stayed a little more than two months there. But Spain has become the country I got to know the best, not just from observation but from meeting and spending a lot of time with ex-pats from all over the world who decided to not just visit, but to stay.
(Note: someone pointed out to me “ex-pat” comes from the Latin “patria” for “fatherland,” so, someone who lives temporarily or permanently away from the land of their birth and/or culture. Nothing more, and no judgment on the why.)
But why would a person leave family, friends and homeland to live quite differently in Europe? To most Americans that seems like a radical decision and very hard to understand. Isn’t America the greatest country in the world? Everywhere we’ve gone in Europe (23 countries) we find almost everyone has either been to the US of A (and loved it) or would very much like to, and many would sacrifice much for the impossible dream to live there.
So how to explain an American who moves, quits the States for good for some place where they don’t speak English and you can’t vote for the government that rules your life and they don’t know or care who the Dodgers or the Lakers are (well, they do know Pau Gasol of Barcelona) and you don’t own a car because the parking is impossible (but public transport is outstanding and cheap). Oh yeah, and eat your last taco before you get to LAX because forget about finding Mexican food in Spain. Or Thai. Or a decent burger for less than 10 bucks.
We spent a lot of time in Valencia on Spain’s Mediterranean east coast — more than six weeks — because we loved that city and the weather was unseasonably warm and generous people (six) who barely knew us kept offering their homes for us to stay in. After months with the three of us in a tiny VW camper van the lure of separate bedrooms, spacious bathrooms with hot showers, large kitchens with stoves and ovens, microwaves and refrigerators, and Wi-Fi and warmth was hard to turn down.
I had an old friend from my L.A. club days, Don Snowden, a music journalist living in Valencia for 14 years, who not only offered us his great home (four bedroom/three bath) in the El Carmen barrio, but introduced us to his circle of friends, who became our friends. It’s a fascinating group of bright, creative, happy people I’d hang with anywhere, hailing from Austin and New Zealand, Egypt and Poland, Scotland, Australia, Germany, England.
What brought them to Spain and Valencia, what motivated them to leave it all behind for life there? The answers I heard were varied but no one put down their homeland. And no one seemed to second-guess their choices. No regrets.
One American came because she had always wanted to visit Europe and after decades of not acting on it, found she absolutely loved it in Valencia and dropped plans to return to her job. That was 10 years ago. Another Yank is here because he fell in love with her, followed her and married her. They love the easy lifestyle of Valencia, the defined neighborhoods with absolutely everything available within a 10 minute walk and the chance to travel abroad easily and cheaply from their central location. They pay about $700 a month for their three bedroom, five balcony, sun-filled flat with 12-foot ceilings and great views of the city, $100 per month each for private full medical and dental insurance.
A woman from Scotland has been there 30 years, raised her son, and earns a good living as a translator and English instructor. Her modern apartment steps from the Mediterranean is five minutes north of Valencia with a view from her large balcony to the marina below that made me think I was in a prime Venice canal location back home. She offered to let us stay there while she was off to the Canary Islands, a trip she makes annually at very little expense.
A woman from New Zealand teaches pilates and English and with her Aussie husband has a home in the city and one in the country. They came for the unbeatable rock climbing and the hiking trails that cover the entire country and stayed for many reasons, much to do with the freedom they experience, the history and tradition, the beautiful small towns everywhere and the relaxed Spanish attitude.
A German-Polish photographer found Spain to be a great place to raise his daughter and has explored every region with her. A British writer and Egyptian language tutor also have property in the country, a luxury they wouldn’t have in their native lands for anywhere near the price.
I wouldn’t live anywhere but in the USA, specifically Santa Monica. But it’s a big world, and Spain offers a lot for your buck. It’s a great place to visit, and for many we met from all over the world, a great place to call home.
You can follow the Andrews family’s daily blog at: anandrewsadventure.blogspot.com.