My good friend Shenel took it upon herself to escape the high-flying city life, and chose Valencia as her home, where she’s now learning Spanish and indulging in more creative pursuits. Here is her ‘life less ordinary’.
Where are you right now? Tell us what you can see
I’m sitting in the lounge of my flat, with the doors to the balcony wide open. It’s October and currently around 25 degrees, but today it’s sticky and muggy and it looks like a storm is coming.
From my balcony I can see three pensioners having a stroll whilst putting the world to rights, two dogs walking their owner and parents taking their children home for lunch. If I stand, I can see coffee drinkers and newspaper readers sitting at the tables on the street terraces below.
Where are you staying? What is it like there?
I’m in Valencia, Spain’s third biggest city. As anyone who has visited would tell you, it’s a beautiful, lively yet incredibly relaxed city. It’s more than big enough to keep you entertained, but small enough for you to get to most places either by bike or on foot. Its old town is brimming with beautiful plazas and elegant buildings and windy streets with almost as many tapas bars as there are people. But for me as a life-long Londoner, the best thing about the city is the beach. Huge and lined with bars and paella restaurants, it’s only 20 minutes from the city centre, and you never have to fight for a spot to sit or swim.
Why did you decide to learn Spanish and move to Valencia?
For a few years I’d been thinking about taking a year out. Originally I’d planned to pick up my backpack and travel around central and south America. But eventually I decided that I wanted to embed myself in one country – to really get to know as much of the language, the culture and the people as possible.
My criteria was somewhere relaxed, sunny (preferably with a beach) and non-English speaking. Eventually I settled on Spain, and at the 11th hour I decided on Valencia, even though I’d never visited the city. I told my bosses I was moving to Spain for a year, and that was that.
What is your broad plan for the rest of your time away from London? Where else have you been so far?
I’m using my time here to do some of the things I always wanted to do but never quite found the time for. At the moment I’m doing an oil and acrylic painting course and preparing for my advanced Spanish exam. I’ve always loved art, but haven’t picked up a paintbrush since my GCSEs, and I’ve always been a real nerd about languages.
Living, working and studying out here has also given me the chance to travel more. In the year and a half that I’ve been here, I’ve travelled to Barcelona, Madrid, Zaragoza, Bilbao, San Sebastian, Menorca and Seville. I’ve also backpacked around Mexico, Argentina and Chile, and visited friends in Finland and Dubai.
How are you funding your life adventure?
I saved for about a year before quitting my job. I’ve also been pretty lucky in that I’ve been able to freelance for my old job (a PR company) from Spain.
What has been the best part of the experience?
In London, I was living for the weekend and counting down the days, weeks or even months to the next holiday. Here, I don’t find myself wishing my life away, or feeling that sense of dread on a Sunday evening before the start of the next week. Basically, I’m more relaxed, less stressed and much happier.
What’s been the most difficult part of the experience?
For me the most difficult thing is being away from my family and friends. Sometimes it’s hard not being able to do something as simple as popping into my mum and dad’s for a cup of tea.
Would you recommend Valencia and your experience there to others looking for a change?
YES! I came here for a year, and a year and a half later I’m still here, with no immediate plans to leave.