Lockdown in Valencia
- by Janine Forbes
So , here is the story is about how I came to find myself in Valencia. Most of it is, as with a lot of things, a strange set of circumstances that could have resulted in my being anywhere, but actually, fortuitously, found me here. When my eldest daughter (Daughter #1) said she was going to have a “year out” of the corporate world, it didn't surprise me. She had gone straight into a job after graduating and was watching her tight knit group of girls in Bali, Thailand, Australia, and Dubai. She soon got a sabbatical from work and with her (soon to be ex) boyfriend, flew to Madrid with high expectations! Whilst at home in the UK, her father and I were helping our youngest study for her A levels with the plan being BA in Spanish at Sheffield University.
That really should have been the hint, the clue, that neither of my girls were ever going to stay in the UK. Even my youngest had grabbed herself a Spanish boyfriend while on school exchange, with whom she had been conducting a long distance relationship since she was 15. Because of her age and the need to chaperone (when visiting him and his family in Leon) we got to see parts of Spain we would never have. Having spent much of my youth visiting such hot spots as Ibiza and Puerto Banus/Marbella, these new places were a revelation. No English speaking, no menus with pictures, a very different culture to the expat world of the Costa’s. His parents were welcoming, Mama spoke a very little English, Papa not a word, which was tricky as we were invited to family dinners. When the boyfriend went to study medicine at Salamanca, as his Father and his Grandfather had before him, we visited there too and were amazed at the beauty of the place.
Fast forward to the youngest then deciding she would also like a “ gap year” studying Spanish language prior to her degree in the UK in, you've probably guessed by now… Salamanca. Her Grandad had recently died and left her some money, so with our approval she enrolled at a language college in Salamanca and found a place with students from France, South America, and Germany. Although I knew her motivation wasn't wholly inspired by academia, I couldn't fault her sense of adventure and grabbing an opportunity I would never have had. So we agreed.
In the meantime, the Daughter #1 and boyfriend had tried Madrid and decided it was “too hot/too big/too busy” and, looking at the map, thought they would give Valencia a try. They found themselves a flat in Cabanyal and shortly after, jobs (she an English Teacher - what else!), and he working for the Erasmus Programme.
Back to Salamanca and all is not rosy in paradise for Daughter #2 . The boyfriend had become a little cooler and distant after her arrival in his University town, having previously been so very keen for her to come, and inevitably “the other woman” was discovered! A tearful train journey to Madrid, lugging a gigantic suitcase during the riots, then onward to Valencia to be consoled by her big sister. Now both daughters called Valencia their new home.
For two years, while still living in the UK, I would visit each month for around a week, Gatwick to VLC, taxi to the flat and we would be in Plaza Vannia by 8 PM with a Turia in hand. I fell in love with the place, initially concerned about their choice of location in Cabanyal which was still to become the “new Ruzafa.” Daughter #2 had become friendly with an old gentleman in the flats who she used to take to the pharmacy in his wheelchair, and he would show pics of his time as a Bullfighter in Valencia. She found work as a Nanny for a Spanish family looking after a girl (9) and a boy (6). Still only 18 but able to keep at least the girl in order!
Meanwhile Daughter #1 was now having relationship issues. Her childhood sweetheart with whom she had started this adventure was spending increasing time with his new friends! Eventually she had enough, gave him his ultimatum; and he moved out. Eventually, he decided to move back to the UK, and they officially were over. They had been together for 5 years, and we had expected it to be for the long term – but, no.
Daughter #2 was enjoying life in Valencia and with a new Valencian boyfriend and becoming more connected to the city through him and his family who have historic connections going back many generations. At least, for a short period of time I could breathe -- daughter #2 happy, tick; back to UK in summer, tick; Sheffield University beckoning. Of course, this didn't happen. After one of my frequent visits, sitting in the Plaza with a cold Turia and only a light jacket on in March, I realised I wasn't going to be able to persuade her to come back and study in cold and windy Sheffield when she had been offered a place at University here. Right -- change of plan (again)
So, life proceeded blissfully as it had done PC (Pre Covid), Daughter #2 underwent the complex process of getting her UK qualifications “levelled” to the equivalent in Spain and prepared to start University in this amazing city. Again, while I would have rather she returned “home,” I couldn't really fault the plan.
Both daughters moved together to El Carmen, sharing a flat and having a fantastic time socialising with Uni friends, Erasmus students, and Daughter #1’s work colleagues. D#1 had started seeing a friend of a friend, somewhat older than she, an extremely handsome doctor. When they had been together just under a year she made a surprise visit to the UK to inform us we were to become Grandparents. I had broken my leg in the UK and couldn't travel; but as soon as I could fly, I was back to Valencia. On the plane back in February I was reading about the new Virus that had broken out in Wuhan. I had a friend who was teaching out there and contacted her to check in. In March my other half came out and were sitting in Plaza del Reina when we got the text, from Daughter #2 to tell us everything was closing that night at midnight.
The next day my OH, who works in the airline industry, was contemplating whether to go or stay. If he went, there was no guarantee he could get back, and if he stayed also. With the devastation of the airline business in the UK, he reluctantly couldn't stay and had to get back to see what could be done. So it was decided I would stay and look after the girls and he would go.
The dark days of the “real” lockdown in Spain coincided with the most dreadful weather I had ever experienced in Valencia. While the UK basked in sunshine we would Zoom my OH daily to see him in the garden with family in the beautiful British summer while the rain here continued to fall. Daughter #1 had to move in with her sister and I to a small flat (unfurnished) as lockdown had prevented the planned trip to IKEA. She and her partner had to live apart. He is an infection specialist at the ICU in the main hospital here and was on the front line, dealing daily with many many Covid patients. It just wasn't safe for him to be around a pregnant woman. He would go home after sometimes 30+ hour shifts, eat, sleep, and repeat for so many months. He would drive past our apartment and stop for a moment while I ran down with a lasagne or cottage pie or some such other meal while Daughter #1 with growing belly stood on the balcony like Juliet and waved as he blew kisses.
When eventually we were allowed outside, after months of our one highlight being a trip to Consum or to the pharmacy, or when, bliss, we were given out 8-10 AM exercise slot! She eventually moved back in and they were able to have at least a week or two before she was due to have the baby. It was very difficult. It is usually such a special time for new parents -- being together looking forward to the birth of the baby -- but that wasn't possible in crazy 2020. They had to get to know each other again. He had seen a lot of trauma since March, and it had inevitably taken its toll and both were nervous of what would happen delivering a baby in Covid times.
On 10/06/2020 our darling little Valencian Grandson was born safely in the City, and I couldn't be a more happy or doting Abuela. As soon as flights were possible, Abuelo came over and we were able to have a blissful first family holiday in beautiful Altea.
The pandemic changed our family and our lives, like it has done for many. I’ve left out many other twists along the way involving burst appendix, snake bites, and working for a crazy professor.
Daughter #2 loved lockdown, having Mum cook her meals, do the washing along, playing board games, baking cakes, and not having to get up at 7AM to go to lectures! For daughter #1 it was tougher, being pregnant, living away from her partner, and worrying about bringing a child into this crazy world. But, she has the best end result, and all that anxiety is gone.
For me, I’m now in the Kafka-esque complex, post-Brexit system for residency for Brits who really want to stay and call Spain home before the Brexit deadline. Most of my family are now here, and this is where I need and want to be. My OH will get over it and hopefully after 28 years, our marriage will remain strong while we continue our own long-distance romance!