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Valencia, My New Home - by Marina Crijns

My name is Marina Crijns, I am Belgian, born in Antwerp. I left Belgium in 1982 to follow my husband to South America, for his job. In those days, it was a real adventure with big differences in cultures. But we were young and we wanted to see the world. We stayed 20 years in South America, between Peru, Chile and Brazil. We have two daughters: one born in Chile and the other one in Brazil. So both “Latinas”. His career took us to Sydney, Australia, Hong Kong, and finally to the main office in Hamburg, Germany.

There our marriage broke up and it was a real shock for me. After the settlement, I decided to leave Hamburg but was a bit lost as to where to go. I did not feel at home in Belgium anymore. It had been too long and I really was a stranger in my own country. As I speak different languages, it makes it easy to move to different countries. But which one???

I wanted to start a new chapter in my life, in a new place. I packed my personal things and put it all in storage in Belgium. Then I started investigating the South of Europe. I wanted sun and good weather, to escape the grey and cold from the north of Europe. I was first interested in Portugal, but I had visited it before and was bothered by the strong winds of the Ocean. So then I moved my attention to Spain. Madrid is a big exciting city, but has no beaches. I found Barcelona too touristic. So, I started thinking of Valencia, the third city of Spain. My sister had visited Valencia with her daughter and came back very enthusiastic, and straight forward said that this might be a city for me.

In June 2016, I arrived in Valencia for the first time with two suitcases. My first flight in Amsterdam had a delay of four hours, but I got to experience already the kindness of the Valenciennes. Waiting for my flight to Valencia, we all received a voucher for a drink and something to eat. Just in front of me was a nice lady, and I realized she spoke Spanish. We ended up having a coffee together and started talking. She is a lawyer in Valencia and gave me a lot of tips of the city. As we landed later than foreseen in Manises airport, she even offered that in case my B&B would be closed, I could stay with her. We are still friends, and she helped me a lot settling in and getting to know people.

The first weekend in Valencia, while I was jogging in the Turia park, I passed through the City of Arts and Sciences where they were putting up a podium for, it seemed, a big celebration. I stopped and asked what was going on. The kind man explained to me that it was the end of the year graduation of the Berklee School of Music, and that I should come at 20:00 hours. I followed his advice and came walking back that evening to find a nice set-up, getting myself a beer, and sitting next to a French couple. The performance was really great, of good quality – and there I was sitting in open air with a full moon, enjoying it all. Afterwards, there was still fantastic fire works! What an evening! I admit, there I fell in love with Valencia!! The weekly summer performances of the Berklee students in the City of Arts and Sciences are delightful!

For two months, I stayed in several B&B’s in different kinds of neighborhoods of the city. This gave me the opportunity to see which area I would prefer to live in. I always came back to stay close to the Turia Park. I really think it is the lung and center of the city, where people come to play, walk, bike, sit, exercise, lie on the grass, etc… The park is well maintained and clean, with different kinds of trees from all over the world. It is always a pleasure to take a walk, bike through, meet up friends -- actually a real meeting point of people!

Living in the center was also fun. There is always something going on in the city. Sometimes just follow where the music is coming from. But for me it was too loud during the nights. My first apartment was nearby the Aqua Shopping Center. I had my things brought from Belgium and set up my first “home” alone. This place was also too noisy for me, and I also found that that area had no soul of a real neighborhood. So, I moved soon to the area of Mestalla, nearby the soccer stadium where Valencia plays. I really had a good feeling there.

In the meanwhile, I had my mind set up that yes, Valencia is my “new home” and went looking to buy my own place. I found a nice flat close by the Palau de la Musica, did some renovations, and now I am really “home”.

Valencian people are friendly, very hospitable -- and soon enough I made some good local friends. I can run in the park, bike everywhere, even managed to follow some courses at the University. The weather is very nice with 300 days of sun per year, mostly blue skies and mild winters. The food and vegetables are so fresh and abundant. The markets are a rainbow of colors. The Mediterranean diet is also very healthy with their over-flowing olive oil. It is a feast to cook here!

Around the city, are various golf courses, so I could pick that hobby up again as well. And don’t forget the beaches and the Albufera lake where the sunsets are out of the world! The biggest surprises, however, are the possibilities to take beautiful hikes after a one-hour drive out of the city. This is becoming my biggest passion, and I revive in the gorgeous nature of the Sierras. Almost every weekend, I put on my hiking boots and, together with some friends (locals and internationals), we drive out of the city, inland, south, north, to discover new hiking trails and enjoy peace and quiet.

Valencia being a city, but not that big, makes it very pleasant to live in.

And with the speed train, Madrid is two hours away, Barcelona three hours --two big cities with a lot of culture. I am really happy to have moved here. This was my own choice! Of course, it was all a bit frightening in the beginning. Like, “is this the right place?”, “will I make friends?”, “will I be happy here?” One has to adapt to a different culture and be positive. As I have lived already in different countries, I have a bit of experience – and that made it easier. I like to integrate into the population. That way one gets to know the local people and the cultural habits best. I am here now four and a half years and, hopefully, I can add many more happy years in this beautiful city!!

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