Valencia

Written a few hours ago.

As promised, I’m sitting on the bus to Madrid without any internet access, and at last I share my few thoughts about Valencia and Spain in general.

The place is wonderful. I’ve been in Spain before, but only now I realized how beautiful it is. I grew up in Poland, which – as crazy as it sounds – has basically no buildings older than, say, 150 years. Boy, things are different here. Not only it’s nothing special to live in a house over one hundred years old – more than that, those old houses still retain most of the original decor. Somehow even though the new buildings are modern, yet still have that nice touch of tradition; and although many of them don’t blend in perfectly – glass & metal monsters are hard to get rid of completely – there’s much less discrepancy between the old and the new.

Enough about architecture. What impressed me most is a different matter: the way people live here. Everything – and I do mean everything – is there to make life more comfortable. It’s a completely different level than what I’ve seen in Poland. It feels like a different thought process – people are put first, and solutions and rules second. For example:

  1. People need green areas for recreation. Let’s make many parks.
  2. Parks should be clean, so let’s forbid dogs there.
  3. Dogs need to, ehm, do the dog business – so let’s make designated areas for this purpose.

Another example: Metro tickets. The tariff is so simple I could understand it with one look. It has to be simple because it’s meant to serve people. Compare this to Wrocław, which has three different types of tickets (depending on zone & time of day), single-use tickets, short-term, long-term… also, the metro card can be bought in a vending machine at every station. How could it be otherwise?

Despite all the attempts to make life easier there are almost no signs, marks, or arrows. This made me nervous at first – I’m so used to being guided – and then I realized there’s no need for them. A society is co-regulating most of the time – which also means people attain their goals by cooperation. If you want to survive in a new land, you just watch the locals and follow them. The net result may be the same as reading instructions and using GPS, but cooperation has a tremendously important side effect: it improves human connection. I was a complete stranger when and I arrived, and after just a few days I started to feel a connection with those people – even though I don’t speak their language at all.

Speaking of connection – there houses are built so close to each other that it’s impossible no to be in contact with your neighbors. No wonder there’s no violence on the streets – with this amount of closeness on so many different levels, it’s hard to be angry or jealous.

If you want to travel to Spain, one thing to keep in mind is that people don’t speak English here. There are exceptions, of course – but the majority don’t. It takes some time to get used to it, lots of empathy to communicate despite this barrier, and a bit of persistence to learn enough basics to be able to order beer and tapas without confusion or embarrassment – but you do get used to it. Spanish is easy to learn – especially if you know English (because of vocabulary) and some Slavic language (so that you won’t be intimidated by conjugation and noun genders).

Nothing is perfect, of course. Because of the climate, Spain has a very distinct rhythm of life – if you are used to stores and restaurants being open all day, prepare for a big shock. After a week in Valencia I still haven’t quite grasped the rules: theoretically, work hours are 9-13 + 15-19 for stores and 12-14 + 20-23 for restaurants. In practice, each one is a bit different. My friend Taras (who also hosted me during this week) summed it up nicely: if you decide to live in Spain, you have to become Spanish. The rules of life are well-proven here, and straying from them means a bit of discomfort as you go shopping and realize stores are closed, or want to meet up with your friends at an hour they’re not available. Not to mention that going outside during siesta hours on summers isn’t the smartest thing to do – it’s just too hot.

Valencia is a tremendously beautiful place, one that I will surely miss. But it’s not a place where I could live – not without major lifestyle changes.

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