I started my quest for a new home base in Valencia in Spain. I spent a week there with a friend in 2017 and having seen most of the tourist attractions, I knew I'd be able to spend my month there exploring more residential areas, checking out the cultural scene and going to meetups.
Only, that didn't entirely go as planned.
On my second day in the city, I heavily sprained my ankle heading down the stairs. The next day, I found myself on crutches. I'd be using those most of the month, slowly transitioning from hopping to stepping with two crutches, then one, then none.
I was bummed but decided to make the most of it. I used FreeNow (an Uber alternative) to get to places that weren't within my hopping radius and set up meetings with people at coffee bars I could get to on crutches.
Taking dance classes was out of the question, but I still managed to check out a few live music bars. I even took the metro to the beach and walked over 10 kilometers on my crutches one day.
Falling down the stairs may have prevented me from experiencing Valencia the way I had planned but I still got to test it against most of the criteria I have for my new home base.
Let's have a look.
The criteria comparison
Valencia has a mild Mediterranean climate with lots of sunshine and rather little rain – exactly what I'm looking for. It can still get chilly in winter, with temperatures ranging between 5 and 17°C/41 and 63°F.
While I found the days not to be chilly at all in January, the mornings and evenings are and most of the apartments aren't equipped to deal with cold weather. It's not unusual for a flat to only have air conditioning and one or two electric heaters.
On top of that, the electricity in lots of older buildings in Valencia is a bit of a mess. In my place, I couldn't have two electric heaters on at once and if I had one on, or if I had the aircon set to heating, I still needed to be careful about which other electric appliance I used or otherwise the fuse would jump – and it did so many times.
That being said, insulation and heating are things you can improve on when you decide to move somewhere and I'll take a winter that has 17°C-days over a Belgian winter any day.
Live music scene
Valencia is big on live music. I had no idea. Especially jazz seems to be popular and you can go see a gig practically every night.
Because of my sprained ankle, I only went to a few performances where I knew I could sit down but browsing through the events on Facebook, it wouldn't have been hard to get a dose of jazz, brass, classical music, and reggae all in one week.
Lots of places have free entrance too which is quite nice. Of course, you are expected to have a drink or two from the bar but prices in Valencia are still very reasonable overall.
Unfortunately, I didn't get to try any of the dance schools I'd looked up beforehand but I did realize that Valencia probably wouldn't be able to offer me the level of hip hop classes I was used to taking back in Belgium.
The focus seems to be more on Latin dances and lindy hop. That's a bit of a shame but hey – I've always wanted to learn salsa.
There are small and bigger supermarkets all around Valencia and several brands offer grocery delivery too. I ordered from Mercadona twice and while the price for delivery was a bit steep (€7.21), I read an article saying it actually costs the supermarket chain almost double to make a delivery per customer.
For me, that price is also worth it. It means I can order most of the things I need for an entire month instead of having to make a multitude of trips to the store. It saves me a lot of time.
On top of that, the Mercadona couriers literally role your groceries into your apartment. It's heaven! My apartment was on the 7th floor and the guy rolled his cart into the hallway, into the elevator, up to my apartment, and offloaded everything in the kitchen. It was amazing.
Meetups and community
Because of my sprained ankle, I couldn't join any local sports clubs which would have been my way to get to know some locals. I did my best to chat to people when I went out for coffee, for example, but have to say that my interactions in Valencia were mostly limited to expats and other digital nomads.
I joined a few Valencia Facebook groups before I traveled there (Valencia Expats, Valencia Coffees & Coworking, and Expats living and working in Valencia are the most active ones) and am very glad I did.
When I sprained my ankle, I asked for advice on which hospital to go to in the groups. Instantly, people offered to help with groceries or anything else I needed. Someone even offered me a bed in case I didn't want to be by myself!
I had food and could still hop around but what I couldn't/wasn't allowed to do was walk to the pharmacy to get crutches. It didn't take me long to find someone who was willing to go get them and bring them to me. Thanks again, Lane!
I was also lucky in that a blogger I'd met more than 5 years ago at a conference, happened to live just a few minutes from my apartment. Laura, who runs Travelers Universe and is fluent in Spanish, came to the hospital with me not once but twice to make sure I understood everything the doctor was telling me.
Regardless of who these people were, what they did, or what they were interested in, I felt like I found a community where people cared for one another just a few days after arriving in the city.
Could it be the like-minded community I was looking for? I'd have to spend more time there, get to know more people, and attend more events – something I'm definitely open to.
While Valencia is a big city, it has two big advantages: it's by the Mediterranean and it has the Turia Garden. This park of 110 ha is a boomerang-shaped stretch of green that runs right through the city center.
While you can't exactly walk straight into nature, it's quite doable to rent a car for the day and drive to one of the nearby nature parks for some hiking.
While it's the fourth largest city in Spain, Valencia is still very walkable if you disregard the outer residential areas. There are buses, metros, and trams, as well as two ride share options – Cabify and FreeNow – which aren't exactly cheap but they're not too expensive either.
I've used both Cabify and FreeNow to get around with my crutches. The main difference between both is that with Cabify, you get a fancy car whereas, with FreeNow, you get a (usually more regular) FreeNow branded car. Cabify cars usually also have some water at the ready for you.
And while I'm not big on cycling, Valencia has quite a few clearly marked bike lanes and as the city is rather flat, the bike is a good way to get around too.
Lastly, you can always get one of those electric scooters that are so hip right now.
Airport access and flights out
In half an hour, the metro takes you from Valencia Airport to the city center. By car, it only takes 15 minutes.
Valencia Airport offers quite a few good international connections and if needed, the airport of Madrid is just an hour and a half away on high-speed train or longer on regular trains. You can also fly from Valencia to Madrid and then change.
Access to cake
As soon as I got my crutches, I hopped toward my first slice of cake. What was supposed to be a 6-minute normal walk took me 20 minutes with a break somewhere in the middle, but it was worth it.
My friend Laura told me that hip coffee bars and cake places are a relatively new thing in Valencia and the prices you pay there are often higher than what you would pay at “normal” Valencian cafes.
I tried quite a few of the hipster cafes and had my fair share of cake while I was in the city. I'm pretty sure my needs would be met here.
While I don't speak Valencian, a dialect of Catalan, I do speak Spanish at B1.2 level which is enough for daily casual conversations. I'd love to become fluent and would definitely apply myself to improving my Spanish skills fast if I were to move to a Spanish city.
Unique about my month in Valencia
Well, one unique thing about my month in Valencia is that I got to experience the hospital scene. I decided to go to IMED, a private hospital, for my sprained ankle as I read that it would be possible to get help in English there and, apparently, you get helped more quickly in private hospitals.
While not everyone at the hospital spoke English, I'm pretty happy with the assistance I got there. I never had to wait more than a few minutes.
- Airbnb at the edge of Extramurs and Ciutat Vella for 28 nights: €820.5
- Groceries: €171.8
- Eating out (includes a lot of cake): €105.36
- Rideshares: €145.23 (remember, I was on crutches)
- Entertainment: €15.89
- Other: €31.95 (can't remember what this was)
- Total: €1,290.73
This breakdown does not include the medical costs from spraining my ankle or any of my business costs.
Key moments from my time in Valencia
Spraining my ankle so heavily impacted the rest of my time in the city tremendously so I can't not mention it but another related key moment was when I got back from my check-up at the hospital.
After two weeks, I had to go get my ankle checked. I'd obviously hoped the doctor would say I was free to ditch the crutches and would be dancing around in no time again but that's not exactly what happened.
My ankle was still swollen and hurting in places it shouldn't have been hurting. I needed to get the brace and use the crutches for at least another week.
Seriously disheartened, I couldn't even enjoy the cake Laura and I went to get afterward and back at the apartment, I burst into tears. This was not what I had planned for my nomad quest.
After a while, though, I pulled myself together. I realized I'd had to let it out for a little while and then was fine to move on and make the most of it. That moment, I decided I'd handle whatever the universe would throw at me on this journey the same way: it's fine to sit and sulk for a moment, but then I'd make the best of things.