This blog post has been brewing like ripe kimchi for several months now, and as I unscrew the lid to release that pungent punch of flavour that only time and hot spice can create, I still don’t know how this post will actually pan out. So bear with me. I need to start writing again and it feels like the right time to do so.
The last 6 months have probably been the most significant in my life to date, so I really should have a lot to say. The death of a parent, the end of a marriage and a move to a new country seems like a lot. Grieving on two counts. However I am deliberately avoiding that tempo of a woman scorned and “Woe is me”, I am over the ranting and the fury that an unexpected relationship break-up can inspire, fuelled by the cruel timing to coincide with my mother’s passing. That is all I’m saying on the matter, mainly because I think in the long run, the old bastard has actually done me a favour by dumping me!
For those that are still catching up I, the dumpee, am now living in Spain, in the marital home that never was. These walls have not borne witness to the decline of a short-lived marriage, they are pure and open for adventure, without the creeping stain of resentment and silent unhappiness seeping into their cool, thick plaster.
This house is clean.
This house is mine.
My recent foray into vlogging (YouTube channel Do Keep Up) has been a knee-jerk reaction to my circumstance. Being on video, on the internet is so far from my comfort zone it was almost like pinching myself to make sure I was awake, or stubbing cigarettes out on my feet to feel alive (don’t worry, I never did that, but I hear people do). I don’t even take selfies, and yet here I am, goofing around like a first-class clown on the World Wide Web for God’s sake. The vlog was intended to be an inspiration for women of my age (51) and above who are dealing with a huge turn-around change in their lives. Maybe it’s inspiring, I don’t know, I seem pretty happy in the videos, especially since moving to Spain.
This brings us to now. I’ve been here in Ontinyent, just south of Valencia for 7 weeks now. I’m struggling to define if the kind of fluffy dream state I am currently existing in, is me just still not really addressing reality, that the daytime napping is the adoption of the siesta culture, which I always thought was an excellent concept by the way or is this actually my life now and this is exactly how I should be feeling? Either way, I bloody love it here and not just because it’s 3 euros for a bottle of wine!
Las Valientes – or Mujeres Valientes.
I was called this recently and several of the women I have met have said “ah yes, that’s what my Spanish neighbour calls me”. I don’t know if I’m a brave woman. I feel like a lucky woman right now. I have a roof over my head, a job of sorts, and I’m living in a beautiful landscape, in a town with some excellent bars & restaurants right on my doorstep! What more can a girl ask for?
I feel there are a lot of women here with stories to tell. I’ve met a few already, either loving the life here or actually really struggling. But the stories are always good, and often make mine look like a kids early learning playbook compared with what they have been through. Most are in or were in relationships, some came alone like me, others’ relationships broke up here in Spain, which I am so relieved was not my experience as that would have ruined this country for me!
I’m very relieved that we (we were a “we” at the time of house purchase) bought a townhouse and not one out in the “Campo”, I think I would be having a really different and more lonely experience if I wasn’t in town. Here in Ontinyent, I feel entirely safe. I’ve met most of my neighbours and can knock on their door anytime. My friend Suzie has been here to help me settle in which has certainly made it a lot easier, especially helping with the dog who was slightly traumatised by the two nights on the ferry to Bilbao, and indeed the entire new surroundings he now finds himself in.
Dogs feel your stress, as a reflection of my current level, Doofy is also embracing the Spanish siesta culture for about 20hrs a day, he might be taking it a touch too far, but let’s let him sleep.
It’s a small world, especially the short hop between UK and Spain and already I have a schedule of guest visits, the likelihood is I will see my friends more than if I was still in the UK. Once Suzie leaves I think I will be ok. I’ve made some local friends already and the wonders of FaceTime will bridge the gaps.
I’m not sure if it’s all really sunk in yet. But if this is it, then great. I can cope with this.
I am taking ownership of this life in a new country, a new language and a new culture, without the hangover of my life in London. I’m not reinventing myself, but I am certainly being myself and I’m not sure that would have been so easy if I was still in a couple. Fortunately, we will never know!
Getting here has been expensive. Being allowed to stay here is expensive. Thanks Brexiteers, you’ve really fucked it up for everyone! I’m currently existing here in Spain on a Non-Lucrative Visa, which means I am not legally allowed to work in the country and I have to have private health care. To get this visa you need to prove you have enough money in your bank account to live for one year, then this visa will need to be renewed next year unless I can get an employment contract which will entitle me to a work permit. So I have 6 months to get myself a job.
The other total pain the arse consequence of Brexit is that I now also have to take a Spanish driving test as my UK licence is no longer acceptable. I took my test over 30 years ago and it was the single most terrifying experience I have ever had. And now I have to do it in Spanish.
my 1st 7 weeks in ontinyent
As this is supposed to be a travel blog, let’s have a look at some of my experiences so far in Ontinyent.
Before I moved to Ontinyent I learnt a phrase associated with the town, I had read in several places, and apologies in advance Ontinyent these are not my words, “bona terra i mala gent” / “Good land, bad people”. Frankly, I think it exists just because it rhymes. But you can understand my concern! Just bought a house here guys, please be nice!
Thankfully the opposite is true, I mean imagine, coming from London where recently I was yelled at for accidentally catching someone’s eye “you got a problem wiv me eh?“, to saying “good morning” or “bon dia‘, or “buenas dias” to literally everyone I pass by on my morning dog walk. I even play a game with the really old grumpy-looking blokes, will he crack a smile? Will he say good morning? Yes! Well, he’ll say good morning but the smile may be asking too much.
I may be in my honeymoon period with Ontinyent, oh the irony, but my first impression of this smallish town is one of respect amongst its people. I think they look after each other.
For a relatively small town, (33k) there is a hell of a lot of great places to eat! The quality of the restaurants here is so good, including a Michelin-starred one which I will list at the end of this blog. I just need to get the hang of the opening hours, which sometimes seems utterly random, but that’s half the fun of it.
I’ve arrived at a good time. In late Spring/ early Summer, everything is open and I am getting a good sense of the potential of this place. I am yet to work out what my future holds here and how I will fit in, but for now, it’s a good fit.
Things to do…
If you like a good hike then this is the place for you! We’ve had some incredible walks! Be prepared for some steep slopes and breathtaking views.
Ontinyent itself with it’s faded industrial glamour!
Sometimes you have to see through the ugly to get to the beauty. At first glance, this old textile factory town may not be the prettiest but scrape beneath the surface and it’s there, in its medieval streets, its once majestic factories, a river running through and its gentle attitude.
The Valencian Wine Region
This is perfect for wine lovers, my closest vineyard is 7 minute drive away, and it’s beautiful of course. I am making it my endeavour to explore all the bodegas in my area, for when guests visit obviously! Last week I took Suzie & my neighbours to Bodega Angosto, a small family-run vineyard where they are using lesser-known, and often not even grown in Spain, varieties, and regenerating old vines in their “wine hospital”. We spent a lovely evening trying their wine and olive oil. There will be lots more of this to come I’m sure.
Eating & Drinking
As you can imagine I’ve been doing a lot of this. I’m starting to get the hang of going against my British instinct for meal times. The Valencian almuerzo or “esmorzaret” is a kind of brunch. Around 10am you will see cafes preparing for large groups, often mainly men, who have already been to work that morning and now gather for a frankly quite boozy brunch! Soaked up by bocadillos of all varieties and washed down with a beer or wine & soda alongside the obligatory plates of olives & peanuts. At this time each morning, the cafes are buzzing. At the weekends you see entire families meeting and friends coming together. They are a sociable culture, rarely will you see a solitary soul sitting in a cafe alone, nursing a coffee unless it’s me of course!
As for the restaurants, I don’t think we’ve had a bad experience eating here. Ontinyent is surprisingly rich in excellent eateries. Here are a few recommendations:
Traca Bar – possibly my favourite bar snack style Pintxos. Casual style and excellent cooking.
Meson Del Rey – popular with the locals, with a very traditional Spanish menu.
Blanc I Negre – cool looking, modern venue. Famous for its rice dishes.
Bar Jauja – I love this place, very cool and popular with a younger crowd. It’s on my doorstep and always delivers. Try the Callos….its legendary.
Sents – This is the very understated Michelin-starred restaurant. Beautiful tasting menu at a very reasonable price.