It Takes Guts to “Get a Life”

My vacation in Spain last year left me with a long-lasting after-glow. While there, I talked quite a bit with people I met from England, Scotland, New Zealand, and the Netherlands.  They were all in their mid-30s to mid-50s. Their stories inspired me.

John and Lisa

This couple exited London’s “rat-race” and their stressful professions to travel the world and figure out where, and how, to live a more fulfilling life. They settled on a resort community on the Costa Blanca. This location is the complete opposite of England’s culture and climate.

John and Lisa found an opportunity to start a business that would give expression to their life philosophy. It started with buying a hotel. To me, this was a bold move and quite a commitment for new owners inexperienced in the hospitality services industry.

In 2013, their hotel became a yoga retreat. From what I saw, John and Lisa have created a flexible lifestyle for themselves. It doesn’t mean they work fewer hours — after all, it’s a business, and a new one at that. But, as part of a day’s work, they lead guests in activities they enjoy themselves, like yoga and hikes. How sweet is that??!  They oversee the menus and have an amazing chef who creates gourmet vegan meals. Healthful, fresh juices are prepared twice-a-day as a between-meals treat. They enjoy it all along with their guests!

John and Lisa went all-in with their life philosophy and they “walk the talk.” This couple’s bold move is a success. They are thriving and growing, right along with their business.

La Costa Blanca shoreline

La Costa Blanca shoreline in Albir

La Crisalida Yoga Retreat

La Crisalida Yoga Retreat

Gail (not her real name)

Gail is a single woman in her late 40s – vibrant, fit, and focused. In fact, she had focused for years on the corporate ladder. She was in a high profile, fast-paced division of a large multi-national corporation in London, earning a lucrative salary. At some point, she began to feel unbalanced and unfulfilled.

When we met at the yoga retreat, she was resisting the demands of her job. Her boss expected her to create a blog in her role as an industry leader, even though maintaining it would encroach on her personal time. She and her colleagues were expected to attend to the incessant beep, buzz, and ring of their corporate-issued devices. The pressure to do so outside of regular work hours was intense.

Gail pondered key life areas, like a romantic relationship and motherhood, and decided they mattered to her after all. She had sacrificed these things in her climb up the ladder. Because of her age, the window of opportunity was closing fast.

When we met, Gail had worked out her exit strategy. I asked her what was next.  She said, matter-of-factly, “I’m going to be a foster mum.” I didn’t expect that answer. Transitioning to a full-time “foster mum” as a career??!  To me, that was extraordinary; in fact, it shocked the hell out of me. I expected to hear about a conventional change in profession, or a move to a smaller organization.

Gail told me about the foster parent application process and the upcoming training. She is unconcerned about diminished income, and is saving enough money to make the transition within a year. Gail has a calling to be a parent, whether she has a partner or not. She has a lot of love to give, and wants to give it to children. Gail’s big transition was to fulfill a key life area that matters most to her – parenting.

Jess and Family

I met Jess and her husband at breakfast, where we were all staying at a B&B. It was a brief, but fortuitous meeting – at least for me. First, we were the only native English-speaking guests at the breakfast table. Second, I was interested in starting a blog, and Jess already has one. Our conversation probably lasted all of 15 minutes, but it made a lasting impression on me.

Jess and her family are from London, and moved within the Eurozone to warm and sunny coastal Spain. She and her husband have portable work and can support the family from anywhere. The family later relocated inland, away from resort areas, for full immersion in Spanish culture. This major change was a strategic move.  Jess and her husband want their kids to be bilingual and bicultural. Cost of living was also part of the rationale for change. Almost anywhere in Spain is cheaper to live than London, which means more resources for family travel. The icing on the cake? Jess’s business is a world-wide lodging resource for travelers; and when her family travels, they check out those lodgings featured here.

This is how you create the lifestyle you want!

glass

Les Cols Pavellons is close to the Garrotxa Volcanic Nature Reserve. The property offers guests zen décor rooms with glass floors and walls. This beautiful setting brings the outdoors in.

Dany / Thijs

Dany and Thijs quit their jobs and moved to Valencia, Spain from the Netherlands. One of them was a Type A kind of guy, in a high-stress profession, who was on the verge of becoming a nervous wreck. What’s the antidote for a Type A personality? Immersion in yoga and meditation. If geography could also improve his outlook and resources, then cheaper, sunny Valencia was the answer. Dany got on board with the plan and together they moved to a place in the sun.

Dany and Thijs figured out the lifestyle they wanted to have and conceived a business to make it happen. That business became an award-winning B&B.  They leveraged their talents to create a welcoming and artsy environment for their guests. And, every year, they reward themselves with extensive travel in the off-season. As one of them told me, “I don’t worry about the future.”

I admired what he said, and wondered what it would be like to not worry about the future….

Valencia Beach

Valencia Beach

Turia Gardens

Turia Gardens

So, how was I inspired?

It takes courage and intention to “get a life.”  It takes a certain amount of introspection and honesty about your priorities to figure out if change is necessary, and what it would mean to you (or your family).

As a practical, somewhat risk-averse, single woman, I am my own safety net. About a year ago, I realized my job had begun to feel like a real grind. I was in an energy-draining loop of home-to-work-to-home (and maybe a tennis match in the evening). And, that was not the healthy life I pictured for myself after battling breast cancer!  Having a balanced life was something I always talked about, and mine was feeling anything but.  I decided I would “get a life.”

Now, I am working out my own “rat-race” exit strategy. I’m putting my energy toward being creative and other things about which I’m passionate. And, my eyes are wide open for opportunities to enjoy life and make a difference.

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Balancing Travel – Part 4 – Valencia

Hola, Valencia!

I arrived in Valencia by train from Alicante. I spent five days there — the longest at any destination during my two weeks in Spain. I stayed at Valencia Mindfulness Retreat, a bed and breakfast in the historic heart of the city. The B&B itself was a highlight with its charm, architectural details, style, and friendly hosts.  As a solo traveler, I liked the daily family-style breakfasts with diverse guests — Dutch, Italian, and British (while I was there). I loved being the only American guest!  Valencia Mindfulness Retreat is in easy walking or cycling distance of most sights. Yoga and meditation were available; I did both. My days in Valencia were a balance of leisure and exploration.

I visited popular sites in Valencia, like:

  • Basilica of Our Lady of the Forsaken – The Basilica flanked Plaza de Virgen, where people hung out, strolled around, or rode through on bikes.
  • Mercat Central – This market was almost overwhelming. Hams were hung like clothes on a rack; and there was a massive variety of fruits, vegetables, spices, and fish for sale. You could also order paella and other food-to-go. I noticed that in Spanish markets the meat might have an anatomical attachment that you won’t see in the typical U.S. supermarket –  like a head, hoof, or feet…or, maybe only the head will be in the meat case… or, you might see the entire defrocked animal.  All options are there!
  • La Lonja de la Seda – This UNESCO World Heritage Site housed the Silk Exchange in the 15th and 16th centuries. It’s a magnificent structure near Mercat Central. I put my camera on zoom to see the building’s architectural detail, and saw freaky gargoyles. I did a double-take, like…is that what I think it is? (By the way, gargoyles have a purpose other than warding off bad spirits, such as diverting water from a building – like a gutter. Well, that’s certainly one explanation for that appendage!)
  • City of Arts and Sciences – The science complex was architecturally fabulous — designed by Santiago Calatrava — and includes an Oceanografico (aquarium) and IMAX cinema. The interactive exhibits at the Principe Felipe Museum of Science were just so-so, but it’s probably a good museum for families and children.
  • Jardins del Turia (Turia Gardens) – This extensive park has athletic fields, bike and walking paths, and gardens. Turia Gardens is an awesome place to be active and outdoors in the city. This was the original site of the Turia River. The river flooded Valencia in the 1950s; so, like a biblical punishment, the city diverted the river; and converted the dry riverbed into a recreational park. (Poor river! I never did see where it was banished.)
  • Beach – It was a nice, long bike ride to the beach, which was very broad with smooth sand for days, and framed by mountains. It was mid-May and early in the season, and warm enough to bask on the beach awhile without the crowds. Loved it!

I found less touristy spots, like:

  • Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia.  The star here was not the art, dominated by Madonnas and cherubim. The real star was the elegant museum cafe where I was seated outdoors in the courtyard. I had a wonderful salt-encrusted dorade (a Mediterranean fish) with roasted vegetables. The meal and wine were served with all the flair of a fine dining establishment for less than 25 euros. When the server brought the fish out, I thought there was no way I could eat the entire fish. But, when he gently pounded the salt casing to release the succulent flesh, and filleted it and arrayed it on the plate, the portion looked very manageable. It was literally head and tail above any other museum cafe food I’ve ever had.
  • Institut Valencia d’Art Modern (IVAM) – I loved this museum where I discovered Valencian artist, Miquel Navarro. IVAM has a permanent collection of his sculptures and watercolors. The museum pamphlet describes his work as “a true symbiosis between body and architecture. Warriors, phallic symbols and totems transform their selves into bridges and fountains. Buildings, as well as cities, have organic similarities with the human body.” It was fascinating and I certainly couldn’t miss the phallic symbols; they were everywhere in his collection.
  • Museu d’Historia de Valencia – The museum used to be a water supply station. The art and Valencian history were creatively displayed.
  • L’Almoina Valencia – There, I viewed Roman and Arab archaeological excavations through a glass floor. It was unusual to see the history of Valencia in this way. Very cool!

I did other things, too, like:

  • Explored the historic quarter on foot, and helped a guy cook paella on the street.
  • Rented a bike.
  • Hung out at outdoor cafes with gelato, tea, or a glass of wine.
  • Photographed murals and graffiti that were everywhere — on construction barriers, shop doors, garage doors…. It was here that I fell in love with graffiti and street art, and now have hundreds of photos.

Another highlight was “The OMG! Meal” I had at an organic / local food restaurant I found called Kiaora Biocucina. Chef Yelel Canas graciously prepared my fish selection on the prix fixe menu, gluten-free. I had the kind of attentive service and multiple courses that I didn’t expect there. Kiaora was an unpretentious little spot, whose decor featured a large mural of a green mountain and a speck view of the chef’s family farm. Chef Canas is proud of his food philosophy, and local cuisine, and is happy to talk with patrons about his culinary creations. Amazing and delicious! (Update:  Chef Canas has left Valencia and will be opening a restaurant in Barcelona in Spring 2015. I will find him again. Bet on it!)

Valencia was all good. I had my poorest showing in communicating with people here because the people favored the local language, Valencian (a Catalan dialect), over Spanish. It wasn’t that much of an obstacle at restaurants or getting around, though. I’d return in a heartbeat and stay at the same place.  There is more of the city to  explore — my only regret is that I missed the Sunday flea market.  Next time!

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Next:  Balancing Travel  – Part 5 – Alicante