I fell so behind with my blogs that now there is no way of catching up, so I’m deciding to write one blog each month or each city. My third month of Remote Year was in Valencia and it might have been my favorite so far. The many side trips that I took definitely added to the wonderful experience – the Basque Country (San Sebastian, Bilbao) and La Rioja wine region, Tarragona for Nation House (an event where current Remotes and Citizens who have completed Remote Year get together and talk about a specific topic), and Porto in Portugal.
Here are my favorite memories of the month:
- First day in Valencia, walking around the city with Susanna and falling in love with the city right away. Stopping by a restaurant in the old town, having an amazing eggplant dish and a few small pintxos (a typical snack from the Basque country in northern Spain made up of a small piece of bread with a mixture of ingredients on top all tied together by a toothpick), and a glass of wine. Antoine joined us later for some sangria and good conversations. It was a beautiful spring day, sunny but not too hot, such a perfect day to kick off an amazing month in Spain.
- Our lovely apartment in the ,Ruzafa neighborhood – an up and coming neighborhood that is mainly filled with local residents but that has lots of interesting restaurants and bars. The apartment is beautifully decorated, with a blend of old and new, I even had a lovely view from my little balcony in my bedroom. And my two wonderful roommates – Susanna and Katy – made my experience there truly special.
- ,Sunset yoga in the park organized by Meetup. I couldn’t believe that we get to do yoga in nature, led by a lovely and talented instructor Temi, all at the price of whatever tip you want to give. It was also a fantastic way to meet other expats in the city. I’m really grateful that my good friend Antoine joined me every time, even though he had never done yoga before and so glad he really enjoyed it. To reward ourselves for the hard work, some good food and wine/sangria is always a great way to end the evening.
- Weekend trip to the Basque country (Bilbao and San Sebastian) and La Rioja wine region with Matt, a Remote Year citizen who joined our group for two months. One of the many benefits of Remote Year is that anything you want to do, chances are you will find someone to join you, and on the flip side, there are always endless things that people want to do that you can join in on. In this case, a group of us mentioned the desire to do a culinary trip to San Sebastian – the city with the highest number of Michelin stars per square meter – and in the end Matt and I managed to fit it into our schedule. Highlights of the trip:
- ,Walking around town in ,Bilbao from Guggenheim museum to old town and having pintxos for the first time in the Basque country, the motherland of all pintxos. And boy did I fell in love with it.
- Amazing meal at Akelarre, my first 3 Michelin star restaurant. The food was was absolutely outstanding and the wine pairing, served by the sommelier Carlos, completely put it over the top.
- Wine tasting in La Rioja, the region where one of my favorite wines comes from. We continued to have amazing food with the wine – an amazing 3-course lunch that Carlos, the sommelier called “basic”, but of course compared to the too-many-courses-to-count at Akellare it might have been “basic” but absolutely not in all other standards, and a 4-course dinner that was absolutely gorgeous. One of my goals this year to do wine tasting in all the famous wine regions that we get close to. So far I’ve been doing well! Stellenbosch and Franschhoek in South Africa and now La Rioja in Spain. Another thing I’ve discovered in my time in Spain is that Spanish wine is fantastic. Prior to coming here I had only really known Rioja, but after spending a month here I realize there is no bad Spanish wine and they are all so cheap – 3-5 EUR is usually how much we spend on a bottle in a grocery store and 8-10 EUR would be on the high end!
- Walking around San Sebastian, going pinxto hopping in 5 different pintxo bars, and more pintxos in Bilbao before flying out the next morning. We came to this trip for a culinary and wine experience and boy did we get it. Before this trip I didn’t love Spanish food, I liked it and had a lot of tapas in Singapore, but found myself still liking French or Italian better when it came to fine dining. But after this trip to the Basque Country my view of Spanish food completely changed. The meals I had this weekend were some of the best I have ever had. The 3-Michelin star Akellare was out of this world, but even something as simple as pintxos was to-die-for, and to see 20 to 30 different types in all the bars in the whole city completely blew my mind. It was certainly not a cheap weekend, but absolutely worth it!
- A spontaneous day of walking around ,Ruzafa with Susanna, going to the Ruzafa market, stumbling into a restaurant outside the market that was so authentic. We each had a glass of wine by the bar, I even managed to do some work while Susanna talked to someone who became a good contact for her retreat business. After that we had a really nice lunch in an Italian restaurant next door and had the best ricotta cheese for desert. In the evening we took a long walk around the city and stopped by a nice tapas place for dinner. I absolutely love these spontaneous days that turn out to be amazing.
- Weekend at Nation House outside Barcelona. It was a weekend of being in a beautiful house in the country side of Barcelona, learning and connecting with Remotes and Citizens from multiple Remote Year groups, having amazing home cooked meals, and exploring the town of Tarragona and surroundings. Some of my favorite moments from the weekend:
- Delicious dinner and breakfasts cooked by people in the group on the patio with views of the beautiful surroundings.
- 2 days of very engaging leadership sessions – lots of learning from all the sessions as well as learning from my own session – co-leading it with a Remote from a different group about Leading with Strengths. Going to an event like this made realize even more the enormous value of traveling with Remote Year – it is not just about travel, work, or community, but also about learning, growth, and development.
- An afternoon of exploring Tarragona and the surroundings while doing a team building activity, and our team even won! Coming back to the house in the evening, we drank wine around the fire place and did another round of toasts, which is a game our leader Travis taught us of going around the table / circle to get everyone to give a toast to a theme. The theme of the first night was “Toast to a person who is not here” and the second night was “Toast to a place that has special meaning to you”. By the end of the toast on the first night almost everyone had tears in their eyes at some point. It is an amazing way to get everyone to talk about something personal to them and to get to know everyone better. I now absolutely love this game and try to do it whenever it’s appropriate.
- Trip to Porto to meet up with my good friend Grant and his friends. I absolutely fell in love with Porto and even more with the peaceful and idyllic country side. 10 years after my first time to Portugal I found even more of a special connection to the country and the people. I really cannot wait to go back in August for our 6th month on Remote Year.
- Last but certainly not least, appreciating the beautiful Valencia during all hours of the day. The few morning runs that I did were especially magical.
Third month of Remote Year was a great month. Between all the events in Valencia, the side trips, and keep up with coaching and work, I couldn’t find any time to document my experience. I’m really glad I’m getting a chance to reflect on the experience now and realize what an amazing month it was.