The voice of should is a powerful one. It enters our conscious at a very young age and guides us throughout our various stages of life. When we’re children that voice is the internal voice of our parents and elders, who mold us into understanding what is (hopefully) right and wrong at given times. As we become adolescents, other voices are added to our internal operating system, such as those of peers and admirers. Slowly, we begin to shift our behavior to fit the desires of external societal forces, which often do not have our best interests in mind.
What starts as a survival mechanism in childhood morphs into a set of thoughts and beliefs based on the survival of the group more so than the wellbeing of the individual. This has only been exacerbated in recent years with the explosion of social media and endless media/news entertainment. All of which is designed to capture and sustain its dominance over our minds for the purpose of its own survival rather than our own.
Yet when you speak with elders, one thing you’ll often noticed is how much they have naturally lessened the voice of should as they age. They focus less on being mentally prodded by the thoughts and beliefs of others and return to focusing on eliminating or minimizing those voices to maximize their remaining life experience. It’s as if being able to recognize the precious value of the present moment naturally prompts one to lessen the voices of should, recognize the power of the moment, and maximize it for their individual potential – rather than that of a loud, yet distant majority.
The friction that I endured during my 5 weeks in Vietnam culminated with me being forced to listen to my thoughts “through dreams, soreness, and flu-like sweats, because in all other conditions I’ve been unable to listen.” That process helped me to reorganize the various voices of should in my mind and ultimately prepared me for my unexpectedly active 2 months in Valencia, Spain.
Such is life that while things on the surface appear active, engaged, and running smoothly, there is often so much happening behind-the-scenes and below the surface. In our efforts to live our best life, we must actively listen to our inner self and manage the societal effects of our own human experience.
Rediscovering Ruzafa (Russafa)
The day we arrived in Valencia was cloudy and turbulent – completely opposite from how I was feeling inside. I was relieved, excited, and eager. Relieved from having been able to exit both Vietnam and Singapore after nearly being denied boarding due to a minor visa technicality. Excited to take the lessons learned from my experience in Saigon and apply them to this brief 6-week stay in Spain. And I was eager to explore a colorful and energetic neighborhood that had fascinated me the year prior during our 2-month stay in Valencia.
Ruzafa was the perfect fit for our needs this time around. In 2017, we stayed in La Petxina, a fairly quiet, nondescript part of town that often left much to be desired in the evenings. Ruzafa – a grungy, hipster, international area of town – is lively, engaging, and up-and-coming. It is the pulse of the city’s redevelopment and was a perfect match for our energy during this brief stay.
As I noted, my previous post regarding Vietnam, “the more we travel, the more we understand the most effective and efficient areas for our needs.” For us, few places meet both objectives and Valencia is one of them. The city has all of the little things that allow us to maximize our experience during our brief time there. Simple pleasures such as taking long walks around town to enjoy the beautiful mix of architecture under the sunny, blue Spanish sky, weekend picnics in the park, or the ability to stop by the train station and pick a random destination for the day to explore local beaches and towns, or spend the day hiking up to medieval castles with picturesque vistas – it’s all there!
As soon as we landed in Spain, we knew we made the right decision by forgoing life in Asia for these two months in Europe. Sure, it was more expensive, but the price paled in comparison to how much the next few weeks of experiences would feed our soul, enhance our minds, and help us cultivate bonds built with friends old and new.
Getting Back into the Groove
It should be no surprise that the first thing we did upon arriving back in Valencia involved wine and cheese. As we travel and live in different destinations, we make it a point to adapt to the local fare and enjoy it for what it is at the time. Yet, for as long as we’ve been together, there is just always something special about a spending a nice evening at home with wine, tapas, and Spanish music playing in the background.
Coming back to Valencia gave us a sense of home that was more than just returning to a city that we’ve “lived in” before. The apartment that we booked for this stay felt like home from the moment we entered and the space was perfect for all of the hosting we’d be doing over the next few weeks – which included 4 friends, three of whom would be house guests.
Fortunately before everyone began arriving, we had a week to get our bearings and setup our lives for “success.” I set out to tap into all of things that give me energy in life, which I had recently realized that I had been missing as a result of the “shadow side of downsizing my life to live abroad.”
In an effort to turn down the volume on the voice of should, I sought out activities to keep me busy and engaged. I signed up for informal language meetups in Spanish and Italian and my wife enrolled in Spanish language classes for 4 weeks, as well as a monthly membership at a local aquatic center to expand on her newfound love of being in the pool.
Slowly, I began to notice the subtle effects of turning down the voice of should. One afternoon while walking through the Casa de Libros bookstore in a random search for a new book to read, I walked up to the second level and picked up the first book that caught my eye. Titled, “1968”, I felt like the book was waiting for me. I’m a huge fan of 20th century history and always love reading books in Spanish and Italian when I travel and live in those countries. The book (and its follow up, “La Revolucion Divertida”) were a perfect mix of my interests and gave me something dive into during my usual mid-afternoon coffee breaks.
In that same vein, I stumbled upon a couple of events that I might not have noticed if my mind was lost outside of the present moment. The first was a live jazz night at the Café Mercedes Jazz Club, just a few blocks from our apartment. The second was a Vermouth wine tasting/food-pairing event at one of our favorite local cafes (Café Artysana), and a nice way to welcome our first Valencia guest to town. The world was starting to open up for me as my eyes began to catch things in the day that sparked memorable moments made in the night.
A Sunday Surprise – Requena & Chulilla
Just a week after we landed in Valencia, Laurianna (Lala), our first of 3 houseguests arrived for a weeklong stay. We met Lala a year earlier during our time in Chiang Mai. Since then, we’d met up with her in Kuala Lumpur during a brief trip and my wife had spent a week visiting her in Lala’s newly adopted city of Berlin. Now it was time for her to visit us in our newly adopted Spanish springtime home.
Hosting friends for tapas and game nights, and organizing surprise getaway days was something we did often when we lived back in California. We were excited at the chance to do the same in our new springtime home, while also using it as an opportunity to discover the region. So as a complete surprise, I left the house on a Sunday morning and walked over to pick up a rental car for the getaway day surprise that I had planned. When I arrived back at the apartment and honked at the ladies to hop in my new ride, the looks on their faces were priceless.
We first set out on an hour-long drive to visit Los Calderones Canyon in Chulilla, which I had only found out about a few days prior while watching some old vlogs from one my favorite Youtubers (LukeLifeCharms). Though the day didn’t start great weather-wise, the views of the canyon and countryside were no less stunning.
After a brief hike through the canyon, random stops along the very narrow two-lane mountainous road with breathtaking views, and another hour-long drive, we arrived at surprise #2 – a private wine tasting tour at Pago de Tharsys just outside of Requena. It goes without saying that weekend wine tastings were a staple of our lives back in California and after reflecting upon the parts of my life that I had given up when I decided to move abroad, I can’t put into words how much this experience began to awaken my inner spirit. It was as if I was transported back into the days of living in California and dreaming about living abroad, only now I was actually experiencing that dream and building upon my experiences rather than feeling like part of them had been taken away.
To conclude what was already a perfect day, we stopped for surprise #3 at the Meson de Vino restaurant for perhaps the best Sunday afternoon meal I’ve had in years. Pork knuckle, pork chops, lamb chops, mashed potatoes, served with bread, sautéed veggies, and wine – it couldn’t have been a better way to end the day. After dropping the ladies off back at home that evening and then returning the rental car, I walked back home feeling the happiest and most alive than I had felt in months. In that moment, the voice of should was silent. The day was a true success!
Climbing Castles on the Weekends – Xàtiva & Sagunto
After Lala left, we had a couple of weeks before other visitors arrived. Perfect for more random explorations. Two weekends in a row, we set out for Saturday daytrips to explore the local towns of Xàtiva and Sagunto – each just 30-45 minutes away from Valencia by train.
Xàtiva was by far our favorite for two reasons – the breathtaking views from atop its medieval castle and the absolutely amazing bocadillos of jamon iberico and beer that we devoured as our personal treat after the modest, mid-afternoon hike up and down the side of the mountain. Daytrips and random hikes were also activities that we enjoyed during our life in California and as this season in Valencia unfolded, we were slowly adding these important pieces back into our experience of living abroad.
The trip was Sagunto was nice but nothing compared to our day in Xàtiva. Perhaps, had we visited Sagunto first, we would have enjoyed it more. The town is noticeably sleepier than Xàtiva and it takes a bit more time to explore, as its castle and the beach are a considerable distance apart. Yet, these are minor annoyances when one can spend a day hiking to the top of a several hundred years old castle in the morning and then have lunch and drinks on the beach in the afternoon.
A Week to Remember – Sevilla
We were three weeks into our time in Valencia and things were just starting to get busy. For the second half our stay, we’d have 3 more sets of visitors and a getaway trip to Sevilla. It started with a visit from Alicia and her husband, Lorenzo, (the aptly self-named couple “Alizo”). They were just beginning their 90-day, 14-country around-the-world honeymoon trip (www.AlizoAdventures.com) and decided to forego a couple of days in Mallorca to, instead, swing down to Valencia from Barcelona.
We met Alicia in late 2015, when we both took language classes at her school back in San Jose, California (San Jose Learning Center). Alicia and I share a love for travel, language, and business, and had kept in touch since my wife and I departed California to live abroad. So I was excited when I awoke one morning to read the text from her that she and her husband would be coming down to Valencia for a couple of days.
Given that we’ve been making Ruzafa our new home, we were excited to show them some of our favorite spots – SpaccaNapoli for dinner and La Mas Bonita for coffee and desserts. A place truly starts to feel like home when you can show it off to friends as your own. Connecting with folks from back in California, who were on their own round-the-world excursion over pasta, wine, coffee, and cheesecake, was both memorable and inspirational.
Just two days later, my wife and I headed to the airport at 5am for a quick 2-day, 1-night trip down to the place where our life abroad began – Sevilla. Every year for my wife’s birthday, we make it a point to do something special. Over the years, we’ve spent her birthday in places like Rome, Maui, Puerto Rico, Granada, and Budapest – yeah she’s a lucky girl. But this year, we wanted to visit a place that wasn’t necessarily new but was surely special.
Sevilla was special. It was the first place we lived after leaving the US. We wondered if some of our favorite places would still be open and if the food was just as good as we remembered. We couldn’t have been more satisfied. In the brief 40 hours that we were on the ground in Sevilla, we hit all of our spots and a few new ones. We discovered our growing love for vermouth and I rediscovered just how good a true “cortado” was in the Andalucían capital – something that isn’t the same anywhere else in Spain.
Walking through the streets of the old city and reminiscing, while buzzed on numerous glasses of orange vermouth, high on caffeinated cortados, and stomachs full from amazing Andalucían fare – we had a blast. Never during the entire time in Sevilla did I feel stressed or anxious. The voice of should wasn’t consuming me. I didn’t have time. I was simply in the moment and enjoying the short, precious time we had on this adventure. It’s truly amazing how much life opens up once you turn off the internal doubts and worries, and simply take each moment for the magic that it is.
The Last Two to Tango
As if we hadn’t done enough in our first four weeks in Spain, we still had two more guests to host during our last couple of weeks. The first was the newest friend in our nomadic adventures, Bri. We met her during our last month in Chiang Mai earlier in the year, and since our departure the relationship between the girls blossomed. So when Bri decided to spend a month in Europe, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to host her for a few days in Valencia and show off our city.
We only had a few short days with Bri but we made sure to show her the best of the city, which included a walk through the beautiful Turia Park (perhaps my favorite place to spend time in the city), a day at the beach enjoying a coffees and cheesecake, and, of course, a night at home with tapas, wine, and a little Spanish music.
Just two days after Bri departed, my friend Sara arrived for the final visit of our springtime adventure. Every year that I’ve been to Europe since 2012 (except for 2014), Sara and I have spent time together, and it was always her that was hosting me. I had hoped to return the favor the last two years in Spain, but due to scheduling we just weren’t able to make it happen. So, when she confirmed just days after we booked our tickets in late March that she could visit in May, we were elated.
By the time Sara arrived, we had the perfect game plan to return the hospitality that we had enjoyed during our visits with her previously in Vicenza and Naples. My wife organized a couple of Spanish and American meal nights (one with tapas and the other with BBQ ribs and French fries), and I arranged a couple of adventure afternoons (one at the beach and one in the mountains).
From the moment my wife and I visited Xàtiva back in late April, I knew that I had to bring Sara there. We always have a great time on both nature and urban hikes, and we enjoyed both on her last day in town. That night, we took her to our favorite Italian restaurant for pizza and pasta (SpaccaNapoli) and ended with a nightcap at our favorite local Italian café (Ubik). Fortunately, the Italians in Valencia lived up to expectations and the evening served as a nice way to culminate our 6-week springtime stay in Valencia.
Turn Down the Volume & Turn Up the Experiences
It goes without saying that our time in Valencia was busy. Yet, it was done with intention. I knew that I needed to get back to doing the things that bring my joy, build me up, and put me in the best place to acknowledge and pursue opportunities when they arise. The key point is “when they arise.”
At different periods during this journey, I have found myself lost in thinking so much about the future that I am unable to enjoy the present. If I focus too much on the future, I might wake up one day to recognize that all of the amazing opportunities of the present have passed me by, and that I’ve missed out on so much.
Sure during my time in Valencia I allowed myself to ponder about future opportunities; should I expand my current business? Should I buy an online business? Should I find a business partner? For how long should we continue on this journey? What happens if we have to go home at some point? Where will we live? But instead of harping on these thoughts daily (sometimes hourly), I focused on filling my time with thoughts and activities that built me up rather than those than tear me down.
Not only did I storm through the book “1968” but I also purchased a follow up book by the same author and tore through that as well. I improved my Spanish through those books and the various weekly meetups I attended. I improved my Italian through similar meetups and activities. I organized surprise getaway days for friends and weekend adventures with my wife. In focusing my energy on these experiences, I tamed the often powerful and debilitating voice of should that permeates me during the different seasons of my life abroad.
So as I sat with my last cortado and waited to board my flight from Valencia to Milan, I was comfortable in knowing that I gave it my all and could leave this part of the journey without any self doubt or regret. For it’s not each leg of the nomadic adventure that is a journey but life itself. And along this journey, it’s incumbent upon each of us to listen to our inner self in an effort to make our best and brightest life experience.
Read more Tales from the Nomadic Adventure and find out where we’ll be in the coming months.