“It’s be nice to live in a smaller town,” I said to my husband Michael. “One that has its own life–doesn’t close down in the winter. And it would be great if the city center streets were closed to traffic. And it was close to a big city if we needed it.”
“In your travels in Spain, have you ever seen such a place?” hel asked me.
“Yeah. Of course.”
“Well–where was it?!”
“Grado. That place I volunteered last September.”
“Well let’s look at that,” he said.
And so began our search for our next Spanish hometown.
“So tell me about this place,” Michael said.
“Oh, it’s delightful. The albergue (Camino hostel) is up on this hill next to a park and you can see a gorgeous sunrise from up there–”
“We’re not going to live in the albergue. Tell me about the town.“
“Oh. Yeah. So. Funny thing. When I was there, I started a list of all the things I liked about it because it had all the things I wanted.”
I pulled up the list. “There’s this coffee shop restaurant place where the old guys play cards. And it’s right next to this area where the families gather in the evenings for drinks while the kids kick around a soccer ball.”
We’re not old. We don’t play cards. We don’t have kids. But none of that mattered to me. What mattered was the feel of the place. That people lived and enjoyed their lives here.
Michael patiently waited for something that would interest him.
“The main street is closed off to cars. And you can sit there and have coffee and watch the people go by.” Now Michael perked up. This brought back memories of our time living in Aix-en-Provence. Michael had his coffee place he went every afternoon. Here in Valencia he has a place where, when he sits down, they just bring over his café Americano. Without him saying a word. Though he doesn’t watch the people go by. He puts in his earphones to block out the noise. So a pedestrianized street for coffee. . . ideal.
“We’d go there after we were done cleaning the hostel in the mornings,” I continued. “And watch as they got set up for the market.”
“Yeah. They have an outdoor market every Sunday and Wednesday. All down the main street. Food. Clothes. Shoes.”
“How long have you been telling me about this place and you didn’t think to start off with the market?!” he said.
Indeed colorful, lively, outdoor markets were one of the things we loved most about our time living in France. We thought they’d be all over Spain, too. We were wrong. Too hot in Valencia for outdoor markets.
“And there are hiking trails that take off right from the city,” I said. Michael was sold at “outdoor market” so there really was no need to go on.
Within days, Michael was telling people we were going to move to Grado. “You haven’t even seen it yet,” I kept telling him.
So Michael booked the next possible flight.
When Michael saw the Sunday market in Grado, he had tears in his eyes. To us, our European dream included a town with an outdoor market. Just like this one. Flowers, breads, meats, cheeses, produce. And some underwear, slippers, and tablecloths. Kind of like the European version of Wal-mart. But with fresh air and no cash registers. And only local produce. And local people making their living by selling their stuff to their peers.
Okay. So nothing like Wal-mart.
“It’s gotten bigger,” I said. “It didn’t used to extend up into the park like this,” I told him.
Michael was sold. He searched for homes. Contacted realtors.
But then I took him there on a non-market day.
“I didn’t realize there was just this one main street that’s historic and closed off to cars,” he said. We learned one of the vacant buildings on the main street was being converted into a cultural center. Which would be ideal for entertainment but, until construction finished in a year, not ideal if you wanted a quiet morning.
And so our search continued.