VLC Sunset

I remember it so clearly. There we were in sunny Valencia, Spain. After a warm February, March promised even better weather. March also brought the opening festivities for Las Fallas. Imagine that, one of Spain’s biggest festivals was kicking into gear, and I was living right at the heart of it…dream come true. The streets were filled with people, churro stands, fireworks, cookouts…it was truly surreal. Weekends also brought the start of parties on the streets, as some neighborhoods turned intersections into outdoor clubs! There was so much excitement in the air, both from first-timers like me and seasoned vets who knew how to get the party going. 2020 started so promising as I was fulfilling my dream of living abroad and was ready to enjoy this moment in my life. Then, as we all know, shit went down.

Churros PreCovid

Fallas street churros, no masks necessary. My last pic before first lockdown.

Obviously it was weird for everyone, yet I couldn’t help but feel like I was in an interesting situation. Here I am in Spain, one of the hardest hit countries during this pandemic. At the time of typing this, Spain stands at 70,000 deaths and 3 million confirmed cases. My home country? The hardest hit country by the pandemic, the United States.

Exactly one year ago, everything was suddenly shut down here in Spain. My job became fully remote and I was stuck in an awkward situation: go home to the US, or stay in Spain. I chose to stay in Spain and, in retrospect, it was the best decision. I got to experience the pandemic from two different perspectives. My family would update me on the conditions back home, and I would share my experiences on the other side of the Atlantic.

The Spanish central government took control of all the autonomous communities (think the equivalents to states in the US) by declaring an emergency state of alarm. The autonomous regions closed borders and we were all told to stay home. And when they said to stay at home, they meant it. The only reasons we were allowed to leave our residence were for essential trips, such as the grocery store and pharmacy. Additionally, only one person at a time from each residence was allowed to go on these trips. Restaurants and bars closed for a while, however after a few weeks, certain delivery-only restaurants were allowed to open again.

It was a shocking change, especially as someone living in a big city. Unlike the cities around my hometown, Spanish cities tend to consist of mostly flats above commercial areas. So people go down from their flats to do whatever it is they do in their lives and….well, the point is, the city sidewalks are normally so full of life. Then suddenly, these buzzing cities all went silent. We would plan out our grocery trips so that we can limit our exposure to the outside world. Going out to the store felt like a privilege. The streets were filled with an eerie silence as there was usually not a soul in sight. On the rare occasions you would walk by someone on the street, it would feel so awkward; like “whoa, stay away. Don’t give me that covid.”

Meanwhile in North Carolina, my family told me that things were much different. While similar stay-at-home orders were issued…things didn’t go quite the same way as they did for me in Spain. Basically all businesses were declared “essential,” while in Spain very few things were considered “essential” and the things that were open, were open for limited hours.

My spring travel and party goals were exchanged for cooking, watching TV, sleeping and home workouts. On May 2, the 51st day of lockdown, we were finally allowed to go outside for exercise….on limited hours, but still a great thing nonetheless. Suddenly, the city seemed to regain some life. From May into June, the autonomous regions deescalated the lockdown restrictions. In June, it seemed as if life was getting back to normal. We were all forced to wear masks in public, but it wasn’t an issue for anyone in my experience. Sure it was an annoyance, but it seemed that people understood that this was the way it needed to be in the moment.

After a second and third wave of restrictions in fall and winter, we are now starting to slowly deescalate the restrictions again. The case numbers and deaths are dropping and, with help from increasingly widespread vaccine availability, the hope is that the situation will continue to improve. The government here is hoping to keep a fourth wave from hitting by forbidding movement across the autonomous communities at least through Semana Santa (Holy Week).

While life in no way resembles what it did before March 13, 2020, it is much better than the initial lockdown from a year ago. Hopefully soon we’ll be able to do the things we took for granted before, like attend crowded sports venues, have big gatherings, and nights in crowded bars. Although it’ll be interesting to see the psychological impact of this on people once things do go back to “normal”. I can’t even watch movies or concert videos on youtube without getting uncomfortable with the lack of masks and distancing; it’s really messing with our heads.

Until those moments come back, I’ll enjoy everything else Valencia has to offer. Like these gorgeous beach sunsets.

VLC Sunset

A beautiful sunset in Valencia marks a full year since life has been normal



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