I answered, “Yes.”
“Do you know anyone there?” “No.”
“Do you have a place to live?” “No.”
Inevitably they would exclaim, “You're so brave!”
I didn't feel like bravery was taking me to Europe. I was being pulled by my dream to live there.
At first, I tentatively shared my plan with my son and sisters. At that point I thought maybe I was crazy. Sixty-four years old, single, leaving a job I enjoyed, selling my lovely home, getting rid of all my stuff, and moving to Europe—alone—with just a suitcase and my camera. That did sound way crazy. It also sounded like a Big Adventure.
If my family had told me not to go—that it was too risky, or too stupid, or just plain a bad idea—I might have changed my mind and stayed put. But none of them did. My son said, “Go for it!” My sisters said, “We want to go!”
I got braver. I started telling a few friends, expecting some negative reactions. But every one of them said, “That's so exciting! I want to do that too!”
Now it was too late to back out. I'd told everyone close to me about my dream, and the pressure was on to make it happen. I set my plan in motion to move to Europe within one year.
I wanted to take a second suitcase, but that was all I could manage with my travel and living situations. During my first six weeks in Europe, I had two judging assignments—one in Germany and one in France—and lived at a series of AirBnB apartments, with no permanent address. I could only manage one suitcase. When I made a trip back to the U.S., I returned to Europe with my other important stuff, including my boots.
One fateful Friday night in February of 2016, I ended up in the hospital Emergency Room with a serious infection. It took weeks of heavy antibiotic use to recover. At that moment, I realized I wasn't getting any younger and I wasn't getting any healthier. Although I've always taken good care of myself, age was creeping up on me. (I hate to admit that!)
I watched my parents' dreams evaporate because their health deteriorated. They'd been to Europe once and wanted to visit again. But Mom had a stroke. Dad had heart problems. They were no longer able to go, and I swore I'd never let that happen to me. Shortly before she died, Mom gave me her cherished book about Florence, Italy. She said, “You'll have to go for me.” I will, Mom. My trip is scheduled for this fall.
I'd been invited to judge dog shows in Europe a dozen times. Those judging assignments made it possible for me to explore regions near the shows. I'd been to Germany, the U.K., and France. Germany was beautiful, I spoke some German, and thought it could be a great place to live.
Just one teeny, tiny problem. Winter weather.
For 58 years I'd lived near Minneapolis and Chicago. Winters were cold. Very cold. Snow and ice were abundant. My neighbor used his skid-loader and bucket to clear my driveway—a shovel wasn't up to the task. Water in my dogs' water buckets froze solid in a couple of hours. I was tired of battling the weather and needed a major change.
When I planned My Big Adventure to Europe, warm weather was my number one criteria. Not too hot, not too cold, lots of sunshine. Spain's Mediterranean climate looked perfect.
Cities on the Mediterranean coast had the most moderate climates. Barcelona, Valencia, Alicante. I visited Barcelona and had a great time. My plan was to visit Valencia and Alicante, and then choose where to live. I made it as far as Valencia, fell madly in love with the city, and set down roots.
However, I'm not a big city girl. I prefer a small-town lifestyle. Through a stroke of luck I was introduced to the pueblo (town) of L'Eliana, which is a 20-minute metro ride from Valencia. It's an absolutely charming place, a mix of traditional Spanish culture with modern touches. My luck continued, I found an apartment the first day, and I settled in. I often pinch myself and say, “I'm here! I'm really living in Spain!”
One thing that fascinates me about My Big Adventure is that I never felt any fear of the unknown. I had the utmost confidence that my plan would succeed, and it did. Here I am in Europe, this magical place, living my dream. Big risk, big payoff.
Brave or crazy? Maybe a little of both.