Well, we've clocked up more than 48 hours back in the blue-skied streets of Valencia so far. Although nothing seems to have changed over five years, everything has changed in our reality. We are all a little older. Our kids are growing up. The buildings and the people largely remain as was, though as if signifying a more profound change, many of the beautiful new buildings and structures of the City of Arts and Sciences have yellowed in the intervening years. A sort of tarnish has been allowed to develop over the formerly pristine white surfaces, and so far it appears no well-dressed public servant has yet been despatched to re-coat them. It could be the €25bn debt being split between the 7m residents that is causing the delay, but it is one of the few visible yet superficial changes that seem to have happened since "la crisis". In the past, when public service and infrastructure jobs needed doing, money, people and equipment were simply thrown at them. Other changes are more subtle still. There aren't thousands of people begging on the streets, yet we hear of more people with cars that have been broken into and victims of clever pickpocketing gangs; the bars and restaurants are still full and yet property prices have plummeted by as much as 50-60% in some areas.
Unemployment amongst the young at least is as much as 50% in some areas, but again the signs are somewhat invisible within the city centres which continue to thrive and buzz with activity.
For us the changes are as much about the people that have moved away - especially those involved with the 2007 America's Cup Challenge. That and the fact we have come back to Valencia for a very few days - as visitors, not residents. And that makes us feel temporary and transitory. We are here for a very few days, so don't feel able to unwind and re-lay down our roots. There's no Fallas or Christmas to look forward to. No long trips into the country - or camping holidays - or weekends up the coast to Barcelona or down to Alicante. No open-air concerts, operas, ferias and outdoor workshops. No great cycling expeditions up into the mountains. No friends visiting us for a few days' sunshine and visits to the local restaurants in the Barrio del Carmen. We're just here for a whirlwind return tour like those who used to visit us. Soon we'll be gone and back to missing good old Valencia, preparing for the time we might return for a longer trip. Possibly a place of our own where we can come and go as we please, and ultimately to become part of this great city and the outdoor life we love so much. For me I am heartened that the whole family miss the place as much as I do when we're not here, and love it so much when we return. I think our relationship with our friends and the city will continue long into the future, and no matter where else in the world we travel, Valencia will always have a very special place in our lives.
From the Santa Semana procession at Cabanyal