It was this Sunday a year ago that Lisa and I arrived in Spain to start our new life in the sunshine, just 15 minutes from the Mediterranean.
Yes, although even the two of us find it hard to believe, we have lived here in Spain for 12 months. And we love it.
Two of the main reasons that we decided to relocate to the south of Spain were for better weather and for a hoped-for improvement in my health, having been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in April 2002.
So, let’s have a look at what is going on in Spain:
- My health: Well, of course, I still have MS but from an MRI scan last month I know that the lesions on my spine and brain are inactive. Now, I am not going to attempt to explain the technical details but will just say that my symptoms seem to have stabilized. I am now beginning to be able to move a few steps without holding on to furniture and walls, which is a good sign. It seems that I have got no worse since our move; whether that is linked to the sunny weather, I don’t know.
- Weather: Sunny and warm most of the year. The area is renowned for having upwards of 320 days of sun per year. Such a change from the UK climate. Before we moved, it was not unusual to have to wear winter jackets in July; but here, in January his year, we were dressed in summer clothes sitting out in the sunshine. Luckily, my version of MS-related heat sensitivity is not affected by warm weather but by sudden fluctuations; this makes Spain an ideal place to live.
- Healthcare: Like the UK’s NHS, the Sistema Nacional de Salud de España (Spain’s National Health Service) provides socialised healthcare for all residents. Our experience of this has included fast and efficient hospital service, both as in-patient and out-patient, efficient local health centre where our GP is based – including the ability to make appointments online. Prescriptions charges are so low as to be negligible and pharmacists here can provide certain products that require a doctor’s prescription in the UK.
- Dentists and Opticians: While these are not covered by the health service, and so we have to pay, the costs are not excessive and even the sight test is free if you buy spectacles from the same place.
- Roads and driving: Spain has the most amazing network of roads that are mostly wide, open and free. Some of the newest motorways, known as autovias, are toll roads. They have different designations. Near us, we have the A7 (free autovia) and the AP7 (toll autovia). Of course, like all mainland European countries, the USA and many more, the Spanish drive on the right-hand side of the road, unlike the UK. But, despite having driven on the left for more than 40 years, driving a left-hand drive car on the right side of the road has come naturally to me.
- Restaurants, Bars and Cafés: There are so many from which to choose, featuring a wide variety of cuisines. Many also offer a Menú del Día option which is a reasonably priced Menu of the Day including a drink.
- Shopping: We are well serviced by supermarkets, specialist shops, economy stores and the usual wide range of high street shops. No-one does home deliveries or click-and-collect however. Those advances haven’t reached Spain yet, at least not the rural part.
- Motor fuel: Whether you want diesel or gasolina (petrol), they are both reasonably priced and cheaper than in the UK.
- Electricity: The costs are higher in Spain but not so high as to detract from living here.
- People: We have found everybody so pleasant and helpful; something quite unlike anything we’d previously experienced. Only two days ago, as Lisa was packing our shopping into bags at the supermarket checkout, a young man appeared and helped her, and then loaded them back into the cart. We thanked him but he insisted on escorting us back to our car where he folded and loaded my electric wheelchair plus all the shopping into the vehicle and even took the cart back and reclaimed the one Euro coin and returned it to Lisa. I was surprised to receive similar treatment in the USA but Lisa explained that the guy was paid to do it; it was his job. The man in Spain was not wearing the supermarket uniform, in fact it does not employ packers. He was just a member of the public who wanted to help!
- Language: Our linguistic skills are improving and I find myself understanding the gist of what someone is saying in Spanish and being able to make myself understood.
To sum it all up, one year on from our big move, we both absolutely love it. We are healthier (in my case, with MS, I equate ‘no worse’ to being healthier), happier and financially better-off.
Now, where’s my Sangria?
50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, who is Managing Editor (columns division) of BioNews Services. BioNews is owner of 50 disease/didorder-specific news and information websites – including MS News Today. Ian has enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor, in the print media. During that career he gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. He was diagnosed with MS in 2002 but continued working until mobility problems forced him to retire early in late 2006. He now lives in the south of Spain. Besides MS, Ian is also able to write about both epilepsy and cardiovascular matters from a patient’s perspective and is a keen advocate on mobility and accessibility issues.