Italy, Spain, And/Or Finland?

Last year, we went to Napoli, or Naples, the city famous for Vesuvius, Camorra, and Sophia Loren. It was a fantastic experience, and it led me to ponder a few things.

When one mentions Italy, usually the Pope, the canals of Venice, gelato, and high fashion come to mind immediately. Maybe not in the same sentence and in that order, but those are some of the things Italy is famous for.

Naples, however, is of a different breed. The streets are uneven and dirty, and the whole city looks like it could use a lick of paint. Having said that, the street art is fantastic, the energy of life buzzes everywhere you go, and the pizza is divine. Some say that this is because Mount Vesuvius, the only active volcano on European mainland, looms in the (too near) distance.

After the initial culture shock, which was expected as we came from Finland to Italy, it took mere moments before Naples grew on me with the narrow streets, loud people, and honking cars.

Having a keen interest in history, Naples is a treasure trove, partially because of the Roman Empire and some of the emperors having their summer palaces in the area, the buried city of Pompeii, and the Quartieri Spagnoli (Spanish Quarter) from the time when Spain ruled over the city. These are just some examples. But would I live there permanently?

I come from Finland, where the summers are very green and blue; where the air quality is generally one of the best in the world, and the pace of life is more placid. In the countryside, where we live, there are no traffic jams whatsoever, meaning no rush hour, but the nearest shop is about 12 km away. And coming from this setting to the chaotic, buzzing world of Naples, obviously caused some cultural shock.

Even if the salary level is definitely higher in Finland, so are taxes and the cost of living. Combined with the non-existent appreciation for my occupation, it has made me wonder if I still fit into the Finnish society. Do I need the buzz and life around me more than I realised before? I have to admit that I had a kind of idolised picture of romantic countryside living, which was partially based on my childhood memories.

As far as memories go, summers were long and lazy, and winters were snowy and white. However, how nice and picturesque the country is during the summer, with garden blooming and berries ripening, it is balanced by a long, cold, and dark winter which seems to suck the life out of everything. It even takes the smiles out of the Finns. This is something you will notice if you live in Finland and observe the people. During the summer, the lawn needs to be mowed, weeds picked out from the bushes, hedges trimmed, small upkeep done on the house.. the list is endless and repetitive. Winters may be white and bright because of snow, but more snow means more and constant shovelling, whilst making sure there is enough firewood for the fireplace.

So, the idolised country living isn’t exactly as easy as I remembered from my childhood when I didn’t have to do all these odd jobs as I need to now. Combine this with the modern day politics and national views that glorify the past, it has led me to wonder if Finland is facing a late summer sunset, or would it still be a place for us to set down permanent roots after all.

And then, during a dark January of 2018, we needed a quick getaway to any sunny place in Europe and booked flights to Malaga; a place where my Wifey had never been before, and I had last been in the late 1990s. At that time, I was in Benalmadena with friends, so it was all about sun, swimming pool, and sangria.

The short holiday in Malaga was exactly what we needed. It wasn’t cold, it was sunny, and there was culture and people around. For both of us, Andalucía felt immediately like a place where we belonged. First, we toyed with the idea of living in Spain, but as I was working as a registered nurse in Finland, it required much more research. As time went by, we cemented the idea, and in the late summer of 2019, we finally made the move to Fuengirola, in the Costa del Sol.

Since then, Covid-19 has happened, and as life goes, we are currently dividing our time between Finland and Spain. For the most part, this is an arrangement that suits us, but sometimes it makes us feel like we don’t really have a stable home. Even if we have two permanent homes.

My younger self was always amused by the pensioners who would leave Finland for winter for a Mediterranean country. And now I seem to have reached the age where I see the value of such arrangement. Whilst seeing the benefits for retirees, I still have to work, and at the moment, I have to adhere to rules set by the company. This may hinder the feeling of freedom we want and force us to choose where we set down our roots.

But will it be a place like Finland, or Italy, or Spain? That remains to be seen..

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