Back in Montreal…and reflecting on life changes

Back in Montreal…and reflecting on life changesBack in Montreal…and reflecting on life changes

August 9, 2020

We left Montreal in 2014 (6 years ago) to travel full-time. Our returns to Montreal since then have very much reflected the changes we’ve gone through.

We weren’t happy to come back in 2015. That first year of travel was a trial run and we had known that we’d have to come back and “check in”. Back then we had tenants (we had rented out our condo), Lissette had to meet with her boss (she had worked remotely that 1st year) and we had to check our mail (which was piled up in a PO box). But after that first year we knew that we wanted to continue our travelling and after 6 weeks in Montreal we flew to Budapest for year two of our travels.

By 2017 we were “legitimate” full-time travellers/expats. We knew by then that Montreal was the past. We had decided to live in Croatia in early 2017. A few months later we were told by our tenants in Montreal that they would be moving. We had decisions to make. Did we want to keep the Montreal condo? How about our large storage locker? That summer I came back to Montreal, sold the condo, and had all our furniture shipped to our apartment in Split. So 2017 was the year we got rid of all our physical attachments in Montreal.

Our time in Croatia lasted until early 2018. Looking back, we (mostly I) wasn’t ready to settle in one place. And Croatia wasn’t that place. We put our stuff back in storage (this time in Zagreb) and were back travelling full-time. Later that year I was in Montreal again for another life change – my son was graduating from University. Watching him graduate I was proud, but also relieved. I had paid his tuition and lodging throughout his years at school so 2018 provided some financial relief.


And now 2020…

We had planned to be in Montreal this year even prior to the Covid outbreak. In late 2019 we decided that 2020 would be the year we settle somewhere. That country would be Spain. We just felt that we weren’t getting any younger (we’re both 53) and that we had to put down roots. Spain was the best choice.

We arrived in Spain on the 1st of February and explored a few places that we could potentially call home. It was on March 13th, when in Leon, that Spain announced a state of emergency over the Coronavirus. We ended up being stuck in lockdown in Leon for 3 ½ months.

We thought about what we would do once lockdown was lifted. We could theoretically have continued travelling. But going anywhere is complicated and ever-changing right now and it didn’t interest us. We also didn’t want to deviate from our plan – with all the uncertainty going on we came to the conclusion that finding a home and settling down in Spain this year is the right decision.

So on July 6th we flew back to Montreal to begin the process of applying for a Spanish Visa (which has to be done from the jurisdiction where you live). We spent the first 2 weeks back in mandatory lockdown. A few weeks ago we were finally allowed out and since then have been busy getting our paperwork in order for a Spanish non-lucrative Visa: criminal background checks, doctor’s letter, updated marriage certificates etc. We’ve had to get certain documents legalized, others translated…There’s a lot involved. I’ll be writing a post about that eventually.

We’re getting close to the end of the process and hope to submit all the required documents to the Spanish Consulate in the next 10 days or so.

And we’re hoping, if all goes according to plan, that we will have Visas in hand by mid-October. I’ve got October 15th marked on the calendar as the day we hope to get back to Spain.

Of course anything could happen this year so we’re not assuming anything.


Coming back to Montreal though makes us reflect on the changes we’ve gone through. 6 years ago we had a condo, a full storage unit, Lissette worked, and I had to pay my son’s tuition and lodging. We’ll never forget the excitement of that first year. But there was a lot of stress as well. Now, in 2020, Lissette is (also) officially retired, we sold the condo, and I no longer have financial obligations. We’re the freest we’ve ever been and we’re looking forward to the future.

In a way, being back in Montreal in 2020 is a reset on our lives.


Back in Montreal this time around

It’s strange to be back in Montreal, especially with the Coronavirus being the focus of everything.

Montreal is the quietest we’ve ever seen it. It’s eerie.

It’s usually a buzzing, energetic place that gets crazy in the summer when festival after festival is hosted by the city. This year everything has been cancelled.

Downtown is absolutely dead. We went for medical checkups in the heart of the city. The metro (ie the subway) was filled to about 10% capacity. It used to be that I would often have to miss a train because there were too many people. Now, even at rush hour, downtown Montreal is a ghost town. Entering a highrise, we had to clear security (appointments only!), get a temperature check, wear masks, wash our hands with gel, and speak to personnel through plexiglass.

We went to a shopping center to get fingerprints for our police checks. There was nobody else at the office. There were very few people in the shopping center.

This is not the Montreal we know. It’s bizarre. I know, talking to people, that many are working from home. But not all jobs can be done from home. Where is everyone?

Back in Montreal…and reflecting on life changes

Montreal metro…on a Wednesday morning 

We have a park across the street from the apartment. People have picnics, they bring bottles of wine and they sit there for hours with family and friends. It’s the thing to do during these times. We’ve done the same.

We’ve been struck by both the friendliness of people and the adherence to the Covid rules. I previously mentioned that during our first week we had delivery men coming to the door without masks on (our 14 day lockdown required us to have everything delivered). Since then things have gotten stricter. Delivery men now wear masks. In the stores there are strict social distancing rules (kind of strange seeing a big store where a maximum of 4 people are allowed in at any given time).  In the street people are aware and make room. There’s no questioning of the rules and everyone is being respectful of space and the required etiquette. We’re impressed. And the numbers show that it’s working: the number of covid cases is in the hundreds (and not tens of thousands) and deaths in the single digits for all of Canada (on most days less than 10 people have died per day). Under the circumstances Canada has done well so far. But like everywhere else, Canadians are being warned to stay vigilant ahead of a possible 2nd wave of the virus in the autumn.

Related: The Atlantic on Canada’s coronavirus response and how it’s differed from that in the US

So we’re having a very different Montreal experience this time around.

I’ve mentioned previously that while I’ve returned a few times over the years, Lissette hasn’t been back in Canada since 2015. She wasn’t looking forward to it, most likely because it reminded her of work and people she didn’t want to run into on the street. In actual fact we’ve enjoyed Montreal more that we expected. Montreal is familiar, safe, and with everything going on right now it’s a good place to be. We’ve got some nice parks in Montreal and we’ve just enjoyed walking. We’ve also got a comfortable apartment, a nice place that we found on Airbnb but that we booked off-site (saving a lot of money).

So we’re good here and will enjoy Montreal until we (hopefully) leave in October. And as has always been the case, we’ll most likely look back at this visit as yet another leading to changes in how we live and travel.


Related: Flashback to 2008…and thoughts on life changes


  1. We both wish you all the best for a smooth application process! Europe is a good place to be – even during a pandemic. We are hoping to visit Southern Spain sometimes in winter – so hopefully we can meet then…all the best from Berlin. Natascha and Isa

    1. It would be a pleasure finally getting to meet you both Natascha! Maybe we’d even join you for a hike.
      Let’s hope it works out for all of us, we keep hearing the news getting worse in Europe and Lissette has waved around the idea of prolonging our stay in Canada (which I have no interest in. I swore I would never want to go through another Canadian winter…)
      All the best.

  2. Frank, I enjoyed reading this look back and timeline of your “life as a nomad”, even though I have been following you journey from the start, it is amazing how well you and Lissette have adapted to this lifestyle. But I can totally understand why you have now decided to put roots down again and Spain is such a fantastic choice, with Granada being one of my favourite cities in Spain.
    I hope the paperwork to get the residence visa is all going well and I will be looking forward to hearing more about the whole process.

    1. I hope you are well Gilda. Hard to find much inspiration these days…
      Thanks for your kind words.
      Yes, I’ll write more about the process once we see that we’ll be getting the Visa. Don’t want to be spouting advice and then find it we screwed up 🙂

  3. how very strange to find yourself in a place thats so quiet after being overseas and returning. just as weird here but we’ve lived through the whole thing. Hopefully it all goes smoothly from here on in for you Frank.

  4. Good luck on the Spanish visas mate, not a bad place to settle down. Though I like the south of Spain better 🙂

    I do hope the world finds a good balance and you can get back there as planned sooner rather than later.

  5. Thanks for the update. Nice to hear you are enjoying Montreal this time around. Sounds quite spacious in a new way. Hope your paper work acceptance goes well a and the visas come through easily. Really looking forward to your reports from settling in Spain. I’ve randomly thought of it myself.
    Best – Jan

    1. Thank you Jan. So Spain might also be in your future? If you ever have question don’t be shy to write me privately.

  6. Thanks for the update, Frank! We were kinda wondering what was going on with you and Lissette. Strange times, indeed, but I don’t doubt you will soon have your paperwork in order, and will be ready to return.

    The question we are all wondering, of course, is will Spain be ready for you?

    1. Exactly! We’ve been wondering the same. Will Spain be ok by October? Sad to see after the strictest lockdown in Europe. But we kind of called it – the last 2 weeks seeing the crowded bars in Leon wasn’t reassuring.

  7. Greetings from Vancouver!
    Good luck with your future endeavours as I have enjoyed following your travels!
    All My Best,
    Joey Rossi

  8. Sometimes, looking back can be helpful. Like the things we learn when on the road and stuff we remember from home.

    On the road lessons are learned about how to approach a new culture. Each country has it’s overall one, then the regional cultures and the individual ones for every town. What kinds of streets to not walk down and those which are okay. Some of these aspects also apply to home cities.

    A couple of times I’ve been away and upon return there are new apartments, old shops have closed to be replaced by new ones and new neighbors moved in. I can imagine Montreal’s busy times are like all big cities and the near empty Metro, buses and trams are just as strange there as they are here in London.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.