Greetings from Malaga Spain!
Argg, I always say I’ll do more of these newsletters but I see that the last one I did dates back to last October…
I’ve previously written about our hunt for a future Spanish base. We will be in Spain for the next 3 months, seeing the sights but more importantly looking for a place we might want to call home in the future.
I’ll be writing a lot on Spain in the coming months. I’ll also be writing a lot on the non-lucrative residence visa for Spain as we go through the process. One thing we’ve quickly learned: the process and requirements are different depending on where you are applying from. For example: we had one reader who applied in Mexico city who required a fixed address and lease for his application. We knew someone else who didn’t need a lease. After talking to yet another person and getting increasingly confused, I wrote the consulate in Montreal (where we will be applying) and found out that they don’t require a lease.
Like I say, I’ll be writing a lot on the process as we go through it. I know it’s a subject that a lot of people are wondering about. But just know that rules can vary dependent on where you are applying from and that it’s always better to write your local Spanish consulate directly if there’s something you’re unclear about.
Schengen rules and why the Balkans have been a savior
One of the questions I often get asked is how we organize our travels around different Visa rules/restrictions.
January was the perfect example of how we do it. We had spent 3 months in Croatia and had to leave, but we didn’t want to enter the Schengen zone just yet. So we spent the month in Montenegro and Serbia before crossing into Hungary on January 29th – our official entry into the Schengen zone. From that date, we have 90 days in the Schengen zone which takes us to late April. Yesterday (February 1st) we flew to Malaga – it’ll kickstart our 3 months in Spain.
See here the Schengen zone. Note that non-EU nationals (ie. third-country nationals) are allowed 90 days within a 180 period. Simplified, that means you can be in the Schengen 3 months and then have to leave for 3 months before coming back.
Back to the Schengen rules and the Balkans – the Schengen rules are the reason we ended up spending so much time in the region in the first place. Since all of the countries south of Slovenia and Hungary are non-Schengen, they’re good countries for full-time nomads like us to do the “Schengen shuffle”. They’re also inexpensive. So keep countries like Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Montenegro, and Romania in mind if you want to stay in Europe but need to be out of the Schengen zone for a period of time (add Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia to that list is looking a bit further than the Balkans…).
Doing the Schengen shuffle in Western Europe is harder. You can break up your Schengen stay in Morocco (I’m not a big fan of Morocco though) or the UK (which is expensive and doesn’t have the greatest weather).
Montenegro and Serbia
I’ll be writing more at some point about our January travels through Montenegro and Serbia. But summing it up: Montenegro is basically like Dalmatian Croatia – but backwards. Serbia on the other hand is where the Balkans meet Central Europe. The Serbs are cultured and educated, with the highest level of English we’ve experienced anywhere in Europe. We spent time in Belgrade and Novi Sad and enjoyed both. We’d definitely like to see more of Serbia (besides everything else, Serbia is very inexpensive).
Budapest – and how everything is changing
Back in 2015 we spent 2 months in Budapest. We’ve been back a few times since. Budapest is an amazing city.
But this time we were taken aback by the crappy tourists that have overwhelmed the city. Budapest was always gritty, that was part of the charm. Now it felt dirty with its young tourists who come here for nothing else than to get drunk. Compound that with all the crappy fast food restaurants that cater to them and the shitty beer bars that have sprung up all over the place. This time we actually felt old walking around, wondering where all the 40+ tourists have disappeared to
I few years back I wrote about the 4 places on our “expat base shortlist”. Budapest was one of them but I wondered out loud if the city was “too young”. Coming back this time we really feel we’ve outgrown it.
It makes me wonder if it’s us.
Last year it was Prague, our favorite city in the world (the place where we started off our full-time travels back in 2014). We’ve come back every year and always loved it. We still do. But last year was the first time we really tried to avoid the old town. There were just too many people. I reached out to our friend Anna – she’s been guiding in Prague for years (incidentally, she was our tour guide on our first visit to Prague back in 2014). “Anna, what’s going on with all these tourists?? Is it us or are the crowds unbearable?”. She had told me that it wasn’t us – there are too many tourists in Prague these days (mostly from Asia) and that even locals are avoiding the old town.
We’re happy we started traveling full-time when we did. There were always tourists in places like Prague, Budapest and even Split…but those tourists numbers have swelled so much over the past 5 years that they’re really becoming unbearable…
Note: we still love Prague and as we always tell people, there are many unique things to see and do outside the old town that tourists don’t know about. Lissette still agree that it’s a city (unlike Budapest) where we could live.
“Too politically correct”, “too polite”
Both of the above comments were made to us about: 1) Canadians in general and 2) about us in particular over the last month while travelling in Serbia and then Budapest.
They were both said in complimentary fashion and with a smile. People like Canadians and I’m happy to have a Canadian passport. But at the same time it made me wonder if Canadians (in particular) and Westerners (in general) are too politically correct and polite.
Consider these examples:
A couple of months ago we broke up our Croatian stay to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina for 10 days. On the way back, there was a Middle-eastern young man on the bus (we would later find out he was Pakistani).
When we arrived at the Croatian border the young man was taken aside by Croatian security. The bus had to wait a good 15 minutes for him. He finally got back on the bus and we continued on to Imotski where we had to transfer buses. In Imotski, waiting for our connecting bus, a police car patrolled around the police station and slowed down when they saw us and the Pakistani boy waiting for the bus. But we didn’t think much of it. A few minutes later we all boarded. We suddenly had 2 Croatian police officers come on the bus. They went straight to the Pakistani boy and started asking him questions. They took him off the bus and told him to bring all his bags. We didn’t see him again for 10 minutes. He came back looking a bit spent and got back in his seat.
“Racial profiling is alive and well in Croatia” I remarked to Lissette.
Just a few days ago we were crossing from Serbia to Hungary by bus. We just gone through Serbian customs and were in no man’s land heading towards the Hungarian customs post. About halfway, where the actual physical border is most likely delineated, Hungarian police had set up a roadblock. Two big, heavily-armed Hungarian police officers stepped on the bus and asked the driver if there were any Chinese on board. With the Coronavirus scare going on I can understand it – but I just know that if I was Chinese and I had to be taken aside by these 2 hulks I’d probably be shitting my pants. Who knows where they would be taken to, Hungary doesn’t exactly have a sparkling reputation for tolerance these days.
It just made me question how other countries are handling things on their territory and how countries like Canada, or say Germany, would deal with it. And with the new world order, which increasingly becoming more insular and protectionist, I wonder what the “new normal” is.
I believe countries have to protect their borders and I also think some Western countries can be “too politically correct”. After 9/11 I remember the protests about “racial profiling” at airports when single, dark-skinned males where singled out for extra screening. It struck me as kind of precious.
Anyway, I like to be considered politically correct and nice. But when you add “too” in front of it it makes me wonder if people are looking at us as chumps to be had by people who won’t follow the same moral code…
No judgement with the above. It’s just me thinking out loud about things I see when travelling. I’m not saying they’re wrong or right.
Malaga Cathedral. Taken today, February 2nd. We had temps of 22C, almost summerlike…
Plans for the next few months
I’ll be writing a lot about Spain, both from a tourist perspective and from a potential “expat base” perspective. As I’ve mentioned, we’ll be almost 3 months in Spain and now that I found out that we don’t need a lease for our application (we intend to apply in Montreal in May) we’ll be doing more travelling around in Spain than originally planned. So we’ll be covering a lot of destinations.
I’ll break up my Spanish posts with some posts on Serbia. As I said, we really enjoyed our time there and Serbia is a really underrated destination.
We also have a lot of other things to work on, such as the paperwork on our Spanish non-lucrative residence visa and planning a cross-country Canada trip. They’ll be posts on that as well as other topics (I never really follow a schedule – I tend to write spur of the moment on anything that makes it into my brain…)
Thanks for Reading!
(and as always, always appreciate your thoughts)
Ps. See all our Newsletters here.