Looking back at 2019… and forward to 2020 (and a year of big changes)

Looking back at 2019… and forward to 2020

Looking back at 2019… and forward to 2020

I love doing these year end wrap-up posts. It’s about looking back at the year, remembering the good and the bad, taking stock of where we are in our lives of travel and planning for the future. I often like looking back at these posts and seeing how closely our plans matched reality. We’ve had a few years where circumstances occurred that totally changed the course of the year. Here’s last year’s post.

I expect 2020 will be a very different kind of year. Honestly it’s time. I’ll cover that further down.

But first a wrap up of our year.

 

A Quick summary of 2019

A quick snapshot of our year of travel:

Looking back at 2019… and forward to 2020. Map

 

January – Split (Croatia)

On the 1st of January I arrived in Split after 2 months spent travelling through Mexico and Morocco. There I joined Lissette. Split has always been Lissette’s preferred home while I travel and this was our 4th stay in Split (not counting 2017 when we lived here most of the year).

 

February – Lecce (Italy)

In late January we took the ferry from Split across the Adriatic to Ancona (Italy), then the train down to Lecce. Lecce would be our home for a full month which in hindsight was long* (I’ll get to that in a minute). But it’s a really pretty city which we enjoyed. Lecce wins a couple of awards from us this year: 1) for the friendliest people we met. Locals in Puglia spoke little English but went out of their way for us , 2) co-winner for the best food we had: antipasti with tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, burrata cheese, ham, horsemeat…the list goes on (the other co-winner will surprise you).

* For those unfamiliar with our blog: Lissette works worked full-time. Part of the reason we’ve travelled “slow” was to give her the stability to do her work. Mid-way through our stay, in February, her boss called and told her position was being downsized. She worked in a dying industry so we knew it was a question of time, but being told that “today is your last day of work” was still a bit of a shock.

square in Lecce, Puglia. Looking back at 2019… and forward to 2020.


Posts that might interest you

Travel guide to the most beautiful city in Italy’s Puglia region: Lecce
Towns that you should Visit in Puglia…and how they make for easy Day Trips from Lecce

Lissette losing her job meant we travelled faster and saw more places over the following months.

 

 

March – Corfu and Thessaloniki (Greece), Sofia and Plovdiv (Bulgaria), Edirne (Turkey)

Crossing the Adriatic by ferry in early March and seeing the huge, snow-capped mountains of the Albanian coastline blew my mind away. Italy is beautiful but the geography on the other side of the sea is just so much more spectacular.

Just across from Albania is the Greek island of Corfu where we stayed a week. Corfu Town is much smaller than we expected. There wasn’t much to do and we were surprised to see that some of Corfu’s tourist highlights were closed in the off-season. But we did a lot of walking (again, the geography is spectacular) and the weather in early March was beautiful.

 A Visit to Corfu Town (Kerkyra), Greece…and beyond…

Corfu from the ferry. Looking back at 2019… and forward to 2020.


From Corfu it was a ferry ride and bus to the city of Thessaloniki. Thessaloniki is, from a tourist’s perspective, not that interesting (save for a few Roman-era highlights). But that also makes it a genuine place to visit and we met some nice people and had some great food.

Reasons to visit Thessaloniki (Greece)

The major reasons we were in Thessaloniki was to take the train north into Bulgaria. The journey from Thessaloniki to Sofia was an adventure in itself, requiring 3 trains and 2 buses. What we love about travelling overland (versus flying) is seeing some of the dramatic changes in geography and we saw that on this journey when we crossed the mountain range lining the Greece/Bulgarian border* (did you know that Bulgaria is a very popular – and inexpensive – ski destination? We didn’t).

It’s easy to forget the impact of geography on the political maps we see today. We saw quite a few examples of that this year including Greece/Bulgaria, Georgia/Russia, and Georgia/Armenia. All have huge mountains on their borders.

Sofia was a highlight of this trip. We didn’t expect such an attractive, comfortable, or impressive city. And its highlights are a mix from Roman, Ottoman, and Soviet periods.

Why you should Visit Sofia

After Sofia we continued on to Plovdiv, the co-winner of the designation of European City of Culture of 2019.

We stayed a week in Plovdiv in an apartment that set the record for the cheapest Airbnb apartment that we’ve ever stayed in. $170 CAD (that’s $130 US) for a week. The apartment was actually very nice and the host incredibly friendly.

I’m not going to tell you that we loved Plovdiv. It was nice and, as expected, a bit touristy. There are some impressive Roman-era ruins.

Plovdiv and comparing it to Sofia

 

Sometimes it’s surprising how complicated it is to get from one place to another. This was the case going from Plovdiv to Edirne (Turkey). The bus dropped us off right across the border. We had to take a taxi from the border to Edirne (a 20 minute ride).

Edirne was one of the biggest surprises of the year, a pretty Turkish city with incredible mosques.

Sometimes countries blend into each other, borders not meaning much. That’s true for much of the Balkans. But crossing into Turkey from Bulgaria was dramatic. Suddenly the level of English spoken falls dramatically, everyone is a chain smoker (they’re not light when it comes to smoking in Bulgaria or any Balkan country but in Turkey they take it to a whole other level), alcohol is really hard to find, and you’ll see only men sitting around in cafes. We were suddenly in a whole different world.

Edirne is incredibly impressive though and we were happy to have stopped here.

What to See in Edirne (Turkey)

mosque in Edirne, Turkey. Looking back at 2019… and forward to 2020.

 


April – Istanbul and Antalya (Turkey)

After a few cancelled trips to Istanbul (due to world events and coup attempts) we finally made it in 2019.

Istanbul is a stimulating city and we spent our week exploring from dusk ’til dawn. Highlights included the Hagia Sophia, Süleymaniye Mosque, Grand Bazaar and Spice Market (I didn’t include the Blue Mosque in that list only because it was undergoing intensive restoration). We ate a lot of baklava which is now one of my favorite things in the world (when I worked in Montreal we had a  vendor bring us baklava every Christmas. It was very different baklava and I never liked it. Turkish baklava is very different).

What to see (and what to skip) in Istanbul

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

 

Antalya might be the biggest planning mistake I made during the year. We both needed a bit of a break after all the travelling we had done and preliminary reading had suggested that Antalya might be a good place for a longer stay. The setting is beautiful – but we honestly found the city boring and overly touristy. Good for a short tourist visit but not for our mode of travel.

Looking back, we should have spend 3 weeks in Istanbul and 1 week in Antalya instead of the other way around. That’s the magic of hindsight.

Why you might like Antalya (Turkey)…and why it disappointed us

 

 

May & June – Tbilisi (Georgia) & Yerevan (Armenia)

I’ve always been curious about the Caucasus region. We spent 2 months in both Georgia and Armenia and I guess what struck me is how different both are from each other. And whereas most people talk about Georgia (which gets quite a lot of tourists) I think we actually preferred Armenia. But, as I say, we found both to be quite different which made them both interesting.

Memories: Georgia: very friendly people with a good level of English, strange written language which looks like Cambodian, wooden buildings, a hilly capital city (Tbilisi), stray dogs, strange sounding food (Khachapuri, Khinkali, and Churchkhela), and over-rated wine (sorry…). The snow-capped northern region near the Russian border is beautiful with some incredible highlights. Armenia: cosmopolitan capital (Yerevan), impressive churches on remote hilltops, excellent food and incredible cognac, Russian monuments, close ties with Russia (vs Georgia which has very negative views towards Russia). 

Oh, and Armenia is the co-winner of our best food award for the year (along with Lecce in Puglia). Like in Lecce, they do wonderful things with vegetables (grilled eggplant, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes) incorporating nuts, dried fruit, grilled meats and lavash bread. The trout from Lake Sevan is excellent. Right next to our apartment (a horrible experience which I wrote about here) was a little takeout restaurant that did only salads and vegetable dishes. We never though we’d eat so well in Armenia.

Armenia. Looking back at 2019… and forward to 2020.


During our 2 months in the region we worked with a local tour company and toured much of the highlights in the countryside which was also a highlight. Overall we enjoyed our time in Georgia and Armenia.

Is Tbilisi really a place you want to visit? Impressions, Observations, and lots of photos
Visiting Georgia’s Far North
Tbilisi to Yerevan by train. Is it worth doing?
Why Visit Yerevan? And why it’s proof that people don’t know what they’re talking about…
6 Must See Attractions in Armenia

 

 

July, August, September – Lviv (Ukraine)

We had loved our month’s stay in Lviv in 2018 and had decided to come back this year.  We actually booked an Airbnb apartment back in February (we never do that. I usually never book any place more than 1 month in advance).

I’d love to say that we did a lot during our summer in Lviv but that wouldn’t be true. We just lived. And spent lots of time getting in shape at the gym and making friends. It was great. 

Why we loved our Summer in Lviv (in photos)

summer in Lviv, Ukraine. Looking back at 2019… and forward to 2020.

 


October – Prague. Then Germany/Split

Lissette and I spent 3 days in Prague, a city we always love. But I have to say one thing – we’ve never seen as many tourists as we saw this time around. The demographics of tourism are changing and nowhere is this more evident than Prague. It was the first time where I actually thought it was too much. Luckily for us we spent most of our time outside the center doing a few necessary things like getting a new phone and having a camera lens fixed. We’ve always stopped in Prague for medical/dental and equipment needs.

We said our goodbyes – Lissette flying to Split while I took the bus to Germany to meet my mom (every year we try to get together somewhere). This year it was 2 weeks in the ex-East German states of Thuringia and Saxony. Towns and cities like Erfurt, Weimar, Leipzig and Dresden. We also explored Coburg and Nuremberg in Franconia. Germany will always be one of my favorite countries.

Coburg, Germany

 

 

November & December – Mostar and Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Split (Croatia)

We’ve spent the last 2 months in Croatia, interrupted by 10 days in Mostar and Sarajevo. It actually completed a circle of travelling, coming back to the same place we had started the year.

I actually didn’t want to come back to Split again this year. I couldn’t put my finger on why until Lissette pointed it out to me – we’ve spent the last 3 holidays seasons in Split.

Honestly I think it’s time to put Split behind us and I think it’s starting to sink in with Lissette as well. I’ll be writing more on that in the next little while. When we leave here in a few days it might be our final goodbye.

sunset in Split, Croatia. Looking back at 2019… and forward to 2020.

 

 

Plans for 2020

So what’s the big change for 2020? We’re going to work towards getting residency in Spain.

Lissette and I are both 52. We both want permanent residency in Europe and Spain is the most logical country (we both speak Spanish in varying degrees). With immigration laws tightening up everywhere we decided that 2020 would be the year to do it.

In the next few days we’ll be leaving Split and heading to Dubrovnik, a place we haven’t seen since 2015. Then it’ll be across the border to Montenegro where we’ll spend a week in Kotor, Budva and Bar before taking the famous Bar to Belgrade train (one of the most scenic train rides in the world). We’ll spend a few weeks in Serbia, visiting Novi Sad and Subotica before making our way to Budapest at the very end of January.

February 1st we’ll be flying to Spain.

We’ll be 3 months in Spain. The first month will be spent visiting different towns/cities with the goal of figuring out where we can see ourselves living. Right now we have 8 places at the top of our list. The following 2 months will be spent renting an apartment and getting the paperwork required to apply for a Spanish non-Lucrative Residence Visa.

Note: I’ll have a post coming up on the places at the top of our list along with the pros/cons associated with each. We’ll have a lot of posts on Spain in 2020.

In late April we’ll head to Montreal to get more paperwork done and to apply for our Spanish Visa. It’ll be weird especially for Lissette who hasn’t been back in 5 years. The Visa usually takes anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months so instead of waiting around we’re planning to go on a cross-country tour of Canada. While we’ve done a lot of travelling, we haven’t seen much of our own country.

We’re hoping, all going well, that we’ll be back in Spain in July or August. Then it’ll be more paperwork and settling into whatever apartment we have wherever that might be.

So there are a lot of things up in the air right now which will determine what happens in the 2nd half of 2020.

One thing for sure: we won’t stop travelling. It’s something we’ve shaken hands on. So while much of 2020 might be focused on Spain there are going to be a lot of other destinations in the works.

 

All the best to everyone for 2020!

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25 Comments

  1. Sounds like you guys have had a bumper year. I agree wholeheartedly on the one week in Antalya and three in Istanbul. I love Istanbul! However, there are plenty of places in Turkey to visit that you would love, like Izmir or even Kiz Kalesi. Good luck with your Spanish visas!

  2. Frank…wow…a great year of travel for you guys. I am glad Armenia made the top of the list with Lecce . And I am glad you enjoyed Armenia more than Georgia 😉

    Good luck for the 2020 travels and curious to see where you decide to settle down in Spain. My friends are setting up shop in Seville, they are moving from Girona.

  3. Wow, sounds like you have a super exciting year ahead, and to have finally decided where you’re going to be residents for the foreseeable future, now that’s huge! I’m excited to find out where you’re considering, always seems to me that Spain has just so many incredible places, although that’s from a tourist perspective rather than a local one, so no doubt you’ll find some corkers I’ve never even heard of 😉 I’m with you on the baclava too…always thought it tasted like sugared-up cardboard until we went to Istanbul, where we ate it every day for ‘afternoon tea’! Also interesting you preferred Armenia to Georgia…that latter certainly seems to be one of the in-crowd when it comes to travel blogging at the moment, and I’ve never really read anything about Armenia that makes me want to drop everything and go. Good to have a different perspective. Good luck with the visas, and I would say welcome to the EU, but not sure as Brits we have the right any more 😉

    1. It’s not that easy finding the perfect base in Spain Heather! And you’re right, have to look at it in a different way than for visiting as a tourist. But I look forward to having a base there and seeing more of Western Europe, as you know we’ve mostly concentrated on Central Europe/East Europe destinations.
      We found both Georgia and Armenia interesting and both different from each other. I think Armenia edged out Georgia in our estimation just because it wasn’t as expected and we found it interesting. I’d say Georgia has the more spectacular geography but we enjoyed Yerevan more than Tbilisi.
      Yeah, I’m a bit lost on the UK and Brexit…somewhere along the line it got real complicated and I’m still not sure if the end result is really what people want (???). Anyway, it won’t be a boring year.
      Wishing you and Peter a great 2020!

  4. Good luck with the Spanish residency! and heres to a great 2020 with a little luck! I really was taken with your reports on both Yerevan and particularly Lvov. Personally im hoping in around 5 years to take a long trip and stay in a few places for around 4 weeks each on the continent. well, actually maybe 4 weeks in UK, and Lvov is on the top of my list after your reports. We shall see! but thats a long way in the future and this year it will be a few short trips to more relaxing locations.

    1. Until the Russians take over, you should call it Lviv Andy 😉
      Thank you for the comment and the good luck wishes. It promises to be an exciting year but also a year of bureaucratic tedium…
      All the best to you in 2020, always enjoy your travels!

  5. Hi Frank,
    Perhaps our paths may cross since coincidently, I am also planning on going to Spain this year! Anyway, look forward to reading more about your living and travel experience in Spain.
    Hopefully, you and Lissette will find a nice place to settle down in Spain.

  6. I love your wrap up posts, Frank!

    I’ve been following you this whole year and was sure I hadn’t missed a post. But reading your overview has me noting posts that I must (re?)visit. I have always been intrigued by how we pay more attention to things that interest us and miss things that don’t. Until they do, of course.

    Armenia is on my short list at the moment. Though I’m sure I’ve read them already, I know how I’m spending part of my afternoon today.

    And that train ride from Bar to Belgrade is also on the top of our itinerary list. So I’m looking forward to your future posts.

    I’m sad about Prague. And many other places that are getting much more tourism these days. I suppose we can’t have it both ways. You inspire us to visit. We tell two friends… Inevitable. There doesn’t even seem to be much low season in some places these days.

    We visited Warsaw in December. Beautiful old quarter. It reminded me of the old parts of Zurich. And Frankfurt. And Quebec City. Depending on where we looked and how cold we were, LOL. I quite enjoyed Warsaw though we did not go further around Poland. This time.

    Yay Canada! Looking forward to those posts. And Spain residency!

    As always, thanks for your work on this site. Much appreciated and enjoyed.

    Warm regards from Kyiv,
    Colleen

    1. Thanks so much Colleen. I hope life is still good in Kyiv, although must be cold this time of year.

      About Prague. Well, we’re right now in Dubrovnik which is surprisingly quiet. Goes crazy in the summer. But even at that about 75% of tourists right now Asians, most likely Korean. Just part of the change in demographics that we’ve seen, even just in the last 5 years of full-time travel.

      Ah, happy to hear you’ve heard of the Bar to Belgrade train! Not many people know of it. Hopefully we have good weather and I’ll make sure to take video.

      All the best for 2020 Colleen, glad to have met you last year.
      Frank

  7. I love the photo of you and Lissette and it certainly looks like you are happy with life and where you are as well as the many places you’ll be going. What an incredible year you’ve had and I wish you much happiness and laughter for the new year ahead!

  8. Hi Frank and Lissette, We have written to you a couple of times this past year but never received a response. We’ve enjoyed reading your posts and this last one is particularly interesting. We have been in Split since late Nov. and will be here until mid Feb. We will then head to Kotor for a 3 month stay at a place we’ve stayed before in Muo (it has a little gym in the airbnb.) We know you don’t have much time before leaving Split (in fact you may already have done so) but if you’d like to get together for coffee we’d love to do that. We spent 3 months in Ronda and liked the area a lot. We also had a very interesting apt. experience there. Anyway, whatever happens good luck with your plans to seek residency in Spain. ! Que tengan un buen viaje! David and Meg Graves

    1. Hi David and Meg,
      Ah, I see you are long term travellers as we are! Sounds like you’ve discovered this part of the world. Thanks for the Ronda tip.
      I’m afraid we have 2 days left with a lot of social obligations, won’t be able to get together which is a shame. We always like to meet fellow travellers, in fact we have a few that we’ll be visiting in Spain.
      All the best in 2020. If our paths ever cross don’t be shy to let me know, would be a pleasure to meet you.
      PS. Sorry, did a search on the site and haven’t previously received any messages from you. I take pride in answering all comments. Sure you pressed the submit button?

  9. Love following your travels! All the best to the two of you for 2020! (and I look forward to seeing how the whole Spanish Residency process goes and where you end up living)

  10. I like your wrap up posts, I often think about doing one myself but did not get my s**t together. Anyway, I really enjoyed yours. Love the map, it gives a good overall visual. Sounds like you had an incredible year, although such a shame that Lissette was downsized. I totally agree with your choice of country to base yourselves and get European residence. I will be looking forward to your journey and testing out the cities you will be considering for long term living. I think Spain has so much to offer.

    1. Thanks very much for the comment Gilda. All the best to you and Brian in 2020, hope you do a lot more travelling in your RV 🙂

  11. Looks like you had a great year, Frank! We’re in Seville for the holidays, but will be back in France (Montpellier) by Feb 1. After all the time we’ve spent in Spain, there are many areas we haven’t seen! We’ve got some day trips planned for the coming month, and I’ll be interested in hearing more about your 8 selected places for a long-term stay. All the best to you and Lissette in the coming year!

    1. Thanks Paul! Love Seville but it isn’t on our list – we just found it too hot for year long stay. But who knows, depends how other cities will compare…
      I have to catch up on your posts, we’ll be visiting France when in Spain.
      All the best to you and Paula in 2020!

  12. An interesting year and a lot of miles. Pity I’ll miss you in February, but plan to be back in the Basque Country for June, July and possibly a bit of August, maybe then. Hopefully, after Pamplona, I can spend some time in Montenegro (Kotor on your advice) and North Macedonia.

    1. Maybe our paths will cross Ted! If not next year, the Basque Country is a region we want to visit.
      We’re going back to Kotor in a few weeks. Incredible scenery and I really recommend. Try to come out of season though (ie. September onwards) as I hear it’s become very popular in recent years.

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