Looking back at 2020…and forward to 2021
I always say that I do these year end posts as much for ourselves as I do for readers. It allows me to reflect on the past year and compare what we achieved against the expectations we had for the year.
On last year’s year end post our goal for 2020 was pretty simple: work towards Spanish Residency. Based on that it was a hugely successful year as we are now living in Spain. We’re living in a pretty town (Nerja), in a great location between sea and mountains, and have a beautiful apartment. Looking at it from the outside you might think we had a pretty damn good year.
We are very lucky and consider ourselves very fortunate. But like everyone else the truth is 2020 really took a psychological toll on us. In your mind you can keep repeating that you’re lucky and fortunate but lockdowns, paranoia, and feeling limited in what you can do have an impact. We endured Europe’s strictest lockdown where for 2 months we couldn’t go out for any reason other than groceries (and we had an apartment with no yard, no balcony, and barely any sunlight). Even after that 2 months elapsed we could only go out 1 hour a day. It felt like 4 months of house arrest where every day was the same as every other day. After a while it gets to you.
As I say, we feel lucky. When we got back to Spain with our long-term visa in October we consciously rented a townhouse with a huge yard. We’re always out there working in the garden. If, worst come to worst, we ever have another long lockdown we’ll never feel like we’re in solitary confinement again.
But things are not normal and we don’t feel normal. The town is very quiet. There are curfews in place, bars and restaurants are empty, the streets are quiet. There are for rent/for sale signs everywhere. And every time there’s a good piece of news (vaccine!) there come more bad news (a variant of the virus) and uncertainty. Will we go back to “normal” in 2021? Or is this, or a variant thereof, the “new normal”?
2020’s been like a bad movie. It’s shown how fragile our lives and economies are to events. And anyone who remembers the response to past events and disasters has to be disappointed by the lack of unity in the world this time around. 2020 was ugly. As Lissette says, the only thing we need now is to be attacked by aliens. “If we’re attacked by aliens we’re totally fucked”.
It seems impossible that this time last year we were travelling full-time with all the freedom in the world.
A very quick recap of 2020
In early January we left Split (Croatia) and started a month long overland trip that would take us from Croatia to Montenegro to Serbia to Hungary. We revisited 2 great destinations: Dubrovnik (empty in winter – a great time to go) and Kotor. Kotor is still one of the most beautiful places we’ve been. Love the place. We stayed a few days in Budva which is a famous resort town (overrated in our opinion, it was a disappointment for us) and then took the famous Bar to Belgrade train to the Serbian capital. Belgrade is a city we always enjoy. From there we took a bus to Novi Sad, a pretty city we really got to like.
Taking the bus across from Serbia to Hungary, Hungarian police officers stopped the bus about 100m from the border. They wanted to know if there were any Chinese on board. It was January 30th and it was the first real inkling that coronavirus was starting to be serious.
We spent 2 days in Budapest and honestly didn’t enjoy it much. It was our 4th time in the Hungarian capital. Back in 2015 we spent 2 months in Budapest but since then, with each visit, we’ve seen more and more young tourists who come here just to party and get drunk. On this last visit Budapest lost its shine with us.
We flew Budapest – Malaga on February 1st. It was supposed to be the start of a 3 month hunt for a home base in Spain.
The next month and a half were spent in Malaga, Granada, Jaen, Alicante and Valencia. During that time we were getting increasingly worrying news about the virus which was by then affecting Italy.
On March 11th we took the train from Valencia to León. We were supposed to be there a week. The next day there was news that events around the country were being postponed. In Madrid they were closing down bars, restaurants and gyms. We decided to talk to our host about extending our stay. The next day, March 13th, the Spanish government imposed a State of Alarm. We were locked down.
We were only allowed out for groceries. Our host Mariateresa brought us some masks.
In the beginning the lockdown was a novelty. We binged on Game of Thrones and watched a ton of series on Netflix. I didn’t shave, opting for a “lockdown beard”.
Lissette organized art projects and cooking challenges. Our sleeping hours by this time had totally gone off the rails, we were often falling asleep around 6 am and waking up around 1 pm.
Still in lockdown but by then the infection rate in Spain had gone down and restrictions were being loosened. We were allowed to go out at certain times of the day which meant we could finally explore León.
On June 21st the Spanish government lifted the State of Alarm which meant freedom of movement. We started planning our trip to Canada (we had to go back to Canada to apply for our Spanish non-lucrative Residence Visa).
On July 6th we flew to Canada. The whole thing was a surreal experience. Once in Montreal we had to self-quarantine in our Airbnb apartment for 14 days which meant no going out at all. Everything (groceries, booze, restaurant) had to be delivered.
By the 3rd week of July we could go out. It was the start of a busy process of getting all the documents and paperwork required for our visa application (that meant doctors appointments, fingerprints, official government documents, bank letters…)
By mid-August we had all our paperwork and submitted it all to the Spanish Consulate. Having done that we relaxed and enjoyed the last few weeks of summer in Montreal.
On September 1st we had our appointment at the Spanish Consulate. 10 days later our visa was officially approved and we started planning our return to Spain.
On October 1st we flew back to Spain. Covid was in its 2nd wave and we didn’t waste time looking for an apartment. We decided that Nerja would be our new home in Spain and it took a few weeks to find an apartment we really liked.
On November 1st to moved in to our new apartment (it’s actually a 2 floor townhouse). On the 6th our furniture arrived from Zagreb. We spent much of the month setting up the apartment, getting a few things fixed, getting new locks on the doors, and going through more of the paperwork required for Spanish residency.
December was when we actually started enjoying the new apartment. We bought a spin bike which we put in our 3rd bedroom (our new workout room). We’re not going to be signing up to gyms anymore, that’s a thing of the past. We’ve spent a lot of time in the garden, arranging things and taking care of our plants and trees.
Goals and hopes for 2021
I don’t know what’s going to happen in 2021. All going well, everyone will be vaccinated by mid-year in most developed countries and people will start travelling again by late summer or autumn. That’s the best case scenario.
Our plans for 2021:
I want to get a Spanish drivers license. Foreigners are legally allowed to drive on their foreign licenses for 6 months in Spain after which they have to have their licenses transferred (if you’re from another EU country or a few other select countries) or have to go through the whole driver’s license procedure from scratch (which include theoretical and practical tests and a medical exam). Since I’m a 3rd country national I have to do the 2nd option.
If/when I have my license, and depending on the status with Covid, we’d like to rent a car and do a big road trip of Spain.
The only overseas trip I’m planning is a trip to visit my mom in Mexico. I always enjoy my visits to Mexico and we’d visit some places I haven’t been yet. I’m looking forward to that.
Other than the above we plan on being close to home. We’re going to buy a lot of plants over the next few months and work on our garden. I plan to join a hiking club and do a lot of hikes in the vicinity. We also plan on doing a lot of little trips throughout Andalusia. There’s a lot we haven’t seen and we’ll be excited to explore again.
Blogging: 2020 was a tough time for travel bloggers but my numbers experienced a rebound in the 4th quarter. Companies have started advertising again. Things won’t be back to normal for a while but things are getting better…
In late October I started my new Spain-only blog: Mapping Spain. It’s new and it’ll be a few years before I get traffic. But it’s been exciting starting a new blog with a fresh look.
But as 2021 starts we’re in limbo like everyone else, wondering when we can get back to “normal”. When will we be vaccinated? Will vaccines be effective in stopping the virus? Will other strains of the virus evolve? Will countries re-open their borders to foreigners and what will travel look like when they do? There’s a lot of uncertainty. And as I’m writing this the numbers around the world are just getting worse…
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