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.
Kotor. One of the most beautiful places we’ve been
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.
Our first masks. Somebody has previously mentioned that mine looks like a diaper. Ha!
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).
My lockdown beard combined with the crazy look in my eyes = going lockdown crazy
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…)
Related: How to Get a Spanish Non-Lucrative Residence Visa (a step-by-step guide)
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.
Related: Back in Montreal…and reflecting on life changes
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.
Christmas decorations in Nerja
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.
Our Garden. Looking forward to spending a lot of time out there in the spring
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.
Views of the mountains from our window
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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Related: Where to live as a retiree in Spain? Places…and comparing Theory vs Reality
All the best to everyone in 2021!
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I’m curious why you chose Spain over Croatia.
Hi Donna! Sorry for the late response. We wrote about exactly that here.
Frank, I am not surprised to hear that 2020 has taken a psychological toll on you both. You really did have a very hard lockdown in Spain. Yet it is amazing how much you have managed to accomplish. Finally getting your Spanish Visa, having a beautiful place to call home, being at last reunited with all your belongings, must feel good and a great relief.
There are still so many unanswered questions for 2021, and like yourselves, we feel in a bit of a limbo, not able to make plans, but fingers crossed things will start getting better soon. Take care guys 🙂
Thanks for your comment Gilda. Tough on everyone and especially difficult not knowing when/if things will improve and what things will be like at that point. A lot of uncertainty.
All the best to you and Brian, lets hope we can all travel again soon!
Dear Frank and Lisette
I am not sure how I stumbled onto your blog, by sheer chance. Its fascinating, thank you for sharing your travels.
I am writing to you because you actually settled in Nerja my second home, or that of my parents. They have a place close to Los Caracoles, near Frigiliana. Having toured the coast of Spain 20yrs ago from Barcelona to Cadiz they settled on Nerja for many of the reasons you quoted. They are currently in lockdown in the north of England but plan to get back asap.
Personally I moved from the UK to Strasbourg in 2006 and then to Vannes in the Morbihan. Its a great place to be although we dont get the same amount of sun as on the Sol. 🙂
Anyway you can contact me on my email if you like. I would be happy to meet up in the future when I make it to Frigiliana. There are some great walks to do and wonderful people.
All the best,
Thank you for your comment – it’s always reassuring to hear from people who’ve settled in this area. I think we made a good choice although it’s a bit frustrating that we’ve been here about 3 months now and have seen very little with the lockdowns and such. We haven’t even gotten to Frigiliana. I’m sure you know the whole area like the back of your hand.
Ah, have never heard of Vannes so you made me look it up. Some very impressive ramparts!
I would absolutely love to meet up sometime in the future for a hike in the vicinity of Frigiliana. Once things get back to normal (or close enough as judged by Lissette) I will contact you.
Ps. Interesting seeing your website and story about organic ice creams. Congratulations on the success!
Happy New Year to you & Lisette!
I’m so pleased that you were able to get in and out of Spain. It must have been hair-raising!
I really liked reading your experience so far and I love your garden patio.
You’re well sorted! 😀
Let’s hope 2021 will be a better year for all.
Enjoy your time in Nerja & take care of yourselves.
your lockdown was the hardest ive heard of outside of China, or specifically Wuhan. You guys have done an incredible job to get through the year the way you have and to have achieved your goals.
Thank you Andy!
All the best for 2021 for you and Lisette! Despite the circumstances I enjoyed reading your round-up and seeing that you are set up in Spain now. I think we share a lot of your observations and emotions. We are (almost) out of work since March, not knowing if the travel companies and publishers we work for will survive the crisis. But we are lucky enough to have some savings we can fall back onto and we managed to have a fairly good year. Lock down was not as hard in Germany as in Spain, we could go out for sports and walks all the time. Right now we are on the Canary Islands extending our stay every few weeks since November. It is not a bad place to be, but we would prefer more work and more perspectives. Let us see what 2021 will bring – but we are optimistic, that things will become better.
Hi Natascha! Happy New Year to you and Isa. All the best for the year, I know it must be a tough time in the guide book business. I didn’t realize that you’ve been that long in the Canary Islands – it’s a place we’d like to get to one day. Can’t wait for the day we can travel again normally, sometimes it just feels this will never end…
Take care and stay safe,
Frank & Lissette
First, let me say again how happy I am for both you and Lissette in finding your nest. It’s lovely and I can imagine how much you’re going to enjoy your patio/garden. A true sanctuary. I’m wondering, given your final thoughts on having kept/stored/shipped your furniture, now that you’re settled do you still feel the same way about it all?
I could ramble on (and on) about the sh*t show known as the divided states with the election and covid, etc., but I won’t, you know my take on it. I will say though, that this week is beyond anything we’ve lived through and quite truthfully, it does not at all feel like a new year. So far it sucks right up there with the whole of 2020. Maybe, if the inauguration actually takes place, maybe that will feel like the start of a new year filled with the promise of change. BUT, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say the fate of the country rests in GA. See, vicious circle.
As for travel writing and blogging… I have days when I just want to throw in the towel, but then I think we’ve been at this for nearly 8 years, let’s see what happens. Truthfully, because the pandemic is SO bad here in the divided states, it’s a bit tone deaf to be writing about travel so I seem to be doing just enough to keep us on the radar, barely.
Mis mejores deseos para un feliz Año Nuevo
Only 15 days to go but I think everyone, everywhere braced for the worse. He’ll be out but he might have to be kicked out on his ass. As far as those Republicans who’ll be refuting Biden’s electoral win – as a commentator said this morning, it’s a good thing because those Republicans have made their positions clear and will be remembered for trying to subvert democracy. Their position won’t win, but it’ll be a stain on them and it’s good that everyone knows who they are (including Ted Cruz – born in Canada would you believe?)
As far as when Trump will be on January 20th – maybe Scotland? Read this interesting article in the Guardian yesterday.
But everyone looking forward to a new chapter.
We’re happy to have our stuff but I think much of it we’re not longer attached too. On the other hand I’m happy not to have to go furniture shopping 🙂
All the best for 2021 Patti. Things can only get better (eventually).
WOW! what a beautiful view! And love your garden – typical European, tiles and lots of plants.
Nice reading you again. I was on ”off” for a while, especially during my time off work. Wish you two the best for 2021!
Thanks so much Ivana. All the best for you for 2021!
We’ve got a lemon tree and some bushes and ivy that came with the apartment – but we have to buy a lot of plants for the rest of the yard as well as our front yard. We expect to be locked up for the first half of the year so we’ll keep busy doing some gardening.
So when are you going to come and visit us Ivana? 🙂
I love your view and garden patio – and the great view from your window. What a great treat and benefit to have your own outdoor space in days like these. I’m really looking forward to hearing about your driving trips around Spain. I’m out wild camping in my little truck camper in a saguaro desert in the Southwest for the moment. Am loving the silence and the nothing happening out here. Will spend the rest of the winter wandering around the southwest enjoying solitude and warmth. – Best to you guys- Jan
When I think of you I think of “Into the Wild” Jan 🙂 It must be beautiful. You’re very adventurous!
All the best and keep safe
Good post. I think many of us can relate to that feeling of being cooped up. Sweden didn’t lock down and we could do a lot of “normal” things but nowadays I am more paranoid about going out because of the spike in cases here. People get noticeably upset if anyone gets too close. I had a mask on in the store the other day and a woman literally ran from me. As for tourism, I think it’s going to take a few years to get things back to normal. I wonder how the cruise industry will do. I personally would like to see a decline in the kind of mass tourism we have been seeing the last decade or so. It would be nice to see countries less reliant on tourists for income as well. Just my opinion. Anyway, let’s hope 2021 is an improvement.
I agree with you about levels of tourism Edith. When we started travelling full-time 6 years ago it wasn’t so bad…but really noticed the difference in 2018/19. It was just too much. And we started seeing cities that had become “Airbnb ghettos”. And it doesn’t make sense when you see higher pricing in a place like Split than you do in Canada. There’s an imbalance and it’s not good.
Lots of questions and I wonder about a lot of travel-related businesses 🙁