Looking back at 2023…and forward to 2024 (a year of continued changes…).
Writing these year-end posts has been a ritual since I started this blog in 2013. I always say it: I do these year-end posts as much for ourselves as for our readers. It allows me to reflect on the past year and compare what we achieved against the expectations we had for the year. It marks where we are at a point in time and gives us thought on what we can do to maximize our happiness.
2023 was the perfect example. We were pretty down this time last year: we weren’t happy in Nerja, we weren’t happy with where we lived or with our lifestyles. We felt stuck and needed to make changes.
Last year’s post: Looking back at 2022…and forward to 2023 (a year to make changes…)
2023 ended up being a good year, a transformative year that’s given us direction for 2024 and (hopefully) years to come.
All about that and more below.
A quick summary of 2023
Our goal for the 1st half of 2023 was finding a new home in Spain. In early January we decided to check out Antequera and Ronda. We immediately really liked Antequera: a beautiful city, cultural, with easy access to Malaga and other destinations in Spain (Antequera has 2 high-speed train stations). We wanted to get out of Nerja ASAP and decided that we would work to make Antequera our new base.
February to April
These months were spent looking for an apartment in Antequera and going through our “stuff”.
When we found our apartment in Nerja back in 2020 it had been easy: we were in the middle of Covid and many apartments sat empty. Through an agent, it had taken 10 days to find a very nice apartment that we hoped would be home for many years.
This time around, in 2023, it was much more complicated. That was compounded by the fact the Antequera, while bigger than Nerja, seemed to have very few options.
I wrote about the whole experience of finding an apartment here (you might find that informative if thinking to rent an apartment in Spain).
It took us 2 months to find an apartment and it required some compromises, the biggest being that we ended up renting a furnished apartment (and at 650 Euros/month, it is 200 Euros cheaper than what we were paying in Nerja). But we learned through the process that finding a non-furnished apartment is very difficult.
Renting a furnished apartment meant getting rid of about 80% of our stuff. It was actually a blessing in disguise and the best thing that could have happened to us in 2023 (as I’ll write about later). But at the time it meant a lot of work: going through what we could keep, donating or selling what we couldn’t.
Note: Most of our furniture went to No Place like Home, a dog shelter in Mollina. They were happy to come and get our stuff. I wrote about that here and also cover other organizations where they will gladly take your donations for a good cause. We also gave away a lot of clothes and odds and ends to several charity places in Nerja. Finally, our landlords bought our two beds.
On May 1st we moved into our new apartment. Everything we owned fit into a van.
We moved using Beck’s movers. They were excellent and I recommend them to anyone looking to move anywhere in southern Spain.
Most of May was spent setting up our apartment and getting acquainted with Antequera.
One of the reasons we had decided to downsize to a smaller, less expensive apartment was that we wanted to do more travel. The apartment in Nerja was too much work (much of it spent on the garden where there was always a bug infestation of some sort). We felt like we were slaves to it. The beauty of our apartment in Antequera is that we can just lock up and go without having to worry about anything,
We had always been curious about the Baltics so in mid-June we had a 10-day trip though Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. We even managed a day trip across to Helsinki in Finland.
We enjoyed the trip and it was great to have the freedom to travel again. Did we like the Baltics? I can’t say we loved it. But we found the history fascinating: the region is very different than the rest of Europe and even among the 3 countries there are quite wide differences. So even if we didn’t love the trip we feel that we learned a lot (among other things, that the sun stays up until close to 11 pm in the summer…to rise again at 5:30 am!)
Related: Are the Baltics worth visiting?
July, August, September
We spent these three months in Antequera: enjoying the apartment and discovering the city. Unlike Nerja where any festival meant being 10 deep behind foreigners looking to get their photos, in Antequera you can count the total number of foreigners on two hands. Festivals are attended by locals and feel authentic. The city has a lot of highlights including lots of stunning churches and viewpoints (the city is full of hills and taller mountains are all around. There’s always an incredible view somewhere).
We also planned out a 2 month trip to Mexico.
October and November
I have always loved my trips to Mexico and this time I took Lissette with me (I travel there every year to visit my mother. This is the 1st time I took Lissette)
It was a great trip and Lissette fell in love with Mexico. We spent 2 months and collectively visited Mexico City, Patzcuaro, San Luis Potosi, Morelia, Queretaro, San Miguel de Allende, Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato, Aguascalientes, Zacatecas, Oaxaca, Puebla, Cholula and Toluca (where I hiked up the Nevado de Toluca volcano. Amazing). Mexico has so much beauty and is so rich in culture…but the main reason she fell in love were the people – nowhere has she felt people as welcoming and helpful towards her as in Mexico.
We’ll be writing about Mexico a lot over the next little while.
And for those afraid of Mexico: this was my 10th trip now to Mexico. The only “danger” ever encountered were overly friendly Mexicans.
December was about getting some rest after our 2-month trip. We attended some of the Christmas festivities and discovered some of Antequera’s Tapas bars.
In short, 2023 was a good year for us: we found a nice apartment, live in a beautiful and culturally-rich city and had a lot of travel experiences.
We did everything we had set out to do this year.
Our Plans for 2024
We learned a few things in 2023.
We really enjoy travelling and want to do more of it. We might even consider going back to doing full-time, “slow travel” at some point (it’s what we did for 6 years before settling in Spain). I think that getting a taste of travelling again re-ignited the spark. We’re at our best when being active and moving around. It’s good having a base but we can only be homebound for so long.
Having to downsize earlier this year was the best thing that could have happened. Even now in Antequera we’ve continued liquidating our leftover things. It’s funny how that’s happened, every time we get rid of something now it gives us a sense of relief. Looking back, it’s ridiculous that we kept our stuff in storage all these years while travelling the world.
In the process we’ve somehow become minimalists. We travelled 2 months though Mexico with nothing more than 2 backpacks and one small rolling suitcase, and that includes 2 computers and Lissette’s big camera. Other than these items, we each had 2 pairs of pants, 3 t-shirts and 1 warm sweater. We each had 1 pair of shoes (the ones on our feet) and a few basic toiletries. Anything we needed we bought, including a new (replacement) pair of shoes for Lissette when her other shoes started wearing down from all the walking we did.
One of the reasons we came to Spain in 2020 was to work towards getting permanent residency in Europe. This week we’re going for the 2nd renewal of our residency. We’ve been in Spain 3 years. That means we have 2 years left until we can get Permanent residency.
Or does it? On February 24th the European Parliament will vote on whether they want to change the existing 5 years required to get Permanent residency to 3 years. More on that here.
We’ll be keeping an eye on that because it will dictate what we can/want to do over the next two years.
Why have a “fixed” base?
Another thing we’ve considered: why have a fixed base?
I received an email last week from some American expats who’ve lived 2 years in Salamanca. They’re now considering moving to the Malaga coast. They mentioned to me that they want to move somewhere different every 2 years. The goal: to live in different parts of Spain, seeing different geography and experiencing the culture throughout Spain.
I mention this because Lissette had mentioned the same idea to me a few months ago. Why not move around Spain, why do we need a “fixed” base?
We enjoy Antequera but neither of us will say it’s the place where we want to live the rest of our lives. So why not move around?
It’s another reason why downsizing is good. If we decide to pick up and go elsewhere it would take very little effort.
Note: I think the biggest dilemma people have when coming to Spain is finding the right base. In our case, there are many things we really like about Antequera. We like it more than Nerja. But living in Antequera has presented other challenges which are the opposite of what we had in Nerja. I’ll write about that at a certain point. As I say, we really like Antequera – but unless you really love a place, why not explore? Having said all that, we haven’t given Antequera enough time and would like to give it at least another year.
So that’s our mindset right now in early 2024. We’re not sure where the year will take us. But we’re pretty much open to anything.
Travel Plans in 2024? We’re still recovering from our big trip and don’t have big plans right now. We have a few trips we want to make in the region: 1) discovering the Costa del Sol west of Malaga all the way around to Cadiz. It’s a popular region that we’re not familiar with and it makes for a good winter trip. 2) Discovering many of the hillside towns in the Granada/Jaen region with an emphasis on castles. Lots of pretty places in the region and some fantastic castles and fortresses (and it’s all within a couple of hours from where we live).
Later this year we’ll most likely be going back to Mexico where I’d like to take the new Maya train through the Yucatan and to Chiapas. But that’s just a vague “wish list” item at this point…
Really, our travel plans will be determined by what happens with our residency and whether or not we renew our lease in Antequera.
What we do in 2024 also depends what’s going on in the world. We love our travels but at the same time we take everything into consideration: our finances, safety, and what’s going on in the world. And as we’re heading into 2024 if feels like the dark days in which we finished 2023 are getting darker.
Speaking of which: everyone is talking about AI these days. I’ve had advertisers coming to me offering up AI generated posts to publish on the blog. I always say no: there’s enough generic content on the internet. It’s also honestly insulting to anyone who writes.
Over the holidays we came across a couple of 60 Minute videos on AI. See this one here (from 8 months ago) and this one (from 2 months ago). If this doesn’t make you say “what the f*ck!!??” I don’t know what will. Haven’t these people seen Terminator? How can you realistically expect the world to regulate AI technology when leaders can’t even agree on climate change or figure out how to stop wars? I’m happy not to be a young person these days, humanity seems hell-bent on exterminating itself…
All the best to everyone for a great 2024!
Note: I write personal posts like the above on the Travel Diaries part of the blog. For those curious as to our progression from living in Canada, to travelling full-time, to living in Croatia and to finally settling in Spain you’ll find it there.
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