Wow, What a Year!
Ironically, I’ve looked forward to the year 2020 since we entered the 2000s. The number 2 has always been significant for me, probably because I was born on the 22nd. I see the number 22 everywhere and associate it with good things to come.
A close runner up for favorite number is 2020. So, as the year approached I became more and more excited to see what these magic numerals would hold for me. Well, if nothing else I can say it was indeed memorable.
As I write this year in review I’m acutely aware that everyone has a story to tell about surviving 2020. As my mom has become fond of saying these past few months “We are all in the same storm but we’re not in the same boat.”
Speaking of my mom, she was a small child in London, England during WWII. When I hear her incredible stories I always count my blessings that I have never had to endure living through such a difficult and scary time.
I wonder if the generations yet to be born will one day say the same of our stories from the year 2020?
Before I continue I do want to say that the year was not all bad. In fact, we have quite a few things to be grateful for this year. In between the challenges we did manage to have some amazing experiences, we made some great new friendships, and we deepened existing relationships. Oh, and we started a new business venture!
It Began So Well
For Nathan and I, the year began really well. I had every reason to believe that 2020 was going to bring wonderful things.
We rang in the new year with friends and family in Washington before hopping a plane on January 14th for the UK.
The next five weeks were filled with visiting friends and family around London and Birmingham and house sitting in Cambridge and Reigate. It was our first time in the University city of Cambridge and the charming suburb of Reigate and we fell in love with both places.
Reigate is a bit of a local secret as far as fabulous places to live. It’s just minutes from Gatwick airport, it’s on a main train line into London, has a charming high street full of great pubs and restaurants and is surrounded by the beautiful English countryside.
We had two big dogs to care for in Reigate, a loveable and huge Golden Retriever called Parker, and a gorgeous, young rescue from Greece called Bailey. We loved going for long walks and took full advantage of the parks and trails just steps from the front door.
Having been to Oxford a couple of years prior we expected Cambridge to be similar. We were wrong. Sorry Oxford but Cambridge wins for us.
Here’s a video of our first visit to Cambridge in February.
The awe-inspiring architecture of buildings like Kings College, the very walkable and charming town center, the punters on the River Cam, and the selection of restaurants and pubs make it a new favorite city for us.
An added bonus is the city’s love of cycling. We were told that Cambridge has the largest number of cyclists per capita in England and rivals even Amsterdam. There are dedicated bike lanes all over the city making it the preferred way to get around.
Plus, we cared for the charming and handsome Archie, a lovely Dutch breed called a Kooikerhondje. Housesitting has been a big part of our lives for years but this year the few sits we had were extra special.
It was while we were in Cambridge in early February that word of the new virus in China started to spread. It was not yet thought to be a threat elsewhere in the world. However, I’m sad to say that we witnessed some negative reactions towards groups of Chinese tourists.
Visiting new places in England, caring for some lovely dogs, lots of long walks, and enjoying quality time with family and friends.
I have a cousin in Berlin and yet somehow I’ve never been there so we decided this would be the year. We spent a cold and wet week in this iconic German city and although the weather was not ideal we managed to see enough that we look forward to returning.
We didn’t take in the famous Berlin nightlife but we certainly enjoyed plenty of hearty German food and a couple of beer halls.
Of course, we visited the top sights like Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, and the Berlin War Memorial. However, it was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe that made the biggest impression.
This video will not come anywhere close to evoking the emotion we felt but it gives a bit of a visual.
The deceivingly simple sculptural memorial was designed by architect Peter Eisenman. It was criticized by some early on but is now recognized for the incredibly clever and moving symbolism.
At first approach, it seems nothing more than rows of rectangular concrete slabs. But once you enter the labyrinth you become immersed in shifting levels of light, shadows and perspective. The ground below your feet seems to undulate and the slabs change in height creating a sense of isolation and even confinement at times.
Art, of course, evokes a different feeling in everyone but for me, this monument was a very fitting memorial. Looking back it feels like a foreboding of feelings to come.
By this time, Italy was in the throes of the virus and large events, such as the ITB travel trade show soon to be held in Berlin were in question. We were also wondering if the TBEX event in Sicily we planned to attend would go ahead.
Finally visiting my cousin and his lovely wife in Berlin and exploring the city for the first time.
Our flights and accommodations for Sicily were all pre-paid and at the time of our departure from Berlin it seemed the virus was contained to the very north of Italy, far from where we were to be.
We arrived in Sicily two weeks before our conference with plans to explore the island for the first time. We managed to do this for a week which was enough time to know we were going to love this unique part of Italy.
The scenery exceeded anything we had conceived and the food definitely lived up to the hype.
But soon it was announced that our travel event was to be canceled. Although, a few of the scheduled press trips were to go ahead for those of us already in Sicily.
One of our trips was an epic two-day hike and cycle adventure with the amazing Etna Bike Tours and Sicily By Nature. It was challenging, exhilarating, beautiful and rewarding.
Here’s a video of our amazing 2 days right before the world shut down.
We were essentially offline for these two days and only received bits of information from the outside world. Nevertheless it was becoming clear that things were escalating as we cycled through remote towns and witnessed police asking people to socially distance in cafes.
Shortly after returning deliciously exhausted to our Airbnb in the center of Catania we received a message from an event organizer. All of Italy was about to lock down!
We scrambled to find the first available flight out the next day and decided on Budapest. This was March 10.
We fell in love with Sicily and enjoyed a fabulous time challenging our bodies for two days as we explored the beautiful countryside by foot and bike. Check back soon for the full adventure!
We had spent quite a bit of time in Budapest over the years and found it to be a very liveable city. However, our plan was not to stay long. We were not asked to quarantine upon arrival but we decided to do so anyway. Although at that time there were almost no cases of Covid in Sicily it seemed the right thing to do.
Our thought was to isolate for 10 days then fly to Tbilisi, Georgia where we had planned to spend a couple of months working and visiting friends who had recently moved there.
This is our usual way: we travel for a few weeks then stay still for a month or two. We’ve found this is a good work/live/play balance.
But 2020 had other things in store as we now all know.
The ten days in Budapest turned into nearly five months! As soon as we realized we weren’t going anywhere soon we looked for a larger apartment as we’d only taken a small studio.
This turned into an ordeal on it’s own as many locals were afraid that foreigners were bringing the virus into the country. We were warned not to tell anyone we’d been in Italy and we were even turned away at the very last minute for the next apartment we tried to rent.
Thankfully we soon found another apartment on Airbnb with a lovely host who turned out to be our guardian angel. The first few weeks were very stressful as the fear and confusion were palpable. We stayed in our apartment except to shop for food once a week and we tried not to be conspicuous as foreigners.
After a while the fear subsided but we still always tried to look like we belonged when going out for a much needed walk and fresh air. As much as we had loved Budapest on our previous visits we came to realize that there is very little green space on the Pest side. Something that we were really craving during lockdown.
One thing that kept us going was our creation of an online fitness and social community. We started running virtual exercise classes and soon had a great group of people joining us from all over the world.
Although many have dropped off over time there are still about a dozen of us who meet four times a week for a chat and a workout. This online family saved us both mentally and physically….you all know who you are!
May arrived and thankfully Hungary extended our 90 day Schengen allowance by an additional 90 days. The country also started to open up a little and we cautiously took advantage of this by spending my birthday at Lake Balaton.
It was our first time out of the city in months and we were overjoyed with the warm, fresh air and much-missed nature. We even spent a socially distanced afternoon at the healing hot springs in Heviz. An old friend had introduced us to a new friend who generously hosted us and even drove us around the local wine region. For anyone who knows me this was a perfect birthday treat. Thanks Peter!
Over the next 3 months, we did a handful of day trips. We visited the lovely riverside towns of Szentendre and Vac where we enjoyed wonderful meals and long exploratory walks around the very quiet towns and along the Danube.
The tiny town of Tata was a pleasant surprise where we treated ourselves to one of the best meals of the year in a perfectly romantic lakeside setting.
Eger warranted an overnight stay which was very exciting after months of no travel. Here we explored the pretty city and spent an afternoon of wine tasting in the nearby Valley of the Beautiful Women.
There are more than 24 wine caves and cellars in the valley and they are known for the deep red wine called Bulls Blood. Yummy!
Made great new friends in real life and online, explored a bit of Hungary, found a guardian angel who restored my faith in humanity. We’ll never forget you Victoria!
Back to England
Time was running out on our Schengen extension and we were offered two repeat house sits in Reigate and Cambridge so it seemed the universe was telling us it was time to return to England.
We also accepted up a sit in a London suburb caring for the incomparable Balthazar (aka Baci), a unique and fabulous breed called a Eurasier. I can honestly say that we fell for Baci’s owners as much as the great Baci himself.
England felt like the next best thing to going home since we had a lot of family and friends there as well as house sitting opportunities. Restrictions were high and actually felt safer than Hungary in many ways.
We followed safety guidelines, avoided public transit as much as possible and thanks to the nice weather we were even able to dine out a little without having to go inside restaurants. In August we managed a short road trip with a friend from Bristol to Devon which was an absolute dream after so little travel.
Initially, we had planned to stay a few months until we could get home. We even looked into getting married in the UK (more on that later)
But, as autumn arrived so did the increase in Covid cases which meant no more house sits and no staying with friends and family. The UK is not a budget-friendly destination and since our income had declined along with tourism we had to leave.
We were able to enjoy a bit of England in the summer for the first time in many years. We also spent quality time with friends and family and were blessed to have two repeat housesits and two new ones. Some of the homeowners from those sits are now friends and the time spent with the lovely dogs was rewarding and therapeutic.
The world was closing down again and we needed to find somewhere that was open to Canadians and Americans. Our destination also needed to have a reasonably low cost of living, and preferably warm winter weather so we could be outside as much as possible.
As you know if you’ve followed our travels we love Mexico! It also happened to check all of the needed boxes. The next question was where in Mexico?
Puerto Vallarta or Playa del Carmen were our top two choices. They’re on the beach, we’ve lived in each before and we have friends in both places.
Playa del Carmen won in the end simply because it was a quicker direct flight from London to Cancun and we wanted to travel as little as possible.
On arrival, good friends set us up in an apartment in their building. We were greeted with a Cat 4 hurricane followed by a Cat 3 tropical storm two weeks later which actually did more damage than the hurricane.
During this stormy time we each had a few down days of being ill. Of course Covid is the first thing to come to mind but thankfully this was not the case for us.
Since the stormy season subsided we’ve been able to get out for long walks, some beach days, volunteering at local dog shelters, plus meals within our little bubble of six friends. The eight of us even rented a cenote for the day which was amazing! I’ll be writing more about that very soon
For the most part, though we’ve been working with the hope that soon our business will return. We’ve also started a brand new site called All About Glamping which we have very high hopes for. If you like being out in nature and staying in unique and comfortable places then please pop over and check out our new glamping site.
Warm weather, ocean breezes, low cost of living, walking dogs, and good friends old and new.
Why Didn’t We Just Go Home?
Many of you already know the answer but I’m sure some of you are asking the question. Our business is tourism based and we work online so we’re able to live anywhere. Our usual year consists of about 6 months in BC/WA and 6 months travelling.
The plan for 2020 was to spend 5-6 months in Europe. We had a fabulous mix of work and play arranged. This included visiting the UK and Georgia, attending a conference in Sicily, working with AMA Waterways on a river cruise, working with the amazing Sun Fun You on a Greek island sailing cruise, and a Scotland road trip with friends. Obviously, most of that didn’t happen.
But leaving Europe and returning “home” was complicated. As a non-married Canadian/American couple we were not able to enter either country together. This would mean separating and incurring double the living expenses in two countries for an indefinite period of time.
As our income had plummeted, doubling our expenses was not an option. Staying with friends and family also wasn’t a great option as we both have high-risk family members and again we had no idea how long it would be for.
We looked into getting married in England so that we could enter Canada or the USA together but it was more time-consuming and complicated than we’d thought. So as you read above…Hello Mexico.
As the year draws to a close here we are in Playa del Carmen. We have no big plans for NYE, just a home-cooked meal and maybe a midnight walk on the beach.
On January 1st we move into a new apartment in a more local neighborhood away from the tourist zone. More and more tourists are arriving here as Mexico is one of the few places still open. So we’re quite looking forward to leaving the area.
As of now, our plan is to finally return to WA and BC at the beginning of April. But as 2020 has shown us over and over again, all things are subject to change. Wish us luck!
The biggest gift we received in 2020 was love and support from friends and family…and if you’re reading this we consider you a friend, even if we’ve never met. From the wonderful in-person experiences with family and old friends in North America, the UK, Italy, Germany, and Mexico, to the newly gained friends through housesitting and apartment rentals around Europe, to the online social Bootcamp community, and to the followers of Live Dream Discover who’ve messaged to ask how we’re doing, we are grateful to every single one of you.
We wish for you all and for the world peace, love, good health, and new beginnings in 2021.
Born in England, Sarah developed her wanderlust at a young age as she traveled around Europe with her parents. As a young adult she spent every penny she could on experiences as opposed to possessions. Eventually she found a way to earn a living doing what she loved: traveling, writing and capturing images of the wondrous world we live in. When not on the go Sarah enjoys time in her “sometimes home” of Vancouver.