After spending most of the last four years in Southeast Asia, we felt it was finally time to leave Asia. As often happens, not only did we feel a little Life ADD kick in, but we realized we wanted some more comforts and a different experience.
Over the last 5 years, we’ve explored Central and Eastern Europe and Central America. We made Ubud, Bali, our home base for a while. And, we kept an apartment in Bangkok. While living in Bali and living in Bangkok we continued to explore Asia, made frequent trips to Europe, and even took a culinary road trip across the U.S.
But, even when we had these apartments, they never fully felt like home. We always referred to them as our home base, rather than our home. There were a lot of reasons for that, but in the end, it meant we had one foot in and one foot out and continued to feel like we were living a somewhat nomadic lifestyle.
We left our apartment in Bangkok at the end of February, and have been on the move for the last 3 months. Within weeks of leaving, I knew we needed to find a new home base. I was tired of carrying everything we owned with us. In fact, over the last 3 months, I’ve managed to shed some of our possessions, in both Italy and Ireland, with a promise that we will be back soon for them. Overall, I was exhausted. I needed a home. And, I needed something more than just a home base.
After a little deliberation, we are proud to announce, the Hoffmans are moving to Girona!
We’ve traveled a good amount in the region surrounding Girona, in the Costa Brava, Spain. And, as much as Bologna, and Limerick, Ireland, were also in the running, our recent time spent in Girona just made it feel like the right move. And, we are SO moving to Girona, that we rented an apartment with a one year lease, with an option for 3, and bought some furniture! Yes, I’m feeling a lot more settled than I’ve felt during the last 5 years, but that’s a story for a different post.
There is no real concise list of why we are moving to Girona, or why we decided to leave Asia. In the end, there is a symbiotic relationship between the two. Just to give you an idea, here are some of our reasons why: 1) We decided to leave Asia; 2) we chose Girona; and, most important, 3) are firmly no longer nomadic.
Check out our Ultimate Guide to Girona Restaurants
Reason 1: In Search of Beauty
There are some beautiful spots in Asia. I loved the view from our villa in Bali, over the rice paddies and our infinity pool, during sunset. Who wouldn’t? But, overall, life in Asia is utilitarian, particularly in the cities. Cities like Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur once had some historic, colonial buildings. But, these buildings are systematically being mowed down in favor of shiny and new. I enjoy shiny and new.
But, I was in need of some beauty. Girona gives me that. It’s historic, with an adorable old town, with brightly painted buildings, and a centuries old cathedral. Buildings host wrought iron balconies with flower boxes overlooking big squares with hundreds of people sitting at cafes. It’s just pretty, and after 4 years in Asia, I needed that.
Reason 2: Recycling
In 2017 you wouldn’t think this is something I would crave. But, living in Girona, I am excited about proper recycling. And waste disposal in general. And clean streets. I am even thrilled about moving to a city that has a ban on plastic bags! Many Asian countries just haven’t caught up when it comes to proper trash disposal. Everything I bought from 7-11 in Bangkok came in a plastic bag. If I ordered a coffee to go, it came in a plastic bag. All that plastic ads up. The streets, canals, and drainage, were often strewn with trash. Yes, I am thrilled to be in an area that recognizes the importance of the environment, and, recycling!
Reason 3: Feeling More Healthy
I know I will never be as healthy as I was when we were living in Bali, not drinking, and doing mega yoga almost every day. I accept that. But, I also wasn’t necessarily happy there. I am looking for a compromise.
When living in Bangkok, we tried to exercise, either in our apartment building’s gym, or by walking briskly first thing in the morning, before the scorching sun set in. But, walking for exercise in Bangkok is a full contact sport, as I watched for traffic, broken sidewalks, trash, rats and dogs, and the occasional motorbike coming straight at me on the sidewalk.
Girona, and the surrounding region, are known for walking trails. There are lovely, intact sidewalks, walking paths covered with green trees, and there is rarely a motorbike zooming right at me while I’m walking. We already are walking a lot more, and feeling more healthy because of it. It also helps that the air is clean, and less polluted. The sky is clear. I can see the stars. I already feel more healthy!
Reason 4: Great Food And Wine
What was that about getting healthy?
We are on a strict walking regime, in part because the food and wine here is amazing! Yes, I love Thai food, and Indian food, and dim sum. And, overall, we ate well in Bangkok. We even found great Mexican in Bangkok. But, I missed authentic Italian cuisine. I missed fresh pastries. I missed good wine and cheese. I missed being able to cook at home, in a reasonably sized kitchen, and shopping from a supermarket where I could reliably purchase ingredients. Have I told you about the Bangkok lime shortage of 2016?
We spent 6 weeks in Costa Brava in 2015 eating our way through the region. And, we just spent another 5 weeks here, when we made the decision to move to Girona. It is not just traditional Spanish cuisine, but it’s the gastronomy of the region. Amazing Michelin Star restaurants, and contemporary restaurants with tasting menus for next to nothing. Butchers, bakers, and gelato shops. Sushi and noodle shops too! And the wine. And gin and tonics. And Aperol Spritz. And vermouth. There is also a snack tradition in the late morning, which we’ve been calling “elevensies.” Yes, we are very excited about the food and wine here. It’s why my next book will be a Food Traveler’s Guide to Costa Brava!
But, all that great food and wine adds calories. Hence, all of the walking.
Reason 5: A Slower Pace
We are certainly not moving to Girona for the convenience. Yes, I will miss my 7-11s in Bangkok. I will miss the 24 hour lifestyle. It’s already been an adjustment to get used to the Spanish schedule. Almost everything is closed on Sundays. And, most businesses close down between 1 and 4.
But, I am ready to embrace the slower pace of life here in Girona. Yes, that slower pace is driving me up the wall as we try to set up shop here, and deal with Spanish bureaucracy. But, it is slower. Less traffic. I don’t have to brace myself against thousands of people squeezing into a metro car. I don’t have to brace myself to argue with taxi drivers, and figure out how to communicate to an Uber driver about how to avoid the traffic in the city center. Yes, I am ready to slow down.
Reason 6: It’s Not That Much More Expensive
This surprised me the most. Our rent in Bangkok was about $600 for a very small one bedroom. Yes, street food in Bangkok is cheap. But, we only ate street food a few times a week. Most of the time we ate western food, or ordered delivery. Each meal cost between $20 and $30 regularly. Going to the local market was cheap, but we generally shopped at the grocery store where a lot of the food was imported, and therefore more expensive.
In Girona, we just signed a lease for a 2 bedroom apartment for €650 a month. And, it is almost twice the size of our Bangkok apartment. Shopping at the local market is both enjoyable and affordable. Meat is less expensive than at supermarkets in the U.S. And, there is the Menu del Dia, often a 2 or 3 course meal, with a glass of wine, served at lunch time, for about €12 a person. Can’t beat that.
Reason 7: Four Seasons
You’ve heard me say it before “I hate the cold.” In fact, I often say I don’t like the weather when it dips below 15 Celsius (about 60 Fahrenheit). Fifteen degrees is a nice summer day in Ireland to put things in perspective. But, I was tired of sweating every time I walked outside our apartment in Bangkok. Just going across the street to the supermarket exhausted me and left me craving a shower. Often I had 3 shower days, which were the ones when we were most active.
Girona is located in Northeastern Spain, so it is not the perpetually temperate weather of Southern Spain. I am fully prepared to eat my words come the winter, when it is cold and wet, as we sit about an hour away from the Pyrenees. But, yes, I am ready to embrace four seasons in a year. I am enjoying the warm breezes in the evening, and am excited to see the fall foliage for the first time in five years. And, if it really gets too cold in winter, we can always flee to Bangkok or Bali for a month. We just met some American retirees who told us Girona has about 8 months of great weather. There are 2 hot months and 2 cold months. I can totally handle that.
Reason 8: Opportunity to Explore Europe
At some point last year, when we were planning our travel schedule, I was stuck as to where I wanted to explore in Asia. I always love eating in Hong Kong. I could go back to Taiwan for another eat-a-thon. Yes, there are still some places I would like to see in Asia, but, more and more, I was starting to scratch my head thinking “where do I WANT to go to in Asia?”
Instead, what I really want to do is explore some of the smaller cities in Europe. We’ve been to almost all the big cities and capitals, but I want to visit more of Spain (Seville, San Sebastian, Malaga), Scotland and the UK, Belgium, Germany, and the Nordic countries. I want to go to Cyprus, and Malta, and the Greek Islands. We have friends who just moved to Luxembourg, and Eric has never been. We wanted to explore some of the wine regions of Europe. And, all of this is within a few hours flight.
Reason 9: Wine
Yes, I already mentioned food and wine above, but really, this is focused on wine. Having lived in Bali, in a Muslim country, and Bangkok, where all imported alcohol is heavily taxed, I just missed wine. Not just drinking wine, but learning about wine. I want to develop my knowledge of wine. I want to develop the wine tourism focus of this blog (stay tuned for some posts about wine in Bordeaux). This is all near impossible to do in Asia. So, let’s say this is, in part, a professional move.
Reason 10: Size Does Matter
Ubud, Bali, was a little small for us. Particularly with the expat population. It felt a little too much like high school, with gossip and more. We over compensated for that small town life by moving to Bangkok, a city home to over 8 million people.
I’m like Goldilocks, and Girona feels juuuuuuust right. With a population just under 100,000, we have loads of conveniences, with no traffic, pollution, or congestion. We can get to know the locals, but still have a little more anonymity than we had in Ubud. And, when we need a big city fix, Barcelona is only a 35 minute train ride away.
Reason 11: I WILL Be Fluent in Spanish
I WILL be fluent in Spanish. I WILL be fluent in Spanish. I WILL be fluent in Spanish.
If there is ever a chance for me to become fluent in a second language, Spanish is the one. I’m at a bit of a disadvantage because the primary language here is Catalan, a tough language to learn. But, everyone speaks both Catalan and Spanish. I will start with Spanish, and pick up some Catalan along the way.
I WILL be fluent in Spanish. I WILL be fluent in Spanish. I WILL be fluent in Spanish.
Reason 12: It’s Closer to “Home”
We don’t have any plans to return to the US in the near future, but it is nice to be closer to “home” just in case. We are also hoping that being a 7 hour flight from the East Coast, rather than a 24 hour trip from the US to Asia, means that maybe, perhaps, friends might come to visit us. Did I mention we have a guest room?
Reason 13: The Ability To Be Legal
This is a big one. We’ve never overstayed our visa in any country. But, we lived in Bali and Bangkok on a tourist visa. For a total of 3 years we dealt with “visa runs” something that every digital nomad and expat understands. Every time we returned to Indonesia or Thailand, we wondered if they would let us back in. We often left a set of keys with friends when we were away just in case they needed to pack up our stuff and send it to us.
Well, Eric has dual citizenship with Ireland. So, we are able to live in Spain with a lot more legitimacy. Eric just needs to apply for a special ID number with his Irish passport. Then, I will apply for residency, which will be good for as long as I live in Spain. This residency will also allow me to travel with Eric anywhere in the European Union. We can both work here. We can register a business.
I will sleep better at night knowing I will be a lot more “legal” than we’ve been in the past.
Reason 14: It Was Just Time
This was meant to be a “10 Reasons Why We Decided to Leave Asia and Move to Europe” list, but over an Aperol Spritz on Placa Independencia, we came up with way more than 10 reasons. And, the final one was, it was just time. We left the US almost 5 years ago, and have spent about 4 years of that time living in Southeast Asia. I just love Southeast Asia, even with all of its faults. But, it was just time to try something new. We’ve never actually lived in Europe, or spent more than a few months at a time exploring. It’s time to see what it’s like to live in Europe. Spanish bureaucracy be damned!
In the end, we decided to leave Asia and move to Girona for all these reasons and more. Most of all, it just felt right. It felt like the right place and the right time. And, I couldn’t be happier!
If you’re in the neighborhood, let us know! We will take you to our favorite vermouth bar.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.