The Douro Valley

I was glad that our things arrived when they did as I was thinking of taking a trip to the Douro valley wine country before the tourist season got underway and the weather got too hot to handle.  I picked up a book on Enotourism in Portugal that runs down the best Quintas (wineries) in every region.  There are 12 wine regions in Portugal including the island of Madeira.  (Pretty much all of Portugal is a wine region!)  Guia de Enoturismo Portugal O que provar, O que visitar by Maria João de Almeida:  Enotourism guide to Portugal, where to try and where to visit.  It is a great reference for visiting wineries in Portugal.  Good thing I’m making headway with my Portuguese because I did not find it in English!  Luckily, it’s pretty easy reading.

I spent some time poring over the Douro section and picked an assortment of wineries that sounded the most interesting.  One can do a day trip to the Douro on a boat or by train, but  it is impossible to realize the scope of the area in only one day, especially when it takes 1.5-2 hours to get there from Porto. The best way to see it is by car. I could spend a month in the Douro valley but, we chose to do three days, two wineries per day.  Sounds reasonable, right?

Our first mistake was bringing Jiver, our dog.  I thought, we have some doggie downers, and it’s only an hour and a half away.  Ha, ha, ha.  Remember that flight from Denver to Porto?  Oh, yeah enter the incredible shaking, panting and whining dog.  Ok, it was a bad idea.  Oh, and shedding machine of a dog too.  Of course, our not so smart rental car had a black interior.  Nice.  After half an hour it had a white dog hair interior!  The only thing worse than Jiver was my husband Joe who is also a nervous traveler and a back-seat driver.  Ugh.  Again, good thing it was a short road trip! 

Google wasn’t much help either.  While the car’s GPS system got us out of Porto, it quit about 20 minutes into the trip.  And, what is it with the use of coordinates to find a place?  We missed the turn off to Villa Real which takes you to Peso de Régua, our first stop, and that cost us about 20 minutes.  When we finally arrived, we used the coordinates given to find our Airbnb.  Joe punched it in with one wrong number and we drove all over hell and gone before we ended up back where we started!  The Airbnb was right in the center of town! About a block from where we parked when we arrived. Damn!  So now, we are late for our first winery tour.  Raios! 

Here is an important safety tip:  You must make an appointment to visit Quintas in Portugal.  DO NOT just show up at a winery and expect to take a tour.  These places are small and muito popular!  This is one of the first things the Guide tells you.  (Thank you, Maria!)  Our original plan was to leave Jiver at the Airbnb but since we were running so late, we brought him with us.  Even as a service dog in uniform, he is not allowed in a lot of places.  Portugal is not super dog friendly, sadly.

We arrived at Quinta da Pacheca half an hour late and were told, no dogs at first.  Then, they told us to go ahead up to the winery and they let us join the group with Jiver after all.  Whew, it was stressful getting there but once we settled down, it was beautiful!  Jiver made friends instantly with Aqua the winery dog and it was all good.  (She was cute and hey, Jiver is a handsome guy!) Quinta da Pacheca, besides being a fantastically beautiful winery with wonderful wines, has wine barrel rooms where guests can stay!  That’s right folks, for $3-$400 per night you can stay in a giant wine barrel that’s been converted into a room on the property.  While they looked cool, it was a little out of our price range.  We cheaped out on accommodations so that we could buy more wine to take home!  The wines at Pacheca were so good that we bought a mixed case of white wine, red wine and port wines. Hey, they had free shipping and as Joe likes to say, why wouldn’t you? Keep calm and drink wine. That’s our motto!

The Douro Valley, Part One.

I was glad that our things arrived when they did as I was thinking of taking a trip to the Douro valley wine country before the tourist season got underway and the weather got too hot to handle.  I picked up a book on Enotourism in Portugal that runs down the best Quintas (wineries) in every region.  There are 12 wine regions in Portugal including the island of Madeira.  (Pretty much all of Portugal is a wine region!)  Guia de Enoturismo Portugal, O que provar, O que visitar by Maria João de Almeida:  Enotourism guide to Portugal, where to try and where to visit.  It is a great reference for visiting wineries in Portugal.  Good thing I’m making headway with my Portuguese because I did not find it in English!  Luckily, it’s pretty easy reading.

I spent some time poring over the Douro section and picked an assortment of wineries that sounded the most interesting.  One can do a day trip to the Douro on a boat or by train but that is for amateurs!  It is impossible to realize the scope of the area in only one day, especially when it takes 1.5-2 hours to get there from Porto.  I could spend a month in the Douro valley, but we chose to do three days, two wineries per day.  Sounds reasonable, right?

Our first mistake was bringing Jiver, our dog.  I thought, we have some doggie downers, and it’s only an hour and a half away.  Ha, ha, ha.  Remember that flight from Denver to Porto?  Oh, yeah enter the incredible shaking, panting and whining dog.  Ok, it was a bad idea.  Oh, and shedding machine of a dog too.  Of course, our not so smart rental car had a black interior.  Nice.  After half an hour it had a white dog hair interior!  The only thing worse than Jiver was my husband Joe who is also a nervous traveler and a back-seat driver.  Ugh.  Again, good thing it was a short road trip!

Google wasn’t much help either.  While the car’s GPS system got us out of Porto, it quit about 20 minutes into the trip.  And, what is it with the use of coordinates to find a place?  We missed the turn off to Villa Real which takes you to Peso de Régua, our first stop, and that cost us about 20 minutes.  When we finally arrived, we used the coordinates given to find our Airbnb.  Joe punched it in with one wrong number and we drove all over hell and gone before we ended up back where we started!  The Airbnb was right in the center of town!  Damn!  So now, we are late for our first winery tour.  Raios!

Airbnb.Regua
The view from our Airbnb in Peso de Regua with terraced vineyards and the Douro river.

 

 

Regua.Wine.City
Peso Da Regua: City of Wine!

Here is an important safety tip:  You must make an appointment to visit Quintas in Portugal.  DO NOT just show up at a winery and expect to take a tour.  These places are small and muito popular!  This is one of the first things the Guide tells you.  (Thank you, Maria!)  Our original plan was to leave Jiver at the Airbnb but since we were running so late, we just brought him with us.  Even as a service dog in uniform, he is not allowed in a lot of places.  Portugal is not super dog friendly, sadly.

Pacheca.2
Sitting area and vineyards at Quinta da Pacheca.

We arrived at Quinta da Pacheca half an hour late and were told, no dogs at first.  Then, they told us to go ahead up to the winery and they let us join the group with Jiver after all.  Whew, it was stressful getting there but once we settled down, it was beautiful!  Jiver made friends instantly with Aqua the winery dog and it was all good.  (She was cute and hey, Jiver is a handsome guy!)

Barrel.rooms.Pacheca
Wine barrel rooms in the vineyard at Quinta da Pacheca.

Quinta da Pacheca, besides being a fantastically beautiful winery with wonderful wines, has wine barrel rooms where guests can stay!  That’s right folks, for $3-$400 per night you can stay in a giant wine barrel that’s been converted into a room on the property.  While they looked cool, it was a little out of our price range.  We cheaped out on accommodations so that we could buy more wine to take home!  The wines at Pacheca were so good that we bought a mixed case of red and white wines and port.  Hey, they had free shipping within Portugal and, as Joe likes to say, why wouldn’t you?  Keep calm and drink wine.  That’s our motto!

 

Y’all Ready for This?!

Random is the keyword for how things work here in Portugal.  I have been told by locals that how things go in the government offices largely depends upon the mood of the employee with which you’re dealing.  On an international level, it seems that the “rules” can change from minute to minute.  Or maybe, it’s just our interpretation of said rules. 

So, after freaking out about having to get a certificado do bagagem from the consulate in San Francisco, translate the inventory of our things into Portuguese (which I did) and all the other attendant forms, here’s what happened…

We were at the Arrábida shopping mall here in the Canidelo hood, about to buy a printer/copier so that we could print out and copy everything when, my phone rang.  It was Bongers calling to say that our shipment would be delivered next week on Tuesday or Wednesday.  I replied that I was working on getting the requisite forms but that it probably wouldn’t happen that fast.  (San Francisco Portuguese consulate, enough said!)  He said, that’s ok, never mind the forms, we can get it through customs for you for 124 Euros without any forms.  At first, I didn’t believe him.  It was a good thing that there was a place to sit down, so I did.  Really?!  …says I.  And then I thought, why ever didn’t you tell me that this was an option in the first place?!  I said, done. Where do I wire the money? 

It would have cost $200 to Fedex the forms to and from the consulate plus their fee so, 124 euros sounded like a screaming deal at this point.  Our man at Bongers said that he would let me know what day delivery would be by the end of the week.  I said, you are awesome and rang off.  Hal-le-freakin-lu-jah!  One bureaucratic bullet dodged.

I didn’t hear from Bongers and thought, well, they will let me know when our shipment is ready for delivery.  On Monday evening I was giving an English lesson online when the doorbell rang.  It was the movers.  They were outside with a truck load that contained our worldly goods!  It was a good thing that we were home!  I finished the lesson while Joe received the box parade.

Whoo hoo!  After nearly three months, I had forgotten what all we shipped.  I was glad to have summer clothes because it is supposed to be in the eighties here on Sunday.  Sadly, the only thing that was broken was Joe’s $400 office chair, the one thing he really needs, of course.  And naturally, the deductible on the moving insurance for breakage is $500.  Figures, ‘eh?

Our favorite Portuguese bubbly to celebrate having fully arrived in Portugal!

But, all in all we are happy to have our things and now feel like we have finally arrived.  I still say that if you are moving to another country, don’t ship anything.  It is not worth the brain damage nor the cost.  Thank you very little not so Transparent International and, thank you very much Bongers International!

Still Moving?!

So, we have been living in Portugal for two months now, and Raios!  (Damn!)  It is amazing.  I wish that I could convey how wonderful it is.  Daily, I am blown away by how fantastic the food and drink are not to mention the scenery and how helpful and friendly the people are. 

Slogging through the bureaucracy, however, continues.  The movers packed and picked up our things in Denver on February 11th and we are still waiting for our ship to come in, as it were.  The first estimate for arrival of our personal belongings was April 11th.  When we had not heard anything by the 15th I sent an email to Transparent International (which has been anything but transparent), asking if there was a new guestimate for an arrival date.  Finally, a few days later, I got an email from the company in the Netherlands that is handling the Euro portion of our moving program and was told that April 24th would be the new estimated date of arrival.

But I get ahead of myself.  Let me back up.  Around the time that we arrived in Porto I got an email from not so Transparent International informing me that our shipment was on a container and BYW, we owed them another $4,000!!!  (I had already paid them $5,000.)  Isto é uma merda do caraças!  Go ahead and look that up if you dare, it is a multi F-word phrase in Portuguese.  (Yes, my Portuguese is getting better by the day and more colorful to boot.  I still have a long way to go, needless to say!)  Oh, yeah you had a lot more stuff than we thought!  Mad as a hatter did not even begin to cover how pissed off I was/am.  My first thought was, you know what?  Keep it, I don’t even need any of that stuff.  Then, of course, I realized that it would become a legal nightmare that I would rather not entertain.  So, I emailed them and asked, what are my alternatives?  They said that they would check with the Euro movers and get back to me.  They knocked off about two hundred dollars.  So, now our 30 some odd boxes of personal items worth about $1,000 is costing us $9,000 to ship to Portugal. 

My only small consolation is in the misery loves company department.  After talking to other recent ex-pats to Portugal, it turns out that everyone we talked to went through the same thing!  WTF is all I have to say.  How can these mafioso movers get away with this?!  I will be Yelping the bejesus out of them once we do get our things.  Here is my advice to anyone moving overseas:  DO NOT SHIP ANYTHING!  Take only what you can check on the plane.  It is not worth the brain damage.  The estimates for moving our “act” overseas ranged from $3,000-5,000.  What did we say about everything costing twice as much and taking twice as long as you think?  Right.  Try three times!

Oh, and guess what?  There is a list of documents that we have to come up with before taking delivery of our goods if we want to avoid paying duty on everything.  Now, I had seen the certificado do bagagem mentioned early on in my research about moving to Portugal but lost the memo in the shuffle. It is one of the required documents and it must be issued by the Portuguese consulate in the states that issued your resident visa.  Flashback to San Francisco.  I emailed the consulate in SF asking what I needed to do to get the luggage certificate?  Well, they referred me to the site that spells it out.  Again, color me clueless!  Check it:

Required documents:

  • Signed and dated declaration (must be in Portuguese, see example below)
  • Add two photocopies of the declaration (so, the original plus two copies); (The copies do not need to be notarized BUT the original may have to be, check notes below);
  • Copy of valid Portuguese ID Card OR copy of valid Portuguese Passport (personal data page) OR EU country passport (personal data page) OR third country passport with residence visa (personal data page and residence visa page); (The copies do not need to be notarized);
  • Documental evidence of the dates of beginning and end of residency in the country (copy of bills, driver’s license,…);
  • Documental evidence showing the personal goods have been used for at least 6 months before the end of residency in the country;
  • Cover letter explaining the service you require and your contacts (email and cellphone number);
  • Self-addressed postmarked envelope;
  • Check payable to “Portuguese Consulate”.

IMPORTANT:

– Make sure you send all of the required documents. Incomplete applications will not be accepted and will be returned.

– It is necessary for the signature to be notarized if the declaration is made outside our jurisdiction (checked by the address on the return envelope).

– Person requesting this certificate must be a legal resident of Portugal, regardless of citizenship

It is almost as bad as the application for resident visa requirements.  I could just cry.  Can you say, frustrated to tears?  And there is a prize in it for anyone who can tell me what, “documental evidence showing the personal goods have been used for at least 6 months before the end of residency in the country,” might be.  (Like I saved all of the receipts for everything I ever purchased in the past 20 years!)

And, that’s not all!  There is a registration form that must be filled out by someone at the town hall here in Gaia saying that we are registered to live here, and proof of work contract, among other things that we already actually have.

Bongers International, the movers in the Netherlands (I swear, that is really their name!) now says that the container has arrived in Rotterdam and that the new guestimate for arrival in Porto is between May 5-11th.  Let’s hope it’s later since it took the Portuguese consulate in SF a week to reply to my email.  Once I assemble all the documents, translate our inventory into Portuguese and have it all notarized, I must Fedex it all to the consulate with a prepaid return envelope and a check for $50.03 for the cost of the certificate.  ($50.03, really?)  I can only hope that I can pull it all together and get the certificate back before our things arrive.  Boa sorte!  (Good luck) with that.  Now, if only we actually owned anything worth the $9k that we could sell to make up for our stupidity!  Experience is an expensive teacher, I guess!  Caraças, I say!

Vila Nova de Gaia

So, we now live in Canidelo, a neighborhood in Vila Nova de Gaia which is across the river from Porto where port wine is stored and aged. The views from either side to the other are fabulous!  We have been here almost five weeks and we have not yet cracked the surface of all there is to see in Gaia, much less Porto.  All I know for sure is that we really need to prioritize our travels because, we are way too old to see/do it all!  We could spend a year exploring different routes to the beach or the river from our apartment! 

We do have a few landmarks to keep us centered.  In the unfortunate department:  Mc Donald’s and Burger King are way too close, about a 20-minute walk away.  No escaping US influence anywhere in the world, I’m sorry to say. And these are probably two of the worst offerings from the states.

Giant strawberry in Canidelo, Vila Nova de Gaia.

In the it’s a wacky world department, right near Mc Donald’s is a round about that has a 20-foot-tall strawberry in the middle of it.  Now, that’s a landmark!  Vila Nova de Gaia has an agricultural history and has an ear of corn and strawberries in its coat of arms.  And yes, they are delicious, the strawberries, that is!

The beach and boardwalk in Gaia.

Gaia is also well known for its beaches.  There is a 14-mile boardwalk that starts in Espinho a little north of Gaia and runs through Gaia along the beach.  The beaches are beautiful and there is a 17th century chapel towards the south end of the boardwalk.  The Chapel of Senhor da Pedra is practically in the ocean on the rocks. During high tide it is in the water!

Senhor de Pedra Chapel
Senhor de Pedra Chapel.
Beach next to the Chapel of Senhor da Pedra in Gaia.

There are many great restaurants in Gaia, as well.  The 4 Caminhos Brazilian steak house has all the great aspects of the big Brazilian restaurants in the states without the exorbitant prices and over the top salad bar.

4 Caminhos Brazilian Steakhouse. Yum!
Appetizers and Portuguese sparkling wine at Restaurante Bairra.

Bairra is a tiny hole in the wall owned by a local celebrity chef, Pedro Sanchez.  The tables are set with champagne glasses and Pedro suggests a glass of the local sparkling wine to start.  You don’t have to ask me twice!  It was as good as any champagne.  We never saw a menu, we just took his suggestions and said, bring us whatever you think we’d like.  This is my kind of place!  The bread, cheeses and sausage were outstanding and the roast pork we had for an entrée was one of the best dishes to be had anywhere.  It paired perfectly with the local white blend wine that he suggested for us.  The chocolate pot de crème dessert was choco bliss.  Everything was made in house and with dessert we had a local cinnamon honey whiskey (also made in house) that was dangerously delicious at 100 proof.  But wait, there’s more!  Then our gracious host poured us some of his 30-year-old tawny port.  Holy mother of wow!  Nectar of the Gods, I tell you!  Oh, and Bairra is an eight-minute walk from our place.  Pretty much everything you could possibly need is within easy walking distance.  Yes, I think we have chosen wisely!

Reality Check

Our first week in Portugal was beautiful.  Fantastic food, wine and weather and we did a little reconnaissance of our new neighborhood.  Expenses are half or less than what we were used to in the States and going from freezing and snow to 70 degrees is what I’m talking about! 

Quinta da Foz Port house boat with view of the bridge to Porto.

Our realtor had told me that it would take about three or four days to get utilities up and running in our apartment.  Electricity was no problem, took two days.  Water, however, was another matter.  Apparently, our pipes for the water meter were not up to date.  I showed the print out that Aguas de Gaia (water department of Vila Nova de Gaia) gave me to Rui (our realtor) and he said that he knew someone who could fix it.  Two days (and 80 Euros) later it was fixed.  Now back to Aguas de Gaia.  They had to send someone out to inspect it.  Then we could get a new meter installed.  I asked Rui, shouldn’t the landlords be paying for this?  And he assured me that it was our responsibility as tenants.  Ok then.

Also, the place was filthy.  (Didn’t notice that when I looked at it for ten minutes six months earlier.)  Got an awesome cleaning lady who also speaks English and it took her an entire day to clean the kitchen, it was so greasy and grimy.  Apparently, the former tenants were pigs, and never cleaned!  (Ok, sorry, that would be an insult to pigs!)  She agreed to finish cleaning after the painter was done.  I got a hazmat suit for the bathroom and did it myself.  Yeech! By this time, our time was up at the Airbnb where we had been staying so, we had to move.  Luckily, I found a place that was only a few blocks away from our new place.  Had an awesome view of the ocean too!  Again, as luck would have it, the owner of said Airbnb was an electrician and said that if we needed anything, to just let him know.  As a matter of fact, we happened to need a painter to rid us of the bad 70s acid flashback wallpaper in the entry and hallway and repaint.  Senhor Silva to the rescue!  His man Lorindo was amazing!  Did the entire place in three and a half days.  Ultimately, instead of three or four days it took two weeks before we could move into our apartment but now it was freshly painted, and we could purchase some furniture and appliances.  The movers estimate for the arrival of our belongings is April 11.  When the few things that we shipped arrive, it will be like Christmas!  In the meantime, there is a trip to IKEA in our future.

Bad 70s Acid Flashback Wallpaper.
View from Airbnb #2.

The Longest Day Continued…

Jiver simmered down once we got off the plane in Newark.  Ok, I thought, we’re almost halfway there.  Our bags were checked all the way to Porto so, now we could check in for the flight and relax.  The check in agent looked over our dog papers and issued us boarding passes.  No problem!  As we waited to get through security a fire alarm started going off and it was LOUD!  Jiver did not like it at all!  He started to growl and was threatening to start barking when, after about ten minutes it finally stopped.  False alarm, thank God.  We made it through security without incident and went to find our gate.  We had about three hours to kill and we found a Vino Volo near our gate.  Perfect!  We stopped to have a drink and a nosh.  Vino Volo is a great concept that serves good healthyish food and good wines to go with them.   A great place to hang out at the airport, a dreadful place to work.  Yes, I worked for Vino Volo at DIA in Denver for about a year.  It’s ok if you are willing to cook food, serve wine, bus tables, and wash dishes by yourself for up to 40-50 people at a time.  Right! 

Jiver sacked out by the table and after some food and drink we made our way to the gate hoping that this plane ride would be better than the first.  I had overheard a gate agent say that the plane was not full and that there were about 40 empty seats.  That should help.  We got on the plane and the row in front of us was almost empty so, we agreed that after takeoff Joe would move up to that row and we would let Jiver have the seat next to me.  He whined and panted for the first 45 minutes but, once we were at cruising altitude, we put his blanket on the seat and he sat there through the flight.  Finally, he was ok.  We figured that he did not like the vibrations of the plane when he had to stay on the floor.

It is amazing how different the attitudes are between US and Euro airlines.  Everyone is so uptight and stressed out on the US flights and so much more relaxed on the European flights.  The TAP Portugal flight crew was great.  They loved Jiver and were fine with him sitting next to me.  Also, the food is so much better on the Euro flights.  Oh, and no charge for wine either.  We had a delicious baked cod in cream sauce with spinach with mashed potatoes and a nice white wine to accompany it.  We weren’t even there yet and already I preferred my new country of choice to my country of origin!

When the plane started its descent, Jiver got nervous again.  This time, he only whined and panted for about the last half hour.  Whew!  We made it to the ground and arrived in Porto.  Now, we just had to get through customs, passport and vet check.

I took Jiver to find a doggie rest area but couldn’t find one.  There was an area with some planters, and he christened the Porto airport right there.  After cleaning up after him, I found the veterinary office.  The doctor was waiting for us there and it only took about ten minutes for her to sign off on us bringing Jiver into Portugal.  Now customs.  We presented our box of spirits and wine from Colorado and they opened it.  The officer examined our stash and asked, to drink with friends?  And, I said yes!  He said, ok and we were off.  It took about 30 minutes to get into the country, through customs and have Jiver checked in by the vet.  Portugal, what a country!  It might have something to do with the fact that we arrived at 5:30am.  There was a cab driver waiting outside arrivals and he transported us to our Airbnb.  After a year of planning and waiting, we finally arrived in Porto!  Ha-le-freakin’-lu-jah!

View from our table at Adega Sao Nicolo, Porto! (A fantastic seafood restaurante.)

We should get a prize for all we’ve been through!  Oh yeah, being here IS the prize! 😉