On the Road Again…

After a year and a half of living in Portugal, we are finally buying a place in Porto. Talk about an ordeal! Buying real estate is a big deal under any circumstances. But doing it in a foreign country and during the biggest pandemic since 1918 adds a whole new level of stress to the process. And I should know, I sold and taught real estate for 20 plus years in the states!

I have owned many properties, but never have I had such a hard time finding the right one. We must have seen 15 or more apartments before we said, this is the one! Of course, our parameters made it a challenge. We needed more space than our bank account could really afford. Oh, and wanting to be centrally located and preferably in Porto added to the challenge.

So True!

We have been in Vila Nova de Gaia for the past 1.5 years, and it is nice enough, but it is as expensive as Porto and a lot more rustica, shall we say. We are talking farm animals here. And excessively barking dogs everywhere. I guess if you don´t mind roosters, chickens, and geese, incessant dog barking shouldn´t bother you. Right.
When people think of cities in Europe, they generally think of old buildings. And there are certainly plenty of those. However, new construction is booming in Portugal. So, our pad is all new inside, completely remodeled, and the outside of the building is being resurfaced as well.
It quite a bit smaller than we are used to, but being in the city is worth it. And we lucked out and got a great deal on it. So, it´s good bye Gaia and hello Porto! And, there will be some delicious local bubbles in our future!

Sparkling Rosé from Piano Wines, Portugal

We just have to survive a week or so in an Airbnb that is a fourth-floor walk-up since our psychotic land-lady won´t give us two more days, and the movers couldn´t accommodate us on the day we should be moving out. Bugger. No problem. At least, we will be in Porto away from the constantly barking dogs! With fresh territory to explore, it will be nice to be back in the city.
So, onward and upward, Porto, here we come!

Logistics

Once we got word that the Portuguese government had deemed us worthy to live in their fair country, it was time to spring into action.  So many things to consider: plane tickets, movers, getting ready for the movers.

Oh, and transport for our “fur child,” Jiver.  I had purchased one-way plane tickets for us to leave at the end of October which had to be cancelled but, I got a credit for those and now had to rebook.  Let’s just say it:  travelling with an animal is a pain in the ass!  I had read that dogs could not travel on the plane with you internationally at all.  Wrong again!  After speaking with an airline employee, it was suggested to me that if I could get him certified as an emotional support animal, he could ride in the cabin with us.  I got online (sometimes the internet is your friend) and promptly found an outfit in Louisiana that did such animal certifications, US Service Animals.  For about $200 a therapist calls you and asks you a few questions and then decides if you are certifiable…!  Happily, I am.  (None of my friends were surprised by this).  I mean, they certified Jiver as my emotional support animal.  And issued me papers to that effect.  In reality, I will be his emotional support human for the trip!

Given airline animal shipping regulations, it’s a good thing this worked.  It costs about the same amount to ship an animal as cargo ($200) but, the weather must be 45 degrees or warmer and getting out of Denver and Newark in February, there is no way it’s going to be warm enough for that to happen.

There has been more paperwork to bring the dog with us than there was for us to get into the country!  The vet must issue him a doggie passport and the airlines require forms to be filled out as well.  Then there’s the eight-page Portuguese form that the vet must fill out to bring him into the country.  It is a relief that he can travel with us and that there is no dog quarantine in Portugal.  He spent the better part of his life as a diabetic alert service dog for his person until he died almost three years ago.  We inherited Jiver when that happened so, he has paid his dues, so to speak.  He also has the wardrobe for it, he came to us with a service dog vest, which we will use.  And, all the service dog papers are good for a year so, our little buddy is about to become a world traveler!

Jiver is dressed and ready to go!

The sorting out of what to take and what to leave continues.  The movers will come on February 11th and we ship out on the 21st.  And, this just in…our passports came back from the consulate in the mail today with shiny new residence visas inside!  Coming soon to Portugal…us!

Give Me Visa Approval or Give me Death!

( I’m pretty sure that death would be quicker and less painful!)

Well, it’s the end of December and as everyone says to me lately: you’re still here… yup, we are still here in beautiful BFE, USA.  Ok, not so beautiful when the high probably won’t crack 20 degrees tomorrow.  Not to mention the government shutdown due to mango unchained and his hare-brained ideas.  I was hoping to be gone by October and here we are staring down the barrel of January 2019.

Let’s recap, shall we?  We started the process of moving to Portugal last March 2018.  Ten months later it feels like we are no closer to achieving that goal than we were then.  Now, a lot has happened since then and here is my advice to anyone contemplating a move to another country:  do not believe what you read on the internet.  There, I was told that a resident visa could take anywhere from two to four weeks for approval and that Portugal was one of the easier countries to emigrate to.  A friend who resided in Lisbon for a year said it shouldn’t take more than a month.  On December 24th (X-mas eve, bummer!) it was 90 days since we made our visa application and we are still waiting.  (Granted, the Portuguese visa website says to apply 90 days out and hey, it’s the Portuguese government, after all.  Could be worse, I guess; could be Spain or Italy.)  It may take more than twice as long as you think to get that resident visa approval and will certainly cost you at least twice as much as you might think.

Once again, I am reminded of Kafka’s The Trial and have started to suspect that our government idiocy isn’t helping our cause any. If only I could have done this two years ago.  That is when I decided that I wanted to relocate to another country and it is now over two years in the making.  I never could have guessed that it would take so long.  I thought, six months, tops.  Boy was I unclear! 

Since first submitting our online visa application in July, which got us an in-person visa application appointment in San Francisco in September, it has been almost six months.  The time disconnect between the online application and the in-person appointment (Not to mention the stress levels involved!) caused me to forget that in the email I got acknowledging my online application, at the bottom it listed a site where I could check the status of my visa application.  Which I completely disregarded since we weren’t there yet and wouldn’t be for a couple more months.

I woke up in the middle of the night a couple of weeks ago and thought, wait a minute, wasn’t there something about checking visa status somewhere?  After going through months of emails, I found it and the password to access the site.  Hallelujah!  Now finally, maybe I could find out something about our progress.  Here’s what it said… there are four stages in the visa application process:   Application acceptance, consideration, analyzation and finish.  Our applications have been analyzed.  Or, as I like to say:  we’ve been done, duly analyzed!  So, now we know that we are one step from our visa application process being finished.  What does that mean, exactly?  Diddly squat from where I’m sitting.  We are thisclose, apparently, although what that might mean in real time, I have no idea.  Just as in The Trial, is seems to have no end.

My assessment of the whole process?  I think that resident visa approval to move to another country is a moving target (like trying to nail jello to a tree) that depends on timing and political climates.  Five years ago, I’m sure it would’ve been A LOT easier.

As a result, we are looking forward to a bleak and dismal New Years and we are still waiting.  Ugh.  Darkness before the dawn?  I can only hope as we go on month number four of paying for two places to live, one unoccupied and where we want to be.  (Having an address in Portugal was one of the resident visa application requirements.) Let’s hope that the new year will bring good news ASAP.  In the meantime, happy new year and I hope that we will have a happy one next year.

Thanks to Mark Baylor for reminding me to keep at it!

Hold Please continued…

Well, we survived Thanksgiving (three alarm hangover notwithstanding).  What is it about the holidays that makes us think it’s ok to drink EVERYTHING in one night?!  (Oh yeah, friends and relatives.) The turkey was even good thanks to Marczyk’s Willie bird and a prosciutto and chili rub treatment.  Thanks for an excellent meal guys!

So, we’re going on eight weeks since our visa application and zero word from the Portuguese consulate.  If we don’t hear something SOON, and we are stuck here through X-mas, I may have a complete meltdown.  I’m not going to lie; the waiting is killing me.  Not to mention, paying for two places to live, one in Gaia that is vacant.  I won’t even go into how much I hate “the holidays,” especially X-mas.  After harping for dollars for ten years, if I never hear another X-mas tune again, it will be too soon!

I hear that X-mas is big in Portugal,  and I can’t wait to try the fresh roasted chestnuts that are sold everywhere.  Oh, and did I mention the Bananeiro festival in Braga?  When I first started researching Portugal over a year ago, I came across the banana and moscatel fest that happens on Christmas eve in the city of Braga, which is about an hour north of Porto.  Banana and moscatel festival, you say?  How wacky, let’s go!  So, I started fantasizing about going to Portugal for X-mas last year already.

X-mas banana
Merry X-mas banana. (Only in Portugal!)

Apparently, the tropical fruit and wine fest is the outcome of some mad marketing by a guy who owned a banana warehouse and wanted to attract customers.  On Christmas eve a few decades ago, he offered a glass of sweet moscatel wine to anyone who bought some bananas and it became a thing, as they say.  And now, every year thousands of folks descend upon the banana warehouse in Braga on Christmas eve.  Just the thought of it makes me laugh, and want to try it, banana and moscatel, that is.  Could be a great pairing!

Meanwhile, still in government limbo hell, I realize that it’s too late to be early and even if our visa approval comes through this week, we are already in the middle of holiday travel season hell and finding a decent one-way airfare will be nearly impossible.  So, if anyone, anyone (of my three readers) knows someone with a private jet that can move us from N.Y to Lisbon once we get that pesky visa, I will throw in free accommodations with us in Portugal for life.  Keep your ears open and, let me know, will ya’?  Thanks a bunch, and I will keep you posted of events as the occur!  (Here’s to hoping that events will occur SOON!  Hope with me, won’t you?!) We need all the help we can get.

Jiver is all decked out and ready to go with his happy santa tail! (You can see Happy Santa Tail on You Tube or Instragram!)
Jiver is all decked out and ready to go with his happy santa tail!

Hold, please.

After our visa appointment in San Francisco and some breakfast, we headed back to the airport.  Joe flew back to Denver and I went on to L.A. to see family there.

I texted our realtor in Portugal and asked if he would be willing to be our reference and he responded that he would be glad to.  It’s a good thing that he agreed to help us, once again, since we don’t know anyone else over there!  Thank you, Rui Castro!  You are our hero!

It was fun to catch up with friends and family and be reminded of why I wouldn’t want to live in L.A. again.  An hour to get from the west side to the valley during rush hour.  Really, it takes an hour to get just about anywhere in a car in L.A.   Pass on that action.  At least, the weather was nice.  The wining and dining were great, and it was a nice distraction from knowing that we would be stuck in the US for at least another probably eight weeks.

I was warned about the snail’s pace of government bureaucracy in Portugal but when I returned to Denver and Fedexed the last documents to the consulate, I tried to email them as well.  All emails have been returned as undeliverable.  There is a phone number on the website that states that the Portuguese consulate is currently not taking phone calls or returning messages.  There was an “sos” email to which I sent a note saying that I had fedexed documents to them and would they please confirm receipt of said documents.  I received a reply that my email was received and nothing else.  Ugh!  They did warn us, but the complete lack of communication is disconcerting, to say the least!

On the heels of all this, a hurricane hit Portugal on October 13th.  The first one of this magnitude to hit in 176 years!  Awesome.  Luckily, by the time it hit landfall, hurricane Leslie was downgraded to a tropical depression and did the most damage to Lisbon with a beach side restaurant destroyed and the roof of a stadium blown off.  I texted our fairy Godfather, Rui and he replied that Porto was OK, just a lot of wind and rain.  So, our place is vacant but still standing.  Hallelujah.  Thank God for small favors!

So, now we wait.  The Portuguese consulate has our passports and I guess that’s about all we can do.  That and cross our fingers and pray to God!  I’m also guessing that it will be December before we get our visas, at the rate we’re going.  And I wanted to be out of here before last summer!  Ha ha.  Now it looks like we will have to endure half the winter in BFE, Denver, Colorado, USA.

Here’s to hoping for a mild one courtesy of El Nino.

Our gracious host/landlord is hosting Thanksgiving and has invited us, which is so nice and, obviously we will attend, but have I mentioned how much I hate turkey?  Why do Americans think it is so great?  Oh, never mind.  Americans love a lot of things that I don’t care for,

which is one of the many reasons we have got to get out of here!  Holding.  And dreaming of Portuguese food!

Grilled cod dinner at Churrasqueira Kinay in Porto.

Buckle up and travel light!

After travelling for the better part of September, we are now about 75% of the way toward our goal of moving to Portugal.  I went solo since it was much cheaper that way, and someone had to hold down the fort and watch the Jiver, our precious soccer paws.

I spent ten days and about $1,800 for airfare, food and Airbnb to accomplish three goals: find a place to live in Porto, get an n.i.f. number, which is a Portuguese tax ID number, and open a bank account.  So, here’s the thing: getting the NIF number is not easy.  You must have a reference in Portugal and if you don’t know anyone there, good luck with that!  And when I say reference, I don’t mean someone who’ll say you are OK (though you will need that too), but someone who is willing to be financially responsible for you should you default on anything.  What you need is a procurador fiscal, or financial guarantor.  (I learned these details as I went.)

After two days of spinning my wheels, I started to freak out.  How in the hell was I going to do any of this?!  Finally, I found a couple of sites online for the sale and rental of apartments.  Idealista had plenty of offerings, most of which were out of our price range. But I found a few that might work, so I sent messages asking if I could see them.  While I waited for a response regarding seeing some apartments…

I went to Santander bank, which is recommended for expats, and they told me I would need the tax ID number and an address before I could open an account.  So, the next morning I went to the financial services office and they told me that I would need a reference in Portugal and an address there before they could issue me an NIF number.  Ugh.  Frustration is my business!  I had a reference in my friend who let me use her address in Lisbon to apply for a visa online, but that was not enough.  Add to that the fact that she is moving back to the States in October, and I am now seriously S.O.L.

The funny thing was that I got words of encouragement whenever I was dejected all along the way.  After striking out at the financial services office, I went to breakfast at a place called Mesa 325.  A great place to go if you are ever in the Bonfim neighborhood of Porto, which is where I was staying.  There was a sign on the wall that read:  Everything is going to be OK.  EGBOK, thanks, I needed that!  And the overnight oats served with yogurt and fruit is delicious!

The next few days I looked at three listings.  The first was in a neighborhood in Porto called Casa da Musica.  Ok, I thought, I like the sound of that!  I took the metro over and sadly; the place was a dump for $850 Euros per month.  (My friend was not wrong, Porto is expensive!)

Gaia.Porto
The view from Gaia to Porto

Then, I lined up a couple of showings in Vila Nova de Gaia.  Gaia is across the Douro river from Porto.  It is where they store the port wine for ageing.  It is about a fifteen minute walk from downtown Porto and is beautiful.  The first apartment was it!  Three bedrooms, 1200 square feet, and a km from the beach for $650 Euros per month in a nice quiet neighborhood.  Now we’re talking!  The entry has wall paper that looks like a bad 70s acid flashback, but that can easily be changed.  Otherwise it was a good deal compared to what I had seen in Porto proper.  The Remax agent that showed it to me has become our fairy Godfather.  Since we couldn’t even sign a lease agreement legally without the NIF number, he got on the phone until he found someone who could get it for us.  He took a picture of my passport and I got a picture of Joe’s for him and he said we’d talk the next day.

He texted me the next morning and said, “Great news, you both now have NIF numbers!   He got the Re-max company’s attorney to agree to be our fiscal guarantor and overnight we got our tax ID numbers.  Mind you, it will cost us 100 Euros per month until we get our permanent ID cards.  He assures me that it won’t take more than a couple of months and will help us when we get there.

The housing market is so tight in the Porto area that I had to agree to pay a year in advance and sign a three-year contract to secure the place over other applicants.  I was perfectly happy to pay a year of rent in advance and, having been in real estate myself for many years, know that everything else is negotiable, so I signed the lease agreement.  At which point I was informed that after a year we can renegotiate the deal.  Once I left Rui’s office, I went to Millennium BCP bank, which he recommended, and opened an account.  Armed with the NIF document and an address, I could now open an account.

Gaia.Port
White port and biscuits at Quinta de Noval porthouse in Vila Nova de Gaia. (Delicious!) My reward for missions accomplished!

Now, I could return to BFE, USA and finish preparing for our visa appointment in San Francisco.  Whew.  That was a wild ride.  Many thanks to my Airbnb hosts for guiding me and helping me out when there was a taxi strike on the day I returned to Lisbon to catch my flight back to the states!  The Portuguese people are wonderfully friendly and helpful, and I can’t wait to live there.  But we still have a long way to go.

Back to BFE, USA and points west.

Having returned from ten days in Portugal, I now had two days to finish preparations for our visa appointment in San Francisco.  I may have mentioned that BFE Denver, Colorado does not have a Portuguese consulate. Rumor has it that it once did but, that was before my time.  So…if you want to apply for a resident visa to live in Portugal and you live in BFE, Denver, you must go in person to the Portuguese consulate in San Francisco.  Online sites say how easy it is to “move” to Portugal, these are bald faced lies; easy it is not!

Among other things required to obtain a resident visa for Portugal are: (and they don’t mention them all on the “official” site, mind you) $3,000 per person relocating deposited in a Portuguese bank account (See previous post on the catch 22s of opening a bank account over there!) and, ideally at least $50,000 in liquid assets, read cash, per person as well.

I also read that everything (all documents) should be in duplicate.  I compiled a list of documents, in duplicate that included all items on the Portuguese consulate’s list of required items including:  letters of intent (why you want to live in Portugal and what you plan to do while there.  I’ve also read that you had better keep it simple and doable because they judge your worthiness on how probable your statements are to actually happen).  Proof of plane tickets to Portugal and back, because you must come back to the States to renew your visa every year for the first five years.  Here’s the kicker:  how do you make plane reservations when you don’t know when the visa will be approved?  If you don’t plan to return to the city in the US you left, you can’t get round trip tickets and…then what?!  Oh, and I was also told to include birth certificates and marriage license, if applicable.

Holy mother of, can you believe it?  It is a miracle to me that anyone pulls this off.  You had better have the tenacity of ten Jack Russell terriers to get through the process.  I could not figure out what to do for plane tickets since I had heard that they are not always “required” and had purchased one-way tickets to Lisbon leaving October 20th (this date was a stab in the dark.  I got the travel insurance knowing I would probably have to change the date).

I was freaking out about it after my friend told me you HAVE to have a return ticket, and the night before the visa appointment, as we sat in a hotel room in Burlingame, California (S.F., by the airport), I purchased round trip tickets with random dates in September 2019 from Lisbon to L.A., Ca., and back from my, oh so smart phone.  Another two grand.  Ka-Ching.

Ok, now I felt as ready for this appointment as I was going to be.

It took the better part of an hour to get to the Portuguese consulate in San Francisco from near the airport.  (Another reminder of why we want out of BFE, USA:  Traffic hell!)  When you think of government offices you probably think of an office building, right?  Well, the Portuguese consulate is in an old house in Presidio Heights, a residential neighborhood!  We arrived within ten minutes of our first appointment.  Joe was scheduled at ten am and I was up at ten fifteen.  There was a couple ahead of us and we weren’t seen until about ten thirty, and then they took us together, contrary to what is stated online, that it is one appointment per person.  No problem.

After looking over our paperwork we were told that our reference had to be in Portugal and that we needed a letter from them, so my friend Simone was out since she was coming back to the States in October.  FFF!  What was I going to do now?!  Oh, and take your time getting a reference letter to them because their systems were down and would be till…???  And there are 15-16 applications ahead of you.  Once our application was complete, it would be at least six weeks to visa approval.  Welcome to European government bureaucracy.  Can you say DISAPPOINTED?!  Ok, time to regroup.

And I Thought Moving Across Town was Arduous!

Now that we are “settled” into our little temporary crash pad, the real nitty gritty work of pulling off an international move begins.  There are sites out there that tell you how easy it is to relocate to XYZ foreign country, and they can show you how.  Maybe I should’ve gone to their $1,000 conference in the Algarve (southern Portugal to which most ex-pats relocate).  Oh, right, I didn’t have the money then!

As usual, I am several years and a few hundred thousand dollars too late/short.  The golden ticket to moving to Portugal is buying $500,000 in property there, live there for a year and then you get Portuguese citizenship and an EU passport.  That, of course, would be too easy.  We do plan to buy property there and after five years of residence we will qualify for citizenship and EU passport.  It just takes longer and then there is the whole visa process every year until then.

Have you ever read Kafka’s The Trial?  That is what it is like applying for a resident visa to live in Portugal.  (For what it’s worth, they say it is even harder to get a visa in Spain and virtually impossible in other countries.)

The process is full of catch 22s:  you must submit an application online to get an appointment to apply for the visa.  You must have an address in Portugal and a reference there but, you must go there to get them.  You will need a residence permit but, you must be there to get one.  Ugh!  It goes on like that.  And I thought the logistics of our move across town were jacked up!

In the too late to be early department, there used to be a Portuguese consulate here in Denver.  No mas.  Now, to apply for a resident visa if you live in Denver, you must go in person to San Francisco to apply for it.  So, it may be much cheaper to live there (in Portugal) but, it will cost you to get there!

So, having achieved a visa appointment in San Francisco the last week of September, I will start compiling the rest of the required documents in the meantime.  They include but are not limited to:  Notarized printed applications, copies of main passport pages, FBI background check, Portuguese criminal background check form, proof of health insurance, proof of income, declaration of intent (why you want to move to Portugal), reference in Portugal and passport photos (in addition to the one on your passport).  Whew!

Thank God for my new friend Simone who’s been living in Lisbon for the past year.  She let me use her address so that I could at least complete the online app to get the visa appointment.  In the fun part department, I will return to Lisbon and Porto at the beginning of September to find us a place to live.

Then there is the process of getting Jiver, our dog certified to be shipped over.  There is another set of rules about the timing of all his shots and letters of good health before we can take him, and all must be done in a certain order and we must fly 48 hours after completion of said shots and certs.  Happily, there is no quarantine, so we just need to make appointments at departing and arriving airports for him.  Holy moly, it’s a wonder anyone ever has the energy and persistence to leave the country!

This is Jiver. AKA Bubba, Wild Thing, Soccer Paws.

And, here is where I get cheeky; they say that fortune favors the bold and here are the bold aspirations that I am throwing out there:  I would love to find someone with a private jet that could fly us over without our having to shove Jiver in a box in the cargo portion of the plane.  He is a nervous traveler and doesn’t do well on drugs.  He was a service dog for most of his life and we inherited him when his person died two years ago.  I know it is an extreme long shot, but, what the hey, ‘eh?  And now I will draft that letter to the Porto soccer team about hiring him as a mascot. It can’t hurt to try.  Ask, and ye shall receive? (His nickname is soccer paws after all!)

Soccer Paws.

Stateside Planning

Once we got home and recovered from jet-lag the real work of crafting our escape began.  We decided that, yes, we really needed to sell the condo and that we also needed to move somewhere more affordable.  After two weeks in Portugal, Porto became the target but, honestly, anywhere in Portugal would do. With much research it became apparent that to get resident visas in Portugal, we needed jobs that we could take with us ideally, (read: online work).  We would have to go to San Francisco, in person, to apply for visas.  This was going to take some time.  My wildly optimistic hope of moving to Europe in June was out the window.  Trusting my real estate gut instinct, I knew we needed to sell quickly while prices were still sky high here in Denver. (Housing prices surpassed mile high in Denver a while back!) 

That said, once we sold the place, where were we going to live while we made our work and visa arrangements?  My friend Dennis to the rescue!  We have been friends for years and I had driven carriages for him for many years as well. (Yes, horse drawn carriages in downtown Denver.  I called it draft horse wrestling!)  Oh, and wait, he is also my hairdresser!  Conveniently enough, he has a beautiful three story Victorian house near downtown Denver and the third-floor apartment was available.  It was a great deal, big enough for us, and he was willing to rent to us month to month until we were ready to ship out.  Done deal!

We got back to Denver on March 5, 2018 and listed the house for sale on May 3rd.  We had four showings and from those came two offers.  By May 8th we were under contract, as they say here in Colorado, and closing was set for June 15th.  The next steps:  purging and packing.  The goal is to get rid of at least 80 percent of our belongings.  We sold most of the furniture with the house, so that was a start.

We now have about six days to finish the purge and vacate the premises, as they say, and my next post will be forthcoming after we move to Capitol Hill.  We saw this sign in a wine bar in Lisbon:

Words to live by!

Here’s to re-creating ourselves and starting a new life abroad!

Back to Lisboa and the US.

After almost a week in Porto we returned to Lisbon for a couple of days before heading back to BFE USA via Dublin and Toronto.  This time we stayed in the Alfama neighborhood which is famed for places to hear the traditional Portuguese Fado music.  Luckily, the first place we stayed in Porto had lots of Fado CDs, which we listened to.  As much as I wanted to hear some Fado music live none of the bars that hosted the music commenced the festivities until 9pm.  When you are as old as we are that is late!  It is usually lights out by 10pm for us.

Lisboa.Alfama
Alfama, Lisbon.

Alfama reminded me of Venice, Italy without the water.  The streets are hilly and impossibly narrow.  One of the Uber drivers we hired had a mini van and the car literally scraped the wall on one side going down the street!  It is so charming that once there you understand why it is a must-see part of Lisbon.  One of best restaurants of our entire time in Portugal is there:  Alfama Cellar.  They specialize in cooking with individual cast iron pots and the dishes there will set you free!  The best was drunk rabbit; marinated in grappa and served with roasted vegetables that conveyed flavors beyond description.  We enjoyed the food here so much that we ate there our last two nights in Lisbon.  The staff was professional and fun, and the service was outstanding.  Alfama Cellar is located at Rua dos Remedios 127-131, 1100-451 Lisboa.  Www.alfamacellar.pt.

Castelo de Sao Jorge, Lisbon.

Sadly, it was quite rainy and stormy our last two days in Lisbon, so we did not wander far from our Airbnb which was about 30 paces from our new favorite restaurant.  We strolled around a little and got to visit the Castelo de Sao Jorge on our last day which was an amazing piece of history and architecture.  Our Airbnb was tiny but efficient and the craziest thing about the building was the stairs up to an apartment above.  Well, look…

Crazy Stairs in Alfama!

If one was drunk, they would be downright dangerous, methinks!

Needless to say, we were sad to have to leave Portugal.  But now, we had a mission:  figure out how to move there!

On the way back, we once again spent a day in Dublin, Ireland.  This time we were lucky to dodge an historic snow storm that dumped 13 inches of snow on the city shutting everything down two days before we arrived.  We watched as 13 truck loads of the white stuff was removed from the tarmac before we could deplane.  We got to our Airbnb and headed for the nearest pub.  Severe disappointment ensued; there was no Guinness to be had!  Fresh out.  While the city was immobilized for two days, everyone was at the pubs and drank the city dry!  That’s an historic event:  no Guinness in the pubs in Dublin!  Crazy, but true.  Happily, we got to have one more pint of Guinness at the airport before we left.

We arrived at Dublin airport around nine am. After getting through security we went through the duty-free store and found that they were having a series of gin and whiskey tastings!  Ireland, what a country!  Of course, we felt duty bound to try the local spirits.  Ireland is having a distilling renaissance and the whiskies and gins are first rate.  We brought home some Tyrconnell 12 year old Madeira cask single malt whiskey.  Mmm, good!

We made it home with minimal delays and after thinking about it we realized that the only thing we missed while we were away:  our dog Jiva (aka Bubba).  Looks like there’s a transatlantic trip in your future little buddy!