Winter has arrived in Portugal. We have been lucky to have had mostly sunny days through November. But now it is cold and rainy here in Porto, as is expected this time of year. The pleasant weather is one of the things that attracted us to Portugal. And we chose to live in Porto to avoid the heat of summer that can be extreme in the southern parts of the country. Mission accomplished there. The summers have been beautiful, and in the 70s for the most part. Fall is fabulous, with warm days and cool nights through the end of October. Spring can be very hit or miss, some cold rainy days interspersed with sunny days.
Last year, we suffered through the coldest winter in 30 years here. And our electricity bill showed it. 300-350 euros for the coldest winter months. Yikes! We are used to paying 35-50 per month.
When we first visited Portugal, I noticed the lack of heating in most buildings. I thought, wow, the weather must be so mild that heating isn’t necessary. Silly human! Au contraire, mon frère. Here is what I have learned after living here for almost three years. The Portuguese are incredibly stoic when it comes to suffering through cold weather. Yup, it is winter, and it is cold. Suck it up! That is the attitude. I don’t know if it is a holdover from the Salazar dictatorship or what, but doing without heat does not seem to bother most of them.
As wussy Americans, we are not keen on freezing our keesters off for months at a time. So, this year we got a more energy-efficient space heater and ordered some heavy draperies in hopes of warding off the worst of the winter cold. If that does not help, we may have to install heating. We are crossing our fingers that window coverings will be the answer. In the meantime, we will be drinking lots of spiced wine and doing plenty of cooking and baking to keep things warmed up.
Every country has unique aspects. Good and bad. Generally speaking, Portugal has overwhelmingly agreed with us. When we first visited, I was amazed to see that most dwellings did not have heat or A/C. Our first visit was in February and March. There were space heaters in our first Airbnb, and they were all we needed to be comfortable. I took this to mean the weather is so mild that outside climate control is more of an option than a necessity. And in general, that is the case. This depends, of course, on which part of the country you want to inhabit. It snows, and there is skiing in Serra de Estrella, and it gets wicked hot in the south and interior parts of the country. In fact, we went almost three years with only a couple of space heaters, which were quite adequate. This brings to mind the phrase, average temperatures. One should ask, what are the extreme temps? And gauge accordingly. We bought a flat in Porto, and the first winter was anything but average. In December, the worst cold snap in 30 years came along. For the first time, our space heaters were not enough. We froze our asses off and racked up 350+euro electric bills. (Which usually run about 60-90 euros.) Ugh. Temporary, right? I am thinking there is some form of permanent heating in our future. I have read that many ex-pats choose Lisbon and points south because Porto and environs can be cold and rainy in the winter. The weather is Seattle-like here in the winter and, I am ok with it. The heat is what I hate. And happily, it is very moderate in the summer.
On a lighter note, here are some odd but amusing observations. Giant mutant seagulls. Yup, they grow them big here. Apparently, the Atlantic seagull is one of the largest varieties. And they rule the coasts. They are enormous compared to the gulls I grew up with in California. They are also pretty bold and like to perch on cars. I do not know why, but I think it is hilarious. They are also notorious trash pickers. If you see trash strewn all over the street near a dumpster, it was probably seagulls. I have seen them in action. One day, I almost got brained by a walnut that a seagull dropped while it was flying overhead. Retribution for closing the lid of a dumpster that they were raiding, I am guessing.
The Obamas put the Portuguese water dog in the spotlight when they had one in the White House. The funny thing is, I have never seen one here. However, the Portuguese Podengo is very popular. And no one has ever heard of this breed in the states. The Podengo is a hunting hound dog that varies from small to large in size. They are adorable and intelligent. And, I am told, they are very Jack Russel-like in temperament. This means they are a handful and not for the faint of heart or dog novice. Independent and intelligent dogs require a lot of interaction and training.
There are many fascinating differences between Portugal and the states. And many similarities. One could write a book about driving in Portugal and Europe in general, for example. Parking on the sidewalk is quite common. You see this in Italy as well. Lack of space explains it.
European cities are ancient, small, and compact. Parking is a much more recent concern. And the Portuguese love their cars. Since I am originally from L.A., I can relate to this. I have always loved cars but, at the same time, I do not miss having one. The cost is one reason. And then there is the parking. Good luck with that. However, I am amazed at how many huge garages there are in Porto. They have small entrances, so you would not notice them at a glance. But they contain cavernous spaces that hold scores of cars. This is crafty because even parking a Smart car on the street can be a challenge. I say, forget about it and take the metro!
Visão is considered to be the Portuguese Time magazine. They say that it is the most read news magazine in the country. I was lucky enough to be chosen as part of an article on ex-pat Americans living in Portugal. This month’s cover story is titled, The Portuguese dream that attracts the Americans. The sub heading is The stories of those who have left the American dream behind to move to Portugal because of the quality of life, property investments, the wines and to escape Trump. Resident permits for US citizens have almost doubled, and golden visas have multiplied six times.
I have translated the article and share it with you here.
Lisa Graziano, wine specialist, and teacher. From Denver. Before moving to Porto, Lisa Graziano thought about moving to Valencia, Spain. However, when she visited Portugal, she discovered that the country had a more stable government, friendlier people, and a lower cost of living. Besides this, the North American had for years had a passion for Portuguese wines. In the Invicta (Porto), she learned a new way of being. “We were used to doing everything right now, but now we have learned to be calm.” (To live more calmly.)
The attraction of the Douro. “The USA is a bagunça,” (mess) says Lisa Graziano, mixing English and Portuguese in the eagerness of justifying the move to Portugal. “The election of Trump was terrible. If people thought it was a good idea this man should be president, I had to go”. The only thing left was to decide where to go. Years earlier, she had come across Portugal at a wine tasting in Denver, the capital of Colorado, where she lived for more than two decades. She worked in a wine shop and was used to trying the best vintages. But she was impressed by the quality of the national wines (Portuguese), especially the whites.
“One of the reasons for leaving Denver was the extreme heat that was becoming more and more common. “This is why we decided to live in Porto because it is cooler,” she says happily. The family, and their dog, moved to the Invicta (The unconquered, Porto is known as the unconquered city, a cidade invicta.) two years ago. But it was during the pandemic that they purchased a T3 (three-bedroom) apartment in Cedofeita. (A neighborhood in central Porto.) Lisa gives lessons in English to Italians online, and her husband is a graphic designer for a company in the US.
The North American feels very much that “the United States is not a country for older people.” To start with, “the health system is a joke,” she says. “We are close to retirement age, and we have access to the national health system that costs a small fraction of the cost in the US and has much better quality. That is important to us,” she admits. Besides social protection, safety has been surrendered in the country. “The US is no longer a safe place. There is always a shooting du jour, and we did not feel safe,” she laments. “Those who live in the US think that everything is better there, but that is a lie. It is a good illusion when you cannot leave, but here (in Portugal), everything is much better,” she believes.
Lisa would like to become a type of ambassador for Portuguese wines, and for this reason, she is writing a book. She has the objective of visiting all of the wine regions in the country. The Douro was the first region that she got to know, “one of the most beautiful in the world.” Also, the adventures told in the blog The Road to Portugal, about the move to and life here in Portugal will be published. What’s more, that digital showcase has already given origin to various contacts from north Americans asking for more information about the country.
Although now, “there is an adult as president,” the couple does not plan to return to the USA.” For this reason, the response to the question about how long do you think you will live in Portugal is unequivocal, “Forever.”
Covid rides again, virulent, bolder, and faster than before. Here in Portugal, the new lockdown has people pissed off. There have been some protests in Lisbon, but happily, all have been peaceful.
And, the government is pissed as well. People have been becoming lax about the rules, and those in charge have taken notice. So, you really can’t blame the powers that be for instituting more stringent rules and penalties for noncompliance. When the new lockdown went into effect, we noticed folks hanging out outside some cafés on our way to the grocery store. I have also seen a lot of people out and about maskless lately. I get it, everyone is suffering from lockdown fatigue. There was an image on IG in Portuguese that summed it up, be patient, or be a patient! A good reason to mind the basic rules: wear a mask, practice social distancing, and wash your hands!
And, to some extent, it is our own damn fault. Had to get together and go places for the holidays. This was abusing the privilege of being stupid. And here we are. Not only has the vaccine rollout been fraught with problems, but now people are refusing to be vaccinated. People are afraid of something developed so quickly for something we don’t even know that much about. The pandemic problems seem endless. We can only hope that the world will get it together sooner rather than later.
At least, we are here, in Portugal. Not only do you have the pandemic, but the disintegration of democracy before our eyes in the US. Never have we seen the level of stupidity that we are witnessing. Between the political madness and the lack of common sense regarding fighting the virus, it is staggering. Idiocracy is happening! When I first saw the movie, I thought it was funny and a little absurd. Now it is a horror movie depicting where the US is headed. Unbelievable, but true.
Again, we are thankful to have left the states. However, it is still horrifying to watch. It certainly feels safer regarding events from afar. The old world seems ever so much more civilized these days.
We interrupt this usually informative and fun-loving blog for a rant post.
Holy mother of insanity. You can’t make this stuff up. It pushes the bounds of credibility. A delusional narcissist, hate monger becomes pres of the US and very nearly overthrows the government as we know it.
Here’s the thing, the decline of the empire has been happening for a long time.
Even before the dump show, most of the systems in the country were showing signs of malfunction. And that is putting it mildly. Health insurance is a prohibitively expensive joke. Health providers, oblivious drug peddlers. Insurance, in general, a scam. The legal system, the absurdly random application of the “law.” And people get away with murder every day. The food supply has become so adulterated that it has lost nutritional value and flavor. Even if people woke up enough to take action, it is unlikely that there could be a noticeable improvement in my lifetime.
We survived the holidays that weren’t, in the year that wasn’t due to the pandemic, only to witness hoodlums storming the US capitol while being egged on by a president who is unfit for office. And he has pulled off his chicanery for years without penalty. The country has become a brainless, spineless laughing stock the world over. When I was growing up, we considered the US to be the greatest country in the world. The T-word vowed to make America great again. Instead, he made it his dump-land of hate, greed, and stupidity. From a first world country to a third world mess in four years. Pretty impressive for someone as mentally unstable as he.
It is sad when the people in power are only concerned with grabbing power instead of being the public servants that they should be. Biden and company certainly have their work cut out for them. Best of luck to them. They will need it.
As for us, thank God we got out when we did. And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming. How about a glass of wine? Or, maybe something stronger. Good old American whiskey seems fitting. Make that 100 proof.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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!
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, it 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. It 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, 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! He did the whole 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 mover’s 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.
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 our 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 threatened 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 healthy-ish 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. But that is another story.
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 take off, 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 laid 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 stunning 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!
We should get a prize for all we’ve been through. Oh yeah, being here IS the prize! 😉
The movers came and packed what was left of our things (which was still too much stuff) and we sorted out the rest of the last-minute things, cars, dog papers, and last visits to the vet. Not to mention various things we forgot to have the movers take that had to be shipped separately. Gawd, we suck at moving!
Luckily, I got us the most direct flight possible: Denver to Newark and Newark to Porto, with a four-hour layover in Newark. Our plane departed from DIA at 8:30am so we booked a room at the airport Westin for the night before, to make our 5:30am appearance at the terminal. Spendy, but so worth it. Our friend/landlord for the past eight months, Dennis took us to the Westin DIA in his vintage Rolls. (That’s about how far we traveled in style, suffice it to say!) We should have known it was going to be a bumpy ride when Jiver whined and panted and shivered halfway to the airport.
The night at the hotel was short, with a 4am wake-up call but a bellman took us across to the terminal. “First class? “ He asked…um no, I said, we’re lucky to have economy plus! After waiting in line to check our bags, we got to the check-in kiosk which told us that we would need special handling. (Due to traveling with a service dog, we found out.) We got to the desk and our large bag was 30 pounds overweight. No paying for it either; 50 pounds max or no go! Ok, drag our act out of check-in territory and go buy an extra bag, or throw out half of our belongings! Ugh! So, I had to run downstairs and put down $80 for the cheapest bag I could find that looked like it would hold 30 pounds.
Back to check-in, at least we didn’t have to wait in line again. With a little more finagling, we brought the big bag down to 49.5 pounds. Thank God!
We present our IDs, and the folder full of dog travel paperwork to the agent. After ten minutes, she tells us that there is something wrong. Our boarding passes won’t print out. And it looks like it’s because we don’t have clearance for the dog from TAP, Air Portugal for the Newark to Porto portion of our trip. After an hour of her talking to various superiors and others, I put a call into TAP myself. After waiting on hold for nearly half an hour, it is starting to look like we won’t make the flight. Finally, I get an agent on the phone, and he says we are clear for takeoff with them. At this point, I am guessing that United realized that it wasn’t TAP that was the holdup. (I knew it!) It was United having technical difficulties. Now we have five minutes to make the flight, and the “security” line is about five miles long.
The United agent took us personally around security, and we made a mad dash for the gate. When we got there, the gate agents saw and called out to us. They were holding the plane for us! Thank you, gate agents at United Airlines!
Can you say, holy mother of sweating it out?! Our new bag cost $80, and the cost for an extra checked bag was $120. We paid extra for seat assignments. Due to the delay in getting to the plane, we were stuck with inside seats in the middle of the aircraft. Jiver had to sit on the floor over the engine and landing gear. He whined, shook, and panted all the way from Denver to Newark! Poor guy was probably terrified. And this, after the woman across the aisle threatened to pitch a fit about us having a dog. “He’s a service dog,” I said. (I left out …bitch, trying to be nice!) Let’s just say, if looks could kill, she’d be dead! At least, we made the flight.
Once we got word that the Portuguese government had deemed us worthy of living in their fair country, it was time to spring into action. There are 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. They had to be canceled but, I got a credit for those and now had to rebook. Let’s just say it: traveling 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, 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. 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 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!
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!