A Strolling We Will Go.

The on-again, off-again lockdown may be killing us, but we can still go for a stroll, weather permitting. As well we should. Getting enough exercise is the only way to keep the near house arrest weight gain down. And, luckily for us, we do not have a car, so walking is mandatory for getting around anyway.
One of the bonuses of living in Porto is there are a plethora of parks to be explored. The gardens of the Palácio de Cristal, or Crystal Palace, is one of them. One could spend days exploring this one. It is tranquil, spacious, and beautiful.

Fountain in the Palácio de Cristal gardens.


It also has plenty of avian wildlife to observe. There are ducks, roosters, peacocks, and peahens, roaming about free. With the requisite winged city rats, pigeons, as well.

Up close and personal with a peacock.

Also, in our backyard is the Quinta do Covelo park. This one is smaller, more of a regular city park, but equally lovely and soothing for a stroll. It has fountains, woods, and even a dog park.

We love being walking distance from most of the great sites in the city. And getting to them usually includes a feast for the eyes along the way. Trumpet flowers are in bloom, and they are fabulous! The tile work on most of the houses around town is something to see, as well.

Trumpet flowers in bloom.
Iridescent tiles on a house in Boavista, Porto reflecting the sunset.

Portugal played a big part in the Age of Discovery during the 15th to 17th centuries. Now we are having our little age of exploration, discovering Porto and Portugal. And it is more fun than I ever thought possible. What secret treasures will we discover next? Can’t wait to find out.

Bem Vindo ao Porto.

Welcome to Porto. We have been living here for almost a month, and we love it.
Porto really is a magical city. It is right up there with Venice, Italy, San Francisco, California, and New Orleans, Louisiana, among my favorite cities in the world. I could say that it is something of a mash-up of San Francisco with its hilliness and New Orleans with the old buildings and ironwork, but it is really unique. The Azueljos tiled buildings are beautiful, stunning, and numerous in the city. The architecture and artistry is a feast for the eyes.

When we moved to Portugal, we chose to live in Vila Nova de Gaia because it was a lot cheaper, near the beach, and a 15-minute car ride from Porto. The reality of it was that while Gaia is physically just across the river from Porto, it is so close and yet so far, as they say.
Gaia is a world away from Porto in mentality. In fact, the city of Gaia’s motto is Todo um Mundo, meaning, all a world unto itself. That it is.

The locals have a saying here, Porto is Porto and Gaia is Gaia. After living in Gaia for a year and a half, I fully understand this saying. Porto is a world-class city, and Gaia is more like a small town or village. This, even though it is physically bigger than Porto in size. Both have their pros and cons.
We may be nearing retirement age, but we still want to be closer to the action of the city, as it turns out.

Sculpture in the Boavista Rotunda with Casa da Música concert hall in the background.

Now instead of having to take an Uber or walk for an hour to get to the metro, we are a 15-minute walk or metro ride from nearly everything. Including the above.

And exploring we will go. Stay tuned.

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.
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.

Força Portugal!

The courtyard at Quinta da Pacheca.

We are heading into week number 4 of lockdown here in Portugal and, I have to say that it hasn’t been too bad. The lines to get into the stores have been minimal. There has not been a shortage of much of anything so far. I am happy to report that there is plenty of TP, food, and drink.
It is a far cry from the pandemonium we are hearing coming from our friends in Italy, Spain, and the US. We wish you all well. So sorry that you are the victims of so much trumpery. (Yup, it’s a word. Go ahead, look it up.)

Kudos to the Portuguese government for handling the crisis so well thus far. Thanks to the quick official response, and cooperation of the people, it looks like the virus will be contained here sooner rather than later. We hope so. In any case, it is being taken a lot more seriously than in a lot of countries.

Springtime in a glass!

There have even been some perks. One of our favorite wineries, Quinta da Pacheca, has been offering 20% off their wines with free delivery on a case or more. We now have plenty of wine. More and more restaurants are offering take-out and delivery. That includes our favorite pizza place, Rei da Gula, here in Gaia. So, theoretically, we wouldn’t have to leave the house at all except to walk the dog. The mandate is to, “Fique em casa.” Stay home, which we are doing. We hope that you are too. Lay low and know that better times are coming. Stay strong and stay well, everyone.

New World Order

How about that Covid-19 virus?! 

This means you!

Here’s some of what I’ve been reading in the news from the states:  38% of Americans are avoiding Corona Mexican beer because of the name!  Also, people are avoiding Chinese food because of the connection between the virus and its country of origin.  WOW! 

Some of the things I’ve seen online have only reinforced the contention that the level of stupidity has gone off the charts stateside.  Here are a couple more headlines out there right now: Why America’s Virus Response Looks Like a Patchwork, this from the New York Times, mind you.  Well, Captain Obvious, could it be that America is a patchwork of states that all have different rules?  And if you don’t know this, you might want to go back and study your American history.  Just saying. 

Also, Infected People Without Symptoms Might be Driving the Spread of the Corona Virus.  This one from CNN.  Yup, you heard right.  Now, I am not a science type by any stretch of the imagination but, if I was a betting person, I would bet big that people who are infected and not showing symptoms are driving the spread of this new virus. 

Think about your basic cold viruses. Just from personal experience, I know that when I start coming down with a common cold, I am in denial about it.  Oh, I’m just tired…   Meanwhile, I’m out and about probably infecting every other person with which I come into contact.  I guess only time will tell if this is the case and the big CV is transmitted similarly. 

In the meantime, people are reacting like the dumb, panicky, dangerous animals that they are. Buying out basics at the grocery store so that people who might really need said basics can’t get them.  Amazing and sad, but true to form, people are reacting with a panicked herd mentality. 

Important Safety Tip!

But enough of CV-19 and the blatant stupidity that is a rampant contagion worse than the virus.  It is funny how ahead of the curve we are, already working from home.  We have been homeworkers for over a year now. And have become used to our own company for the most part.  We still have to walk the dog but now taking walks is our main entertainment outside the house.  It’s not so bad, really.  It helps if you have a hermit kind of mentality, to begin with, I guess, which I do. 

Wisteria Blooming in Canidelo, Vila Nova de Gaia.

It is almost spring, and all of the trees are blooming here in the Porto area, and the air is redolent of the white Jasmine that grows in the area.  Nature says, silly humans, life goes on.  And so should we, albeit with the utmost caution. Stay well, everyone!

Portugal, what a country!

It is great to be here. We still wake up every day and pinch ourselves that it’s true we live in Portugal! The summer was wonderful. The weather couldn’t have been better, mid 70’s to low 80’s. Now, I’m told that this was a very unusual summer and it is usually much warmer. And to that, I say, thanks to the universe, and hope that cooler summers will be a trend. 

And, of course, the food has been fan-freakin’-tastic everywhere we have gone. The same goes for the wines. I used to be such a wine snob. In the US, I would look at the wine list and sometimes not even have wine if there wasn’t anything that looked good. Here, the house wine is fine. They are nearly all good, and many are excellent. 

As for the Portuguese bureaucracy, we have been extremely fortunate. At our visa renewal appointment, we only had to wait about 15 minutes. When we went to finanças (Portuguese IRS) to register after getting our resident visa cards, we waited five minutes tops. Incrível! So far, so good. 

The DMV (IMT in Portugal) was another matter. You have three months after you get your resident card to turn in your foreign driver’s license for a Portuguese drivers’ license. (Although, I have been reading that that is about to change, and it will soon be three years before you must get a Portuguese license.)  If you make the three-month deadline, it only costs 30 Euros. If not, it costs 60 Euros, and you must take a driver’s test. (Ugh!) Before you can go to the IMT and get your new driver’s license, you must register with the Centro de Saude, (national health system) and get a certificate of health. You must also get a certified copy of your driving record. To prove the validity of your current driver’s license.  Three months, no problem.  Right. 

After wrangling with the Colorado DMV and the USPS for a month, we received the certified copies of our driving records by registered mail.  At this point, we now had 10 days before the deadline to turn in our US licenses.  It cost $64 and change to mail four pieces of paper to arrive in Portugal within a week.  International logistics are still costly and time-consuming. 

It took three trips to various Centros de Saude and a trip to the wrong IMT office before we arrived at the right office and spent the afternoon waiting for our numbers to be called. (It reminded me of the afterlife waiting room scene in the movie Beetlejuice.)  Happily, though we spent the day from 9-5 between the health office and the IMT offices, we made it on the last day of the deadline! Whew! Got ‘er done. I guess long waits at the DMV are universal.  

Now, theoretically, we should be Portuguese bureaucracy home free until next June when we will have to renew our resident visas again.  It has certainly been an adventure. 

Festival Season.

Portugal has officially entered festival season!  P-A-R-T-Y, because we gotta!  The Porto International Craft Beer Festival kicked it off for us.  Craft beer in Portugal is just starting to take off , which is a bonus for veteran beer geeks like ourselves.  As much as wine is usually my first drink of choice, it is great to have a good beer occasionally. And when I say a good beer, I don’t mean some fruit flavored concoction the likes of which are so popular in the states.

The Porto beer fest is the biggest artisanal beer festival in Europe, with 47 breweries and 368 beers to try and, they do it right here.  It runs over four days and there are lots of food trucks to choose from for having a nosh to pair with the beers.  You pay 4 Euros for a glass and purchase tokens for beer samples.  You can come and go as you please over the four days. 

This eliminates the insanity that is seen at the GABF.  Huge mobs of drunken hooligans in Denver for three days trying to sample 3,000 beers in one day because the tickets are so expensive ($70-85) with no real food.  The Great American Beer Festival was fun 15-20 years ago before it became such a behemoth scene.  It is so American; take everything to the extreme and charge as much as possible.

We tried some excellent brews from Portugal, Spain, Estonia, and the Netherlands, to name a few.  There was even a couple from the US, Sierra Nevada, and Kona Brewing.  There was also a nice Spanish whiskey and coffee liquor to sample from Yria out of Madrid, Spain.  Their beers were great as well, and they had a delicious mead made with cherries.   

Yria Whiskey and Coffee Liquor

For food there were delicious empanadas, prosciutto-like ham and Serra de Estrela Portuguese cheese sandwiches. All were outstanding. Also, several different kinds of burger trucks, crepes, sweet and savory, and a tasty doughnut-like cake from the Algarve. They were dangerously delicious.  There were even several vegetarian offerings.  Yes, all in all, the event was a taste-treat sensation. We will certainly plan to attend the Porto beer fest again next year.

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 the 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? 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 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 a 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. 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.  If only we actually owned anything worth the $9k 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 the city of Porto. Gaia is 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 and 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.

In the it’s a wacky world department, 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. It has an ear of corn and strawberries in its coat of arms.  And yes, they are delicious, the strawberries, that is!

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!

4 Caminhos Brazilian Steakhouse. Yum!
Senhor de Pedra Chapel

Bairra is a tiny hole in the wall owned by a local celebrity chef, Pedro Sanches.  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!

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 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!

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

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