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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
After traveling 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 NIF 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 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 ex-pats, 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. They told me that I would need a reference in Portugal and an address there before they could issue me a 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.
Over the next few days, I looked at three listings. The first was in a neighborhood in Porto called Casa da Musica. Which is where the concert hall of the same name is located. 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.)
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 aging. 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 wallpaper 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 worked in real estate myself for many years, I 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.
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 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.