Tuesday, October 9, 2018

How Our Life In Portugal Is Shaping Up.......

It has been two months now since we planted our feet in Portugal with no further travel on our schedule for a while. Our days have been spent getting settled into our new rental house, working out at a nearby gym, and enjoying our new lives.

Here is a video that Clyde has done on one of our adventures.  
Exploring the streets of Monsanto, Portugal

There is the stress associated with the residency process, which we knew was a given, since we had been through a similar process in Panama. There are appointments with the local government offices that issue resident permits, tons of paperwork being sent back and forth from here to the US, and lots of headaches. Someday it will all be behind us, but for now it seems like that "someday" will never come.

For the past two years when we were traveling fulltime people would often ask us, "what do you miss most about not having a home base?" My answer was always, "the gym." I missed my workouts, my tight abs, toned arms and sexy muscles that made it easy to stand, sit, and function in everyday life.

Then last year I was diagnosed with osteoporosis in my left hip after my last bone density test was done in Spain. My hips hurt when I climbed stairs and my legs ached when I tried to sleep at night. Clyde was feeling the pains of aging also as he continually groaned whenever he would get up or move. Like they say, "if you don't use it you lose it, " and that applies to muscle as we get older.

When I looked in the mirror I no longer liked the person that looked back. Instead of the fit, strong woman that I once was I saw a hunched over, flabby, old lady. I was no longer that dedicated, body builder who was in the gym at 5 in the morning when they first opened up. And Clyde no longer had a house on a large piece of land, like in Panama to keep him in shape.

Something needed to be done and since we are somewhat settled here, we both thought it was essential that we find a gym and start working out again. The town that we live in has 4 or 5 gyms of varying sizes and equipment, so we toured several before deciding which one was right for us.

Being a former gym rat, I have noticed some differences between US gyms and the one here. While Portuguese women do lift weights they tend to be thin with long, lean muscle. American women like myself want to see shapely muscles as a sign that we are fit and strong. Even most of the men here are not huge, bulky, body builders like many I saw in the US gyms. But chatting to my personal trainer she said it's a different way of thinking. Here, they are more concerned with health and well being and not so much about the size of ones biceps. And they think that all Americans that lift weight take muscle enhancing drugs to achieve that bulky, muscular look. I did dispel that fact that it is not the norm.

As Americans we always heard about the healthy Mediterranean Diet along with the fit lifestyles of the European people as a whole. It's now been over two years that we have been living in various European countries and have the proof to share with you all.

Vegetables, fruit, and fish are abundant throughout Europe and more affordable than they ever were in the US. But Europeans do love bread which is commonly eaten with most meals. Add to that the double carbohydrates, rice and potatoes are served with most restaurant meals here.Not to mention wine which literally costs way less then water. Europeans also eat dinner late in the evening, typically between 8 and 10pm probably due to the fact that they work later than a typical 9-5 workday. And every community has a bakery that is the heart of the community where people meet to socialize on a regular basis.

So just like everywhere, there are people that frequent gyms and avoid the bad foods, and there are those that eat tons of carbs and live a more sedentary lifestyle. Throughout Europe and the United Kingdom though, people do love to walk and do much more of it than us Americans. Perhaps that helps to keep Europeans more fit than their American counterparts?

In our spare time we do manage to get out and explore this gorgeous country that we now get to call home. Everywhere we look there are villages, cities and ancient ruins to visit. The highways here are smooth, wide and easy to navigate although pricey since many roads have imposed tolls. But that is the price we pay for modern infrastructure

Shopping is varied from small markets in the village squares to mega shopping malls with brand names and prices to match. Sizing is a bit strange and something that I will have to get used to. For the ladies, bra sizes run in the 90's to 100's with similar cup sizes as the US. Instead of looking for 34 or 36 C, here there are sizes like 95C. Pants sizes are strange also and are listed with number sizing that does NOT coordinate to one's waist size. Sizes like 36, or 40 coordinate to US sizes of 6 or 10 in misses. Shoe sizes we had become accustomed to while living in Panama since they used European sizes there. Instead of wearing a size 8 someone here would wear a size 38 to confuse things even more.

Time is spoken as the 24-hour clock or "military time" as many of us have come to know it. When asked to meet at 1300 that translates to 1pm for the rest of us. And the metric system is used throughout the world, with the exception of the US. Yet still we convert numbers in our head each time we see them. "What's the temperature today," Clyde might ask? I answer by saying it's 15 which converts to 60.

But the most confusing change for us is to write the date which is written as day/month/year and screws with my head each and every time. Again, the stubborn US seems to be the ONLY country in the entire world that writes it as month/day/and year.

Then there is the confusing language that we are learning called European Portuguese. In Portuguese a dog is a "cao" pronounced, "cow,".....the word for "pull," is, "puxar," pronounced, "pushar," just to name a few. The days of the week are numbered according to "market" days. There is "segunda feira," second market day, "terca feira," third market day and so on. And many of the vowels are "swallowed" as they say or just thrown out the window. Whenever the letter "m" is last it is never pronounced as an, "m" but is instead a nasal sound that sounds more like "n". Our language teacher tells us that the best way to pronounce a nasal sound is to smile. Apparently by keeping ones mouth mostly closed is the best way to speak European Portuguese, which works for me. Perhaps I should just shut my mouth all the time and be thankful that so many Portuguese people speak English?

Regardless of our woes, we are loving our new life in Portugal. We are making friends, finding our way around and giving thanks that we have chosen this as our new adopted country to brag about......along the gringo trail.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Our New Life In Portugal.....Living As Europeans.....

The past few weeks here have whizzed by making us feel like spinning tops, whirling around at excessive speeds only to topple over at the end of the day when the twirling stopped. The internet at our rent house was just connected a few days ago, so we have felt a bit disconnected from the rest of the world, even with our phones connected.

Saturday made it one week since we settled into our rented house and met our Portuguese landlady. Thankfully, the property manager was there to introduce us to her and help translate, since the homeowner speaks NO English. We are renting the upstairs of a two story house near the town of Caldas da Rainha, which literally means, "the queens hot springs."

As the story goes, Queen Leonore was travelling through the area when she noticed some pheasants bathing in foul smelling waters near the roadside. She questioned why they would be soaking in such nasty liquid and was told of the miraculous, healing powers of the enchanting waters. The Queen tried the waters for herself and was SO impressed by the results that she ordered a hospital to be built around the waters, so that many people could benefit from its powers. The town of Caldas da Rainha was literally built around those thermal springs and that hospital is still a vital part of the community today.

Located about an hour north of Lisbon, the town has it's cobblestoned downtown area that is so quintessentially European, along with a modern 3-story mall,  giving us the best of both worlds. Caldas da Rainha sees only the occasional tourist pass through it's streets, and is home to a small expat community who share the area with many locals. All Portuguese towns are sectioned off into several smaller areas called, "freguesias," so we actually live in an area called, "Casal do Cozinheiro," about a ten minute drive from downtown Caldas.

Meanwhile back at the house we attempted to chat with our landlady, a sweet, red-haired lady who works as a nurse in a Lisbon hospital. She lives full time in Lisbon, and only comes to this house for the occasional holiday. When she is here she will live next door, in the attached house, so there will be plenty of privacy for both us and her.

In order to help us settle in she stayed here for three days, hiring a parade of workers to come and go from our house. First she had someone bring in a refrigerator and the following day workers came to check all of the doors and windows for proper working order. Since the house has never been rented before and had been sitting vacant for a long time, this all was necessary. She even had new pulls put onto every cabinet and drawer in the kitchen along with new hinges to ensure proper working order.

A few days later a washing machine showed up and later was installed along with having work done on the old dishwasher. The first wash cycle of clothes did not go well, and in fact caused a small flood in the laundry room. Our dear landlady took our clothes back to her house and washed them in her washer. A few days later when the washer was still not running properly, she insisted on leaving her door unlocked so that we could do laundry in her house while she was gone. And to think that we just met this woman and she was going out of her way to accommodate us.

Thankfully, before she left the washer was up and running properly. Clyde went downstairs to talk to her before she left and came back with a huge basket full of grapes and tomatoes from her garden. She gave us strict orders to help ourselves to anything growing in her garden while she was gone, otherwise it will just to go waste.

We could not have wished for a better place to live and are so happy that we landed here. This house is old but full of antiques and old collectibles that are free for us to enjoy. What fun it was to "shop" for free in all parts of the house, moving around decorations and furniture to suit our needs. And besides the beautiful inside we have a garden and backyard to enjoy that even comes complete with a barbeque.

A few days later another worker showed up to fix the dishwasher, that according to the homeowner never worked. While he did manage to get it running and all seemed good, the next morning we woke up to find that the dishwasher did not drain, and was full of water. Another call to the homeowner via the property manager, and today we were told that on Thursday a brand new dishwasher is being delivered and installed. Wow!

Our house even comes with fresh, baked bread delivered right to our door every morning, if we desire? And we were told that once the man knows what we want he will leave it on our doorstep, so we don't even have to be out there waiting. This is where I had to put my foot down and say NO to Clyde who was all for this little perk. Europeans LOVE bread and it's really cheap here which makes it hard to say no.

Although the house is furnished with plenty of pots, pans, glassware and other stuff, we did make several trips to the store to pick up things that were missing. I insisted on new sheets, towels, pillows and one thing lead to another, and before we knew it we were the owners of plenty of new stuff.

And within a few nights of sleeping on this tiny, double bed that measures only 135 centimeters in width, we realized that it would just not do. Another trip into downtown Caldas da Rainha to look for a store that sells mattresses, and one that would deliver to the house. As promised the store owner said the bed would be delivered on Tuesday at 2pm, and like clockwork there he was on our doorstep.

As he and another man attempted to bring the base of the bed up that sixteen stairs into the house, I heard him say to Clyde, "sorry, but it will not go." What, I thought? That is NOT an option and there must be a way to get it up here?

Since it was a warm day we had the balcony doors open to let in the fresh air. The balcony is off the living room and looks out onto the front of the house, right above where the van with our new bed was parked. Clyde suggested to the men that they push the base up onto the balcony from outside. Both men pushed it up to the balcony while Clyde and I hung onto it from above. Then one man raced up the stairs, grabbed the end that I was holding and the three men pushed, and pulled the thing up onto the balcony and eventually through the house and into the bedroom.

Throughout Europe, many of the houses feature hooks that hang from the roofs of the houses for this exact reason. Oftentimes furniture needs to be lifted into the house via the windows or balcony doors, and today we witnessed that very thing.

This was the bed that came with the house
much too small for us!

Here is the bed we splurged on
I don't know if you can tell, but it is much wider!

To get around we would need to buy a car and since we plan to drive into other European countries, a newer model was necessary. With the advice of a friend and much research on Clyde's part, we choose a 2014 Renault Clio Diesel. The Clio diesel will get about 60 miles per gallon and since diesel costs around 80 cents less per gallon than gasoline, it's very cost efficient. Most of the cars here run on "gasoleo," which is the word for diesel in Portuguese.

Moving to Portugal was WAY easier than moving to Panama was. The Portuguese people are kind and hard working, service workers show up on time and get the job done quickly, and many of the locals speak English. And what a nice surprise to discover that television programming is mostly in English with Portuguese subtitles. Even the movie theaters here show English films with Portuguese subtitles at a cost of 4 euros per movie.

I have to admit that I was not too happy about coming here since for me it meant settling down into a normal, boring life again. Clyde wanted to come here for the good, affordable healthcare and by having residency here it will allow us to stay in Europe long term. But since we have been here I have to say that I really like it. The house, the town, making friends, and still begin able to travel will be wonderful. The best part is by having a home base we NO longer have to travel with everything that we own. We will be able to pack one small suitcase and go.

Today we tried out the bus system since we needed to return the rental car to a drop off point near Lisbon Airport. Instead of driving both cars into Lisbon, we parked the Clio in Caldas and drove the  rental car to the drop off spot. From there we ordered an Uber taxi to take us to the main bus terminal in Lisbon, at a cost of 7 euros. From there we bought two bus tickets on the Expresso Bus back to Caldas da Rainha, at a cost of 8 euros each for the one hour ride. The bus was plush and modern and even offered an on board bathroom. A stress free ride back for Clyde and a bit of nap time for me.

Life in Europe is rather different than life in the US in many ways. Cars all come with standard transmissions, clothes dryers are nowhere to be found, refrigerators are tiny so many things are stored in the pantry and wine is cheaper to buy than water. Coffee is served everywhere in itsy, bitsy cups that look more like a shot glass than a coffee cup. We order,"cafe Americano," which is served in a 6 ounce cup that sells for the low price of 40 to 60 cents per cup! Aside from the price of gasoline or diesel, electricity, and the price to buy a car, everything else is cheaper here, and that is precisely why we are here.

We are loving life in Portugal, learning to live as Europeans and looking forward to more adventures.....along the gringo trail.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Our New Home In Portugal......The Decision Has Been Made....

Sometimes we just have to believe that something out there that is greater than us will lead us in the right direction and help us make the right decision. This was the case in finding a place to live here in Portugal. While we had decided that we wanted to live in a town not in the country, in an apartment not a house and in certain towns that seemed to have no available rentals, the universe had other ideas.

We literally sent out over 80 inquiries, in Portuguese, that we found on websites along with texts to match, and only received maybe 8 to 10 replies back. Some of those replies said the apartment had already been rented, another specified that he wanted longer than a one year contract signed, and still others did not offer what we needed.

Then one day out of the blue a female real estate agent named Celia called Clyde's cell phone asking us to come into her office so she could show us what she had available to rent. At the time we were looking in towns other than where she was, but explained that when we were in her area we would be in touch. Since we are renting in the Algarve Region of the country, she was a good 4 hour drive or more from where we were, so we could not meet with her until we were closer.

Frustrated by the lack of response on rentals I had the bright idea to look for a short-term rental in Central Portugal, closer to the towns that we wanted to live in. This would give us a chance to talk to agents, contact people through ads and hopefully get to see some available rentals.

What I found was a $35 a night, four-bedroom apartment in the town of Alcobaca. Here we could cook some meals in the apartment and explore areas of interest to us. When we arrived we were greeted by two gentleman, a father and son who showed us to the house. The apartment was in the basement of a house under renovation, attached to several other houses in the same state of disarray. One man spoke good English while the older gentleman did not speak any. Once inside we were shocked and realized that we were definitely in REAL Portugal now. The kitchen is tiny with the remains of an old fireplace over the stove that hangs down so low that even I can bump my head on it. The bathroom is an adequate size and the rest of the apartment is JUST rooms with small beds in them. Because it's a basement apartment it's colder than outside each time we walk in.  But the good news about this place is that everything is new, so it's clean, and it has WIFI and free parking nearby.

Is This Thing A Hazard Or What?
This Is The Cheap Temporary Rental Apartment

Back to the apartment hunt, our plan was to contact Celia the day after arriving here to meet with her and see if she could help us find a place to live. Clyde looked through his notes and phone and could not figure out which phone number was hers, so we could not call her. We gave up on that idea and decided to head into the town of Caldas da Rainha, since we had heard it might be a place we'd want to live.

While driving down the highway Clyde's phone rang and he handed it to me to answer. It was Celia who said, "I have been waiting to hear from you since you said you would call me when you were in this area." She said she could meet with us later that afternoon and said she would call us around 1pm when she was free.

Once inside the town of Caldas da Rainha, which literally means, "queen's hot springs," we drove around admiring the small city. Just then Clyde's phone rang again and it was another gentleman offering to show us an apartment. First we said no since we had the appointment with Celia, but later called the man back to see the apartment. We found the building and waited inside the lobby until 2pm but the man never showed up. Frustrated we went back to the car to call Celia who was an hour late calling us back.

When Clyde asked Celia where her office was, coincidentally, her office was right down the street from where we were parked. It was so close that we could see it from where we were parked, so we hopped out of the car to go meet with her. Inside her office we were greeted by a young, red-haired woman who spoke good English and began telling us what she had to offer. Not an apartment but a private home in the country, about a ten minute drive from the center of Caldas da Reinha. The house is fully furnished and we could rent it for 350 euros ($400) per month. She showed us photos on her computer and we agreed to follow her in our car to see the house.

We followed her for what seemed like an eternity (only 10 minutes), down winding roads, past cornfields, lush farmland, orchards and through little villages that dripped with European charm. And finally she pulled up alongside a house that sat not far from the road.

Just then I yelled out to Clyde, "this is that house we tried to find that day!" Oh My Gosh.....maybe this IS meant to be? It's a sign!

The Outside....Notice The Windows That Lead To Another House Where The Owner Stays When She Is Here

Soon after arriving in Portugal Clyde and I had to meet with our lawyer in Lisbon to work on our residency visa. Afterwards, we went out exploring an hour or so from Lisbon, since that is the area we were hoping to live. I was looking online for apartments and sending out emails in Portuguese assuming that people would call us back and we could go look at some places. Up popped a photo of a villa for rent, and since it was nearby we put the address into google maps to go find it and at least see it from the outside.

But sometimes the google maps lady leads us astray, and try as we may we could NOT find the house and finally gave up. The house featured an unusual exterior that I could not forget, so when we came to a stop in front of the same house behind Celia, I was shocked.

Most houses in Portugal are white in color with orange, tiled roofs, but this house was different. It stood out among the others in the neighborhood, with its black and white bricked fa├žade, tiled courtyard that was accented by plants and a tree. It was ever so inviting with its cute curb appeal and looked like the type of place that had been well cared for.

And here we were about to go into this house that could be our new home! WOW!

Inside we were greeted by a staircase that sat in the middle of a spacious entryway. Celia explained, there was a garage and bedroom on the bottom floor. On the rare occasion that the homeowner, a single female who worked as a nurse in Lisbon was there, she would live in the downstairs bedroom. It offered a separate entrance from the outside along with a house attached to the main house, so we would never have to see each other. Upstairs were 3 bedrooms, one large bathroom,  a large eat-in kitchen with pantry, formal dining room and living room combination with a huge fireplace, a long balcony, corner bar for entertaining, a gorgeous tiered ceiling trimmed with crown molding.

The Entryway....Red Fabric Protecting The Rug Runners On The Steps

We could describe our new home as "Antiqure Elegane in an Almost New Conditions".  The furnishings were incredible and the walls were painted bright colors that coordinated with the Portuguese tile on the floors and walls. This place was truly like a museum filled with antique furnishings, decorations, and radiant elegance. And it comes complete with pots and pans, dishes, glassware, appliances and more.

Old Time Bar In The Corner

Nic Nacs Everywhere

Lovely Fire Place In Living Room

Formal Dining Room

Love The Ceiling In Living Dining Area

While Clyde was chatting with Celia and the caretaker I plopped down on the couch and immediately felt at home.

Kitchen, Laundry Room In Distance, Pantry To The Right

Eat In Kitchen, Door Leads Out To Yard
That Is Yellow Fabric Protecting The Area Rug Underneath

 I cornered Clyde to ask what he thought and all he could say was, wow! We were amazed that we could live in this nice of a house, with so much stuff, for just 350 euros, or $400 US. We had found our new home!

Today we met with Celia again to sign a contract to rent the house for our first year. She said the owner was delighted to hear about us and even said she would give us the WIFI code for the house, so no need to sign up for internet. We have discussed rearranging some of the furniture which we were told was just fine. Not to mention that there is a garage FULL of other furniture, decorations and plenty more stuff just in case we need something else.


Funky Lime Green Bathroom....Lots Of Portuguese Tile
and she has a bidet!

When we first started talking about renting in Portugal we decided on a budget of 300 to 500 euros per month. While we can afford to spend more we do still want to travel and by spending less on rent and monthly expenses we will have more money available to explore this wonderful world in which we live.


After our meeting with Celia we went to look at the house again and were even more impressed with it the second time around.

Back Yard

Views From The back Of the House

Earlier in the day we met with another American expat who lives in Caldas da Raina, only to discover there is a large expat community established there. How much fun it will be to make new friends, invite them over to our lovely new home and begin to enjoy our new life in Portugal......along the gringo trail.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Portugal....Why Are We Here Seeking Residency?

For those of us that travel the world, change is just part of our everyday lives. Each new country we visit or live in brings new challenges, new opportunities to grow and new wonders. On August 14th we landed in our second adopted country of residence, Portugal.

Market in Setubal

We smile in excitement each time we realize that we are not only visiting but we actually can say that we live in Europe. How cool is that!

Since we first settled in Panama eight years ago, we have learned a whole lot about living abroad, which is making this transition a bit easier. As I think back to those first few days in Panama when I was literally terrified to look at anyone, for fear that they would speak to me in Spanish. I walked around with my head hung low, hoping and praying that no one would see me. As the years went by and I learned more and more of the language, I welcomed the opportunity to chat with people in Spanish.

So here we are eight years later, learning European Portuguese, not to be confused with the Brazilian version which is different. The good news is that many of the words are similar or identical to Spanish, but the pronunciation is totally different. A few months ago we started learning European Portuguese while house sitting in Egypt, since we had plenty of time. And we have signed up for private lessons with a teacher here, along with online self study.

It is because we took the time to learn Spanish while living in Panama that our transition to learning Portuguese is so much easier. Even during our first few days here, I did not feel that same degree of panic that I had back then. All I needed to do was tell myself, "if you can say it in Spanish, then you can say it in Portuguese," and just alter the pronunciation a whole lot. All of the Portuguese people tell us that they understand Spanish but the Spaniards do not understand Portuguese.

Portuguese is a strange language where many of the s's take on a shhhh sound, and m's are nasal and sound like n's. Contractions are mandatory unlike in English where we can or can't use them, creating strange new words that are confusing to the learner. Vowels tend to be dropped unless they are stressed with accent marks or other symbols, that we have never seen before. The letter x is commonly used and can be pronounced in 5 or 6 different ways. Nao is "no" and "no" is a contraction meaning, "in the" which we continually read as NO and have to correct ourselves. When listening to the language we must realize that each word is NOT pronounced but instead strung together with others. Como estas , (how are you) becomes, com stash. Enough about the language.

Tuk Tuk Tour In Tomar

Why are we in Portugal seeking residency? Have we stopped traveling and are we settling down now? Not at all, but instead by having a home base here it will allow us to travel lighter, not taking all that we own everywhere we go in the world.

Roman Acuaducts, Tomar

Portugal is one of the safest countries in the world, with low-cost, excellent healthcare, a moderate climate, warm, welcoming people, first-world infrastructure and a low cost of living.  And it is one of the easiest countries in which to obtain residency in Europe that will allow us to use the public healthcare system free. And on top of that we can buy health insurance cheap that will also allow us to access private hospitals and doctors at a low prices.

City Of Tomar

But in order to fulfill our residency requirements, we do have to show proof that we are living here at least six months out of the year. The first part of our residency is only good for 4 months, then extends to one year. At the end of our first year we will have to extend it for another two years and so on. At the end of six years we can apply for a Portuguese passport, if we want to but that does require being able to speak and write in Portuguese since there is a test. We have hired a lawyer to help with the residency process although it's not necessary here, but easier. 

Santa Cruz

We are feeling a bit overwhelmed with other decisions that need to be made here, like where to live? Do we want to live in a city, small town, house, apartment, near the beach or inland?

When we moved to Panama we bought a house near a large expat community, hung out with other expats and English speakers, and only used Spanish when we really had to. We hope to do things differently the second time around.

Our goal is to rent a furnished apartment away from other expats, surrounded by non English speakers in order to force ourselves to get out there and speak the language. Because many Portuguese people do speak some English, we have to continually ask them, "fala Portuguese comigo, por favor," which means, speak Portuguese with me please.

A few months ago we rented a three bedroom condo in Tavira, the Algarve Region of the country for our first month here. Originally we thought that we might like to live in the Algarve because it's warmer in winter and has a large expat community of mostly British, so learning Portuguese is not necessary. But then we changed our minds.

Since we are planning to live in Central Portugal, this week we have rented a cheap, $35 a night, 4 bedroom apartment, in the city of Alcobaca. From here we will be closer to towns that we want to explore as possible locations in which to live. We are looking at fully furnished apartments with anywhere from 1 to 3 bedrooms for 300 to 550 euros per month.

Along with finding a place to live, we need to buy a car, do follow up appointments with our lawyer regarding our residency visa, open a bank account and so much more. So for now our travels will be exploring our new homeland and getting settled.

Until next time stay tuned for our adventures of life in Portugal......along the gringo trail.