Sunday, December 23, 2018

Our Year In Review.....Feliz Natal....

This is actually our second Christmas in Portugal, even though we just moved here four months ago. If you remember, last Christmas was spent doing a house sit about two hours north of here, near the city of Castelo Branco. It was during that time that we first set eyes on this gorgeous country, talked to other foreigners who had settled here, and began seriously thinking about establishing a home base here.

Algarve, Portugal

After Christmas we headed to Munich, Germany where we welcomed in the New Year partying with the Germans. Our temporary home was located smack in the middle of the best part of Munich, where we cared for two darling dogs. With a free car to use we were able to explore numerous German towns that were just dripping with Bavarian charm.

The Glockenspiel in Munich, Germany

From there we headed to India where we had booked a 10 day tour of the Golden Triangle. We visited New and old Delhi, Rajasthan, Jaipur and Agra where we delighted at the sights of the Taj Mahal. A world like no other we had seen, with smog, food and water that could kill us, we were way out of our comfort zone, but loved every minute of it.

The Taj Mahal

Then it was a long-haul, twenty hour flight from New Delhi, India to Panama City, Panama to visit the place we once called home. Our six-week vacation in Panama would allow us to visit old friends. Another perk is because we already had residency in Panama, we would be allowed to apply for residency in Portugal at the consulate there, instead of going back to the US to start the process.

Coronado, Panama

From Panama we headed to El Paso, Texas for a family wedding, and to visit our kids and other family members. A side trek to the Grand Canyon in Arizona and New Mexico was a nice break also before flying onto other adventures.

Clyde's son Cobey and his wife in the middle
Clyde's sister Donna, and her husband on the right

Grand Canyon, Arizona

White Sands, New Mexico

From Texas we flew to New Jersey, where I spent the first 19 years of my life. There we visited my sister and friends before heading back to Europe.

Terry and her sister, Maryann

New York Skyline in the background

Back in Europe we landed at our next house sit in Belgium, a country we had long been wanting to visit. The tiny country exceeded our expectations with great people, food, and plenty to do and see. Besides seeing much of Belgium we explored the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Austria, Germany and more. And since we just happened to be there in April during tulip time, we were lucky enough to explore the massive fields of tulips that went on for miles.


Holland Windmill, Netherlands


Our next destination was Mombasa, Kenya where we would spend the next six weeks. This was a place I had wanted to visit for many years, and was thrilled to have the opportunity to finally get there. Since we landed a five week house sit in the town of Mtwapa, I convinced Clyde that we must do a safari and game drive while there. With a private guide we toured Tsavo East and West National Parks along with Amboseli. For five days we stood in an open top van while viewing lions, giraffe's, elephants, antelope, hippos, water buffalo, and more roaming freely in their natural habitat. Wow....was all we could say! There we stayed in lovely lodges where wild animals roamed freely beneath us and even a tented hotel, where we were instructed not to go out at night. Since there was a lake full of hippos nearby, and hippos come out at night, we could not leave our tent until daylight.

On Safari!

After our safari our house sit proved to be yet another adventure of being way out of our comfort zone. While there were no domestic animals to care for, there were packs of wild monkeys that came around several times daily to entertain us. They climbed on the side of the house, the terraces and even peeked in the windows, apparently as fascinated with us as we were with them.

Our Evening Entertainment

Next we revisited an old favorite and repeated a house sit in El Gouna, Egypt. Our home was a large villa with a pool, on a beach that lead to the Red Sea. Although we arrived safely my two suitcases DID NOT! Egypt Airlines managed to lose my luggage and was totally unresponsive in answering the phone, emails or any other form of communication. It took one week to locate the first bag, which according to the tags on it had been around the world and back. The second bag remained lost for a total of three weeks and ended up being in Cairo Airport the entire time. Still to this day I have NOT received any compensation from the airline for clothing and other necessary items that we had to buy while waiting for my luggage. We have even hired a third-party company that is taking Egypt Airlines to court over the issue, but still have heard nothing in several months.

Egypt House Sit

We left Egypt in August and landed in Portugal to begin our new lives here. Our new home is located near the city of Caldas da Rainha, about one hour north of Lisbon. The house we are renting has three bedrooms and one bath, a large balcony, private courtyard and stunning views of the countryside. And the best part is we pay only 350 euros ($400) per month.

Our New HOME in Porugal

One of the major reasons that Clyde wanted to settle in Portugal was for the healthcare. As residents we can access their National Healthcare System for little to no money. But like most public healthcare the wait times are long and doctors are few so we choose to go private. Even private healthcare is cheap here and we can see a doctor for just 40 euros. We have private healthcare for just 250 euros per month, for the two of us. It covers us at 90% if the doctor is in network, and 80% if they are not. We have used doctors here and the care is wonderful and they all speak English. Clyde's cardiologist even uses the same gym that we do so we see him every morning.

Our mornings are spent in the gym and in the afternoons we study Portuguese, a difficult language to master. There are numerous events going on in and around Caldas and we have already met so many people here. We are SO much more involved with the community here than we were in Panama and even have Portuguese friends.

We are involved with a private language teacher and do a weekly Skype lesson, along with weekly self study lessons from her. A local woman has started an informal conversation group that we attend as a way to allow ourselves more time to practice.

There is a weekly bowling night of mostly British expats that we enjoyed which even includes dinner for just 15 euros a person. There is a monthly night of 60's and 70's soul music, dancing and dinner for the same price. There are expat mixers, luncheons, walking groups, and women's socials just to name a few of the many things offered here.

We have friends from all over the world and are loving our new lives here. The weather is mild, with lows around 45 and highs around 60 during the day. But Portugal is damp which makes it feel cooler. And since buildings here have no insulation, the outside temperatures are actually warmer than inside the house. Yet we still love our rental house that offers us spectacular views of lush, green rolling hills, with few neighbors and easy access to the city and all that it has to offer. There are plenty of stores here, restaurants, gyms, clinics, produce markets, and a weekly market that sells just about everything.

It's amazing to think that we actually live in Europe now and are speaking Portuguese, although not perfectly. The Portuguese people are friendly, caring and will go way out of their way to help just about anyone. Many of them do speak at least some English, which has made the transition much easier.

From our corner of the world to yours, we wish you all Feliz Natal e Feliz Ano Novo de Portugal.....along the gringo trail.


Thursday, December 6, 2018

Another Day, Another Castle.......Oh My!

After our amazing visit to Fatima we followed signs to find yet another of Portugal's many castles in the village of Ourem (or-ahegn). The medieval little village with it's cobblestoned, narrow streets, tiny churches, and hilltop castle was just dripping with Portuguese charm. But since all castles sit high up overlooking the city that they were put there to protect, this one was no exception.

After finding a place to park the car we headed out and up the long, steep hill. Unlike the hoards of people in nearby Fatima, we had this tiny hamlet all to ourselves. With its compact structure and two towers it offered a modern active defense system that protected against enemy fire.
Behind the towers sits a palace that was used by the Count as his home. Nearby the newer structure sits a 12th century castle called, "Abdegas," which was also the ancient name of the settlement.

While the Castle of Ourem was not one of the prettiest we've seen, it was nearby, free and not packed with tourists. Just another exciting day of exploring Portugal......along the gringo trail.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Hunting Down Dinosaurs......In Portugal.....

Recently I blogged about apparitions said to have taken place in the historic village of Fatima, Portugal. For those of you that don't believe in sightings of the Virgin Mary, perhaps you will be more inclined to join us as we track down DINOSAURS?

Dinosaurs? Really? Here in Portugal? Who knew? Certainly, not us! On our way back to the house, not far from the village of Fatima, I noticed a sign, which of course was in Portuguese. It said something to the effect of dinosaur footprints, from what we could figure so we followed it to see what was there.

Here is the video of our trip

Out in the middle of nowhere was the entrance, marked by a giant statue of a dinosaur. We paid our 3 euros each and were guided through the building to a path. For the next 45 minutes to an hour we followed the rocky path until what appeared in the middle was an area encircled in rope. Once we reached the end of the path we walked down onto the smooth rock surface and literally walked next to over 200 preserved tracks from real dinosaurs that lived here some 175 million years ago. Wow!

According to a Portuguese paleontologist named Vanda Santos, "It's as if the tracks are fresh, like the animals just passed by." The footprints form at least 15 tracks, two of which are more than 140 meters long. The longest track has some 90 footprints. Add to this the 141 meter track discovered near Lisbon a few years back and they make Portugal one of the worlds most concentrated areas of fossilized dinosaur footprints in the world.

While we know that Europe is old, we had no idea it existed some 180 million years ago!

The tracks consist of the longest and oldest sauropod tracks anywhere in the world, that has been discovered. The sauropods were quadruped herbivorous dinosaurs with small heads and long necks and tails. They are some of the largest animals that ever lived on the planet.

So once again by taking the road less travelled we discovered something new and exciting that happened oh so many years ago......along the gringo trail.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Miracle Of Fatima.....In Portugal.....

Many of you have inquired as to why I have not been blogging about our new life in Portugal like I did when we first landed in Panama seven years earlier? When we first settled in Panama everything was new and exciting, from going to the grocery store to the tropical sights all around us. But now that we have been living in Europe for the past two years during our house sitting adventures, things here have become normal, and don't seem worth writing about. Perhaps it's because we have become so well traveled that the new and unusual have become routine?

But to sum it up our daily lives here include spending a few hours in the gym, five days per week followed by studying Portuguese every afternoon. Our studies begin on Monday with a self study pack from our teacher, then on Tuesday she sends us material for our lesson on Wednesday. On Thursday we attend a conversation group created by a local woman for foreigners to give us a place to practice chatting. Every morning while at the gym we chat with those around us in Portuguese too. I train with a personal trainer two times per week and have asked her to speak to me only in Portuguese for more practice, and even take a group exercise class where no English is spoken.

Portuguese is a difficult language to learn but since we chose to move here we feel it's our responsibility to learn the language of our newly adopted country.

Last weekend to break out of our normal routine, Clyde suggested we take a road trip to the village of Fatima. Just a one-hour drive from where we live, this once sleepy, unknown village is now visited by millions of people from around the world.

Check Out the Video Above

Having grown up Catholic, I had heard of Our Lady of Fatima through the years, but had absolutely no idea that the miracle happened in some unknown place called Portugal, that I would someday call home.

According to legend, it was in May of 1917 when three shepherd children, Lucinda, age 10 and her two cousins, Jacinta age 7 and Francisco, age 9, claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary.The oldest child, Lucinda was the only one that spoke to Mary, who told them that she would appear to them on the 13th day of the month for the next six months. The children told their parents and others about the apparition and while some people in the village believed them, others did not. But as word spread more believers visited the village, until the final sighting on October, 13, 1917 where over 70,000 were in attendance.

Mary told the children there should be a chapel built on the site where she appeared, along with predicting the end of World War I. Lucinda was informed by Mary that she would need to take the other two children soon to heaven, but that she herself would remain on earth to teach people about the Virgin Mary. Lucinda entered a convent and lived a religious life until the age of 96, and was later canonized into sainthood.

While we had no idea what to expect in Fatima, we were both touched and rather impressed. Just the shear magnitude of the plaza surrounding the religious complex was awesome. Our first stop was the Basilica Of Our Lady of the Rosary. As we entered this grand scale church there was a service in progress with a priest chanting in Portuguese prayer. The altar was topped with a realistic painting of Mary with the children. Tears filled my eyes as I suddenly realized how special this place was to so many believers. We sat down for a bit to take it all in before heading back outside to the hoards of people.

Nearby was an open air building packed with people looking and listening to yet another service being held in Portuguese. From what I could see in the distance was the statue of the Virgin Mary enclosed in glass. As I unfolded my brochure of the complex to see what this was, I realized that this very spot was the Chapel of the Apparitions that Mary instructed the children to have built in memory of her. The statue of Mary that the crowd was praying to was the exact spot where Mary was said to have appeared to the children.

Just then I noticed a man on his knees literally crawling down a pathway as he was holding a small child. Soon I realized that other people were also doing penance, crawling on their knees to the shrine. Each year thousands of people make this pilgrimage, most on foot from various parts of Portugal to the world-famous shrine. Wow!

On one end of the massive plaza was a tall cross known as The High Cross. In the middle of the plaza was a set of stairs that rose to a platform high into the sky. From the platform a priest or even The Pope himself could preach to nearly 100,000 people on any given day.

Clyde and I have visited the Vatican in Rome and even toured Jerusalem, Bethlehem and other parts of the Holy Land in Israel, yet this place still impressed us.

Opposite the ornate church sat an ultra, modern Basilica of the Holy Spirit. Although not as pretty as the older building, the inside of the basilica was more like a football stadium that could sit 9,000 people. Between the massive size of the basilica and the thousands of seats outside on the plaza we knew this place could host hundreds of thousands of people who came hoping for a miracle.

The air was filled with smoke and the smell of melting wax filled our nostrils. A line of people snaked through the plaza, each and every one holding armfuls of golden candles. They faced an open fire pit where golden flames shined brightly. Clyde went to purchase some candles for us to add to the fire along with our prayers. While most people were tossing 4 foot candles into the raging flames others were gently placing smaller tapers into holders that sat perched in front of the fires.

During our travels around the world we have encountered various religions, and to our amazement ALL attest to Mary as being the Mother of God, and she has a special place in the hearts of SO many.

Whether you believe in the miracle of the apparitions at Fatima or not is up to you, but we felt the energy and enjoyed our experience there. From the mouths of innocent children, this unknown village gained worldwide fame as believers from around the globe made the trek there to experience the miracle. There are so many beautiful, fascinating and extraordinary places that we have yet to visit here in Portugal.....along the gringo trail.

Life In Portugal....At A Snails Pace....

Yesterday was just another day in Portugal when my dear husband Clyde said he was going to run to the pharmacy for a few things. Time passed...