Sunday, July 26, 2020

Portugal, The Next Chapter.....

After a long hiatus I decided to do a blog earlier this month about our first two years living in Portugal. But soon we will be moving onto the next chapter of our lives here, a move that takes us further south to Portugal's Algarve region.

A view of our new Home
Vila Bairos

Months of quarantine kept Clyde and I hanging out inside our rental house much of the time. Because we are both always cold we were looking forward to the hot days of summer. July came but still it was cold here on the Silver Coast. With temperatures in the low 60's at night and barely reaching mid 70's on a good day we were still chilly. Despite others posting photos of themselves being in swimming pools and on the beaches, we still kept heating the house with our pellet burner. Instead of dressing in shorts and flip flops we still wore long pants, long sleeves shirts and furry, winter slippers.

This is our second summer in Portugal and just like last year, this one seemed to offer us little to no hot weather. I began to keep an eye on the weather only to discover that everyone else in the country seemed to be enjoying the warm, lazy, hazy days of summer except for this area. Even way up north temperatures were warmer than here.

I badly needed and longed for some time in the sun. How I love to lay outside and feel my body bake under the warm, mid-day sun. Yes, I do realize that it's not healthy and am aware of the skin cancer risks, but a little Vitamin D is good for us and so I choose to indulge. Due to Covid we had not been traveling or going anywhere due to fear. Eventually I convinced Clyde to take a vacation to the Algarve region. I found a hotel online that boasted of the "clean and safe" seal. It meant they had been inspected and would adhere to special guidelines for sanitation. The list was posted on their website and I was so impressed, we decided it would be safe enough to venture out. And with tourism way down hotels all seemed to offer great deals to encourage people to visit.

We arrived to a nearly empty hotel where all staff wore masks, hand sanitizer was everywhere. Our ocean view room overlooked the expansive pool areas where we saw just one couple enjoying the sunshine.

The Pool, Notice it is empty

Over the next five days we drove around to explore the Algarve for a few hours every morning, then wasted away the afternoon hours poolside. The area offers a different kind of beauty than the central part of Portugal where we currently live. Here we enjoy vistas of green, lush rolling hills, farmland full of bountiful crops and charming stone buildings topped with orange tiled roofs. The Algarve features modern buildings, high rise housing complexes along the beaches, palm trees, water parks and typically would be filled with tourists in the summer. Temperatures are on the average 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than where we are living now in the Silver Coast.

Neat little area where there
were benches in the water
A "Swim up BarP"

We basked in the warm, dry weather and for the first time in two years, we were both warm. Clyde wore open toed shoes and shorts for the first time in years. I enjoyed putting on a summer dress and flip flops. The typical runny nose and post nasal drip from my allergies was gone and breathing for me was so much easier. Clyde seems to think because he has a very low blood pressure that his body cannot get warm. Perhaps it's because he has a pacemaker which keeps his heart at a steady beat of 60 beats per minute, his average blood pressure is 99/65/  Before his pacemaker, his normal heart was 40 beats per minute!  He got the pacemaker when we showed up at the hospital with a pulse of 15 in Spain. We did not even keep the air conditioner on inside of our hotel room because we enjoyed the feeling of heat so much. Instead we kept the sliding glass doors open and allowed the warm, sea breezes to blow inside.

Although we LOVE the area we currently live in, LOVE our rent house, LOVE our Portuguese landlady and LOVE the friends and activities we have come to enjoy here in Caldas da Rainha, we knew in order to be warm and happy, we would have to move south. Yes, it would cost more to live there, but what is the price of happiness?

Our Present Home

We decided to drive around to explore possible areas that we might want to live in, sometime in the future. Online we even viewed realtor websites to see just how expensive apartments would be down there to have an idea of prices. There was one apartment that popped up and seemed to speak to both of us. Although we were not ready to pick up and move anytime soon, we decided to make an appointment to see the apartment. While it looked perfect online the first thing we noticed upon arrival was that it offered absolutely NO heat or air conditioner. The property manager said she had another and we went to see that one too. Neither had what we wanted but later in the week a third one had everything on our list.

Buildings in Portugal are not insulated, windows are typically single panes of glass that offer no protection from heat and cold, and many offer no central heat. We knew in order to keep warm we needed to have a place with central heat, a newer, modern build with double glazed windows, and something much smaller that would be easy to heat and cool. If we had to live in an apartment complex we hoped for a small, quiet one and I was hoping for a pool. We needed two bedrooms, two bathrooms, parking and all of the modern conveniences. The Central Algarve appealed to us since it was close to an international airport, featured good hospitals and medical facilities, and we already had several friends that lived there.

Even though we were not really ready to make the move yet, when the right apartment found us we knew it was time to go.

But now came the hard part, the saying good bye to a house, area and people that we have come to know and love. First we would have to tell our landlady who we came to know and love, almost like family.

She has been absolutely wonderful to us from the first day she met us with double cheeked kisses. The challenge has been that she speaks no English, just Portuguese and French and upon arrival we spoke very little Portuguese. As our language skills improved we grew to know her a bit more, especially Clyde who challenged himself to chat with her in Portuguese. She lives and works in Lisbon and comes to stay at her house next door to ours for the occasional holiday. Often she would offer us tons of fruits and vegetables from her garden which we were encouraged to help ourselves to also. When we complained of the coldness in the house she offered to install a pellet stove, and Clyde offered to share the expense. The house is 40 years old and she also treated us to a brand new oven, stove and dishwasher during our time here. Through the years we have met her son and daughter, making her feel even more like a member of our family. We are so grateful for all that she has done for us and will truly miss her and this old house.

Before settling down in Portugal, those that follow this blog know that we were living as nomads for two full years. We left our home in Panama with two, carry-on sized suitcases each and traveled the world full time doing house and pet sitting. It was an easy transition to arrive here and put away the few things that we owned. But sadly, we went crazy once we settled in and began buying stuff. This week we purged, sold and gave away tons of stuff but still we had to hire a man with a van to help us move.

The sadness we both feel about leaving behind the house, friends and all that is familiar will soon be replaced by the excitement of beginning a new chapter in our lives. A new home, new friends to make and plenty of new areas to explore.

Our new home in the Central Algarve region is in Vilamoura, near the larger area of Quarteira. The nearby cities of Albufeira and Faro will provide us with plenty of shopping, medical facilities, an airport and more.
Part of the Vilamoura Beach

Vilamoura, considered to be the largest resort complex in all of Europe, boasts of beautiful, golden sandy beaches, world class golf courses, and one of the largest and prettiest marinas in the world. It was designed as an exclusive area that offers the best of everything for the rich and famous.

The Vilamoura Marina

Now where do we fit into to all of this? Since we are neither rich or famous? We just found an apartment that we liked and it just happened to be in Vilamoura. And the price was in line with others we'd seen elsewhere in towns that offered far less.

Nearby our apartment are manicured walking trails that go on forever, plenty of green spaces for relaxing, not to mention some of the most gorgeous beaches in the entire world. The Algarve has milder winters then the rest of Portugal, well over 300 days a year of sunshine, and some of the finest weather in all of Europe.

Our monthly rent will go from 350 euros per month to 850, but we will not be heating the place year round, so we will save money on pellets. We have been using three bags of pellets per day at a cost of 4 euros per bag. That's a total of 336 euros per month on average added to our rent now during the cold of the winter.. And although we are not using the stove all day in the summer, we still use it on occasion.

So as we bid farewell to the Silver Coast area of Portugal we look forward to our new life in the Algarve. Stay tuned for photos as we explore the new world of southern Portugal......along the gringo trail.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Our Lives in Portugal.....The Past Two Years

It's positively perplexing how we managed to complete TWO years already of living in Portugal. Time sure does evolve when enjoying life as Europeans in yet another adopted country of our choice.

Over the past two years we have learned lots, traveled a bit, made friends and struggled with yet another new language. As we settled into life here things that were new became old and I stopped blogging because I had nothing exciting to post. Our nomadic life of travel and adventure became a routine life of going to the gym, meeting with friends occasionally, a night of bowling and Portuguese lessons.

But due to blogs like this and travel or niche publications singing the praises of Portugal, people began to swarm here in droves. Perhaps that's exactly why I stopped blogging, because Portugal was receiving far too much publicity already. With somewhere around 500,000 foreigners already living here, from what I believe I read, do we really need any more? Ok I am not trying to be cynical here just giving my opinion, and using my poetic license so to speak.

It's exhausting to read the many expat boards on social media where thousands are dreaming of and longing for a new life, in the promised land. Almost as if the entire country of Portugal has this heavenly beacon of light radiating from it. A light so seemingly powerful with a seductive lure that pulls people into it's open arms.

The unknowing dreamers insist on houses with central heat, clothes dryers, window screens, no humidity or mould and refrigerators large enough to hide a body inside. They long to move here to utilize the public healthcare system which they think is free, but it's not.

For those who cannot live without the comforts of home, please do us all a favour and just stay where you are. I hear many complaints about peanut butter, an American staple that seems by many to be overpriced here. Surely that's because Nutella is far more popular with Europeans than peanut butter, but it is available here and always in our cabinet.

Portugal is a beautiful country, with warm, wonderful people, many of who speak English, but certainly not all. They are willing to help foreigners, generous to offer vegetables and fruit from their gardens and always offer a friendly greeting. And while we have come to love it here it does have its share of quirks.

Houses here are typically NOT insulated and feel colder on the inside than out. Central heat is NOT the norm but instead the Portuguese tend to heat just the room they are using at the time. And when that fails they put on a sweatshirt or wrap themselves in a blanket. Window screens or "fly screens" as the British call them are also not common. Anyone who has travelled through Europe knows all too well how Europeans love to stand at the window with shutters wide open and watch life going by. Some are chatting with passer-by's or just being nosy.  So what about bugs? Are there any here and do they come inside? Of course, but that's life in Europe. Screens are available and can be purchased here, just not the norm. Clyde bought screen kits and made some for our rent house that came out great. But then we discovered that summers on the Silver Coast are chilly to us, so we rarely even open the windows. For example, here we are in mid July and the high of the day here is just 77F/or 25 C. And inside the house is the same temperature.

We blame our coldness on places that we lived in the past. Clyde and I met in Corpus Christi, Texas which is in the south and has temperatures comparable to that of Florida. Hot summers and winters so mild that we only had to wear a light jacket on occasion. I actually looked forward to a few cold weeks when I could put on a sweater or jacket to go to work.  And then there was our move to Panama in 2011. In order to enjoy life in Panama one needs to get used to hot, humid, rainy year round temperatures. We could always spot the people that lived with the a/c on in their homes. They would be dripping in sweat whenever we saw them while others like us, were comfortable. Much of life in Panama happens outside, or in open air businesses. So if one does not get used to the heat and humidity, then they suffer much of the time.

And the same can be said about living anyplace new, either adapt or leave. Speaking of mold which I mentioned above, Clyde just walked by with a bucket and rag. He is in the process of removing mould from the doors, an ongoing project and one of those quirks of life here. Even with two, large dehumidifiers, mould is part of life here. Mould was common in Panama too so it's not something new to us.

Over the past two years we explored much of the country, from one end to the other. We started to travel once again and picked up a few wonderful house and pet sits. In November we mingled with the French in the beautiful countryside as we walked two little dogs. The charming, cobblestoned village of Pepieux sat in the midst of vineyards and wine caves. The cool autumn air was thick with the aroma of wine and we could almost drink it in for a buzz. The nearby villages offered us many day trips from the house, including the medieval city of Carcassonne complete with fortresses and castles.

We rang in the New Year just outside of Geneva, Switzerland in the town of Divonne les Bains, France. Our huge temporary home was built in the early 1900's yet offered all the modern conveniences that we would need.  From the large living room windows we could see the snow-capped peaks of the Swiss Alps. On the other side were the Jura Mountains on the French side. With just one resident dog to care for our days were free to explore the area with the permission of the homeowners. From Alpine villages blanketed in snow to Christmas markets, lakeside towns and more we visited as much of France and Switzerland as time would allow.

But since Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in the world, we found it necessary to pack lunches everyday to take with us. For example, the average price of the "meal of the day" for lunch ran between 20-25 euros per person. Compare that to Portugal where we can eat lunch out for just 4 to 8 euros each, depending on where we are.

Then in March we took a short flight to Valencia, Spain for yet another sit. Famous for it's annual Fallas Festival, we had been to Valencia a few years back and made friends with the homeowners', as we had friends in common. Last March she posted photos of the statues that are built and displayed for fallas, but eventually burned in the end. I commented on her pictures and said, 'we'd love to see that sometime. Maybe next year you can go away and we can come watch your dogs?' They agreed and a house sit was created.

But then the pandemic happened and our trip was cut short since their trip was cut short. We quickly made our way home and stayed put for months, not knowing how this would all play out. Portugal was proactive in closing down everything in early to mid March. Fortunately, they had the benefit of seeing the pandemic coming this way since it had already effected Italy and Spain by that time. More testing was done here and medication was also used proactively which ended up with many being cured and less deaths than elsewhere.

Portugal does have a national healthcare system which offers low cost care to its citizens and residents like us living here. One requirement of our resident visa is that we must carry private health insurance, but also can use the public system if we choose to. Costs for insurance vary greatly by the age of the person, pre-existing conditions along with the level of coverage desired. Since Clyde has a pacemaker several insurance companies here would either not cover him or exclude any treatment to his heart. Eventually he did find one company that would write us a policy. He choose a high end plan with no deductible that covers us at 90% in network and 80% out. When we see an in network doctor we just pay the 10% but if they are out of network we must pay the full amount, and then wait for reimbursement. Full amount to see a doctor here can cost anywhere from around 60 euros to maybe 120 euros depending on the specialty. Our cost for this insurance coverage is 250 euros per month for both of us, but is paid for the full year ahead of time.  When Clyde retired 9 years ago in Texas his insurance would have cost $1400 per month for the two of us.

While neither of us has needed to be hospitalized here we have visited doctors and been to the emergency room. Clyde had become light headed and dizzy one time and we thought it had something to do with his heart, since those are the symptoms he had prior to getting the pacemaker. We went to the ER at the local public hospital where he was seen quickly for a cost of just 18 euros. Since they found no issue with his heart we stopped by the office of his cardiologist to see him also. With no appointment he still managed to be seen after just a one hour wait. It turns out the feeling was due to a drop in blood pressure from a new medication he was taking for his prostate.

Last summer while doing an outside boot camp near the beach I fell and hurt my left elbow. We went to a local private hospital to have it checked out. Immediately I was seen by an English speaking doctor, x-rays were taken and he said it seemed to be broken. But since it was Sunday they had no orthopedic doctor there and I would need to go to the public hospital to see one. The cost at the private hospital was around 75 euros. Off we went to the public hospital where I waited for about an hour to be seen. More x-rays were taken and the doctor called me in. He said that my elbow was broken but since it was just a small fracture I would not need a cast, just a sling for a few weeks. Total cost there was just 18 euros.

As Americans whose healthcare system is outrageously overpriced, we all long for and think we want a public healthcare system. Let me tell you what we have seen and heard of the public healthcare system here in Portugal. Clinics are crowded and doctors are not assigned to even the Portuguese, never mind the foreigners. If we want to we can go to a public clinic here and sit and wait to see a doctor, along with the many other people. Public hospitals are overcrowded and we have seen patients lying on beds lined up in the hallways near the emergency room when we had been there. A mix of all sexes and ages were in these beds, some with iv poles attached to them. Patient charts hung off the end of the bed and some people had a bottle of water propped up nearby. There are no family members allowed into this area to wait with the patients, due to overcrowded conditions. Perhaps they are waiting to be moved to a room, or to be seen by a doctor? Several friends have told us of their experience on one of these beds. One had a broken ankle and was held overnight until she could be seen by a doctor in the morning. Another had broken ribs and also had to wait to be seen before being sent home. As you can imagine, just like people in any hospital around the world, these are sick people. Some are in pain and moaning or yelling out. Others are sick to their stomachs and vomiting while others are just trying to get some needed rest.

We have been told that some public hospitals here are better than others but even so, we will choose to go private when needed. But in the event of an emergency we have been told that we would be taken to the local public hospital until we can be moved elsewhere. Scary to say the least and something we hope to never find out about first hand.

Hospital rooms here in the public system are not typically private but instead a ward with many beds. A few months back we visited a friend in a public hospital to find him in a room with five other patients. He told us back in England this is typical and wards are even larger there. This is done in order to need less staff to care for the patients. So what did we see in that hospital? It appeared clean and tidy to us, just like most other hospitals we had seen. Hand sanitizer was on the walls in the hallway. Each patient had a chair next to his bed for visitors along with a small cabinet to put their stuff in. There were curtains around each bed but all were open when we were there. Unlike most hospitals the room was warm and even I was comfortable in the middle of winter. Our friend felt that the care was good and would have not been any better in the UK. He paid nothing at all for three weeks in the hospital.

Since March we have been staying home much of the time, only leaving to buy groceries or the occasional meal in the local shopping mall food court. Last November we decided to change to a whole foods, plant based diet which makes eating out a challenge. Most people who have met us know that we both used to be fat and lost massive amounts of weight. It was sixteen years ago that I said good bye to the fat girl on an operating table in Texas as I went in for gastric bypass surgery. I lost a total of 150 pounds (68 kg or 10 stone) and have kept it off ever since. Clyde underwent gastric band surgery, lost 100 pounds (45 kg or 7 stone) and has also kept it off.

Since our surgeries we have eaten healthy much of the time. We rarely ate red meat, and lived mostly on chicken and fish along with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Clyde began researching foods for brain health and foods to help us live longer. As we age we all want to live as long and as healthy as possible and going vegan seemed like the answer. We are not trying to convert anyone but feel that it was the right choice for us. Since that time we both feel great and are enjoying a variety of delicious foods too.

So there you have it, a brief rundown of what we have been doing for the past year or so just living our lives 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...