Is Portugal my future? After two months here, the answer is “Yes”

Tomorrow morning I fly back to Albuquerque after spending two months traveling around Portugal to explore the possibility of moving here.  

I posed the question in the title to this blog “Is Portugal my future?” After the weeks here and the many people I’ve met, the towns and villages I’ve visited and the experiences I’ve had – the answer is YES. 

It will take a lot more work and mean facing a lot more challenges. But I can see this as a step forward. I really like the Portuguese approach to life. They have a country with a rich history full of ups and downs, much like Ireland where my ancestors hale from. I first visited seven years ago and seeing Portugal now is to witness a transformation. It feels like it is on the up-and-up but still retains its authenticiy, pride in its roots and a sense of humor about itself. 

I have loved being able to get around on foot, bus and train instead of having to drive everywhere. I have loved the little tiny shops and outdoor markets. I have loved eating grilled sardines and bacalhau (cod fish.) I am beginning to understand and speak Portuguese. 

I’ve met so many people whose faces and stories will stay in my memory. Someone recently said to me that if you don’t want to get addicted to travel, don’t start. It’s too late for me. I caught the disease early and so far haven’t found a cure.


Tips I’ve learned in my 2 months in Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

In a couple of days I leave Portugal after two months exploring the possibility of moving here in retirement.  I’ve learned a lot and faced a few fears. I thought I’d share pthem.

What have been by fears while I’ve been here?

* Transportation: I’ve had moments of panic wondering if the bus or train schedule I used to make my plan was maybe out of date. But every time, the bus or train has showed up within a few minutes of the posted time, no matter how rural.

* Finding my way in the cities: A Camino walking buddy Bryan Bailey showed me Maps.Me an app that lets you navigate offline. A couple of times I had a moment of panic trying to orient myself to the map it showed. But has proved invaluable finding my way around Porto, Coimbra, Aveiro, Tomar and Lisbon.

* Language: I’ve been working on learning Portuguese and have basic conversational Spanish.  However, when in need I’ve resorted to asking if people speak English “Fala ingles?” And most times people are more than willing to help by speaking English. It truly has become a universal language thanks to movies and tv.

A few odd tidbits I’ve learned or noticed in Portugal.

* Bathrooms: lights may be on timers, so you may be plunged in darkness during your business  – wave your arms around, that often activates the lights.

* Toilet paper: a lot of Portuguese homes or businesses are on septic systems which get clogged with toilet paper. They ask you to put the TP in a bin provided. For women it can be hard to re-learn the habits of a lifetime.

* Tickets for many trains and bus trips give assigned seats.

* Portuguese people are not huggers. Expect an air kiss on each cheek even from business people you’ve never met before.

* Bread, cheese and olives they put on the table before they bring you your meal are not free. The charge is usually 1-2 Euros. Beware. You can often get a fixed price meal by looking for the “Prato do dia” or dish of the day.

Seeing new sights, making new friends

Shared meal at Hostel 33 in Ferrel, near Peniche, A Portuguése surfing center.

In just a few days I will return home to Albuquerque after two months of traveling adventures where I have shared so many wonderful moments of friendship with people from all over the world.

Staying in hostels all over Portugal and a few in Spain, has given me the chance to face all kinds of new challenges. I’ve used the website to find and book accommodations, the Comboios de Portugal website to arrange train travel, and the app to get offline maps to navigate my way around new places. I’ve depended on connecting to WiFi to stay in touch with friends and family by WhatsApp, iMessage or Skype. Almost every little cafe has WiFi and they are so ready to give you the password. I’ve even had people offer to let me piggyback on their personal hotspot to help me when I’ve been in a bind.

Heatwave over, taking a last look at Porto

Mercifully the killer heatwave is over, just in time for me to make one last visit to Porto. Temperatures were around 23 C yesterday evening when I arrived by train from Coimbra. After the last few days in Tomar where the breeze felt like a hairdryer, this was almost too chilly.

Each time I’ve visited Porto, I’ve stayed at the Tattva Design Hostel located close to the cathedral and the Sao Bento train station. It’s the best hostel I’ve stayed in during my visit to Portugal. The facilities are good, the staff are very friendly and helpful, the breakfast offers good choices and the atmosphere is very genial. That is the best part of staying in hostels. There are people from all over the world and it is easy to strike up a conversation and share experiences and memories.  

Last night, I ate a simple “prato do dia” choice of the day fixed price meal at a tiny hole in the wall restaurant. Three courses with wine was 10 Euros. The place quickly filled up with French tourists who are suddenly showing up in droves all over Portugal. August is the “mois de vacances”, or vacation month, in France. 

Back at the hostel, I met up with three Italians and an Australian and we spent a fun couple of hours walking around Porto and talking about our travels. We all shared Facebook “friend” requests at the end of the evening. 

Throughout this whole seven weeks of traveling I have met and talked with so many people from different countries: Holland, France, Canada, Czech Republic, Poland, Spain, Norway, Italy, England, Brazil. I’ve used all my language skills, speaking French, Spanish, Norwegian and even the Portuguese that I am learning. Next week, I return to the US, to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Or maybe not: Ironically, one of my Facebook friends from ABQ just posted during his visit to Washington, D.C. He had to argue that he did in fact live in the USA!

Brutal heatwave teaches you how to chill in Portugal

A view of the Templar castle in Tomar from the riverside park.

At the end of another day when the temperature topped 43c or about 110F, I’m sitting beside the river in Tomar, hoping for a whisper of a breeze. A glass of Sagres beer tastes mighty good.

Portugal and Spain are in the midst of a heatwave that is projected to last through Monday. A few places have air conditioning. Mostly, they close the shutters in the old stone houses which keeps them stay remarkably cool.

In the afternoon, the narrow streets are almost deserted. Even in the shade, the cobblestones radiate the heat they have soaked up during the morning. People stay inside. Me, I’m getting into the post-lunch siesta.

It’s a metaphor for life in Portugal. It sounds corny, but you need to flow with the elements; accept the weather and make the most of it, appreciate that Portuguese people will offer you all the help they can, but you must be patient. Everyone gets the same attention. It takes time.

Constantly amazed at how kind and helpful the Portuguese are

Over and over again — in shops, restaurants, hostels and train stations— I am deeply impressed by how incredibly nice the Portuguese people are. They go out of their way to give you directions or advice or offer to help you in all kinds of ways.

Today was another example. I Had lunch at this modest little neighborhood restaurant in the center of Tomar on this brutally hot day (temp expected to hit 110F). The young waitress, Joana, spoke good English and went out of her way to give me a city map and tell me all about the local sights and area attractions. It makes such a wonderful impression.

I am here in Tomar in central Portugal for a couple of days after finishing my Workaway gig at O Vale dos Cavalos.

It’s been a lot of work and a lot of fun too

My Workaway hosts at O Vale dos Cavalos, James and Sarah working on a fencing project.
In a couple of days I will finish my Workaway stint at O Vale dos Cavalos near Tomar and start my final travels around Portugal. I return home to Albuquerque, NM in just two weeks. 

I’ve worked hard here, inspired by my enterprising hosts, Sarah Wellband and her husband James. They have seven horses,  seven dogs, a bunch of hens, two pigmy goats and two pot-bellied pigs to look after. There are lots of chores to help with and I’ve been building up all kinds of muscles I never knew I had. Working out at the gym is nothing like this! 

So far the weather has been bearable but we’re headed for a couple of real scorchers my last two days. We work early and take a siesta in the afternoon. Life is good!

On Friday, I will be in the historic town of Tomar. From there I will return to Coimbra and Porto. Then go take a look at Obidos, another historic town, before heading back to Lisbon for the last few days before leaving. The wonderful Portuguese train service makes it easy and cheap to get around. I use the app Comboios de Portugal to plan my routes. 

Portugal is a great country. The people are fantastically kind and helpful. The weather is good, the wine is good and, like much else here, very affordable. 

Adventures with Sid and Nancy: or how I learned to herd pigs

Meet Sid and Nancy, a pair of Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs who are part of the menagerie at O Vale dos Cavalos, my latest Workaway gig.

Today’s adventure involved moving this lovely couple to new hillside accommodations that offer ample shade and a generous supply of tasty acorns,

Getting them there, a mere 100 yards from their current abode, was no easy task. A tempting offering of cut up apples totally failed as an incentive. Our efforts to herd Sid towards the exit path provoked his suspicions and he outwitted us with an intimidating charge. (It’s amazing how fast a creature with 4-inch long legs and a belly dragging on the ground can move.)

We had more success with his female companion when Workaway host Sarah had a brainwave. She used large pieces of insulation material to create a barrier behind Nancy’s portly backside so we could coax her forward.

Step by hesitant step we urged the reluctant Nancy forward. It took a mere 30 minutes to cover the 100 yards. After that, and another rodeo around the pig pen, we used the same tactics to motivate Sid to make the move under the power of his own trotters.

Job accomplished, my Workaway hosts Sarah and James, celebrated with a cigarette. I just breathed the pure Portuguese air.

Todo and Troy, a couple of the horses at O Vale dos Cavalos, Portugal.

Irish grandparents pave my way to Portugal

Hillside farms near Tomar, Portugal

My maternal grandparents came to the US from County Leitrim, one of the poorest counties in Ireland, early in the 20th century. They settled in Massachusetts where they raised my mother and her four brothers. 

My brother and I were born in Denver, Colorado, in the 1950s. But thanks to my grandparents, and the Irish government’s policy of allowing descendents of Irish emigres to claim “foreign born” citizen status, I was able to get an Irish passport in addition to my US one. 

Thank you Michael and Rose from Ballinamore. 

Now, among the many lovely things about Ireland is the fact that it is an EU (European Union) country. With that, go many advantages – like being able to live and work in member countries around Europe.

That’s one of the key reasons I’ve made sure to keep my Irish passport valid for the last 25 years.

So, how does that relate to Portugal, you may ask.

I first visited Portugal in 2011 and just fell in love with the city of Lisbon and its people. I’ve long thought about returning to Europe where I lived from ages 9 to 35 years old.  I like the opportunity to be in a walkable environment, to enjoy cafes and hole-in-the-wall restaurants and many other things. Portugal stayed in my mind. The people are friendly, the weather is great and the cost of living is low.

So when I retired in June, I headed to Portugal to see if it was possible to move here. The Irish passport has been key to opening doors for me. That, and a very helpful friend who speaks fluent Portuguese and knows her way around the system. I was able to get the all important NIF (Número de Identificação Fiscal), also known as Número de Contribuinte) which is needed for all kinds of transactions in Portugal including opening a bank account and buying property. 

This website is also very helpful:

Moving on, working hard in Portugal

I moved on to my new Workaway gig three days ago. I’m working for Sarah and James, a British couple who run O Vale dos Cavalos, an equine assisted training center about 12 miles from the historic city of Tomar.

They have 7 horses who wander over trails hacked out of the underbrush on a rocky hillside. The work involves feeding and cleaning up after the horses, dogs, chickens, pigmy goats and pot-bellies pigs. Plus helping hack out more trails.

It’s hard work. I haven’t worked this physically hard since my early 20s. They seem to have made hay bales a lot heavier in the meantime. And those horses just keep pooping!

Lifting weights at the gym just isn’t the same!.