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  • Writer's pictureSarah S.

First Month in Lisbon, Portugal

Updated: Jan 31, 2022

Things Learned in Lisbon

I am writing this exactly 4 weeks after arriving in Portugal from the USA. It has been a whirlwind experience so far. We are adjusting quite well, as we have become seasoned travelers over the past 1 ½ years.

A big transition is getting used to speaking almost entirely in Portuguese. Luckily, I began learning the language about 6 months before arriving and I speak fluent Spanish, so this has helped incredibly. I am continuing to study every day to try and cram in as much Portuguese as I can. People are generally patient and willing to help me work my way through the conversation.

English is spoken very sparingly, usually at a bakery or grocery store. Mostly, all businesses speak Portuguese only; especially banks, financial offices (finanças), and even in departments such as electronics at the stores. Many younger people speak English. It has been a great way to force me into speaking the language and it does make for some good stories and laughs with people.


We decided to rent a car to explore Northern Portugal, as we needed to make a decision where we are going to reside (at least for the next 4-6 months), while we wait for our resident cards. We visited many cities over 2 days, just to get an idea of their location, vibe, and appearance. One point of interest was in Aveiro, the “Venice of Portugal.” It seemed like a really cool town. We parked near the canal and as soon as we paid the parking meter, a polícia came right over and began questioning us. I started in Portuguese and asked if he spoke English, to which I got a swift “no.” No harm done, I continued on and was able to understand enough to know that no one was supposed to be on the streets with the lockdown and my reason for wanting to see the town for rental purposes made no difference to him. So off we shooed. Aside from that, we had no further incidents.

Other adjustments we are getting used to are the use of foreign appliances. If you haven’t seen my video New To Lisbon, Portugal, it will give you an idea. Additionally, living in the city and getting groceries. We have always had a car and big suburban stores with lots of parking. We go to bed later and get up later here. Converting degrees, imperial measurements to metric, and waiting for sunny days to plan when to wash our clothes so we can hang them outside to dry. Having no cell service (temporarily) and only relying on WiFi and planning phone calls to the US anytime after 5 pm knowing it will be 9 am PST.

Another laugh was at the Pingo Doce (grocery store) during our road trip. We stopped in to get some food for lunch as there were no cafes open. There was a prepared food area near the bakery with a good size line, so we thought we would get something there. After ordering we got our food and picked up a few additional items in the store. When we went to check-out at the register, the guy from the prepared food area was called over. (Just to add, he was very busy. Not only was he working the prepared foods area, he was, also, working the prepared foods checkout counter in the front of the store). He took our prepared food items, ran them to a different register, and brought them back to us. I apologized as I did not understand the system.

It turned out when you pick up food, you are supposed to pay at that specific register with items from the prepared food area. I then ran back over to him at the prepared food register and asked for cutlery and he said they didn’t provide any. Again, no harm done (não faz mal), my favorite phrase in Portuguese.

Take-Out Only

In Lisbon, there are lots of Glovo and Uber Eats bike riders all over the city. We were surprised to see so many delivery people on bicycles everywhere we walked. Sometimes you will see big groups of 20 or more of them waiting and other times you may see 1 or 2 in front of a popular restaurant waiting for orders to be issued. With the lockdown firmly in place, these messengers of all things edible are staying in some serious shape.

We got a laugh from a motorcyclist that needed cash from the ATM machine. He drove onto the sidewalk with his motorcycle and pulled up in front of the walk-up machine (not a drive-thru like in the US). He got his cash and off he went.

Pedestrians Beware

Also noted, the pedestrian is not king. Being from California, the pedestrian strictly has the right of way. If you don’t stop for one crossing the street, you will get a ticket (I know from experience). My advice when here, always pay attention and don’t assume if you just cross someone will stop. While people are very nice, I have had them make a turn right in front of me.

Best Bread & Pastries

Many days were spent taking our daily walks around our neighborhood and beyond, what I like to call ‘getting lost in Lisbon.’ It was on account of these walks, that we discovered our two favorite padarías (bakeries). Our first, the Padería Portuguesa, Av. Duque D’Avila, nº24, Lisbon. Not only are the pastries and bread delicious, but the workers are so friendly. The second discovery was in the Saldanha district of Lisbon, at the Padaria do Bairro, Largo Dona Estefânia 22. This cafe makes delicious Pastel de Nata and desserts, especially this Portuguese caramel cheesecake creation, mamma mia!

The lady working the counter at the Padaria do Bairro, thought it was so cool were Americans. Using my best Portuguese she was able to tell me most Americans go to the Algarve region and are not often in Lisbon. I really enjoyed speaking with her and in turn, she was helping me with my Portuguese and teaching me some new words.

Another Padaria we explored in Coimbra, was Portuguese speaking. I had fun communicating with her. I had some laughs as we tried to order coffees, which they are not selling currently in Portugal at the bakeries due to the coronavirus. She was upset by this, but said, “what can you do?” I used some of my little phrases in Portuguese like, “what a shame,” and my favorite “no harm done.”

Sometimes we enjoy a quick subway ride over to the El Corte Inglês. This place is a 7 story megastore with a full grocery store, home goods, electronics, pets, clothing, fine make-up/perfume, hair salon, money exchange, etc. But just outside of the grocery store is a bakery that sells the most inexpensive bread and pastries. Just across from the bakery is an empanadas kiosk. Again, very delicious and reasonably priced.

Getting Acclimated

Vallen feeding Pipinho at Casa Da Eira in Braga, Portugal.

It has been almost a month now since our arrival and we are still trying to find our groove, so to speak. We have had lots of enjoyable moments. Along with that, a lot of stressful moments, too.

I would just like to add a couple of things we noted that may help you feel a little more at home. If you have measuring spoons, you may want to bring them. I brought the cheap dollar store kind because they are light-weight and if I lose them it’s fine. The places we’ve stayed don’t usually have them. Bring some favorite spices. Put them separately into zip-top sandwich bags and then bag them all up in a storage or freezer bag to keep them together and contained. Again, the places we’ve stayed had no spices, sometimes not even salt and pepper. I wish I would have brought my crushed red pepper flakes (cannot find them), taco seasoning (rare), and Chef Paul Prudhomme's Magic Seasoning Blend in Poultry Magic (USA southern thing, I think). As you can, see I really like to cook.

If you are traveling with kids, bring the games. We travel with a zip-top bag of 10 dice, a deck of cards, Left|Right|Center, Monopoly Deal, and Monopoly board game. Occasionally, switching games out. We cut the board game in half, ditch the box, and put everything in a 2 or 3-gallon zip-top bag (thank you Nomad Together). I, also, store extra sandwich bags with the game for everyone’s loot, since no Monopoly game ends in less than a week.

In front of the amazing and beautiful Guimarães Castle (Castelo De Guimarães).

As temporary residents, we have had a lot of red tape to get through as far as setting up various accounts-financials, banks, looking for rentals, making phone calls-oh the phone calls, ordering phones and sim cards online, and trying to set up phones, all in Portuguese. Even ordering take-out through Facebook Messenger took us about an hour from start to actually eating. Not a big deal and we cook 99% of our meals anyway.

Sometimes, it feels like we have so many digital errands to make that the days get filled very quickly. It is a bit of a challenge and I definitely have new empathy for foreigners coming into a new country. Things will relax a bit once we have fulfilled all the requirements expected of us. Thankfully, we’ve been able to explore and enjoy our surroundings, too.

We will continue to see how things progress in the days ahead and where the road will take us in the coming months. Hope this was insightful.

Thanks for reading and listening.

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