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  • Writer's pictureSarah S.

Three Months in Portugal

Updated: Jan 31, 2022

These past 3 months have gone by so fast. We have learned so much and had an amazing experience here.

I have learned enough basic Portuguese to get by, which is one language I never would have expected to learn in my lifetime. I could order just about any bread and pastry and know what’s in it and feel comfortable taking buses and metros across the city.

The day-to-day has been fun and always interesting. The shopkeepers are pleasant and neighbors are cordial. We spent many days getting lost in Lisbon and visiting many sites and cities.

We have sat around together telling stories of our favorite districts and what we liked most about living here. In the end, there was just something about it that didn’t quite sustain us permanently.

For families, our kid’s favorite districts in Lisbon were Campo de Ourique and Belém. I completely concur with that.

Pros of Portugal

Albufeira in the Algarve Region and Baixa-Chiado, Lisbon

There are so many things to love about this country. I highly recommend it for a vacation or visit. Sightseeing is abundant and there are wonderful castles, monasteries, convents, churches, palaces, forts, and towers. If you rent a car, highway driving is pretty easy and drivers always stay in the right lane unless passing, it is really nice. In Lisbon, getting around is a breeze. Besides the usual buses, metros, trams, and trains, there are even tuk-tuk rides, rental scooters, and bikes, not to mention you can even rent mopeds.

Some personal notables include street cafes, parks, beautiful architecture, walking through Belém on a sunny afternoon, strolling around Campo de Ourique, tram rides, Piri Piri sauce, the phrase “não faz mal,” eating gelato in Chiado, people getting a coffee or gelato without anyone else and enjoying it without feeling any stigma of being solo or needing to look on their phones. Glovo and UberEats bicycle delivery people everywhere, botanical gardens and look-out points throughout the city, and mini mercados where the shopkeepers wave hello every time they see you.

Bola de Berlim & croissant de chocolate francês & Vallen loving every minute of it!

I can’t say enough about the bread and pastries, some worthy mentionables: pastel de Nata, bola de Berlim, Pão de Deus, Queijada, Russo, and Folhados com doce de ovos, just to name a few. They are on a gourmet level and the price is outstanding. The pastries are not overly sweet and it seems more natural ingredients are used as sweeteners. Unfortunately, our visit was in the heart of the lockdown, so most places were closed for covid. We never did get to hear live Fado as I would have liked.

We met a few nice people with whom we were able to have a little conversation. Some may find the weather a pro because it is generally no cooler than 40-50 degrees and as hot as 82 degrees. I like heat, so it definitely could have been warmer for me. I was comfortable in a lightweight parka most of the winter. It is much warmer closer to the Tagus Estuary than amongst the tall buildings near Marquês de Pombal where we stayed.

I am a cat lover, so I did enjoy all the feral cats throughout the country. Love the chickens and roosters that stroll through the parks, and I can’t get enough of the peacock calls. They hang out around Lisbon and Cascais. There was one peacock resting comfortably on the wall of the Castelo de São Jorge and a couple of peacocks on the roof of a building in the Jardim da Estrela.

Cons of Portugal

As we were wrapping it up here, things were just starting to slowly open up again. While parks only recently opened, playgrounds were not. If fences were low at a particular playground, it usually turned into a hotspot of kids hopping the fence, having a great time. After about 20 minutes or so, the polícia would make their appearance and all the kids would disperse and hop over the fence as quickly as they could.

Parque Infantil do Jardim Vasco da Gama in Belém

Personally, I am not a fan of all the red tape that is required if you are staying as a resident. We opted to leave early, as immigration canceled all resident card appointments until the end of December 2021 (ours was supposed to be in March 2021). This means we would have had to wait until our resident visas were paid for and approved, which will most likely go well into 2022 as they are completely back-logged. We decided to go back to the US before our temporary visas expired. Our goal was to not only see Portugal but to travel throughout Europe, so it didn’t really support that plan at this time.

Back to the red tape. “What about the red tape?” You ask. English is not spoken in most government-related services, making it very difficult to make, change, or cancel appointments. It has been my experience people working in those sectors are not the most agreeable.

Every government transaction has costs attached to it (but I’m not going to get into that here).

We got the runaround on appointments for our financial numbers twice and were sent to locations that took us all day to get to by public transportation. The waste of time and hassle, the cost of travel for 4 people, and 8 miles of walking; not an easy task for a 7-year-old, was real.

Forget about registering for driver’s licenses, signing up for health insurance, ordering utilities, setting up taxes, and a whole host of other chores. Many of these errands cannot occur until, at the very least, you have a financial number (NIF) for every individual in your family and a residence card. This financial number is used to get every government or social service. Every business and every office will need your financial number.

Everything is done with phone calls, websites are terrible and most services we needed could never be done online or through email, which would have been super helpful with the language barrier and getting confirmations in writing. If things are not in writing, it’s as if they never happened.

Noteworthy quirky things:

One oddity was people urinating wherever they like. I can give you two examples off the top of my head. We were riding the Tram 28 and a guy had his back to the tram peeing into a sewer grate right in front of everyone. Another time, we were walking to the grocery store and I noticed a man loitering next to a low garbage can. Nope, he wasn’t loitering, he was peeing on it.

Not far from the entrance of the Castelo de São Jorge this must have been an issue because there was a makeshift dark green, metal privacy wall put up against a huge rock wall, to be used as a urinal.

The shoulder shrug.” Please click the link to read my previous article for more on that. Basically, when someone does not want to help you, cannot help you, or does not “speak English,” you will get the shoulder shrug.

There is a lot of dog poop on the streets, so when we were on the move, we were always on high alert. The true dog poop rock stars were those caring people who took the time to pick up after their dog.

It does take about a month to get a letter from the US.

Here are a few of the stairs we have conquered in Portugal! The photo in the center row, to the far right, were the stairs inside the building of our 4th floor flat.

There are lots and lots of hills and stairs, even our place was on the 4th floor and no elevator. But hey, you’re booty will thank you for it.

If you want to live anywhere other than a major city like Lisbon and Porto you will most likely need a car.

Places generally do not have heat other than space heaters and are not well insulated. Be sure to bring your flannel jammies, slippers, and a beanie in your suitcase to keep you cozy.

Washing machines and dishwashers are optional so you always need to ask. Dryers are almost non-existent. So be prepared to hang clothes on the line outside or all over your home if it rains for many days in a row. Things start to feel a little damp and dank in the winter, if that is the case it is recommended to invest in a dehumidifier.

Keep in mind, most of this will only be a minor concern if you are just vacationing or may not even apply at all.

If you asked me if I would return to Portugal, I most certainly would…but simply as a visitor.

Going Back to Cali

It is a shame that everything is still shut down across Europe with no access to foreigners. It would have been amazing to have ventured to Spain, France, Italy, Germany, and Greece just to name a few. Even the kids really enjoyed the opportunity to be here. After making the tough decision, we decided to go back to the US and wait for covid to finish running its course and see what lies ahead for travel in 2021.

Let’s stay connected through the blog, Facebook, and Instagram, (occasionally YouTube), for the latest Untethered Family news. Stay healthy. Tchau-tchau for now.

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