Two Months in Lisbon, Portugal
Updated: Feb 8
Beautiful tile work in the subway.
Peaceful protest in Lisbon’s Parque Eduardo VII
It is surreal to believe we have been in Portugal for almost two months now. It is different than we thought it would be in good ways and distressing in others.
Upsides to Portugal
Learning the language has helped immensely, I only wish I knew more. Everyday life stuff is generally fine. Going to grocery stores, bakeries, taking the subway, renting a car, and so on is pretty straightforward. I can speak enough Portuguese to place orders, do small tasks at the stores, ask basic questions about items, and speak to people in person (if they are patient). We have met some really cool, nice people. I love when they go out of their way to teach us new words or phrases, help us with pronunciation, or explain how something works that may be of interest to us.
There are feral cats all over the place. We love cats, so it is nice to see them everywhere we go. People take care of them, too. You will see bowls of cat food and water around fences or under cars. There are some abandoned, grass-filled lots with cats hanging out in the tall weeds. People leave dishes of food and water just inside the old fences for the cats that call it home.
There are concrete cat house structures around Lisbon for cats to climb on and nest whenever they need a place to rest. The same program here fixes the cats and de-worms them. They get a small clip on the ear to signify they have been through the program.
I have read in other regions, people are setting up old washing machines and dryers that are decorated and padded with old blankets or towels to be used as cat homes for the strays. If you want a pet in Portugal, just wait for one to seek you out.
One of my favorites is chatting with our neighbor, the lady in the building next door from us. She speaks zero English. Once in a while, she waters her flowers from her second-story balcony, as we are on our way somewhere from the street. I say, “bom dia, vezinha,” (good morning, neighbor). She tells me a lot of things in Portuguese, most of which I don’t understand, but she still tells me and we smile and thumbs up. I am going to miss her. We met her on the first day we arrived from the US. We were waiting outside our building for over an hour because we had no way to contact our host. She saw us there and started making conversation with us.
Culturally, I did not know a lot about Portuguese people before living here. There is a recurring theme I have noticed. It all came together for me this weekend, more on that in a minute.
On Saturday, we came across a peaceful demonstration in Parque Eduardo VII, against the handling of COVID restrictions on citizens and personal, and social freedoms. People were playing drums (think drum circle), applauding, and waving flags. The government has very slowly eased some restrictions only recently since we arrived on a new wave of lockdowns.
But what I have seen is the Portuguese love art, music, reading, drum circles (I saw a family on Sunday in the park carrying their drum and dancing together). Lots of people hang out with friends and family. People weight training in the park, kids kicking a ball, people feeding chickens, pigeons, and ducks, eating ice cream, drinking espressos, or sipping small paper cups filled with wine. It is a beautiful thing when the sun is shining and the parks (or Jardims) are filled with people enjoying life’s simple pleasures.
We have eaten at many pastelerias (pastry shops) since arriving. Some of the nicest people work at these shops. I get a lot of practice and learn new words every time I visit. We joke that I am going to be able to speak bakery like a native in no time.
Downsides To Portugal
The most challenging task is dealing with people over the phone. Most situations that involve anything bureaucratic are pretty rough because no English is spoken and we get the runaround most times. No one seems to reply to emails and everyone wants a phone call-nooooo! There have been big-time bickering between Anthony and I over who gets to make the phone call this time.
Making An Appointment
It took me 4 days to make an appointment with finançias. We spent a full day traveling to our appointment four weeks after arriving in Portugal, which was in the city of Setúbal (a bit of a schlep from Lisbon). We ran around to three different offices only to have someone *shrug their shoulders (see photo below) that they were sorry they couldn’t help. Once we got past that guy and into the office, they merely rescheduled us for 6 weeks later, but that is another story.
No Phone For You
We ordered a cell phone for me from El Corte Inglês (Spain) online. We never received the phone or a refund. It took a lot of effort to get them to refund the money after realizing they were never going to send us a phone and that was after enlisting the help of our bank and Paypal.
We Don’t Need No Stinking Lunch
We took a trip to Cascais early one day. Around lunchtime, we decided to order take-out from a Portuguese restaurant that had a huge line. We could see the patrons were all locals so we knew it had to be good.
As always I prepared for ordering because there were no physical menus, just a giant poster-sized menu posted out front. So I wrote down all of our orders and prepared what I would say in Portuguese so I could be as seamless as possible. However, I wasn’t ordering fast enough for the worker. Then I was told there was no seafood available, so now I was lost and needed a menu. Through hand gestures, he signaled for me to hurry it up and started making police siren noises at me. I told him to forget about it and we left. We got the *shoulder shrug.
We started talking about it and came to the conclusion this guy was as paranoid as we were with the polícia on everyone’s backs about “gathering” and that we were all going to get busted for creating too long of a line.
Closed For COVID
As I am writing this, Portugal is on a tight lockdown. The polícia patrol the streets and anytime people are seen doing anything other than going somewhere (ahem, lounging, gathering, picnicking, laying in the park) you will get shooed.
*The Shoulder Shrug
Okay, we have had some laughs because anytime someone does not want to help, care to help, or doesn’t want to or cannot speak English you will get the “shoulder shrug.”
At the LIDL grocery store in the train station from Setubal. We asked security about a bathroom in Portuguese. Security told us where to go. Unfortunately, all of the bathrooms were closed (signs posted on the doors). I went back and told the security they were all closed because our 7-year-old had to go to the bathroom, we got the shoulder shrug.
At the finançias office in Lisbon, I asked the man in my best Portuguese about appointments. I got the shoulder shrug followed by a finger pointed to the information printed on a sheet taped to the front door.
Road Trip Through Northern Portugal
All that aside, we have had some good times so far. We took an amazing road trip up to Northern Portugal from Lisbon, which included driving through Sintra (historic), Nazaré (gigantic waves), Mafra, Ericeira, Coimbra, Aveiro (the Venus of Portugal), and Leira. After staying overnight in Nazaré, we continued onto Porto the next day.
Before returning to Lisbon the next day, we stayed in a village outside of Braga called Oliveira. We did make a pitstop in Guimarães to see the Guimarães Castle. The only hitch on our trip was not having a cell phone with cell service to contact our host who was in a rural area. It took us about 2 hours to find a source of WiFi to get us in touch with our host in Braga in order for her to get us into our place.
Once we made contact (thank you Continente Bom Dia for the free WiFi), we got to our host’s village. We noticed a little old lady watching us as we were driving around. She was trying to figure out who we were and why we were there. I knew enough to ask her some questions, but she couldn’t help us, so she went inside. Then we met our host’s neighbors who were kind enough to direct us to her place.
Overnight in Porto
We took a second overnight trip a few weeks later to Porto. On this second trip, instead of an upgraded automatic from the rental car company (we lucked out on the first trip), we had a small Renault Clio manual drive. Anthony and I agreed since I was the more experienced manual driver I would do the majority of the driving.
I have to mention this because we had some laughs trying to get around Porto in a stick-shift (think of driving in NYC), not having driven one in about 20 years. But, hey, it’s like riding a bike, you never forget.
Anthony decided to give the stickshift a try. Unfortunately, the car ended up stalling in the middle of the street, cars were honking and going around us giving us dirty looks and hand gestures. An old man on the corner was laughing and waving at us seeing all the commotion in the car. He knew what happened with the stalling and it was so nice to see someone enjoying the comedy of it all. It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t mention Anthony drove fine when he was on the freeway.
We arrived at a garage where we were to park our car before walking about 4 minutes to our overnight accommodations in a very tall 6 story apartment building.
Apparently, we pulled into the wrong parking lot and there were a group of older gentlemen playing a game in the parking lot that looked something like horseshoes in America. I found out later that it is called Jogo da Malha or Jogo de Chinquilho. They saw us looking confused in the parking lot. Turns out, we were supposed to park in the garage next door.
We enjoyed watching them play. They were having a good time competing with each other over whose team was the better player.
After briefly exploring Porto and the northern cities, we decided we’d take a little time to head down to South Portugal. We are beach people and love the warm air and salty seas. I look forward to showing you more at our next location.
We are going to miss Lisbon, though. There are so many cool things about this city. It is very diverse, it has everything you could need, many different neighborhoods, and lots of transportation.