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We Moved to Portugal 17 Months Ago. In 9 Days, We’re Leaving.

Porto Portugal. The iron Dom Luis I bridge crossing over the Douro River in the foreground.

How will we spend our final nine days in Portugal?

Will Chris and I stroll aimlessly along calçada sidewalks each day to cafés and sip espressos as we eat pasteis de nata? No. I don’t think so. I doubt we’ll have time for any final touristy hurrahs, and there’s no space in our luggage for more souvenirs. 

Our final days in Portugal will be much like our first, but a bit in reverse. Instead of unpacking, we’re packing. We’re working. Chris on the small software company he’s run for over twenty years, and his new guitar channel: I Still Want to be a Rockstar. I’m writing about Ireland for our blog and Instagram feed while listening to Irish music and working on a Christmas podcast I hope to release by Halloween. 

Chris works out six days a week. I work out seven. Not that we’re competitive. He goes to Fitness Hut, the nearest gym he likes well enough or does a mix of burpees, pushups, and the like at home. I tried the gym. It’s not my cup of tea. The one I liked is too far from our second Porto condo. My daily routine includes workouts by Michelle Briehler and Physique 57 (barre). Sometimes, I do yoga

These are our days.

We’re busy.

On November 8th, 2022, Portugal Became Our Home

We do not own a house, so home is where we live. First, we lived in Sesmarias, next to Albufeira, the party city of Portugal’s Algarve region. Off-season arrived right before the wheels of our TAP flight from Lisbon touched down in Faro, the Algarve’s capital. The evening drive from Faro to Albufeira was quiet. Our new landlord greeted us with mini bottles of Super Bock and cans of Beefeater Pink Gin & Tonic in the fridge. We thought we were too exhausted from our travel day (Minneapolis to Paris to Lisbon to Faro) to partake, but we were wrong.

The next week, we went out to dinner with Judy and Mike, a Californian couple who moved to Portugal as part of their retirement plan. Judy gave Chris advice in a Portugal expat group he’d joined on Facebook before we made the move. We drank wine, ate Francesinhas, and had a wonderful evening making new friends. They encouraged us to attend three expat Thanksgiving celebrations in towns near us. We made it to two.

Cool rock formations on the beach frame Melissa, who wears a red top, sunglasses, and jeans. The sandy beach and ocean are in the background. Ponta da Piedade, Portugal.
Ponta da Piedade, Portugal

Portugal’s Algarve looks like California to this Minnesotan—palm trees, sandy beaches, and sunshine. We met many Californians at the Thanksgiving gatherings and befriended a few. Some said they felt priced out of California. Others shared their concerns about violence, hate-fueled political discourse, and climate change denialism. One Californian couple we befriended spoke of their pride in America. They moved to Portugal to create a life abroad out of their love for travel. 

On Thanksgiving Day, I prepared a traditional meal at homeWe had to drive to another city to buy a turkey, but I was able to source everything else at the Apolonia down the road from our home—everything except canned pumpkin. Instead, I bought a pumpkin and roasted it. Apolonia is like Whole Foods—a bit pricey but pleasant to shop at. 

Life in Sesmarias was easy-breezy. Chris and I walked just a few blocks to hang out on Praia da Coelha, Bunny Beach, or hike the rugged cliffs above it. Our house was massive and entirely our own. The kitchen was well-equipped when we arrived. We had a big laundry room with a separate washer and dryer. Relatives visited. Gala did beautiful work on my hair each week for around twenty euros. Even better, we had some lovely conversations. While many restaurants were closed during the off-season, we found some gems to become regulars at.  We went out every few weeks with a couple of our new friends. 

On March 31st, 2023, we moved to Porto.

Porto Portugal. The iron Dom Luis I bridge crossing over the Douro River in the foreground.
Porto, Portugal.

Why did we move to Porto?

Albufeira grows from a town of 40,000 to 300,000+ during the high season. We’re told there’s a wait for everything, traffic is hectic, and life becomes loud. Chris and I are quiet and prefer calm.   

We spent a couple of December 2022 days in Porto. The pretty city charmed us. Its size and climate are more to our liking. We are from Minnesota and lovers of sweater weather (though Chris wouldn’t say it like that), so we welcome a cold and rainy winter over a warm one. 

Charming Porto Challenged Us

A narrow calçada paved street between cute buildings in Porto, Portugal. Sé Catedral in the distance.

Walking Porto’s skinny calçada paved sidewalks between buildings that have stood for centuries feels like wandering through a fairytale or onto a movie set. It can also feel like an unnecessary challenge when a slow-walking smoker is in front of you, taking up too much space to pass. You have to wear sturdy shoes, watch out for missing calçadas, and dog doo-doo. Graffiti, honking horns, and exhaust fumes disrupt the dream pretty Porto’s architecture and azulejos conjure.

Chris drove us to Porto in the black Skoda station wagon we rented in Sesmarais. A family-run car rental company gave Chris a great rate through the off-season. We had to turn it in at the end of April. It didn’t take long for us to decide to go carless. Porto’s roads are perplexing, and traffic is intense. Driving here is a complex art. 

Between our feet, public transportation, and Uber, we manage without a car. My glutes are going to miss Porto. Every walk involves a hill.

Porto Apartments Make Me Homesick for Midwestern Houses

We’ve lived in two apartments in Porto. Our first was an Airbnb with a gorgeous view of the Douro River and Vila Nova de Gaia – the city on the river’s other side. The apartment I’m writing this in is a rental with a great view of Igreja da Lapa, the church that holds the heart of King Pedro IV. On clear days, you can see the ocean in the distance. Rainbows cheer up the often overcast skies. 

The views are nice, but views do not do laundry, cook meals, wash dishes, or take out the trash. They are not a bath to drop a Lush bath bomb in and relax while reading a good book.

Both apartments have washer-dryer combos. Despite looking up the translations and reading the user manuals for them online, they flummox me. A small load is on the last twenty minutes of a two-plus hour eco wash as I write this. I will need to pull some items out and put them onto a clotheshorse (drying rack) because the machine’s drying cycle might destroy them. The only setting that I’ve been able to dry clothes successfully on has an almost four-hour dry time. Sometimes, it doesn’t go the full four hours, but the clothes are always dry. For that, I am grateful. 

Neither apartment has a garbage disposal. Both have small garbage setups. In Portugal, you don’t pay for garbage and recycling pickup. Instead, you walk it down to one of the public garbage and recycling setups on the street. You don’t have to walk far to reach one, but when the wind blows pounding rain sideways, we miss the bins we had in our attached garage. 

Work and Travel and Travel and Work

We’ve called Porto home since March 31st, 2023, but while “living” in Porto, we’ve made six multi-day trips to Lisbon, stayed overnight in Braga for their Romana Festival, took a day trip to the Douro Valley to tour a vineyard and taste wines, and returned to Albufeira ​to spend a couple of days at the luxurious W Algarve as the high season began. We spent a week in Finland, thanks to a Travel + Leisure article I was assigned. For the love of building our channel and spending time with family, we spent a week in Ireland, six weeks in the United States, five days in Iceland, and a week in Switzerland. Once we made the decision to return to North America, we booked five days in Rome, six days in Frankfurt, and five more in Edinburgh – a few final European travels before heading home to North America. 

We’ve worked—a lot. Since last March, we’ve filmed, edited, and published 33 videos. 

Since moving to Porto, I’ve:

  • Completed the Be A Travel Writer Full Class Suite put together by Stacey Leasca and Nina Ruggiero.
  • Written the Travel + Leisure article
  • Written 28 blog posts for our site.
  • Edited photos and written captions for 168 Instagram posts.
  • Turned a holiday film script I wrote into a podcast and spent a month recording it: Carol at Christmas. Chris generously lent his voice to some of the characters with great skill. He also helped me with the final polish of the sound. 
  • Taken a couple of single-session Loft poetry classes from Chelsea DesAutels via Zoom.

Friends have come to town. One stayed with us for a few days, and we had a great time showing her around. We’ve met up with couples we’ve gotten to know through our YouTube Channel and from our time in the Algarve. Chris’s guitar instructor spent some time in Porto. We checked out a Fado concert together, ate at a couple of restaurants, and had a grand time. 

We’ve been busy. 

We Leave Portugal in 9 Days.

A fruit stand at Bolhão Market in Porto, Portugal. Stacks of fresh squeezed juices are ready to sell. Apples. Strawberries. Kiwi.
Bolhão Market or Mercado do Bolhão

At six this morning, I met via Zoom with my writing accountability partner and friend to go over the progress we’ve each made on our scripts. She lives in Vancouver, B.C. I’m an early bird, and she’s a night owl. My 6 a.m. is her 11 p.m. I worked out. So did Chris. Then, he walked a mile to a guitar store and bought a sturdy case for his guitar. I walked half a mile downhill to shop at Mercado do Bolhão, my favorite market in town for fruits and vegetables. Carrying at least ten pounds, I walked a half mile uphill home. In the next eight days, I have six blog posts to write, 18 Instagram posts to prepare, and a few more pages of Christmas scriptwriting to complete.

It’s Wednesday. On Friday, we’ll eat at Callejero Tacos. It’s supposed to be 81°F —perfect margarita-drinking and taco-eating weather. We will also make it to Frida, one of our favorite Porto restaurants, for our final Monday Night Date Night in this town.  

Maybe we’ll find time to go down to the river on Saturday, cross the bridge, find a table at one of the Port Houses, and taste a 40-year-old Tawny. If we do, along the way, we’re sure to see buskers. Maybe dancers and other performers. Sunny Saturdays are full of festive fun in Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. I hope we’re able to make some time to enjoy the city a little more. 

What Will We Miss About Portugal?

Kindness is king here. People in Porto take an extra level of pride in being kind. While at the São João festival, I drained my glass as Chris stood in line for food, and I saved our seats. A gentleman, who was with his wife and children, brought me a glass of sangria. He just noticed a thirsty person on an unbelievably hot day and did something kind. 

Poets are more lauded than politicians. That’s what an Uber driver told me, and the evidence suggests he’s correct. We live on Rua de Camōes, a street named after one of the country’s most important poets. It’s nice to live in a place that values art. 

The exquisite service and food at restaurants. When we think we’ve overstayed our welcome, we’re given post-dessert petit fours, a shot of limoncello, tequila, or a glass of Port wine. Relax. Enjoy. Would you like an espresso before you go? We’re not going to rush you out the door. 

Port wine and chocolate tastings. 

How safe the country feels. I’ve walked Porto’s streets many times alone and in unfamiliar places without being bothered in any way. Chris and I have wandered parts of Lisbon late at night without incident. It isn’t perfect. Bad things happen here, but overall, it’s pretty calm. 

Why Leave Portugal?

The pettiest reason on our list is convenience. Coffee shops that open at dawn. Grocery stores that I know how to shop. Roads I’m comfortable driving. Separate washers and dryers that work fast. HVACs that keep mold, dust, and dander to a minimum. 

The most compelling reason on our list is missing friends and family. 

The most surprising reason is how much we miss the cold and snow. What I wouldn’t give for a brisk, nose-biting wind on this clear, sunshiny, 65°F day. 

Our decision was triggered by the bureaucratic hurdles and misunderstandings we faced when trying to pick up our SEF cards – the cards that show you can stay in the country for two years. We’d been approved. We had papers we could use for a while, but needed our cards. After multiple trips, a long wait in line, and hiring someone from Portugal to handle it for us, we thought hard about what future challenges we might face here. If something major happened – a natural disaster, medical emergency, or political upheaval – we might find ourselves at a serious disadvantage, especially since we’ve struggled to learn Portuguese.

Since deciding, homesickness set in, just like it does every time I’m on a train in Europe listening to Willie Nelson sing American Tune with Paul Simon. I started counting when 49 days remained. Now we’re down to nine. And in the morning, it’ll be eight, then seven… When we get down to none, we won’t quite be on our way home yet. First, we’ll stop in Edinburgh. Then, Seattle. After, we’ve booked six weeks in Kelowna, British Columbia. Once those six weeks are done, we’ll spend five days driving home.

To be continued…

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