Our tiny AirBnB cottage was just what we needed while we searched for an apartment to rent. It was set on a piece of property about 30 minutes outside Lisbon and nestled in a little valley with small plots of land where people grew their vegetables and fruits. Upon arrival we were not only greeted by our hosts, Ana and Jose, but also by Fred, the Basset Hound and onsite ambassador.
As you can see below, Fred and Sweet Pea immediately checked each other out and then Fred proceeded to decamp on our doorstep for the remainder of our time there. For two weeks, Fred came over and hung out – day and night, sunshine and rain. Eventually, Sweet Pea and Fred would nap in the sunlight together (albeit one in and one out – its a territory thing). It was both comforting and sweet to have Fred there as a constant sentry, but slightly creepy at night with those soulful eyes staring at us!
We quickly got snuggled into our temporary digs and then went to explore the area and begin our house hunt. I am giving my husband, Won, big kudos for being the one to do all the driving. Even though I can drive a manual transmission, I didn’t want to deal with the narrow streets, FAST drivers (Holy Cow!!), and Google Navigation via our phones. Most of the main streets are named after important Portuguese figures. This means that the Google directions sound incredibly complicated especially when you are more accustomed to 2 or 3 syllable street names. When you suddenly jump to names that are 10 to 15 syllables, it can be completely overwhelming! Here are just a few: Rua Dom Afonso Henriques, Avenida Dom Nuno Alvarez Pereira, Rua Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Avenida Padre Jeronimo Usera, Rua Pedro Alvaro de Sousa, Rua Padre Jose Maria Loureiro. And what makes it even more comical is that they are all pronounced on Google with an American accent. I can’t wait until I am familiar with the area and can zip around without needing Google Navigation – but until then, WE LOVE YOU GOOGLE!!
Prior to leaving the US, Won and I spent an inordinate amount of time on Portuguese real estate sites looking for places to live. Our plan is to rent for at least the first year and then decide if we want to continue to rent or to buy. We sent our real estate agent a list of about 7 or 8 apartments and houses we wanted to see upon our arrival. In the end NONE of them were available either because they had already been rented and the leasing company did not pull down the listing or the owner would not rent to us because we have a dog. Unfortunately, Sweet Pea became our Achilles Heel. We tried throwing the Emotional Support Animal certification at them, photos of Sweet Pea, promises to demonstrate how good she is, and even offers to pay extra, but none of it made any difference. In the end, and given our tight time frame, we had two options in the areas where we were focused – Cascais and Estoril. As a result, our “wish list” got whittled down pretty quickly. Happily, we did luck out and one of the two places we saw met most of our needs and for those wish list items it didn’t include, we decided we could deal with it or make adjustments to our lifestyle to accommodate.
“Casa Biarritz” (we decided to name it after the street on which we now live) was just completely renovated from top to bottom. It also comes nearly fully furnished with completely new furniture – a significant bonus! It is a modern apartment on the 7th floor of an 8-story, 70s era building. We were hoping for a water view, but our “Achilles Heel” and our wallet prevented that wish list item. On a positive note, we are only a 15-minute walk to the water. Also within walking distance is a great fruit and vegetable store, cute cafe, local market, and small public garden.
We signed our lease on the 23rd of January and spent the next four days moving out of our AirBnB and into the apartment. This included getting the water and power turned on, installing internet and cable and conducting a multitude of shopping trips since we needed pretty much everything, but furniture. Look around your kitchen and think about what you have in that one room. Yeah…we had to get all of that, plus a vacuum cleaner, broom, iron, ironing board, bathroom amenities, sheets, towels, hangers, a pair of scissors (we had to open what seemed like a 1000 packages of stuff), a screw driver, a step stool (we’re short and the cabinets are tall), etc, etc, etc.
We’ve been logging about 3-4 miles of walking every day just to get the shopping done. Plus, we aren’t familiar with any of the shopping malls so we’re not very efficient when we are out there. And these malls are HUGE, because they often include conveniences like gigantic grocery stores, shoe repair shops, laundry services, optometrists, salon services, and even hospitals and medical clinics! [A side rant if you’ll allow me; what is it about Europeans and their obsession with things both small and large?? They seem to relish trying to outdo the rest of the world in making things really BIG or incredibly small. Case in point, our AirBnB shower was 20 square inches (you could barely move let alone shave your legs!). And the Smart cars are so small they look like you can put them in your handbag. They make Mini Coopers look big! Now, back to your regular programming…]
Another significant compromise we made is that while we did secure a washing machine in our unit, it does not come with a dryer. This, we’ve been told, is pretty standard here and explains why every building has laundry hanging outside. Yup…we are now the proud owners of a laundry drying rack and, as soon as we can get the laundry line strung outside the window, we’ll be hanging our laundry out to dry too. However, we draw the line (at least at this point) on putting our “unmentionables” out. We’re drying those inside the house for now. I should mention that one of the reasons dryers are not very common is that electricity is very expensive here. Additionally, the unit does not have heating or air conditioning. You read that right. Again, this is another typical situation. Since it is January and the temps typically dip into the 40s overnight, one of our shopping trips involved the purchase of four portable heaters (one of them is being used to dry the aforementioned unmentionables). I suspect that in a few short months, we’ll be storing the heaters and racing to buy portable air conditioners or fans – are there portable air conditioners? I hope so!
We aren’t doing much cooking yet because I refused to leave the States without my All Clad cookware. Some of it is packed inside the car, which is due to arrive on February 10, and the rest is being shipped to us and due to arrive on February 4 (thank you, Matthew!!). On a positive note, everything is on sale right now and we scored a small Le Creuset and Won made good use of that recently whipping up a delicious fish stew.
So far, we are sublimely happy now that we are more settled. The food here does not disappoint. Most everything is less expensive than we expected – even our apartment came in €400 under what we had budgeted per month. The weather, even for winter, is comfortable.
While our focus has been primarily on finding a place to live and getting set up, we did take a day or two to explore. We’ve been on long walks along the coast in Cascais and drove up to Caldas da Rainha, Foz do Arelho, and Ericeira. Sweet Pea had a great time playing on the beach in Foz do Arelho.
Next up, I’ll be sharing some amazing stats on the difference between costs for a healthcare plan here vs in the States. You’ll need to sit down for that one.
From Portugal with love,