We get this question a lot…
Won’s allergies have really kicked into high gear this year and he’s been completely miserable. [I realize that may seem like a non sequitur opening compared to the title of this post, but hang in there, I promise it will make sense shortly.] Last year his allergies didn’t seem to be a big problem and we both thought Portugal was going to be a magical cure. Unfortunately, that was fanciful thinking. This year, it’s been awful; watery, itchy eyes, sneezing, raw throat, and nasal congestion making it very difficult for him to breathe and sleep. On Tuesday of this past week, and after a particularly bad sneezing fit, I looked at him and said, “You need to see an acupuncturist.” He agreed.
For anyone who suffers from seasonal allergies and has not seen an acupuncturist to address the problem, you are in for a life-changing experience. Years ago, when we lived in Los Angeles, a professional acquaintance of Won’s recommended he see an acupuncturist to alleviate the symptoms he was having related to seasonal allergies. We were both very familiar with acupuncture having received it for injuries; Won’s grandfather even practiced this ancient form of traditional Chinese medicine, but we were both unaware that it could address this particular ailment.
Won was willing to do anything to get some relief. Up to that point, he had tried a variety of over the counter and prescription medications, all of which would make him groggy and cranky. He had even been to see an allergist who tested him for everything possible and then spent a year receiving injections to build up immunities, but it didn’t resolve his seasonal allergies.
Won’s friend suggested he see a specific Chinese practitioner located about an hour and a half from where we lived. During each of his appointments he received a combination of needles and cupping. Cupping is when the interior of a small vessel is heated using a candle or small torch and then placed directly on to the skin to create suction that draws stagnant blood and lymph to the surface. Won had three successive weekly treatments. He experienced immediate relief after the first and, once the treatments were completed, didn’t experience any symptoms for the remainder of the year. No supplemental medication was required. It was revelatory! (The images below are not of Won – they are images I pulled from the Internet to give you an idea of what these types of treatments involve.)
When we moved to New Jersey, Won, once again, found an acupuncturist who could help banish his seasonal symptoms. Turns out Portugal would be no different, but could he find someone who specialized in this type of acupuncture? A quick internet search answered the question. He found several practitioners in the Lisbon/Cascais area and reached out to three. He was able to schedule an appointment with one of them at 4:30 that same afternoon.
The morning after his first treatment, Won was again marveling at how quickly the treatment worked and told me more about his conversation with Vera, the acupuncturist. Vera is a native of Portugal and their conversation included the following exchange:
Vera: Where are you from?
Won: The US.
Vera: Do you live here now?
Won: Yes, we live in Monte Estoril and really enjoy it.
Vera: Great! But, why Portugal?
It occurred to us that this is how a lot of our conversations go when speaking with a Portuguese. They want to understand why we chose Portugal over other European countries. It isn’t a difficult question to answer and when we respond that we love it because of the food, wine, history, weather, and culture, they might say Spain, Italy, and France have those things, but when we add that we love the kind, warm, welcoming people of Portugal, then they nod and say, “Yes, that is true.” And, we always remark that we are surprised by how many people here speak English, adding that it is so easy to communicate in English that we are finding it difficult to learn Portuguese! Again, they typically nod in agreement, and quickly follow up by telling us that Portuguese is a difficult language to learn. (Tell me about it…groan.)
However, tossing off a quick list of meta categories to answer the question of Why Portugal, feels like we are giving the question short shrift. So, I thought it was time to be more specific as to why Won and I love it here.
The Portuguese – I have shared several examples of how kind and helpful the Portuguese have been to us since our arrival. Most recently we found a note on our car with a message from a neighbor who noticed that we have a dog (the fact that our car has a New Jersey license plate most likely helped identify us). She was offering to give us dog food that had been included as a free gift in her grocery delivery since she doesn’t have a dog. She included her phone number which allowed us to set up a WhatsApp thread. Since that time Beatriz has been a wealth of great information…and we haven’t even met in person yet! (Blasted virus.)
Food – What better way is there to appreciate and come to know the heart of soul of a country than through its cuisine and Portugal and the sea are inextricably linked. Even though we don’t eat much red meat anymore there are many dishes that include beef and pork, which we hear are really good. When you sit down to enjoy a meal, you are tasting the history of this place. What an amazing experience. Adding to the fun, Won and I have found that ordering can be a bit tricky. There have been times when we’ve ended up with incredibly generous portions that could feed a family of 8 or we’re served an entire fish – head to tail. It hasn’t put us off though. We just dig in!
Living here is also helping us to expand our culinary experiences at home too. Won has really embraced cooking and is researching and preparing more Portuguese dishes. Our new friends Kirk and Joy told us about a great seafood market right next to the park where we take Sweet Pea. What a find!! Just the other day we selected a gorgeous, whole linguado (sole), which they broke down and fileted for us – at no extra cost. Bonus!
Before we leave the topic of food, I have to praise the pastries of Portugal. There are so many good ones, but at the top of the list has to be the classic and perfect, pastéis de nata, a heavenly egg custard tart with a history that dates back to before the 18th century.
What is particularly interesting is how many desserts here incorporate egg yolks. The reason for this is that back in the day convents and monasteries used large quantities of egg-whites for starching clothes, such as friars and nuns’ religious habits. It was quite common for them to use the leftover egg yolks to make cakes and pastries resulting in the proliferation of sweet pastry recipes throughout the country. The original recipe for the first pasteis de nata is kept in a secret, locked room and only a few people know it (although there are many versions of the recipe all over the country). Happily, there are delectable treats of all kinds and loads of fabulous places to eat them. Hmmm…in retrospect, perhaps the lockdowns have been a good thing, they’ve helped to keep our sweet tooth in check a just a bit.
Wine – Wine, like seafood, is abundant and affordable in Portugal. This is enabling us to fully enjoy and build a genuine appreciation of Portuguese wine. We are learning more about the different regions and the unique aspects of wine produced in those areas. Our taste preferences have been expanded to include a wide variety of port, including white port. Our trip to Porto last October included a port tasting at Quinta do Noval. Of course price points vary significantly, but you can get a really good bottle of wine for as little as 5,00 euros. Who doesn’t love that?!
History and Architecture – The history of Portugal is deep, fascinating and reflected in nearly everything we see. Did you know that Lisbon is the second oldest capital in all of Europe? Athens is the oldest, but Lisbon is older than Rome, London and Paris! The architecture is amazing and we never tire of looking at or visiting old fortresses, castles, palaces, churches, stately homes and beautiful gardens. I dedicated a post to the gorgeous architecture of Europe (click here to read that). Each site provides a glimpse into the past and it’s all fabulous. I particularly love the decorative, colorful azulejo tilework, ancient stonework, and Manueline-style of architecture. Portugal has invested in protecting and preserving its architectural history while embracing a modern aesthetic. I remain continually impressed with how artfully they blend the modern and historical.
Weather and Geography – Portugal is a lot like California. As a matter of fact, Portugal feels like a smaller version of California with similar topography – coastlines, farmland, vineyards, orchards, even a place to ski! Porto, like San Francisco, is located in the north where summers are comfortable and winters are very cool and rainy. Porto receives about 45 inches of rain annually (SF gets an avg of 38″). And both have famous wine growing regions in the north – the Douro Valley in Portugal and the Napa and Sonoma counties in California. The central coast of Portugal mimics the central coast of California with charming beach towns and a fun surf culture. As you continue south, Cascais and Sintra are a lot like Santa Barbara. Both have coastal enclaves for the wealthy offering a cool respite for those living inland and those in the city during hot summers. Lisbon, like Los Angeles, is a sprawling metropolis with warm weather in the summer and cool, rainy weather in the winter. The average annual rainfall in Lisbon is about 27 inches. To the very south you have the Algarve, which is comprised of a wide range of costal towns resembling a similar stretch of California from Laguna Beach to San Diego and offering warm, comfortable weather nearly year round. The Algarve region only gets about 20 inches of annual rainfall. As we drive around the country I often remark how much it reminds me of California so it feels a lot like home to Won and me.
|Jan – Mar||17.1° C (62.8° F)||14.9° C (58.8° F)|
|Apr – Jun||21.8° C (71.2° F)||17.5° C (63.5° F)|
|Jul – Sep||26.3° C (79.3° F)||19.5° C (67.1° F)|
|Oct – Dec||17.2° C (53.0° F)||16.1° C (60.0° F)|
|Jan – Mar||17.0° C (62.6° F)||15.9° C (60.6° F)|
|Apr – Jun||22.4° C (72.3° F)||19.4° C (66.9° F)|
|Jul – Sep||27.3° C (81.1° F)||22.6° C (72.7° F)|
|Oct – Dec||17.7° C (63.9° F)||17.0° C (62.6° F)|
Accessibility – And speaking of driving around…the country is a very intimate and accessible size. Porto is a three hour drive from where we live in Monte Estoril, and Tavira, located along the southern border of the country, is also only a three hour drive away. This makes getting around to explore via the country’s great highway system super easy. I should also put in a plug for the terrific Lisbon metro system and the iconic yellow trams – great ways to get around the capital.
Geographic Location – Portugal is also geographically well placed to travel back to the US and to other countries within Europe. It is an eight and a half hour flight from Lisbon to Newark (primarily due to flying against the jet stream) and only six hours and 45 minutes the other way. It takes an hour and a half to fly from Lisbon to Madrid, two hours to London, two and a half to Paris and Dublin, three hours to Rome and Amsterdam, and five to Berlin. And, of course there are other options; we can take a road or train trip, both are on our list for future adventures.
Digital Integration – Another great aspect of Portugal is how digitally integrated the country is. There is Multibanco, one of the most advanced, fully integrated cross-bank online banking systems in the world. I covered more about this and what it does in the post called “This Might Surprise You“. It’s worth reading about.
Then there is Via Verde, an electronic toll collection system which has been used in Portugal since April 1991. It gained widespread use mainly because it operates with any bank in the country, thanks to the Multibanco system. Via Verde is now being expanded to other areas outside toll fee collecting. Many carparks, some gas service stations (GALP) and even McDrive (equivalent to DriveThru) are now using it as a possible payment method.
Innovation – Additionally, Portugal is establishing itself as a global technology hub. In 2016, Lisbon became the home of Web Summit, the world’s largest technology conference. In 2018 it was ranked as one of the 13 most innovative countries in the world by the CTA International Innovation Scorecard. Innovation remains at the forefront of the goal to modernize. Just this year Portugal’s first digital nomad village was established in Madeira.
Safety – I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Portugal is a very safe country. The Global Peace Index ranks Portugal the 3rd safest country in the world only behind Iceland and New Zealand respectively. The Global Peace Index is a composite index measuring the peacefulness of countries made up of 23 quantitative and qualitative indicators each weighted on a scale of 1-5. The lower the score the more peaceful the country. Portugal’s rank is 1.247 placing it 3rd out of 163 countries. Click this link to see where your country ranks.
Natural Beauty – The coastlines and beaches of Portugal are simply divine and range from long stretches of soft sandy beaches to stunning rock formations and cliffs. I never tire of seeing the coastline and we haven’t even been to see some of the well-known coastlines in the south. What has made this all the more fun is that Sweet Pea loves the beach! It’s kind of funny because she didn’t seem interested when we lived within walking distance of the beach in Southern California for years. I’m not sure what changed, but as soon as her little paws hit the sand now, she bounds across the beach with happy abandon and loves wading in the tide pools. (Could it be that she appreciates it more now after having lived through nasty winters in New Jersey?)
Progressive Culture – And its not just the beauty of this country that has bewitched us, it is also how strong, adventurous, resilient and forward thinking the Portuguese people are. From Vasco da Gama and all the Portuguese explorers who followed to the Carnation Revolution to their progressive laws and family-focused culture, we are so impressed. If you haven’t seen it, please click here to read a post I did on how progressive Portugal is. This only adds to the admiration we have for Portugal.
Cost of Living – Of course one of the main reasons we chose Portugal is the cost of living and the fact that we are able to live in the country tax free for up to 10 years on a non-habitual residency status. I plan to write more about this in an upcoming post so stay tuned to learn more about that. Our average monthly expenses are so much lower than what they were in the United States and our quality of life is so much better. Our health has improved and our happiness levels are off the charts. The only thing missing is the ability to see family and friends due to this #$^% virus! Hopefully, now that vaccines are available we can finally see the light at the end of this long, dark tunnel. I can’t wait to welcome friends and family with open arms later this year.
There are so many reasons for Why Portugal and I haven’t even touched on the myriad festivals that take place throughout the year (which have all been put on hold due to the virus), football (the European kind), and fado (I can’t wait to hear this music in person). Those are all on the list of things to experience once the world hits the restart button. And, when we do, I promise to tell you all about it.
Until then, please stay safe, stay healthy, and stay in touch.
From Portugal with love,