…with a new perspective.
We got home on Wednesday of this week and we are so happy to be back. Don’t get me wrong, it was amazing to see family and friends, and more specifically, to get a much-needed great big bear hug from my son, Matthew (several, in fact). But, there is something special about being here. I’m wondering if I feel that way because we are in our own space and back with Sweet Pea, or is it something else?
It has been 22 months since we left the United States and moved to Portugal. The blasted pandemic has prevented us from traveling back so the anticipation and excitement of returning had been building for awhile. The primary reason for this trip was to celebrate my step father’s 91st birthday. While there, we took the opportunity to include visits with Won’s mother and sister in Los Angeles, to see great friends in New Jersey, and rummage through our stuff in storage. I was truly excited to see everyone (and everything), but also curious to see if anything felt different.
Upon landing in Newark at about 3PM, we rented a car and drove straight to our storage unit. We had the afternoon of our arrival to find a few things we planned to bring back with us before meeting friends at 7PM for dinner that night.
When Won rolled up the door to the unit and we were confronted with a wall of stuff, I wanted to roll it back down and run the other way. Won, on the other hand, was undeterred. He literally dove right in. We were there to fish out some original artwork, a few large cooking pots I was convinced would be too big to bring with us last year, a Bose sound bar (Won’s objective) and some monogramed cocktail napkins (my objective). Neither of these last two items were practical or particularly necessary, but we had our own irrational reasons for wanting them.
Won became a Korean Spiderman! He scaled and shifted furniture single-handedly, climbed up and down rickety stacks of boxes, and kept digging deeper and deeper. Two and a half hours later...we had a Eureka moment. He had found some of the artwork we wanted. In the end, we abandoned the pots and napkins (we finally remembered they were in boxes at the very back of the unit), but the Bose sound bar had been found along with another golf bag he insisted we bring back (justifying its return by using it as packing for the sound bar – clever boy).
We managed to cram everything back in to the unit, except for four Adirondack chairs (how did we get them in there in the first place???!!). We decided to give the chairs to our friends Bruce and Susan who are planning to move to South Carolina at some point. As we closed the door and locked it once again, we both agreed we have too much, but still don’t know what to do with it. That will be another project for another time. We raced to the hotel, checked in in record time, cleaned up as fast as possible, and went to meet our friends.
What a fun evening that was. It was like no time had passed at all. We all fell into lively banter and shared updates on family and experiences. It felt as though we had been together the week before. Conversation and wine flowed seamlessly.
The next morning, we drove to the New Jersey MVC (motor vehicle commission) so that I could request a copy of the expired registration for my car. You may be wondering why on earth I would need that. Well, let me explain Portuguese bureaucracy…what am I thinking??!! Who could possibly explain that?! Suffice it to say that we were asked to provide the original registration for the car. Unfortunately, because we are in the process of registering the car in Portugal and submitted all the documents that were requested back in January, we threw away the expired document thinking we didn’t need it any longer. Ha!! Live and learn. They wanted it. The only way we could get it was to go back to New Jersey and request it in person. We made an appointment online before we left and showed up at the appointed hour. They could not give me a copy of the expired document, but I was told I could pay the late fee and get a current registration document. (Thank GOODNESS I still had my New Jersey driver’s license with our old address on it). I paid $135.50 and walked out with the updated document (can you believe this process?!).
On Thursday afternoon, Won flew to Los Angeles to see his mother and sister and I flew to San Francisco to maximize time with my family. Won joined me on Friday night. The weekend was filled with love and laughter. The warm, happy memories our visit created will sustain us until we can return. On Monday we flew back to New Jersey to grab that artwork and Tuesday night we flew home with two more pieces of luggage than we brought. We hand-carried the artwork on to the plane.
Oh!! One more interesting tidbit. We thought we had to get COVID tests to return to Portugal, but when we were struggling to find a place to have them done in Northern California, our research found that all we needed to do was show that we each had a digitized EU vaccine certificate, which we did. It saved us between $200 and $500 depending on where we might have had them done. Whew!!
During the flight home, we talked a lot about our trip. Here are some of our thoughts and observations:
Old vs. New
What struck me first was that our journey was a bit like time travel. Flying from Lisbon to New Jersey and then to California – and back again – highlighted the history and provenance of each place, particularly the infrastructure. We live in a historic coastal town with narrow cobblestone streets and charming old architecture that dates back to the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. New Jersey is one of the oldest states of the Union and its infrastructure primarily reflects industrialization that took place in the 19th and 20th centuries with brick buildings and a mix of old and new roads. California seemed like it was built yesterday by comparison! Wide boulevards, new construction, and open spaces. Of course, I’m simplifying to make a point, but I think you understand.
Communication and Language
It was easy to navigate when driving because we understood all the street signs. The experience itself was comfortable due to the many wide, paved roads. Another interesting observation was that it was odd to overhear conversations and understand what people were talking about. Of course, we could communicate with ease and without thinking. But, our time in Portugal is having a distinct impact on us. Several times we would automatically say obrigado or obrigada (thank you in Portuguese) and then laugh. The ease with which we could do whatever we wanted or needed has spurred us on to study harder to learn Portuguese. Even though many, many, many people in Portugal speak English, there are times where we both wish we were fluent.
Upon arrival in New Jersey and as soon as we left the airport, I laughed out loud at all the New Jersey license plates!! Our NJ plate is a rarity in Portugal and stands out like a sore thumb. It was almost comical to see so many of them! The funny thing? Our rental car’s license plate was from North Carolina. Ha! We are still an oddity!
It was comfortable and slightly humid in New Jersey with temps around 21C (70F). Initially it was freezing cold and windy in California with temps only reaching 14C (57F) in the middle of the day and overnight lows getting down to 8C (46F). Thankfully, it warmed up on Saturday and Sunday reaching 26C (80F). It was so cold, Won had to buy a jacket. He complained on multiple occasions that it had been months since he had to wear long pants.🙄 The weather in Cascais has been, and is projected to be, 21C with 60% humidity; just perfect. It’s easy to get spoiled.
On our way from the airport to the storage unit that first day we were in a bit of traffic while passing through Morris Plains, a relatively small town in New Jersey. We were waiting in a long line to make a right-hand turn. Immediately to our right was an empty supermarket. The car in front of us decided to cut through the parking lot rather than sit in traffic. As soon as they did, a police officer who had been tucked into the corner under a tree, turned on her lights and followed the driver. As we rounded the corner we saw the driver getting a ticket. Seriously??! We never see police pulling people over in Cascais, even though there are plenty of opportunities with jay walking and the crazy parking habits of both residents and visitors. A Morris Plains police officer would lose their mind here.
Size of Cars
Holy Toledo!! I forgot how BIG cars are in the US. Here a Mini Cooper looks like an SUV, but in the States it looks like a Mini Cooper – mini. Funny thing, when Won went to retrieve his rental car in Los Angeles the Avis agent was trying to offer him a larger car, and at no extra cost. Won kept telling him he wanted a small car. The agent was completely confused by this. I suppose larger cars are appropriate in a country the size of the US with roads and parking spaces that can accommodate them, but I forgot how big they are.
Cost of Everything
Oh. My. Goodness. We were shocked at how expensive everything was. Food, manicures/pedicures, hotels, rental cars, clothing.. everything. I’ve mentioned before that electronic goods are more expensive in Portugal as opposed to the US, but that’s about it.
- Restaurants were shockingly expensive and the portion sizes were unnecessarily gigantic.
- You can stay in a five-star hotel in Portugal for less than 250,00€ a night ($290.00). In New Jersey, we paid $139.00 a night at a Hampton Inn where the towel rack in the bathroom fell off the wall and the toilet paper holder was barely hanging on. When we returned to New Jersey a few days later, we decided to upgrade to a Hilton Hotel for $196.00 per night. It was an old building, but at least the fixtures in the bathroom stayed in place. Our hotel in Northern California, the Cambria, opened in August of 2020 and was $250.00/night. The Cambria is owned by Choice Hotels, a mid-range hotel chain. They only clean the room and provide fresh towels once every 3 days (although, because we stayed four days, they didn’t bother coming to clean at all).
- The cost for a rental car was insanely high. One of the reasons is the shortage of rental cars. Many rental car companies sold off large portions of their inventory during the pandemic and now cannot replace them due to the global microchip shortage. We paid $138.00 for one day in New Jersey! We decided to cancel the reservation we had made in Northern California. It was going to be just under $400.00 for four days. My generous son ferried us around or loaned us one of his cars. For comparison purposes, we just reserved a BMW for our trip to Madeira next month and the cost will be 237,00€ for four days.
- While in Northern California I got a manicure and pedicure. I paid $55.00 (47,45€) not including the $10.00 tip I left. In Cascais I pay 28,00€ ($32.46) for the same service without tip.
The odd thing is, when we lived in the US, we didn’t think twice about the cost of most things because we were used to it. Now, we are keenly aware of how expensive it was to live there.
Needless to say, we loved our visit, but we are happy to be home. While living in Portugal challenges us in new and different ways (occasional language barriers, navigating narrow cobblestone roads, and dealing with a sometimes frustrating bureaucracy), we welcome those challenges because the excitement, stimulation, mental expansion, and beauty of living here compensate for anything we might be missing in the US.
In other exciting news, I think our dining room table is finally going to arrive at the warehouse next week. This means we’ll be getting it soon!! Yay! The couch still isn’t expected until mid-November. As soon as it arrives, we can hang the artwork we brought back with us and I’ll be able to share pictures of our new place, which I guess isn’t so “new” anymore given how long this process is taking, but, a promise is a promise.
Next week we take Sweet Pea in to see her stylist, Luis, and Won will be back out on the golf course. He’s one game away from becoming the club champion! As for me? My toe has finally healed and that means I get to explore our new town more closely. As always, I promise to let you know what I discover. Until then, please stay safe, stay healthy, and stay in touch.
From Portugal with love,