Exciting adventures, new friends, continued learning, and a few disappointments (blasted COVID!!!)…
We are just about to reach the two year mark of being in Portugal (January 13). Holey moley. I can hardly believe it. Two years?! It doesn’t seem possible that it’s been that long. I marvel at how things can seem both familiar and still excitingly new.
When we first moved here, I remember how everything was new and different, from buildings, roads, signs, and stores to electrical outlets, the healthcare system, appliances and menus. Pretty much everything took some getting used to. Now, all those things are more familiar and some are far superior to what I had known and experienced in America. It has been a real learning experience to release my assumptions, which, I’m ashamed to admit, included an “America is best at everything” attitude. I have come to admire and respect the Portuguese. Are they perfect at everything? No, but neither is America and I’m far more impressed with Portugal than I ever thought possible.
SARS COV-2 continued to dominate everyone’s lives this year. In January many of us were hoping and praying the vaccines, which were just being released, would get the pandemic under control. Unfortunately, misinformation and misguided thinking slowed that effort allowing the virus to mutate several times resulting in spikes in infections. Over the course of this year we have learned that vaccinations and booster shots are good barriers to severe illness. The more we can get people protected, the faster the world will get its footing.
Portugal is a small country, but the way the national health service, government, and public pulled together these past two years was impressive. Everyone’s combined efforts pushed Portugal into the global spotlight. Citizens dutifully wore masks, socially distanced, limited exposure, made significant personal and professional sacrifices, and most importantly got vaccinated. At this point, more than 90% of the population has been inoculated and booster shots are being administered quickly. Like most other places, the omicron variant is spreading quickly here, but I have no doubt Portugal will effectively tamp it down and limit its impact.
This past year certainly had it’s high points, which I’ll get to momentarily, but it also had its challenges and disappointments. We were in complete lockdown for the first three months of the year. We dealt with canceled visits from friends and canceled events due to the virus. I broke my toe in September and then, in December, my cold turned into bronchitis. Both of those situations resulted in trips to the ER. Sweet Pea had several health scares this year, including a seizure while she was in my arms and a few bouts of severe gastroenteritis due to problems with her gall bladder. Thankfully she’s stable now that she’s on thyroid medication and a special, low fat diet. Most disappointing of all was that I wasn’t able to be there in person to see my son Matthew, graduate from Saint Elizabeth University with a Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Administration. At least I was able to cheer him on via the live stream video the university made available.
On January 6th, we were super excited to submit the paperwork and documents needed to complete the registration for our car. It had taken months to pull it all together and I was convinced we were in the home stretch. Boy, was I naïve. 🙄 In September, eight months later, we were informed that IMT, the entity responsible for car registration in Portugal, wanted the current, original registration document issued by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC). What?!! You’ve got to be kidding!
The problem was that we no longer lived in New Jersey and didn’t think it was necessary to keep the expired document, so we threw it out. We told IMT this, but it didn’t matter. They still wanted it. How were we going to get the car registered in New Jersey if we no longer lived there and the car was in Portugal?! The only solution was to go there and see what could be done. Thankfully, we were planning a trip to the US in October to see family in California, so we added a stop at the New Jersey MVC to our itinerary. We were successful in securing the document and passed it along when we returned, but it is now the end of December and we still don’t have our Portuguese license plates. 😒
Once the lockdowns and movement restrictions were lifted at the end of March we hit the road and checked off as many places on our list as possible.
First up was the westernmost point of continental Europe, Cabo da Roca, and the stunning Praia da Ursa in early April. I don’t know about you, but we never seem to tire of looking at gorgeous coastlines.
We followed that up with a visit to Pena Palace in Sintra where we had the most ridiculous and frustrating experience trying to get to the palace. Once we got there, it was worth all the angst. The views, palace, and gardens were beautiful.
We also made learning more about Lisbon a top priority that month. On one trip into the city, we took a ride on the iconic Tram 28. We loved the views of the Alfama and took some time to see several other landmarks. (Of the thousands of images I’ve taken, two of my all time favorites are the ones immediately below from that day).
We closed out April with a visit to the Chiado neighborhood of Lisbon which included a ride on the Chiado funicular and exploring this chic, vibrant area of the city.
After spending time in Lisbon, we wanted a change of pace so we headed south to the Algarve to check out Lagos and marvel at the gorgeous beaches and coastlines. So pretty!!
Who knew that when I decided to make Cascais the focus of a blog post in May, we would end up moving there in August!
Also in May, we were finally able to properly celebrate Won’s birthday. Last year we were still in lock down and the only gift I could come up with was a PowerPoint presentation on, and for, him. (I still laugh about that!) This year we celebrated at Furnas do Guincho known for their seafood and location just above the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
Without intending to, we ended up finding an awesome new place to live in June and started to coordinate all the details associated with moving, but even in midst of all that insanity, we made time to drive to the Alentejo to celebrate our 22nd wedding anniversary at L’AND Vineyards.
That adventure included so many fun and memorable outings! Horseback rides, gin tastings, climbing all over the roof of a 12th century cathedral in Évora, a chapel of bones, an ancient cromlech, learning how rugs are handmade in Arraiolos, and visiting the medieval city of Monsaraz to name a few. We packed so much into that trip, it turned out to be a 3-part series.
In July we took a drive out to Sesimbra, a very popular beach town, to see a medieval castle, a fort situated right on the waterfront, and the beautiful beach. We dined on some tasty food and soaked up some sun while there.
On August 1, we moved into our new place and began, what turned out to be, a three-month process to get settled due to supply chain problems. Since things were pretty chaotic, we felt a visit to someplace zen-like was in order. Off we went to the Buddah Eden Garden. It did the trick! We were once again centered and balanced.
In early September I was beyond happy to welcome two of my siblings and their spouses. We had a fun week of laughing, hugging, and exploring. [My secret plan worked…Gary should be receiving his D7 visa any day and Marlena will follow as soon as she has wrapped up work-related commitments in Los Angeles.]
Due to the second cancelation of our train trip through the Douro Valley, we were gifted tickets to the Chefs on Fire event in mid-September. We had no idea what to expect, but ended up loving it!! This two-day, annual charitable event raises money for the local fire department and brings some of Portugal’s most talented chefs to cook on open fires. In addition to yummy food, the event had a great vibe and good live music too. We had such a great time, we’re planning to attend the next one.
Once we moved in to our new place, I spent a lot of time walking Cascais so I could get to know it better and I fell in love with the tranquility of early morning. I was particularly delighted to learn that Cascais hosts several major sporting events, two of which we got to see; the Lisbon Marathon and the Ironman competition.
In November, Won took me to Madeira for my birthday. We had an action-packed couple of days as we walked the old town, explored the exquisite tropical garden, took a traditional basket ride, and marveled at the landscape.
Driving around the island was nerve-wracking, but the views were stunning and totally worth it!
Back on the mainland we finally received the last two major pieces of furniture to complete our home. Of course they didn’t arrive without problems, but we eventually got them all sorted out. And then, in December, we got to see the Big Wave Tow-in Surfing Competition in Nazaré! I was truly in awe at how those athletes surfed such massive waves. I can hardly wait to see it again next year!
So, here it is New Year’s Eve 2021. I’m amazed at what we have accomplished, what we have experienced, and how our lives have settled into a happy rhythm. I am even more surprised when I look back and realize that I also wrote blog posts on what it’s like to drive in Portugal, the varied and fascinating architecture of this country, Portuguese wine, our favorite local beach, our average monthly expenses (which I need to update now that we’ve moved), vaccination programs, my first visit to the dentist (which I LOVED), fun facts about Portugal, what it’s like to move during a pandemic, shopping for an entire house of furniture in nearly one go, the machinations associated with Won’s golf trolleys, our first experience going to the ER, our trip back to the US, and what Christmas is like in Cascais. To say it’s been a full and eventful year, is understating the obvious. And, that wasn’t even all of my posts!
However, there’s not a lot of time to reflect because a new year begins at midnight and our list of places to go and things to do continues to grow.
We started Portuguese language lessons in October and will keep them going in 2022. Won and I have the same teacher, but take class separately. Maria, our teacher, is young, smart, and fun. She is a native Portuguese who is fluent in English and, of all things, Korean! She also speaks some Spanish, French and Italian. Won and I will be attending a few cultural events she has coordinated next month with the support of the Korean consulate in Lisbon. It will be the first time we will have the chance to meet her in person, because our classes are all online. Her goal is to return to Korea and teach there (she loves Korea), but she has assured us that she will continue to keep us as students even after she moves.
So, in addition to semi-weekly language lessons, we also have several trips on the calendar already. In January we plan to drive to several locations in the central part of the country. In February we are flying to Paris with our friends Mark and Juliana to see the famous Morozov Modern Art Collection. At the end of March we are driving to Seville, Spain to meet up with my sister, Claire and her husband, Adam. In mid-May we’re off to the Azores to celebrate Won’s birthday. In June we’ll be back in France for a twice-canceled and rebooked river cruise from Lyon to Provence with our dear friends, Bruce and Susan (from the US) and Nick and Jill (from the UK). In September we’ll be back in Porto for the twice-rescheduled Presidential Train ride out to the Douro Valley and we’ll also be meeting up with our friends John and Marion to see more of the northern part of the country. And, if that wasn’t enough, we have a wedding to look forward to in late October when Mark and Juliana, who have become great friends, tie the knot in Estoril.
In between all of those fun experiences we are super excited to welcome friends who are planning to visit. Ray and Sandy, Caryn and Karl, David and Katie, and I am hoping many others.
Retiring and becoming an expat immediately thereafter was a real leap of faith, but it was the BEST decision we could have made. Won and I are both supremely happy and far healthier than we were when we were living in the US and working our butts off. Our lives are rich with experiences and our circle of friends is expanding. Sweet Pea has finally adapted to our new place and will now cross the threshold of death to the balcony with a lot less coaxing. We count every day she is with us as a blessing now that she’s 13 years old.
While this year had its ups and downs, it holds really good memories for us. Like you, I’m truly hoping this pandemic shifts into an endemic so we are not so severely constrained or terrified of getting sick. We have a lot of plans for 2022 and I’m holding my breath that they will all happen.
My sincere wish for you is that all your dreams and hopes become a reality and that you and your loved ones stay healthy and safe. Happy New Year!!
From Portugal with love,