“Our Mother Mountain, our beloved river and the immense blue ocean cleanses our souls.” ~popular Portuguese saying.
What were our thoughts when we decided to move to Portugal?
Why wait any longer. Why get any older. There are no guarantees – of health, of well-being of any kind. All we’ve got is now!
Our world was (and continues to be) in the midst of great change, and people were trading their money in for meaning at astounding rates. COVID intervened. And everything changed. Our plans. Our ambitions. Our priorities. The whole world.
Portugal is slow, relaxed and knows the meaning of work/life balance. We moved to Portugal in search of a slower pace of life. Less work – Paul could retire, Ana could leave her corporate job and focus on her business. More time to just live. We moved to Portugal to change (pretty much) everything. To discard our comfort zones. Shake up stagnant routines, shed identities that no longer fit.
But it hasn’t been easy.
Systems are hard to understand. Some days are too much. The learning curve is steep. Daily realities were made up of a thousand small tasks that required us to navigate a new language; unfamiliar grocery store aisles; and customs and social norms that were utterly foreign.
Sometimes you can do everything right and things still don’t work out. You can think it’s all gonna be ok. Every single person you trust can tell you everything’s gonna be ok. And then, sometimes, it’s just… not.
And all these things — the big and the small, the bureaucracy of immigration and the learning curve of a different culture, even the forging of new friendships — it all takes a great deal of energy. Today is our one-year anniversary of moving to Portugal. We read, somewhere on the good old internet, that on average it takes at least two years to feel settled after a move of this magnitude.
Reading that statistic put us at ease. There’s been a pressure — self-induced, mostly — to feel more settled. After all, we‘ve come so far, accomplished so much. We completed literal mountains of paperwork. We got our visas and then our residency cards, then a Portugal driver’s license (Paul’s. Ana can still use her U.S. license until it expires) and hopefully soon the motorcycle will be registered here with a Portugal license plate. We enrolled in the national health care system and used it twice for hospital visits at a fraction of the cost in the U.S.
In and amongst it all, we laid the foundations for our new life. Our shipping container with our personal belongings took 4 months to arrive so we had to do a lot of shopping. We shopped for basic tools, plates, glassware, towels, furniture, linens, lamps, a refrigerator, washer, dryer, bed, television, and so on — all the things we needed to replace what we left behind. We never shopped so much in our lives as we did the first two weeks in Portugal. It was exhausting. It was necessary.
Our first apartment
Our first apartment (after spending our first 10 days in an Airbnb) was in a very old building in the center of town. It did not have air conditioning or heating. It can get very cold inside in winter, but the buildings are made to keep out the heat in the summer.
We were mentally prepared to take this on, but the reality is much different then what we were told. We didn’t realize how cold it would be INSIDE. Colder than outside! When summer came, it was one of the hottest summers on record in Europe. Just our luck, especially coming from Arizona! It did get warm inside on the hottest days but was doable with two fans circulating the air.
Since we only saw the neighborhood we moved to once during the day on a quick vacation visit prior to moving here, we didn’t realize that it was next to a VERY loud bar with live music on Friday, Saturday & Sunday! It sounded like the bands were inside our apartment. This would happen from 7:00 p.m. till Midnight on Friday and most of the day/night on Saturday and Sunday.
Buying a condo in Setúbal, Portugal
Between the heating/cooling issues, the loud bar, and a very small kitchen (not ideal for Ana’s work), we decided not to renew our lease when it came up in November. Problem was, rentals with what we wanted were few and far between, if not, nonexistent. Thus, we had to delve into buying our own condo in the Portugal real estate world.
We could write several pages on that process (including our first offer on a place falling through – luckily!) alone, but in the end, we found a three-bedroom apartment only 300 feet from the ocean in a newer (2015) development and quiet neighborhood.
And still, we’re not quite settled. But as with so many parts of life, we’re learning a different measure of good. We had plans and ideas of what we should do and can do. Those plans don’t always work out. And so, we pivot. And when the time is right, we will pivot again.
Speaking of pivoting. We were adamant when we moved that we were done with pets. With our kids grown and on their own, we didn’t want to be tied down with pets. We moved here to travel and pets make that much more difficult to accomplish.
So, what did we do? We adopted a stray cat off the street in July (his name is Quebedo after the street) and recently (December) adopted another cat (her name is Harley after the motorcycle brand Paul owns) from a shelter to keep Quebedo company.
Are we crazy or what?!?!?
Putting down roots
We live right in the middle of it all, an easy walk to bakeries, parks, the waterfront and the beautiful main square, Praça do Bocage. Not a day goes by that we don’t see someone we know while out on a walk to run errands or riding our bikes. We’ve never rode our bikes or walked so much in our lives!
We didn’t think we would meet so many other expats this quickly. In fact, our social calendar is busier here than it was in the U.S. We’ve also been extremely fortunate to meet so many wonderful people from Portugal who have made us feel welcome. The Portuguese are known for their warmth, strong sense of family and humble nature. We couldn’t agree more. Some of our favorites:
- Zeta the owner of the Airbnb we stayed at our first 10 days in Portugal. So accommodating, friendly and helpful.
- The staff at the restaurant, Srikaya, next to our first apartment especially João, Emilia & Antonio. They always make each visit special.
- Luis and Ursula, our upstairs (and only neighbors) in the building of our first apartment. An older couple, Luis often times was our door man as our door bell was broken and Ursula had such a sense of fashion. They are the kindest couple.
- Camila, who has her own business helping foreigners make sense of all the Portuguese policies, systems, and requirements, acting as our advocate and joining us at appointments to translate.
- The Sunrise Riders Family – a group of the nicest motorcycle riders you could ever meet. We met them by chance, when one of their members (who recently returned from Washington D.C where he was stationed at the Portuguese Embassy) parked his bike next to mine at a huge motorcycle show in Setúbal. We were probably the only two motorcycles with U.S. plates out of hundreds parked along the street. After that, we met up with most of the group and they invited us to lunch.
- Pedro the Park Worker who takes care of the small park next to our first apartment. When he would see us he would always yell “Are you happy?” with the biggest smile on his face and of course we would say “Yes!” with a big smile back.
- Fabiano my barber. He started with a one chair “shop” that was a small room of his house. He recently moved to a bigger standalone place. He studied philosophy, speaks some English and rides a motorcycle. Great young guy.
- All the restaurant workers at the places we go to regularly. They’re always there, we know them by name and they know our order because we always eat the same thing!
But there’s a vast chasm between meeting people and making friends. Especially friends of the heart. The problem of making friends when you start over someplace new is finding your people. We’re beginning to find our people. Or maybe it’s better to say that we’re beginning to discover which of the people we have met are people with whom we fit.
There is no direct English translation for the Portuguese word “saudade.” It’s similar to “bittersweet” or “longing.” But those words don’t encompass the full meaning, which is “a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for something or someone that one cares for, or loves. It’s the recollection of feelings, things, experiences, places, or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, and well-being.
It’s as simple as missing certain foods and all the conveniences of the U.S. It’s the not so simple, like missing family and friends. We think we would have a deeper sense of belonging were it not for our family and friends, who are like family, not being here. The sense of belonging may elude us — but the sense of home, of a small safe place that’s ours, is growing stronger.
Setúbal is “right sized”.
We love Setúbal. There’s a beauty in its imperfection (abandoned buildings, graffiti, fishing community, papermill – even the (not so good) smell). It has a “grittiness” that speaks to us. We love the water and the beaches; we love the historic bits and the café culture; we love the walkability; the mountain and nature close by and the art/music scene. There’s always some event or activity going on in Setúbal. We’re spoiled by the quality and variety of wine for 3€/bottle, 1€ coffee with a 1€ pastry and the best grilled fish ever.
It’s peaceful. But it’s so very different — a difference that we’ve quickly gotten used to. We don’t want to go backward. Life in Portugal is beginning to look more like regular old life and less like transition.
So, we will leave you with this as we embark on Year 2 in Portugal:
What it all comes down to is, the goal is not perfection but a lifelong pursuit of betterment…
Better to have loved and lost.
Better to have tried and failed.
Better to go, to do, to say, to see,
Than to stay silent/safe/static and wish you had written a different story.
THANKS for reading.
While we would like to take credit for all the words in this posting, many came directly from The Long Scrawl by Ladonna Witmer (https://wordsbyladonna.substack.com/). With her permission of course. Her writing is wonderful and her words struck a chord with us, so much so that it was like she read our mind. Thank you, Ladonna!