Relocation To Portugal (Update on 2019 post)

Photos: the copper cataplana pot is my most recent purchase. I have wanted one since I relocated to Portugal. They’re fairly expensive. I bought this one used and cooked my first seafood stew with it a few days ago. You cook with it on your stove top and serve it in the same pot. The seafood simmers in its own savory juices, providing outstanding results. The marble tabletop was custom ordered a few months ago after being inspired by the Portuguese marble I saw in Alentejo in the middle of Portugal. My neighborhood Catholic church holding outdoor mass (I stumbled upon services while jogging). Paco looking healthy and happy. He’s been with me one year now. Jamie Oliver’s quick pizza recipe, I have come to love. The evening view of the Ria Formosa and Atlantic Ocean, from my terrace. Lastly, a seaside landscape I will never grow tired of (a weekend trip one hour from home, near Portimão).

I posted a blog at the one year overseas mark. It’s now been close to three years — time to post an update.

Before I begin the update, I want to share a thought:

Millions of people all over the world are dying and suffering from illness and loss due to COVID-19. Like most, I am consumed by this pandemic. My way of maintaining some normalcy is to continue to blog and carry on with the things that I can do to remain upbeat and optimistic. We all deal with difficulties in our own way.

A Brief Overview

I have pondered living outside of the United States my entire adult life. Until a couple of years ago, the opportunity had not presented itself. I moved to Maine prior to relocating to Portugal, but it never felt like the right fit. When I’m unhappy I usually consider something I might do to change things up; leaving the country was my best option. I love the United States and will not give-up my citizenship. You just never know what the future has in store for you.

Update: When I wrote this two years ago, I was reluctant to make political comments in my blog posts. There were times I didn’t hold back. When Donald Trump became the republican nominee in 2016, I told the people that I loved that I would leave the country if he won. Like many, I couldn’t imagine him leading my country. I have had a few people ask if I will return to the States now that he is no longer in office. My answer is I don’t know. I have decided to allow these kinds of life decisions to come organically. If I later decide that returning to the States is the right thing for me, then I will return. For now, I’m enjoying Portugal and enjoying stability. Stability has been elusive until now.

The Highs (Positives)

I think the best part of leaving the States has been the ability to gain some perspective. A big move, such as the one I made, forces you to take inventory of your life. I left most of my material belongings behind. I didn’t put my things in storage, I got rid of them. I brought five suitcases full of memories I did not want to part with and clothing I hoped would fit for a long time. The purging of most of my material belongings was a good exercise for me. It made me realize that I can live without so much of what I have accumulated. It was also nice to start fresh.

Update: Admittedly, there are times when I wish I had brought a certain something with me. It’s usually a fleeting thought; I quickly remind myself that I have survived for quite awhile without that rug, toilet paper dispenser, or skillet.

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The people in Portugal are gracious and welcoming. I have never felt like an outsider. I had dinner in a restaurant last week and when the owner learned that I was living in Faro, she gave me her cell number and said that I should call her if I ever needed anything. That’s just one example of the reception I have received.

I know this is odd, but I had no idea that I would be only a little over two hours away from Seville, Spain and that it was an easy bus ride away. It’s been a huge bonus to take two or three-day trips to one of my favorite cities. I love everything about Seville. Spanish culture is very different and there’s a whole lot to discover.

Update: I haven’t recently been to Spain due to the pandemic, however, during the summer I was able to travel within the country and I was able to fly to Madeira and see other parts of Portugal I may not have visited otherwise. It’s a beautiful country no matter where you find yourself. If you come to Portugal, don’t just go to Lisbon and/or Porto. Wine country and the coast are absolute must sees.

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The weather in the Algarve is amazing all year-round. With an average 300 days of sunshine, very little humidity most of the year and the temperature never dipping below 45 degrees, I have to say it’s hard to beat. There is often a beautiful breeze in Faro during the summer months because of where we are located on the Iberian south side of the Atlantic. The beautiful and diverse beaches here are also more than I could have hoped for.

Taxes on property are much lower in Portugal. Condo maintenance is one-fourth the cost in Maine and one-tenth of what I paid in New York City. Groceries are about 30% less. Insurance costs are a lot lower. There are bargain airlines that allow you to fly for less than 30 euros each way (if you carry a small bag onto the plane — I’ve learned how to pack more efficiently). Sometimes I wonder why things cost so much more in the States.

The Little things that make a big difference:

  • Because there is very little humidity here, things like sponges and clothes never get that damp, musty odor.
  • No snow . . . ever! I loved snow until I couldn’t ski anymore (knee issues).
  • The Portuguese government has regulations prohibiting the use of pesticides in farming, no hormones, no food additives, etc. Eggs are bright orange and delicious and do not have to be labeled organic — all food is grown naturally (that I know of).
  • Very little crime. I feel very safe.
  • Public transportation is cheap and efficient. City buses are less than a euro a ride and run frequently. Going outside the city is also easy and only a few euros. Buses and trains are never overcrowded. Not owning a car has been freeing and has saved me a good deal of money. My commitment to lessen my carbon footprint has been rewarding. It took me a while to figure out the public transportation system, but once I did, it was a right.
  • Because we have an abundance of sunshine and great weather, I can cycle all year-round.
  • I have discovered many European healthcare products that are inexpensive and work well (i.e., face cream, toothpaste, pimple cream). I have a French grocery store a few blocks away and a fresh food market right above it. The outdoor farmer’s market travels from town to town and it’s in Faro on Sunday.
  • Labor is inexpensive. I have been able to do some very nice renovations to my apartment that did not cost me a fortune (i.e., french doors in my kitchen, tile work, painting).
  • Furniture is well-made here.

Update: Adding shorter and less expensive flights to Asia, most citizens of Portugal embrace social democracy, and I believe there is a good deal more concern and respect for the environment (my perception). I’d like to also note that when I lived in the States I actually had to step over homeless people in NYC and Maine; I have lived in Faro for three years now and I have never seen a homeless person. When people are unable to take care of themselves, the country provides for them — their fellow citizens do so with pride and compassion.

The pace in Portugal is teaching me patience. Being born and raised in New York City and then spending most of my working life there, didn’t help. I wanted things done yesterday and efficiently; not the way of professionals in Faro — not a criticism mind you, more of an observation. Bottom line, if I want to live here, I have to slow down and accept the more relaxed pace. It’s no wonder the elderly take less medication and enjoy a healthier lifestyle.

The Lows (Negatives)

Losing Giorgio (my dog, brought from U.S., 11 years old) to heart disease has been the worst thing that has happened in Portugal thus far. In truth, he would have had to be put down in the U.S. at some point; however, knowing that the climate change adversely affected his heart, made his death more difficult. The wide sidewalks were great because I could walk him without a leash. He loved our new home (parks and beaches) and that gives me great comfort.

I indeed miss my friends and family and that can be tough at times. I fortunately chose a place people want to visit and so, I’ve had more friends and family come to see me than I ever anticipated (it’s good to have a guest room with an en suite). It’s been quite a treat to show the people I love my new home. My brother and his wife are with me now and we have been to places I had not yet discovered; I’ll make sure to explore the unexplored, in the future.

I’ve gained some weight and I’m not happy about that. Delicious pastries are everywhere and they’re so cheap. I think the novelty will soon wear off; either that or I’ll get tired of buying new pants. I’ve always had to work hard to keep the weight off, but aging makes this even more difficult.

Update: The novelty of Portuguese pastry has not worn off; I love the pastry as much today as I did back then. Even worse, I have found better bakeries. The good new is that my weight has remained about the same. As long as I exercise, I can keep it in check and hopefully, remain healthy. My prostate is giving me some problems, but that’s not surprising. It is looking more and more like surgery is in my future. Prostate surgery is a common procedure, however, COVID-19 will have me waiting for at least a year. In the meantime there is medication that keeps things under control. As the saying goes, “It’s better than the alternative.”

Learning Portuguese has not been easy, mainly because I don’t get enough practice outside of my lessons. The good news is that my vocabulary is more substantial and I can have a decent exchange, especially when push comes to shove. I’m enjoying the learning process and I need to be less shy. I now watch Portuguese cooking shows and read Portuguese subtitles when watching HBO films and series (HBO is only 5 Euros a month here). As I’ve said before, if it isn’t enjoyable than I don’t want to do it, learning a new language continues to be fulfilling for me. Patience.

Paco has helped me deal with the loss of Giorgio and now I find my memories of him comforting. Giorgio was there for me during many difficult situations. I am forever grateful to the animals that have been in my life.

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Flying back to the States is expensive. Currently, airfare back to the U.S. is 900 euros during the high season, April to July. I won’t be returning very often. There are bargain fares; however, you have to accept long layovers and not so great airlines. I like TAP — Air Portugal and I hate United (still true in 2021).

Did I Make the Right Choice?

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I chose the right country at the right time. Portugal is becoming more attractive to expats because real estate prices are fairly reasonable; however, in the year since I purchased my condo, the value has risen by 20 percent. It will soon be just as expensive as everywhere else. I saw this happening with Spain 20 years ago. More importantly, I love it here. I love the people, I love the food, I love the weather, the quality of life, my location in Faro, my healthcare, and I love how it all makes me feel. I’ve mentioned this before, but I am 45 minutes to Spain by car and I can fly or take a train to several other European countries very easily. The time difference in other countries is only an hour or two and that’s manageable — I never did well with different time zones.

Access to Travel

Faro is not a very large city; however, it is the capital of the Algarve and the airport is a fairly large hub. Multiple airlines fly direct to many cities throughout Europe. The rail system in Europe is also quite extensive and efficient. I can see the world more easily from my new home. I know that as I get older I will want to stay closer to home where I get to enjoy all the creature comforts. I sleep better in my own bed than anywhere else. Still I know it’s best to travel as much as possible; while I still can.

Photos:  I took these photos in Sagres, Portugal a couple of days ago. Sagres is the furthest south and west you can go on the Iberian continent. It’s difficult to capture how truly peaceful and spectacular this part of the world is. It was an easy two and a half hour drive from my home.

Sagres Guide

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What Lies Ahead? (previous blog)

The best is yet to come . . .

I have decided to stop thinking long-term. I am open to possibilities I might not have ever considered before. I have two big trips coming up in 2019. After I return, perhaps a rescue dog? A pet would probably force me to stay put for a while, but that’s not a bad thing. I’m going to go the organic route on this decision and see where the future takes me. Getting older means aches and pains I did not anticipate and other small medical issues that I have to be dealt with. Staying on top of these things is important for long-term good health. When you get older, health becomes a priority.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
― Soren Kierkegaard

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”
― Beryl Markham, West with the Night

Update: Time for a bit of truth telling — this virus and its many variants are becoming alarming. Some experts say that the vaccinations are not effective against the variants, some are saying they are. The numbers keep going up everywhere. Lockdown has been extended . . . again. Yesterday I ran into seven police officers checking for non-mask wearers and people who were not staying in their homes, where they were told to remain. It’s been a year! It’s confounding, scary and tiresome. Honestly, I’ve been pretty strong so far, but I’ve been feeling that I’m maxing out on patience.

There is so much more I could say about living abroad, but I fear boring you to death. I have zero regrets, I’m probably happier than I’ve ever been, and I look forward to what is to come. I can still see a possible move in the future and I embrace the mystery of where, when, how and why that might happen.

Cuba Update: I was scheduled to leave for Cuba this week, however, the government has extended the lockdown to March 1. The number of COVID-19 cases are down, but the hospitals continue to be overwhelmed with ICU cases. This new wave of cases was a result of carelessness over the holidays. It makes me angry because now we all suffer and the death toll continues to rise. It is astounding how negligent and ignorant human beings can be.

Question of the Week:

Have your feelings about the pandemic changed over time?

Meet Paco: Adopting A Pet

Adoption is the only way to go. It reduces the number of animals being euthanized and provides a home for those in need.

 

This is Paco shortly after he was found shivering in a storm in the hills of Estoi, Portugal. The generous and compassionate Scottish couple who found him, shared that he was in a state of shock, hungry and badly matted. It appeared from his skeletal, tiny body that he had not eaten for some time. They took him to the vet to have him checked out. He had a serious eye infection, he was starving, and he had worms. The vet told them that he is less than a year old. He also had a chip, however, his information had never been entered in the system — it appears that he was abandoned. The couple’s dog Deano, did not really care for Whisper (a friend of theirs named him) and tried to attack him several times. Clearly, keeping Whisper was not an option, but they were quickly becoming attached.

The friend that was helping them cope with the situation posted a plea for adoption on Facebook and I responded immediately. I had a conversation with the friend and explained that I could adopt Whisper, but since I had a pre-planned trip to Spain with my friends Michelle and John, I could not take him home until I returned to Portugal. She said that would not be a problem and she asked me to please come and meet Whisper. My friends were joining me in Faro a few days later and I had hired a rental. I committed to going to Estoi directly from the car rental. John and Michelle are dog lovers and they knew Giorgio his entire life (my dog that passed from a heart valve problem a little over a year ago) and they were excited to meet my potential new pet.

I arrived and spotted Whisper behind a gate a few feet away and knew immediately that he would be my new companion. He is now called Paco. He looks like a Paco and he is my Paco. I have a deep fear that the previous owner will return and snatch him away from me. It’s a fear I will have to live with for awhile. The lack of data attached to his chip leads me to believe that there is a good chance he will remain with me — we’re destined to grow old together.

 

Our First Day Together

Paco has been through the horrible trauma of being abandoned. I cannot imagine what he is feeling right now. He has been with his foster parents for a few weeks and he has grown fond of them; after all, these kind people rescued him. And now they are leaving him with me. I was sensitive to his fears and apprehensive feelings.

 

Settling In

The hand-off wasn’t easy. I was excited to have Paco see his new home, but his foster mom was very sad and had a difficult time saying goodbye. We sat at a café wondering when would be the best time to leave with Paco; there was no best time. She’s gone back and forth about whether or not she wants to see him or hear about how he’s doing. I’m going to give her time and she can decide. She left me with articles of her clothing so that Paco would have her scent. She also left a piece of her heart.

 

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Michelle and I walked him home. Paco was noticeably skittish; not very familiar with traffic noise and these new surroundings. We got to the apartment and John was sitting out on the terrace. Paco ran outside and went straight for the railing where there are slats that I am certain he can squeeze through (he weighs about five pounds and he’s tall and thin). I screamed for him to stop and he froze. I know it scared him terribly, but it was my only option. We decided that I would need to cover the slats with mesh — this had never occured to me before he arrived.

We stayed outside where he was obviously much more comfortable and Michelle calmed him down. He eventually settled. Soon after, Michelle began cutting some of the knots from his coat; he’s very badly matted from the time he spend in the hills searching for food, water and a safe home. Most of the matting is close to his skin and will need to grow out before it can be cut. I’m going to give it some time. Michelle leaves for home in a few days and I can’t help wondering how I am going to manage without her patience. Paco responds to her kindness and soft voice. Thus far, I have been a distant observer. Part of me feels as if I am betraying Giorgio and the other part wants to love Paco.

The mesh has been added to the terrace, so it is now safe for Paco to be outside without supervision. He slept most of his first day with me. Michelle got him to eat and I took him out a couple of times. He walks with coaxing, but he’s obviously uncertain of his new surroundings. I know it will take time. He is alert and responds to my commands.

He slept quietly through the night in the bed his foster mom brought to me. She had also given me his eye medicine, a lead, collar, and hand written notes about the time he’s been with her and her husband. When she found him a little over two weeks ago his eyes were infected and almost completely shut. They are now open and healing; we have an appointment with my vet tomorrow.

Our first morning walk was difficult. He peed outside, but he really didn’t want to walk; clearly still not sure what this is all about. When I hold him, he tucks his head under my chin. I keep wondering what is going on in that frightened little head of his.

He seems to be house trained. It’s hard to tell because he’s spending so much time curled up in his bed.

Day Two

A soothing bath and some cutting off of the matted hair; not all the matting, just what is no-so-close to his skin. He doesn’t seem to mind being pampered.

 

 

First Vet Visit

Paco tried to run out of the vet’s office and slammed into a glass door. It was the first time he had run away from, me so I was startled by it. Good thing the door was closed because he would have run out into traffic and I’m not sure my heart could take the possible outcome.

My vet was concerned about how thin he is and said he needed to take blood. Ten minutes later he had bad news for me. Paco tested positive for two tick borne bone marrow viruses; apparently common for dogs left outdoors to fend for themselves. He really frightened me by telling me that not all dogs recover for this type of illness. He’s on antibiotics and I’ll know in 30 days whether or not he’ll fully recover. My vet said that if he’s responding favorably to the antibiotics, I will notice it. I asked my vet why he doesn’t bark and my vet replied,

“There are enough dogs that bark in Portugal so consider yourself lucky.”

 

The Next Day

Paco had another night of sleeping soundly. He’s very well behaved, but I have to keep in mind that he is in a constant state of discomfort because of his illness; apparently a low white blood cell count and arthritis are the reasons he sleeps most of the time. We were able to deal with the heavy matting so I think he is more comfortable now. He loves the sunny terrace and his dog bed. Sometimes he curls up next to me and stares at me intensely; I think he knows I’m going to take care of him.

 

Day four

I’m an early riser and Paco is not. He slept in the first few mornings, but alas, I think he’ll be a morning pooch by the end of the week. He slept in my bed last night, curled up at the base of my back. I believe that lots of nurturing and comfort is going to give him the will to heal and stay alive. He’s a quiet dog; sleeps soundly and doesn’t stir when I get up to use the bathroom. He gets out of bed and lets me know that he is ready for breakfast. Standing by his bowl is a fairly good indicator. I feed him a mix of wet and dry food and he eats it all. I will eventually switch him over to all dry food because I think it’s a better diet for his stomach and his teeth — his vet agrees.

Giorgio, my last pet, was always more concerned about going out than eating; however, Paco seems to be quite the opposite. He eats and then takes a morning nap. I’m walking him at about 7:00 a.m. It allows us both time to ease into the day. He does his business moments after we hit the grass. It’s as if he’s reading my mind — I’m not fond of long walks.

I’m noticing a big difference in his disposition; he’s less skittish, more confident and more alert. I assume it’s a combination of being comfortable with me and that (hopefully) the antibiotics are working. I’m pretty certain he is house trained since he hasn’t gone to the bathroom inside — time will tell.

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Paco today; looking a whole lot better than when he was found.

On day five Paco actually did a complete twirl when I put his food down. His personality is starting to come through. Being alone with him has been good for both of us; we’re finding our way without distractions.

Paco found his voice yesterday and responded to a barking dog outside; he sounded like a puppy. After three woofs, Paco looked over at me and sighed.

 

The Future

It is obvious to me and to Paco’s vet, that he was traumatized prior to being rescued. I’m not sure if it was his original owner(s) or the time he spent abandoned in the countryside. Whichever it was, I’m going to do everything I can to get him to trust again. I’m already sensing a strong bond between us. I was fortunate to have found a pet so full of love.

His rescuers have reached out to me, anxious to know how he is adjusting and the status of his health. They are not invasive and have offered to do anything they can to help. I’m feeling more confident that the people who abandoned him will not be showing up at my door. Honestly, since there was a concerted effort to locate these folks over the last several weeks, they’d have a fight on their hands if they did show up.

 

How I Found Paco

If you live in the Algarve in Portugal, check out Algarve Dog Rehoming, a fantastic group on Facebook. That’s how I found Whisper (now Paco). You will find many, many people who will want to assist you in finding the right pet to adopt.

 

Helpful Pieces Before You Adopt

Ten Questions to Ask Before Adopting a Pet . . .

Eight Things You Need to Know . . .

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