To read the last few posts on this blog, one might think we were having second thoughts about our decision to move overseas. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Indeed, once we actually got to Lisbon, and once we were finally able to start living the life we’d planned, we found ourselves in a very, very good place.
Moving to Europe, and specifically Portugal, was not our original goal.
Our original goal was to live in a city that met certain requirements – good weather, near the ocean, good public transportation, lots to see and do, etc. It was only when I realized Lisbon checked these boxes, and that the Portuguese government was offering long term residency visas, that it became the focus of our search for a home base.
But the most important thing for us was we wanted to live in a city.
I know we are in the minority here, certainly amongst current and former fulltime RVers, but we have always been city people at heart, happy to soak up the energy, the grit, and yes, the noise, of a big bustling metropolis.
In practice, that means every morning, I awaken to the sounds of the
obnoxious charming church bells that ring just down the street from our apartment. And, about that same time, I start hearing voices and footsteps. That’s right… Twenty years after the last time we lived in an apartment building, we are, once again, sharing walls, ceilings, and floors with strangers. And when you live in a very old building, you hear all kinds of noise.
Honestly, our place really isn’t bad – our neighbors are very quiet and respectful. In truth, it is us who have to be careful not to annoy them. Which brings me to one of my absolute favorite features of our trusty sidekick, Thor.
When Thor hears police, fire, or ambulance sirens, he thinks it’s the ‘call of his people’ and he howls in return.
It is hilarious.
It is so hilarious that, for years now, I have encouraged his howling. Hell, half the time I howled right along with him!
Thor’s howling is a riot and sooooo entertaining…
…right up to the moment you find yourself living in an apartment building with a bunch of confused Portuguese people who are wondering what the hell is making that godawful noise upstairs???
So, yeah… it’s been a project trying to convince Thor that Mom’s previous advice was terrible and the firefighters don’t actually need his help.
Life on Two Feet
We have no car.
After six years of living in an oversized car, we don’t want a car.
Honestly, neither of us has ever liked driving all that much and after all these years on the road, we were more than ready to toss the car keys once and for all. (Well, maybe not forever, but for a while.)
Anyway, here in Lisbon, our life is spent on foot (with the occasional assist from a rideshare.) We love it.
No more rage-inducing traffic, no more driving in circles searching for parking, no more car related expenses – no fuel, no maintenance, no insurance, no inspections, no taxes, no parking fees.
NONE. All done. Not our problem anymore.
It’s such an awesome and enjoyable part of city living.
Of course, not having a car factors into the rest of our daily lives. It means we walk to the grocery store and, like our Portuguese neighbors, only buy a handful of things at a time. Here, refrigerators are modest, grocery carts are small, and people buy only what they can carry.
While prices have gone up markedly over the last few months, we still find our grocery costs to be very, very reasonable when compared to what we paid in the U.S. I’ll write more about costs in a future post, but to give you some idea, here’s a recent haul and the associated receipt.
We also quickly concluded that rumors of tasty, fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables were true.
Remember when you were a kid and fruit might not look perfect, but it tasted great? Remember when tomatoes and peaches and watermelon actually had flavor? Remember when fruit rotted within days rather than mysteriously surviving forever and ever? The fruit in Europe is still like that.
This stuff isn’t picked before it’s even ripe and then shipped from 4 time zones away. It’s not bred to be perfect and colorful – yet flavorless. It’s picked when it’s ready, you buy it soon after, and if you don’t consume it quickly, it goes bad. (Here’s an interesting article about the differences between produce in Europe and the U.S.)
So, multiple times each week, we go to our little fruit and vegetable market, see what’s there and what looks good, and buy accordingly. You won’t find any peaches or plums in January, but whatever you DO find is guaranteed to be delicious.
With this level of grocery expenditure and the amount of walking we do – correction: with the amount of uphill walking we do…
we can now stuff food in our faces with complete abandon. In fact, since we arrived, Kevin has dropped like 20 pounds. And it feels like all we do is eat.
Ready, set… Food porn!
Each of the above meals cost between €8 and €12 except for the pasteis which typically cost about €1.10 each.
A substantial portion of my day is spent on language learning…. or perhaps it would be more accurate to say: attemped language learning.
I am 100% committed to at least becoming semi-competent in Portuguese, but good god, is it hard. Again, a topic for another post, but for purposes of this article, I will just say that I spend several hours each week working on an online platform, listening to Portuguese language television shows, and/or working with a tutor.
What has all this effort gotten me? Well, some days I feel like I’m making progress – especially on reading and listening comprehension, while others – most – I feel like I could be at this for another ten years and never feel comfortable speaking to anyone about anything.
But I keep banging away because what other option is there? Plus – it’s good for the ole noggin.
For Kevin’s part, he spends a lot of time identifying problems which he then solves. The problems and solutions usually start out small – “These overhead lights are pretty dim. I think I’m going to swap out the bulbs…” which then get bigger and bigger, until I find myself living in an apartment with an entire motion activated lighting system that can be controlled from space.
“Kevin, why doesn’t this light switch work?”
“Oh, because I switched it out and haven’t put the app on your phone yet.”
“I need an app to turn on a light?
“No, well…you can, but you don’t need to. I’m going to put a different switch there. I just need to order it.
3 days later…
“OK, I installed the new switch. If you want to turn the dining room light on, press the left side once, if you want to turn the living room light on, tap the right side once, if you want to turn both on, tap the left side twice, or if you want to turn everything off, tap either side 3 times.”
“Great. I’ve always wanted to learn Morse Code.”
Every time I turn around, he’s opening another box of electronic equipment, and an hour later I notice another sensor stuck to a wall. I’ve honestly given up trying to figure out what the hell he’s doing.
Simple Things Take Longer
When not walking, eating, learning Portuguese, and swearing at my husband for making everything complicated, we spend more time than ever doing things we thought nothing of before.
The standard advice for new expats is to only try to accomplish one thing each day. You need to deal with an issue with your bank – plan for a day. Need to buy something at a store you’ve never shopped at? Plan for a day. Have a doctor’s appointment? Plan for a day.
It’s true. When you move to a new country, you don’t know how anything works, you don’t know how to solve problems, and you don’t know how to communicate your needs, so everything is a puzzle to be solved.
Say you want to make a return at Ikea. Well, in Portugal, you don’t just go stand in line at the customer service desk. Here, you go to a little machine, get a ticket for the particular type of assistance you need, and then wait for your number to come up before you go to the appropriate counter.
This is how many businesses operate – from banks to doctor’s offices to even some coffee shops. You can be the only customer in the whole business, but if you haven’t got a ticket, no one is going to help you.
It’s not that you can’t do the things you want to do; it’s just that things work differently, so everything takes longer to accomplish.
So Much to See and Do
One of the reasons we love cities so much is because there is always, always something going on. In just the few months we’ve been here, we’ve attended numerous exhibits and shows. For example, I went to an exhibit of Steve McCurry’s photography…
“Never heard of him.”
“You know his work.”
“He’s the guy who took this photo:”
“Ohhhhhhh…I DO know him.”
“Yah, you do!”
Here are a few more of this National Geographic photographer’s extraordinary captures:
We went to an immersive exhibit of Frida Kahlo’s life and work. The exhibit contained a number of experiences – Kahlo’s artwork surrounded us in 3D form, through a virtual reality experience, and most impressively, projected onto the walls and ceilings of this 18th century water storage facility in the middle of Lisbon.
We went to a jazz concert featuring Portuguese-speaking musicians playing music you’d hear in the clubs of New Orleans:
We went to see Crystal, a Cirque de Soleil show
And coming up in the next couple months, we have tickets to see comedian Jim Jeffries, tickets to a music festival, tickets to see Ben Harper, and more.
And while you might think all of this costs a lot of money, a wondrous thing happens when you get out of the U.S. and into a country where Ticketmaster isn’t a thing. Suddenly, concerts and events are affordably priced with no absurd fees brought to you by the world’s most obvious monopoly that should have been broken up years ago.
Example: Those Jim Jeffries tickets we bought are for his show here on May 12. Here’s a screencap of the price for the cheapest available ticket:
Notice the price of the ticket compared to the total cost of the order. The “processing fee” is a whopping €1.92.
Three weeks after his show in Lisbon, Jefferies will be playing the Mirage in Vegas. If you go look at the price of those tickets, you’ll see that the cost for the cheapest available ticket is $61.91 which becomes $86.24 when you add the ridiculous Ticketmaster fees.
Same guy, same show, three weeks later = three times the price.
It’s like that for most everything here.
The Frida Kahlo show cost €13 per person, the McCurry exhibit cost €12, and the jazz club charged a €5 cover charge.
It is worth noting that, while these prices are very reasonable to us, that is not necessarily the case for the local population. Wages remain stubbornly low in Portugal and as the cost of living has risen over the past several years, it’s had a huge impact on our neighbors. We do our best to do what we were invited to do (spend money in the local economy) and not add to the problem (by bringing our own culture’s norms and expectations with us.) Again, a topic for a different post.
In addition to the shows, exhibits, and events that come to Lisbon, we also feel fortunate to live in a city with countless sites that attract tourists from around the world.
From recently excavated archeological ruins that date back 2,500 hundred years and include artifacts from the Iron Age, the Roman Era, the Islamic Era, and several centuries of Christian rule… all of which is located in the middle of Lisbon, right beneath a bank (seriously)…
…to a 12th century castle high on a hill overlooking the entire city…
…there are astounding things everywhere one looks.
We haven’t even scratched the surface of the various museums, historic sites, and fun things to do here in Lisbon, much less the rest of the country.
Finally, in addition to meeting numerous fellow expats, because we now live in a very popular tourist destination, we’ve also spent time with folks from the U.S. who’ve traveled here on vacation. This group includes old friends as well as several RV bloggers we never managed to meet while on the road, namely Amanda and Tim from Watsons Wander, Linda and Steven from The Chouters, and Kelly and Charlie from Rolling with KC.
So, seven months in, we find ourselves challenged – both physically and mentally, we find ourselves with an active social life – friends old and new, and we find ourselves with plenty to see, do, eat, and drink.
Has any of this been easy? No. Is Portugal perfect? No. Is an international move the right choice for everyone? Absolutely not. But does our life now resemble the one we had in mind when we put this plan in motion? Indeed, it does. And for that, we feel very, very fortunate.