I know, I know… You’re probably thinking: “Is this chick ever gonna stop writing blogs about being stressed out about their move to Portugal?”
And the answer is “YES!”
…just not yet.
I’ve got a couple more paragraphs about being unhappy and then things are gonna turn around, I promise.
Actually, I can pinpoint the exact date when things turned around and we concluded that we’d made the right choice to move to Portugal.
That date was December 1, 2022.
It was the day we got out of Trafaria and into Lisbon.
Trafaria – So Close, Yet So Far
Imagine if you will, you finally decide to move to New York City after years of dreaming about it. You’ve snagged a great apartment in Brooklyn, you’ve got a monster list of things you’re planning on seeing, doing, and eating, and you’re chomping at the bit to get out there and explore your new city.
But first, you have to spend 2.5 months living in Hoboken.
Our stay in Trafaria was a lot like that.
Located right across the Tejo/Tagus River from Lisbon, Trafaria is a tiny village with easy access to the city and seemingly limitless potential.
But to stand there, you would never, ever know it.
Indeed, as we found out, Trafaria has so little in common with Lisbon, it might as well be on another planet.
So, why were we even there?
The Easy Choice
If you’ll recall, we lucked out during our April scouting trip when we managed to score an apartment lease.
These days, it’s nearly impossible to rent a decent Lisbon apartment for a reasonable price and under fair terms, and it’s even harder when you have a dog. So, back in April when we met another American couple, Jeff and Kerri, who were planning to rent out their current Lisbon apartment once they moved into their new apartment, we felt we’d hit the jackpot. But the understanding was we wouldn’t be able to move into their old place until renovations were completed on their new place.
At the time, everyone expected their new place would be available by late September/early October – not long after our planned arrival in the country. Kevin and I would just need to rent an Air BnB for a couple weeks while they awaited the finishing touches on their new place, and then we would all move in lockstep. Easy peasy.
(Narrator: “It would be neither “easy” nor “peasy.”)
So, why did we choose to stay across the river from Lisbon while we waited? Simply put, it was the easiest choice available to us.
At the time we were tasked with the decision of where to stay for these few weeks, we were also trying to organize a pet charter flight, get our visas, clean out and sell our RV, arrange to sell our car, figure out what we were taking and what we were leaving, and I don’t even remember what else.
We were overwhelmed with research and decisions and stress and we just needed to check some boxes and move on.
I remembered that our friends, Guillermo and Dianne, had stayed at an Air BnB in Trafaria when they first moved the prior year. The place they’d stayed was reasonably priced, dog friendly, and spacious enough for us to store our extra belongings. When I raised it as a possibility to Kevin, he said “Just book it. We can’t spend time researching every single thing. We’ll only be there a couple weeks. Good enough.”
And honestly, had things worked out the way we expected them to – had we just been there a couple weeks – it would have been ok. There were definitely some nice things about our stay – like our Air BnB’s enormous private patio full of pretty plants and flowers:
And these beaches that were just a few blocks away that Thor had a ball at:
Or the town of Costa de Caparica, which was about a 30 minute walk from us. Costa is packed with Lisboetas escaping the city during the Summer, but in early Fall, the beaches are empty…
the boardwalk is calm and peaceful…
and the sunsets are beautiful…
We had some nice meals at the local restaurants, and made use of the ferry that went from Trafaria to Lisbon.
But we had a lot of problems, too.
Trafaria is a tiny village that doesn’t have any significant green space. There’s no park, and there are no trees or grass near the sidewalk. So, finding appropriate places to walk Thor and allow him to do his business was a challenge.
More problematic, there are numerous stray dogs in town, or dogs whose owners set them free to run around town all day long (don’t get me started).
This leads to copious amounts of dog poop everywhere and a variety of dogs that run up to your dog when you’re out walking. Most are friendly, but some are not, and either way, we don’t want stray dogs coming up to ours.
There was one dog in particular who didn’t like Thor and would follow him around, barking, growling, and snapping. One day, when all 3 of us were out for a walk, that dog came after Thor. I stood in front of him and yelled “Hey!”, assuming he would back off like he usually did. And he did. But when I turned to continue walking, he tried to bite me.
See why we didn’t like Trafaria???
So walking the dog was a stressful, annoying, pain in the ass, and the rest of the town was just… I dunno. It had a very strange vibe.
People weren’t unfriendly, but we didn’t get the warm fuzzies. Few people would make eye contact, fewer still would say hello or smile. Sometimes we felt we were being stared at, other times we felt like we were being ignored – and these seemingly contradictory actions highlighted, in an unwelcome way, that we were outsiders.
To us, the whole place had a lethargic and insular vibe.
In the meantime, every time we would cross the river to go into Lisbon, we would find exactly what we’d been expecting. The energy, the vitality, and the friendliness were all there, and we immediately felt at ease – just blending in with everyone else. To this day, when we walk into a Lisbon business, we’re greeted in Portuguese. No one knows we’re not from here (until we start talking), and we’ve never felt like we didn’t belong.
Yet, in Trafaria, that’s how we felt every day.
A Problematic Air BnB
Another big problem was the Air BnB itself. It was listed as a “traditional Portuguese home” that hadn’t been updated.
The good news was: it was inexpensive, and we needed inexpensive after spending a fortune to move overseas (*cough* Thor *cough*). The bad news is, as is often the case, you get what you pay for.
In this case, that meant an old house with extremely uncomfortable furniture.
Remember that rock hard futon you had in your apartment when you were 19? That one your roommate’s older brother was selling because he was moving in with his girlfriend?
Well, good news! It’s still available for you if you want it. Yep! The exact same one!
It’s in Trafaria…
While the bed in the master bedroom looked alright:
it was so uncomfortable, all three of us cycled through sleeping in the kids’ room in order to rest our aching backs.
And somehow I forgot to take a picture, but the ceiling over the bathtub was so low, Kevin couldn’t stand up straight in the shower.
The kitchen was cute in an old-timey way – but only marginally functional.
Hey kids – back in the olden days, this is how people would light an oven! Neato, eh????
And see this old microwave? They don’t make ’em like this anymore!
probably for safety reasons…
(seriously – when the timer would go off, the microwave would just keep running. That can’t be good, right?)
Speaking of safety, there was a fire blanket on the wall, complete with diagrams that, from my analysis, appeared to show 2 really drunk guys making a mess of things.
One drunk guy has apparently passed out after building a campfire on his legs and the other is trying to help, but failing miserably as he drapes the fire blanket over the part of his friend that is not on fire.
All of it would have been mildly annoying/completely entertaining had the original plan worked out. Unfortunately for us, our original plan burned to cinders, much like the drunk guy whose crotch was on fire while his friend was suffocating him with a fire blanket.
One of the things people quickly learn about renovating homes in Portugal is things tend to get delayed. And (at least according to some sources), Portuguese people have this weird quirk where they “don’t like to give bad news.” The claim is that Portuguese people don’t want to upset you, and if they think you’ll be upset, they’d rather tell you what you want to hear rather than the truth.
It’s so completely absurd, you can’t even be mad.
Honestly, we have no idea if it’s true or not, but we’ve read about it several times (here’s an article by another blogger about her run-in with it at a bank), and it certainly seemed to be the case with Jeff & Kerri’s contractor.
In practice it meant that when their project would run into snags, he would give rosy assessments about how long it might take to get finished.
And those rosy assessments were never correct. Not even close.
Long story short, the renovation that was supposed to end in late September/early October actually wrapped up (kinda) in February.
And during the course of these endless delays, all of us were repeatedly led to believe that it would just be a few more weeks. They scheduled movers multiple times, while we comforted ourselves with the daily mantra “we’ll be out of Trafaria soon.”
None of that was the case.
Not surprisingly, as weeks turned into months, our sense of despair grew.
We were dealing with all the downsides of moving to another country – in terms of social isolation and culture shock – without getting any of the upsides.
Of course, the obvious solution was to just terminate our lease with Jeff and Kerri and find another place to rent, but remember how there were no rental homes available back in April? Well, that problem has only gotten worse. Supply has gone down, rents have gone up, and people are having a harder time finding anything much less something they actually want.
And, the fact was, their apartment was perfect for us – in size, location, price, and pet friendliness – and we knew there was no way we’d be able to find a place that ticked all those boxes all these months later.
Additionally, and importantly, our executed lease was part of our pending immigration application, and the last thing we wanted to do was throw a wrench in that process by making a last minute change to our paperwork.
Anyway, by the time December rolled around and it was clear that the contractor was never going to meet any of the expected deadlines, we decided we needed to just find another place to wait things out. Had we stayed in Trafaria much longer, we might have thrown in the towel on the whole thing. We were that unhappy.
So I went back to Air BnB and started searching again.
This time, I found a small renovated apartment, with a fenced-in back patio, in a fantastic Lisbon neighborhood, and I booked it.
It was pricier than the place in Trafaria, but we didn’t care. We’d already sunk so much time and money into this project, we needed to figure out whether Lisbon was going to be a good fit or not, and we were never going to figure that out if we were living across the river in a place we didn’t connect with or in some neighborhood on the outskirts of town.
So, on December 1, we took a one way trip out of Trafaria and moved to a neighborhood that, I’m happy to say, made us deliriously happy.
More on that next time.
For someone who is such a dog lover, you’ve had your unfortunate run ins with them between being clotheslined and shattering your leg and now almost being bitten!!
Sorry it was such a rocky start- but things have picked up and now you are even happier which makes me happy!! 😊❤️
Thank you! And yeah, it’s true. As much as I love dogs, they can sure make life ‘interesting’ at times. LOL
I find very few renovations get done on time and it has only gotten worse with the supply chain issues. Smart move to change to a better local until you can do the final move.
Yep, looking back, we should have known it was going to take longer than expected. I just think if the projected timelines had been more realistic, it would have been much less frustrating. Live and learn…
Trafaria looks so appealing in your photos…the beach, your patio, the sunsets…but the reality sounded absolutely terrible. Being chased by stray dogs while trying to walk Thor must have been incredibly stressful for all of you. Not to mention never getting a good night’s sleep and trying to relax on a futon sofa. Ugh. (That fire blanket?! LOL.)
Anyway, I’m glad you didn’t give up, and that you got yourselves moved to Lisbon. Can’t wait to hear all about what you’re loving about Lisbon, with LOTS of photos! :-))
Thank you, Laurel. I’m still amazed at what a night and day difference there was just moving a few miles away. It really goes to show that small changes can sometimes have a huge impact – for better or worse.
Oh, the happy stress free, great food, drinks and tour days are coming soon. I feel it!
Haha. I promise!! They’re coming!!
Explaining reasons for despair is your strong suit. I completely understand. The stray dogs, the mixed signals from the neighbors, the constant delays, the awful beds and kitchen… That all contributes to about a year’s time of feeling untethered, right? You’re not a whiner. Moving is hard. It’s always hard. Transporting your life to another country is usually not a cinch and sharing that info with others who may want to do something similar is a generous act. Thank you!
Can’t wait for the next chapter!
Safe & Happy Travels!
Hugs to Thor!
Thanks, Carmen. I always struggle with whether to share some of this stuff because, let’s face it, it’s the epitome of “first world problems.” But I don’t see any value in only sharing blue sky happy photos – especially when people routinely decide to change huge aspects of their lives based on the stories they read of others on the internet. There are plenty of people and – more importantly – companies who are encouraging anyone and everyone to move abroad. And the reality is, it’s not for everyone and it can be really tough at times.
Kinda like RVing to Alaska… 🙂
What an adventure. It is interesting that the small village just across the river could be so different. I assume the major difference is small town versus city. Glad December 1st changed everything. Thanks for sharing the good and bad. Jim
Thanks, Jim. Small town vs large city absolutely makes a difference and we are uniformly happier in cities. That’s just us. I think Trafaria had its share of other oddities that made us feel even more out of place. Whatever it was, we’re glad to be here now and not there. Hope you are well!
Discomfort in daily life activities — like walking the dog, shopping for food, and sleeping — can turn even a great location into a total drag. It’s hard to be cheerful with an aching back. I’m so glad you recognized that you needed to make a change! I’m sure seeing Lisbon across the river (so close and yet so far) made it all even more frustrating. I have to say, I am not one bit surprised about the construction delays. I have never seen a construction project finish early, ever. Says a person who has been trying to get a fence installed for 4 months…..
Ughhh, yeah. We should have known. We really should have… And we absolutely will in the future.
Actually, we’ll just avoid involving ourselves in any construction projects, thank you very much.
I hope you get your fence soon. Here I was thinking most of those kinds of supply chain issues had smoothed out. I guess not so much.
Brutally honest! I think it’s great that you are sharing the low, lows of your transition so far. It’s easy to get caught up in the dreamy aspects of moving abroad and the reality of what it’s really like is eye opening.
So happy that you are out of that soulless, mangy dog suburb and into Lisbon. The vibe is important.. it’s definitely important and it’s how we rate places in our travels. Yay for vibe!!!!
You are so right. There is just an intangible, unexplainable quality to some places that makes us happy and others that makes us unhappy. And I couldn’t begin to tell you what exactly it is because it happens in disparate locations – but yeah, it’s basically just the vibe.
Trafaria just felt SAD. And I don’t like being sad. I try to avoid being sad as much as possible.
I hope you guys are HAPPY these days!
Can I just cut/paste a bunch of your blog for my next one? So much is so familiar — home project delays and the endless string of promises about when someone is showing up, and stray dogs (although we know where ours live, and they don’t bite.) I’m glad to know in real time that you’re out from under most of that unpleasantness. That patio in the old place had to feel like an oasis, and it’s making me very impatient to get busy outside here. The weather has other plans for me, though, so keep the beautiful photos coming, and I can’t wait for more of your beautiful new home!
It’s like Tom Petty used to say “The waiting is the hardest part… every day you get one more yard… you take it on faith, you take it to the heart, but you kinda want to punch something because seriously WTF??? WHY is this taking so long????????”
Something like that anyway.
Well, I’m not happy you’re unhappy but I am happy to know you understand. It all feels like like first world problems, but after years on the road and months of living temporarily here, there, and everywhere else, I am ready to sit my butt on MY couch in MY place with MY things and not have to worry about any of this stuff anymore.
So yeah… supportive hugs to you.
Oh Dang!!! This is a page turner extraordinaire….I’m hoping the next installment comes soon.
However, I’m so happy that this piece ended with, “… I’m happy to say, made us deliriously happy.”
Waiting with bated breath in Tucson…
These blog posts have been coming very slowly, I know. But look – I just captured 2.5 months in one post: “Trafaria sucked. OK, what’s next??” 🙂
Everything is all good now and I’ll be happy to share more of the fun stuff soon. It’s much easier now that we are in a proper apartment and living on a normal schedule. I hope you’re doing well in sunny Arizona!
I’m glad you survived Trafaria! As we all know, pictures can sure make a place look better that it actually is. All those stray dogs! Yikes! I’m excited to see your Lisbon digs!
Thanks, Tami. We’re happy to be out too. Everything is so much better here in Lisbon and we’re very happy to be in our apartment now. We’re still working on getting the last bits of furniture and decorating and all that, but it’s coming together nicely. Woo hoo!
Whoa! Can’t wait for the next installment.
P.S. don’t hate on Hoboken..
You guys have done so good making this dream a reality. So sorry about the un-easy peasyness. But you seem to be stepping up to the challenge. Staying somewhere you aren’t happy sux but there is always light at the end of the tunnel, right? Well, that’s what I have to tell myself these days.
Looking forward to deliriously happy Lisbon.
There is always light at the end of a tunnel. Hopefully, it’s not an oncoming train, but either way…there is a light.
I think RV life prepared us well for all this. We’ve spent lots of time in lots of places we didn’t love and we just had to suck it up, make course corrections, and keep going. I often remind myself that other people doing this are dealing with all the things we dealt with back in 2016 – leaving friends and family and everything that is familiar behind. It is so much harder for them than it is for us.
I’ve never seen a fire blanket, a lot less cleanup than an extinguisher I guess. But I’d rather have an extinguisher. That many strays would have had me going crazy. Un-updated – no kidding huh? That microwave wouldn’t have gotten much use from me!! Looking forward to reading about the great time you’re having in Lisbon!!
Yeah, the fire blankets seem to be a thing here. Which is good because the whole place seems like a fire hazard. But that’s a story for another post. LOL.
It’s definitely “an adventure,” that’s for sure!!
I’m so sorry you had to go through this, guys! Yet, it all sounds so familiar, as you might have gathered from our Cartagena distresses. Being stuck much longer than we thought – and wanted – in a place we didn’t like, with aggressive dogs, no green space, and uncomfortable lodgings. We gave in by renting a more expensive AirBnB for the last week as well and felt so much happier.
Like you, we couldn’t wait to pick up our lives again – for the reason we came this way. And, like you, once we finally had our home back in Colombia, we became more happy and the move became worthwhile. Also, like you, we came VERY close to giving up on the whole thing. But, the longer you pursue and stubbornly deal with the annoyances, the harder it is to give up as you have to believe you ARE getting closer to your goal.
Glad to read the move to Lisbon made you happier!!
Yep, LOTS of similarities between your start in South America and our start here. We definitely learned some lessons and I know you did too. It’s just hard to plan for every potential problem or issue, and the fact is, in any major undertaking like this, you don’t know what you don’t know. What does make us happy is once we got to where we actually wanted to go, we were in a good place. At least we know what we like and we know what will work for us. The same goes for you guys. Hopefully things will improve as we all settle in to our new chapters.
Trafaria looks so beautiful, you would never know from the pictures what hides underneath 🙁 And that microwave was hilarious! I’m glad to hear you are now a neighbourhood that meets your needs and makes you happy … hopefully you can move into your apartment soon.
Happily enough, we actually moved into our long term apartment in February. We are here now and it is great! Big relief after a seemingly endless period of instability and uncertainty.
I’m assuming you’ll be heading north soon? Hard to believe it’s already mid March!
Staying at AirBnbs has been an eye opening experience for us too. I had no idea that Whirlpool makes/made stoves that need to be lit with a match. Luckily, Jerry handles all of that. At least you had counter space. Where do people find these rock hard mattresses? We pulled the twins out of the other bedroom and put them in the main one one place. The frame was too small for that so, you couldn’t sit on the edge of the bed but, at least I wasn’t going to get pressure sores. There are loose dogs in every place we’ve been in Argentina. They all seem to be friendly but, I know the situation can be different if you have a dog with you.
Looking forward to hearing about your more permanent place.
Yep… it seems Air BnBs showcase their unique brand of terrible everywhere you go. It’s just impossible to know what anything is going to be like until you get there, but you can pretty much assume the owner will have gone with the cheapest stuff available. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the dog, we’d just stay in hotels, and, going forward, when we do regular vacation-type travel, we will use them. Between Air BnBs’ lack of predictability, price, and the impact on local communities, it’s just not worth it.
Hello! I finally made it to your blog and have very much enjoyed reading about your journey since your decision to move to Portugal. I’m still in shock about your $600 bill for a vet to barely glance at Thor (!!!). I do understand about vet bills though, we named our last pup “the BMW dog”. Hector and I had great luck at Airbnbs on our trip to Portugal and Spain last Fall (when we almost met you), we booked 13 of them (plus hotels and cases rurales in Spain) There were several gems and some really wonderful hosts. Hector bought a drip coffeemaker when we arrived because he didn’t want to deal with all the contraptions we saw in the photos. He likes to wake up and “press the button”, needs his coffee before he’s functional. And I had many confusing encounters with washing machines and found fun, creative ways to hang clothes. So glad you finally made it to the city!
Thanks, Brenda! These Air BnBs sure do run the gamut, don’t they? We have stayed in some (at other times) that were wonderful, while others have been just alright. It’s just hard to know what you’re gonna get. But it can make a huge difference to your overall experience, so I’m glad to hear you stayed in nice ones during your visit here. It’s funny you mention the drip coffeemaker. We just bought one for our apartment. While I like the espresso drinks when we’re out at a cafe or whatever, at home, I like to sip on a giant cup of coffee for several hours. But we are definitely the minority here. People LOVE their tiny coffees. LOL.