2023 Travel Plans

Brrrr, it has been really cold in Portugal. It’s been an extra rainy year and we finally have a break from the rain, but it has been freezing. Literally! In the mornings when we walk the kids to school it has been 30 degrees (farenheight because I still don’t quite know celcius yet). It heats up to about 50 or so during the day, but the mornings are so cold!


Leo started preschool. He is just going 2 days a week so far. It has been really nice to have that break and be able to get some things done or just relax without being needed constantly. And we end up really missing them, so we really appreciate picking them up and seeing them again. Leo is in the baby room since he is 2. Once he turns 3 next week he will move to Sofia’s room. I think they will both like it more when they’re in the same room together.

In 6 days we leave for Paris! Well, more like passing through Paris. We’re going to Disneyland Paris, which is about 45 minutes outside of Paris. We want this trip to be easy, so we won’t really be venturing into Paris. It’s definitely on our list to visit one day. I’m really excited for Disneyland. Sofia is 4 and Leo will be turning 3. I know they probably won’t remember this trip, but I do think that they’re at the age where they will really love and appreciate it. Leo doesn’t cry anymore when he see’s people dressed up. He will be so excited to see Mickey.

We have a few confirmed trips this year and a few I’m still figuring out. There’s probably one or two that I don’t even know about yet. Before we had kids Kyle and I went on a few cruises. It was a good compromise because Kyle likes to relax on vacation and I like to sightsee. Sightseeing is a bit too stressful with the kids, so I have been trying to figure out how to travel easier and smarter. We decided to try a cruise with the kids. They’ll both be old enough for the cruise daycare program and they will be in the same room because their ages are so close.

We have been talking about a cruise for years, but we wanted to wait until the kids qualify for onboard daycare and until we felt a little safer. I know they will both be cautious around the railings, although we will obviously still watch them really closely. The cruise will be with MSC and it goes to France, Spain, and Italy. I picked it more for the ship than the itinerary. The ship has a water park for the kids that looks like fun. The cruise is a week long and leaves from Barcelona, so we will be in Barcelona for a night again. One of these days we’ll actually stay and see the city. I couldn’t find any flights home that worked, so we decided to take the train to Valencia and stay there for a few nights after the cruise. It will be a huge trip and we will be gone for almost 2 weeks. That trip is already booked and we’re definitely going.

Rufino cuddling with Bailey to stay warm

At some point before the cruise we will head up north to visit Viana do Castelo, Portugal. We also want to go to Viseu at some point because we know some people there and want to check out the city. We’re hoping to move to northern Portugal this year- ideally around the summer. We’ve been keeping an eye on apartments in Braga and Guimaraes but haven’t seen any that work for us yet.

In December we’re planning on going to Vienna, Austria. Kyle’s sister will be living there, so that’s the original reason we started planning the trip. I saw that Vienna has a great Christmas Market, so now I’m even more excited to go. At least we learned from our Belgium trip. I bought long underwear and scarves for everyone. We will really get to test it out next week because it’s going to be cold in France. I’m excited! Ever since we got back from Belgium I have been really antsy and wanting to travel somewhere again.

Pediatrician and Vaccines

We finally took the kids to the pediatrician and to get vaccines. It’s definitely different than in the US, but now that we know the process we know what to do next time.

Kyle made an appointment to take Leo to a pediatrician that takes our insurance. As luck would have it, the doctor did speak some English. He looked over Leo’s records from the US and said that Leo needs one vaccine. He wrote a prescription and told Kyle to take it to the pharmacy.

Doctor visit stickers

Kyle went to the pharmacy and they gave him the vaccine in a bottle. They said to refrigerate it and take it and Leo to the Centro Saude. They said that we don’t need an appointment. That turned out not to be accurate. A few days later Kyle took Leo to get the shot but they were not particularly pleased that he didn’t have an appointment. After he waited for a while they scheduled an appointment for a few days later and told him that he needs the prescription paper. Which he lost. So when you get a vaccine filled, keep the prescription paper.

Luckily we happened to have an appointment at the same pediatrician scheduled for Sofia the day before Leo’s newly scheduled vaccine appointment. He was able to get a copy of the vaccine sheet from the doctor. The next day he went to Leo’s appointment at Centro Saude and while he was there he made an appointment for Sofia. Then he went to the pharmacy to get Sofia’s vaccines.

Vaccines from the pharmacy

It all sounds more complicated than it is, though there are quite a few more steps than we’re used to. It will of course be significantly easier when things are closer together or we have a car.

So to get vaccines for your kids: 1. Make an appointment with the pediatrician 2. Go to pediatrician, they will write a prescription for the vaccine(s) your kid needs 3. Go to pharmacy. They will fill prescription by giving you the actual vaccines in bottles (the bottles may need to be refrigerated- ours did) 4. Make appointment at Centro Saude 5. Bring kid, vaccine(s), and prescription paper to Centro Saude. They will administer the shots

You’re done! 🎉

1 year in Portugal!

Today is the 1 year anniversary of our arrival in Portugal. I can’t believe it has been a year already. And what a year! We have seen a lot of Portugal and even a tiny bit of Spain. It has also been an entire year since I have driven a car, which feels so weird. Also a year of walking at least 100% more than before, so my heart is probably healthier now than a year ago.

Thinking back to everything that it took to get here is kind of overwhelming but definitely worth it. The first few days arriving in Portugal were probably the hardest because we were super sleep deprived and didn’t know anything yet. We didn’t know how to say anything in Portuguese, how to order coffee, or even how the get groceries. I’ll always remember our first grocery trip in Lisbon.

Kyle and I constantly remind ourselves that just the first time is hard. The first time grocery shopping was hard because I didn’t know the questions they ask at checkout or even how to use the bank card yet. But the second time I did know. And now it’s easy. The first time eating out was hard (mostly because we hadn’t slept in 30+ hours), the first time withdrawing cash at the ATM was hard, the first time using multibanco to pay a bill- all of those were just hard the first time but now they’re easy. There are still firsts that we go through, but it gets easier and obviously the firsts aren’t as frequent as they were a year ago.


We have met some great people and had a lot of fun the past year. We still plan to move to Braga (or Guimaraes) next year, but it gets harder to leave Leiria as we meet more people here. We just found an amazing vet who speaks English. Our neighbor genuinely loves our daughter and vice versa. Even though we will end up in Braga (where I wanted to move) I will never regret living in Leiria.

Living here we have gotten to explore so much of the Silver Coast. We will go to the Christmas Market in Obidos this year, which I’m super excited about. We couldn’t go last year because of Covid restrictions. I also want to go to Nazare next month to see the huge waves. I have been to Batalha a few times and I love it there. We still need to go to Tomar and Fatima. We wouldn’t have done any of this if we had moved straight to Braga.

My favorite time of the year is coming up. Last year we were still pretty new and trying to figure things out, but this year we plan on seeing tons of Christmas lights and Christmas markets. For sure Obidos, Lisbon, and Belgium (Brussels and Bruges). I’m so excited to see all the lights and Christmas decorations! I’m excited to spend another year here. I wonder what the next year will bring. Definitely more adventures.

Day trips and apartment hunting

For the past month or so we have been settling into a routine. Sofia goes to school Monday through Friday so we take turns walking her to and from school. I have been working Wednesday through Saturday. On one of my days off we go somewhere. Sometimes all 4 of us go on a Sunday, sometimes just me and Leo, and sometimes it’s me, Leo, and Kyle.

There have been tons of day trips to Coimbra and Caldas. Kyle and Sofia went to Sao Martino do Porto and said it’s way different now than when we went a few months ago. That’s on my list to visit soon. Right now we’re on the train headed home from Caldas da Rainha. We’ve never been to Caldas on the weekend. I like it. Lots of people out and about, but without feeling crowded. The market had a lot more stalls today than we see on weekdays. When we move to Braga we’re going to miss Caldas.

A few days ago Kyle, Leo, and I took a trip to Bombarral , which is a small town with a train station. They have some gardens we wanted to see but unfortunately they were closed when we went. We just wandered around town a bit. It was interesting because it seemed like at least half of the buildings there were abandoned.

A few weeks ago Leo and I went to Braga. Kyle and I are hoping to buy an apartment there. Now that the kids are getting older we really don’t want to keep moving around. We want to enroll them in kindergarten and then stay put for at least 10+ years. It seems like renting an apartment is getting more and more difficult, especially with an 80 pound dog. Kyle and I have been slow to settle down and stop moving around, but we’re finally ready.

I went up there to meet a realtor and see a few places. We found an apartment on Idealista yesterday that seems perfect for us, so we messaged the realtor and hopefully one or both of us will be in Braga again this week to see it. We know we want an apartment with 3+ bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, an energy rating of C or higher, and a 10 minute or less walk from the city center. We would love a bathtub and a garage too, but those aren’t necessities.

Caldas market on a Saturday

I meant to take pictures of the places I saw to document what it’s like to buy an apartment here, but I couldn’t last time because the residents were home when I toured the apartments and it would have been way too awkward. If I view any empty places I’ll take some pictures. We have been using Trusted House Sitters to find pet sitters for Bailey when we go out of town. It has been working great so far, but these dates are super last minute, so we’ll see if we can find someone to pet sit or not.

Going to the movies in Portugal

The last time I went to the movie theater was when I was pregnant with Sofia. She’s over 3.5 now, so it has been quite a while since I went. A few months ago we met an expat couple in Batalha. They have a 1-year-old daughter. When we asked them about babysitters or daycare, they offered to watch the kids so that we could go out. I think Kyle and I have literally gone out together 3 or 4 times since Sofia was born. It’s definitely a downside of not having family nearby when you decide to have kids. Anyway, we decided to take the couple up on their offer and see a movie on Sunday night. We’ve been watching the Marvel movies so we decided to go see the new one.

We went to the theater at our local mall. At the theater there are different packages you can get. You can buy just the tickets, or combine it with snacks. I think this theater only had chips and popcorn, I didn’t see any candy. We got a medium popcorn, two drinks, and two tickets for 19 euro. They ask you what area of the theater you want to sit in and they assign seats on your tickets.

Movie night

In Portugal, the movies are not dubbed. We already knew this because we have had some Portuguese people tell us that the reason they know so much English is from watching movies. Movies and lots of TV shows here are in English with Portuguese subtitles. I think the exceptions are animated and cartoon movies and TV series. Those are dubbed.

After the movie, we got a cab back from the mall and it was interesting to say the least. We gave the driver our address. She got lost and got pretty angry with us. The fact that we speak English seemed to really set her off. We didn’t speak English to her, just to each other. She kept yelling at us in Portuguese. We were trying to give her directions in Portuguese and she was having none of it.

When we got to our house she drove right past it. We told her “stop here please” in Portuguese and she said no and started looking at the house numbers. It was so bizarre – she acted like she knew where we lived but we didn’t. She realized she had passed it and she seemed upset again. We just paid her and got out. People are generally really great, so it always throws me off when they get really upset with us. I know we need to learn Portuguese, but we know enough to communicate how to get to our house. She was swerving a bit and braking at weird times. Kyle thinks she had been drinking and that would definitely explain some of her weird behaviors and why she was so angry and loud.

First impressions of Braga

We’ve only been in Braga for about 8 hours now and we have barely even seen it, but it’s our place. It was always the place I was drawn to on paper and now that we’re here we are even more sure.

It started with the train station. It’s not too big, so it’s easy to navigate. No stairs or elevators to manage with the strollers. The train lines are marked and there is an electronic board telling you which train goes where. And there are a bunch of taxis waiting outside. One thing that’s hard about Leiria is that when we get to the train station we have a hard time finding a car to get home. It would be awesome having taxis waiting outside.

Braga train station

I knew that Braga has the biggest pedestrian only area in the country, but it’s significantly bigger than I expected. Tons of streets. Some are filled with stores, and some are just gorgeous streets lined with restaurants and flowers. There are so many flowers here. Sofia and I love flowers, so seeing them all over the place is a bonus.

We are at a rental right in the center with great views of part of the pedestrian only area. I would love to live in the city center. It has everything we could want and more. We already saw two playgrounds nearby. There are so many restaurants and cafes here. Today we just picked one at random and it ended up being an amazing meal. Two appetizers, two entrees (pesto ravioli and a braised beef pasta), two coffees, two desserts (banana split and cheesecake of the day), and a bottle of water for 50 euro. I need to work more just so we can eat out when we move here, lol.

This city feels young and there are so many teenagers. We keep talking about how much Sofia and Leo will love growing up here. I can picture them as teenagers, taking the train to Porto with their friends, or even taking the train into Spain. Kyle and I can take a train to Spain for lunch while the kids are in school. How awesome is that?

Well, that’s it for now. I’ll have a lot more to write and more pictures in a few days. I can’t wait to see more of Braga.

Numero Utente and updating our financas information

There was tons of stuff we had to do in order to move here and get ready for our SEF appointments in December. Once that stuff was done, we kind of took a break for a while. In March we decided to get the ball rolling on our numero utente/SNS. Those are the numbers that allow us access to the public healthcare system. We primarily need them in order to get our COVID boosters and to start the driver’s licence exchange process.

One day in March we went to our local centro de saude and they gave us a peice of paper with the documents we needed and the email address to send them to. I filled out a single application, and uploaded our residency cards, NIF paperwork for each of us, and a copy of our lease (for proof of address). I emailed it off and heard back the next day. They said they received everything and would process it and get back to me in a week.

A month later, I still hadn’t heard back yet, so I emailed them to ask if I need to do anything else. Three weeks later and still nothing, so Kyle went back into the office. Turns out they forgot to send us the email. So while he was there, they sent it to me and voila, we all have our numbers now. Yay! Next step is on to the driver’s license exchange. Ugh. Luckily that should be just about it with our administrative adventures, but I am really not looking forward to it. All of the paperwork we have for the exchange is over 6 months old now, so I’m wondering if I will have to get it all again. I hope not, but we’ll see.

April 19th marked our 6 month anniversary in Portugal. I think that by 6 months you need to update your address with financas, so about a week before out 6 month mark, we finally headed to financas. We dropped Sofia off at preschool and figured out where the office was. We took a number and waited for a few hours. When it was our turn, no one spoke English, but we used our translator apps and got it done. We had them update our address and remove our fiscal representative. We brought our residency cards and our lease. They didn’t care about the lease though, they just wanted our cards. It took about an hour to get through all 4 of ours.

It feels great to have almost all of the administrative stuff done. We can finally go get our COVID boosters, which is great since mask mandates are being scaled back. People aren’t wearing them inside anymore, which feels so weird after the past 2 years. We’re sick (again!) at the moment, so we’re going to wait a week or two until we’re better. It still isn’t COVID. Sofia started preschool a few weeks ago and we pretty much got sick immediately. From what I have been reading, we can expect to get sick 8-10 times over the next year. Oh boy. I guess I should cut back on trip planning then.

We have been in Portugal for over 6 months now! It kind of feels like that, but in some ways it feels like more. I’m really happy with all that we have accomplished over the past 6 months. We even have Sofia in preschool already, which is not something I expected to have done by 6 months. We have seen a decent amount of the country, though obviously there is still so much more we want to see.

Beautiful Batalha

The longer we’re here, the more frustrating the language barrier gets. I know it’s completely on us. We’re trying, but Portuguese is a hard language to learn. I think it’s extra frustrating because I know a lot of Spanish, and since I have known it for almost 20 years now I don’t really remember the struggle to learn. I can form sentences and conjugate verbs in Spanish, but not at all in Portuguese. There is so much about Portuguese that I just don’t understand, so it’s easy to get discouraged. I want to take another class, but one that moves a lot slower than the last one I took. Actually, I think I should look into a tutor. That might be really helpful.

Our trip to Porto and Braga are coming up in less than two weeks. Braga has been the top spot on my list almost since I started seriously considering moving to Portugal. Porto has been too, though it will be too expensive for us to live in. I’m excited to finally get to see and experience Northern Portugal!

We have a preschooler

When we lived in South Carolina, there was a drop in daycare. When I was pregnant with Leo, we dropped Sofia off at the daycare to go tour the hospital where Leo was going to be born. We missed Sofia so much, but when we went to pick her back up she didn’t want to leave. She went back a few times before the pandemic hit. She always loved it.

There have been times we have been walking around Portugal and have passed a school. You can always hear the kids playing. Sofia notices them, and has been asking to go to school for a while now.

Sofia and Leo checking out preschool

In Portugal school is free, though you can pay for private school or an international school. We have always wanted Sofia to go to public school. She is young enough that language won’t be a problem because she will learn Portuguese so quickly. School is not required until the age of 6. From my understanding there aren’t many free preschools. People with lower income have priority, so most people have to pay for preschool.

The regular school year starts in September and I think it runs until June. I don’t think preschool follows this schedule because we are starting Sofia in April. We looked on google and found a preschool near us that gets good reviews. We contacted them on Facebook and set up a tour/meeting.

We were hoping that we could send Sofia part time. Technically we could I guess, but it’s set up for full time. You pay the monthly fee and it doesn’t matter if she goes for 1 day or 25- the cost is the same. They charge 275 euro per month. It costs is 235 to sign her up. That fee is the application fee and uniform fee. She will have a super cute uniform of a blue polo shirt, a blue hat, and a blue apron. The uniforms are color coded by age group, so when the age groups mix it’s easy to quickly figure out who belongs to what group.

If Leo were to enroll as well, there is a sibling discount and it would have cost 505 euro per month for the two of them. The cost includes snacks and lunch. I’m not ready to send both of my babies off to school quite yet, so Leo will stay home for now.

Sofia will be in the age 3-5 group. Most of the students are 3, so she will fit right in. The school is open from 8AM-7PM. It’s nice because we can mostly drop off and pick up when we want. Morning activities start at 9:30, so we need to drop her off by then. Afternoon snack is at 2PM, so we will probably pick her up after snack time.

Registration was easy enough. They had a few forms to fill out with some basic info about Sofia and us. It did take me an hour or two with google translate to fill them out. The school requires a copy of Sofia’s NIF paperwork, our lease, her vaccine records (in English is okay), and the 235 euro fee. Also copies of all our resident cards. That’s it. She will start in April, after we get back from Aveiro.

Sofia will need to bring a sheet and blanket for nap time (they have cots to sleep on), a hand towel for the bathroom, and a water bottle. Sofia has decided to really start potty training the past few weeks and she is doing great. She saw the bathroom at the school and asked to use it. She loved the kid sized toilets and sinks and she can’t wait to use them again.

Sofia will be the only American in her class, but there is a British student, a Ukrainian one, and a few Brazilians. They start teaching English in preschool and are excited to have another English speaker in the class. They said that she will be a great fit for their group.

She is so excited and is going to have so much fun. We are going to miss her so much. I can’t believe she is going to be gone so much! At the same time, she has been driving us a bit crazy. She really wants to be out socializing and learning all the time. We have a few weeks until she starts, so we’re really going to enjoy them.

Ukraine news break (Coimbra part 1)

Right now we’re on the bus leaving Leiria. We’re finally headed to Coimbra. The train schedule between Leiria and Coimbra isn’t ideal, so we decided to try the bus instead. It costs a lot more and isn’t quite as fun as the train. The train has bathrooms and we’re free to move around a bit more. But the bus will get us there too.

Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine I have been glued to the news. Probably to an unhealthy degree. Well, okay, it has definitely been unhealthy. There has been plenty of conflict in my lifetime, but this feels different. I’m not entirely sure why. Part of it is because, for the first time in my life, I am living on a continent where war is taking place. It’s still so far away, but not as far away as if I lived in the US. That part is kind of surreal.

Maybe it’s because I have kids now, and it’s so much easier to imagine the terror people must feel knowing their kids are in danger. I know how lucky Kyle and I are. We had the means and the freedom to leave our country to start somewhere else. It’s also a choice that we chose- it was not forced upon us. And if we had to flee Portugal for some reason, we have the means to do so. So many people didn’t have the means to leave Ukraine. I get stressed out just watching the news. I can’t imagine how stressful their lives have become. All in the span of a week.

And what about the ones who were able to flee? Many of them are without their husbands or family members, as so many stayed behind to fight. How do they just start over? How do they handle the stress of not knowing if they will ever see their loved one again? How do they go from a dual parent household to just one? How do they handle the sudden loss of income? I can’t imagine how hard this must be for those who are personally involved. There is so much death and it is so senseless. I hope there can be peace soon, but it just doesn’t seem likely. It seems like there is going to be a lot more senseless death.

Anyway, there is part one of my blog post. I’m ready to take a break from the news for the day. I’m excited to finally see Coimbra. I’ll finish part two tonight on the train ride home, or tomorrow if I’m too tired.

Leiria Castle and Leo turns 2!

Today is Leo’s birthday! Somehow he is already two years old. For his birthday we decided to take a trip to Leiria castle. It’s about time- we always see the castle in the background. It sits up on a hill and is visible from most of the city. It has a really cool elevator that goes up and down the hill to the castle. Unfortunately, it was broken when we tried to take it up. There was a guy stuck in there, and Kyle and I were able to pry the doors open and get him out. He was really grateful. He was much calmer than I would have been stuck in an elevator.

Leiria castle in the background

We walked up to the castle. It was a lot of steps and hills that we hadn’t counted on, but I got some great pictures I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten. We were also reminded, yet again, of how helpful Portuguese people are. Kyle was carrying a stroller and a backpack, and I was carrying a stroller and holding Leo’s hand. A man came up and asked if we needed help, and then held Sofia’s hand as she walked up the stairs. She got a kick out of it.

I’m not sure what I was expecting of the castle, but it was more amazing than I expected. First, it was cheap! 2.10 per adult, and the kids are free. The views were amazing. I feel like that should have been obvious since it sits on top of a hill, but I guess I never imagined what the views would look like. The kids walked around the entire grounds and got pretty tired. Luckily the elevator was working by the time we went back down. It was a really cool ride down. I can’t wait to go again and ride the elevator up the hill.

From there we walked downtown, to our favorite burger place. Leo’s favorite meal is a cheeseburger. The birds there were insane. They would dive down onto the table and steal our food. We would try swatting at them to scare them away, but some of them weren’t scared at all and actually ended up getting swatted. I have never seen birds as courageous and annoying as these ones. It wasn’t just our table either, they were attacking anyone with anything edible on the table.

One bird swooped down and grabbed Leo’s burger. It fell on the ground and they all swarmed and it was over. We just got up and let them win. There were too many of them and they were everywhere. Sofia started crying. We let her chase the birds and she got over it. She loves chasing birds. The restaurant was awesome and cooked us a new burger for Leo and packaged it to go for us. They apologized profusely, which is really sweet, but also so unnecessary because it’s not their fault that the birds there are some kind of weird burger loving kamikaze birds. They make the best burgers and fries in town, and I guess the birds know this. Next time we will eat inside.

My favorite

Next up was our favorite ice cream place. Sofia loves their boba smoothies, and I love their coffee. They called it an iced coffee, but it’s really a shot of espresso mixed with vanilla ice cream, and topped with candy. It’s amazing. When it heats up I’m going to walk down there all the time for those things. After that we headed home and Leo got to open some presents. It was a great day and the weather was perfect. It was Leo’s birthday, but it ended up being pretty much my ideal day. Maybe I’ll pick all of this stuff for my birthday too 😃