Alcobaca

Today is Kyle’s birthday so I decided to give him what the parent of any toddler wants- some time alone! 😂 With the bus schedule, me and Leo were gone for over 7 hours. Kyle is taking Leo to Alcobaca next week, so I will get 7 glorious hours all to myself. Just in time for Stranger Things! It’s one of my all time favorite shows and the last two episodes of the season come out on July 1st. Each episode is going to be longer than the others.

Alcobaca

Anyways, I digress. Kyle really loves Alcobaca and it has been on my list, so Leo and I took the bus there. We have a pretty good routine going at this point. Get to where we’re going, find a playground for Leo, stuff his little belly, and then he passes out in his stroller for almost 2 hours. It’s the perfect time to get coffee and explore. Once he wakes up we get ice cream or a snack.

Alcobaca is a cute and charming town, like so many in Portugal. I really love getting to see so many places. Alcobaca is known for the monastery. There were some steps to go inside, so I couldn’t go while Leo was sleeping. When he woke up, we didn’t have enough time to go inside. Maybe next time. The monastery is huge and beautiful from the outside.

There is a Main Street lined with shops and restaurants directly across from the monastery. There is a river with a path along it, and a cute park called Jardim do amor. There is also a castle that we didn’t see. We didn’t do a ton, but had a nice Portuguese day. We took an hour for lunch, sat in a cafe and had coffee and a snack, walked around a ton. I love these days. I love slowing down and trying to enjoy things more instead of cramming too much into the day.

We have finally started socializing a bit more. We went out to dinner with an expat group on Saturday night and that was nice. Kyle met some people in the square in Leiria because he heard them speaking English. In some ways it’s easier to meet people because when we hear English we are quick to stop and say hi. I’ve had people approach me just because they hear me speaking English to one of the kids. The people Kyle met have a son right around Sofia’s age and the two of them play so well together. It has been really nice meeting some people.

Guimaraes

We’re back in Braga for a few days and we head back to Leiria tomorrow. I have been wanting to go to Guimaraes for a while now but we just never had the time. Yesterday we took a bus over there to see the city. It’s only a 25 minute bus ride from Braga.

Portugal was born here

The city is much bigger than I expected. They have a really charming historic city center. It looks different than other places I have seen in Portugal. I haven’t seen much of Europe, but central Guimaraes reminds me of European city squares I have seen in videos. It doesn’t feel as distinctly Portuguese as some that I have seen.

Something I love about Guimaraes is how many different parts the city has. There is the historic city center. There’s a palace and a castle. There is the street filled with flowers, with the church on one end and the fountain on the other (I don’t know the names of any of the places), there is a modern mall and various shopping areas, there is the cable car to the top of the mountain, and there are quiet and quaint streets that just feel so European. They also have a Friday market that we hope to see next time. I’m sure I missed some stuff because the city offers a lot.

We took the Guimaraes cable car to the top of the mountain. We knew there was a church with an amazing view, but didn’t know what else to expect. I guess the area is called Parque de Campismo da Penha and the whole area is beautiful. It’s very shady and cool up there. I could see going on hot days because there is a nice breeze. We wish we could have spent more time up there, but we hadn’t even known about the cable cars when we first went to Guimaraes, so we just didn’t have enough time. We did get to stop for ice cream and take a cute train ride to see more of the area.

We both really love Guimaraes and it has moved into our top spot of places to look at for settling down. I never expected anywhere to knock Braga out of its top spot. Like I said earlier, I love the different aspects of Guimaraes and how it feels like so many different places in one. I also love how quiet certain parts are while still being central. Whichever we choose, they are only a 25 minute bus ride away from each other, so we will have two awesome cities nearby. Not to mention Porto as well.

On the way back to Braga we met a woman at the bus station who was headed home to Chaves. We were talking about how beautiful Guimaraes and Braga are, and she said that all cities in the north are beautiful. I googled Chaves and it looks gorgeous there and I definitely want to visit. A bus was going to Vila Real and it was pretty crowded, so I googled it, and it’s beautiful there too. She’s right, everywhere in the north is going to be stunning and I can’t wait to see them. All of them, lol. I’m adding every single Northern Portugal city to my bucket list.

For now we are going to have to slow down our Braga trips and focus on exploring the Silver Coast more. We were really excited about buying an apartment in Braga, but unfortunately our funding fell through. Someone was going to loan us money to buy a place, but they decided to back out. We need 30% for a down payment to a place, which we don’t have quite yet. We’re very disappointed, but it is what it is. We will keep saving and might have enough in 5+ years. For now I’m going to focus on working to make back the money we spent coming up here to see apartments and to keep funding our day trips.

A few days before we came to Braga we finally made it over the Nazare. I liked it a lot more than I expected to. I didn’t make a post because the gorgeous view was completely obstructed by fog. I’ll be going back there soon after we get back to Leiria. It’s pretty, the ocean breeze feels great in summer, and there is a playground Leo loves. Kyle went to Alcobaca and he really loved it, so I’ll be going there soon too. Lots more fun to be had and posts to make.

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.

Sao Martinho do Porto

Kyle first noticed the Sao Martinho do Porto train stop when we went to Caldas da Rainha for the first time. He looked at the town online and saw that the beach is kind of a cove. This beach is great for kids because it’s more sheltered than other beaches, so the water isn’t as rough. I know late February isn’t exactly beach weather, but we’re ready to get out. We were going to go to Coimbra but the bus/train schedules there are not the best for us. Also, we’re struggling a bit with Sofia and don’t want to commit to the huge outing that Coimbra would be.

I’m sure that what Sofia is going through is normal, but it’s trying for us all. She’s just about 3.5 and I think she’s trying to learn how to deal with emotions. I get it- emotions are tough even for me sometimes, let alone a toddler. She has been having multiple outbursts during the day, which just isn’t like her. We’re trying to support her the best we can, but we’re all feeling a little worn down right now. She has been doing a great job of naming her emotions. She can identify when she is sad, and she pretends to be angry sometimes, so she seems to know what those ones feel like.

It was nice to see the beach again. Obviously it’s off season, so a lot was closed in town. We knew it would be a small town, and it was. This was the first time we got kind of bored before the train came. We will definitely go back in the summer, it will be a great beach for the kids to splash around. You can see the waves crashing at the entrance of the cove. They look so big, but by the time they get to the beach they are so much smaller.

Today we just walked along the strip next to the water. Sofia played in the sand for a while and then we got lunch and ice cream. I have been meaning to mail a few things to the US and today I finally remembered to bring them and mail them.

We have a few trips planned this year. In late March we’re headed back to Lisbon to go to the Alice In Wonderland event in Belem. I’m excited to go to an event. We have been traveling around, seeing awesome stuff, but an event will be fun.

Sharing some gelato

In May we’re headed to Porto for 4 days and Braga for 3. That’s the trip I’m really excited about. I know I sound like a broken record by now, but I have always felt that Braga is a great fit for us and I’m really excited to see it.

I’m looking at a trip somewhere in September or December. September is Sofia’s birthday and my and Kyle’s wedding anniversary. It has always been the month we take a big trip. The weather is good, but places aren’t as crowded as in the summer. December would be amazing because we love Christmas lights and the holiday markets. I’ve been looking at Ireland, Brussels, Madeira, Italy…there are too many places. For now I’m just watching the prices. I have seen a few sales for €20 to different places in Europe. I can’t believe how low some of the prices get.

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 😃