Almost 3 months in

Next week marks three months in Portugal. I spent well over a year dreaming about this, and I still can’t believe we have been here for three months already. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to enjoy it as much as we want.

Since Christmas I have been battling something. For a few days it felt like a mild cold, but then I had a few brutal days of body aches with a fever, and I spent most of my time on the couch. A week or so later I started to feel better, but still not quite at 100%. A few days later the body aches came back along with a sore throat. Now the body aches and sore throat are gone, but I have a runny nose and cough. The symptoms seem to change every few days. It’s kind of bizarre.

Bailey cuddles

Kyle has been sick, but his symptoms have been milder (although that might be changing today). He took a Covid test and it came back negative. I really can’t imagine what else it could be though…it’s not a cold and it’s not like any flu I have ever had. I got the flu vaccine right before we moved, and I got the Covid vaccine last year. I can’t imagine what this would have been like for me without any vaccines. I would have been pretty worried. Luckily the kids seem to just have a runny nose and they are a little more tired than normal.

Being sick has definitely made me miss a few things from the states. I would kill for some NyQuil. Unfortunately whatever I have has brought on a case of insomnia and I’m not sleeping enough. NyQuil always suppressed the symptoms and knocks me out. I also miss soup! Obviously soup exists in Portugal, I just haven’t found it quite yet. I need to learn to cook some, but I don’t even have the energy to go to the grocery store at the moment.

We got our residence permits! The last hurdle after the SEF appointment is waiting to see if the cards arrive. Sometimes they don’t, and you have to go back to the SEF office to pick them up. Obviously we don’t want to make that trip again right now. Before our cards arrived I noticed that Leo’s address was not completely right on the receipt they gave us. They got the address right, but the apartment wrong. My card, Sofia’s card, and Kyle’s card all showed up right around New Years. I was worried that Leo’s might have gotten returned, but luckily it showed up a few days later. I have never really thought about beyond our SEF appointment. I still can’t believe we’re at this point!

We have a bunch of things that we have kind of started, but have also put on the back burner. We’re trying to get our SNS number, which allows us access into the public health system. We don’t plan on using it much, but we still need the number. We can’t get a Covid booster until we get our number. Normally you just go into your local health center to get the SNS number (with your NIF number and resident permit), but since Covid some offices just want you to email the documents. We’ve had a hard time with the email- so far most of the email address we are given have been undeliverable.

Kyle made an appointment with a doctor for a checkup. As part of the driver’s license exchange we need to have a physical done and the doctor needs to give us a letter saying we are fit to drive. Hopefully Kyle can get that at his appointment, and then I need to make an appointment as well.

We made pretty good progress on unpacking our boxes, but that has been moved to the back burner too. We have about 10 half unpacked boxes in various rooms throughout the house. I can’t wait to get them unpacked and put away.

There is a school in Caldas da Rainha that a lot of people on the expat boards recommend for learning Portuguese. It’s called the Carvela School. I would love to go to in person classes, but I can’t imagine taking a 45 minute train ride each way and also being in class for hours at a time. It’s just too much time. Luckily they offer an online class. I contacted them and got put on a wait list. They just contacted me and I’m good to go, starting February 8. They’re going to be kind of intense. 2 days per week, 2.5 hours per lesson for 8 weeks. Only 3-4 students in the class. It will be hard, but I’m excited.

I really want to learn Portuguese. I keep saying that I’m going to watch YouTube videos or practice on my app. I always mean to, but then life just flies by and now we’re 3 months in and I barely know any Portuguese. I can’t even count to 10. I need some accountability.

After living in Portugal for 5 years, we will be eligible for citizenship. A requirement for citizenship is having a certain level of proficiency in Portuguese. This class counts towards that requirement, so by taking this class I’m already working on the citizenship requirements!

As soon as we all feel better we are going to take a trip to Coimbra. It’s only an hour away on the train and we really think it’s going to be a good fit for us. We’re excited to go check it out! We’re excited to check out more of Portugal! Hopefully soon…until then, I’m back to my Manifest binge. I discovered the show a few days ago and I love it so far.

Feliz Natal

Merry Christmas from Portugal! We actually aren’t doing anything to celebrate today, which makes me kind of sad, but things have been so hectic lately. The kids have so many toys (some haven’t even been unpacked yet!) that adding to the pile seems like too much right now. My goal was to be in Portugal for Christmas and we did that, so it’s still a pretty exciting Christmas. The job that I quit in October recently took away our paid holidays, so if I stayed I would be working today. Spending the day watching movies with my family (in Portugal!) is a much better way to spend the day.

During the week I was finally able to organize our kitchen. It had been a complete mess, but now it’s organized and functional. We had been ordering takeout pretty much every day. Since everything is closed today, the timing is perfect! I got a bunch of groceries yesterday and now we have some food for the next few days. I keep trying to adopt the European way of grocery shopping, but I haven’t yet. I always buy way too much food and then have a hard time getting it all home.

I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas!

Christmas lights and Covid Restrictions

On December 1, Portugal initiated additional Covid measures. To eat inside, go to a gym, or go inside some places, you need to provide a negative Covid test, or a EU vaccination card with QR code. Unfortunately our American vaccination cards are useless, and we can’t get an EU card since we’re not residents yet. We’re okay with ordering takeout or eating outside, so we figured it wouldn’t be a big deal. But a EU vaccine card is required for the Christmas village downtown.

We went to see the Christmas lights in Leiria a few nights ago. They’re beautiful and they’re all over downtown. It was a lot of fun walking around looking at everything. There is a carousel and train outside. We got free pictures with Santa. I had the best hot chocolate I have ever had. They created a huge tent filled with activities like ice skating, sledding, and other fun stuff. when we went the activities in the tent weren’t really set up. We went again last night and they now require the EU vaccine card to go in the tent.

One thing I really wanted to do was go to Obidos to see the town and their famous Christmas Village. I wonder if they are going to require the vaccine card. We don’t mind doing a Covid test, but we have no idea how that works. They have self tests at the pharmacy for cheap, so we’re not sure if we just buy some and then take them in front of people when they are required. I’ve heard they are good for 72 hours but I’m not sure how if it’s a self-test. No one would know when we took it. Anyway, we’re headed back towards Lisbon in a few weeks for our SEF appointment, so I think we have to skip Obidos this year. I’m disappointed but we will be here for years and maybe next year will be easier.

Our SEF appointments are in a few weeks in Setubal. We just booked an Airbnb for 3 nights there. I’m excited to go back to Lisbon and to see Setubal. Setubal is on a lot of lists for good places for expats to live, so I’m looking forward to seeing it myself. I already miss Lisbon and welcome a chance to go back. Especially during Christmas! I’m very excited to see some of the lights there. I guess we should buy some Covid tests just in case…we plan to take buses and trains to Setubal and throughout the area. I don’t think we need a negative test for those, but better safe than sorry.

We are getting our apartment settled. We still don’t have much furniture, but a lot is coming next week. We finally caught up on laundry and we got a kid’s table yesterday, so we’re making progress. The maintenance guy was over a few times this week and now our apartment is in good condition.

We’re mostly ready for our SEF appointment. Our landlord gave us the registered lease, which was my biggest concern when we were looking for an apartment. Landlords are required by law to register the lease with the tax authorities. Many don’t because they don’t want to pay taxes on rent. In order to get residency we need a registered lease, so I’m glad that our landlord did that and made it so easy. The last big step is to get health insurance. Unfortunately I can’t just buy online. I had to fill out a little bit of information and then the insurance company is supposed to call me to go over everything. So, we’ll see how that goes.

Overall we’re settling in pretty well. Furniture is coming really soon. Hopefully we will have our residency cards by the end of the month (ish). December is cold, but a beautiful time throughout the country with all of the Christmas lights. Things are good right now.

Settling into Leiria

It has been a rough week or so, but things are starting to settle down and get better. Earlier this week we left Sintra and came to Leiria. We stayed for 3 nights at a hotel right by our new apartment. That was a tough transition because there was so little space. We rented two hotel rooms, but it was still a tight squeeze and we missed having a kitchen and refrigerator. We moved into our apartment a few days ago. Before we did so, we were able to buy mattresses for everyone. That’s all the furniture we have at the moment.

Sofia helping with grocery shopping

Things went wrong with the apartment pretty much immediately. Kyle noticed that there was no hot water. He contacted the landlord and she told him to just turn on the water heater. He tried for 2 hours, but it wouldn’t work. He called her again and she agreed to come over. After some time she figured out that the gas line outside of the apartment had not been connected.

At that point we had hot water, which was great, but we still couldn’t get the radiators to work. They use hot water to heat the house. That first night was pretty bad because the house was freezing. We all bundled up as much as we could, but we were still cold. At bedtime we realized that none of the bedroom doors close, which sounds super trivial but matters to me since we have such young kids and don’t want them wandering the house alone right now. At 3 in the morning Leo found his way into our room. Poor guy was probably freezing.

At that point, Kyle went to try the radiators again and he noticed that the water heater was pouring water out. He called the landlord and she told him how to shut the water off. So then we were freezing and had no water. And Leo wouldn’t go back to sleep.

I think that leads to yesterday. I was super grumpy and hated everything. I hated the apartment, I hated Leiria. I was just exhausted and frustrated. The day before yesterday we had a few frustrating encounters and some people were rude to us. People told us it was a fluke and that people in Leiria are usually nice, but I was still feeling weird about those interactions. So back to yesterday- we decided that a fun day was in order, so we put off shopping and trying to furnish our apartment.

We went to downtown Leiria and spent the day walking around. They have the Christmas stuff all set up and it just adds to the charm. When we first got to Leiria I really missed the charm and beauty of Sintra and Lisbon. Well, downtown Leiria is charming. I like it there. Our apartment is a bit further than I want, but once we settle in it won’t be such a big deal.

One of our last stops yesterday was an ice cream/ coffee shop. They have some of the best coffee I have ever had. They also have boba ball smoothies that Sofia loves. It’s nice that anywhere we go now is somewhere we can go over and over again.

Ice cream with a shot of espresso. Yum!

While we were out we signed up for phone/internet/cable. We got a Black Friday deal for 61 euro per month, which makes me really happy. We were paying $150 just for two phones in the US. We also have fiber optic internet, which is awesome.

Last night when we got home the cable/internet people showed up at the same time as the maintenance guy and another guy to fix our water heater. So it was pretty busy in the house for a while, lol. At the end of it all we got hot water, working radiators, doors that close, and internet. Our TVs were delivered too, so at least we have TV now. It’s amazing how much life improves with some hot water, heat, and TV. I’m feeling a lot more optimistic today.

Trying to get furniture has been a challenge. Our cards get declined when we try to make big purchases. We have daily limits but we’re not sure what they are. Our cards get declined when we try to make online purchases. I know banks here take security seriously, which isn’t a problem as long as you’re not trying to furnish a house. I think we are going to have to try making smaller purchases to get stuff. Hopefully, we can get some furniture in this week. For now, it’s just nice having a kitchen and showers back.

We are completely out of clothes, so we’re trying to catch up on laundry. Until now we have been using laundromats, but we have a huge patio and a drying wrack now, so we’re finally doing our laundry the European way. Our patio doesn’t get sun until afternoon, so I don’t think we will have clean/dry clothes for a while. A day at home sounds perfect right now though. Fingers crossed that we can get some furniture in here this week!

Fingers Crossed…

We found our perfect apartment. It’s a T3 with 2 bathrooms. Huge living room, it’s on the ground floor, 10 minutes walking from town, and it’s beautiful. Great price and the owners are looking for someone to sign a longer lease. There is a small garage, which we hadn’t even been looking for, but now we want it because it would be perfect for bike storage. The problem is that the apartment is in huge demand. I’m not sure how many other people want it, but I know the owner has numerous showings.

The process so far has been a learning experience and different than anything we have done so far. We hired a company to help us find an apartment, and they met with the owner and toured the apartment. They told us how important family is to the owner and that they want a family with kids living there. We definitely fit that bill. They told me to call the owner to tell her a little about the family and then to follow up with an email, so we did exactly that. We put a lot of emphasis on how great the apartment is for our kids and how much we want to raise them there. We didn’t even have to embellish at all, we really do love it and we want to live there so much. The owner said that she will choose someone and let us know of her decision by Wednesday. So now we wait. We have no idea how it’s going to go.

Leo being a goofball

In the meantime, we’re trying to stay busy and distract ourselves. Today we went to the Cascais mall. I swear we do more than go to malls all the time, lol. We started going to malls a lot more once Sofia was born because it’s a win for everyone. We can walk around and exercise no matter the weather. There is food, usually a playground, and if the kids want to walk around we don’t have to worry about cars. I was very proud because we took the bus from Sintra to Cascais. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it was our first time and it was a bit intimidating. In case you ever want to take the bus around here, you have to flag them down, they don’t automatically stop.

The mall is big and has a nice playground with slides and a ball pit. Sofia and Leo had a blast. The mall has a Toys R Us, which was really fun to see. The US ones went out of business a few years ago. When I was pregnant with Sofia we went to their going out of business sale and stocked up. This Toys R Us also had a playground, so Sofia and Leo got tons of playground time today.

Later this week we want to go to Cascais. We went to the mall today, but didn’t actually see the city. Fingers crossed that we get good news about the apartment soon…

On to Sintra

Today we leave Lisbon and head for Sintra. We are ready. We have loved Lisbon and we will always have fond memories, but it has become exhausting. We have mostly been stuck at home the past three days due to rain, so we have been going a bit stir crazy. We feel really lucky that we got so many beautiful days when we first got here. We have figured out that the quickest way from our rental to the metro is down a big hill. Going down isn’t so bad of course, but the thought of climbing up that hill one more time makes us want to cry.

We’ve been having some bad luck with the metro lately too. At least half the time we take it there either isn’t an elevator, or the elevator is broken. That means a lot of carrying strollers and kids up and down stairs. The metro has served us well, but we are ready for a break. We love Lisbon, but we are not big city people and we’re ready for somewhere smaller and hopefully better suited for toddlers who want freedom.

A few days ago we took a trolley up a steep hill to a gorgeous view. I think the trolley is called Elevador da Gloria. The view from the top is the most beautiful we have seen. We found a playground and stopped at the botanical gardens and natural history museum on the way home.

On Saturday we were supposed to have a 4 hour break from the rain, so we decided to take the train to Cascais. We made it to the train station 10 minutes before the 10:00 train was scheduled to leave and we settled in for the 40 minute ride. Unfortunately 30 minutes later an announcement was made in Portuguese and everyone got off the train. The plus side is that we met a great couple from Florida (hi if you’re reading this! 😊) who told us that there was a problem with the train and the next one would come at 11. Unfortunately the one at 11 was cancelled, so at that point we just decided to do something else. The kids had been in their strollers for two hours and we were all ready to walk around.

Time Out

Time Out Market was right there, so we went to check it out. We knew it was essentially a big tourist trap, but I always think that touristy things are worth doing at least once. It was expensive, and really hard to find a place to sit and eat, but the food wasn’t bad and it was interesting waking around seeing what they have to offer. Now we have it out of our system and it’s not somewhere that we would go back to. I would have preferred Cascais, but at least we were able to do something with our short break from the rain. It started raining again, so we headed back to our rental.

We have started looking for a long term rental. I have researched quite a few places this past year- Braga, Porto, Coimbra, Setubal, Sintra, and a few others. I think we could be happy living in any of those places, but we have never quite been able to narrow it down. I’m very drawn to Braga for its beauty, walkability, and pedestrian only area, but the weather makes me nervous and it seems so far from all the other places I want to check out. I happened upon a website that mentioned Leiria and I started looking into it.

As soon as Kyle saw a YouTube video he said it felt like home and he wants to go there. So that’s where we’re looking for an apartment. Everyone we have talked to has said that Leiria is great for families, and right now whatever we can do to make life easier with two toddlers is a win. I think I could be happy for the next year or two pretty much anywhere in Portugal as long as there are some playgrounds and we can walk everywhere. I have zero interest in getting a car anytime soon. Our rental in Sintra is paid for through November, so hopefully our next move will be into a long term rental in Leiria. Until then, we are excited to see what Sintra is like. Like I said, we love Lisbon but it’s all that we know of Portugal so far. I’m excited to see some other parts of this country.

Last week in Lisbon

This has been a great week so far. We finally got our phones set up, so it has been great having working cell phones. We went to Vodafone and got a prepaid SIM card. One month of service cost 20 euro for two phones. We already have unlocked iphones, so we’re able to continue using those. Once we get an apartment we’ll get a phone contract. They offer budles, so we want to see what those are like before we commit. Now we just need to get ahold of Tmobile to cancel our US phones.

I can’t even remember everything we have done over the past few days. We went to the zoo a few days ago. It was big and we didn’t even see all of it in one visit. There is a really awesome ride there. You stand up in a cart type thing and go over the zoo and a bunch of cages. It’s a long ride, somewhere around 20 minutes maybe. The walls are nice and tall, so I didn’t have to worry about my kids falling or jumping out. I went with Sofia and Kyle took Leo. The ride goes over the lion cages, and gives some nice views of the city. I am deathly afraid of heights, but even I was able to enjoy the ride because it was so different than anything I have ever done.

Yesterday we went on one of those super touristy hop on hop off bus rides, although we were never able to hop off because the stops weren’t long enough 🤣 Kyle tried once, but the bus started moving again before he could even get to the stairs, It was a really nice break to be able to sit down for a while. The kids did good, though they did start to get restless. We all did at some point. The loop was just under two hours, which is more than we have sat for a while now. My butt hurt from sitting by the end. The tour made us realize just how little of Lisbon we have seen. We have come up with a plan for what to do for the rest of our time here, but we’ll see if we have the energy.

We are definitely starting to run out of steam. We’ve been in vacation mode since we got here, so we don’t really have a schedule and we’re running around all the time. It has been tons of fun, but we’re ready to slow things down a bit and get a routine going. We have already outgrown our Airbnb. It’s a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom. It’s in a great location, so the apartment size is, of course, on the smaller side. The biggest problem though is that there just isn’t any organization, so our things are just kind of laying around. We don’t have a pantry, so we have been putting our food on top of the stove, which obviously makes cooking a pain. We are making do though, and plan on enjoying our last week in Lisbon.

Tomorrow or Friday we want to go check out the Belem area. I loved it on the tour yesterday. We have been wanting to get pastel de natas from Pasteis de Belem, so we can kill two birds with one stone. I still want to check out Time Out market at some point, but we might run out of time for that. I really want to go to Cascais while the weather is still nice, and the kids would love that too. I know we can do that from Sintra, but there is a train from Lisbon and it seems easier. Hopefully we can fit that in this weekend. We’re running out of time in Lisbon, but I keep reminding myself that we’re going to live pretty close. It’s not like we’re going back to the states next week. We’re going a half hour away…

We love Lisboa

Yesterday we learned how to take the metro. It’s super easy and convenient. Today we decided to take a break from running errands and to just play tourist. I’m glad we did- we really needed the break.

We took the metro to the Praca do Comercio. We took the elevator from the metro up to ground level and when the elevator doors open it’s one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. I have been wanting to go over there because it’s in so many videos and blog posts and is instantly recognizable. It was interesting being over there because it’s much more touristy than anywhere else we have been. The prices are higher and people speak English to us before we even get a chance to say anything. We’ve already gotten more used to being around locals.

We walked around the pedestrian only areas for a while and then took the metro back home. We stopped at a nearby grocery store to get a few more things. They sure do love their yogurt here, which is great since Leo loves yogurt too. We’re back at the rental with a few new toys and the kids are happy for the moment. I love going around Lisbon, but it’s nice having an easier day. Monday we’re going to see if we can go get Portuguese SIM cards for our phones.

The more we see of Lisbon the more we love it. It’s so beautiful here and I always feel safe so far. Sofia waves at everyone and they wave back, which delights her. People stop all the time and spend a minute or two talking to Leo. He gets shy and tries to hide behind me or Kyle. For the most part people are really friendly here. I know there is so much more of this country than just Lisbon. I’m excited to spend the next week in Lisbon and then getting to see more of the country.

Back in the Southern US

Well, we made it back to South Carolina two days ago. Whew, this humidity! I somehow forgot how humid it gets. It was nice getting to spend two weeks in the way cooler air of the Pacific Northwest. The flight home was so much better. Our first flight landed on time, so we had an hour and a half layover in Dallas. It still felt kind of cut short, but we had time to eat and stretch our legs a bit. We have all been pretty exhausted since we got home.

I go back to work today, in two hours. It will be fine. I’m feeling kind of sad though. I always feel kind of sad when vacation is over. It has been so nice getting to spend the past two weeks with my kids. I’ll miss getting to spend so much time with them. I really miss my parents too. Sofia has been asking to see them a lot today. She misses them too. Since having kids it has gotten so hard saying bye to my parents. It’s so nice spending time with them and the distance between us is hard. And it’s about to get way bigger.

On the plus side, we will be moving to Portugal soon. I still haven’t picked the exact date, but we’re really close to deciding. We got our passports back and my SEF appointment is December 20 in Setubal. Kyle, Sofia, and Leo have their appointments on December 21, also in Setubal. For that appointment the biggest thing we need is a lease. Originally we planned to find something to start January 1, 2022 but now it’s looking like we will aim for a start date of December. The travel date we listed on our D7 visa was October 13, and that might be the actual date we enter Portugal, or we might do a week later.

Kyle has already started selling some of our stuff. I’ve been going through the kid’s clothes to either sell or donate them. I still have all of their clothes, back to when they were both newborns. We have so much to do and not a ton of time to get it all done, but we should be fine. We’ve known this was coming and I began packing some things a few months ago. Now that we know that we’re actually going soon it’s time to get moving.

I still have to figure out my last day of work. I think that I might just stay for a while longer, and have my last day be 10 days prior to our move. That last paycheck will be helpful, and having our insurance for as long as possible means we won’t have to spend a ton on short term health insurance. We still have some decisions to make, but that’s the fun and easy part. We tried calling Lufthansa today to book Bailey’s flight, but after being on hold for a while we were told by a machine to leave a message. I definitely have some anxiety about Bailey’s travel- booking his flight will be a huge piece. Once we book his flight I will book ours and make the last decisions that I need to make.

Why do we want to move to Portugal?

I love to travel. I have wanted to experience living abroad for as long as I can remember. Kyle and I used to talk about it and it was always something we wanted to do “someday.” Originally we were looking at Spanish speaking countries because I speak enough Spanish to get by. At first Costa Rica, Panama, and Mexico were all on our list in part because of their proximity to the United States. We had been to Cozumel, Mexico a few times and we loved it. We took a 10 day trip to Costa Rica and we loved it there too.

When I got pregnant with Sofia we decided that we wanted to move abroad before she began school. We started to make serious plans to move abroad. A top requirement of mine is that I do not want a car. I want to walk and take public transportation. That made Costa Rica, Panama, and Mexico more difficult. You can live in any of those places without a car, but we wanted to be able to travel around pretty freely, and it just seems a lot easier with a car in those countries.

I’ve always wanted to live in Europe, but dismissed it as being too expensive. At some point I read that Portugal and Spain are pretty affordable. Immediately I began looking at Spain. I narrowed in on Valencia pretty quickly and I started learning everything I could about living there and their visas. I wasn’t quite sure that we qualified, but figured we could swing it and it was worth a try. Then I got pregnant with Leo, and the second dependent would have made the financial requirements hard to meet.

I had looked at Portugal before, but couldn’t narrow down where to live, so I had turned my attention back to Spain. This time I looked at Portugal’s visas, and the D7 was a great fit. We more than met all of the requirements, including the financial ones. For the next year I researched Portugal. I kept trying to narrow down where to live, but all I did was expand the list. There are so many cities and towns I want to check out.

Portugal is fairly easy to travel around without a car, especially if we live in a bigger city. It’s easy enough to access the rest of Europe from there. Spain is their neighbor. I have read time and time again that Portuguese people are incredibly friendly and helpful. I know that in Portugal family matters, and kids matter. I like that Portugal does not have the same gun culture that we have in the US. I love that Portugal is a safe country. There seem to be a lot of positives. That sealed the deal and we knew that Portugal was the place for us.

As we get closer to moving it can be easy to focus on wanting to leave the US. Even though there are some reasons we want to leave the US, ultimately we are moving because we want to experience living in another culture. We want to be able to travel around Europe and obviously living in Portugal would make that significantly easier. We want our kids to experience other cultures.