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The good, the bad after six months
We've been here since the end of June, where do things stand? (51)
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Posting our expenses missive on the Americans & FriendsPT Facebook group has led to a significant number of new subscriptions to our blog.
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We landed in Lisbon for the first time ever on 23 June 2022. We’ve lived here an entire summer and an entire fall. Six months into our … whatever you want to call it - journey? adventure? lives? - is a good time to take stock. We did a six week check-in as well, which will make for good comparison.
It’s been a bumpy ride so far.
We’ve had some amazing experiences here, met some fantastic people, and done and seen things we never thought we would in our lifetimes. Some of this is particular to us, “good” is obviously a subjective word; your mileage may vary.
The weather has been good
We’re used to St. Louis summers regularly exceeding 35 Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) with incredible humidity. We had a couple, maybe even a few, days close to 40 in Lisbon but the summer was dry as a bone with sunny, clear, beautiful skies. It was surprisingly manageable.
And we’ve not needed more than a light fleece for outerwear at any point yet. In St. Louis or Connecticut, we definitely would have had our big winter coats out for some time now (we didn’t even take those with us when we moved).
Our apartment is amazing
We are still pinching ourselves about getting this apartment. We love nearly everything about it, from the floor-to-almost-ceiling French windows to the cross breeze we get when we open windows on both sides of the unit. It’s an energy A rating in a great location - equidistant to Metro stations on both the yellow (Rato) and blue (Avenida) lines; within easy walking distance of four farmácias, four grocery/convenience stores of varying sizes, a couple of parks, and countless restaurants. The rent is manageable, we have a two-year lease - we’re quite comfortable here.
We’ve made friends
Our social connections have come from three main places: church, board games, and Facebook.
Riverside International Church is a community we’re happy with and between breakfast before service and folks who stick around for lunch after, we’ve gotten to know some people there and had some good conversations.
Scott has been a regular at twice-weekly board game nights. The Whisk is close to our apartment (near Rato) and the food is good. Everyone is there because they like board games and people are usually willing to teach and/or learn something new if needed. Everything is done in English and language/cultural barriers are a non-issue.
Facebook has been indispensable to us in 2022. Ever since we began thinking about the possibility of considering a move like this, we’ve been connecting with groups and individuals through that platform. From Americans & FriendsPT (a font of invaluable information about and support around the nuts and bolts of making the move) to Lisbon Social & Cultural Club (providing a soft landing for expats from all over the world) to other, more specific interests (Where to get stuff in Greater Lisbon, Buy Nothing Lisbon, and more), Facebook is where we’ve done the bulk of our socializing and passed along a small fridge/freezer and a couple of other items that needed new homes.
Everywhere we look, there’s something beautiful to see: inside the Metro stations, on the sidewalks, the many amazing tile styles, and giant murals. After being completely dependent on our cars since we were old enough to drive, life without four wheels is incredibly freeing. The Metro here is terrific, the buses are comfortable, and travel by train to other parts of the country is both inexpensive and fun.
We have had some wonderful doctors
Amy loves her podiatrist and has recommended him to others who have raved about the care they’ve received. Without exception, every vet we have worked with has been tremendous. Scott has a great new GP.
We’ve eaten well
When we first arrived, we dived into the local restaurant scene thanks in part to the “prevent food waste” app Too Good To Go. Eating random food from random restaurants was a good way to explore the area and get used to what it had to offer. There was also bread. Lots of delicious bread. Bread everywhere. We’ve found a great Persian restaurant, and had some decent pizza (a big change after a dozen years in St. Louis).
Expenses have been manageable
A couple of weeks ago, we reported on four months’ worth of our expenditures. We’d been hoping to spend less than 5,000€ per month and we’ve managed to do so thus far. That appears to be relatively sustainable, too, given that we’re living in one of the most expensive areas of the country.
Arriving as we did on the eve of the 2022 World Cup, we have gained an appreciation for (if not a complete understanding of) football. We’ve yet to experience a live game in person; that’s on the bucket list. We’ve also not yet chosen a team to support, but we’re leaning Benfica. We’ll decide after visits to the stadiums.
We feel safe here
We read seemingly weekly about yet another mass shooting in the United States - there was even one at a school in St. Louis this fall. We’re keeping tabs on the court and legislative battles over issues like abortion and gay marriage, and the general, slow erosion of rights in the US. While the mid-term elections weren’t the “red wave” that had been predicted, it certainly looks like the next two years will be as messy as ever.
It’s indescribably wonderful to have all of that at a remove. Here in Lisbon, Amy feels safe walking or taking public transportation home alone late at night. Scott was initially unwilling to let people leave game nights by themselves but that feeling quickly vanished. When went to Cirque du Soleil’s Crystal at Altice Arena (which, according to Wikipedia, is “among the largest indoor arenas in Europe and the largest in Portugal”), we didn’t pass through a metal detector and nobody searched our backpack on the way in.
While no place is crime free - we take basic precautions to deter pickpockets and such - this place feels safer than anywhere we’ve ever lived.
While much has gone well for us so far, we’ve also had many challenges. Some are relatively rare events specific to us, some are out of our control, some are self-inflicted, some of it is to be expected in a new country and culture. Regardless of cause or the likelihood of something happening to anyone else, they’ve been part of our experience so we report them below. Again, ymmv.
The weather has been bad
The medical system has been a challenge
While we’ve had some great doctors, the system itself has been difficult to navigate. We finally have our SNS/Numeros de utente and the 90-day waiting period on our private insurance is over and we’re still unclear as to how or if things will be different moving forward. Some prescriptions might go through the public health system and cost less, others might not. Scott just received a 1.055,25€ invoice for a routine colonoscopy and we don’t know why. Did that go through insurance already? If so, really?! If not, why not? Do we need to submit it to insurance ourselves?
We are working with a company that claims to be our “medical concierge in Portugal.” In theory, we should fully understand how all of this works. They have attempted to explain things to us. We do not fully understand how all of this works.
Between the three of us, we’ve had many encounters with the medical system here. Most of that has involved us finding our own doctors and paying out of pocket for the visits. Josie’s recent trip to the emergency vet cost very little compared to what we would have paid in St. Louis. Spending 88€ just to get a prescription renewed because we have to make an appointment with the doctor first is annoying. We’re working on finding doctors who will allow us to communicate by email; that doesn’t seem to be as common here as it is in the US but we know it is possible.
Our apartment isn’t perfect
While we’ve done much to make ourselves as at home here as we can (buying and building IKEA furniture, for example), this furnished apartment isn’t ours. This is as much about our being homeowners for more than 20 years as it is about Portugal but it’s part of our experience here. We can’t replace the sofa and mattresses that are both uncomfortable and still smell slightly of cigarette smoke. We can’t really hang stuff on the walls (they’re hard to put holes into anyway; Command strips work well enough for most things). Our apartment manager was very responsive in the first couple months; he’s been considerably slower to reply since, oh, August. We’ve had intermittent problems with our doorbell/intercom system since we got here. We’ve mentioned this repeatedly and they have not been addressed. It’s also noisy when the windows are open, which they were almost all summer and into early fall. And, at 56 square meters (~600 square feet), it’s a bit smaller than we’d prefer.
Learning Portuguese is hard
We want to be able to do more than say hello, good day, and thank you when we enter a shop or express more than excuse me or sorry about that when we’re navigating the narrow aisles of our local grocery stores. While we’re taking some steps to learn the language, others remain tantalizingly out of our grasp. We’ve heard stories from people who’ve tried Portuguese language classes for beginners only to find themselves in a room full of fluent speakers who are there because they’ve never learned to read or write the language. These folks have quickly become discouraged by the fast pace of the conversation and either dropped out and/or gained little from the experience. Others speak of classes that meet four or five times a week for three or four hours each session. Those stories are intimidating. We won’t know how it will go for us until we try ourselves.
When we took our trip north for our SEF appointments, it felt like the language there was slightly different than what we’ve encountered in Lisbon. And not necessarily in a “Texas twang vs a Pahk the cah in Havahd yahd” way, either. If we’re going to be spending more time in Braga, that’s a different code we’ll need to crack.
Eating here is hard
While the (expensive) international flavors of Lisbon are plentiful, our experience with “traditional Portuguese cuisine” has not been overwhelmingly positive. Generally speaking, it feels like meat or fish (or even an entire fish) with rice or boiled potato and maybe a piece of lettuce or two. Heavy on starches, light on vegetables.
We have not done a lot of cooking here yet. In part, that’s due to not having some key equipment (a slow cooker was a staple in our St. Louis kitchen), in part that’s due to not being able to find some ingredients (sausages are hard to come by, for example, and the ones we can find have different flavor profiles than what we’re used to).
Scott’s gastro-intestinal system has spent the last few months reminding him that it doesn’t get along well with lactose. This was such a non-issue in St. Louis - he was able to eat food prepared with butter, for example - that he didn’t even bring Lactaid tablets with him to Lisbon. Here, ingredients like whey powder are often in bread for some reason and this seems to have stirred up the ol’ GI tract. There are decent vegan food options but there’s a general suspicion of food without ingredients lists (which take a long time to decipher when they’re in Portuguese).
Buying things can be hard
Finding quality clothing that doesn’t break the bank has been a challenge. New Levi jeans run upwards of 150€. The fleece jacket that Scott bought from Decathlon for 15€ no longer unzips properly after being worn less than a dozen times. Clothes Amy bought on sale when we first arrived were unreturnable.
It’s sort of been one thing after another
We spent months in St. Louis going through everything we owned. We sold our house, our cars, our furniture; donated bags and bags of clothing and kitchen supplies; agonized over which of our 100+ board games to bring and which to re-home. In the end, we fit everything we had left into six duffel bags and four carry-ons.
Our Air Canada flight left from Chicago. Before boarding, we were required to gate-check two of our carry-ons. When we landed in Lisbon, all eight of the bags we’d entrusted to the airline were missing. We arrived at our apartment with next to nothing, just the clothes on our back, our laptops, and a few other semi-random items that we’d stuck in our backpacks. Amy needed medicines, we slept the first night on a bare mattress (at least our apartment was furnished), we had no towels. Finding places to get necessities was hard. Spending the first nine days in a new country without knowing if we’d ever see our belongings again was hard. (We did get our bags back; this came with its own set of challenges, albeit better ones.)
Our dog Josie flew on Lufthansa from Chicago with Pet Relocator. Her initial flight was delayed then canceled due to heat so she stayed in a crate in a random vet’s office for a couple of days before leaving the US. When she arrived - 48 hours after we did - the mat in her crate was soaked through with urine and there was poop everywhere. We also had nothing but convenience store butter knives to saw open the zip ties locking the crate doors. None of us were happy about that. It was an awful experience we will not repeat.
Just days after our arrival, we locked ourselves out of our apartment and had to call a locksmith since property managers here don’t seem to keep copies of keys.
A few days after that, Amy sprained her ankle and couldn’t walk.
Thanksgiving was hard for us in some ways.
Christmas wasn’t easy, either.
So that’s where we are after six months. We keep reminding ourselves that it’s only six months. It feels like much longer.
That’s all for now.
Love from Lisbon,
Scott & Amy