Home sweet home (62)
So we’ve decided to stay; bully for us. Now what?
The first thing is stay where. How do we approach finding our next home?
Portugal is a BIG place. What? we hear you asking yourselves. We thought you said it was basically the size of Indiana. Just to drive that home, for those who’ve had the pleasure, it takes less than 2.5 hours to travel straight across Indiana on the highway. And if you start in Michiana (the part of Indiana that’s near Michigan), the Hoosier state is only 3.5 hours top to bottom. Now, Portugal doesn’t have those farmland, straight-as-the-crow-flies highways. Suffice to say it’s about the same width and a bit taller.
Within Indiana you’ll find plains and some forests, and a small section of sand dunes near the Great Lake. Portugal has mountains (bet that’s not the first thing you think of when someone says Portugal!), forest (including the world’s largest cork forest), savannah, desert, bogs & mires, heath, and 586 miles of coastland including cliffs, estuaries, and, of course, sand dunes.
We’re not knocking Indiana. We happen to think Indiana is pretty awesome. We’re just blown away by the sheer variety of landscapes packed into Portugal’s small area. Add to that cities with buildings from 1089 and cities mainly from 1755 and later, and it gets even harder to choose. Do we want beach? Do we want a city of ancient churches and their lovely bells pealing the hours? Do we want big city or the country? If this is sounding like your college search, well, it’s a lot like that.
Scott, though, is pretty comfortable with a wide range of options. Amy is the picky one. She figures we moved to Europe for old world charm, and that’s what she wants - not to be stuck in a bunch of soulless apartment buildings that look alike and could be anywhere in the world.
The three cities we are considering are Lisbon, Braga, and Coimbra.
We could say, we’ve lived in Lisbon for 7 months, we know the area, we have friends and a church here and know where to go for board gaming, why move? Just this weekend we had friends over for lunch and board gaming on Saturday. And on Sunday we went to church for a great service and chatted with so many people, and topped it off by getting together with dear friends in the Praça da Alegria. (Sitting outside. For three hours. In early February. Didn’t even need puffy coats.) Are we hoping to better that? Well, honestly, a part of the question has become, can we afford it? We know prices have done nothing but rise since we signed our lease in April.
That leads us to consider cities outside Lisbon. On our first scouting trip, neatly tied into our immigration appointments in the north, we decided to stay in Braga. Scott especially was eager to visit. We walked off the train and fell in love. We decided to come back in each season and see how we fared. January found us both fighting the idea of leaving Lisbon. Do we have to?, we whined to each other on the way to the train station. Walking off the train the tune changed: we love Braga, we both cooed. And yet, Braga is not perfect. There’s no church, a smaller selection of doctors, and it was raw and cold in January, something neither of us enjoy.
The only other city we are considering is Coimbra. Why just Coimbra? Our realtor, who knows us well, helped us eliminate a couple of places we’d been considering and recommended Coimbra. The south is out for us. The north is where the rain is. The Algarve sounds luscious when our bones are chilled, but from the reports that we’ve read (granted, a year old now) and some things that were said during last summer’s horrible drought, the Algarve is going to have a challenge getting enough drinking water. While we know Portugal is addressing it head on and in a holistic and future-driven way, we can still see scary situations ahead. The middle of the country is hot. Hot hot hot in the summer. Not St. Louis hot with the humidity, but Phoenix hot. And that’s a kind of hot we are not interested in, and one we fear as the climate does its dance. To us, Lisbon is the farthest south we want to go, and staying close to the coast seems a good idea.
Figuring out what the likely price range would be of each location has proven to be very challenging. Take a place like Braga. It’s not that big. We even saw a realtor to get some prices. All he showed us were units outside the city center. There’s just not much inventory in our desired area. Outside that historic area and the new construction, no problem! Inside it, hm. It makes it really hard to get pricing, because we have to make basic decisions first: Are we willing to sacrifice old world charm for comfort, availability and lower prices? That’s something we need to wrestle with.
One of the challenges is that these new buildings often come with the coveted energy efficiency ratings that are A or close to it. (We have often told you of our luck in stumbling into an apartment in the center of Lisbon with an A rating. Turns out we didn’t realize quite how rare that was. We should have understood from the way our realtor’s eyebrows shot up when we told her.) We really want a unit approaching an A.
Our good friends have purchased a unit that in a building that was completely gutted while the façade was maintained. It’s in an old neighborhood, charm all around. It’s fabulous. The question is how to find those, are they well-built, and how much they cost. Honestly, that’s probably the best option for us. However, given the number of units in each city, how many are being restored in such a ways is likely to be a much smaller group. Thus, we’re much more likely to find a place if we choose Lisbon.
And speaking of Lisbon, which neighborhood? With Coimbra and Braga, if you are talking about the historic center, that’s the neighborhood. With Lisbon, the historic city center has many neighborhoods. Of course, pricing is different in each.
Ideally, we find something near the Metro (the fact that the Metro is adding two stops in a couple of years opens up even more neighborhoods), with iron railing balconies, buildings that aren’t too tall, and a parque nearby. It’s likely we’re going to have to do some intensive exploring of the city we live in.
Lisbon, Braga, Coimbra. The only one we haven’t seen is Coimbra so we will visit soon. We hear it’s less expensive. We hear the students at the nation’s largest university can be … rowdy. It has an English-speaking church. And a game store. It seems to have a less active expat group. We’ll give it a shot and see what we think. One way or other, you’re welcome to come along for the ride.
That’s all for now.
Love from Lisbon,
Amy & Scott