It’s been quite a three-weeks! Here are some of the lights, high and otherwise. Sorry for the multi-parts, but this would go way too long otherwise. Think of it as our holiday gift to you (heh).
We had almost no trouble at Lisbon* Airport (LIS), other than one brief kerfluffle caused by John carrying the bag with all of the critical documents in his cart of luggage and Lisa pushing a cart full of all our boxes, making it look like she was bringing something *other* than luggage, and then — this is the critical part — us getting separated. John was left standing on the far side of customs and immigration, wondering where his wife was. Fortunately, he was able to pantomime with a friendly guard (albeit not friendly enough to let him back in) and he remembered just enough of his lessons to say “a minha esposa...?” and the guard generally indicated that she was stuck down the hall, but a couple minutes later he waved and smiled and pointed, and out Lisa came a moment later. Oopsie. Our per-arranged shuttle worked out well, although during three hours of idle chit-chat it became increasingly clear that we should veer away from political topics. Apparently we were 10% too friendly, which caused our driver to feel comfortable enough to let his guard down about an hour in, aaaaand… let’s just say that his opinions were quite a bit further to the right than we were comfortable. He was polite, a good driver, and took us to a grocery store for basic provisions, so we have no complaints. Just, you know… sports. Sports are always good small talk.
We spent our first two nights in an AirBnB about 100m (look at me, going metric) from our actual home. This was based on the very prescient advice from our real estate agent that there was no reason to assume that power and water would be working in our new place, and indeed it kind of wasn’t. Nevertheless, we were essentially in our neighborhood. I’m sure we’ll write volumes about it over time, but here’s the skinny: we love it. Our goals when looking for a roost in Portugal were that we wanted not to need a car, to be close to the downtown area that’s largely pedestrian-only and, where it’s not, it’s very pedestrian-friendly. With our agent’s considerable help, we nailed it. We are a 5 minute walk in a straight line from the downtown area; out our door and turn right. Meanwhile, on our street we have butchers (plural), fishmongers (plural), a handful of what I’m calling bodegas for now, barbershops, a hardware store, multiple electrical shops (appliances, odds-n-sods like extension cords and plugs etc…), and pastry shops.
A lot. of. pastry shops. Pastelaria is what you call them, and dear Lord they are everywhere. (This is not a bad thing.) The Portuguese clearly have a sweet tooth in the morning, at least based on the difficulty in finding an un-stuffed, un-glazed croissant. If chocolate-covered eclairs are your thing, however… By the way, they are definitely John’s thing, so he’s happier than um porco in merda. Two quick-ish pastelaria stories: 1) on day one, John went down to Pastelaria Caravela (learn the name, we’ll probably be writing about this place for years to come), ordered up a few things, and went to pay with a credit card; all of this in Portuguese or pantomime, there was no English to be had. The gentleman behind the counter promptly gestured that they didn’t take cards. “No problem,” John gestured and mumbled back, “I’ll be write back with cash.” The man seemed to understand, smiled and nodded, and John turned to leave. “Hey,” the man communicates, “you forgot the pastries.” John explains again (he thinks) that he’s off to get the money, but the man clearly understands that part, just not the part where John doesn’t take the pastries. Ooooooookay. So John rushes to their AirBnB, sets down the pastries, and tells Lisa that he’ll be right back, he needed to get cash to pay because they don’t take cards. Lisa accepts this as a very natural thing to do, of course. John rushes back and goes in to pay. In response to which, the man eloquently gestures, raises eyebrows, and says with tone of voice if not words (John still doesn’t speak Portuguese after all) “why the hell didn’t you eat before coming back?” Story 2) We went to a shopping center to get some basics, and it was lunch time and we were hungry so we plop down in the food court. John does a quick circuit of the options and comes back to report to Lisa. “There are 6 options. 3 of them are pastelaria.” This seems less unusual the longer we are here.
To end part one, a bit about our apartment. The short version is that we are very pleasantly surprised when we saw it. We had rented it based on photos we had seen, and the honest truth was that a) we were running short on time until our visa appointment (when we had to produce proof of securing a residence) and b) had actually seen very few options for a variety of reasons. Turns out both John and Lisa had been harboring thoughts along the lines of “eeeennnhh it looks ok, I’m sure it’ll be acceptable, and we can put up with anything for a year.” So, with pretty low expectations, we were impressed by several things. While it is absolutely a small place, it is laid out in a pretty comfortable fashion. It has been recently renovated so while the building is no great shakes, the apartment itself has modern finishes, updated appliances… the whole 9 meters. We had been worried that we wouldn’t actually be able to get it dark at night because of these otherwise-quite-lovely sliding glass doors that were everywhere along the back of the place. No problem, they all have automatic ceiling-to-floor blackout shutters; it feels like we’re closing the blast doors on Hoth every night, but it certainly makes the place cozy. Combined with its knock-out location, there’s a lot to like about the place.
Granted, getting the place up and running turned out to be both complicated and difficult, but I’ll save that for next time. Can I write a tease or what, y’all?
*Fellow immigrants, Lisa and I know that “Lisboa” would be more appropriate if we’re trying to fit in, but we also assume that most of our family and friends that read this don’t know that, and we don’t want this to be more opaque than it will already be. We’ll get there, promise. 🙂