It’s been three weeks since we arrived in Portugal, though it feels like as many months. We’ve spent more time at the local malls than we had back in the US counterparts in the last two decades!. We’ve learned to navigate the city both on foot and via Uber; I even took the bus once (that was actually quite easy and nice). In the absence of our household goods, we’ve re-acquired a few items such as umbrellas, socks, a wool cap for me, and leggings for Thene. Speaking of Thene, she managed to secure a shared work space very near the main (perhaps only) fountain in Braga. From her third floor window, she has an enviable view of the floral manicured Rua Liberdade (Liberty Street). The space comes complete with a vast fitness club (which we will eventually join at a discounted rate) and a small café where she can grab lunch for all of €4.
The town itself continues to leave us in wonder. The people seem genuinely kind, despite our initial apartment debacle. Take for example the woman from whom I purchased a coin purse. It was late and she was about to close. I didn’t have exact change and she showed me that her register was empty for the night. I told her that I would return the next day. “No, no!,” she said. “Take! Come back tomorrow!” She insisted that I, a complete strange and clearly a foreigner take a €15 leather coin purse and return tomorrow on my honor. Naturally she was our first stop on the way to the office the next morning. When we entered the door her face lit-up in recognition. I introduced her to minha esposa and made to hand her the money. She waved away my hand and came around the counter to hug and kiss us both. When at last she accepted payment, she discounted the price by €2. “For coffee,” she said.
Then there was the 30 year-old who owns the laundromat near our apartment. I was having difficulties understanding the instructions and had spent more money than I had intended. There were three other patrons in the facility at the time; women form Mozambique. They helped me call the young owner (who as it turned out spoke English). “I’ll come right down to straighten everything out”, he said. “But with traffic, it may take me about 45 minutes.” I told him that was fine. When he arrived, he explained how everything worked, he refunded my money and even gave me some free dryer time! We have since become friends. Great guy!
I could go on, but the point is clear. People here just seem to go out of their way to be helpful.
The town itself is a mix of old and new. The third larges city in Portugal (with all of 250,000 people), Braga is guardedly reinventing itself. A choreography of tower cranes dance among the ancient structures of Old town. Constructed on one block, the behemoths stretch across ancient city blocks to their actual construction sites. Streets built by the Romans are surgically updated and repaired. Only at the extreme edges of the city do you find more modern developments.
As for the apartment, that’s coming along. Of course the first big hurtle was just getting inside. This, unfortunately resulted in quite a bit of damage done to the door jamb but at least the door works and it locks. The next two hurtles were lights and a hot water, but now we are settled in to something akin to normal, if by normal you are a 20 year old living in your first apartment after leaving the college dorm. We have a comfortable bed with fresh new sheets, so sleeping is covered. We also have fresh new towels to go with our fresh new water heater, so bathing is covered. But given that we no functional stove and an oven that is looks like it would burst into flames the moment we turned it on, we really cannot cook very much. Not that any of that really matters because we also lack cooking equipment. Fortunately dining out is not too expensive if you know some of the tricks.
Breakfast is pretty easy. Consisting mostly of refrigerated items (yogurt, meat, cheese) we needed only to augment our inventory of counter-top appliances with item we knew we were going to need such as a toaster. But there are two item that I would consider more European, that are now a part of our inventory. One was an espresso machine. Now for those who have traveled, if you want a cup of coffee “American-style”, the phrase to learn is usually “Café Americano”. This is basically a shot of espresso with hot water. Not so here. Here in Portugal it is called an abatanado (or as the locals like to call it, água suja – dirty water). The espresso machine is very similar to K-cups back in the states (perhaps they too are intended for espresso), utilizing cups the size of creamers filled with coffee grounds. In order for me to make an abatanado, I go through three of the little cups and twice as much water. I look forward to the arrival of my French press.
We also have an electric kettle. For those who are unfamiliar, an electric kettle (which we first discovered in Sydney) is simply a kettle (similar to a coffee carafe) that heats water to boiling very, very quickly. Almost instantly. Perfect for tea or the aforementioned French press. As the colder weather moves in, I expect this to get more use for hot afternoon tea.
As you may recall, we have decided to renovate our kitchen/living room. While this was not our initial plan, it became more of a priority once we moved in. Our second week was dominated by six different renovation contractors stopping by to give us estimates. A few spoke English, most did not. Although we are actively studying Portuguese, we had not planned on being dropped into the throws of complex communications so quickly. Fortunately Thene is quite the linguist. She even managed to work with one of the IKEA designers (a young guy who didn’t speak a lick of English) to design our new kitchen! And of course thank God for Rogerio (our real estate agent who spent nearly every day at our apartment either translating or running me around to various stores, not to mention lending me several boxes of his tool) and or course, Google translate.
During our initial visit to Portugal back in the spring, we had lunch with a couple of expats who have lived here now for 3 years. She told us then that the process of moving abroad (although much easier in Portugal) is not for the faint-hearted. She was certainly correct. But the benefits already out weigh the struggles, and in a short time we will be past the difficulties and we will laugh at these tales. But until then, there’s certain to be more to share!