Thursday, 24 July 2014

One Year Later....Portugal

A church in Faro, southern Portugal. What you can't see are the stork nests in the bell housings and ledges, but they are there.

A year in Portugal, impossible to describe in a single post, but I'll start with that blue, blue sky. No sign of a cloud anywhere. It was this colour on July 7th, 2013 when I arrived in Faro and remained that same cloudless intense blue right through to October. 

The summer heat is intense, you can feel the moisture being drawn out of your skin as you walk along in the sun.  Your arms and face feel slightly itchy, or as though they've been stung by some sort of antiseptic wash.  They have, it's called sunshine and when you aren't used to it, it can actually hurt.  Sunburn, well that's another story.  Surely these days only fools lie about in the noonday sun slathered with goop hoping for a tan in 3 hours.  Here 20 minutes can give you a burn, 3 hours...I hate to think.

A year later, July 2014, still the same cloudless blue sky, but I live a little closer to the sea now, so there is almost always a seabreeze to take the edge off the heat when the temperatures climb to 34C or higher, which is almost every day now.  I wear lighter clothes than I originally packed.  Light t-shirts, sleeveless blouses, shorts and flowing skirts are the order of the day.  Forget tailored, forget anything synthetic, at least until sundown, and even then only on really windy nights.

The dogs arrived safely in October.  After 12 hours of travelling time they came out of their crates and into my arms as though it was the most normal thing in the world to be in this strange parking lot, in this strange country.  The only anxiety shown was the way they both sat behind my seat in the car, with one paw poking through between the seats touching whatever part of me they could reach as we drove the two hours south from Lisbon to the Algarve.

Today, 8 months later, they enjoy sleeping on the cool tiles in the sunroom.  They patrol the oleander hedges of their little piece of Portugal and bark at tractors and bicycles. When the gypsy carts come by, their donkeys and horses clopping down the road at a brisk pace, the dogs run beside the carts, along the property line.  They don't bark, they just run to keep up with the carts, until they're out of sight and the clop clop clop fades away.  Then, and only then, do they turn away from the hedge and slowly wander back towards the shaded pergola and their water dishes.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Getting the paperwork done......

The last few weeks have been so busy.  Not only have we been packing and selling and gifting most of our possessions, but we've been attempting to get all the paperwork in order for our move to Portugal. We've updated our passports, obtained police checks, got health certificates and been to see the accountant to discuss taxes and moving bank accounts.

Now that we have most of it organised, the next step is to have everything translated into Portuguese.  There are no local services near us, so we'll have to spend a day in Toronto and drop off all our documents to a translation service.  It ain't cheap. So far the best estimate is about $35.00 for a full page.  Yikes!

Once that's done all the documents and their translations must be notarised.  Wouldn't want anyone thinking that the documents aren't what we say they are. The fee for getting everything notarised?  Not sure yet, but it involves lawyers so....

After all that's done we have to choose our private health insurance for the first year we are in Portugal.  Because we are not EU citizens we have no reciprocal health agreements.  The younger you are the cheaper the insurance, of course.  65 seems to be the magical age beyond which things become rather expensive.  Since we're going to be running a business in Portugal we will eventually be covered under the Portuguese social security system, so we'll only need private health insurance until that kicks in. Most health insurance policies are sold by the year though and billed monthly. Rates range from $400.00 a year to $12,000.00 a year, depends on age and coverage. And if you want to you can buy supplemental health insurance even after you are covered by the social security system which allows you access to a private hospital and all the extra care that entails.
We also started organising the paperwork for bringing the dogs with us.  This is a step-by-step process that's almost as involved as moving people.  It's not so much the paperwork as being sure it's all done in the correct order at the correct time.  The dogs must have the correct type of microchip implanted and this must be done BEFORE the dogs get their rabies shots.  They must have their shots just before they travel and be certified just before they travel because if the certificate is stale-dated they could be turned back at immigration. 
And while we're waiting for the correct timing for vaccinations and dog paperwork there are proper travel crates to buy, which must be a particular size, and have the correct ventilation, and no holes in the top, and special slots for removable water bowls and feeding trays.

At least we're not bored!

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Sorting, packing....Portugal

Since I last updated two months ago, we've been busy making arrangements to move to Portugal.  The list was long, over 300 items, I am an inveterate list maker and it does give one a sense of accomplishment when things start to get crossed off.

We found a house in Portugal and have rented it for a year beginning in July of this year, with an option to buy in a year's time.  It's a lovely old stone house, which has been covered with cement render, the custom in southern Portugal.  It has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a lovely large kitchen, a small office, a cosy living room and a flat rooftop with built-in seating.  My favourite part of the house is the interior atrium, open to the sky, with a cobbled floor, a lovely sunny spot to enjoy year round.

During the same week that we found the house, we found a small restaurant for sale.  No pictures of that just now, we will wait until we've taken possession before posting any information about that.

For the past 10 weeks we have been sorting, selling, packing and chasing paperwork, lots and lots of paperwork.  Because we are non-EU immigrants we will need to have Residents Visas, which require police checks, health certificates, medical insurance for six months, and a lot more.  Once all the papers are put together, they must be translated into Portuguese and then notarised.
While of of this paperwork is being attended to, there's the other paperwork, the Canadian stuff: closing Internet accounts, and the oil company, the phone company, the electric company, and so on.

Then there is the endless yard sale that's been going on for six weeks, books, furniture, household goods, hobby items, gardening tools, and anything with a motor.  The different electrical system in Europe means it isn't worthwhile shipping these things over.  So what are we taking?  Clothing, a few books, my knitting machines, hand tools for my carpenter husband, and a few family heirlooms. 

We are all quite fed up with sorting, packing and taking endless trips to the thrift shop and the dump.  And we have embraced a new philosophy that less is more.  With fewer possessions it seems there's more time for just living, enjoying one another's company, reading, tending to the garden and doing more of the things we enjoy.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Shuttered Dreams

During our last week in Figuiera dos Vinhos, the weather began to improve warming a little day by day.  The camellias began to bloom in the formal garden, and by the little stone house the lavender was budding and early primroses were peeking out under the trees here and there.
Camellias in bloom, roses leafing out

We saw a lovely old restaurant, abandoned a number of years ago, and peeked through the grubby windows at the lovely azul tiles on the walls.  The restaurant, Cafe Terra Bella, is on the ground floor of a building that stands empty.

 We have seen this sort of thing before in Portugal, a building may need repairs, a new roof, plumbing updates, and if the owner can't afford them he just shutters the building.  If you are able to track down the owner you may find that he is willing to sell, often at a good price.  But to reopen the building means you will have to undertake all the repairs required.  The repairs may be within your budget but the bureacracy involved can be daunting for North Americans.

We simply took pictures, admired the lovely stone-topped tables and wooden chairs and let our imaginations fill the Terra Bella with locals enjoying a good meal and a glass of port.

A few days later, while talking a walk through town we spied another little restaurant no more than a block away from the Cafe Terra Bella.  This one had once been a local pub, with a lovely little terrace.  Situated next to the formal gardens and in summer near the ice cream vendors, it probably has the best location in the village for a small restaurant or pizzeria.

We made enquiries and found out that the building was owned by two different people: one owned the front portion, with the lovely terrace, while another person owned the back of the building, where the kitchen and working areas would be.  Complicated.  Further enquiries led us to a small house on the edge of the village, where an old fellow using an oxygen tank informed us, taking many pauses for oxygen, that he was the agent for the person who owned the front portion of the restaurant.  The person who owned the back portion was away on holidays for another two weeks.

 The location and the pretty terrace were tempting and we discussed the idea several times, but the complexity of dealing with two owners was daunting, and the fact that the restaurant had been closed for years meant that any new operation could take a few years to build a regular clientele. We can only hope that as the European economy slowly improves that people will be able to refurbish and reopened these lovely places. 

The final decision, though was made for us by the weather, which turned cold again, with rain every day.  The damp was seeping into our bones.  One of the reasons we love Portugal is its sunny warmth.  Having endured too many long, cold Canadian winters, we crave the sunshine.  The south was calling to us and after two weeks up north looking at houses and businesses in Figuiera dos Vinhos, Coimbra, Tomar and Miranda do Corvo we decided it was time to visit the Algarve.

Next time...we find a business and a house.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Day trip to Tomar

In late February we took a day trip to the Portuguese town of Tomar, about an hour south of our little house in Figuiera dos Vinhos.  

Tomar, pronounced 'Tu-mar' is a lovely walkable city of about 20,000.  It was originally a Roman town known as Sellium, though any evidence of Roman habitation now lies far beneath the present city.

Most visitors come to Tomar to see the Templar Castle and monastery which was the headquarters of the Templars in Portugal during the eleventh century. Work on the castle continued for 200 years.  Although both men and women could join the Order, only monks were entitled to the rank of Knight. 

Having toured more than our fair share of castles, we stayed in the town square and admired it from afar.  Besides, there was a wicked wind whipping through the streets, and thoughts of a warm lunch, preferably served beside a crackling fire, began to overtake any desire to view the sights.

We had lunch in a pretty restaurant overlooking the river, alas no fireplace, but warm and cosy just the same.

Templar's Castle in Tomar - note the crosses in the stonework

Templare souvenirs of every sort  
Riverside view of the Park - Castle far left background
Town Hall with Castle behind and above
Church of St. John the Baptist

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

A County House in Portugal

The little stone house we rented for a few weeks is situated at the end of a country lane, just off a cobbled road that curves through a forest of ecualyptus and pine trees, a few miles outside Figuiera dos Vinhos, a lovely village about 2 hours north of Lisbon.

When we arrived, in the middle of February, it was cool and wet.  A few days before we arrived there are been a terrific storm in the area which had brought down a number of large trees, knocking out the power lines and the phones.

However, by the time we arrived power had been restored and we found a supply of candles and oil lamps in the house in case of any further outages.  We made a light supper of soup, bread and cheese and sat by the fire listening to the wind in the trees.

We arrived at night, and the car's headlights had only revealed the edge of the forest and stone walls, common to this region of Portugal.  It wasn't until the next morning, when we awoke to the sunlight filtering through the shutters and the faint sounds of barking dogs in the distance that the beauty of our location was revealed.  

The house sits at the end of a long drive, surrounded by farmland and orchards of orange, fig and olive trees, well above the village nestled in the valley below. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

More to come...

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Unattached? Ten Things To Do On Saint Valentines Day

Did you know that more red roses are sold on Saint Valentine’s Day than any other day of the year?  It is also one of the biggest days of the year for chocolate shops and jewellers.  The three most popular days of the year to receive an engagement ring are Christmas, New Years and Saint Valentines Day.

Rather than griping about being single, or how commercial holidays have become, let’s remember how the holiday came about and celebrate the love Saint Valentine believed in.

It’s a holiday for young lovers, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t enjoy ourselves too.  Here are ten things to do this Saint Valentine’s Day to spread the love a little farther.

Buy a dozen red roses and 12 small packages of old fashioned candies, like licorice all sorts and lemon drops.  Take your goodies to your local retirement home and hand out the roses to the ladies and the sweets to the men.  This will make you feel all warm inside, guaranteed!

 Visit the Amnesty International website to find the address for a prisoner of conscience.  Write a letter of support to the person of your choice.  Saint Valentine was a prisoner before he was executed.

Support peace activists world-wide.  Emperor Claudius II banned marriage because he needed more soldiers for his Army.  He sentenced Valentine to death for performing marriages in secret.

Tell your parents you love them and ask them to tell you how they met. All lovers were young once.

Get outdoors and go for a walk, take a dog, the sunlight and fresh air will lift your mood.  

 Indulge yourself with a little chocolate, sharing is good. Chocolate contains chemicals that enhance your mood, lift depression and besides, it just tastes so good.

Enjoy a romantic movie starring your favourite actor or actress of the moment. A little fantasy can be a good thing.

 Read a romantic novel, try Jane Austen’s Persuasion or your favourite Harlequin Romance author.  

Light some candles, order your favourite take-out and eat in your jammies. 

Be loving to yourself, have a spa night, take a bubble bath, manicure your nails, deep condition your hair and get some extra sleep. February 14th was originally the festival day of Juno, patron saint of Roman women.

Who Was Valentine?

Valentine was a Christian priest in ancient Rome. He lived during the reign of Emperor Claudius II Gothica, who ruled Rome for two short years from 268 to 270 AD.

In Rome, and the Empire, February 14th was a public holiday which honoured Juno, wife of Jupiter. She was called Regina (which means queen) and was the patron saint of Rome and the Roman Empire. On February 14th she was worshipped on the Capitol in Rome.  Juno was also the protector of the women of Rome.

One of the Roman customs of that time was to write the names of young women on slips of paper and place them in pottery jars.  Young men of the same age then chose a slip of paper from the jar and the girl whose name was drawn would accompany the young man throughout the Festival of Juno celebrations.

Under Roman law there were strict rules about young men and women meeting, and this ceremony gave young people a chance to get to know one another and possibly develop a romantic relationship that might lead to marriage.

Emperor Claudius II was involved in numerous military campaigns and needed soldiers. During his brief reign he banned all engagements and marriages because he felt young men were reluctant to leave their sweethearts and join the army. 

Emperor Claudius II

Brother Valentine began to perform marriages in secret but an informer advised the Emperor of his activities and he was arrested and thrown in prison.   

 While he awaited sentencing the young people of Rome threw flowers and notes of encouragement through his cell window.   He was eventually sentenced to be executed and beheaded after death.

A popular story says that the jailer’s blind daughter visited Brother Valentine in prison regularly and through his prayers her vision was restored.  On the eve of his execution Brother Valentine allegedly wrote a note to this young woman thanking her for her friendship and kindness.  Some say the note was signed, ‘Love from your Valentine’. 

The following day, 14 February 270 AD, Brother Valentine was put to death.  Not long after February the 14th became known as Saint Valentine’s Day for Christians. He is known as the patron saint of love and happy marriage.

Emperor Claudius II did not outlive Saint Valentine by long, he died of the plague in the same year.

In 1836 Pope Gregory XVI gave the Carmelite Church on Whitefriar Street in Dublin, Ireland a gold-bound wooden casket containing the remains of Saint Valentine.  In 1960 the church was renovated and a shrine was constructed to house the casket.  Underneath a statute of Saint Valentine there is the following inscription:

‘This shrine contains the sacred body of Saint Valentinus the Martyr, together with a small vessel tinged with his blood.’
Shrine of Saint Valentine, Dublin

Loves Has Many Faces, Celebrate In Your Own Way and Be Grateful!