Monthly Archives: December 2015

So This Is Christmas

When we left the US in early November the hype for the Christmas season was already in full swing, the stores decorated and temptations arrayed with SALE! SALE! SALE!  The ads on the TV bombarded us with visions of an idealized Christmas with attractive, middle-class families smiling and having the best of times, SPENDING! SPENDING! SPENDING!  It was the perfect time to flee…

Thankfully no one we know!

Thankfully, no one we know.

This is our fourth consecutive Christmas outside the US and except for missing our family (Yay Skype) we’ve enjoyed some holiday time with new friends we’ve made along the way in each of our temporary homes.  We’ve appreciated our role on the sidelines watching long-established celebrations with the emphasis on family and community traditions rather than the commercialism, excess and high expectations that we were a part of for so many years.

Mexico, 2012

Mexico, 2012

Nicaragua, 2013

Nicaragua, 2013

Colombia, 2014

Colombia, 2014

As we’ve walked and driven around and about Lagos we’ve discovered, somewhat to our surprise, that the city’s decorations are very low-key with few outside ornaments and lights although many of the store windows around the central plaza have a Christmas themed display.

A lurking Santa and an unlit Christmas light display

A lurking Santa and an unlit Christmas light display

Santa's sleigh

Santa’s sleigh

In fact, until you duck into the larger stores or souvenir shops you might not even know that Christmas is just around the corner.  But if you look up you might catch a glimpse of Santa clambering about the rooftops.A tiny Santa checking out the chimneys

And what will we do for the holiday? Since we’re still in the settling-in phase in our newly adopted city our answer is a very contented, “Not much.”  We have our poinsettia plant which has been shedding leaves steadily as our lone concession to decorating for the season and we’re already wearing our Christmas presents that we bought a few days ago at a Christmas market: shearling slippers. shearling slippers for Christmas

Christmas Eve we’ll celebrate in one of our favorite little restaurants with a British style meal of turkey and the trimmings and just enough Christmas carols to get into the Christmas spirit.  And, if we can keep awake long enough, maybe we’ll drive around the city to see how others make merry.  As for Christmas Day?  There are miles of nearly deserted beautiful beaches nearby…  Does it get any better than that?

Christmas elves

Christmas Elves

Feliz Natal y Feliz Ano Nova to you and yours,

Anita and Richard

 

Setting Up House in Portugal

downtown square

We returned to Lagos, Portugal in mid-November accompanied by a strange mix of feelings.  We were tired from many airports, the long, uncomfortable plane rides, losing a piece of luggage (located the following day) and zoned out trying to adjust to the five-hour leap ahead of the clock. There was a bit of culture shock as a new language surrounded us and we gazed out of the windows of our shuttle at a somewhat remembered but still unfamiliar November countryside of orange trees still bearing fruit, houses built in tiers upon the hills and the giant chimneys scattered about the region where the storks build their colossal nests.stork nest

But there was also the giddy realization that WE WERE FINALLY BACK IN PORTUGAL as well as the low-level anxiety about all the strange tasks that lay ahead of us as we settled into life in a new country.  Our friend, Ana, met us at our apartment, showed us how to work the combination gas-electric stove and washing machine and whisked us off to the grocery store to pick us up some basics.

Our furnished apartment itself is small, very sunny, and sparsely “decorated,” less than 700 square feet with two bedrooms, a living-dining area, one bath and a galley kitchen designed for two skinny chefs.  When we prepare meals together it’s an elaborate dance to pass each other, open the pantry and drawers, etc.  The apartment itself is far from ideal: too small, too basic and we’re paying too much for the convenience of having a very lovely, Portuguese couple who speak English available for the times we need to reach out for answers to all of the complexities we find ourselves confronted with in our new setting.  But it’s a fine start and the time here gives us the chance to figure out if Lagos is where we want to live while we explore other cities and villages in the Algarve as well as Portugal.Lagos marinaAnd the location is perfect: the primary reason we chose our modest abode to set down our shallow roots. We’re situated on the first floor overlooking the Marina de Lagos with its variety of humble boats to small yachts, views of pallid to spectacular sunsets, the caws of huge, fat seagulls and cormorants perched upon sterns with their wings outstretched, bat-like, drying themselves.  Next to us is a row of shops and bistros while the train station is a two-minute walk straight ahead.

The old train station is much more picturesque than the new station next door.

The old train station is much more picturesque than the new station next door.

We can walk to a large supermarket in ten minutes or cross the drawbridge to the main street of Lagos and stroll through the weekly farmers market, wander through narrow streets with shops or a variety of restaurants (traditional Portuguese, Indian, British or Chinese fare) passing medieval buildings, a castle and the ancient stone walls that guarded the city long ago.  Close by are giant sandstone formations and rocky cliffs overlooking the Atlantic interspersed with golden sand beaches.shops lining the streets

Walls of Lagos 16th century

Walls of Lagos & the Governor’s Castle – 16th century

Our checklist of things accomplished within our first weeks is small but each day we untangle another mystery that makes up daily life in Portugal.  Nothing can be done without the NIF numbers (ńumero de identificacão fiscal) which establishes our official existence in Portugal and were procured for us by our attorney prior to our return. The first “to do” was getting connected which involved setting up cable TV and internet, a local mobile and home phone at the cable store, Meo (pronounced mayo).  We showed our passports, rental agreement, walked back home for the NIF papers and returned, filled out some forms in triplicate, signed multiple times, made friends with our clerk, Catia,  and then… stymied!  We needed a NIB number.  The NIB (pronounced neep) stands for ńumero de identificacão bancária which would allow the cable company to receive payment online from our nonexistent bank account.  Off we went on a quest to the bank, Millennium BCP, to set up a bank account with Teresa, our next new friend. The bank account required passports, our rental agreement, our NIF numbers and social security cards (foreign banking law requires notification to somewhere in the US of its citizens setting establishing accounts outside the US – probably so that our last tax dollar can be squeezed from us).  Again … stymied!  Who carries around their social security card in a foreign country?  Home we went to email my sister (our guardian angel) to copy and scan our social security cards which we then forwarded to our new BFF, Teresa.  The next day we again walked to the bank, chatted with Teresa, signed papers, obtained our NIB number and walked to Meo, chatted with Catia, presented our new NIB number, and set up an appointment for later in the week for cable/internet/phone installation. sunset on marina

Fortunately for us the cable store and bank have proved to be the most difficult things so far requiring lots of patience and remembering our smiles from time to time.  We’ve also set up local health insurance policies with Médis (90 € per month for both us) which, with a copay will cover doctor and hospital, dental and vision after a waiting period of three months.  We found a place, located in a shoe repair shop that also sells handmade shearling slippers, to copy our apartment keys. And we rented a car for our first month(s) at the cost of 320 € during low season including full insurance.  Driving is on the right-hand side of the road like the US but reacquainting ourselves with the proper round-about etiquette and road signs has been a little tense with some testy sniping involved.  And gasoline, sold by the liter, goes for over $5.00 – that’s US Dollars – per gallon. So much for the oil glut!

storkWe’re discovering that the process of settling in and becoming residents in a new country is more challenging and quite a bit different from passing through as full-time travelers.  There’s a whole new vocabulary of acronyms to learn and various bureaucratic hoops to jump through.  But the people we meet have all had wide smiles and patience galore for two bewildered foreigners trying to integrate ourselves into their welcoming country.  Who could ask for more?

By Anita and Richard