“My goodness, Ms Susan! Your writing assignment is three months overdue!”
“I’m so sorry, Professor Blogreader. But I have a note from home explaining why. Here…”
“Dear Professor Blogreader. Please excuse Susan’s late assignment. You see, the world is ill and Susan has been otherwise occupied. She’s only now been able to give her full attention to the assignment. Please see attached. Sincerely, Susan’s Psyche.”
Better Late Than Never
I’m currently writing to you from the comforts of our 21′ travel trailer (a caravan for our NZ and UK friends) overlooking a lovely slough just outside of Coos Bay, Oregon. We managed to not get Covid-19 in Portugal and therefore did not take it to England. We managed to not get Covid-19 in England and therefore did not bring it to the United States. We concluded our 14-day mandatory CDC quarantine at our lovely rural spot, hosted by my gracious sister. With alarming news feeds everyday, I realize I am fortunate to write this blog at all, albeit somewhat late.
When Last We Met
Back in February, from the comfort of our apartment in Porto, Portugal, I shared our whirlwind adventures in Australia and Thailand. Feeling confident in our future plans, I held off journaling about our then-current experiences in Portugal. This was our second visit to Portugal in three years. Our purpose this time around was to investigate different regions and cities with a critical eye toward potentially moving there. My next blog was to be an evaluation of each area we stayed in. Since this is my next blog, here we go…
Could we live here…?
Our first visit to Portugal was during summer, and we were tourists. Summer and tourists—every place is enchanting with that criteria. This time around we purposely went in the winter and stayed in areas that were more residential, asking Could we live here…? We landed in Lisbon on January 15th.
Lisbon – The first thing I did in Lisbon was buy a sweater and a wool coat! We had just flown in from 90 degree weather in Thailand and my trousseau was mainly sundresses and swimsuits. Although Lisbon’s weather was still drier and warmer than typical Oregon January days, it wasn’t the 90 degrees we’d just left.
We settled into a upper-floor flat in a busy section of Lisbon. It had a lovely view and a cozy café around the corner. We enjoyed experiencing some of our favorite aspect of the city and surrounding area: tiled cathedrals, the Tagus River, the narrow streets and the castles of Sintra.
We took a day trip to Setubal, an hour’s train ride south of Lisbon. There we met up with some expats from various countries that I had contacted through social media. It was a fun and informative day meeting with people who had taken the plunge and moved to Portugal.
Evaluation: Lisbon is busy and full of rich experiences. Lisbon is also a bigger city than we’d prefer to live in. It would be a great place to escape for short vacations, however. But…in summer!
Nazare – This lovely town nestled along the Atlantic Ocean is famous for its big wave surfing. For us, Nazare has a sweet human connection as well. During our previous visit we met a young lady and her father. Diana and I have kept in touch via social media and made plans to get together on this trip. Our reunion was sweet! We were invited to their home for a traditional Portuguese meal, prepared by Diana’s mother. We were treated like royalty, although all in Portuguese. Diana speaks lovely English and was a godsend translator as we attempted to communicate with her mother, father and grandfather.
The next day our adopted Portuguese family invited us to visit the historical monastery in Alcobaca with them. Having our own private tour guides has it’s advantages. As well as sharing the wonder and beauty of the monastery, Diana’s family knew the best place for desert and coffee afterwards!
Evaluation: Nazare comes complete with a ready-made family. The town is simply breathtaking and the waves are spectacular. Fishwives wear their thick, colorful skirts and visit each other along the streets. Nazare is as Portuguese as Portugal gets. But… Nazare is COLD in January. Lovely, but cold. If we do move to Portugal, we will definitely be visiting Nazare and our adopted family for summertime holidays.
Lagos – Lagos is in the Algarve, or southern region of Portugal. The Algarve is popular with sun-seeking retirees. (At this point, the teacher in me would interject that foreshadowing is a technique writers use to give their readers hints and clues about possible story outcomes…) I wore shorts and sundresses while in Lagos. We walked the beautiful cliffs and beaches. We ate outside. The weather in the Algarve spoiled us. Apparently, we are sun-seeking retirees.
Evaluation:Lagos has numerous trails along the ocean cliffs. It has abundant sunshine and friendly people. We discovered a new, favorite restaurant as well. We were originally skeptical about settling in the Algarve as it tends to have higher housing costs and can be overrun with, well, retirees like us! However, in the winter months it tends to be more peaceful and authentically Portuguese. Its biggest selling point for us is definitely the weather. We could likely call Lagos home, at least for the winter months.
Coimbra – Three years ago our visit to this old university town was only hours long. This year we spent a busy, energetic week in a small flat in the middle of the city close to the action. Coimbra is Portugal’s former capital city with history dating back to medieval times. The University of Coimbra is built on the grounds of a former palace, and a guided tour is definitely necessary. Our tour guide was a former university student. His knowledge of history and his pride for his school enriched our experience.
Evaluation: Coimbra is the perfect sized city for us. We’ve lived in a university town before and know the energy and politics that comes along with that experience. Coimbra was noisy, but in an unusual way. The university students congregate in the city square a few evenings a week, dressed in their school uniforms, including their capes. (Imagine Harry Potter. JK Rowling spent time here). Meeting fellow students of the same academic school they were studying in, students would walk the streets singing and chanting into the wee hours. It was fascinating and entertaining for a while. But, at some point Grandma Susan needs to sleep. If we were to move there, we wouldn’t live near the University.
Porto – Ah, Porto! The lovely Douro River graces its southern border. Porto is known as the “City of Bridges.” The most iconic, the Dom Luis I, was built by a disciple of Eiffel and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Porto is also known for its street art, Azulejos tiled churches and port wine. As a side note, the hilly streets and stairs are a great work out. One new experience we added to our visit was an Azulejos tile class. We spent a morning learning the history of, and then painting, the famous Portuguese blue tiles. I now have a piece of Portugal with me no matter where I roam.
Evaluation: Porto ranks at the top of the list for us. It always has, though. However, (can you guess what I’m going to say?) it was a bit cold in January and the wind off of the Douro can be quite “invigorating.” But, Porto isn’t off the list quite yet.
Best Laid Plans
After Porto we were going to visit northern Spain for about 3 weeks; walking parts of the Camino de Santiago and ending in Santiago de Compostela. We then planned to head up to England for two months of fell walking in the Lake District. That was the “before times”, or life before Covid.
When we arrived in Porto, however, the threat of the pandemic was beginning to ramp up. Italy was locked down and Spain looked like it was next. We had no idea what life in Covid-world would look like, but decided to adjust our plans, skip Spain and head to England early.
Since we were about three weeks ahead of schedule, we decided to visit the Cornwall area before heading north to the Lake Distract. Besides, southern UK would be warmer, right? The village of St Just is about as south as you can get, being just a few kilometers from Land’s End. Nestled in the farmland in Poldark country, St Just proved to the be perfect place for us to hide from Covid and plan our next steps. With a population around 2,000, social distancing was easy, and our daily walks along the ocean cliffs were invigorating.
The world as we knew it was crumbling fast. Travel in and out of Europe was shutting down. The UK government was discouraging leisure travel, while the US was just beginning to feel the devastating effects of the virus. We struggled with our next steps. Do we continue with our travel plans possibly risking getting “stuck” in the UK due travel restrictions, or return home? Everyday the headlines were more dire and I was getting fussy about family. With both relief and regret we boarded a plane at Heathrow Airport and headed home in mid-March.
Bloom where you’re planted. Outside my window, right this minute, high tide is coming back in. I see the slough filling up. Every so often a river otter plays hide and seek with me. The songbirds serenade me. The sun is shining. When it rains the cedars smell amazing. My sister and I rode bikes this morning along enchanting country roads. It’s not Europe, but it’s home and it’s family. Our home is tiny, but the love is big.
I realize how fortunate we are. We experienced five blessed months of unforgettable adventures. We walked up to glaciers. I held a koala. We swam in warm oceans. We watched penguins waddle back to their nests. We walked with a baby elephant down to a stream to bathe. We saw ancient ruins. We met wonderful people. Whenever we’re finally able, we will return.
Hold your adventures close to your heart, be they exotic or right in your backyard. Our future plans are up in the air at present. It could be up to a year before we resume our international travels. In the meantime, if we do happen to seek closer adventures here in North America I hope you’ll…
Go With Me!
Photos by Mark Leedom