We had just finished our going away party, saying goodbye to all our family and friends… and that’s when anxious feeling started to takeover. Oh crap… we’re really doing this. We’ve dreamed of this for years, and now it’s actually happening. We’re going abroad. Wait, what do we pack? How much do we pack? What if we forget something? What will we have access to while we’re in Portugal? We have to change our banks, we have to transfer our money, we have to organize all our things. There were so many thoughts running through our heads, and sometimes it was hard to sort them out. Well… let’s just start, and the rest will fall into place. So, that’s what we did.
We’ve now been in Lisbon for 2 days, but we have yet to mentally accept the fact that we’re living here now (for the time being, at least), and this is not just a normal 1-2 week vacation. The time change is still affecting us, as we’re staying up late and waking up late, like teenagers. This late start to the day leads me to mentally panic a little bit, thinking that we need to hurry up and get our asses moving to make the most of the day and not waste the time we have here. Then, I have to remind myself that we’re here for the long haul and it’s not just a week’s worth of sightseeing and people-watching that we have to cram in. We came to Lisbon to experience and enjoy the local life, and living like a local means sometimes you just do nothing at all. It’s no different from life back in Toronto. We can’t be out running around the town every single second of every single day. We’d run out of money that way….. fast!
Susete and I have finally gotten our apartment organized, for the most part. We’ve put all our clothes away and are no longer living out of our suitcases. We’ve arranged all the kitchen stuff we brought – the sous-vide machine, the random utensils we thought we’d need, my knife kit, our coffee and tea accessories. We put up a stick-on white board onto one wall and brought along some whiteboard markers… just like at home, we like to keep lists and write everything we need to remember on there. We brought kitchen towels, tongs, spatulas, an electric hand beater, a thermometer, a french press, and our beloved hand-held immersion blender with food processor attachment, that we managed to blow out in the first day.
There are some really important things to learn about when you move abroad (or even when you’re just travelling). One of them is the difference in current throughout various countries. In the EU, they use 220v current, and in Canada we use 110v. This is probably one of the single most important things to know about. For the most part, when travelling, I’ve been completely fine with this. However, this time we learned the hard way, that it’s not always so simple as using a basic plug attachment adapter.
For most small electronic products (including cell phones and laptops), all you need is a simple adapter that allows you to plug your North American plug into the EU pronged sockets. However, we’ve now discovered, through the loss of one of our most used kitchen tools, that for anything with a running motor, you need a voltage adapter. We were making our first home-made dinner of our time here in Portugal (just a simple pasta), and I wanted to grate some local cheese that we’d bought (in place of parm), but we realized that we didn’t have a grater, so I thought we could just use the small food processor attachment that goes with our immersion blender. Susete actually does have an old voltage converter that we’d brought along, but it’s apparently not made for the modern wall sockets that are in use here (which are deep), so the prongs couldn’t reach… rendering it useless.
Since the immersion blender is relatively low power, we decided to just try it out with a normal EU adapter plug and see what happens. As soon as the power button on the stick was pressed, the light in the ceiling briefly flashed and the blender stopped… blown out. There you go. On day one, our loved immersion blender was gone. Some things you learn the hard way. So, today we’re going to head out to find an electronic store to buy a proper voltage converter, so the same thing doesn’t happen with our more expensive products. There’s one expat lesson in the books!
Can We Become Locals?
When you travel for 1, 2, 3 weeks at a time, there’s just some things you can’t experience that you can when you decide to live somewhere. How do you classify “living” somewhere? Does it have to be 10 years? Well for us, it’s really just a short time. Some may even argue it’s somewhere in between vacation and living. I’ve struggled with that definition myself, but I’ve come to the conclusion that if you have to quit your job and spend an extended time in a place… if you have to buy groceries, bathroom, laundry, cleaning essentials, then you might consider that you’re “living” there. We have to learn where the most convenient stores are for all our needs. Where we buy our food, where we buy our shampoo, our toothpaste. Where we get toilet paper, medicines. Where and when we take out the garbage. These are things you only really worry about when living everyday life… you don’t have to care about the garbage pick-up schedule when you’re on vacation!
Beauty in the Simple Things
Beauty on the ground
Some of the things I love most about Lisbon, are the simple things. The city is just so alive. To me, there’s almost no city I’ve been to that seamlessly interweaves history and tradition, with modern vibrancy. Just walking to the store, or anywhere down the street for that matter, is enough to make me take a deep breath and stop to realize where we are, and the fact that we’re living here for the next while. The sidewalks of Lisbon get me every time. Unlike the boring, large concrete slab sidewalks of North America, Lisbon sidewalks are so interesting to me. I have a strange obsession with “Calçadas da Portuguesa” as they’re called. Sidewalk designs here are so unique to Portuguese culture, and even the most simple one is still fascinating. Little limestone blocks… sometimes all white, sometimes random shades, and quite often black and white made into intricate designs. Always slightly different shape and size, but fit together so well like a city-wide puzzle.
Beauty in the buildings
I really love how colourful Lisbon is. The sun is almost always shining here (it’s rumoured that Lisbon is the sunniest European capital, with more than 300 days of sunshine a year), which highlights all the colourful and unique buildings that make up the city. Buildings painted in hues of yellow, green, blue, pink, tan, white, and of course the MANY buildings covered with my absolute favourite – azulejos, the hand-painted tiles of different colours and designs – a historical tradition taken from the time period when this area of the world was under rule of the Moorish kingdoms, and now one of the most iconic images of Portuguese culture. Every street and alleyway (beco) you turn into is full of new discoveries and interesting buildings. It’s a never-ending source of wonder for us. The architecture here is beautiful, and takes you back to various times in history.
Beauty in the people
Lisbon can sometimes be difficult to describe. Not because I don’t know what to say about this city, but because there’s too much to say and I don’t know how to narrow it down. Out of all the simple things that I love about this beautiful place, what I love most are the everyday sights and sounds of city life – the “Lisboetas” going about their day… the sounds of the old trams running through the streets, with their bells clanging. The random conversations you hear on the streets, staircases, alleyways, and around each corner. Most in Portuguese, but many in different languages from around the world. Lisbon is a city of diversity, which is something I greatly appreciate coming from a hometown like Toronto.
One of the most iconic images of Portuguese life, especially in the old neighbourhoods of Alfama, and Mouraria, where we are living, are the avós and avôs (grandmas and grandpas… or general old people) leaning out their windows watching the world go by…. often referred to as “Portuguese neighbourhood watch”. In fact, according to Susete’s Instagram photo of me this morning, I’ve become one of them.
The people here that we have met in the past, and the people we continue to meet on a daily basis, at cafés, shops, restaurants, and random places around the city, are what really make up our experiences here, and what has led us to love it here. The conversations we have and connections we make with people who live here, are what will end up making us locals ourselves.