Checks and Balances: Banking in Spain & Portugal

Remember the days when American Express advised us not to leave home without the company’s ubiquitous traveler’s checks, accepted and exchanged virtually everywhere … for a fee?

Alarmy Stock Photo

Forget about them.

They’re no longer accepted at banks and few offices (far between) will convert them to the local Euro currency.

It’s not only American Express checks. It’s all checks. Especially, personal ones. Even if you have a bank account in Portugal or Spain, you can’t just deposit your Christmas card gifts from back home or birthday presents sent on paper. Some banks won’t accept them at all; others, will charge a hefty fee – upwards of 25€ — for the privilege of waiting while each check is sent back to the USA for conversion before posting to your account.

EU countries are becoming cashless societies where plastic is the financial instrument de rigeur—at least at retail stores and points-of-sale. No longer are cards inserted, slid, or swiped; they’re hardly even touched, since the card “reader” comes within kissing distance of approval or denial, as your hand hovers over it. Increasingly, too, is your telephone as the tool of choice in financial transactions. Same concept, different instrument: card or mobile.

It may be awkward for some, but remind anyone from the USA in the habit of sending you checks that, not only can it take up to two months for you to receive it in the mail … and most banks (if they’ll even accept American checks) charge a minimum of 12.5% of the check’s value to convert and deposit it to your Portuguese or Spanish bank account. In the end, it’s a lose-lose proposition with you paying coming and going.

Best bet? Impersonal as they may be, international funds transfer services – Paypal, (Transfer)Wise, Western Union, etc. – will charge a small fee and choose the exchange rate, but the money will be received by you usually within 24 hours. Money can be transferred quite easily from home via the Internet.

Online, too, deposits, withdrawals, and transfers are now virtual, if not literal. Buying and paying online has boomed thanks to stay-at-home shoppers who purchase everything not available to them through local merchants or shopping centers.

Think that’s going to change once Covid no longer is such a threat?

Brace yourselves for the brave new world of banking.

Neither Spain nor Portugal typically credit your money that they’re holding (and investing) with interest. Quite the contrary: For the privilege of granting banks the right to serve as clearing houses for your recurring bills and financial transactions, several of Spain’s largest banks are charging fees of 90 Euros quarterly – that’s €360, nearly US $500 per year – to steward your funds, plus additional fees for withdrawals, transfers, and other transactions. While few banks or any in Portugal (that I know of) charge such usurious fees, they all do eat away at your savings with fees for every transaction. Adding insult to injury is that – on top of these fees – banks are also required to charge IVA (sales tax, if you will) of 21% in Spain and 23% in Portugal.

(If/when you do open an interest-bearing account, it’s almost not worth it: we deposited €11,000 in a U$D account for six months—you need to specify how long the investment period will last. At the end, we had earned about 40€ on our deposit. But that was before taxes were deducted on our earnings. In the end, our €11,000 earned a whopping 14€! Plus, the account usually isn’t insured.)

A bank account is required for residency in both countries so that your recurring bills can be directly debited.

Then there’s the Multibanco:

More than the ATMs Americans are accustomed to, Multibancos do much more than disperse cash from your account, or allow you to move money from one account to another within the same bank. You can pay bills and/or transfer money to other people, businesses, and government agencies (regardless of their bank) and debit directly those recurring charges—like your electric, water, car payment, insurance, and telecommunication bills. Forgotten your personal IBAN number? You can obtain it – along with a detailed summary of your transaction history – electronically through your home computer or mobile device and, of course, the Multibanco.

We’ve come to appreciate the Multibanco, but know that all aren’t alike. There’s a difference between an ATM and the Multibanco.

The branch we bank at, for instance, has a Multibanco outside, while, inside the entrance is its own ATM. You can’t use any other bank’s credit or debit card at that ATM … but, theoretically, you can use your bank’s debit card at any Multibanco.

When using a debit card with a Multibanco to withdraw funds from a bank account in the USA, always be certain to reject the option for the amount to be deducted in dollars. It’s the last question prompted – twice, including a confirmation – before the transaction is completed. Instead, opt for the withdrawal to be done in Euros, with your home bank handling the transfer. The same holds true when using a debit card for purchases: always choose the “euros” option, not the dollars one.

On a withdrawal (or purchase) of 100€, we’ve saved ten to fifteen euros that way … enough to buy a really good lunch in Iberia.

Supposedly, you can’t withdraw more than two hundred euros (€200) on any day from the Multibanco. We ass-u-me they’re inter-connected … so if we withdraw €200 from this Multibanco, we won’t be allowed to withdraw another 200€ from that one, using the same card and account.

If one needs cash – more than €200 – on the same day, however, there are ways around the Multibanco’s limits. If you have more than one bank account and debit or credit card, for example, just use another one to draw out up to another two hundred euros. Keep going … until you reach what you need or run out of cards.

Then, of course, you can go into the bank itself to take out larger sums. But you’ll pay a higher fee for the personalized service.

Perhaps someone else can explain all the curious charges, fees, taxes, and take-aways affixed to our bank accounts in Portugal and Spain. You know: those amounts preceded by minus signs and abbreviations?

I understand “comissões” and my monthly “quotas” – fees charged for the bank’s associated accounts with additional benefits – but what about all those other encrypted letter deductions:

  • IMP.TRF.P?
  • DESP.TRF.P?
  • I.SELO OP.BANC?
  • COM SERV EST R O?
  • COM OE STP NET 24?

For pure economics, financial institutions are making money on top of money through a variety of fees, charges, and commissions.

“It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning,” Henry Ford claimed.

Thomas Jefferson charged, “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies.” Of course, neither man had access to the Multibanco.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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O Número Contribuente?

Americans are issued Social Security Numbers in the USA which are used to identify them—from taxpayer to pensioner.

Other countries assign their citizens (and residents) a variety of numbers. In Portugal, for example, in addition to a social security number, many of us also have a separate health care number, driver’s license number, and – of course – the ubiquitous “fiscal” (or taxpayer) number, technically known as our NIF but more popularly referred to as the número contribuente.

Every time we go shopping, we’re queried “Contribuinte?” by the cashier.

Merchants are required to ask if want to provide your “número contribuinte” for that purchase … although you aren’t required to give it. But, if you do, it’s recorded and reported to the tax office.

Will providing your NIFs for Lidl or Continente purchases affect your tax bill in Portugal?

It could!

Part of the reason behind tracking money spent and received is to thwart the “underground economy” and its financial transactions. But, thanks to giving our número contribuente, our own tax records display deductions we can take on our income taxes. And we’re entered in lottery-like “drawings” held regularly by Finanças and the tax office.

(Unless you pay income taxes here, however, you can’t claim these deductions. If you do pay taxes here, some “costs” are reclaimable.)

In welcoming us to their country, we want Portugal to know that we are investing in it, too, by purchasing from its businesses.

So, although not required or requested, when I head to SEF to renew my residencia, I’ll also be handing over a printout of the spending I’ve done here … attributed to my número contribuente!

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Moving Out, Moving On

What do you do when your doctor decides you cannot go up and down the 37 stairs (a dozen times daily) in your house anymore? Especially with your three dogs—which you walk twice around the village: once with the two little ones and, again, with the bigger boy? And, further, that the aches and pains in your back and your bones are unable to withstand the uneven cobble stones paving your streets because of the stresses and strains they put on you—especially when walking your dogs around your beloved village four times each day?

You don’t have 37 steps? Or three dogs? And your streets are paved with asphalt, not cobble stone, you say? Or you live on a quinta?

No matter.

Consider this scenario, one quite familiar to Americans seeking to move abroad to Portugal (and Spain). One of the indispensable requirements of obtaining a residency visa is documenting that you have a dwelling … at least for your first six months here.

You can rent or buy.

Though some opt for renting, knowing they will have to relocate when their lease is up, it’s a sensible choice—especially if you have few household items and worldly goods to transport. You’ll have a chance to live up close and personal and understand the lay of the land as you explore other neighborhoods, nearby towns and villages and cities, or (perhaps) elsewhere entirely in the country.

Your choice.

You have six months to travel and explore, gambling that, for whatever reason – a community of friends already living there, proximity to the coast and its Atlantic beaches, charm of the place that tugs at your heartstrings and beckons, a perfect plot to put down roots and live off the land instead of the grid – the time will provide opportunities so that you don’t have to rush to judgment about where you’ll live.

Others, like us, however, prefer to buy—submitting a property deed with our visa application, rather than a rental contract.

With all the moves we’ve made already, packing the mementos and monuments of our 25+ years together for a transatlantic shipment would be our last herculean undertaking before the Atlas in us shrugged.

Buying in a “foreign” country requires a different type of fortitude. For instance, you need to envision – even fantasize – the lay of the land where you want to be: Urban, suburban, or rural? Village, town, or city? On the coast, in the center, or along the border? Single-family detached house, “row” home, duplex, apartment, condo, or land enough to grow (maybe even sell) your edibles and comestibles? New build or resale, renovation or ruin to rebuild from scratch?

Along with such demographic factors, you’ll also want to weigh in with the “psychographics.” Close your eyes and picture your perfect place. What does it look like? More important, how does it feel to you? For the sake of seclusion are you opting for less in terms of Internet and telecommunications options—especially if you’ll be working online? If dogs are already part of your furry family (or will be), will you be comfortable in a home without any land, requiring you to walk and pick up after them, regardless of the weather … which can be day upon day and weeks at a time of continuous rain or brutal, scorching sun where it can be 100 degrees or more in the shade throughout the summer? Do you have special health issues or concerns which will dictate medical availability and accessibility?

And what many of us forget to take into account is our age: Will what seems reasonable, doable, and accommodating now feel or be just as easy to cope with down the road five, ten, twenty years hence?

In our case, we didn’t know if Russ would be able to continue working remotely. Would his close-knit Door County performing arts company consent to him not working under their thumb? Would they be willing to contract communications and marketing – as well as attendance, virtually, at staff meetings – from a time zone six hours later?

We didn’t know when we began planning our move; yet, discretion being the greater part of valor, we concluded that we’d best assume that we’d be “freelancers,” with new income flowing from the USA except for Social Security.

Along with a relatively modest budget, that was a reality which dictated many of our choices and criteria where to look and live in Portugal.

Eyes closed, we envisioned our new home set in an idyllic village with cobble stone streets and a picturesque church whose bells would mark the tempo of our daily lives. Our home would be easily accessible by car to shopping, dining, and entertainment. After ten years of flying to our vacation bolt in southern Spain, it would also be within an easy driving distance. Importantly, too, it had to be approved for commercial use, as we planned to open our “Tapas Americanas” to produce income.

All told, we made three round-trips between the USA and Portugal in search of the “right” property, searching for places between Coimbra and Castelo Branco that met our needs … and wants. We scheduled one of our trips to coincide with a Pure Portugal seminar on buying and building, losing one possibly perfect property close to Miranda do Corvo because it sold before we could make an offer; we bypassed another property after learning at the seminar that a “build,” enclosed on three sides by a mountain, would be difficult to maintain because of the moisture and constant battle against damp and mold.

Towards the end of our second tour, we found a house that ticked off all of our boxes. In a village just 15 minutes outside of Castelo Branco, it was postcard picturesque. On the street level, it had housed a café before the owner’s husband died and she put the property for sale—including the lower-level café, a courtyard, and large kitchen.

Above, rose two more levels. On the first was a huge living room, two smaller rooms (formerly bedrooms, but offices for us), and a separate wing above the downstairs kitchen with a large guest quarters and en suite that not only would provide privacy, but could be used as an AirBnB rental. The top floor featured a master bedroom with walk-in closet and separate en suite, an adjacent multi-purpose room with a second (service) kitchen, and a huge covered terrace. The house also included a large attic with ample room for storage.

The drawbacks? After being vacant for several years, the elements had taken their toll on the premises which needed repairs, mold remediation, and painting … not to mention an entirely new kitchen constructed downstairs. Those 37 steps would be our daily exercise. And, although the café was zoned “commercial,” the landlady had allowed its license to lapse. To be granted a new license would require bringing the café up to current code—at least €10,000 in construction costs to make it handicapped accessible, more mobile and modern.

Not that it mattered, anymore …

Russ’ employers wanted him to keep working for them. This was well before Covid closures and work restrictions; they were willing, at least, to give it a try. Fortunately, everything worked well. Not only did it prepare the organization for the new realities of work caused by the pandemic, but it also prepared the way for other employees and contractors to work remotely as well.

We fixed up and improved the house, using the former café as our gathering area for friendly get-togethers. Walking the streets with our dogs, we got to know our neighbors. Because few in this provincial village spoke English, our conversational skills grew beyond “Bom Dia” and “Obrigado.” These good-hearted yet private people knocked on our door, bringing baskets with fruits and vegetables from their gardens or quintas. We came to enjoy the local holidays and festivities, even as we respected the solemn processions of locals paying their last respects to those dearly departed. Living on the main street brought life’s realities and rituals to our windows, balcony, and front door.

With each chime of the church bells, I grew older … crossing that milestone from sixties to seventies, from an energetic “senior citizen” to an “elderly” fussbudget. Limbs broken 20 years earlier sent me not-so-gentle reminders with increasing frequency. New ills, aches, and allergies began to trouble me. Never particularly patient to begin with, I increasingly identified with grumpy old men filled with frustrations, feeling (felling) my physical limitations and life passing me by.

When a series of gastrointestinal problems and my first bout with sciatica brought me to hospitals, laboratories, pharmacies, and clinics, my physician insisted that pharmaceuticals could just do so much to help; some major changes must now be made in our lives.

“You cannot continue to climb up and down all those stairs,” she stated, “especially with the dogs. And the uneven cobble stones in the streets aren’t helping, as the dogs pull you going after a dog or cat.”

“So, what are you saying; what do you suggest?” I asked, presuming her forthcoming answer.

“You must move!” she informed me. “Find a one-level home with a backyard, a quintal. Maybe a bungalow. You will see how much better you will begin to feel.”

Move? Again? After all that planning? From a village that had welcomed and embraced us: Newcomers! Over the last ten years or so, the local population had been halved—from 1,200 to 600.

I had adjusted and adapted my life in retirement to one of active involvement. Since moving to Lousa, I had one book published and was working on a new one. I wrote regularly for The American Magazine (UK) and The Portugal News. I created and administer several popular Facebook groups—one for “Portalegre People” (where our other home was located); another for “LGBTQ+ People and Friends in Portugal”; and a third, “American Expats & Friends in Portugal and Spain,” for expats, immigrants, the curious, and wannabes. Most important, however, was the progressive, interfaith congregation I pastored for hurting and spiritually hungry “People of Faith Online.”

Move? At this point, I needed to think of it not as moving out, but moving on. Nonetheless, it’s not as easy as one might think.

Stay tuned …

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Refuse, reuse, and reduce plastic!

Back in the day, supermarkets didn’t sell bottled water.

Most of us got our water directly from the tap.

Water just wasn’t something people thought about buying from the grocery, anyway.

Those were the days, my friend, when milkmen (no women that I can recall) delivered fresh milk daily or every other day to those milk boxes — now sold as “antiques” and “collectibles” — next to our front doors. Similarly, Louie Armet delivered a case of seltzer water (carbonated or “tonic” water) to our house weekly. Soft drinks (soda or pop, depending where you lived) were sold in groceries. But that’s before we became health-conscious and learned that soda was bad for us, while, for the most part, milk and water were good.

Nonetheless, most beverages came either in glass containers (jars and bottles) or metal cans.

You paid a deposit on them at the check out and many a youngster earned extra cents (sense?) foraging, gathering, and returning this glass and aluminum in exchange for the deposits.

I don’t know when — exactly — it happened that plastic became the packaging of our lives … but I do vividly remember the black and white “Plastics Make It Possible” television commercials in which plastic was heralded as the scientific “miracle” that would improve our lives.

Think about it: just try to go an hour without touching something plastic.

Greenpeace partnered with Protecting Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana (PKO) and Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) to do a beach cleanup and brand audit at Kanapou beach on Kaho’olawe Island, Hawaii. Trash washed up on the beach.

The stuff is everywhere: from our toilet seats to the electronic devices we constantly use (sometimes, it’s safe to ass-u-me, while likely sitting on said toilet seat) are made of plastic. In fact, try as we might, there’s not much in our day-to-day lives that doesn’t contain plastic.

“I just want to say one word to you. Just one word … Plastics.”

Remember that line from The Graduate?

More recently, however, plastic has begun to bother me in its excess.

If these words weren’t about a former boss, they could aptly apply to plastic: “Some is good; more is better; too much is just enough.¨

Maybe for the producers, vendors, and plastic distributors, but definitely not for us and our world.

Why must water be sold in single-use plastic bottles? And those plastic bottles then wrapped in layers of plastic? And, again, as we check out, those plastics inside of plastic put in plastic bags?Why is there so much hard plastic packaging around razors, cds and dvds, tooth brushes and floss? Almost everything that now hangs from retail store shelves?

It’s bad enough trying to remove it to begin with … but, time and again, I cut myself and end up bleeding from the plastic shards.

But, I’m being self-centered here. There are communal and global reasons why we need to reduce our dependence on disposable plastic. Primarily because they’re not disposable!

Plastic, undoubtedly, has revolutionized society, introducing a huge amount of convenience and affordability, and allowing for the development of things like computers, cell phones and many modern medical devices.

But our obsession with it also comes at a steep cost. Although originally hailed as a miraculous innovation that could reduce a rapidly industrializing society’s reliance on scarce natural resources, plastic has also created a monumental environmental mess. Worldwide, more that 400 million tons of the stuff are churned out annually, generating a huge amount of waste of which less than 10 percent is recycled. The rest either ends up in landfills, where it will take an average of 500 years to decompose, or in waterways and oceans. 

A study by a scientific working group at UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), concluded that every year, eight million metric tons of plastic end up in our oceans. What is more concerning is that, according to the study, the cumulative input for 2025 would be nearly 20 times the eight million metric tons estimation.

One of the most concerning problems that our oceans are facing nowadays – if not the most important – is plastic pollution. Plastics are the cause of increasing ocean pollution, which in turn affects marine life and, consequently, humans as well.

Did you know:

  • Plastic causes many adverse effects in wildlife because chemicals include reproductive abnormalities and behavioral effects.
  • All sea turtle species, 45% of all species of marine mammals, and 21% of all species of sea birds have been affected by marine debris.
  • Plastics can absorb toxins from surrounding seawater, such as pesticides and those in the class of chemicals known as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). They can also release harmful components.
  • Plastics can be ingested by many organisms. This can cause damage to their health.
  • The main cause for the increase in plastic production is the rise of plastic packaging.
  • The drilling of oil and processing into plastic releases harmful gas emissions into the environment including carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, ozone, benzene, and methane (a greenhouse gas that causes a greater warming effect than carbon dioxide) according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency or EPA estimated that five ounces of carbon dioxide are emitted for every ounce of Polyethylene Terephthalate produced (also known as PET – the plastic most commonly used to make water bottles).

What can we — you and me — do about all this plastic pollution?

The solutions are simple and can be applied by everyone, everywhere.

The best way we can all help is to reduce new litter entering the environment. This may sound naïve, but it is a fact. To do that, there are three Rs that can remind us to do this:

  • Reduce: Choose products with less packaging, or shops where you can refill your own container.
  • Reuse: Use reusable products.
  • Recycle: Separate items that can be recycled (i.e. plastic, paper, cardboard).

Short of lobbying for government intervention in plastic packaging, there’s lots we can do to reduce our individual plastic pollution footprint: Have three receptacles in your kitchen–one for recycling, one for compost and one for trash. Collect all your plastic trash for one week just to see how much you actually use. It may make you think twice about how much plastic you buy. Stop buying single use plastic bottles and fill a reusable bottle, instead. Notice how things are packaged and opt for items packaged in cardboard vs. plastic whenever possible, for example laundry detergent. Minimize your use of plastic bags. Keep reusable bags handy. Use a thermos for your morning cup of coffee and bring it with you to your local coffee shop. Don’t buy disposable razors. Swap out or minimize all those plastic food storage containers you’ve collected over the years, especially those without lids or bottoms. Use glass or metal containers. Buy from bulk bins. This doesn’t mean buying in bulk. Bring your own reusable cloth containers or bags. Stop using disposable plastic plates. Donate plastic household items or decor you don’t love or are no longer using. Don’t just throw them out.

Don’t just throw them out!

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Fado & Flamenco: Evocative and Provocative

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but nothing expresses the soul of a people quite like their music. Perhaps nowhere does this resonate so clearly as with the Portuguese fado and the Spanish flamenco. Those seeking to familiarize themselves with the unique character and personality of Spain v. Portugal need only wrap themselves in these two existential music genres.

Even if you don’t know a word of either language and haven’t studied its culture, you can still experience it profoundly as you listen – no, engage – with the primal emotions aroused by the music.

Spain is quixotic, teasing and tempestuous, outgoing and flirtatious. Portugal, on the other hand, is sadly melancholic, holding tenuously onto a yearning sense of nostalgia.

Fado is traditional folk music, a form of Portuguese singing that is often associated with pubs, cafés, and restaurants. This music originated in Portugal around the 1820s, although it is thought to have much earlier roots. Fado is known for its profound expressiveness and melancholy. A musician – often a woman — will sing about the hard realities of daily life, balancing resignation and hopefulness that a resolution to its torments can still occur.

Best described with the Portuguese word saudade, an impenetrable word which encompasses more than “longing” and stands for a feeling of loss, fado was brought to mainstream music by Amália Rodrigues (1920-1999), known as the Rainha do Fado (Queen of Fado). Acknowledged throughout the world, Amalia’s charisma, extraordinary timbre of voice, and beauty made her an acclaimed artist. She became one of the most important personalities for the genre and the main inspiration for contemporary and modern fado.

I first heard Amália Rodrigues in my elementary Portuguese classroom, singing one of her best-known fados through a downloaded file on a decrepit laptop computer. Nonetheless, I was enthralled. Much as I’ve come to enjoy other fado singers and songs, nothing will ever compare for me to “Uma Casa Portuguesa” as she delivered it:
 www.youtube.com/watch?v=RU-Z0SiQKgU

The only non-Portuguese singer I am aware of whose music – especially her song La Llorona — comes close to the Portuguese saudade inherent to fado is Chavela Vargas, a  Costa Rica-born Mexican singer known especially for her rendition of Mexican rancheras, although she is also recognized for her contribution to other genres of popular Latin American music. Hailed for her haunting performances, she was a muse to such figures as Pedro Almodóvar and called la voz áspera de la ternura, “the rough voice of tenderness.”

Here is Chavela singing La Llorona (The Weeping Woman):
www.youtube.com/watch?v=tP2R-kqtkJo

If the Portuguese fado is evocative, Spain’s flamenco is provocative.

Sultry and seductive, flamenco brings together distinctive chirping, cooing, “come hither” voices with dance and instrumentals (mostly guitar) responsive to the speakeasy Spanish spirit. Flamenco features the call and response known as jaleo, a form of bravado involving hand clapping, foot stomping, and audiences’ encouraging shouts. clapping, finger snapping, and foot stomping.

Though somewhat mysterious, the roots of flamenco seem to lie in the Roma (gypsy) migration from Rajasthan in northwest India to Spain, between the 9th and 14th centuries. These migrants brought with them musical instruments – tambourines, bells, and wooden castanets – as well as an extensive repertoire of songs and dances to Spain, where they encountered the rich cultures of Sephardic Jews and the Moors. Their centuries-long cultural intermingling produced the unique art form known as flamenco.

In the U.S. and elsewhere, flamenco is a pervasive Spanish national identity marker. For proof of its pop culture currency, look no further than Toy Story 3: Buzz Lightyear is mistakenly reset in “Spanish mode,” and becomes a passionate Spanish flamenco dancer.

Indeed, the world outside Spain often stereotypes the country as inhabited by flamenco dancers, singers, and guitar players so “passionate” that they have little time to engage in the day-to-day world of the mediocre and mundane.

Much like our soap operas (telenovelas in Spanish).

Flamenco performance was once ostracized, considered a vulgar and pornographic spectacle. Over the years, many Spaniards considered flamenco a scourge of their nation, deploring it as an entertainment that lulled the masses into disorientation, hampering Spain’s progress toward modernity. Flamenco’s shifting fortunes show how Spain’s complex national identity continues to evolve to this day, where it is widely enjoyed as performance art.

This brief clip hardly does justice to the flamenco genre, where a single song can go on – with audience participation – for hours:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNhfV_53W7A

Spain and Portugal.
Flamenco and Fado.
Spirit and Soul.
Yin and Yang.
Salido and Saudade.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Mother Nature’s Teardrops

I’m depressed …

Because of this relentless, obstinate, continuous rain.

Today marks the tenth consecutive day that rain – mist, fog, drizzle, downpours – is omnipresent across the Iberia peninsula … hovering intransigent, dismal, and unmoving.

The damp is everywhere, manifest in mold and mildew seeping through our walls. Swollen doorknobs and jambs pregnant with moisture protrude, disabling the opening and closure of doors, even as legs and arms broken decades ago remind us that they’re still hurting. Walls without windows to open (even in this weather) are wet. Clothing refuses to dry; umbrellas become the rite of passage.

Anyone who believes that the rain in Spain “stays mainly in the plain” obviously hasn’t been here in a while. Including the weather forecasters: wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, day after day! The rain is everywhere, crossing closed borders between Portugal and Spain.

Alas, whether vestige or herald, brief glimmers of sunlight hardly hint of days filled with cheery sunshine and overall brightness.

Perhaps it’s a government conspiracy, forcing us to stay inside, alone with our families, as the sun flees from new, more contagious variants of the virus?

More probably, it’s just the weather, whither here or there. After all, doesn’t everyone complain about the weather? Everywhere? It’s far better than complaining about people or politics! I’m beginning to feel sorry for the cows and sheep in the meadows, with nowhere to run or hide from these bloody torrential buckets and lingering, lackluster leftovers that won’t lift. With heavy heart, I hurt for those who are ailing (physically, mentally, or emotionally).

And me?

I just want to curl up and wait for it all to end: Covid. Unreasonable politics. Fearsome fulcrums of flooding, earthquakes, foolhardiness the world over.

But I can’t; I’m a pastor. It’s my responsibility to minister, lifting the downtrodden with words which belay belief. Not today, though. Instead, I will count my blessings:

• I have a roof (in fact, several) over my head.

• For a 72-year-old, I enjoy relatively good health.

• I love and am loved.

• There’s food in our fridge and freezer, even if we can’t go out to eat. In the pantry, there’s food for our furry family, too.

• We can stay busy – even entertained – at home. There are people to talk to, messages to share, films to watch, books to read, writing to ponder, floors and furniture to clean, food to be prepared, repairs to be made, problems to be fixed, dogs to fed and walked.

Which brings us outside as toys, yet again, of the weather.

Let’s think of Mother Nature crying, shedding tears for how we have hurt her. Let’s be grateful for all that we have, instead of what we’re wanting. Let’s appreciate the beauty cast even in the gray. Let’s hope, once again, that tomorrow will be better. Let’s promise to do one thing – whatever – to make it a bit brighter.

A wise man once said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” to which he added, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

Days of drizzle, countless clouds, nightfalls of rain.

Blessed be!

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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January, First: Second Time

Since 2020 has been such a bummer, with restrictions on movements and gatherings continuing today into 2021, we aren’t able to host our annual Open House get-together with family, friends, and neighbors. So, I will make do by reminiscing — and sharing — last year’s “festa” and hoping that this new year will be a time of recovery for all!

Feliz ano novo.

The day dawned delightful during my early morning walk with the dogs, providing Portugal’s blue and bright skies amid a string of belle weather days. Already the sun was beginning to rise earlier … with the roosters advancing their “wake-up” calls, while the town’s bells never missed a beat.

With the help of Facebook to prod people with props and reminders, we had decided to continue our annual tradition of celebrating the New Year with an open house. Last year, we combined the open house with a house-warming, as it was our first, full year of living in Portugal (and Spain), and we’d finally finished furnishing and making needed improvements.

An open house wasn’t that difficult to describe to those who spoke Portuguese: we explained that we invited guests to visit, at their convenience, between certain times … “stay as long or as little as you can,” we clarified. A house-warming, however? It simply didn’t translate.

Along with wines and beers, a variety of cheeses and appetizers are joining our fulsome-food buffet: Pisto, a vegetarian dish I’d learned to prepare from my grandmother in Spain more than 50 years ago (though I’m told the Portuguese people are familiar with it, too); the quintessential American mac-and-cheese, embellished by Russ but done Martha Stewart’s way; a new twist on my annual pot of beans and franks—beans and chourizo; meatballs served in a special, Piri-Piri sauce; and a heaping bowl of home-made Potato Salad. Plus all the little “side dishes” and samplers, of course.

Together, they offer an aromatic stew of smells, coalescing to greet our guests: friends, old and new.Side by side, the crockpots seem like similes – or metaphors? – for our lives: One, a humble slow cooker with but three basic settings (high, medium, low) purchased from Lidl for 20 euros; the other an oversize, state-of-the-art gizmo with settings and options galore.

Kind of hokey, huh?

Apart from four of us from the USA, most of those coming had moved to Portugal from elsewhere, becoming friends (first) online or meeting at gatherings with friends of other friends. Altogether, about two dozen are expected.

Our Portuguese friends and neighbors were grateful for the invitation, but felt some hesitation – perhaps reticence – about entering houses other than their own to share food and festivities. These bountiful and gracious people, often poor in pocket but rich in heart and spirit, would knock on our door, dropping off baskets of vegetables and fruits from their family quintas throughout the year.

No longer are we those “strange Americans” living among them … by now, they had adopted us. We’ve become their strange Americans!

Despite my limited language skills last year, I felt confident enough to do the honors by introducing friends and neighbors in Portuguese:

• Ele é o nosso amigo/Ela é a nossa amiga (He/she is our friend);
• Eles são os nossos amigos (They’re our friends);
• Ela é a nossa vizinha (She is our neighbor);
• Eles são os nossos vizinhos (They are our neighbors); and even
• Ela é a dona do mercado na esquina (She owns the market on the corner).

This year, my vocabulary and ability to use it have expanded.

Since January 1, 2019, we have dealt with Portuguese contractors on home repairs and remodeling. We’ve traveled and got lost around the roundabouts—asking directions and, finally, finding our way. Processing down the street with our neighbors, we mourned the passing of people we knew, and participated in our village’s ferias by placing flower petals along the street. We made purchases – major and minor – and financial decisions, dealing with salespeople and bankers. We suffered medical exams with doctors and staff who didn’t speak English, answering their questions as best we could. And we responded to the dictates of government bureaucracy, as well as those of big business: Freguesias, Cámaras, Centros da Saúde, Segurança Social, IMT, SEF, NHS, MEO, EDP. We began weekly Portuguese for Foreigners classes, applying our lessons about contractions (no, na, nos, nas) to others: do, da, das, dos; pelo, pela, pelos, pelas. While sitting on the “throne,” we read Portuguese advertisements of all shapes and sizes, newspaper stories and obituaries, and children’s books. We figured out the meanings of various signs lit on the motorways

.Last year, we could ask and answer simple questions; now, we are able to ask natives to speak more slowly—to repeat or explain what we don’t understand. Nonetheless, we can engage in limited conversations and dialogues … even if our accents still are awful and it’s all in the present tense. Our Portuguese pronunciation often falters, but we have learned to say “shkola” (escola), “shkreetorio” (escritorio), and “shkadera” (escadera), although we’re still at a loss about blending the end of some words with the beginning of others.

We have even begun to punctuate our conversations with typical pause phrases in Portuguese: “tá bem,” “pois, pois,” “pronto,” “é que …?” as well as to interject common rejoinders: “Tudo bem?” and “Não faz mal,” especially.

Language like this from our Portuguese textbook no longer is quite so intimidating: O Fernando é elecricista e trabalha por conta própia. Ele é casado e tem tres filhos. Os filhos são ainda muito jovens e por isso não andam na escola. A mulher do Fernando, a Ines, fica em casa com os meninos e prepara o jantar para o Fernando. Ele não almoça em casa, porque mora longe. Ele apanha o autocarro e chega a casa sempre cansado.

Still, there are many challenges ahead!

Our New Year’s resolutions include learning to correctly respond to the divisions of the day, so we know when it’s proper to say “Bom dia,” “Boa tarde,” or “Boa noite.”

Apparently, during mornings – until lunch – it’s “bom dia” … but, after eating lunch (13H-14H for the Portuguese), it becomes “boa tarde.” As for evening, there’s still some disagreement over whether “boa noite” is best said after eating dinner (jantar) … or after the skies turn dark and stars can be seen. And, what does one say – if anything – following that curious extra meal of the day: “lanche”?

Another resolution is to memorize our fiscal numbers (os números contribuientes), although our “números utentes” already are a forgotten cause.

We are so thankful for all of you, people who understand … people who care and share … people who love to live and live to love … people who follow those impossible dreams.

This is what the good life is about.

Good people. Good times. Good places. Good feelings.

Feeling good, knowing that you’re in a good place now.

We are. And we hope you are, too.

Happy New Year!

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Creature Comforts

With all due respect to our friends and acquaintances who live in Portugal’s bigger cities and Spain’s metropolises – or, at least, in more upscale dwellings than ours – we who make our homes in the small towns and villages of these two Iberian countries lack and may covet what you probably have that we don’t: Creature comforts.

I’m talking about petite pleasures and little luxuries like central heating, mold-free residences, bug barriers, food without flies, and gnats not whining in your ears. Wouldn’t it be nice not to wipe down our digs daily because a layer of grit always appears overnight, sprinkling silt and dust bunnies on our table tops, furniture and floors! Most of all, however, I’m referring to the pure delight of starting my days with long, luxurious, hot, über strong showers.

To prioritize these niceties:

Along with our “creatures” – three Miniature Schnauzers – we work, eat, sleep, shower, and attend to life’s necessities in two adjoining rooms measuring no more than 40-square-meters (combined). In other words, about two-thirds of our time is spent in a concrete and plaster crucible with windows but zero, zilch, insulation. Nada. Which is why we mop and dust daily. We indulged ourselves and invested in an 18,000 BTU inverter air conditioning unit that, according to our research, is the most cost-effective and efficient way to keep us warm during the cold times, yet cooler if it’s hot. We set it at 19º C (66º F) when the temperature falls … and 24º C (75º F) once the heat hits those shades of hades. Yes, I know that we pay a steep price for such succor, with monthly electric (EDP) bills averaging 150 Euros for a three-story, 135m2 house.

Which brings me to my current rant:

We needed to replace our (gas-fired) water heater.

It’s bad enough that the infernal contraption is located up in our attic and almost impossible to reach … that each canister of propane fueling it weighs over 75 pounds and costs €24.40 or so in Portugal, €11.50 in Spain … and getting the canister up those misplaced steps to the attic, where it takes the contortions of two Cirque du Soleil performers to lift it up the stairs … roll it across the attic’s cement floor … stand it up again … and connect it to the water heater on the far side.

All of which wouldn’t be quite so awful, except that:

• We never know when the hot water is going to give up and run out, but it usually happens while I’m in the middle of a shower and need to shout my partner out of a deep sleep and a warm bed to venture up to the attic and change the canister;

• To achieve maximum heat from the water it outputs, the pressure setting must be dialed down; and

• When all is said and done, the shower water is still but between a dribble and drizzle of tepid, lukewarm water at best—and certainly not forceful enough to rinse the shampoo out of hair, shaving lather from a face, or soap off one’s skin. We were going through three gas cylinders that serve only our bathroom’s sink and shower every month. Adding insult to injury, there’s always – always! – unproductive propane still left in the tank.

The lady who owns the corner mini-market where we exchange our depleted “garrafas” for refills shakes her head “não,” wagging her finger. She explains emphatically (in Portuguese too rapid for me) that gas should only be used in the kitchen for cooking. Water, she insists, should be heated electrically. “But the electric is so expensive here …” I counter. She shrugs. And asks, “E aquelas?” referring to the three propane tanks we’d been going through each month. “Quanto custam?” How much arewere we spending every month on those propane canisters?

Eighty euros!

Would our electric bills increase more than that if we were to replace the feeble gas water heater with an electric one?

She doesn’t know, but suggests I ask EDP (the electric company), an electrician, or the appliance store where we buy the new unit. Fortunately, we’ve got a great electrodomésticos (appliance) shop managed by a good-looking guy who knows his stuff – he’s actually “energy-certified” – and explains the problem to us: Because the weather is colder, it requires more gas to heat the water. And since it’s coldest in the attic where the water heater is located, we’re not getting our money’s worth out of the propane. Always, some will remain.

Handsome João concurs that an electric water heater will serve our purposes better … and operating it should cost less than the €80 we’d been spending monthly on gas. Even with the 120 liter capacity model recommended for three people taking back-to-back showers.

We bought the unit and made arrangements for it to be installed, which included having electricity brought up to the attic. All should be ready to use in another week or so (probably “or so,” this being Portugal). Until then, we dashed down a flight of steps every morning in our terrycloth robes to avail ourselves of the guest bedroom shower.

We also did battle with water on another front: the mold. The most common causes of mold growing on walls and ceilings here are high humidity, condensation, and water leaks (often hidden inside the walls or ceilings). Check. Check. Check. In houses like ours, it’s not uncommon to have all three. Condensation forms when water vapor in the air meets cold surfaces and cools to become liquid. Leaking pipes near or inside of walls are a common cause of mold.

Say “hello” to typical village home construction in Spain and Portugal!

A bottle with bleach in hand, we spray the ceilings and walls whenever we notice any “damp” (as our British friends call it) shadow appearing. During colder times, especially, we move furniture away from the walls and take our clothing off the wardrobe rods that come in contact with walls. Following a heavy douse of bleach solution, we follow up with special “anti-mofo” spray and let the areas dry for 24 hours.

After the rainy season, we’ll need to have a new €8,000 roof installed next spring: a special “sandwich” with insulation between the faux-tile metal top and its bottom surface, that should cut down on the leaks and the moisture—along with the mold. It would also keep us warmer, reducing the electricity consumed by our aircon and new water heater.

Despite spending a bundle on our new water heater, we counted on all the money we’d be saving on our EDP bills.

Yeah, right.

The flies and the gnats already are gathering in anticipation.

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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A Capital Solution?

“Para trás fica o Portugal rural, com as suas cidades e aldeias envelhecidas, onde prolifera o desemprego e o abandon das infraestruturas.”

Some startling statistics from (the bank) Montepio’s *magazine:

> In 2018, more than 40% of Portugal’s population lived in the Lisbon and Porto metropolitan areas—a trend which will continue to rise.

> To maintain its population, Portugal will need 50,000 new inhabitants per year—all the way through 2040.

> Cities and towns in the country’s interior – especially those close to the border – need at least 10,000 people per year over the next two decades to put a stop/hold to their population decline.

> 60% of Portugal’s people live within 25 kilometers of the coast.

The author asks: Can technology – including broadband digital access and telecommuting or working from home – reverse the cycle of rural exodus by building new, sustainable societies from the north to the south of interior Portugal?

Portugal’s Parliament

Vacating age-old villages isn’t an occurrence isolated to Portugal. In Spain, France, Italy and other countries, too, the same fate occurs: small and remote locations are left to decline, decay, and loss when young people leave seeking jobs and opportunities elsewhere, leaving only the elderly to cope with the dwindling resources that remain.

While many immigrants and expats enjoy the expansive lifestyle afforded by beaches and life’s little luxuries found in major municipalities and metropolises like Lisbon, Porto, Algarve, and even Coimbra – mirrored by comparable cities in Spain – others (perhaps even more of us) are attracted to the charm of Iberia’s interior villages and life off-the-grid on organic quintas, fincas, and farm land.

Through its “Work in the Interior” program launched February 3, 2020, Portugal’s government is offering financial incentives of up to €4,800 to anyone – workers and students, especially – who will help to repopulate the region. To encourage hiring, financial support will also be given to business and companies.Due to its popular “Golden Visa” program which encouraged foreigners to invest in Portuguese real estate, Lisbon, Porto, Algarve and other coastal cities have become too expensive for the Portuguese people. With all of the positive publicity about Portugal, buying property in these areas above others continues to be popular (even though the government recently revised and removed many of the program’s potential benefits).

Some, like the article’s author, propose that broadband digital will figure prominently in the regentrification of Portugal’s interior–by creating telecommuting jobs and work-from-home opportunities. Perhaps that might be a bright side to the current Covid-19 pandemic: Historically and traditionally, Portuguese companies have been hesitant to embrace new ways of working. Maybe now, their reluctance might be minimized after having experienced their labor force working off-site remotely and successfully.

Financial inducements and greater penetration of speedy and accessible broad bandwidth are but two of the tools being considered and implemented to bring back a flourishing interior. But there’s another, more integral and resourceful option that shouldn’t be overlooked … one that real estate and property agents are well familiar with: location, location, location.

Look no farther than Portugal’s next-door neighbor, Spain, whose capital is quite centrally located. Sure, there are plenty of places from north to south and east to west with large, self-sustaining municipalities and resort areas — notably Málaga, Valencia, Alicante, Bilbao, and Barcelona — but the interior regions — Sevilla, Granada, Córdoba, Burgos, Badajoz, Toledo, Salamanca — do equally well, supporting their nearby towns and villages.

Brasilia

More to the point, consider Brazil. The largest Portuguese-speaking country in the world created a completely different solution: Founded on April 21, 1960 to serve as the country’s new national capital, Brasilia was planned to move the capital from Rio de Janeiro to a more central location atop the Brazilian highlands in Brazil’s central western region. With a unique status, Brasilia is an “administrative division,” rather than a legal municipality. The novel city’s accession as the new capital of the country prompted the development of an extensive interior region.

According to Brazil’s 1960 census, there were almost 140,000 residents in this new federal district. By 1970, this figure had grown to 537,000. By 2010, its population surpassed 2.5 million. Seeking public and private employment, Brazilians from all over the country migrated to Brasilia’s satellite cities, towns, and villages.

Why can’t Portugal consider doing something similar?

Leave Lisbon (and all its attractions) where it is, along with its problematic airport. People will still want to live there, as well as in its affluent outskirts like Cascais and Estoril. But reduce the congestion, pollution, and skyrocketing prices by moving the government and its operations elsewhere … to the country’s interior.

Many factors would need to be taken under consideration and the country’s core would compete for the privilege of hosting a new capital city in Portugal, boosting employment, infrastructure, and prosperity in the process.

Which of Portugal’s interior regions would best suit these purposes?

My own personal favorite, of course, would be Castelo Branco!

* “O digital pode salvar as cidades do interior?” Texto: Carlos Martinho. Inverno 2020 (#33)

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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Day Tripping

Among Portugal’s extraordinary pleasures are its amazing panoramas, extraordinary places, and breathtaking vistas that can be enjoyed in a day trip.

From Algarve to Nazaré, people along the coast head to the Atlantic for a change of pace and a respite on the beach.

On the other side of the country, closer to its Iberian border, others cross into Spain along spiraling roads, with little villages dotting the way. Suddenly, we’re in another country … with different foods, related culture, and a somewhat “sister” language.

We typically travel into Spain on Sundays through Idanha a Nova and Segura, crossing a Roman bridge and aqueduct to enter Spain several kilometers before Alcántara. Apart from a few restaurants, a tourist trap or two, mini-mercado, and pharmacy, there’s not much else at this border town. For that, you’ll need to drive another 40 kms or so.

The food, however, is quite good at the area’s three restaurants: Kantara (the most expensive), Kantara Al Saif, and Gundin (our favorite). Gundin’s €11.00 Menu del Día provides the best gazpacho I’ve ever enjoyed. Except for the bread (Spain doesn’t come close to Portugal’s bread), the other two dishes are also quite tasty.

This time, though, we headed farther north – through Penamacor – to visit Valverde del Fresno for its Thursday market. The town is 16 kms from the Portugal border which, in turn, is 16 kms from Penamacor.

While we looked forward to a Spanish meal, we were on a special mission this trip: shopping for stuff at prices cheaper than in Portugal.

Textiles!

The irony is that thick, plush, absorbent, 100% cotton towels tagged with “Made in Portugal” labels cost half the price in Spain. Same for linens—from sheet sets to table cloths and coverlets.

That’s the good news. The bad?

Regardless of mattress size – including “king” and “queen” – Spanish sheet sets contain only three pieces: a top sheet, bottom sheet, and pillow case—each almost the same size. For some reason unbeknown to us (or any salespeople), the Spaniards have humongous pillows—measuring almost 200 cms across! We, however, have two pillows … each about 75 cms wide.

So, despite the higher cost, we buy our sheets and pillow cases in Portugal, where the larger size sets come standard with two matching pillow cases. (And, no, the label doesn’t say “Made in Spain.”)

Our favorite place to shop for such textile goods is the Monday market in Fundão. It’s massive! In fact, our next expat get-together will be a trip to Fundão’s Monday market, followed by a fixed-price (€9.95) buffet lunch at the city’s Principe da Beira hotel.

Anyway, I’ve digressed …

Fait accompli: We purchased our towels and took time to poke about the town, which is bigger and much more typically Spanish than Alcántara. We’d forgotten that it’s an hour later in Spain than Portugal, so most of the shops were closing … and restaurants were filling.

Tapas. We wanted tapas!

In Olvera, our Spanish hometown, as in most of Andalucía – southern Spain – menus offer meals in three sizes: tapas, media (half) ración, and a full dish (ración). Not here in Extremadura! Patrons and wait staff at restaurant after restaurant explained to us that tapas weren’t available … but complimentary “pinchos” were served with the drinks.

In southern Spain, pinchos are a type of tapa—they’re anything served on a skewer. Here to the north, in Extremadura, pinchos refer to a small, tasty dish provided gratis that accompanies your beverage.

We ate at Restaurante Casa Laura. With 120 “excellent” TripAdvisor reviews – four times more than the closest competition – we soon understood why: the food is to die for there. We began with some beer accompanied by a small dish of pinchos, potatoes mixed with egg and pieces of chorizo in a carmel sauce. Yum-mo! The cool gazpacho soup was good (enough), followed by meatballs in a thick and rich tomato sauce for me and cod (bacalao) with nary a single bone for Russ. The pièce de résistance, however, was dessert: dreamy-creamy cheesecake.

Total tab for our lunch, including tip, was twenty-seven euros (€27), somewhat pricier than what we’ve paid in Alcántara. But well worth it! Everyone working at the restaurant was super friendly and all made a point of stopping by our table to be sure we were satisfied.

Heading back across the windy roads surrounded by a lush, distinctly parceled landscape, it occurred to us how different the topography of Spain is in some ways from Portugal’s.

The two countries are close enough to be kissing cousins, but remnants of historical bitterness and jealousies remain between them. That’s truly a shame, since they’re so convenient and complementary.

It’s good to see Portuguese people visiting Spain … and vice-versa.

Throughout the Castelo Branco district’s tantalizing come-hithers, we’ve come across many Spanish tourists taking day trips into Portugal.

Turnabout is surely fair play for us to sightsee and go shopping in Spain!

Shared here are personal observations, experiences, and happenstance that actually occurred to us as we moved from the USA to begin a new life in Portugal and Spain. Collected and compiled in EXPAT: Leaving the USA for Good, the book is available in hardcover, paperback, and eBook editions from Amazon and most online booksellers.

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