Health Care Providers


Reminiscing about our first three years living in Portugal after relocating from the USA, I remember when we went to see a doctor for the first time.


No, nothing was wrong; our health, thankfully, was fine. But we had just about exhausted our medicines and needed to renew and refill our prescriptions.
Which meant a visit to the doctor.

Consulting friends and acquaintances associated with us through the local online expat groups, a variety of suggestions and referrals were offered. Basically, they came down to these two:


(1) Find an English-speaking “private” doctor through our insurance plan, pay for his/her time and services (“quite reasonable,” we were told), and leave with the needed prescriptions to take to our local farmácia; or


(2) Begin using the Portuguese health system by visiting our town’s “Centro de Saúde,” where our primary physician would be located, and explain that we would pay directly for the services we needed now.


Of course, everything would rely on Google Translate, since the number of Portuguese words we knew – and could pronounce – back then only had expanded from five to nearly ten. Plus, we are Americans who, unlike our EU brethren that arrive in another Schengen nation with health cards and coverage from their homelands, we only had emergency medical coverage through our travel insurance. And, although we had been here for a month already with residency visas affixed to our passports, it would be another 20 days until our SEF appointment, when (hopefully!) our residency visa and required paperwork would provide us with proper permits—at least for a year, to begin with. This residency, in turn, would enable us to register for the needed number to avail ourselves of the low-cost Portuguese health care system … even if we were to pay out of pocket or be covered by our private health care insurance.


Since I was retired and not earning income from either the USA or Portugal, I didn’t need to register, first, at the Castelo Branco Social Security office before requesting my health care number; later, Russ would learn, that – since he was working remotely with USA-based clients – he should have registered at Social Security and, then, sought his health care number.


We decided to take our chances, first, and visit our village health center. Armed with a print out of the Google-translated document explaining (in Portuguese) who we are and why we were there – along with our NIF documents, passports and visas, medical records, and empty prescription pill bottles – I ventured a try during a day and time the sign posted on its door said the health center would be open.


Only a nurse was there that day.


Using her best ten words of English interspersed with Portuguese, which I responded to with my only ten words of Portuguese interspersed with Spanish, I understood that she was telling me to come back the following Tuesday, after 10:00 AM, when the doctor would be there.


Unfortunately, the following Tuesday was one of those holidays to which the Portuguese people are entitled and they take quite seriously. So, of course, the health center was closed.


Attempting again two weeks later, we entered the health center to find a raucous group: people of all ages and medical conditions standing in the entry way or sitting in the waiting room, expecting to be seen by the doctor or nurse. The administrative assistant had taken a break to get some coffee from a café down the road a bit; we’d have to wait to talk with her before we could proceed any further.


Despite our introductory letter translated into Google’s best Brazilian Portuguese, the keeper of the files and records was at a total loss as to what to do and how to process us … after all, we didn’t have those specific numbers her computer program required to grant us access to the sanctum sanctorum. After discussing our situation with other patients waiting to register for the doctor (or nurse), she picked up the phone and dialed someone somewhere … raising her voice with each question she asked and every answer she gave.

After hearing her say, “Tá bem, tá bem, obrigada, obrigada, ciao,” she turned to me and managed to explain that we needed to go to the regional medical center in Alcains – about a 15-minute drive – at 15:00 and ask for Sandra, who had been made aware of our circumstances.


Sandra knew exactly who we were and why we were there. But figuring out which boxes to tick and how to input our personal information was a challenge that required 40 minutes and the help of three other people seated with her in the reception area. Finally, the printer spat out two pieces of paper from which she cut off the bottoms, stamped each with a seal, and signed them. “That will be nine euros,” she said, about US $10, “€4.50 each for the doctor’s consultation.”


She also gave us forms whose many boxes were populated with numbers now.


“The next time,” she explained, “You will go to your own health center in Lousa and show them these papers. They will now have the information they need to serve you there.”

“Muito obrigados!” we replied, effusive in our gratitude.


The doctor, who had been sitting there throughout the entire episode, motioned us to follow her back to her office. Seated behind her desk, she entered some information into a computer and gathered each of our medicines needing refills. Click, click, click. Out from the printer came official forms containing our prescriptions … along with the maximum amount we could be charged for each.


We left the Alcains medical center and headed for the pharmacy.


All told, we had prescriptions for 20 mg Cectoconazol (30 g) cream with three refills; fifty-six, 20 mg Omeprazol capsules (sold over-the-counter without a prescription in the USA), also with three refills; 120, 1 mg Alprazolam (generic Xanax) pills sold in “blister” packs, requiring a new prescription to refill; a blister pack of 60, 15 mg Meloxicam pills; and another blister pack of 60 pills combining two separate prescriptions – 20 mgs + 15 mgs of Olmesartan medoxomilo + Hidroclororotiazida (one for high blood pressure, the other a diuretic) — also with three refills.


The combined cost for all these 13 boxes of medicines, some of which will last us for six months?


Fifty-one euros.


Less than US $60.00.


And that’s without insurance, co-payments, or deductibles.


The same supply of pharmaceuticals – even with Medicare or health insurance – would easily cost us hundreds of dollars more (at least) in the USA. Because Portugal and Spain subsidize their health care, taking a major burden of their people: citizens and residents.


Believe it or not, the same Portuguese prescriptions cost even less in Spain!

Exceptional, low-cost health care is yet another reason why we do so love Iberia.


It’s patience that we still need to develop.

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.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Nursery Rhyme Conspiracies

As we grow older, we subconsciously return to the years of our youth and adolescence, remembering – in dreams as well as when awake – the words of songs, TV tunes, and even advertising jingles from back in the day … nonetheless, we can’t remember where we left our spectacles, why we went to a room in the house, or what we were saying.

Lately, I have been awakening from fitful night sleeps with nursery rhymes running through my mind.

Have you ever revisited them and wondered — whatever was their genesis, meaning, and purpose — how they may have affected our later lives? I believe I may have put my finger on the primal source of our fears and frustrations, anxieties, neuroses and psychoses—sadistic or masochistic.

Maybe it’s my own paranoia, but I’ve come to suspect that nursery rhymes are nowhere nearly as benign as Mother Goose and her ilk would have us believe!

Consider, if you will:

“Peter, Peter pumpkin eater, had a wife but couldn’t keep her. He put her in a pumpkin shell. And there he kept her very well.”

Peter, Peter may well have been the first real vegan, an organic and sustainable living diehard. But why couldn’t he keep his wife? Was it something that he did or didn’t do (perhaps he couldn’t satisfy her?) or something which was her responsibility, not his? The plot thickens in the second verse, where we learn Peter had another wife and that he didn’t love her.

In terms of double names, another nursery rhyme speaks quite negatively of women. Is this how women would like to be described—or your wife, daughter, sister, friend?

“Mary, Mary, quite contrary.” And then, out of nowhere, Mary is asked, “How does your garden grow?” She answers: “With silver bells and cockleshells. And pretty maids all in a row.” Contrarian, indeed! (Not to mention sexist.)

If there ever was a case to be made for women’s health, reproductive rights, and the potential for child abuse, it dates back to that old woman who lived in a shoe:

“She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do. She gave them some broth without any bread; Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.”

Maybe, in fact, Old Mother Hubbard was really that old lady living in a shoe? Talk about problems. And we blame the dog, not her, for being misanthropic:

Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard, to give her poor doggie a bone; When she came there, the cupboard was bare, and so the poor dog had none. She went to the baker to buy him some bread; when she came back, the dog was dead! She went to the undertakers to buy him a coffin; when she came back, the dog was laughing.

Cupboards and pantries bring up the matter of eating disorders. Along with bulimia and anorexia, who ever would want to eat something less savory or nourishing than this:

“Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old; Some like it hot, some like it cold, Some like it in the pot, nine days old.”

Evidently, expiration and use dates didn’t exist back in the day when children would pair up and clap their hands to the rhyme. Talk about bad influences! Is it any wonder that some youngsters reject proper table manners, with Jack Horner as their example?

Little Jack Horner sat in the corner, eating his Christmas pie; he put in his thumb, and pulled out a plum, and said, “What a good boy am I!”

Why was that poor child eating in the corner, in the first place … especially during Christmas? We’ve all heard of holiday fruit cake and even plum pudding; but a plum in a Christmas pie? Give me a break, please: What a self-serving egotist Jack Horner must have been, anyway!

And the discipline – punishments! – doled out by these sing-song voices and verses …

Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey; there came a big spider, who sat down beside her and frightened Miss Muffet away.

Poor little Miss Muffet. Not only did she have to eat while sitting on a tuffet, but her food sounds rather unpalatable. Then a spider (a big one at that) decides to sit down beside her. It’s truly frightening, I daresay.

Spiders figure prominently into nursery rhymes. Remember this one? It gives me the heebie-jeebies just imagining:

The itsy-bitsy spider went up the waterspout. Down came the rain and washed the spider out. Out came the sun and dried up all the rain, and the itsy-bitsy spider climbed up the spout again.

Ugh!

Of course, spiders aren’t the only creatures and critters whose plight incites fear and terror. Consider mice:

Three blind mice, three blind mice. See how they run, see how they run! They all ran after the farmer’s wife. She cut off their tails with a carving knife. Did ever you see such a sight in your life as three blind mice?

Danger lurks in harm’s way amid many nursery rhymes. There’s the tale of those mischievous siblings who made it to the top of the hill, only to roll all the way back down: 

Jack and Jill went up the hill, to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after.

Falling down and breaking more than a crown is the lot of Humpty Dumpty:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.

And then there are those nursery rhymes that, seemingly, make no sense whatsoever … unless they’re coded chatter messages to co-conspirators:

Hey, diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon; the little dog laughed to see such sport, and the dish ran away with the spoon.

There are lots more cases to be made against nursery rhymes and their nightmarish world to which children are subjected. As is the case, as well, with our favorite fables and fairy tales. Woe to Hansel & Gretel! The trials and tribulations of three little pigs against the voracious wolf.

Just thinking about these nuggets of childhood innocence devoured by such demons sends shivers and goosebumps up and down my spine!

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.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Days of Summer Past

It’s just about six o’clock Friday afternoon in our village, and it appears that everyone is out in the street.

After a relatively mild and overcast day, the sun suddenly is bright and burning off the sticky skies.That is rather unusual here in Portugal, whose weather tends to feel more like a sauna than a steam bath during the summer season … and cold, dreary, overcast skies with rain in the winter.

Little old ladies wearing their black widow’s weeds move slowly, some clutching canes and others with walkers, heading towards the church. There are services tonight, not to be missed, although the widows let me know that church services are held every day here.

Seated on the wall which encircles the church, elderly men, solitary yet together, form a ring. They won’t go inside. For them, it seems far safer to comment on their world, to cuss and complain about whatever, than to seek shelter or solace in the sanctuary.

Others, too, sit outside, in front of their houses, where it’s cooler in the shadows cast by houses so closely facing theirs. Men use handkerchiefs or rags to wipe sweat from their brows, while the women – some of them, at least – fan themselves, slowly but surely, with advertising circulars.

People are arriving home from work, with far too many vessels clogging and clotting the capillaries doing the work of major arteries on our tight little “main” street. They’re impatient.

Already, they’ve been held up by a tractor inching slowly, cobble by stone, down the road, as a shepherd and two dogs herd some sheep along the way. Then, there’s a truck, blocking traffic, as it stops to unload groceries at the corner market.

Once the sheep and the truck and the tractor are out of the way, some drivers speed down the little road as if it’s the Grand Prix, cell phones held up in one hand and cigarettes dangling from the other. Several mostly older men, with their wives as passengers, steadfastly refuse to press the accelerator and go any faster; why risk losing control, when they’ll get there soon enough?

The smell of diesel fumes is intoxicating, anyway.

Ironically, unlike other places filled with anxious people squeezing too many vehicles into hold-your-breath spaces, nobody honks a horn.

It’s just not the way things are done here.

Just about now, the bus pulls up to the periphery of town, discharging a stream of people who’d left early this morning to work in the big city. They, too, crowd the street, trekking tiredly towards their homes.

But, first, they must stop for coffee.

Vehicles – cars, trucks, vans, tractors, and trailers – jockey for position to park three deep by coffee shops on streets where founders and planners hardly envisioned vehicles when building such towns and villages. Maybe they didn’t consider the implications of getting around in a place with three coffee shops, but not a single place to eat here in Lousa. So, vehicles are unattended momentarily, motors still running, while their occupants dash off for their evening coffee fixes.

Meanwhile, the young folks – old enough to drive Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs, souped-up Fiats, Renaults, Citroens and Peugeots … and roaring motos, especially – are eager to escape, to get out of town and go elsewhere. Somewhere. Anywhere but here.

Right about when things seem to be less hectic, disaster unexpectedly strikes: a truck too big for our street and driven too fast, lops off the balcony of a nearby house. Concrete and balustrades topple heavily onto the street. Everything halts, as the momentary shock and silence quickly yield to a collective gasp that grips and takes hold in the village.

Suddenly, everyone is drawn, like a dragnet to the magnet, flies to a spider’s net. People stand around, beers (not coffee) in hand, some puffing on cigarettes, opining on what happened.

No, it wasn’t a “hit-and-run” … the driver, head hung sheepishly, is there among the crowd, too, looking up to the missing terrace and around to the scrapes along the side of his truck and its missing mirror. He shakes his head in amazement.

Somebody hands him a beer.

Slowly, as the sun sets, people disperse and quiet returns to our village, except behind the closed doors and fly curtains. It’s cool now. People are inside, watching television with the volume turned up too loud. The church bells peal.

It’s Friday night in the village.

Tomorrow, the days of counting – segunda, terça, quarta, quinta, sexta-feira – will be over for now and days with real names, Saturday and Sunday, will have begun.

Welcome to the weekend.

Bom fin de semana!

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.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

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.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Getting (Or Letting) Your Home

A Facebook friend coming from the USA to spend ten days here hoped to accomplish much: He planned to travel the country, scouting and finding a suitable property … negotiate an acceptable offer … engage an attorney to review all the legalities of the process … and open a bank account where he could put 30% of the property’s purchase price down in cash and arrange to finance the rest, if he decided to buy not rent.

All that in ten days?

I had to laugh. After all, he’s talking about accomplishing all of this in Portugal (or Spain) within a week—counting weekends and holidays, when banks are closed. Say you want to buy a home in Portugal or Spain but haven’t yet started your residency application. Will banks and the government allow you to purchase the home before actually being granted residency status? If so, can you put down about 30% in cash and finance the rest?

People ask questions like these because, when they come to Spain or Portugal on a house-hunting trip and find the “right” property, they want to ensure they can proceed with a rental or purchase with all the right permits and none of the penalties.

Buying (or renting) a property has nothing whatsoever to do with whether (or not) you’ve been granted residency. Anyone can purchase property. Whether you can get financing and a mortgage for it is between you and the bank, however.

If you DO find a property that you like, you can’t just snap your fingers and make the purchase happen. First, of course, you’ll need to find the right property. Then you’ll work with the property agent (or directly with a seller) to negotiate and agree on an offer. That, alone, can take some time in Portugal and Spain! Once an offer is accepted, you’ll then want to engage the services of an attorney to do all the legal work — correctly and cost-effectively — on your behalf (you don’t have to be here if you designate power of attorney to a lawyer … best done while you are here). You’ll need to have an NIE/NIF and a bank account. You’ll need to apply for a mortgage. All this takes time …

We made a few trips to Portugal before purchasing our property. The offer was accepted after we had returned to the USA. We’d designated power of attorney to our lawyer, who handled everything for us. Then, when we applied for our residency visa (and permit), we submitted a copy of the deed to our property along with all the other paperwork. The powers-that-be liked that.

So, come for a purposeful vacation. Determine where you want to live. Look at properties. And make an offer, if you’re so moved, knowing that all will be worked on and resolved in due time.Then, go back home and relax, with visions of Iberia dancing in your head!

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.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

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.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

The Rain in Spain (& Portugal)

“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.”

Don’t you believe it, regardless of what Eliza Doolittle may have drilled into your head in My Fair Lady.

Lots of rain in Spain – as in Portugal – falls all over the place.

Especially, wherever we happen to be.

For those new to Iberia, the rain takes some getting used to (as does the sun). Because of their grit and wherewithal, they’re quite different from what we’d experienced in the USA.

We’ve lived in places from Northeast Wisconsin (Sturgeon Bay-Door County) to the First Coast of Southeast Florida (Jacksonville), and have dealt with nasty weather—both bitterly cold and infernally hot.

But, it’s different here in Spain and Portugal.

On the west side of the pond, we were accustomed to rainy days throughout the year, regardless of the season. Spring, summer, fall, and winter … each had periods of rain awash with sunny skies. Here, however, on the pond’s eastern front, there’s a rainy “season” and a blazingly hot one.

Both are extreme and extensive.

Day after day, for weeks on end, we’ll see little or no sign of rain during the sunny season in Spain and Portugal. Contrarily, during their time, we have dismal gray skies and lingering rain that never seems to end.

I respect the rain, especially in places where we live off the land’s produce. And who doesn’t? So, I’m not really complaining. But, hey, if we can’t groan about the weather, what else can’t we gripe about?

The rain, itself, is of a different sort; it has its own shelf life here. Rain cycles incessantly from cold, bone-chilling downpours to storms, showers, and/or drizzles … then, rinse and repeat: again and again and again. Even without extended exposure to it, you feel as if pneumonia is more than presumed. Duvet-diving weather, it requires an air conditioner inverter turned on to its “heat” settings, a wood burner or pellet stove, and an electric blanket (upper or lower) plugged into service.

Lower?

Yep: in Portugal, our favorite electrodomésticos stores sell electric blankets that wrap around the mattress beneath us, instead of heating the top blanket which we pull over ourselves.

The weather is fickle and you never know when it will spike ten degrees or drop twenty during a 24-hour period. So, be sure to pack accordingly. Plan to layer. One day I wear a T-shirt; the next a long-sleeve shirt; the day after that, a T-shirt underneath a long-sleeve shirt; and, following that, a sweater over a long sleeve shirt and T-shirt.

Summers are hot, scorchingly so. We’re talking about temperatures rising to and then hovering in the high 90s (F)/40s (C) range … in the shade (if you can find any) … for weeks, even months, on end.

That’s why we have siestas|sestas here–although the Portuguese will tell you that they really don’t have sestas … just long lunches.

Not (just) to relax, but to escape the ravages of the weather.

We don’t have central heating or air conditioning in our village homes and town houses. Fireplaces and wood burners, gas or electric heaters, keep us warm, room by room. Venture away from climate-controlled spaces, however, and put your hand on the walls.They’re wet … dripping cold-hearted sweat!

And, woe is me if the flame on our gas-fired water heater should go out because of the rain or wind that often accompanies this intoxicated weather. Especially during winter’s drafts.

We just replaced old, single pane glass, wood-framed windows and bedroom balcony doors with new ones of textured duplex glass, framed by vinyl and aluminum. Next on our bucket list, we bought and installedl a new water heater which, currently, is strategically located on the terrace right outside our bathroom. Thankfully, we’ve replaced our old water heater in Portugal with a new electric one.

“O gás é para cozinhar, mas apenas elétrico para aquecer a água,” the lady who owns our corner mini-marked insisted. (Gas is for cooking; to heat water, only electric will do.)

She’s right! Not only don’t we run out of hot water at the most inopportune moments anymore, but our energy bills have been reduced substantially. Between cooking and heating water, we’d been going through about three propane canisters per month in Portugal, where they cost at least ten euros more per canister than the same ones in Spain. Plus, our added electric charges for heating water electrically are less than we’d been paying for three monthly propane canisters–especially since we put them on timers!

Another tip: Don’t forget to put one or more “draft dodgers” on the list for those exterior doors under which creep currents of air (hot and cold). Houses in Portuguese villages and Spanish towns usually have been built out of concrete and cement, with no insulation, and at odd angles. Rare is the door that meets the ground squarely.

Mother Nature has issues here, even as she we does in the USA. Hurricanes. Wildfires. Floods. Earthquakes. They’re all increasing in frequency and intensity, looming larger and lasting longer. During October last year, Portugal was smacked by a rare Atlantic hurricane – the most powerful to hit the country since 1842 – which made landfall near Lisbon and then took a beeline directly to our home in Castelo Branco, close to the Spanish border.

Spain has been deluged by flooding that turns creeks into mighty rivers, carrying away heavy vehicles and causing landslides along the way. Areas of seismic activity have produced jolts of earthquakes too close for comfort to our little place in the sun.

In Portugal, we hadn’t yet recovered from the encroaching forest fires, when 800 people — Portuguese activists, surfers, fishers, youths and supporters from around the world — came together at Cova do Vapor beach outside Lisbon, where the Tagus River meets the Atlantic, to protest the country’s plans for offshore oil drilling and inland fracking.

Still, there’s something quaint and comforting about dealing with the weather in old-fashioned ways: locals providing for neighbors in any ways possible, fanning themselves with papers, and moving to the lower levels of their homes (where it’s cooler) in the heat. Lighting fires and bundling up to keep warm in the winter. Shrugging off the weather by remembering that, after all, tomorrow is another day.

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.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Date Night Duos

I vividly remember our first date night since moving to Portugal.

Of course, this was before Covid-19 intruded on our lives–creating lockdowns and curfews, masks and social distancing. We’ve yet to see if the virus has killed the cinema.

Still, oh, the delicious irony of it all that night:

Together with a (Portuguese) couple watching a top-rated, first-run, American-produced movie based on a Swedish pop group, comfortably seated in a climate-controlled cinema in Portugal … listening to dialogue and music in English, while watching subtitles roll by in Portuguese … and understanding enough of the two languages to consider the accuracy and quality of the translation. Without missing a beat!

But, first, enjoying food from a variety of vendors.

It’s called “Cinema + Jantar” here at the Allegro shopping mall in Castelo Branco. Between Sunday and Thursday, it costs only nine euros per person for the movie and the meal. That’s just about US $10.

Throughout Portugal, restaurants and cinemas in shopping centers are teaming up to offer special deals like this.

It’s a win-win for all!

Where and when can one “normally” see a newly released movie in the USA for less than ten dollars (except for specific senior citizen show times and/or intervals when the theater is otherwise vacant)?

Whoever wrote the advertising copy for this film-and-fest could have worked at my public relations and marketing firm:

“Onde alguns ouvem Cinema e Jantar, outros ouvem encontro romántico, saída com os amigos, ou tempo a sós. A verdade é que ninguém quer ser a pessoa com a barriga a dar horas no momento mais tenso do filme.”

Rough translation: “Where some like the idea of a Movie and a Meal, others are enticed by a romantic encounter, going out with friends, or spending quality time by oneself. The truth is, no one wants to be the one with the grumbling tummy at the most inopportune moments of the film.”

(What’s isn’t mentioned is theseven-minute intermission during the film when you can get something to eat or take care of business, whatever it is …)

Regarding the sponsors:

Four different restaurants – each with great food – have had prime roles in the dining experience: a pizza parlor, barbecue den, hamburger haven, and “piglet border” (leitão beirão)—which is why we never should fully trust Google to handle our translations correctly. At each eating place, choose a main course, side dish, and a beverage.

Between us, we enjoyed some of the best burgers in town, pork bbq sandwiches, and a pretty darned good pizza loaded with lots of fixings. The sides – hand-cup potato chips – weren’t the greatest, but none of us were disappointed with our beer or wine … until our female friend gave me that evening’s Portuguese lesson, correcting my pronunciation of the word for wine (vinho):

“It’s VEE-N-YO,” she demonstrated, upper teeth deliberately touching her lower lip, to correct my hitherto Spanish pronunciation of the word (vino): “BEE-NO,” lips vibrating, but teeth never touching the lip.

Back to the show:

We saw Mama Mia II (Here We Go Again), which was wonderful … despite my frustration that nobody (except me) stood up to sway and swing and clap along with the music. The Portuguese, at least those attending that performance of the show, were much more constrained and sedate—although an elderly couple sitting opposite us sort of-kind of waved their arms in the air.

Showcasing a vintage Cher and Meryl Streep, the prequel-sequel movie ended with us in joyful tears, a moment blissful grace.

Words from the sponsors?

“Let yourself be swept away by the flavors and the plot.”

Climax and conclusion:

“There are happy endings that cost only € 9.”

Exit, stage left. And roll the credits …

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.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Cashing Out of Medicare

I finally did it.

I ended the “should I or shouldn’t I?” tug-of-war with myself.

I decided to give up Medicare Part B.

After living three years in Spain and Portugal, first as expats and then immigrants, we began to question whether we’d do better by cancelling our “Part B” coverage which cost us $144 per month deducted from our Social Security payments and having more disposible income in our pockets. Sure, we knew that there’d be fines, fees, penalties, and interest if we wanted to rejoin Medicare Part B … but we have no intention of returning to the USA. At least not to live there. Here in Portugal, we have comprehensive, state-of-the-art health care provided both by our public coverage under the country’s universal National Health Service (SMS) supplemented by our excellent private insurace that runs us two thousand euros (€2,000) per year for the two of us–one 70, the other 57.

For those living in the USA, Medicare has formed the foundation of health care coverage for Americans age 65 and older. Here’s how it works:

A portion of Medicare coverage, Part A, is free for most Americans who worked in the U.S. and paid payroll taxes for many years. Part A is frequently considered “hospital insurance.” If you qualify for Social Security, you will qualify for Part A. You’re covered whether you want it or not, as long as you have more than 10 years (or 40 quarters) of Medicare-covered employment.

Part B, which many think of as traditional health insurance, isn’t free. You pay a monthly premium for Medicare Part B.

Part A generally covers medically necessary surgery and certain hospital costs; Part B may cover doctor visits while you’re an inpatient. Part B is a voluntary program which requires paying a monthly premium for all months of coverage.

Individuals entitled to Medicare Part A cannot voluntarily terminate their (free) Part A coverage. That’s not permitted by law. Generally, premium-free Part A ends only due to loss of Social Security “entitlement” … or death.

You can, however, voluntarily terminate your Medicare Part B.

Say you’re 65, no longer working, and don’t want to pay premiums for Part B Medicare insurance. That’s OK. But if you opt out, the costs will be higher if you want to get back in.

“In general, when you’re 65 or older, you should decline Part B only if you have group health insurance from an employer for whom you or your spouse is still actively working and that insurance is primary to Medicare (i.e., it pays before Medicare does),” says Social Security.

But what if you are an American immigrant, living outside the USA?

To “disenroll” from Part B, you’re required to fill out a form (CMS-1763) that – under most circumstances – must be completed either during a personal interview at a Social Security office or on the phone with a Social Security representative. For those of us living abroad, we must deal with it through our US embassy.

Social Security insists on an interview to make sure we know the consequences of dropping out of Part B — for example, that we may have to pay a late penalty if we should want to re-enroll in the program in the future.So, why did I decide to disengage myself from Medicare Part B?

Several reasons:

• Neither Medicare Part A nor B covers any health care costs incurred outside the USA. And we live in Portugal and Spain. In other words, we’re paying for nothing–especially because, given the circumstances, we have no plans to go back and live in the USA again.

• The standard monthly premium for Medicare Part B is $144.60 for 2020, up from $135.50 in 2019, which Medicare deducts from my Social Security check. That comes to $1,626 a year—for something I can’t or won’t use. The money will serve me better in my pocket than in the government’s deficit-ridden purse.

• But, most importantly, we found a better and more cost-effective option!

It’s called “travel insurance,” albeit a rather extraordinary plan:Offered by AFPOP through Medal (AFPOP’s insurance brokerage), it covers both me and my spouse for a year anywhere we go — including the USA – for up to 60 days per trip. It’s renewable, regardless of our age; there’s no age limit to enroll, nor higher costs the older you are … neither is there a limit on the number of trips we can take. Moreover, it’s international in scope—including, believe it or not, the USA!

Two plans are offered: Silver and Gold. We chose the Silver, which includes accidental death or permanent invalidity (100,000€), additional indemnity for severe loss (€25,000 for paraplegia, 50,000€ for tetraplegia), and indemnity for dependent children (€5,000 per child). We’ve got five million euros of third-party liability, repatriation, and extensive coverage for health care-related expenses: Medical expenses (10,000€ for sudden illness & 1,000,000€ for accident, which are more than enough here in Portugal) … hospitalization (full coverage, and we’re still covered by Medicare Part A in the USA) … urgent dental treatment … medical expenses in Portugal after returning, when due to an accident or illness occurring abroad … search & rescue … funeral expenses (up to 7,500€– in Portugal or elsewhere).

Also included: loss or theft of luggage (3,000€); luggage delay (750€); loss or theft of essential travel documents (2,000€); trip cancellation (€5,000); trip delay (37.50€ per hour); legal costs (15,000€); detention (5,000€); bail bond (50,000€); kidnap, ransom, and illegal detention (125,000€); political evacuation (10,000€).

Unfortunately, pre-existing “clinical” conditions and health problems aren’t covered. But, as we have none to speak of, that didn’t matter to us since the travel insurance isn only for medical issues we might encounter outside of Portugal (where we’re fully covered).

I don’t mean to come across as an advertising mouthpiece for this particular plan. But, do some homework and research: First, try to find 24/7/365 unlimited travel insurance plans with such comprehensive coverage and so few restrictions … rather than those for a single trip. Next, see if they’ll even sell you a policy if you’re older than 65. Finally, look at the price and what you get for your money.

Complete details about this insurance plan – ideal for people like us, who travel quite often (to Spain) – are available online: http://www.medal.pt/…/produt…/membros-afpop/afpop-viagem

The best part of all is its cost!

We’re paying €351.64 per year for the two of us (the more expensive Gold Plan, with some higher benefit amounts, would cost €552.57).

Converted to US dollars, that equals about $400 or so at today’s currency exchange rates.

Now, compare that to the $1,626 I’d be paying for Medicare Part B this year.

And therein you have the bottom line.

*Complete details about this insurance plan – ideal for people like us, who travel quite often (to Spain) – are available online: http://www.medal.pt/…/produt…/membros-afpop/afpop-viagem

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.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.