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Celebrating One Year of a New Life in Portugal

Updated: Apr 8

Celebrating A Year in Portugal, My New Home

Celebrating A Year in Portugal, My New Home

In week 52, the final of my first year in Portugal, I celebrated the milestone in the small, Portuguese town of Lagos while trying to calm my apprehension over the next stop on my journey.

Freaking Out Over São Miguel

Everyone loves a good Netflix suggestion, so I was happy when two different friends suggested I watch “Turn of the Tide”. The drama is set in my next destination of São Miguel, an island in the Azorean archipelago. 

On my nights at home, I settled on the comfy couch in my cozy living area and worked my way through the 10-episode series. As the story unfolded, it told of the lives of the residents of an impoverished island with little hope for the future. When a boat full of cocaine captained by two Italian mafiosos becomes shipwrecked on the island during a storm, the story takes a long and tragic turn. The events that unfold destroy the lives of everyone involved. 

As each episode unfolded, I realized this may not have been the best way to get to know my new island home. Perhaps a good National Geographic photoshoot? Some tourism brochures? After all, in the pictures the Azores Islands look like the Portuguese version of Hawaii, only less developed.

I proceeded to freak out a bit, wondering how long it would take for me to be standing on the runway at the Ponta Delgada airport trying to hitch a ride back to the mainland. If things were really as bad as the show portrays, I might even be willing to jump in the next boat full of Italian mafiosos to pass by. 

Flashbacks to La Candelaria

As nightmare scenarios ran through my mind, I recalled my time in the Candelaria neighborhood of Bogota, where I’d been told not to go after 7pm and never go alone. Of course I booked a hotel right in the middle of it. Around midnight when I arrived in a taxi, everything was locked up tight, with guardrails on the windows and graffiti covering the walls. 

As my driver parked at the door of my hotel, he told me to stay inside. Not being a complete idiot, I stayed in the cab as he rang the bell of the night clerk who unlocked the barred door and let me in.

​As I lay in bed that night trying to sleep, I occasionally peeked out the window at the blanket of darkness covering the neighborhood, wondering what it would look like in the light of day. It occurred to me more than a few times that long, dark night that this might be the moment in which I had finally made an error in travel judgment. 

As the sun came out, I cautiously explored the neighborhood. That first day, I stopped in a café for a coffee, browsed in some shops, had lunch in a restaurant and visited a museum. Over the next three days the faces and places of La Candelaria became familiar to me. It turned out to be a wonderful experience in the “dangerous” neighborhood. There were many times I felt grateful tourists were frightened to come here as it would change the spirit of this authentic neighborhood. 

I was wrong to second guess my decision to visit La Candelaria and I am probably wrong now. It will be an interesting ride in the Azores…

Celebrating a Milestone

As I woke up on the one-year anniversary of my move to Portugal, I could not help but think back on the year that had passed. I’d been through so much, and most of it had been wonderful. It felt like a day to celebrate in some way.

After working that morning in my window, serenaded by the seagulls, I headed out for lunch. While Portuguese food seemed more appropriate, I wanted Italian. I was greeted at the door of a local Italian restaurant by a friendly man who told me to take whatever table I wanted. The restaurant was not busy inside, so the service was great. I felt like a VIP in this small little corner of the world. 

While I did skip appetizers, nothing else was omitted. For my meal, I had a plate full of linguine with a hearty bolognese sauce and a glass of red wine. Usually, I take half of a pasta dish home to cut the calories, but instead, I sat there and slowly savored it, eating every last bite. When the friendly man came over to ask if I wanted a “sobremesa”, I asked him for suggestions. After deciding on tiramisu, I asked him to bring me a cappuccino as well. 

While it was just an indulgent lunch in a simple restaurant in a small town in the south of Portugal, somehow it felt much bigger.

Starting the Next Chapter of My Portuguese Life

It’s been such a fun and crazy year. I’ve lived it to the fullest, enjoying every moment. I’ve loved the friends I’ve made. They are such a wonderful bunch of kind-hearted, interesting people and I miss them already. 

As I came to Portugal with a sense of urgency, I settled in Lisbon because it would make the hurried transition a bit easier. I was familiar with the city, having spent time there during various trips over the past 13 years. It always felt like a welcoming place on those visits, full of kind, wonderful people. It still does today.

Outside of Lisbon, many parts of the country are still unfamiliar to me. I want to get to know all of it, not just the areas that are comfortable to me, knowing all are not able to do the same. In the next year, I want to challenge myself to learn the language, go to the areas few tourists go and eat all the local food. In short, I want to really get to know this beautiful country and its people, who took me in when I urgently needed a new home. 

People have called me crazy for moving so much but for me it just feels like a privilege. I am so fortunate to be able to wander this country and meet new and interesting people at every stop, learning first-hand how they live and listening to their life stories. 

I cannot wait to experience all the next year brings.   

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