Decision making 101 – Off to Portugal

In order to retire before turning 60, we ditched the house, yard and all that comes with it so we could afford to travel until we couldn’t. We could not have both. For us, chasing the dream is a double edged sword. Our whimsical lifestyle is not without costs or responsibilities to the material world and family obligations. But being debt free with no domestic real-estate ties, allowed us to realize that dream of continuous adventure and find a balance to the costs. We have not regretted it. Part of the lifestyle has lead to chasing summer or at least warmer weather than “home”. Last winter tested us as we tried staying in the, well insulated, Escape 21 trailer through the winter while the border was still undecided on opening or not. Do you remember last winter? Record rainfalls and highways gone, weeks of -10C, and two feet of snow that took two weeks to melt. We bailed in January and drove, with a singular intent, to Southern California and hoped that we could add the Mexican Baja to the of itinerary of enticing U.S. SW destinations. Plans changed as Deb’s Dad passed away, so with friends on their way south to join us, we reluctantly deferred our goals for the Baja until 2022-2023. But all of our careful planning seems to somehow morph into yet another idea. So, like many other plans, Baja ’22-23 can wait. Alternatively, we decided to go to Europe for the winter. Not finding a downside to this idea we looked at long term rentals in the Portuguese Algarve and discovered it was cheaper than driving south (this included the flights!). Time flies when planning fun and we now find ourselves in a new another chapter of

En route to Portugal we visited with family in Winnipeg, Calgary and Montreal. We also set up a profile with “TrustedHousesitters” and put ourselves out there to look after pets and homes in Portugal and the Mediterranean regions. Our flights from Vancouver to Winnipeg, then Calgary and Montreal were $650 for both of us! While planning this next chapter we gave some thought to driving to Montreal then heading south from there, similar to our fall of 2019 journey, but in estimating gas prices for truck and trailer, this option seemed price-prohibitive. There is always a myriad of options and agreeable solutions. Making informed choices is the hard part.

While visiting our daughter, Elly, in Montreal with Deb’s sister, Marnie, and brother in law, Jim, we logged over 100k on BIXI share bikes. These bikes are available all over the Montreal area and with their app we could rent them for $18/month.

We created some great meals with Elly and her fiancé Taylor too. After 5 busy days and nights we were on a red eye to Lisbon.

Living on the road in a 120 sq ft home, we thought that finding a 400 sq. ft. studio apartment would feel like a mansion. Our research showed that small apartments were available for $800-$1200 CA/month which was completely affordable. So we went for it and booked all our flights. We flew with TAP air for $750 each return from Montreal. Over 6 months, these flights added only $250 to our monthly budget. Still within our means.

Bye bye Montreal.

Hello Portugal.

Cacilhas is a small part of Almada which is a bedroom community of greater Lisbon. Our first day after flying in we decided to tour the streets of Cacilhas and Almada. Just outside our apartment is a tourist info office, a church, 2 small grocery stores, an Irish pub, a pharmacy, 2 blocks of restaurant lined car-free dining, a cannibis shop, gelato shop, Churro food truck, and TVs surrounded with men watching soccer and drinking Sagres beer. We were in the thick of it! Walking down to the busy waterfront district from our apartment through the restaurants readying to dish lunches we took note of grilled sardines, dorado, frites and pizza! Where the road ends the transit station begins with a ferry, busses and trams linking services to destinations on the south side of the river. Around a corner and an old seaside boardwalk drew us along, hinting of ancient prosperity, lined with ancient pulleys and cranes, graffitied, derelict buildings and broken tiles hiding hundreds of littered beer bottles.

As we walked along we came to a park that is famous for it’s sunsets and it’s elevator that lifts you up to “Old Almada” and a beautiful museum, Casa da Circa, filled with beautiful art work and stunning views over the river to Lisbon.

We walked along from there and tasted the Pastel de Nata from a little obscure Pasteriea along the road. We continued to the Christo Rei. The Christo Rei was built after WW2 as the bishops vowed it should be built as God had spared Lisbon from the conflict. It was inspired by the Christ the Redeemer atop Rio’s Sugarloaf Mountain in Brazil.

Our walk back to the apartment introduced us to more grocery stores. We provisioned 2 meals and a happy-hour. Cold beers, vegetables, cheeses, smoked sausage, peanuts, bread, eggs and a chicken to roast for dinner with wine and a sleeve of cookies – $13Euros for all of it! After dinner we crashed. Jet lagged, sore feet, full bellies and more than 10k logged.

Very tasty at 3Euros. A splurge since there were definitely more value focused options

Next day we were off to Lisbon. There are a few commuter ferries on both sides of the Tejo/Tagus river, breathing its workforce in and out of the downtown. We each bought $10Euro reloadable bus passes and tapped through the gates.

Morning cruise

At the Lisbon side of the ferry terminal are trains, trams, streetcar, busses, taxis, cars, share-bikes, electric scooters and tuktuks that move locals and tourists efficiently to everywhere they hope to go. Our first day over to the Lisbon side was overwhelming as we entered the commuter mosh pit looking for directions to a quiet museum to ease into our jetlagged brains.

We found the national museum of contemporary art (NMAC – Museo do Chiado). While pondering the artwork we were impressed with a sculpture garden within the walls of the museum.

Museum tour with Marnie, my art educator sister! Awsome having another “lens” with us!

At the museum siesta time, we headed to the castle to look over the city. Lisbon is a series of hills and valleys. Hidden away in many of its buildings are elevators that transport savvy travellers. An app I have on my phone is called GPSMyCity and it lead us to the elevators that avoid the hills from the downtown moshpit to the top. Buildings along the way are tiled with innumerable patterns, Azulejo, protecting the buildings from the Tejo humidity and crafting individual refinements above the overloaded streets. Arriving there at about 5 pm was perfect to see the fortress and walk the walls before sunset.

The streets to the ferry were steep and noisy but we walked to the ferry in about 20 minutes and with excellent connections we were back at our apartment within 30 minutes to change for dinner. Locals here start ramping up for their evening repas at around 9 and the noise and festivities stop around 2 am. We decided we were in time for dinner on our street. Jugs (juggos) of vinho verde, cheese, bread, olives, sardines with boiled potatoes, salad, clams and beef with rice, beans and french fries brought us to 11 pm. Fully satiated, we hit the churro truck and had warm churros for the 150 meter walk home.

Two busy days and we needed a down day. About 400 meters from our apartment a 19th century 50 gun navy frigate that was the last of the spice trade had free admission. So after a couple of naps we strolled down.

Plus, we heard there were mannequins!!!

Along the coastline from Lisbon to the mouth of the Tagus is a commuter train that finishes at a coastal town called Cascais. We thought a beach day was in order. So off we went with our loaded transit pass. On the ferry to the train station and onto the train. It all took about 15 minutes. Cascais is the last stop so we weren’t even worried about when to get off as we knew that would evict us as soon as we got there.

Along the way we could see other famous coastal tourist destinations like the Belem Tower and the Nautical monument, that we visited a few days later. The waterfront area of Cascais is cobbled in two colours of rock with nautical themes. Waves of black and cream taunt your eyes as you focus on the pattern. We found a bike rental near the train station and for 6Euros each we were off riding crappy bikes along the 10k pathway that follows alongside the coastal road. Antique rally cars, cyclists, surfers, tourists and pilgrims walking Portugal’s Camino de Santiago trace the route to their destinations amid tourist stops, sand dunes and windy steep cliff sides. We stopped at Praia da Crismina and watched the surfers in the shade of the grass umbrellas while sipping a beer and eating a sandwich with our toes in the sand. The ride back was hot and the Atlantic calm enough to warrant a sailing school towing their learners in with individual escort boats. We appreciated the comfort of a 40 minute train ride back to our trusty ferry.

Our next Lisbon day was spent finding the Belem area and Pasteis de Belem!! We ferried over, caught the 15E tram and minutes later we were in the lineup for this delicious and famous pastry. This pastry shop has been reproducing the famous tart invented by the nuns at the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. Back when egg whites were used to starch the robes or clear the wine, there was an abundance of yolks so the nuns figured out the magic potion for the Portuguese Custard Tart. Using classical methods the pastry shop churns out 22,000 per day and the line up is long.

We braved it, shoulder season, it was quick and walked away with a dozen warm tarts to eat in the park across the road. After second breakfast we walked the waterfront to the monument to the Portuguese age of discovery. While as a Canadian I feel the conflict that comes with nations conquering other lands that are not theirs to take, but the Portuguese celebrate it. And they have had many set backs! The conquistadores, the moors, the crusades, they all beat them down. But here we were admiring the shrine that celebrated their conquests.

Further down the magnificently tiled walkway we came to the Belem Tower. Lined up as far as we could see, we were glad that we were not caught up in the need to go inside. Pictures taken, we were hungry and ready for some calm.

We headed to Colecao Berardo Museo of Art. This enormous gallery houses a conference centre restaurants, bars, reflective spaces and one collection worth half a billion Canadian dollars. Picasso, Warhol, Lichtenstein, Agnes Martin, Anish Kapoor, and so many others I hadn’t heard of were all under the one roof. Sex, death, irony all in that lovely air conditioned space.

Three hours later, we were on our trusty tram and back to the apartment. One stop at the Time Out Market across the street from our ferry dock. To tired to decide, we oohed and awwwed, took a picture, and headed out.

Exhausted. Thirsty. The restaurant below our bedrooms was particularly noisy. We sort of slept.

Back to Lisbon to ride Tram 28. A recommended route that also has warnings about pickpockets and crowds.

We started early enough to get on and a few stops along, overlooking the massive cruise ship port everyone emptied out and we were seated for the rest of the route. Narrow touristy streets near the castle, overlooks, and an abundance of azulejo tiled buildings were jaw dropping. Originally the tram would circle around but new rules forced us out at a square full of fountains, tourists, migrants and security guards.

We wandered along and saw the Gothic arches of the ruin of the Carmo church and convent that has become a museum filled with archaeological tombs and artifacts. We followed our feet and found a hidden elevator right up to it! In 1755 an enormous earthquake and tsunami ruined much of Lisbon. The restoration of the damage on this church began in 1756 and about 100 years later was stopped to maintain the memory of the disaster and assure that the restoration would not change the art of the original. Inside the nave was a collection of ruins that dated back to the first century and a whole room dedicated to a village dating back to 3 millennia BC.

Museum overload upon us, plus we were hungry, we headed back to our little borough.

Tomorrow we are off to our next destination in the Algarve. Carvoeiro. We have rented a car and hope to see a bunch of the southern coast over the next 10 days that we are there.

Leave some comments at the end of our blog or, if we are are acquainted in the F/B or Twitter universe, leave your notes there. We really appreciate your keeping in touch. Thanks for indulging with us on our journeys. You can be sure to get each “enthralling” episode by tapping on “follow” at the bottom of this. See you Out There sometime!!

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