Living A Peaceful Life In Portugal During A Pandemic

By posted on July 1, 2020 7:00AM
Portugal Covid Masks

It is 2020, a year that will one day be talked about with our grandchildren and their children amongst families throughout the entire world. The year the world faced the first major pandemic since 1918. The year anger over the fact that racism still infiltrated every aspect of society had finally spilled out — erupted, flowing from the U.S. and out into the world beyond, igniting a world wide protest for equality. 2020, the year we watched millions of people lose their jobs and fall into anxiety, depression and worse.

My heart goes out to all of our friends and family who are living in the U.S. right now, amidst so much division and unrest. I almost feel guilty mentioning how lucky we are to be living a peaceful life in Portugal, especially now.

It’s not that Portugal has somehow managed to magically escape a world wide pandemic, civil unrest and the loss of many jobs…it’s how they’ve handled it. There have not been inexplicable runs on toilet paper, fights erupting over being asked to wear a mask, or even large protests to open up businesses again.

After people in the U.S. gathered in mass to say enough is enough when a man named George Floyd was killed by police right on the street, in broad daylight, the people of Portugal stood up too. The Portuguese and expats from around the world marched peacefully through the streets of Lisbon. And, unlike the U.S., every face had on a mask to protect others in case they were unwittingly carriers of Covid-19. Also unlike in the U.S., there have not been shootings, looting or lynchings because of the protests.

Of course there are problems with the government here, but there is not this sense of division that hangs in the air of the U.S., so heavy it feels as if it could fall to the ground and crush those living there. Also, I do not want to give the impression that because we are living across a sea, 4,500 miles from the U.S. we are not feeling the same heartache as those back home. We are just able to do it from a distance, from a place where we can see what’s happening but not get caught up in the fear and anxiety of a country that is hurting so badly.

Portugal Beach Sunset
Portugal Beach Sunset

After leaving the states in 2016, we noticed the difference in pace instantly. My husband and I joked that it is as if they are living on ‘island time’ in Portugal, even though it is not an island. And though there are times that can be frustrating, for the most part we find that we have adjusted to a slower, more peaceful pace of life. We did not see 2020 coming when we moved, in fact, the unrest that was brewing just beneath the surface of life in America’s 2016 had nothing to do with our original choice to move. However, as things have deteriorated throughout the world, we find ourselves grateful that we did for so many reasons.

I read that the 2020 Global Peace Index revealed that Portugal remains one of the most peaceful countries in the world, whilst our homeland, the U.S. is listed at 121st. Gun violence is high and the U.S. is a divided nation such as we have never seen in our lifetimes. The land of the ‘free’ and the home of the brave is struggling and has been for a long time. However, as I mentioned, that was not the reason we chose to move. Ours was a much rosier reason. We were up for an adventure!

My husband and I have always been lovers of travel. I was a flight attendant when we met and we took advantage of the opportunity to travel for free using my flight benefits with the airline. I had already obtained my bachelors degree in Sociology but still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, just that it was a big beautiful world full of interesting people, stunning vistas and fabulous foods and I wanted to experience it! Working as a flight attendant made it possible to feed my quest.

Sao Miguel Azores Panarama
Sao Miguel Azores Panarama

I wasn’t always flying to exotic locals, I thoroughly enjoyed traveling through the United States as well. America is blessed with countless natural wonders and some pretty phenomenal foods! I was quite content to venture to places like the National Parks where one could gaze up at the night sky, stars sparkling unhindered by pollution or lights. Or trek up to Alaska and watch salmon jumping in the bay. I once saw one speared by the huge talons of a Bald Eagle and transported up into the sky. Then there was Kauai, with its soft winds, enticing floral bouquet and bountiful rainbows that dipped to the sea…so full of magic that we decided to have our wedding there. Yes, there was plenty to explore right at home.

Cambodia Walking to Temple
Cambodia Walking to Temple

However, the desire to see more of the world — different cultures, different ways of life, and different landscapes was a strong pull and we found ourselves, more and more, leaving the familiar behind. We traveled through old European castles, rode on elephants in Thailand, visited sacred sites at sunrise in Cambodia, and sipped coffee beneath the Tour De Eiffel. And, much to the chagrin of our son, he accompanied us on every adventure. Whereas I was drug along on bird watching trips as a child — usually book-ended by long dull car rides accompanied by macaroni tuna salad and a communal jug of Welch’s Grape Juice — our son was speeding along on bobsled rides and dining in Singapore next to the largest indoor fish tank. I guess we all have our own cross to bare. And though he doesn’t like to admit it, we have had many experiences that he loved. From exploring lava tubes, gliding down alpine coasters in Germany, and playing Bingo on a cruise ship, he’s had what many would consider a childhood that dreams are made of. Of course, the grass is always greener and sometimes, it takes us well into adulthood to appreciate the uniqueness that was our upbringing. I know it did for me!

From the time I was pregnant, to now living abroad, our son has had to “put up with” his parents love of discovering the world. After many years of exploring and using the U.S. as our home base, we finally decided that visiting foreign lands was not enough and began to dream out-loud about possible places to move. We both adore Japan, but my husband doesn’t adore earthquakes, so that was ruled out quickly. We’d heard of a lot of people moving to Costa Rica and then read up on internet reliability and the weather and x’d it off the list. My husband works from home and a reliable internet connection was non negotiable. And none of the three of us like super hot or humid weather for more than a few days, so that checked a lot of places off our list. I grew up in California and after being in the Seattle area for 12 years, I was ready for someplace sunny again…not too hot, but a place where the sky was blue and sunlight glinted across ocean waves. Perhaps a spot where white washed buildings with tiled roofs met the cliffs of the sea and one could lie in a hammock and listen to the birds and waves. Yes, we were looking for the perfect Goldilocks scenario, someplace “just right”.

Amsterdam 2009
Amsterdam 2009

Obviously, the place that is “just right” for you isn’t necessarily right for another. Hence planning a move that involved three people did prove to have some hurdles. For example, if my husband had his druthers, we would have moved to Amsterdam—with temperatures much the same as Seattle, and where one can easily get knocked down by one of the many bikes weaving here and there amongst the cars, people, and trams. No, I wanted a more rural life with access to a large city and airport, but where one felt at peace. My number one wish was Provence, France. But, after spending quite a bit of time in France over the years, my husband swiftly ruled it as a ‘nice to visit but wouldn’t want to live there’ kind of place. Eventually, we “compromised” on Portugal.

We had been to Portugal just once, when our son was only four (he was eleven when we moved here). My husbands mom had been coming to the South of Portugal, known as the Algarve, for years and had asked us to come visit. We spent a lovely ten days over Easter wandering the streets of her beloved little town and watching the water lap the shore. We thought it was nice, but, with so many other places still to see, we didn’t feel that we’d need to go back again. Fast forward to 2016 and I was researching on line when I came across this gorgeous town called Sintra, located just outside of Lisbon. By the images online, it wasn’t the Portugal we remembered visiting. For the Algarve, is dry and hot, similar to the Southern California I grew up in, whereas the Sintra area is more similar to the Central and more Northern areas of California, similar to where I lived later in life. Sintra, also on the coast, is lush and green and much cooler. The sun shines a lot and the proximity to an International airport was yet another box on our list checked off. We started looking at houses for rent on line and within a few months we found ourselves, moving sight unseen to the tiny village of Azoia, famous for being where Cabo Do Roca is located, the Westernmost tip of continental Europe.

Cascais Sunset
Cascais Sunset

As luck would have it the house was just as beautiful as it had been in the photos, with its living room windows from floor to ceiling that gave way to a vista of green hills and the deep blue sea. The traditional cobblestones and white washed buildings of Azoia were charming and fit perfectly into earlier dreams of a small village on the cliffs above the sea. We could walk to the bus to take us into the larger towns of Cascais or Sintra, which was perfect as we didn’t have a car for the first several months of our move. And even in our tiny village there was a fabulous restaruant, the Moinho Dom Quitxote. The Moinho, means the windmill, and it is indeed a building attached to an old windmill that we could walk to from the house. Just down a dirt lane, surrounded by wild bamboo and ice plant on cliffs that dropped down to the Atlantic sat our favorite place to go for grilled poblano peppers and margaritas. Cats would mill about and fountains splashed in the outdoor garden seating area. We would sit and sip on our drinks marveling at the view of Guincho Beach far below and sigh deep contented sighs.

We’ve often mused how Portugal is like a combination of Mexico and Hawaii. Yes, the first few months of our move convinced us we had done a good thing. Before heading over, we had decided we’d give it a year and see how it went…four years later, we still love it.

And though we are still very much connected to the U.S. via our friends and family and daily consumption of our favorite news station out of Seattle, we have managed to carve out a life for ourselves here amongst a kind people and a beautiful land. Sadly, our grasp of the Portuguese language remains at entry-level, despite our desperate attempts to learn (I find it much more difficult that either Spanish or French). However, one can get by using English for the most part, and a bit of gesturing and broken bits of Portuguese. And although it hasn’t kept us from becoming part of this place, it has made for some pretty humorous moments. Like the time I tried to call a dog groomer and was actually speaking to a hairstylist for people…things got a bit strange when I got to the part about whether or not they would express their anal glands! But such is the adventure of moving to a foreign land.

Avatar for Hollin Stafford

Hollin holds her degree in Sociology and was a flight attendant for United Airlines up until the time she had her son. She, her husband and son are now happily living with their three dogs in Portugal. Hollin home-schools so they can explore the globe, and teach through experience. When not writing about travel, Hollin’s focus is on writing fiction. Her work has received rave reviews from critically acclaimed agents and editors. She has a unique voice embodied through rich...read more

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