So, where did we leave off?
Ah, yes. Week one was major chaos. Had to leave our apartment due to all the insane smells. Then, week 2, we were in an Airbnb looking for new apartments, none of which worked out.
But, at the last possible minute, we found something, and the morning we needed to check out of our Airbnb, we went straight to the (semi)-new place.
The apartment is located right by the Douro River, near Ponte Infante. It’s a short walk from the center, where the new apartment (and, hopefully final!) is. This means that when we move, we won’t have to figure out a new neighborhood.
The apartment we’re in now is a solid 9/10. It’s fully furnished with the right furniture — even a mid-century modern TV stand similar to the one I bought off Wayfair when we lived in Jersey City. There’s no TV on it now, but there is one in the bedroom. Max and I are hardcore not-watch-TV-in-bed people, but let me tell you — these past few weeks we have broken a lot of our rules.
Arriving in the (Semi)-New Apartment
When you walk into the apartment, there’s a little genkan — an area where you can remove your shoes and there’s a coat hanger (a coat hanger is one piece of furniture that I find really hard to convince myself to buy, but so grateful when there is one). This is where we can keep the stroller (which, had been rolled in dog shit a few times, so glad that it was away from the rest of the apartment). Then, you go down a little staircase, and there’s the apartment.
It’s a huge living area with a small, pull-out couch, and table with four chairs, and a tiny, but open kitchen, stacked with new appliances (that we have absolutely no idea how to use), pots and pans, cooking utensils, a tea kettle, etc., (and, a pan we donated back to our new landlord who wanted to make shrimp and needed his pan — it’s definitely got some college dorm vibes). The bedroom had bedding that was engraved with the name of the building, which made it feel more like a hotel. But, dude — sign me up!
There were fresh towels in the bathroom and even a hairdryer attached to the wall. And — the shower. Oh, the shower. So far, I haven’t been too impressed with European showers, and in the first apartment and the Airbnb, they were cold. There is nothing worse than having a stressful day to come home to a cold shower. And, anyone who knows me well knows that that’s my thing. I love a good shower. This shower had a few design flaws, but the most important thing was that it was hot with excellent water pressure.
Upstairs was a loft with two beds tucked into the lofty/crawl-space area. This is where we put Mika’s Pack N’ Play and got her set up. There are a few items we learned we always need for her when we’re moving around. Aside from the Pack N’ Play, she needs her sound machine (Hatch), some toys, a book, and her tub. We can do without the tub, but it makes life easier. Every time these last few weeks (even before we left the U.S.), I’d feel so much better once she had her little area set up.
There wasn’t too much for us to unpack yet — most of our stuff was still back at the other apartment (a situation we’d have to still sort out) — so we just put everything in a spot so it was organized. I was so glad that between the couch and the TV stand was a rug, so Mika could finally spread out and play. She’s not crawling yet, but not being able to put her down in two weeks has been hard. Sure, holding a baby is cute and all that, but when you can’t put the baby down, it’s very difficult. Moms go through so many changes when you’re pregnant — not sure why all moms can’t evolve to grow an extra pair of arms when they welcome a baby.
Back in the US, we had a rocker for Mika and a little Fisher-Price crab chair that she could sit in. It’s very difficult to find baby stuff here, so all we really can use is a large, safe area for her to move around and practice rolling. The first apartment was filthy, so I didn’t want to put her on the floor. We bought a play mat, but we’re going to return it because it’s huge and not easy to clean.
(Currently have it in a garbage bag in the bottom of our stroller now because we’re going to go to IKEA while we’re out today, which has led to a lot of stares). And, the Airbnb really had no space at all. It was such a relief to be able to plop her on the floor and go about our business, and because we could see her from most of the apartment (open-concept) I felt at ease. There were still a ton of things we needed to get, but we’d wait til we were a bit more settled, because moving as it was with all the stuff we had (and, it wasn’t even that much) was stressful.
We only had a couple of items with us, and by now, we were starting to get really tired of wearing the same clothes (so was Mika). But, we also started to realize that we probably could have came to Portugal with a lot less, and shipped over more on the pallet. We came here with six suitcases, and shipped the rest (mostly books!). Had I known, I would have done things a bit differently, but can’t dwell on that too much. But, we’d do all of that tomorrow.
We just needed a shower, and a comfy bed to sleep in. Did I mention the bed at the old apartment was two twin mattresses put together? And, the one in the Airbnb made me throw out my back?
When we woke up the next day — which is getting hard (in Portugal, the quality of the black-out curtains is amazing, something I’ve been dreaming of — no pun intended — for years with my vertigo and photophobia, but now see why it’s not good for your circadian rhythm). We’ve felt tired every single day, but that could be because we’re thoroughly exhausted and still have a young baby. Max calls the curtains “El Diablo”.
Anyway, I told Max I didn’t want to put her upstairs because the last thing I needed was to bust my ass on them in the middle of the night. So, Max volunteered to do it (“It’s a workout!”) For now, this is Mika’s room.
Tying Up Loose Ends
Once we were “settled in” to that apartment (I wonder how many times I’m going to use that phrase), we had to clean up the other loose ends. We still had stuff back at the other apartment, which the realtor was trying to rent out in order to get us our money back (that ended up being a bit of an argument — more on that later).
We were thinking of going back the next day or so, but we were so exhausted and didn’t have a plan to transport it yet. There was still the dresser and crib from IKEA that Max put together, and there was absolutely no way we were going to disassemble it in order to move. Not happening — I’d rather gag myself with a spoon (something Mika loves to do now).
At some point when all the chaos was going on the week prior, I managed to secure a storage unit. It’s so comical because in the U.S., we had to get a storage unit for a month during a botched moving experience similar to this one (this is unfortunately becoming a theme), just because our couch wasn’t going to fit in the place we had moved to. And, there was no way I was just getting rid of that amazing Big Lots couch (which, is now is my aunt’s new couch!)
On the day we had tried to register Mika at the Centro de Saude, we popped back into the apartment. Max had already organized it for prospective tenants, but we had to grab a few items of clothing. Just being in there a few minutes made us dizzy. I took Mika to the storage unit to go talk to the person working there. All week, I had been texting someone on WhatsApp from the company in Spanish to tell them our situation and ask about the costs. When I arrived, I said, “I’m here” and he said “Where? Are you in Braga?”
So, I’d been texting the wrong location the entire time. Luckily, the woman who worked there was able to help me — there was one unit that was available that was way too small, so we secured that one, but then went up a few sizes in case our pallet were to arrive and we weren’t in an apartment yet. But, the new storage place is in Ramalde, another neighborhood.
Each day, the woman from the place has been texting me nonstop about how important it is to get down there and sign the contract, even though I already sent the money. I explained our situation and the baby, and that I’d get down there as soon as possible. The beauty of WhatsApp is that it’s very easy to communicate with people in different countries, but the downside is that it’s very easy to communicate with people from different countries.
So, hopefully, our storage unit is still there. We most likely won’t need it at this point, but glad to have it.
Exploring the Neighborhood
At this point, we were familiar with our “new” neighborhood. The downtown of Porto is not very big, so even being in a different part of the city, it’s not hard to figure out.
A few highlights were exploring the downtown on the weekend which has booths set up everywhere selling arts and crafts, and leather bags from Morocco (which, I plan to buy one in Morocco one day as my friend had a beautiful one that I loved — though not sure if the Morocco bags actually come from China…), trying some new restaurants, and finally grocery shopping and cooking a meal.
One night, I was really craving pasta, which is obviously something quite easy to make when you’re first getting settled in. But, alas, I didn’t have the energy to cook. So, we set off looking for an Italian restaurant, and turns out all of them were in a part of the downtown that we had not explored yet, which was even more touristy than the other parts. All the restaurants were almost triple the price for a menu item than it should be, and none had a fat bowl of pasta which I was craving. We ended up finding a place more in the center that didn’t have the greatest reviews (people in Portugal are harsh with their reviews!), but decent enough. I was able to get my big fat bowl of pasta and I was content.
Max has also been referring to himself as “European Max” who “now eats pastries” because he’s “walking these hills all day long.” As for me, it doesn’t matter the continent — I will never have an excuse to not eat pastries. We found a delicious ice cream place on our way home that was creamy like gelato, and though I’m not a huge fan of ice cream, we will definitely be returning there.
Anyway, the hills are very true. Tight by our apartment is a very steep hill that for us, is the most direct way down to the river, and back up if you don’t want to spend money on the funicular.
Well, we didn’t realize how steep it was until we were already halfway up pushing Mika up. Had we let go for a second, her stroller would go tumbling down (which many passersby wanted to point out to us, as if we had no idea how gravity works). This also happened another day when we went down a staircase to the river, thought it was only a few direct steps, and…it wasn’t. I swear, there should be an Olympic competition for stroller-carriers. Speaking of which, everyone has been very helpful with the stroller. I mean, they gotta be if they want business I suppose. But, our stroller is definitely too big for here!
In addition to some good meals, we’ve also had some not-great ones. There’s a sushi buffet place near our apartment called “Tokyo Sushi” (so original), and the cross-contamination in the place was unreal. (Though, again, it had good reviews and seemed to be popular.) Even not during a pandemic, it would have been very concerning, but it was cheap, and it was late, and we needed something to eat. Safe to say, we won’t be going back.
Getting Stuff Done
Now that we could breathe a bit, there were still other things that we needed to get done. Some of this was important — like getting our stuff from the other apartment (I feel like I’ve said that so many times) — and less important things, like getting my eyebrows waxed.
We took another trip to IKEA to get Mika a high-chair and some other items that I can’t remember now. Of course, when we got home, we realized we didn’t get the tray part of the high-chair, so that would be another trip we’d have to bookmark for later.
We also made time to go to the bank. Before this, we ate at a restaurant nearby the bank that was very local and cozy, and I very much wanted duck rice but they ran out. So, fish it was. This restaurant is how we learned about “priority” in Portugal (something the couple in Maia had mentioned to us, but wasn’t sure what they were referring to). Essentially, if you are disabled, elderly, with child or with a child, you get priority. This isn’t fake priority in the U.S. where it goes on an honor system — i.e., giving up your seat for someone on the subway — but an actual societal rule. Though this restaurant had a wait to be seated, we were seated right away when they saw we had a baby. (I imagine this doesn’t work everywhere necessarily, but it worked here!)
When we were done, the bank was nearby. We got a ticket to wait in queue, and we were waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Max figured out that on the machine that gives you a ticket, there’s an option for “priority”. So, after waiting about an hour, Max decided to hit that button, and we got called right away. Clutch.
We had opened a bank account in Portugal while we were back in the States, but we still had to get our debit cards. After Max was speaking Spanish and we got replies in Portuguese, the woman said she spoke English (this keeps happening). She was able to give us one debit card, but explained that we had to go see a woman who was managing our account, and another branch.
I had already interacted with this woman and it was interesting she worked nearby, as I don’t believe I specified we were moving to Porto when we were assigned an account. Anyway, I had interacted with her once already via email but didn’t really get an answer, so not sure why we have to specifically meet with her. I imagine it’s something to do with the specific branch or the fact that maybe she manages accounts with foreigners? Who knows.
We still had to also figure out the end of our lease on the other apartment. We were asked to sign a resignation contract, but when we looked over it, there were some things we weren’t comfortable with signing. Ultimately, even though the landlord said we’d get most of our money back from what we’ve paid ahead, I’ve learned over the years to get everything in writing. And, if they don’t want to put it in writing, there’s a reason.
Max called the realtor who is clearly getting impatient and wants to be done with this. When he got frustrated about Max changing the wording so that it didn’t say WE were breaking the lease — that we were forced to leave — he told us the landlord would never admit to that. So, after a bit of back and forth — which I let Max handle, due to the sexism and because it gives me a lot of anxiety (I am way less patient when it comes to that stuff) — we were able to negotiate to get more specifics in writing. Still finishing that up, but should be good to go.
Of course, before signing that, the apartment would have to be totally empty. Though we had the storage unit, we decided that now we’re in a place (even though it’s temporary), we should just bring it here. We went back and forth deciding if we should do it all by UberXL (remember, we had the assembled IKEA furniture), looked up a few rental options (not a lot), and since Facebook listens to me, I saw a post in the local expats group about a low-cost moving service for small moves. Just a guy and a van.
So, Max went with him, and the whole “move” took about an hour and a half.
A Few More Setbacks
Once we finally got all our things in the new apartment, we felt relieved. But, after about fifteen minutes — we started to feel dizzy. The smell came with the stuff! After sorting through everything — which, I knew I was going to wash anyway — we realized the smell was really stuck within a lot of luggage itself. This meant we had to just throw away two of our favorite duffels that we’ve used with all our abroad moves, as well as a bag of medicine from the U.S. (And, trust me — I could have really used those Tums right now…stay tuned.)
It’s been a week, and we just finished washing the last bag. While it’s great we have a washer here that’s also a dryer…we have a washer that’s also a dryer. This means you can’t do two loads at the same time, so it’s taken us a bit longer than usual. And, as it’s been raining a lot, we haven’t been able to use the sunlight to dry clothes.
Speaking of appliances — the popcorn here is absolutely delicious, but I still haven’t figured out how to use the microwave. Instead of putting the time in for the generic cook setting, you have to choose the cook setting and then put in the time using a dial. So far, the popcorn has either been burnt or popped with half the kernels still unpopped.
Okay, this isn’t technically a setback. But, it is one of the snacks I enjoy most of all.
This week, we had our appointment with the pediatrician to help us figure out the vaccines. When we arrived, we were taken almost right away. He was a young doctor and spoke English fluently, and told us that he speaks very fast. What he meant to say is that he talks a lot — with the right intentions of course.
We explained the situation and then he told us how he plans to fix it. He also noticed that Mika’s hips had some symmetry issues, so we had to go for an X-Ray — (27 euro for each hip!). His plan was to align the Portuguese vaccine schedule with the U.S., and see if he could give the vaccines himself. (Still can’t. Not a success.) Updates on that coming. He also prescribed Vitamin D drops and told us all the Portuguese children take them (I guess because they are the baseline for children who already get a lot of sun?)
A few days before this — I guess this would go under setbacks — because the apartment is loft-style, the upstairs has low ceilings and exposed beams. ALways when I’m in these situations I constantly repeat in my head, “Watch your head, watch your head!”
Well, Mika was fussing one night so I was trying to calm her down and was very overwhelmed. Even though I knew the beam was right above me, I forgot in that split second and WAMBAM! hit my head right on where my soft spot would be if I were a baby. My head was hurting for three days straight, so I decided to go see a doctor myself the next day. She prescribed me strong painkillers, told me the Americans drink too much when they come here, gave me a little massage, and sent me on my way. When I went to the pharmacy to pick up my medication (and, Mika’s Vitamin D drops) they asked me why she isn’t yet registered in the national system. I DON’T KNOWWWWW?
Meeting Other Expats
Overall, the week was less stressful than the previous ones, but still gave us a run for our money. So, when we were invited to an expat event at a hotel in the center, I was excited to go out and do something social. It was a very nice experience and we got to meet people of all ages, including couples like us, couples with kids, etc.
The event was hosted by our new friends who we used as consultants to come here, so it was nice to finally meet them in person as well. We exchanged some numbers with other people and look forward to getting to know everyone. And, as more and more people come to Porto, if we get bored of these friends, we’ll make new ones (JUST KIDDING, those of you reading this!) 😉
We made some plans with some friends and got to have dinner with one and lunch with another that same week, which was a reprieve from the stress. Sometimes a little socialization can go a long way.
Portugal Hates Me
By now, I’ve started to get used to living here, even though we’re not permanently in this apartment yet. I’m getting to know the neighborhood, what streets are which, which restaurants are good and which are bad, etc. Speaking of food, I, unfortunately haven’t been too impressed thus far, which is weird because we’ve always thought of Portuguese food as “up there”.
Then, I looked at Max’s phone to use Google Maps to find a place to eat. It wasn’t matching up with mine — some restaurants were missing. That’s when I realized Max had somehow filtered out anything with more than a euro sign for price, which means he effectively eliminated everything a 4.5 or above (and, I generally won’t eat at anything lower than a 4.3, unless I know for a fact it’s good).
So, since we’ve updated that, we have found a few good places. And, we’ve been eating some international food, which is not something we normally do when we move to a new place. Unfortunately, three meals so far have left me up nauseous in bed. Not sure if it’s because it’s been a while since I’ve traveled, but I definitely have a strong stomach. That raw burger I had at the mall the second time (it wasn’t raw the first) may have done it, or the creamcheese sauce on chicken that looked good but definitely could have used a starch and mushrooms. I’ve also have had to have three coffees a day to stay awake, so something’s up with that.
Anyhoo, it’ll take some time to find some of our favorite places and dishes. It may also be that since we’ve been eating out so often, I’m just getting tired of it. Finally, I’m able to cook a bit more and it’s been a game-changer. And, because Mika is well into her solids journey, it’s important we’re able to find foods and the time to feed it to her.
And…oh boy. Speaking of Glovo. If this story doesn’t summarize our time here so far, I’m not sure what will. The other night, I forgot chorizo for the pasta dish I was really excited to cook after so long. I didn’t want to run back out to get it (I know, lazy), so I ordered it on Glovo. It told me the driver would be here in less than twenty minutes. I get an update that he’s nearby, but for several minutes, it’s not updating. I check the map, and he’s nearby the apartment, but maybe a few buildings down. I texted him several times to see if he’s okay/needs help finding the place. When nothing updated after 10 minutes, I asked Max to go down and check. (Also, like, where’s my friggen chorizo!)
So, Max decides to look out the window — and, sure enough, our Glovo driver is lying on the pavement with tons of people around him, the yellow bag (assuming with our chorizo in it) several feet away from him. I was absolutely horrified.
I sent Max to go out and check on him/see how he could help. Luckily, there were no head injuries involved — the guy was grabbing his leg in pain, but also yelling at the guy who hit him, so hopefully, nothing serious. But, that’s besides the point. Before Max could get outside, our video intercom started making a sound, and there was a man in Portuguese frantically yelling at us.
The poor guy just wanted to make sure we got our chorizo, and when Max got downstairs, it was there waiting. Max went to go check out the guy on the ground, who gestured with a thumbs-up and a “don’t worry about it” wave that he was all good. (He wasn’t.) Again, horrified. My lazy ass literally resulted in this guy getting hit (though, this Portuguese guy downstairs was telling us it was the Glovo driver’s fault). Whatever. This was bad news bears, but I couldn’t stop laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. A few moments later (chorizo in hand, while I frantically searched for a way to tell Glovo to help this guy!), I see the ambulances coming. OY GUVELT!
Anyway, I just ordered Glovo again even though I swore I wouldn’t. But, it’s pouring outside. When I got the notification that he’d be here soon, I just thought, “ten cuidado!” and prayed he’d get here in one piece. The food wasn’t good.
I’ll take the L.
Hana and Max: 0
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