Enjoying the writing life in Portugal

Livraria Lello & Irmão in Porto is frequently called the “most beautiful bookstore in the world.” Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling lived and taught English in Porto in the early 1990s and was a customer of the bookstore. It is rumored that Lello was the inspiration for Flourish and Blott’s bookstore in the Harry Potter series.

Portugal is a book lovers paradise. Everywhere you go, you see independent books stores. There are books for sale in the post offices, books for sale at one of the main train stations in Lisbon. I’ve even seen a library on the beach!

So, what is it like to be a writer in Portugal? Well, I retired and moved to Portugal in 2019 shortly after I finished writing “The Power of Rain” my first novel. I had spent the last twenty years in the USA as a journalist and since I moved to this country I have continued writing. In addition to this blog, I mostly write freelance articles for Portugal Living, an online lifestyle magazine.

That is the fun part. The hard work has been getting my book published and trying to market it. It’s a mystery set in New Mexico where I used to live. So the target market is in the US, but I am in Portugal. Add to that, I am new at this and finding your way around the publishing industry is a steep learning curve.

The good news is that I have met wonderful people who are helping me on this journey. In Albuquerque, I was part of a writing group for a couple of years. The group was what motivated me to keep writing and to finish the book. We met twice a month and shared what we had written and gave each other critiques and suggestions. Having other people read your work is invaluable. They can see what works and what doesn’t work, what is confusing and what could be improved.

Friends who read the manuscript of “The Power of Rain” said they wanted to know what happened to the main characters: intrepid reporter Digger Doyle and her girlfriend, the artist and activist, Maria Ortiz. I wanted to know what happened to them as well. So, I started working on my next novel. It’s called “Sunshine Dreams.” I won’t reveal anything about the plot here, but I will say that I am about two-thirds into the writing.

Writing group support

Mindful of my experience in the US, I decided I would put feelers out to start a writing group where I now live. I was hoping that it would provide the same kind of support and valuable feedback. Thank goodness for Facebook groups. I put a post on the local FB group, I Love Tomar asking if anyone would be interested in forming a writing group. I had a great response! Beginning in July, four of us have met fairly regularly in the lovely atmospheric Cafe Paraiso, in Tomar, to talk about our work and give each other moral support.

It’s an interesting mix of writers. Englishman Bob, writes “urban fantasy” and has self-published several books in that genre. Alex is a novice writer working on a historical fantasy, Ana is a highly successful romance writer who has had around twenty books published and has a couple more releases in the next few weeks! She has been a fount of knowledge on all aspects of marketing.

Now, I am working with a couple of local cafes in Tomar to hold a book signing event. One of the hurdles however, is getting copies of my book. I self-published through IngramSpark which makes my book available in paperback and Kindle format to retail stores like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. As the author, I can order books at a much lower price than retail. However, IngramSpark’s European distributor is in the UK. Since Brexit, items sent from the UK into Portugal are subject to customs duties which can add up to 50 percent to the original cost! As I said, it’s all a steep learning curve! All I really want to do is to keep writing and have people enjoy reading my books.

Follow my blog to learn more about retiring and living in Portugal and check out my novel!

My novel, a mystery set in New Mexico, USA

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Retiring in Portugal: myths and reality

A rainbow lands on a home in rural central Portugal. Sometimes moving to a different country is like chasing a rainbow.

Portugal has gained a lot of attention in recent years as a desirable spot to retire. It’s popular image is of a sunny land with lots of beaches, a laid-back lifestyle, low cost of living and friendly people. Portugal is all of those things. One popular misconception though, is that it is a Mediterranean country. Sorry to disappoint, but a look at a world map will quickly show you that Portugal’s western and southern coastlines are all on the Atlantic Ocean. The Mediterranean Sea essentially ends at the Straits of Gibraltar.

If you’re planning to retire in Portugal, it’s important to know that it can be chilly and damp in the winter. It’s not as cold as the UK or many parts of the US, but the dampness can sure leave you shivering. I’ve lived in central Portugal since July 2019 and each year the seasons have been slightly different. My first autumn and winter it rained almost every day from the beginning of November until just before Christmas, and most of the early spring. This year was quite the opposite. We had a relatively dry fall and no rain at all in January and February. The summer was hotter than the previous three summers. By August the country was in a severe drought situation and wildfires were breaking out everywhere.

A wildfire erupts in mid-August near the town of Tomar, central Portugal. There were numerous fires all over the country in July and August 2022 because of exceptionally dry weather.

Home prices

Along with Portugal’s rising popularity, some parts of the country have seen a steep increase in home prices. The Portugal News, an English language paper in Portugal, recently reported that Lisbon is the second most expensive city in southern Europe in which to buy a home. The article said Lisbon prices had overtaken those in Milan, Madrid and Barcelona.

However, housing prices in most of the country are substantially lower than the US and other western European countries as well as the UK and Ireland. A word of caution here; many homes in rural areas are in poor condition and need substantial investment to make them comfortable. Also, you need to be very careful when you buy that there are no additions to the home or outbuildings constructed without the proper planning permission. Illegal additions or outbuildings can cause costly paperwork headaches and delays when you sell the property.

Heating

Many houses in Portugal are built of stone, are poorly insulated and have no central heating system. A lot of people use a “Salamandra” for heating. This refers to a steel or iron wood burning stove, rather than a small reptile. Pellet burning stoves are also popular. In my experience, iron stoves are more expensive to buy, but provide much better warmth. Pellet burners are easier to use – no carrying logs, gathering kindling or messy cleanup. But the price of pellets has more than DOUBLED in recent months, from about 3.50 euros to about 8 euros for a 15 kg. bag (33 lb.)

Electric heaters are widely available, but electricity is relatively expensive in Portugal. Many people use heaters powered by butane which can be rolled from room to room. They are a quick source of heat but should not be left on overnight.

Dampness can mean mould and mildew. It’s important to ensure a flow of air. If it becomes too chilly to leave a window open, buy a dehumidifier. Your clothing will thank you. Putting on a shirt that smells of mildew is awful!

After all these comments, I have to say, I love living in Portugal. It is sunny, the cost of living is low and the people are SO nice!

Follow my blog to learn more about daily life in Portugal. And check out my novel, “The Power of Rain”, available in paperback and Kindle format on Amazon.

The yellow and red lines follow Portugal’s coastline, all of it on the Atlantic Ocean, not the Mediterranean Sea.

Finding your future in Portugal

The red roofs in the center of Lisbon with the Castelo São Jorge on the hilltop above the city.

Portugal is getting a lot of attention as a desirable place to live, mostly for retirees but also a lot of people who can work remotely.

The headline of a Wall Street Journal article that ran in April this year claimed Americans were moving to Portugal “in droves.” According to the story, “Retirees are drawn by a low cost of living, healthcare, a sunny climate and tax incentives,”

The same month a New York Times travel story drew readers in with the headline “A Portugal of Pristine Beaches, Tiny Villages and Little Else.” The article sang the praises of beaches like Comporta in the Alentejo region a short distance south of Lisbon.

Early this year, Momondo‘s Work While Traveling Index ranked Portugal a top place for remote working, based on its climate, social life, relatively affordable cost of living and availability of visas for digital nomads, according to The Portugal News, an English language news source in Portugal. Momondo is a global travel search site that compares flights, hotels and car rental deals.

So, are lots of Americans really moving to Portugal. The answer is yes and no. According to SEF, the Portuguese Immigration and Border Service, the number of Americans who moved to Portugal in 2021 was up 45 percent over the previous year. But they are still a small percentage of the overall population of foreigners living in the country– at the end of 2021 there were about 7,000 Americans living in Portugal, according to a CNBC story about “Burned out millennials flocking to Portugal.” By comparison, SEF figures from June this year show there are nearly 700,000 Brazilians and nearly 42,000 British people living in Portugal, according to the blog site Portugal Resident.

Anecdotally, I am meeting a lot more Americans who have chosen to live in or around my nearby town of Tomar. It’s a charming small city of about 22,000 in the center of the country about 90 minutes by car from Lisbon. People I interviewed for an article in the online lifestyle magazine Portugal Living say they chose Tomar because of its size, its history – the town was a center for the Knights Templar in the Middle Ages – and the location relatively close to the coast, the university city of Coimbra and a direct rail link to Lisbon.

Me, I’ve been living here for a little more than three years and I moved here for all the above reasons, except to work remotely. I am just enjoying retirement and writing this blog!

Tomar castle and the associated Convento de Cristo, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Follow my blog to read more about daily life in Portugal. And don’t forget to order a copy of my book, “The Power of Rain”, available in Kindle or paperback from Amazon.

Want to move to Portugal, but don’t know where to go?

Colorful buildings line the Douro river in Porto and visitors can see the boats that traditionally carried port wine.

A lot of people are interested in moving to Portugal. At least that’s the way it looks when I scan the multiple Facebook groups I’ve joined because they are aimed at expats who are living in, or interested in, Portugal. There are more than a hundred such groups; catering to every possible taste. The question I see over and over, is “I’m planning to move to Portugal in XX many years, what’s the best place to go?”

This is the kind of question that drives those of us who have made the move, absolutely crazy. How can anyone else know where that person would like to live? It depends on so many things.

I have usually responded by advising the person that posted the question to look at their own lifestyle and ask themselves the following:

    Electric tram in Lisbon.
    1. Are you used to living in a city or the country? Which do you prefer?
    2. How much do you like to shop? Do you want to have a big choice of stores nearby or are you okay with small local stores and visiting shopping centers only now and again?
    3. Do you eat out a lot? How important is it for you to have restaurants nearby?
    4. Do you want to have a car? Or are you comfortable with using public transportation?
    5. How often do you want to travel? Is it important for you to be near an airport?

    These are just a few of the questions people who are “thinking” about moving to Portugal should ask themselves. Facebook groups such as Pure Portugal – Living the Good Life, Moving to Portugal, Expats in Portugal Q&A and many, many more, can provide much valuable information. People can pose questions and get answers from those who have already made the move and settled here. Internet research is invaluable, but a trip to the country is the best way to get a real feel for the place. You get to meet the people face-to-face, taste the food, see the landscape and the architecture.

    Portugal is still quite a poor country by comparison with others in western European. Outside the bigger cities, the countryside is depopulated and many villages have a lot of houses that have been sitting empty for years. You can buy them cheaply, but they also take a lot of time and effort to renovate. Still, life in a Portuguese village can be very fulfilling. People are welcoming and willing to help you. Lunch in a small family-run restaurant will cost you as little as 10 euros for a three-course meal with wine and coffee. Cars and gasoline/diesel are expensive, but if you live in the country you will almost certainly need to drive. Most Portuguese roads are narrow and winding, but luckily there is little traffic. The highways are superb but you usually have to pay tolls.

    Portuguese houses are usually made of stone. They keep out the heat in the summer but can be awfully cold and damp in the winter. The Alentejo and Algarve regions are the hottest in the summer and mildest in the winter. Areas in the far north and closer to the Spanish border are typically the coldest in the winter.

    These are just a few thoughts I decided to share about life in Portugal. I moved here more than three years ago after extensive research and a two-month trip during which I did volunteer work and traveled around the country.

    Follow my blog to learn more about life in Portugal! It’s almost olive-picking season!

    Olives are almost ripe for the harvest in my part of central Portugal.

    Camino adventure: the slow way is a better way

    Cathedral of Santa Maria y Real in Pamplona.

    After I walked the Camino in 2015 I said that if I ever did it again I would do it more slowly. This 10 days in Spain on the Camino has been just that, a time to observe and appreciate the places we rushed through seven years ago.

    I’ve walked shorter distances and explored the little villages and towns which I didn’t take time to do before. I’ve seen places like Cirauqui and Villamayor de Monjardin which were just morning coffee stops on my last Camino.

    My companions and I took two nights in the city of Logroño. During the time there, we saw the square where the Game of the Goose is painted on the paving stones. It is supposed to be connected to the Knights Templar and follow the Camino to Santiago de Compostela.

    I bade farewell to them this morning as they headed off to continue their journey. I took a bus back to Pamplona. In Pamplona on my last day, I toured the cathedral of Santa Maria y Real. It is filled with ornate carvings and paintings, much of it seems a bit too much for my taste. But I did see a beautiful picture of St Mary Magdalene.

    Painting of Mary Magdalene in the cathedral in Pamplona.

    And of course being in Pamplona there were references to Earnest Hemingway and the famous running of the bulls in the festival of San Fermin in July. All in all it has been a wonderful experience and I hope to return and walk another part if the way, perhaps next year.

    Since I live in Portugal, it’s only a hop, skip and a jump away!

    Follow my blog for insights on what it’s really like to move to Portugal and enjoy the Portuguese lifestyle! And don’t forget to check out my book, “The Power of Rain”, available in kindle or paperback on Amazon.

    Camino: the journey is the goal

    My pilgrim companions Andrea and Geraldine on the way from Viana to Logroño, Sept 27.

    My latest Camino experience is about to end. I must return home to Portugal in a couple of days. I didn’t plan to go the whole way to Santiago de Compostela this time, but I wanted to relive the very special camaraderie that I’ve felt before on this pilgrimage.

    So many people have written articles and books about the Camino that it has become trite to say it changes your life, but it does. It is a unique opportunity to step away from your regular routine and live very simply. It is an opportunity to be close to the natural world, observing the changes in the land, the crops, the architecture and the weather. You meet people from all over the world and share meals with them, share dormitory space with them, listen to their snoring and often forge lasting friendships.

    Mural at a chapel to the Virgen de las Cuevas near Viana. The weird figures made us think of a Hieronymus Bosch painting.

    On my last day of walking we just covered about 10 kilometers, from Viana to Logroño into the Rioja region. The intention was to explore this historic town. We had some good meals, toured the museum of Rioja and attended mass at the cathedral.

    The cathedral in Logroño, Santa Maria de la Redonda.

    Tomorrow I will take a bus back to Pamplona and fly to Lisbon. But I will come back to the Camino and I look forward to exploring more of Spain.

    Me in my pilgrim outfit outside the town of Viana.

    Follow my blog to learn about moving to Portugal and daily life in a Portuguese village. And, check out my book, “The Power of Rain”, available in Kindle and paperback on Amazon.

    Camino ups and downs: finding your rhythm

    Today’s 10k walk from Torres del Rio to Viana involved several steep ascents and descents.

    One of the pieces of advice I heard when I was preparing for my first Camino in 2015 is that the Camino you do is “your Camino”. Each individual has their own pace of walking and it can be uncomfortable over a long distance to match someone else’s stride if they are naturally faster or slower than you. The ability to compromise is a great virtue but it doesn’t always mean you have to sacrifice who you are.

    I’ve found that the best way to maintain genial feelings on the Camino is to agree to allow everyone to walk at their own speed and agree on meeting spots.

    This tree beside the Camino path between Torres del Rio and Viana has been festooned with mementos by passing pilgrims.

    Our journey today took us into the Rioja region which is famous for its wines. The hillsides and valleys are covered in vineyards and olive groves.

    We made it into Viana by early afternoon and got bunks in the municipal hostel of Andres Muñoz in the historic part of the city.

    Entrance to the now ruined church of San Pedro in Viana.

    Follow my blog to learn about moving to Portugal and daily life in a Portuguese village. And, check out my book, “The Power of Rain”, available in Kindle or paperback on Amazon.

    Camino adventures continue: Templar trail

    Flags bearing the Templar cross hang outside the Albergue La Pata de Oca in Torres del Rio, Navarra, Spain.

    One of the reasons I wanted to walk this section of the Camino was to visit a church that has a similarity to the chapel at the Convento de Cristo in Tomar, where I live in Portugal . It is the small church of Santo Sepulcro in Torres del Rio.

    The small church is in built in the same eight sided design as the Charola chapel at the Convento de Cristo. It comes from an earlier time and is very simple inside. But there are Templar symbols everywhere in this little town, including at the Albergue where we are staying.

    The church of Santo Sepulcro in Torres del Rio is built in an eight sided shape.

    The walk today from Villamayor de Monjardín took us along relatively flat terrain through farmland where the crops had been harvested. There were some vineyards and olive groves and mountains in the distance.

    The way stretched on for many kilometers over farmland.

    I was very happy to have the company of Andrea and Geraldine and a couple of others as I walked from Villamayor de Monjardín via Los Arcos. We stopped in Los Arcos for a bite to eat and then visited the church of Santa Maria de los Arcos. Walking inside I was immediately stunned by the contrast with the Monasterio de Irache which I saw yesterday. This church is crammed with ornate, gilded Baroque carvings and paintings. Choir practice was in full swing when we visited and it was a relief to escape to the peaceful cloister beyond.

    From left: Andrea, Rosalie, Geraldine.

    More Camino adventures: the fountain of free wine

    A short distance beyond the town of Estella is the Bodega de Irache and a big attraction is the”fuente de vino”, a trailside spigot that flows fresh red wine for all who pass by.

    Today we took a leisurely start from the Alda hostel in Estella and walked out by the church of San Pedro de Rua. It is one of many medieval buildings that remain from Estella’s past as an important city in the former kingdom of Navarra.

    Church of San Pedro de la Rua in Estella where the ancient kings of Navarra took their oaths. It stands opposite a former royal palace.

    We continued on towards the village of Irache. On the outskirts there is the Bodega de Irache and you can get a free sample of the local wine at the trailside fuente de vino. This attraction was a big hit with a group of Mexican cyclists who were riding the Camino. They were stopped there when I arrived and were all laughing as they filled their water bottles with wine.

    Just up the hill from the wine fountain is the Monastery of Irache. Since we are doing a slow Camino we stopped and went inside. The church is a gem of elegant romanesque architecture, with simple clean lines, curving arches and just a few statues. I far prefer these churches to those filled with baroque and rococo gilded decor.

    The path took us on to a small village called Azqueta where we stopped for a wonderful “bocadillo con jamon y queso” or baguette with ham and cheese. This part of Spain is still in the Basque region and all the signs are in Spanish and the Basque language.

    The cafe bar Azketako where we stopped for a much appreciated lunch.

    The next couple of kilometers wound through a beautiful forest of oak trees, then onward and upward past vineyards to the village of Villamayor de Monjardin.

    This building covers a fountain that used to feed a pool where the horses of pilgrims used to be able to drink. Now the water level is much lower and can only be reached by steps.

    Follow my blog to learn about moving to Portugal and daily life in a Portuguese village. And, check out my book, “The Power of Rain” available in Kindle or paperback from Amazon.

    Camino adventures: many new insights in life

    Walking through a tunnel that I remembered from my previous Camino journey in 2015. Someone took a similar picture of me 7 years ago. It is like a metaphor for life.

    Today we did a short journey walking from the delightful hilltop village of Cirauqui to the town of Estella. Seven years ago we just walked right by Cirauqui, but this time I was able to explore this small, beautifully kept village.

    Paloma, the lady that ran the Albergue where we stayed in Cirauqui, said only 500 people live there year round, but there was a library, a health center and a bank. She said many people have summer homes there or come for the weekend from larger cities.

    She gave the guests at the Albergue a wonderful evening meal with a delicious salad and a tasty stew of chickpeas and mushrooms.

    View from our room at Albergue MARALOTX in Cirauqui.

    On my walk today I thought about how the Camino experience is a wonderful opportunity to let go of all the anxieties of your daily life and be completely present as you move through the countryside and encounter people from all over the world.

    Church of Santo Sepulcro on the way into Estella.

    Follow my blog to learn about moving to Portugal and daily life in a Portuguese village. And, check out my book, “The Power of Rain”, available in Kindle and paperback on Amazon.