Useful things to know about life in Portugal

These iconic yellow and white tram cars are a useful way to get around in Lisbon. They are very popular with tourists!

When I first spent an extended time in Portugal I noticed a lot of little differences about the way people do daily life compared to what is commonly done in the US. Now that I have been living in Portugal for more than three years, I just take all these differences for granted. But my current trip back to the states makes me realize how much I have accommodated to my new life in Europe. I also appreciate how many of the customs in Portugal reduce water, plastic and paper waste that is harmful to the environment.

Eco-friendly shopping

In Portugal the supermarkets and small grocery stores do not bag your groceries. You must bring your own shopping bags or buy one at the checkout. The bags you can buy are sturdy and generous sized so you can fit a lot into one bag. You yourself must stuff all the items you have bought into the bag at the checkout. This saves a mountain of plastic bags from ending up in landfills. I was saddened to see that in Albuquerque, where I used to live, the city council reversed a decision to ban those plastic bags.

Another practical innovation is the way you use shopping carts. They are typically linked together and you must insert a coin or a plastic token to release the cart to take it into the store. After you’ve unloaded your shopping, you return the cart, reconnect it and you get the coin or token back.

This is a simple way to ensure that carts are returned. In Albuquerque I was used to seeing shopping carts abandoned all over the place. On a windy day a rogue cart could damage your car. It was also probably a big expense for the supermarkets to lose them.

Bathroom etiquette

In a lot of private homes, restaurants and even small hotels in Portugal, it is common to see a sign asking you not to put any paper or other products into the toilet. In private homes it’s because they have a septic system that can’t handle large volumes of toilet paper. I’m assuming the restaurants etc have some similar problem. Anyway, you have to re-train yourself to put the TP into the small container next to the toilet. It took me a while to be consistent about this.

I have even found some bathrooms, such as at a train station or a shopping mall, where you have to grab a length of TP from a huge roll hanging on the wall by the sinks, BEFORE you go into the stall.

Of course men rarely have either of these problems.

A couple of other points about bathrooms. Most toilets in Portugal have dual flush options which save water. Bathrooms typically have hot air blow dryers instead of paper or cloth towels to dry your hands.

Time and temperature confusion

After more than three years of living in Portugal, I have become figuratively bi-lingual in matters of time and temperature. I am no longer flummoxed when trying to decide whether to take the train at 17:00 or 19:00, hint 5 p.m. or 7 p.m. Now, having to say a.m. and p.m. seems so inefficient. You also know immediately whether you’re talking about 12 noon (12:00) or midnight (24:00) .

I’ve also adjusted to using Celcius versus Fahrenheit when referring to the weather. I’ve become used to thinking that 20 degrees C (68F) feels pretty comfortable and 40 degrees C (104F) is nigh-on unbearably hot. Coming back to the US and reading that it’s 21 degrees I have to do mental gymnastics to remember that is really cold! Or, I could just stick my nose outside!

How far is that?

I must confess, I have not adapted so well to using kilometers versus miles, or kilograms instead of pounds. I used to be a very enthusiastic cyclist in New Mexico. There are mountains in NM but there are a lot of opportunities to ride on flat ground too. A 30 mile flat ride was considered pretty easy. I live in a hilly area in central Portugal and it is hard to find flat routes. Hence, a 30 km (18.6m) ride in my area is pretty tough!

I have to use grams and milliliters for European cooking recipes but I keep my bathroom scales on pounds so I still can’t tell you what I weigh in kilos. (I probably wouldn’t anyway!)

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Riding in the area around Figueiro dos Vinhos in central Portugal involves climbing a lot of steep hills but it’s beautiful.

Little things I love about Portugal

View of Tomar from the old bridge over the Rio Nabao.
View of the historic district of Tomar from the old bridge over the Rio Nabão..The Templar castle is on the hill in the background.

It’s been raining a lot in my part of central Portugal during the last few weeks. Although we desperately need the moisture after a long dry spring and summer, it’s still pretty dreary. But when the sun returns everything looks so lovely.

This morning it dawned bright and clear after a gray and gloomy day yesterday. The clear sky meant that there was frost on top of my car for the first time this autumn. Still, I was happy to see the sun and I was reminded of how may little pleasures there are to enjoy here.

Take for instance, my morning walk with my dog, Divina. On Saturdays I usually do a longer walk and often go through a nearby village. Last Saturday I walked past a garden gate and saw an elderly lady with a walker who looked as though she was having trouble opening the latch. I said good morning in Portuguese. She answered “Bom dia” and we continued with the usual “Tudo bem?” meaning, roughly “how are you?” Then she apologized saying she was having trouble speaking, pointing to her mouth and I gathered the problem was that she hadn’t put her dentures in. Never mind, we had a brief happy little conversation, teeth or no teeth.

My dog Divina

Adventures in healthcare

One of the other things that has delighted me here in Portugal is the health care system. Yes, it has been very stretched due to the Covid crisis. But it has slowly come back to life. The little clinic in my village, which is open a few hours a week, once again has a visiting doctor. Last week I went to inquire about making an appointment for a check-up. I was told to show up at 9 am to make the appointment. However, when I arrived there were already several people waiting outside in the cold. Luckily it was not raining. About 9:45 the regular nurse arrived and I was able to make the appointment. (I have worked hard during my three years here to learn Portuguese. I’m not fluent by any means, but I am able to use it in most of my daily business.)

My appointment was for 10 a.m this Friday morning. Based on my experience last week, I went at 9:30 expecting to see a crowd waiting outside. This time there was only one other woman. We were able to go inside the clinic just before 10 and I was the first one called. The doctor, who looked incredibly young, kindly suggested it would be easier if we conversed in English. I have learned not to take this as a failing of my Portuguese language skills, it’s just a fact. I didn’t know all the medical vocab needed to converse with the doc.

Long story short, he wrote orders for a battery of tests and said he’d see me in two weeks. Simple. Simple, Simple.

Helping neighbors

While I had been waiting, an American friend of mine had come in with an elderly Portuguese lady who used a cane to walk. My friend asked if anyone spoke English. (Since I was wearing a mask inside the clinic, she hadn’t recognized me.) I waved at her and she explained that the older woman was a neighbor of hers and she’d given her a lift to the clinic. I said I’d be happy to give the lady “Uma Boleia” back home. So, as soon as I was finished, I waited while the older lady got her prescriptions filled at the part-time pharmacy next door, then I drove her back to her village, located about two miles from my home. It gave me such pleasure to be able to help a neighbor!

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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.

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My novel, a mystery set in New Mexico, USA

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.


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.

Portuguese health care options

The private Hospital Da Luz in Coimbra
Hospital Da Luz in Coimbra is one of the many private hospitals and clinics in Portugal.

Healthcare is a big concern for many people who move to Portugal. The country has a well developed national healthcare system, Serviço Nacional de Saúde (SNS), that is funded by taxes and can be used by all legal residents. They can seek care at little or no costs at the SNS network of health centers(Centro de Saude) in towns and villages all over the country or at public hospitals which are located in the larger towns and cities.

There is also a growing network of private facilities and providers, such as Hospital da Luz, CUF and HPA, available throughout Portugal to those who pay for medical insurance.

These public and private healthcare networks rank well overall. The World Health Organization gave Portugal a number 12 ranking in its 2019 World Health Report.

How does the public system work?

Americans and residents of countries outside the European Union who want to move to Portugal must obtain a D7 visa. In order to get the visa, they must show proof of travel insurance which covers medical costs. (Since January 2021, because of Brexit, people from the United Kingdom must also have a D7 visa to move to Portugal.)

In effect this means that residents of these countries must have private health coverage when they arrive in the country in expectation of a permanent stay.

D7 visa holders can apply to be covered by SNS once they have been granted a residency permit by the immigration and borders service, Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF).

Once a person has their residency permit, they can register to be covered by the SNS at their local health center to get the health system’s user number, or número de utente. They will have to show documentation such as passport, tax number (Número de Identificaçao Fiscal or NIF) number and residency permit.

After registering, in theory, you are assigned to a local primary care doctor and will be able to make appointments in person, by phone or online. There is a small fee for consultations and tests, usually less than 20 euros, services are free for those aged 65 years and older. In practice, the Covid 19 pandemic has put a severe strain on the system and many local health centers no longer have a doctor. So people have to travel further for routine appointments and care. Many hospitals are also experiencing staff shortages which have forced them to temporarily close certain departments or services during recent months.

A public hospital in Tomar, central Portugal.
Hospital Nossa Senhora da Graça in Tomar, a public hospital in the Medio Tejo region.
A sign for a local “Centro de Saúde” or health center and the associated pharmacy.

Private healthcare options

Numerous private health insurance options are available in Portugal through companies like Fidelidade, Allianz, Cigna and Medis. Plans cover most or all of the cost of routine check-ups and consultations with private specialists and hospital charges.

Coverage for pre-existing conditions is not typically available through these plans. However, the Association of Foreign Property Owners in Portugal (AFPOP) also offers its members special insurance rates through Medal Seguros. Under certain circumstances those plans will cover pre-existing conditions.

One thing to be aware of is that the cost of different plans increases with the age. In addition, there are very limited options for people over age 65. For those people, private insurance is available from MGEN, Medis (Vintage Plan) through Millennium bank, or Allianz-Medal, through membership in AFPOP.

For more detail on healthcare in Portugal and interviews with people who have moved here, read my article “Portuguese Health Care: Public and Private” on page 83 in the current issue of Portugal Living magazine.

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What I’ve learned from two years living in Portugal

Spring flowers in Portugal
A carpet of oxalis flowers on my little piece of land in Portugal is a portent of spring.

I see a lot of posts on Facebook groups from people who are considering a move to Portugal. Many of them ask what is the best place to live? After more than two years living in Portugal I think I can offer some useful information. My advice to anyone considering a move to this country is to come here for as long as you can to get a real sense of the place. You can do all the research in the world online; but nothing, nothing, compares with what you will learn by having your feet on the Portuguese earth.

Also, ask yourself a lot of questions: Are you used to living in a city? Do you want to have shopping and restaurants within easy reach? Do you get upset if you can’t find the products and food you are used to? Can you adapt to new ways of doing things? Are you willing to learn a new language? Many Portuguese speak English but an ability to speak the language gives you a big advantage.

What are the most memorable things I’ve learned? Hard to say. I will list a few things in no particular order.

  • Portuguese people are some of the kindest you will meet anywhere. Almost without fail, they are willing to go the extra mile to spend time to offer you whatever help they can. That said, everybody gets that attention and you may have to wait your turn.
  • Portuguese bureaucracy can take time. Some expats complain about the amount of bureaucracy to do things like getting a driving license or opening a bank account. Remember, all countries have their version of red tape. It’s just that when you move to a new country you have to deal with a lot of it all at once.
  • If you are 65 years old or more you travel half price on the trains. Comboios de Portugal, the train service in Portugal is efficient, on-time and very user friendly.
  • Portuguese weather is generally kind. It’s hot in the Alentejo and Algarve regions south of Lisbon, with summer temperatures soaring over 100 degrees F (38 Celsius). But in the central and northern regions it is more temperate. Winters are milder too, with frost or snow rare except in the far north. In most areas you can grow oranges, bougainvillea and banana trees.
  • Portuguese winters can be very wet! When it rains in Portugal it is often a deluge. The rain can continue for days.
  • Dampness can be a big problem in houses. Many people complain of mold and mildew in their homes. You have to be vigilant about ensuring adequate ventilation. Buy a dehumidifier!
  • Portuguese houses are usually not well insulated! They stay beautifully cool in the hot summers but can be freezing in the winter. An electric under blanket can make life cosy.
  • Many people rely on wood burning stoves for heat. Remember to buy most of your wood in the fall. If you buy supplies after Christmas you may end up with some damp wood. If you are paying for it by the ton, wet wood ends up costing you more and it is hard to get your fire going.

So, as I head into my third year here, I am happy to see flowers blooming on my land. I look forward to many hikes in the spring and to planting my vegetable garden.

Olive pressing the old fashioned way – hard work, but jolly

The grandson of the owner of the Casal de Santa Iria olive press, or lagar, helps my Belgian neighbor unload his olives ready for pressing.

Olive harvesting is well under way in my part of Portugal. Today, most of the olive presses are modern affairs that look like an industrial brewery. They use heat in the pressing process and many people say that the heat affects the taste of the oil. But there are still some old-fashioned presses that use traditional methods of cold pressing. The old ways are much more labor-intensive. There is a lot of camaraderie as the workers perform the multiple steps that transform the whole olives into a puree which is then squeezed to release the precious golden-green oil.

I had the great good fortune to visit one of these old-fashioned olive presses recently when I helped my neighbor, Chris, with his harvest. He and his wife had helped me pick my olives. In return, I helped them pick theirs. We went together to an olive press in a nearby hamlet. The Portuguese word for olive press is “lagar”, with the emphasis on the second syllable.

olives loaded in the hopper

The Casal de Santa Iria lagar is a family affair; owned by Grandfather Manuel, and operated by his son and grandson. When we arrived, the grandson guided the car with the trailer bearing the bags of olives onto a weigh station. The weighing machinery reminded me of an antiquated vote tabulating machine. Once weighed, an augur crushes the olives into a purée that looks like tapenade. The purée is fed into a pipe and when a worker turns a spigot, it spreads out onto a spinning circular mat. The mats, which look as if they are made of woven rope, have a hole in the middle. When covered with the olive purée, workers lift the mat and slide it onto a spindle.

They repeat this process, building a stack of mats on the spindle. When the stack gets about waist high, a mechanism lowers the spindle platform so they can continue piling the mats. Eventually, it looks like a giant stack of pancakes about 2 meters high.

The workers then wheel the spindle platform over to one of four pressing stations. When the spindle of mats is fixed into the pressing station, pressure is applied from below to squeeze out the precious olive oil.

Above left, olives in the hopper. Above: olive purée spreads on a spinning rope mat, while a worker stacks an olive-coated mat onto a spindle.

When we visited, the place was noisy and somewhat hazardous, since the floor was slick with olive oil. But the workers were okay when my neighbor and I wandered around having a good look and taking plenty of pictures. All the machinery looked like the kind of heavy industrial engineering you would have maybe seen in a WWII-era munitions factory. But this was a step ahead of the old-style crushing by stone that characterised even older olive presses.

The oil is collected in a basin affixed to the base of the spindle and funnelled to a nearby vat. A worker explained to us that the squeezing process yields water as well as oil. In the vats, the water sinks to the bottom and the oil floats.

Meanwhile, the stack of mats is taken away, a worker removes what remains from the crushed olive residue and the mats are reused. The brown, earthy-looking residue reminded me of slices of peat that I had seen people burn in Ireland. According to the lagar owner’s grandson, the residue can be sold for further processing to produce oil which is used for cosmetics,

The rule of thumb is usually about 10 percent of oil to the weight of olives. My neighbors received about 17.5 litres of oil from their 180 kilos of olives. We went back to their house and did a ritual tasting, dipping pieces of bread into a bowl of the freshly pressed oil. It tasted strong, with a slight acidity, very different from anything I’ve ever bought in a store.

A modern olive press or “lagar” looks like a brewery. It uses heat to aid in the pressing process.

Answering questions:

A couple of people have asked me about eating the olives. The answer is no, you can’t eat them off the tree. The olives harvested in my area of central Portugal are almost all for oil. People do use a few of them for eating but you have to brine them first.

I tried this a couple of years ago using a recipe a neighbor gave me. It is labor intensive. You have to cut a nick in each olive. Make a solution of water and salt and soak the olives in brine in sterilised jars. Change the solution every other day, repeating the process five times over ten days. Finally, rinse the olives and store them in brine in the jars, making sure they are filled to the brim. Float a little olive oil on the top to help seal the jar. They can then be stored for several months. Rinse the olives when you want to use them and add some chopped garlic and chopped bayleaf. Delicious!

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Hopes high as olive season nears

Olives are gradually changing from green to black, indicating they are nearly ready to be harvested.

My favorite time of year is fast approaching: olive season! It’s the time when the valleys all around me are buzzing with activity as neighbors are frenziedly making sure every last olive is picked.

Portugal is fast-becoming a major exporter of olives and olive oil. In 2000, Portugal exported about 40,000 tonnes of olives. By 2018, that rose to more than 134,000 tonnes. Most of the olives are grown and harvested in the Alentejo region, south of Lisbon. There, it’s all about intensive farming, high yields and advanced methods of producing the oil. Portugal now has more than 460 olive mills.

Harvesting the traditional way

Ladders used to access olive branches. Some people just climb into the trees.

Where I live, in central Portugal, olive harvesting is still done the old-fashioned way. As I only have two puny little olive trees on my land, I help my friends and neighbors with their harvest. It goes like this: you spread a large green net beneath the tree, someone climbs up and cuts olive-laden branches and the crew on the ground strips off the fruit. A lot of it is done by hand. Some people use tiny plastic rakes.

Everyone joins in. I’ve seen a grandmother of nearly eighty years old working alongside her granddaughter. Expats who come to live in Portugal are just as enthusiastic. From the middle of September onward, discussions are all about when the harvest will begin. In 2019 there was a bumper crop, but last year, there were hardly any olives and few people bothered to pick. This year, the trees are heavy with fruit and they are gradually turning black.

Once picked, the olives collect on the net beneath the tree. When the tree is completely stripped, the crew gathers the net together and dumps the olives into a big plastic bin. A machine locally known as a “leena” is used to remove any remaining stems and leaves and the olives are poured into large plastic bags.

Pressing the olives into oil

The local olive press is called the “lagar.” If you have a lot of trees and can pick several hundred kilos of olives, you can get your own “pressing.” This means that the oil you get from the lagar is from your very own olives. Since the lagar is usually operating round-the-clock during olive harvest, you have to book an appointment for your own pressing. Otherwise, if you only have a small amount, you take it to the press and they are added in with other people’s olives. The oil you receive depends on how many kilos of olives you bring.

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Five tips for surviving winter in Portugal

View from my home in central Portugal on a rare frosty morning. I had to wrap my little orange tree to protect it from the cold weather.

Portuguese houses are usually built of stone which makes them great places to live in the summer, but damp and chilly in the winter. My first winter was a bit rough, but I have learned a lot about how to adapt. Here are some tips from what I have learned.

1. Be prepared for rain. Although temperatures here in Portugal are generally milder than many parts of the US, it usually rains a lot from November onward. Stone houses stay wonderfully cool in the summer, but they can feel freezing in the winter.

2. Electricity is expensive in Portugal, so people use dryers sparingly. Take advantage of any sunny dry day to hang out your washing. When I lived in Ireland, my Irish neighbors would call a sunny breezy day “A great drying day.”

3. Buy a dehumidifier. With all that rain, the interior of most Portuguese homes gets very damp. Mildew can be a problem and it smells unpleasant. Hanging out your bedding on a dry sunny day is a good idea too. That is a custom in many northern European countries.

4. Open windows whenever you can. Even a small amount of fresh air wafting through a room helps combat the effects of dampness.

5. Electric blower heaters can be costly to run. Heaters that use butane gas provide a quick source of heat for those chilly mornings, and they have rollers so they can be moved to different rooms. Initially you have to buy the gas bottle, after that you just pay for the refill. At the moment a refill costs around 24 Euros. The heaters can be purchased for around 70 Euros.

Moved by the many minute miracles in my Portuguese life

Chrysanthemums blooming in the garden of my Portuguese home. A year ago when I moved in this was just a mass of weeds. So I see this improvement as one of the many miracles of my life here.

This morning as I walked my dog Divina, I met one of my Portuguese neighbors in the street and she handed me a bunch of persimmons. I recognized this seemingly minute gesture as one of the many miracles that are part of my daily life here in Portugal.

I live in a tiny village on top of a hill. Several of the houses are just ruins. Portugal’s young folks have fled to the cities just like everywhere else. But every day I can be sure of talking to one of my neighbors. It might be the English woman out feeding her horses, the Belgian man weeding his garden, the old Portuguese widow doing her daily walk to the chapel at the corner. It’s these little moments of contact that make this simple life experience so rich. 

Persimmons, a gift from my Portuguese neighbor

Last week, the old widow invited me to mass at the village chapel of Nossa Senhora da Encarnacão (Our Lady of the Incarnation.) I’m not particularly religious but I feel honored to be part of this ceremony. The chapel is about the size of a small living room with wooden pews that seat about twelve people that know each other well. 

Mass is a rare occasion here, maybe four times a year. Each time I’ve attended the congregation of six women, me included, waits masked in silence until the young priest arrives. His car screeches to a stop outside and he bustles in clad in his long black soutane. In the Covid era he also wears a black mask. He is very business-like as he gathers what he needs for the mass and dons his vestments. Mass takes about 15 minutes. Each time I understand a little more of his rapid Portuguese. This is progress!

Practicing yoga in the sunshine on the stone “threshing circle” outside my house. The space gave us an opportunity to get together but remain socially distanced to abide by Covid rules.

Once a week during the long sunny summer, I have hosted a yoga group at my place. Following Covid rules, we’ve been able to practice while socially distanced on the big stone circle outside my house. The stone circle, called an “Eira”, or threshing circle, is a feature of this part of Portugal. They were used for threshing the crops or drying fruit. 

We benefit from this weekly contact in many ways. One of the yoga group brings surplus eggs from her chickens, another a bag of lemons. We often enjoy a coffee after our practice, thankful that we’ve been able to have at least some form of social contact during these strange times.

This weekend, I helped my yoga teacher pick some of her olives. Although the olive harvest has been poor this year, it’s still something people do. I don’t have any olives of my own but I enjoy helping others pick. It feels like such an important part of Portuguese life.

Cork oak trees along a forest path near my Portuguese village. The outer layer of cork has been removed and is lying on the ground in front of the trees. Cork can be harvested about every nine years.