ChAlli in Lisbon

The Power of Three

November 15, 2023 Everyone Said

challi in albufeira

The three of us just finished our third month, and now we're officially residents of Portugal.

She Said:

It’s been three months since we moved to Portugal. It sounds like such a short period of time, given the two years of planning it took to get here. Some of that feeling is due to how much we’ve seen and done since arriving. Some is how quickly I have assimilated back into city living and am thoroughly enjoying all that Lisbon has generously shared with us. Some is due to mere settling into “life” and a daily routine with school commutes, all things Cody, being a “Real Housewife of Lisbon,” Portuguese language classes, and whatever else I have on my agenda for the day. Some is mere excitement at the new little things I find each day, like bringing towels and sheets to the laundromat down the street and putting them in an actual dryer so they not only dry quicker than 1-2 days on the line but they are also SOFT again (worth every minute and every Euro!).

In other ways, three months feels like a lot longer. I miss my people, there’s no denying that. I clearly miss my dryer (creature comfort, I will never take it for granted again). But I think a lot of why it’s feeling longer to me is that for over a month now, the war in Israel has been all-consuming on so many days.

I am choosing to continue blogging life abroad because if I’m learning anything at all from the horrible things that have and are happening each day, it’s that life is precious and can be cut short at any moment. So, while I am able to go on living my day-to-day life, having this wonderful experience abroad, there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about, worry about, and pray for my family and all innocent people impacted by the horrors of this war. My sister in Israel told me, “You must live and share the good, it brings light to the darkness.” So, I will.

Each day, when I pick Sebastian up from school, he tells me about his day and then asks me, “Ok, Mommy, what silly thing happened to you today?” I always have a story. Either about the vet, the grocery store, a conversation I thought meant one thing but ended up meaning something different, etc. Living abroad and not yet knowing the language can be like eating humble pie for breakfast, lunch, and dinner at least five days per week. You must be okay with this feeling to get by and sometimes feel like a child just to have your needs/wants met. Up to this point, for the most part, my expat experiences and stories have been innocuous and, most of the time, comical. I’ve now gone through my first experience that brought me to tears. To me, there isn’t much worse than not being able to get your child something he needs to feel better. Since Sebastian thoroughly covered his recent bout of strep, I will offer a little more of an adult perspective on the rocky introduction to using our health insurance (I can’t top the elevator puke story anyway).

Of course, it had been on my list for a week (or three) to translate the health insurance information and figure out how to find a doctor and/or dentist and establish care when needed. So that if/when the time came that any of us needed it, I would be prepared. Epic mom fail. Getting Sebastian seen by a doctor and meds prescribed was not just humbling, it was heartbreaking and frustrating. But let me be clear: I blame only myself. It was a 48-hour series of errors for which I wasn’t prepared (notice I didn’t say comedy of errors). And, of course, it all started on a Sunday. Between the hours of 9a and 1430, I accomplished approximately 11 calls to the insurance company (the first four were apparently to our dental plan, oops). Each time I got a rep on the phone, and we couldn’t understand each other, they disconnected (the option to press 6 for English was not there on a Sunday). A positive? Seb and I now know all of the words to the hold song, which was the only thing making us laugh because, ironically, it was in English!

I decided the phone wasn’t going to work, so I switched to the computer and app on my phone. Multiple online submissions to a Portuguese bot for help went nowhere (it’s possible I made three inquiries to buy a new plan without knowing), so I abandoned this effort as well. The app was also a dead end. Eventually, we sent an SOS text to our favorite Portuguese friends, who generously offered to complete the call on our behalf in Portuguese (thank you Sara and Pedro!) This was the exact moment I finally got a call back from someone who spoke English. Hallelujah!

Phone triage complete, and 3.5 hours later, a doctor arrived at our house. Yes, I said house. This is another positive of the story: our insurance includes house calls! The doctor evaluated Sebastian in about 5-7 minutes and told us she thought it was viral. But my mom-gut kicked in, and I let her know I didn’t think it was viral, so to appease me, she gave me a script to have him swabbed for strep. So we went first thing in the morning, and then we waited. And waited. And waited. And for fun, while we were waiting, we ruled out Covid with a rapid test. Why not?

We finally got results, which unsurprisingly, were positive for strep. This meant I had to call back and make another appointment to speak to a doctor so we could get him meds. UGH. Somehow (I’m thinking maybe the bot inquiries came through for me), I got a call back at 20:25 and was put through to a doctor. Together, in this 10-minute call, we confirmed he had strep and agreed he needed meds. She was going to email me a script for which I’d need to take to the pharmacy.

I stared at the computer, waiting for an email I didn’t believe would really come through until Tuesday, but thank goodness, at quarter til 9, it did. I grabbed my wallet and keys and sprinted to the Farmacy on the corner. I flew in with my phone in hand, surprised and grateful it was still open, and showed the nicest pharmacist (second to my gramps back in the day) the emailed script. He looked at it, walked to the back, and came out with two bottles of amoxicillin like it was nothing. I almost asked if I could kiss him but didn’t want to scare him. He mixed it up for me and helped me figure out dosage (I listened and made a mental note to convert that tricky metric system when I got home). I gratefully paid him 7 euros and sprinted back home to finally dose my child. Phew.

So, all of this while my Dad and Rose were here to visit. Sebastian actually puked in the elevator of their Airbnb to start their trip with a bang. But thankfully, since we had already seen and hung out with them for a few days, they decided that the germ-ship had sailed and did not avoid us like the plague. We had a wonderful week together despite the weather change from the previous two months of sun to an entire week of rain. We ate well, drank well, touristed, heard some fado, checked out a museum, ate and drank some more, and overall had a great time together. Always hard to say goodbye, but I’m banking on them coming back soon!

Because Chad is knock-off Rick Steves, he has tons of lists. Lists for restaurants to try, lists for places to check out, lists for museums to visit, etc. I love that about him, especially on rainy Sundays, trying to think of something fun to do after visitors leave and we’re feeling a little homesick. He knows I love street fairs and flea markets, and apparently, there’s one in Lisbon every Saturday and Tuesday! Um, what?! It was ginormous, with stalls inside, outside, and down the street! If it weren’t for the pouring rain (and if my mini-me wasn’t complaining of hunger), I would have spent a lot more time there. But it was a cool place to check out, and I totally plan on going back (alone).

A great thing about so many European cities is that there is no shortage of ornate and beautiful churches and cathedrals. So, when you’re trying to get out of the rain, it’s only natural to duck into a 17th-century baroque church turned into a modern-day mausoleum for tombs of national celebrities right next door to the flea market. Duh. Aside from the beauty inside, there was also an amazing panoramic view from the rooftop of Lisbon. Just your average Sunday.

On a particular day when I was feeling pretty sad and anxious about the war, Sebastian was also feeling homesick because it was Halloween. We were both in need of a good laugh, so we investigated some options and ended up finding The 3D Fun Art Museum. There were brain teasers, trivia questions, and 3D art that allowed you to pose and be part of the art. The staff was amazing with helping us pose in just the right spots. The pictures will explain it better than my words, but we definitely achieved our goal of finding some good belly laughs.

Sebastian’s half-term school break coincided with my birthday, so we decided to get away to the southern tip of Portugal in the Algarve. Chad and I were down there in 2006 in a small fishing village called Salema, but this time, we visited Albufeira. We were poor backpackers back then, and the hostel we stayed in then was a far cry from the nice hotel Chad chose for us this time around. My birthday falls during low season for pretty much everywhere we’ve been thus far. For that reason, we’re always able to get great deals on destinations most people don’t choose to travel because the weather isn’t ideal or things aren’t open, etc. The Algarve is no different. But I love that. I love that nothing is crowded, hotels are quiet, and did I mention the great deals?

We settled into our room with a view and walked out to the beach as quickly as we could. Water is a happy place for me, and I could feel myself exhale immediately. Throughout the weekend, we swam in the hot tub (pool and ocean were waaaay too cold), walked on the beaches and out to piers/cliffs, bar-hopped, ate really good food, slept late, and did some reading. My boys did a great job planning surprises (I think they were enjoying the whispers a little too much) and, overall, making my birthday special. Shout out to my womb roomie, I sure missed you on our 47th.

We hopped on the train back to Lisbon, and I think we were all a little surprised by the consensus feeling that we were glad to be “home.” The pet sitter (who was amazing with Cody and sent lots of photos and videos while we were away) was waiting for us when we arrived and promptly let us know that Cody had just stolen her ham and cheese sandwich, so we should expect tummy issues. Yep, we were home.

One last notable thing about the 3-month mile marker is that all of our residency cards finally arrived, so we are now officially residents of Portugal. Looking forward to seeing what the second quarter brings!

Seb Said:

OK, so, Halloween was about two weeks ago, and we got back from the Algarve about one week ago. I hope Halloween in the US and wherever you’re reading this from was very fun. Here, we didn’t know it was going to be a thing, so we only brought one costume. That costume happened to be my shadow costume. Not only have I already worn it for one Halloween, but when I was trying to put it on, the zipper broke because it was too small on me. Thankfully, the zipper was in the back, and it was raining anyway, so I just put my rain jacket over it.

The “haunted house” that we went to was nothing like a haunted house. It was more of a room with screaming kids and teenagers trying to scare the kids laughing when they did. Oh, and did I mention it was also in a school gym, and it was only one room? After that, we went to one of our favorite markets that has food stalls and ate dinner. Some of the stalls were giving out candy. The sad part, though, is that I didn’t know how to say trick-or-treat in Portuguese. So, I basically just had to walk up to the stand, and stare at them with my shadow costume, hoping that they would get the point. Sadly, only one stall got that point.

After that, we were about to go home but saw a group of kids going from door to door ringing buzzers, which is trick-or-treating to them. At first, we didn’t think that they were actually trick-or-treating, but they were going into their house. But we waited around for a couple of minutes, and sure enough, they ran out with candy and ran to the next house. I also got pieces of candy from little convenience stores and restaurants. But I think the best one was following the group of kids into an apartment building after they rang the buzzer and got the Portuguese version of Smarties. For anybody who knows me very well, they know that Smarties are my favorite candy. Knockoff smarties were actually a little bit of a letdown, but it was still good.

Then, there is also the Algarve. I have never been on a train longer than 20 minutes, which was the subway. But sure enough, this one was three hours. Getting on the train was a little bit amusing and discriminatory to short people because the train itself wasn’t exactly next to the platform, and the steps were far away from it also. If you are short with short legs, you kind of have to jump with a heavy backpack and a suitcase, that’s not easy. On the way back, we just had a system where somebody got on, and the other person would hand the suitcases to the person who was already on, and then everybody else would get on. They also had a dining car, which I have never seen before. It was so cool because it was basically like a restaurant on wheels.

When we got off the train, the weather was gorgeous. Around 75°F and sunny. That was great because, in Lisbon, it had been raining for three weeks straight, nonstop. Not only was this the first three-hour train that I had been on, but it was also the first five-star hotel that I’ve ever stayed in, and it was the nicest hotel that I have ever been in. Once we got there, they even opened the door for me and asked if I wanted fresh orange juice and, of course, asked my parents if they wanted champagne while we checked in. All three of us said yes, and while we were checking in, he brought us drinks. After we got up to our room, we realized one hurdle: there was only one bed. In the end, we just asked the hotel to bring up another pillow and a comforter cover, and I just slept on the couch. There was also a fountain right downstairs from our room. At 9 PM each night, the fountain played a certain song, and the water started to dance. My mom and dad said it was like Las Vegas.

The first night, we went down to the beach first, then back up to the pool and got something to eat while I swam. After, we went back up to the room to change for dinner, we went down to the bar lounge. I don’t know why, but at that time, I was obsessed with getting mocktails. I had no idea what I wanted, so the guy just said he would make me something special. It was special, all right. It was in a Dias de los Muertos cup and was incredibly sweet. However, dinner was amazing. And not only was the food, but so was the experience. Towards the end of the meal, right after we had ordered dessert, the head chef came out and asked if I wanted to see the kitchen. I, of course, said yes, and he took me back and even let me help make our dessert. He didn’t speak much English, so I was basically just saying sim, sim, sim (yes) the whole time because he didn’t speak much English, and I didn’t speak much Portuguese.

The next day, we went into the town center. We went to the beach, we got me a soccer ball, and we went to some very rundown old lunch restaurant that I had gotten goosebumps in the whole time because I am a complete germaphobe. For dinner that night, we went to the Italian restaurant in the hotel. It was pretty good. However, the next night's dinner was insane. We went to some traditional Portuguese cafeteria/café. But, it was open at night and served delicious piri piri chicken. My dad, loving food, became obsessed with it, and for the next three days, that was all he could talk about. I will put a picture of it in the blog on the website. And, the next day, we just went beach hopping. We had dinner, went to a local winery that a person who worked at the hotel had gotten us a reservation at because he knew the owner. When we got there, the guy who served us was super nice. Knowing that I obviously cannot drink alcohol while my parents did the wine tasting, he made two blind nonalcoholic drinks, and I had to taste both and figure out what was in them. I ended up getting the first one right but did not get the second one. The food was not as good, but still, the service and drinks paid off.

That was pretty much the whole trip except for, oh, you know, my mom’s birthday. We were working with the customer service desk to help us arrange something special for her. We were trying to go to the famous caves that have a hole in the ceiling and beautiful water. But the weather was very mean and did not let us go. Apparently, at that time, it was actually dangerous to be in the caves. So, instead, the desk gave us their WhatsApp, phone number, and we were texting with them the whole trip. In the end, when we went to the buffet for breakfast, they came with a pastel de Nata and a doughnut. When they came, they came with a happy birthday banner and balloons, and they sang to her. Also, on the last night, they had decorated our room with a banner that said, congratulations. I don’t know why it said congratulations, but it did. Next to the banner was a bunch of pictures of her and family. They had also made a special gluten-free cake for her with a card. It was super fun, and me and my dad were very proud that we pulled that off. By the end, though, my mom was very tired of all the secrets. When we got back in Lisbon, I got that weird feeling that, sure, I wish I was still on vacation. But I was so excited to be back home…

He Said:

Piri piri chicken is one of Portugal's most popular dishes, and like Portugal itself, it has a history that spans the oceans. Portuguese traders from Brazil are said to have brought peppers from South America to Portugal's African colonies, where they were cultivated and eventually used in a sauce -- piri piri -- that might have included garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, or a myriad of other spices. The most popular application for the sauce became grilled chicken.

People loved the dish so much that they brought it home to the shores of Portugal. It was often replicated in the southern Algarve region of the country closest to Africa, and in the town of Guia, just north of Albufeira along the coastline, the modern version of piri piri chicken was born. Last week, we stayed in Albufeira and drove right through Guia on our way to the town of Algoz, which is home to a restaurant called O Márinho, a place many locals suggested as having the best piri piri chicken in the world.

You know you're in a good restaurant when there's no menu on the table. You know you might be in a better restaurant when there's no menu on the wall. Everything came at us -- the only non-locals in the entire place -- in Portuguese.

"Frango piri piri?"


"Salada de tomate?"


"Batatas fritas?"


"E para beber?"

"Uma cerveja se vaz favor. Obrigado."

About seven minutes later, three silver platters were placed right in the middle of our table, along with a nice big beer. The verdict? Absolutely mind-blowing.

piri piri

Everything was so simple but so incredibly complex. The chicken had an oil that was garlicky with just enough heat from the piri piri pepper to tease out the desire for even more spice. The tomatoes and onions were covered with a vinegar and oregano blend that complimented the chicken. And the fries were cooked to perfection. I could have stayed for hours, plate after silver plate. It was easily one of the top 50 meals I've ever had, and when you consider how many meals this pirate looking at 50 has had (thanks again, Jimmy), it's a significant statement.

What does all this have to do with the power of three -- beyond those three silver platters, that is? For three months now, the three of us have been powering through what will ultimately be three of the most memorable months of our lives -- our first months in Portugal. Again, when you're staring down 50, that makes it a significant statement. And when you're in the Portuguese Algarve having an amazing meal or find yourself perched high atop a cliff watching enormous lines of swells crash against the rocky shoreline, the significance of a particular moment in time is magnified. You can recognize it as it's happening. The thoughts bubble up and drift away with each cresting swell, with each French fry. Every wave blasts a line of geysers out of the rocks, leading to another exhale flavored with garlic. And if this isn't what a vacation in the middle of a vacation feels like, I don't know what does.

Back to reality, though. Ultimately, the time we have left here is finite. It's crazy to think that we could already be 1/4 of the way through our adventures here in Portugal. We're not sure how things will work out, but being 25 percent done is definitely a possibility, which means every moment matters even more. We need to account for every single second and do as much as we possibly can.

Not knowing how much time we have is also a broader thing, too, of course. Life goes fast. Sometimes, it stops short. There can be sharp curves and road bumps, sometimes even roadblocks and detours. But no matter what, we drive on, pushing toward the next amazing town that awaits, the next weekend away, or the next unforgettable meal. We swallow memories like food, like sips of ale, keeping in mind that Portuguese eating habits are slower and full of intention, just like our lives here should be. If those bites happen to include some piri piri chicken from O Márinho, well, that makes it even better.

Cody Said:

In case anyone is wondering, I’m settling in just fine in this big, loud city. Beagles, for the most part, still don’t like me, but my people bring me to the park up the street every day, and I’ve made some regular friends there. These people even included my mom on their Whatsapp dog park group of almost 100 people. Are you ready for the name of the group? It’s called “Who Let the Dogs Out!” My people think it’s hilarious. I don’t get it, honestly.

So, they left me with someone named Ana. The good news is that we stayed in our own house. The questionable news is that Ana smells a little like the vet (she’s a vet tech, they say), so it took me a while to decide if I liked her. But, in the end, I gave in and rolled over for belly rubs because she is really nice. And don’t tell my folks, but she let me on the couch and in her bed (insert mind-blown emoji here). AND, get this, she even gave me a ham and cheese sandwich right before my people came home! Ok, maybe she didn’t give it to me, but it was right there, in her bag, wrapped up, packed in another bag, on the couch. Can’t blame a guy for being an opportunist, I just follow my nose! 😊 I had fun without people, but I'm glad they came home.

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