Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Language

As a native English speaker, learning Portuguese is not easy. One thing we hear from the locals a lot is how easy English is to learn. We had never thought of it that way, of course, but they’re right. Here’s a quick comparison of English to Portuguese:

* Portuguese has masculine and feminine nouns
* There are 5 possible accents (instead of none)
* There are also 5 possible verb conjugations (instead of 2)
* There are both formal and informal means of address

Here’s an example of the variety using the simple sentence, the white dog is old, o branco cão é velho. But if it is a female dog, a branca cadela é velha. And if it is multiple white dogs that are old, os brancos caês são velhos. Lastly, multiple white female dogs that are old, as brancas cadelas são velhas. Now you can begin to see why my brain hurts after class.

Multiply this by all of the nouns we’re learning and it gets confusing. Plus you have to change the adjectives depending on if your noun is masculine or feminine. Then throw in the various verbs, present and past and future tense, unusual pronunciations, and it isn’t easy. In addition, Portuguese is a very situational language. For example, the verb “to be” is “ser” if you’re referring to a permanent situation (like I am American) but it is “estar” if you are referring to a temporary situation (like I am cold). Don’t get us wrong, we’re not complaining, we’re just recognizing the challenge. Having (mostly) learned French when I was younger I have a great advantage because the language structures are very similar, but Katrin has no such advantage. So learning Portuguese as a native English speaker who is learning a romance language for the first time is very difficult. What it all comes down to is learning a little bit, practicing…learning a little, practicing…and repeat. We’re making good progress on understanding what we read and a little bit of what we hear, but speaking is still a ways off.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Party Time

More thoughts on our party from Dan...It can be a little nerve-wracking to host a party in a foreign land where you don’t know the customs or the people very well. But we figured it’s like everywhere else – provide food, drink, music and a relaxed atmosphere and people will have a good time. The biggest question was whether or not they would come. Thankfully, they did. We invited a lot of my colleagues and their significant others, our landlord’s family, our neighbors who don’t speak a word of English, and our language professor and her husband. We weren’t sure how many to expect, but we guessed that about 50 people showed up. So with that kind of crowd it was actually a very lively party. The guests ranged in age from 1 to 75 and nationalities included French, Hungarian, Canadian, Polish, Australian, Turkish, German, and of course a lot of Portuguese and two Americans. It made for a great evening and helped make us feel a part of the local community. Now we will turn our hosting attentions to smaller dinner parties as a way to socialize and get to know people.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Home, Sweet Home

So last Saturday, November 24, was the big house warming party, and with close to 50 people in attendance, and plenty of food and beverages disappearing, we think it was quite well received. Plus the house is now decked out with 3 poinsettias, a little purple flowering plant, and a beautiful orchid that will probably not survive long now that I am in charge of it. Not to mention the bottles of wine, port, and single malt scotch...our guests were quite generous with unexpected gifts. For me, it was also a great chance to meet some of Dan's colleagues and their families, and to start what will hopefully develop into some good friendships.

So now that we have opened our house to our new friends here, we also thought it was time to share it with you all back home, so rather than upload them all here, click here to go see the photos online.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Learning by Shopping

I never imagined a trip to the store could be so difficult, or that I could learn so much, or that it could somehow determine whether or not I had a good day, or a bad day. But here, in a new place, with new food, and a new language, all of those things can be determined at the grocery store.

In the begining I had trips to the store where I entered, list in hand, and then left, what seems like many hours later (actually it was close to 2 hours), with very little that was on my list. That was the start of a bad day. A day where I realized how frustrating it can be not to be able to communicate, where I actually missed the ease and familiarity with which I used to be able to accomplish this mundane task.

Another evening I proudly exclaimed to Dan when he arrived home "Guess what? I found cottage cheese today!" Though he did not find it quite as exciting as I did. Not that I am overly crazy about cottage cheese, but the first time I made an attempt, I ended up with sour cream. A learning experience, and this time I got it right.

I have stared at the long fish section for many minutes, observing which of the 4 take-a-number-options people chose, and what they did with each. Now I can both select the correct option for my order (fresh fish, that clean it in front of you, is my favorite), and generally place my order in Portuguese (though I still point as well, in case my pronunciation is totally off, which it probably is).

I have wandered each of the aisles of the large grocery stores and the small market stalls, studying the foods, both to identify the familiar and to begin to familiarize myself with all that is new. I never thought that I would be able to gauge my progress in immersing myself here at a grocery store, but today I crossed everything off my list and was out of the store in 40 minutes. Today was quite a good day.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Futebol-The Real Thing

After living here for a couple of months it was time for us to go to a major football…umm, soccer…game. We had been to a couple of games here in Aveiro, but the team plays in the second league this year and no one cares. So the 30,000-seat stadium usually has about 1,500 people in it on a Sunday afternoon. For the uninitiated, there are 32 teams in Portugal who are divided into two 16-team leagues. Each year, the bottom three of the first league move down into the second league, and the top three of the second league move up to the first league. There are three major teams in Portugal – Benfica, FC Porto, and Sporting – and they always play in the first league. In addition to all of this, there is the European-wide Champions League which annually has the top 1 or 2 teams from each country playing each other in a round-robin tournament. So on any given Sunday FC Porto (about 45 minutes away from us) might play Manchester United or AC Milan or some other major European team. It all boils down to there’s a whole lot of soccer every weekend, and it’s essentially the only sport the locals follow (and a little bit of Formula One or cycling).

But on November 22nd the Portuguese national team was playing Finland in Porto to qualify for the 2008 Euro Cup. The Euro Cup takes place every four years (2004, which was in Portugal, 2008 which will be in Austria/Switzerland, etc.), and is similar to the World Cup except only for the European teams. In other words, it’s a huge deal. The first event was getting there and parking. We had a planned meet-up time with some friends at 6:30. We showed up at 6:29 and our German friend was waiting. Our Portuguese friends, however, showed up at 6:50, which is normal. Then came the parking. Porto, like all European cities, is densely populated with winding little streets. They don’t exactly have big parking lots nearby. So people park on the sidewalks, on the grassy medians, on the sides of highways, and so on. We were lucky to squeeze our car between a tree and another car on a grassy median about a kilometer away from the stadium.

In the game, Portugal only needed a tie with Finland to qualify, and Finland needed a victory. The crowd was electric, the stadium in Porto where the game was played was rocking, and the flags were waving. We went with a couple of friends, two of whom were Portuguese and were rather nervous for their team to qualify. As we expected, Portugal played for the tie, meaning they were very conservative and focused mostly on defense. And it worked, as they tied 0-0 and the crowd went home happy. Well, sort of happy. A 0-0 tie at home against Finland is not enough to give the locals confidence they will do well at the Cup next year. But Portugal is traditionally one of the better teams, although a notch below France, Italy and Holland. The big surprise was that England didn’t make it, losing at home to Croatia when they only needed a tie. They fired their coach the next day.

We considered trying to get tickets to the Euro Cup, but apparently a few million people had that idea 8 months ago and the tickets are all sold out. Yes, they were sold out long before anyone knew which countries would qualify. Apparently that’s how tickets work here, including for the World Cup. You enter a lottery and buy tickets if you’re one of the lucky ones. You buy a package of games and then hope that the tickets you get are in a city near you and with a country that you care about. We’re told that trading tickets is very common, sort of like the Olympics. Anyway, for us getting to the game was great fun. It’s a nice social thing to do (although mainly with male friends…there weren’t many women at the stadium) [side note from Katrin…it was one of the few times the line for the men’s room was significantly longer than that for the women] and the talent on the field was truly amazing. We will try to get to more FC Porto games as they are vastly superior to the games played here by Beira Mar, the local team.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Catching up

Sorry I haven't been very good about filling you in lately, we we're in Aruba for a week for Al and Gita's wedding, which was a beautiful beach ceremony and a very special place for the reception, and for us it was great to get away and have nothing to do but relax for a few days. Once we returned we were very busy unpacking our container, installing light fixtures, making endless to-do lists and shopping for the "finishing" touches on our home. This past weekend we purchased a bedroom set for the guest room (since we didn't actually have a guest room before, rather an office/exercise room/guest room with a pull out futon couch), which was the final room to put together, so hopefully I will have more time to update you from now on. We still have to hang pictures on the wall...and then we will post pictures of the interior.

As Dan mentioned, the big house warming bash is this weekend, so having not been to a Portuguese party yet, we are just going to do what we would at home, and hope it flies here. Our landlord told us a story of the German who rented the house before us inviting them all over for 5 o'clock tea when he first arrived, and since no one here does that, they did not know what he was talking about, and no one showed up. We are hoping for a slightly better result, especially with the grocery list I am developing.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Another update from Dan...

Hi again. I guess I haven’t been quite as diligent as Katrin in maintaining this blog. But I’ll make an appearance now and again. Here we are in mid-November and I’m getting pretty close to feeling like this is home. The arrival of our container was a major event for us. No matter how much effort and mental preparation you put into it, you just don’t feel at home while you’re sleeping on the floor and eating with plastic ware. So having our stuff has allowed us to convert this stone structure into a home. And what a difference that makes in making this place feel like we belong.

The downside of this is that we have been spending our weekends working on the home. We’ve never owned a home before, but I’m starting to realize what it’s like. Every weekend is some project or another…cleaning, landscaping, fixing up a bedroom, redoing furniture, etc. Sounds like my childhood…but that was my parents’ home. But we’re quite close to having this place in order and being ready to explore. That’s basically been our plan – get life situated and then get out and about. For weekend excursions we’d like to get to Lisbon, some of the cathedrals and castles around Portugal, and up to Galicia in Spain. And when the weather warms up we’ll do some larger adventures to various parts of Europe. Nothing confirmed yet, but we’re talking about Greece, Sweden/Norway, Eastern Europe and Ireland/Scotland. After all, we don’t want to leave here in three years and say “We should have gone…”

One comment we’ve heard from several folks back home has been along the lines of “I don’t know if I could ever do that.” Honestly, it’s not easy, but if you’ve got the make-up for it then it’s a ton of fun. The hardest part, of course, is the beginning. It’s hard for me to compare since it’s still the beginning for us, but it hasn’t been easy settling in. Social life is slow at first because you don’t know many people; the little details of life are complicated; not being able to communicate (easily) can be frustrating; and so on, and so on. Thankfully, Katrin and I are similarly addicted to travel, which means we get energized by seeing new places and meeting new people, which is why we wanted to do this. It’s not that it’s fun to do something simple such as trying to buy a bottle of water from a place where you don’t know how the line forms, how to ask for it, what you’ll actually get, how to pay for it, etc. But the fact that the simple things are a challenge is kind of fun, and then the second time is easier, and that’s invigorating. So the main thing you need to get by is a positive attitude and the determination to make a go of it. And the other thing you need is a strong relationship. Doing this on my own would be frustrating and less enjoyable. Over the last couple of months Katrin and I have been very dependent on one another to help each other out and to share experiences. I’ve heard of extraordinary divorce rates among expats, and I can easily see how the challenges and frustrations can lead to strain in a relationship. Thankfully, Katrin and I haven’t had those problems and are working well together to have a successful adventure over here. Working as a team is important to both get things done and to learn…and, of course, the necessity of leaning on one another for support. It’s great to do this together.

The next event for us will be a party we’ll be hosting on the 24th. That will be a good learning experience to see if hosting a party is terribly different here, as well as a great opportunity to socialize. We’ll keep you posted on how that goes. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you and please stay in touch.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dan's Birthday Recap

As promised (thanks for the reminder Tone), here is a picture of Dan's birthday present, a new mesa de bilhares, or pool table to you folks across the pond. He was definitely surprised, and we have already found that a quick game after work is a great way to relax and talk about our days. It also seems that we will be having much more frequent visits from our landlord's son, Bruno, which is good, as he is very friendly and helpful (he took care of the pups when we went to Al's wedding).

For the birthday dinner we went out and tried Feijoadas de Búzios, a specialty at one of the restaurants in Costa Nova. It apparently is a stew of beans (Feijão) with little shellfish called whelks (Búzios), served over rice, pretty tasty. The next evening I attempted stuffed squid, which actually came out pretty yummy. The stuffing was a mix of garlic, onions, celery, tomatoes, shrimp, squid tentacles, white wine, and bread crumbs. I stuffed half of it inside the squid bodies, put the rest on top and baked it all. So much easier and tastier than the octopus adventure.
Anyway, come on by for a game when you get a chance!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

It's here! It's here!

65 days, for those of you who were counting (uh, I guess that would be Dan and I). That is how long it took for our container to get from Burlington, Vermont to Aveiro, Portugal. Significantly longer than the 4-6 weeks maximum that we were initially told, but at least it is here. Now we feel like we are making a home for ourselves, rather than just camping out in a big, empty, echoey house. So, for those of you planning trips, I guess that means the B&B is open!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Mini me

Well, I did it! Thanks to a little convincing from Dan , I finally got my mini. It is a red 2003 diesel Mini One (the Mini One is not available in the US...I think it is a touch smaller than the Mini Cooper). We are hoping to get the roof and mirrors painted white eventually, then it will be my perfect little car. Even though I have had it for a couple of weeks, I finally took a couple of pictures to post. It looks pretty cute on these quaint European streets.

Puppy Update

Just a quick update on the puppy, he went to a lovely home last night. They took to him instantly and he cuddled right up to them as well. Then he showed off how good he was at fetching the ball and even sat and layed down on hearing the commands in Portuguese (though I think the hand signals may have helped). So this time it all worked out well in end, though Dan may be worried about how many "dog needs home" e-mails he will have to send out at work!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A little off topic...

But the Red Sox are in the World Series! Even though we can't stay up late enough to watch the games over here, it is a lovely way to start the day to wake up and see that they have won. So hopefully Colorado has had enough time off for the hot streak to cool down, because they have been unbeatable lately (literally). Here is hoping 2007 will be another year for Red Sox fans to remember (in a good way this time...)

Friday, October 19, 2007

I'd like to take this opportunity to say...


And if you want to, you can too, just enter your birthday wishes in the comments section (or send us an e-mail), and I will make sure that at some point, Dan checks the Blog for them! I don't think he really does check otherwise, but just in case I won't spoil the surprise and post a picture of his present. You can all check back later and see it after he does. It is getting set up right now and I hope he likes it, cause I know I do!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

This is only the beginning

So what is sure to be the first of many over the next three years...a stray dog is now sheltered in our yard. It started when I noticed a puppy in our neighbors yard, they have a small fluffy black and white adult dog called Lila, but this German Shepherd cross was not her. I also noticed that we hadn't seen our neighbors car for a couple of days, but a different car was in the driveway. My assumption, they were gone, someone who was housesitting brought their puppy. The puppy cried and barked a lot, and despite a light being on in the house every night, we didn't see anyone for a few days. I started tossing treats in to the puppy, who gobbled them up. Then taught the puppy that rather than jumping like a maniac on the fence, treats would only come when he sat down. Continued the lessons from my office balcony, throwing treats to puppy when he saw me and sat down. Still no people. I was worried about him, started feeding him meals, and considered climbing the fence to get him out, especially since the neighbors yard was in considerable disarray, with potted plants and plastic pots destroyed everywhere, and usually our neighbors (who we can not yet actually communicate with, but are an older German couple who seem nice, generally) are very tidy and have obviously spent considerable time on the yard. Finally, the neighbors arrived home, apparently they were in Lisbon for 6 days, and had no idea why a puppy was in their yard. When seeing the mess in their yard they were very upset, and the husband grabbed a heavy metal pole and hit the puppy a couple of times. I immediately had to go over (under the guise of walking my dogs). Puppy was cowering in a corner of their yard, they were trying to shew it out, I whistled and it came running over to me at their gate, they thanked me and promptly shut the gate. So a quick summary of a long story: Puppy is now in our yard. I have since walked the puppy around our neighborhood and asked (as best as I could in my limited Portuguese) if anyone knew where he lives, nobody did, and I was laughed at for thinking this stray puppy had a home. So now we are trying to find a new home (Dan seems to think two dogs is enough, and, in theory at least, I agree with him). Problem is we leave for Al's wedding next Thursday, so time is limited. The pup looks like a German Shepherd cross, not sure how old, definitely very friendly and "puppyish." The photo up top is of him from our balcony, sitting nicely so he can get a treat. I have since taught him to lay down as well, and we are working on fetch and bringing the ball back to me. Smart little guy, here is hoping something works out for him.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I guess this blog is good for something

So while we had many requests to start a blog to keep people updated on our lives over here, mostly we were thinking "what do we get out of it?" Of course there is the obvious benefit of not having to type up individual e-mails of the same stories several times (sorry everyone, I am not original enough to write unique stories to each of you). But little did I expect that the blog would actually pay off after my very first post (the one where I whinged about the yogurt containers that only had a couple of bites of yogurt in each one...and FYI, I have since even done the conversion, 125 grams is just around 4 ounces). No sooner had the notification of the blog address gone out then I received an e-mail with links for several different yogurt makers and an offer to purchase one for me for Christmas (thanks mom!!) I didn't even know such a thing existed, and now it will allow me to flavor it with the maple syrup we imported from Vermont (it is supposed to be for gifts...but we don't even know 24 people yet, so I guess I can spare a few for our own use).

Well, I guess what I am trying to say is...between that and all of the lovely e-mails I have been getting from everyone, you guys have made it all worth it, aw shucks.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What is one more week?

That is the question Dan came home asking last night. What is one more week without our furniture? I didn't mind the question the first time it was asked, which was at the end of September, by the way, when we thought our container was due in October 5th. Since then it has been delayed by a week - 3 more times. Meaning that our furniture that left Vermont August 23rd, will, at the earliest, get here October 24th. Maybe it is just me, but does that seem a little ridiculous to anyone else out there? At least if I had been given that date from the beginning I could have prepared myself for it...but this game they are playing just seems a little cruel.

Hopefully no one out there is as depressed as I am by this most recent development. But in case you are, here is a photo Dan took last night that might amuse you and help lift your spirits. I was tired of sitting on the hard plastic lawn chairs we have been using, so came up with a more comfortable way to watch TV in our empty living room. I was also feeling a little under the weather, and I guess I was a little more tired than I thought. Luckily Tazzy is very tolerant...I think she stayed there for over an hour.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sol e Praia - Sun and Beach

The days are getting noticeably shorter and a little cooler and the beach is getting more and more deserted. Though 70s and sunny still seems perfectly acceptable to these Vermonters. Even though it can get pretty windy, we picked up one of these windscreen thing-a-ma-jigs and it works pretty well. Most people seem to have them, so on a crowded day the beach gets very colorful.

In the warm days of September we managed to make it to the beach a few weekend days for some much needed relaxation to balance out the high work load and stress. In October, we've even managed to go running on the beach a few times so far. It is amazing how a little sand can make you feel exceptionally out of shape (I think we only made it 15 minutes the first time, and 20 the next couple, at least we improved!) The beaches here are long and wide.

The water is cold and rough. Surfing seems to be popular on the beach, and on the Ria (the calmer inlet), people kitesurf and windsurf. We haven't decided which watersport to take up yet, but have been advised to wait until Spring to start, as the waters are a little warmer and calmer, along with the longer daylight hours.

We have also seen several people doing this paragliding thing. Not sure what it is called, they have a parachute with a little motor on the back. Looks like you could get some good views from up there, though we imagine these things use a bit of gas. Here is a photo of one getting close to the ground.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Are you ready for some Futebol?

Since futebol is the national sport here, we decided we better get interested in it, as there is very little in the way of spectator sports otherwise. Vulcano (Bosch) is one of the sponsors of the local team (Beira-Mar), so Dan picked up some free tickets for the last couple of home games. It is a little strange that they play in a stadium that was built for 30,000+ spectators, and I would say they are lucky to get it even 10% full. They even colored the seats 4 or 5 different bright colors to help the place look a little more crowded when it is nearly empty. It was built for the European Cup in 2004, and is a bright and fun stadium, but I don't think it has really been utilized after hosting a couple of big games in 2004.

Still, we had a lot of fun watching the games. Some of Dan's colleagues don't go because Beira-Mar is in the second league, so therefore they are not very good. While it would be great to watch some of the first league teams play, and we are planning on making it to games in Porto now and again, I think at this point we can't really tell the difference. And a sunny Sunday afternoon of futebol in Portugal partially makes up for not being able to watch the football of the Redskins and Niners that we normally would be watching on a chilly Fall Vermont Sunday. Plus here we can go to the beach before or after.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


So while much of the food is similar to what we eat at home, there are somethings that just haven't caught on in the US yet. Octopus is one of them. After being adventurous and trying it at a couple of restaurants, we discovered we really liked it, and thought we would try it at home. How hard can it be? So we bought the octopus, then went online to read about how to prepare it. Had we decided to do the previous two actions in reverse order, the outcome might have been different (e.g., we might have decided to stick with only eating it out). Apparently octopus is very tough, and there are many ideas about how to tenderize before cooking, including, but not limited to:
  • beating it on a rock (variation, throwing repeatedly against a rock)

  • dipping it in boiling water three times, then cooking it in a copper pot (only copper will work)

  • kneading it with grated daikon (variation, beating it with a daikon root as hard as you can)

We chose to go with the simpler sounding...boil the heck out of it for an hour(ish...times varied between 30 minutes and 2 hours in recipes). Though there were also endless cautions about boiling too long and it will get tough, boiling to little and it will be like chewing seafood flavored chewing gum (not a flavor Wrigley has released yet, for good reason).

So we boiled away, and arbitrarily decided when enough had been enough. Then threw in some garlic and olive oil, stir-fried it for a couple of minutes, and served it up. After the first bite took a few minutes to get down, we had differing opinions about whether it was a result of too little cooking or too much. Unable to reach a consensus, we simply kept eating. We discovered that the small tips of the tentacles were actually rather edible, so concentrated on those first. When they were gone neither of us were too keen on continuing the venture. We may get up the courage to try it again sometime, but I will at least wait until the Portuguese cookbook I ordered from Amazon arrives. Ah well, at least we tried.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Month One Update - Katrin

One month in, here is the quick recap. We arrived Sept. 3rd with our dogs and a couple of suitcases. Since we weren't equipped to live in our unfurnished house, we decided to stay at a hotel until the air-freight shipment of our bare essentials arrived, which we expected to be a couple of days behind us. Our landlord met us at Vulcano (Bosch) to show us how to get to the house (we had only been there once during our 3 day info trip in July). When we arrived at the house his whole family (and his brother's family) was waiting with a bottle of Champagne. I was a bit self conscious since we had taken the red eye flight, ran around the airport for 2.5 hours trying to figure out where and how to collect our dogs, and then driven 3 hours with no air-conditioning on a hot summer day (with dogs in cramped cab), so needless to say we looked rather haggard, but no one seems to have held that against us.

The first five days we spent in the hotel, and I must admit that a small European hotel room with two 50ish pound dogs is less than ideal. When we received word that our air freight was going to take another week (by air?) we decided to take our landlord up on his offer of letting us use their condo in Barra (read: beach condo) so we could be a bit more comfortable. So we stayed there the second week. I also managed to find the appropriate converter for my laptop (the one we brought didn't work), and then we managed to get a mobile web service so I eventually began a more productive existence than wandering the streets of Aveiro and napping away my jet lag while Dan worked those first few days.

We moved into the house on September 15th, complete with a futon mattress, a small box of kitchen supplies, and a borrowed table. Still, empty as it, it was nice to be "home." Of course in the weeks since then, we have only added a couple of curtains, a TV, and some appliances, so still a long ways to go, and hoping for the container with our furniture by the end of this week.
While we try to fit in fun and exploration in our free time, so far much of it has been filled with car shopping, appliance shopping, getting services like cell phone and cable, and bureaucratic nonsense like tax id cards. Recently the ratio of things we have to do versus things we want to do has been tipping slightly more in our favor, so here is hoping that trend continues. The beach is great, I will try to post pictures of it, as well as the town of Aveiro, soon.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Month One Update - Dan

Hi everyone. Thanks for reading our news and staying in touch. We’ve been in Portugal for a month now and, as always, time is moving quickly. September was gorgeous here, and I must say that October isn’t much different. Usually sunny and in the low 20’s (Celsius, of course). Some days the fog from the ocean doesn’t burn off until late in the day, but our home is just far enough way from the beach that we stay in the sun. And speaking of the beach, there are enormous sandy beaches about 10 minutes away from us. With so much space they don’t get too crowded, but August is probably a different story.

So what have we learned since we arrived? Well, the Portuguese like food, especially cod. But also octopus, squid, eel, shrimp, mussels, and anything else that comes from the sea. They also eat a fair amount of meat and not much for vegetables, but lots of fruit. The grocery stores have aisles devoted to olive oil, and olives are practically free (as is the salt, as they farm it here in Aveiro). Eating out at restaurants is very popular, there are a couple of restaurants on every block, and it doesn’t cost much more than shopping and doing it yourself. A yummy fish dinner for two with a half-bottle of wine and some appetizers sets us back about 25 euros…I think we’ll be dining out a lot over the next three years.

Our home is still, well, not quite a home. Almost everything we own was packed up from our house in Burlington on August 22 and now more than six weeks later we’re still waiting for it. So we’re surviving day-to-day with our two plates and two forks and two glasses and a table and chairs we borrowed from our landlord. We’re excited to have a real home so that we can invite people over for dinner and such. It seems that’s the socializing method of choice over here. We’ve been to our landlord’s a few times for lunch or dinner, and hope to be able to return the favor soon.

Both Katrin and I are working a lot. The schedule at my job is 9:00-6:00, meaning it’s basically 8:30-6:30. There are three breaks during the day – 9:50am and 5:30pm for an espresso and one hour for lunch. But oftentimes people go out to lunch and then we take an hour and a half. Interestingly, it is Portuguese law for the company to provide lunch to employees. So lunch in the cafeteria is free, and it’s quite good with a choice of four different hot entrees every day. And if you go out to lunch for the day, then the company pays you 4.20 euros into your salary. Not a bad gig.

So what will the next month bring? Well, we do have a trip back across the Atlantic planned at the end of October for my friend Al’s wedding in Aruba, so that will feel like quite the getaway. And some much needed rest. I gotta tell you, we love being here but setting up a new life and a new home and starting a new job in a new country where you don’t speak the language requires a lot of energy. Some R&R at a friend’s wedding will be great. And we do expect our stuff to arrive soon and when we have that set up we’ll start to feel like we actually live here. And the other big challenge is to learn the language, but that will come with time…and with the lessons we’re taking twice a week. So we’re not quite there yet, but once we’re settled here and can communicate with the locals, I think we’ll love it. It’s really a beautiful town in a beautiful location with some great people and amenities. We hope everyone is doing great, enjoying the fall weather wherever you are, and we’ll be in touch again soon with the next update.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Where do we live?

So for those of you that were wondering, here are a few photos of our house. First we have a view from our master bedroom balcony, if we strain a little, we can see the water from the Ria (the inlet where the river meets the sea). Directly below is the back yard (not visible) and our covered patio and bar-b-que area.

Then there is the front yard.
And of course the front of the house.

We can't wait until our furniture gets here. Right now it is on a boat from the US. It left our house in Burlington on August 22nd, and is now scheduled to arrive in Lisbon on October 10th. We are hoping to get it on the 12th. A little slower than we expected, and I still won't believe it is coming until the truck pulls up out front. For now we are "camping" with the bare essentials that we air freighted from home: A futon mattress, a box of kitchen supplies, a small table and chairs on loan from our landlord, and of course some of our clothes (though not enough if the weather starts getting cold on us). We also bought some electronics that we couldn't bring with us, a TV, washer and dryer, and dishwasher. Living in our new empty house was kind of fun and exciting at first, but a few weeks into it and the newness has worn off.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

But you know what the funniest thing about Europe is?

“It's the little differences. A lotta the same s**t we got here,they got there, but there they're a little different.” Vincent Vega (John Travolta), Pulp Fiction

There are the things you know you are going to miss. The big things, your friends and family, the sense of place you have at home, being able to communicate without having to put so much effort into it. Because you know you are going to miss those things, and expect to miss those things, it is not a shock to you when you actually miss them.

There are also the not-so-big things that you suspect you are going to miss, such as your favorite restaurant around the corner, beautiful Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains, or the Daily Show. But then you find Gafanoto, a lovely restaurant around your new corner, and you are busy exploring the lovely seaside and countryside surrounding Aveiro, and then you find John Stewart’s smiling facing coming to you undubbed, 4 days a week (though 2 weeks behind), and you don’t have time to miss some of those not-so-big things you expected you would.

Then there are the little things. Things that you never even considered twice while at home, but now discover that they are different. And for some reason, it is these things that get under your skin. So while we haven’t been to the local McDonalds (actually, there are 3 local McDonalds), here are a few of the differences we have noticed so far:

The fact that I can only but yogurt in little tiny 125 gram containers, and I go through a lot of yogurt, so in the US I buy big tubs of it so I don't go through so many small plastic containers. Why does this bother me so much? I have no idea.

Another thing that’s different here is renting a home is not common and when you do rent it’s typically for about ten years. As such, the houses come empty. That means no appliances, no lights, no plants in the yard, and so on. And when I say no appliances I mean not just washer/dryer, but also no refrigerator or stove or water heater, or even kitchen cabinets for that matter. We got lucky because the previous tenant was a German colleague of mine who left a lot of stuff behind. So we had a refrigerator, for instance, which are very small here and are built into the kitchen cabinetry.

The highways don’t have merge lanes and people travel at all rates of speed. So you’d better be ready to hit the accelerator when you get on. There are speed limits (120kph), but nobody cares. The cops are concerned about talking on your cell phone while driving, but not about speeding. However, the drivers follow the rules here, meaning they use their blinkers, they only use the left lane for passing, they’re not terribly aggressive, etc. But that doesn’t mean you should assume they’ll stop for you in the crosswalk and they don’t’ see anything wrong with driving just a couple of feet off your bumper.

Another different thing at work is punctuality, or lack thereof. It’s not unusual for someone to show up to a meeting 15 minutes late or so. Especially if the meeting is scheduled anywhere near the espresso break(s). Also, during meetings people regularly have side conversations and answer their cell phones (cell phones are how everyone communicates, even within the office). But I do like my job a lot, the people are very nice, and we do some interesting work. And on top of that, I get to do some traveling. Milan and Paris seem to be the first destinations on the agenda, but hopefully there will be many other great places to travel to.

Door handles only go in one direction. You try to turn them the other way, they just don’t go anywhere.

Light switches always seem to be on the outside of the bathroom.

Ethnic foods. While Portuguese cuisine is quite good, the variety of non-portuguese restaruants and food in the grocery stores is rather limited.

Girls (and women) don't play sports, especially not football. And by football, of course I mean soccer.