Seabirds of Sagres

Warning. The following blog contains pictures that in no way resemble the magnitude of awesomeness described in the text or in reality.

The 8th Annual Sagres Birdwatching Festival took place from October 4 – 8 and was centered less than half an hour from Lagos. Coinciding with the annual raptor migration this is a well known event that draws serious birders and casual visitors from around the world.

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The festival headquarters at the Beliche Fortress, just outside of Sagres

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The fortress has a stunning clifftop location

Along with a small group of friends we decided to take advantage of the special festival prices and do a seabird watching tour operated by SeaXplorer Sagres. This is a well run and professional company that we would highly recommend if you are looking for a boat tour in this area.

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Meeting point in Sagres

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The fishing harbour of Baleeira

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We spotted many gulls on these cliffs

The fishing harbour of Baleeira with its colourful boats bobbing on the waves, the smell of fish, the cries of the gulls and the surrounding cliffs is an appropriate departure point. As you round the breakwater beneath the towering cliffs you immediately feel the freshness of the Atlantic breeze. Very soon you pass the headland and have open sweeping views past Fortaleza de Sagres to Cabo de São Vicente.

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The lighthouse on Cape Sagres and Cabo de Sao Vincente

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Dolphins love to ride in the wake

As we left the coast we soon encountered fairly large flocks of Northern gannets and small pods of common dolphin. Some good spotting from the crew also found a half dozen Storm petrels and Wilson’s storm petrels. We were all excited to have three larger bottlenose dolphins frolic in our wake for a few minutes.

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Northern gannets in flight

As enjoyable as this was, our knowledgeable guide was looking for more birds and we headed offshore to where we would be likely to encounter shearwaters. As we neared an area of stronger currents at about 10 nautical miles offshore we spotted a large group of seabirds circling in the distance. We were excited but unprepared for the spectacle we were about to witness.

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Northern gannets (juvenile and adult)

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Crystal clear water allowed us to see the dolphins several feet below the boat

It soon became apparent that there was a lot of activity both on the surface and under the water. Literally hundreds of dolphins were feeding on schools of small fish which were visible from the boat. In the midst of the these schools, gannets were diving and Cory’s (as well as Great, Sooty and Manx) shearwaters were feeding from the surface and a few gulls and skuas were watching carefully to see if they could steal a lunch from the other birds. We put our cameras away and just enjoyed the extravaganza. Unfortunately, none of the pictures we had taken up to that point in any way captured the reality of this magnificent display. We hope you enjoy the pictures we did get!

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On the lookout for sardines

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Northern gannets

We have observed many whales, dolphins, porpoise and rays feeding in the Bay of Fundy, in the Caribbean and off the coasts of Newfoundland, Ecuador and Costa Rica but this was the most dramatic hunting display we have encountered anywhere. In every direction dolphins were feeding, jumping and racing under the boat while hundreds of seabirds either actively fed or waited for scraps. It was a feeding frenzy scene directly out of National Geographic and one of the closest examples to a bait ball you can view from a boat.

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Got lucky with this shot

After what seemed like half an hour, but was probably less, the activity gradually subsided. But even as we reluctantly headed back towards the distant coast there were still dozens of dolphins and birds lazily searching the surface for the remnants of the larger schools of fish.

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Cory’s shearwater

As we neared the harbour we passed some inshore islands where a number of shags were drying their wings in the afternoon sun. We asked our guide if this had been a typical day on the water for this area and he replied that we had been very privileged to witness this display of nature’s beauty. It was much more than the usual activity. We fully agreed with him and two weeks later this remains vivid in our minds and is an experience we will always treasure.

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The end of a perfect morning

Muito obrigado Portugal!

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Praia do Castelejo: A Blue Flag Beach on the Costa Vincentina

In this short post we’ll introduce you to a few more areas in this corner of our Algarvian home. The Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vincentina stretches from Burgau in the Algarve all the way north along the Atlantic coast to Porto Covo in the Alentejo. It is a region of extensive cliffs, surfing beaches, numerous hiking opportunities and is regarded as one of the best preserved coastlines in Europe.

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Typical hilltop views along this part of the coast

On a sunny September day we spent a very pleasant afternoon at the Blue Flag beach of Praia do Castelejo. The town of Vila do Bispo is about a 20 minute drive from home and is where you will find the road to Castelejo. Following the signs from the center of town you drive across the tops of the windswept hills where you will see a signpost for the road to the beach.

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We knew we were on the right track

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The sign for Castelejo is easy to miss

As you begin the winding descent down the mostly one lane road to the shore, glimpses of the Atlantic open up and you soon arrive at one of the two parking areas. From here it is a short walk to the beach. There is a restaurant here specializing in fresh seafood which we tried for lunch. A cold drink or coffee in one of the most picturesque spots you can imagine can’t help but bring on feelings of contentment and peace.

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First glimpse of the beach

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What a view!

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No crowds on this day

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Only surfers in the water

Dominated by immense black schist cliffs the backdrop is breathtaking. Best known by locals for fishing and surfing it is an excellent location for walking or just relaxing and watching the surf roll onto the golden sand. At low tide you can walk around the point to the adjoining Praia da Cordoama  which is equally beautiful.

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The two beaches are joined at low tide

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Tide pools make for great exploration

This coast is exposed to winds directly off the Atlantic so it can be cooler than the southern beaches but it is proportionately less crowded as well. So bring along a windbreaker, your sense of adventure and just enjoy the magnificent setting – we certainly did!

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A sheltered spot in the sun

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Beginner’s surf lesson

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Just relax and enjoy a sense of being!

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Serra de Monchique: At the Top of the Algarve

Located about 40 kilometers inland from our home in Lagos, Fóia is the highest point in the Algarve. It has an elevation of 902 m and is part of the Serra de Monchique range. We can see it from our back yard and seemed like an ideal place to begin our explorations of this part of the Algarve. This drive is about 100 kms return and you should allow plenty of time to fully enjoy the scenery and for stops along the way.

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From the summit looking towards Lagos

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Mount Foia as seen from our home in Atalaia

We chose to take the less traveled M532 north from Portimão to the village of Casais. Initially driving through orchards, vineyards and villages you soon enter the foothills of the Serra de Monchique.

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Along Route M532

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Lowland area near Alcalar

Once you pass the village of Alcalar this is a picturesque and quiet drive with few vehicles and scattered quintas (farms) nestled among the rolling hills. Charred trees contrast with new growth, evidence of the damage of past forest fires.

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In the foothills of the Serra Monchique

You soon meet the N267 which crosses from Alzejur in the west to Monchique, at the sleepy but scenic village of Casais. This winding stretch of road has many scenic vistas as it snakes its way past traditional villas and modest homes perched on the hillside.

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Near the village of Casais

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Cork farm as you enter Monchique

We chose not to stop in the historic town of Monchique this time, but will definitely return for a longer visit. After passing through Monchique there is a well-marked road to the left that is the start of a very scenic loop that takes you to the top of Fóia. Several hiking trails and small lanes invite you to slow down and walk along the terraced hillsides. Another reason to return.

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A pleasant drive to the summit from Monchique

At the summit there are several telecommunications antennas, a military radar installation as well as a gift shop, restaurant and a craft gallery. It was a beautiful day when we were there with a light westerly breeze and bright sunshine. Perfect for a picnic.

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Restaurant and gift shop

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Craft gallery at the summit

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A small sample of the local crafts on display

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Panoramic view to the West Coast (Costa Vincentina)

The views to the south and west are spectacular and expansive, reaching to the Atlantic in both directions. As you start the drive down from the summit there is an attractive picnic area with a spring-fed fountain. The vendor selling snacks and drinks looks as if he is there every day.

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A pleasant rest area just below the summit

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As we are quickly discovering, the back roads of this part of the country hold many hidden treasures and offer an excellent opportunity for us to learn more about our new home.

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Portuguese Residents: Almost!

It has been just over a month since we arrived in Lagos and we have been busy. In addition to catching up with friends (and making some new ones) we now have our own accommodation, bank account, health insurance and car. We had hoped to have our Temporary Residence Permits but the stars didn’t quite align themselves for that to happen this month.

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Our new home in the morning light. We rent the lower portion.

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Our “new” wheels

Our scheduled appointment was on September 14 at the SEF (Immigration) office in Portimão. We arrived early and took our place in the queue. After a half hour wait we sat down in front of the Immigration Officer only to be told that the servers required to run the routine criminal record check were down and they didn’t know when they would be back online. SEF routinely runs a current check every time you visit to ensure that you haven’t been up to any illegal activity in Portugal.

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SEF Regional Office in Portimao

So we left with a new appointment booked for October 17, a little disappointed but reassured that everything was in order. They suggested we go to the local Tribunal Judicial da Comarca (court house) and obtain a clearance from them as they are good for 90 days, and bring it with us for our October appointment just in case there were computer problems on that day.

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Lagos harbour from the Old Town

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Anne and Anita enjoying the warm Atlantic

Our first month was a combination of relaxation and putting together all of the pieces for our meeting with SEF. In addition to the information and documents required it is necessary to have a Fiscal Number and a bone fide address in Portugal. For us this was the most challenging aspect as we don’t have a registered lease as we are renting from friends. Our previous post explains how to work through this process.

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The former Lagos jail now houses an arts cooperative

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View across the cell block

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This was the former outdoor activity area

Before we got our car we didn’t have the opportunity to begin exploring very far afield, but we had a lot of fun poking around Lagos itself, trying new restaurants and cafes and discovering new streets and alleyways.

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Ruins are common in the areas surrounding town

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Murals and street art are common in Lagos

Now that we have our own place, we do need a few practical and decorative items. We have always enjoyed local flea markets, yard sales and second hand shops and there are markets of almost every description here. It has been a lot of fun spending time at the hippie market, boot sales and charity shops as well as the more traditional markets.

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One of many caravans at the hippie market

The last Sunday of every month is the not quite officially sanctioned “hippie market”. Located 15 minutes outside of Lagos, this is a treat for the senses and regardless of your background it is certain to bring back memories of the sixties and seventies. Combine the following ingredients: flea market, organic farmers market, alternative lifestyle showcase, converted caravans, street food, craft show and add in some Portuguese flavor and you will have the basis for this lively and colourful market experience. The following pictures should give you an idea of what to expect.

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The monthly boot sale in Lagos is another popular event although on a more sedate level. Located within the town limits, this market features a few vendors selling from the trunks of their cars (boot) but mostly from portable stalls and tables. As with most sales of this type there are lots of used goods that you’re better off without but invariably you can find some hidden gems.

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Monthly boot sale in Lagos

The Saturday morning farmer’s market is a traditional favorite. Located in two large buildings downtown, the market can be very busy and hard to navigate in the summer months, but when we visited last fall it was less crowded. The vendors are cheerful and anxious for you to try their produce.

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Saturday morning farmer’s market

Another year round shopping experience that you should try is the daily (except Sunday) fresh fish and seafood market. Located on the main avenue there are about 30 vendors who sell every species imaginable that is available in the surrounding waters.

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Daily fish market

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Plenty of fresh choices

One afternoon we thoroughly enjoyed an excellent meal of fresh grilled sardines at Restaurant Escondidinho with local friends. We were there over lunch time and the owner scrambled from table to table with racks of sardines and other fish fresh off the charcoal grills in the back. It is an all you can eat affair and he keeps bringing them out until you signal for no more! We had sardines and horse mackerel as well as a wonderful tuna steak accompanied by fresh salad and potatoes. Washing it down with white wine cut with sparkling water is refreshing with the salty sardines. As a bonus – if you can eat 43 sardines your meal is free – none of us made it!

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Excellent grilled fresh fish

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Good food and good company

About 15 minutes away is the traditional fishing village of Burgau. We’re checking out the sports club there and took the opportunity to walk the narrow streets to the beach. It was a stunning afternoon and we enjoyed a cold drink overlooking the sparkling water.

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Praia do Burgau

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Boat landing at Burgau

After we got our car we started learning the roundabouts and directions. We drove a friend to the airport in Faro and to our SEF appointment in Portimão. We’ve done well and the only mistake so far has been ending up in the narrow maze of one way streets in the old town. Fortunately after 10 minutes of winding through this maze we popped out on one of the wider streets.

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One of the many narrow one way streets of Old Town Lagos

As we now have a lot of the initial work done we have more time for local exploration by walking the road behind our villa, equipping our home (buying stuff) and learning elementary Portuguese from our friendly gardener Jose.

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Street side of our villa looking inland towards Monchique

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A great walking road behind our villa

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Northern Wheatear

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Part of a small herd of goats and sheep in the fields next to our villa

We are looking forward to the coming months and will regularly provide updates on our integration into life here in the Algarve. Tchau!

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Returning to Portugal: We’re not Tourists This Time

On August 10, 2017 Lufthansa Flight 6952 touched down in Lisbon following a 2 hour flight from Frankfurt. Having missed their original connecting flight from Halifax, two Canadian travelers on board were a little weary but still very excited to see the pastel buildings of the city rising up the hills from the banks of the Tagus River.

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We would have preferred not to see the Departures board in Frankfurt

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Unmistakable Lisbon

We have flown into many cities over the past two years but this time felt very different. We weren’t coming for a short visit or as a jumping off point, we had actually committed to immigration with our new Residency Visas shining brightly in our passports. Something as simple as emerging into the Arrivals area and stepping onto the sidewalk felt like a whole new beginning.

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Sunrise in Porto de Mos

As you know by now we loved our time in Portugal last year and have been eagerly anticipating our return since leaving in early January. We are going to be settling in Lagos for the immediate future and have accommodation here until April 2018. In addition to working through all of the paperwork and logistics to become residents, we will be exploring and looking for a long term base. Whether that is in the Algarve or not remains to be seen.

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A different twist on the Algarve chimneys in Silves

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A freshly mown field captures the morning light

As we ended up on a later flight, we missed our afternoon bus to Lagos, so rather than take an evening one we decided to get caught up on our sleep and stayed the night at an airport hotel. A comfy bed, some time to gather our thoughts and a terrific breakfast buffet the next morning combined to make it a great choice.

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A convenient choice within walking distance of the airport

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Our bed may have been crowded but it sure was comfortable

The next morning we were rested and excited to catch a bus for Lagos. A big shout out to Dick and Anita at No Particular Place to Go for putting us up for three weeks, but also for sharing their experience and contacts with us. Also a big thank you to our friend Kiki who lugged us around when we arrived, and has been supportive in so many ways.

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These four bags carried everything we’re bringing with us

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In addition to Portuguese restaurants, small British pubs are common in Lagos

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There is a good selection of Indian curry shops

Lagos in the height of the tourist season is quite different from when we left in the winter. At that time it was quiet and relaxed with little traffic, no lines at the grocery stores and only a few people on the streets. Now there are waits to enter the traffic circles, crowded aisles and queues at the supermarket checkouts, and a broad spectrum of languages and nationalities on the streets. For those of us who prefer a relaxed pace it seems crowded, but it is important for the local businesses.

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Busy parking lot at Praia do Porto de Mos

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Plenty of colourful umbrellas

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The drawbridge connects downtown Lagos to the popular marina

Our first two weeks have not been typical in that we are not starting from scratch with the language, street directions and food choices. We have been here before but more than that this time we are here for the long haul. We can take time to learn enough of the language to have more than a fleeting encounter with people, experiment with local ingredients and recipes, and discover special picnic places along the shore and on the inland hillsides.

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A tiny sample of the fresh seafood at the Lagos fish market

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Black-winged stilt in the shallows of the Arade River, Silves

One of our personal goals is to complete the 450 km Rota Vicentina which runs from Santiago de Cacém to Cabo de São Vicente. The trails of this system traverse a broad range of regions and ecosystems across southwest Portugal and are calling out for slow exploration.

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The spectacular Costa Vicentina

To do all of the things we want requires patience and we have already found ourselves more relaxed and focused than in quite some time. So for now we are starting with the requirements to obtain our Temporary Residency Permit which allows us one year in Portugal. This can be renewed in two year increments.

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The late afternoon sun paints beautiful pastel colours at Sagres

The first step was to obtain our Número de identifição fiscal (NIF). These are available from the local finance office (finanças), however we chose to go through ACOQ, a local Tax and Business consultancy who we would recommend if you are looking for fiscal representation. A NIF is required to open a bank account, make major purchases and obtain the Residency Permit. With their assistance the process was quick and efficient. The total cost was €413 for both of us including the fees.

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The staff at the Lagos freguesia were very helpful and friendly

With our fiscal numbers we were able to open a Portuguese bank account and obtain private health insurance at what we felt were very competitive rates. Be aware that you will need an address and rental contract for almost everything you do. This can take the form of a lease, rental agreement or in some circumstances you may also be able to obtain a signed proof of address from the local Junta de Freguesia (a local municipal government office). Immigration and Borders Services or Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF) are very strict about this, as are all government services.

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This will be our new street address

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Amazing blue skies – every day

Our own situation is a good example as we plan to rent from the owners of a villa and will not have a formal lease. As such we needed to find two local citizens to attest to the fact that we will be living at the address and register the document with the local freguesia. Initially however the bank accepted an email confirmation of our address as did one of the major telecom companies. We have a cellular, internet and television package contract at a fraction of the cost we are accustomed to in Canada.

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Taking a break from appointments for a light lunch in small square

With these initial steps completed we have a meeting with SEF scheduled for mid-September to apply for our Temporary Residence Permit. We are regularly updating all the steps on our new Emigrating to Portugal page which we hope will be a helpful resource for anyone considering a move to Portugal. Another particularly good site is the Gail at Large – Life in Portugal page by fellow Canadian Gail Aguiar which has extensive links to online resources.

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There is an amazing variety of canned fish and shellfish here and the packaging is delightful

Prior to our SEF meeting we plan to move into our own place and we are actively looking for a car. When we haven’t been working through logistics, we have really enjoyed walking and birding, swimming both in the pool and at nearby Praia do Porto de Mós, exploring the well stocked supermarkets, drinking great wine and coffee, catching up with old friends and meeting new people.

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A shortcut home with groceries

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We have discovered the delights of fresh figs. These are the Black Mission variety.

Our plan for the blog in the future is to do a monthly “catch-up” type post where we talk about day to day life in Portugal. We will add new shorter specific posts to the Exploring Portugal pages as we explore the villages, countryside and special places of this beautiful and peaceful country.

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A Breathtaking Clifftop Walk in Porto de Mos

We love to explore, get off the beaten track and spend time in the outdoors. As we settle into our new life here in Portugal we will share stories of the interesting walks, natural areas and other discoveries that we uncover. We’ll compile these posts on the Exploring Portugal pages which we hope over time will be a helpful resource for ideas and inspiration. The first is a short post on a stunning clifftop walk in the western Algarve.

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Praia do Porto de Mos

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The smoke from wildfires to the north create a shimmering sunrise over Porto de Mos

This walk takes you from Praia do Porto de Mos to Luz along 5 kms of breathtaking clifftop vistas. We have been staying with friends in Porto de Mos so have started at Praia do Porto de Mos and continued to the Marco Geodesico da Atalaia (which is part of Portugal’s geodetic network) 4 km along the trails. Another 1 km downhill will bring you to the beachside town of Luz.

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Geodetic landmark on the hill above Luz

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Sagres can be seen in the far distance

The path is well trodden and easy to follow. In the summer it is dry and dusty and there are some areas of loose gravel, but overall has good footing for walking. You begin with a steep incline but the first views from the sandstone cliffs are spectacular and well worth the effort. You can easily see from Ponta da Piedade to the east, all the way to Sagres near the far western end of the Algarve.

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The middle section of the trail has moderate grades and is quite easy. There is generally a breeze to cool you down but after mid-morning, the summer heat is intense and there is no shade anywhere along the way. After climbing the final hill, the last section into Luz is a steep downhill grade.

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Approaching the last climb which overlooks Luz

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A large stand of pines stretches inland from the trail

There are signs posted all along the route reminding people of the instability of the sandstone cliffs. However judging by the number of worn paths to the edge, many people tend to take the warning for granted.

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It is now the height of the tourist season but on an early morning walk you will encounter few people, mostly runners who seem to favour this trail. On the weekends there will also be mountain bikers and later in the day many profusely sweating casual walkers making the ascent in flip flops.

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A stark (basalt?) cliff juts out from the sandstone

The views seaward are breathtaking and on a morning walk you will see many fishing boats, often surrounded by flocks of gulls. Sailboats and smaller pleasure boats also dot the azure ocean with splashes of white. Gulls, swifts, swallows and hawks soar along the cliff face while doves, magpies and hoopoes are common among the bushes and stunted trees along the path. Looking inland you can see the hills rising in the distance, many of their peaks crested with windmills.

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Small hawks like this kestrel are quite common along the trail

In the cool of the morning or late afternoon the pastel colours created by the low sun are stunning. When you reach the final crest and see the dazzling white of the buildings of Luz, you will catch your breath and be thankful that you are on this special piece of coastline.

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Luz from the top of the cliffs

 

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Portuguese Residency Visa for Canadians

Are you considering a move to Portugal? We spent three months there last year and loved almost everything about it. So much so that we decided to move full time and establish our home base there.

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Drawbridge across the harbour, Lagos

The first step in gaining residency in Portugal is to obtain a Residency Visa. It allows a 4 month stay while you look for long term accommodations, and apply for a 1 year Residency Permit. While there is some paperwork and costs involved, it is one of the easier countries to obtain residency in of several that we looked at.

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Late afternoon at the Sagres Fortress

The process described here is what we just went through applying for a 4 month Canadian Portuguese Residency Visa. This is for applicants in the Pensioners Category, but it could be more challenging if you are looking for work in Portugal.

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A small street in Silves

You must apply in person at either the Embassy in Ottawa or one of the Consulates in Montreal, Vancouver or Toronto. We went to the Portuguese Embassy in Ottawa. You can email or call to make an appointment. They have limited hours and a small staff so it is best to set this up well ahead of time. This link will take you to the page listing all the Portuguese Embassies and Consulates.

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Portuguese Embassy in Ottawa

Once you have a meeting set up you will need to begin assembling the forms and paperwork necessary for the visa application. The applications are sent to Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF) in Lisbon for approval. While this may seem an involved process for a visa, keep in mind that this serves as the basis for the Residency Permit which you will apply for once you are in Portugal.

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Castelo de Sao Jorge, Lisbon

This is the link to the portal to start from and will bring you to a page headed “Visa”. Click on the tab at the top menu “Long Stay Visa”. Click on “Common Documentation” to open up a list of required documents and information.

Here is a short explanation of what we provided for each element (we left the translated titles so you may chuckle at some of them).

1. Completed Application form – This is the “Application for a Schengen Visa” which is available under the FORMS tab (top menu), go to the British Flag and click on “Visa Form”. Note: we filled in this form in the office and it might be a good idea to leave areas blank until you meet in person, as there are areas on the form that don’t need to be filled in. ALSO on the form it has “Intended date of arrival in the Schengen area” and you can’t enter Portugal before the date you specify. So leave that one blank until you discuss it with the consulate official. However once your visa is approved you can travel at any time for up to three months.

2. A valid travel document – They took a copy of our passports.

3. Two identical photographs – You can use any local shop that takes passport photos. The office only took one and it didn’t need to be dated on the back.

4. Ticket that assures the return – We didn’t have to provide this and it is not applicable.

5. Travel medical insurance – Our current insurance covers us for the first 40 travel days. We were told SEF may not ask for it, but they took a copy just in case. We were told this length of time for insurance was fine as when we get our residence permit we have to enroll in the Portuguese health care system. Note: We need to confirm how long after receiving your Residency Permit your Portuguese Health Insurance becomes valid – we think it is about 3 months.

6. Authorization to the Portuguese Criminal Records by SEF – This is a form that they printed out for us as we couldn’t print the form from the portal. It is a one page document with a paragraph authorizing SEF to do a Criminal Records Check.

7. Criminal Records Certificate from Country of origin – There are several companies in Canada that are certified by the RCMP to collect fingerprints and send them electronically direct to RCMP Headquarters in Ottawa. We used CSI Screening in Halifax and an Internet search will find one in your area. In addition to collecting your digital fingerprints they also complete the form requesting the RCMP for a full Criminal Record Check. Note: this is not the same as the “expediting services” in the US. We also asked if it could be forwarded to us by registered mail but the RCMP only use regular Canada Post service. We were told it would take 10-15 business days, however we met with them on a Friday afternoon and received our clearances in the mail from the RCMP one week later. The total cost for the two of us was $195.

8. Documents related to accommodation – You have to provide an address and a contact in Portugal. It can be a rental agency, hotel, or a mailing address if you know it. They will ask for some form of confirmation which can be a deposit, rental or lease agreement or an email confirmation.

9. Documents proving that the applicant possesses sufficient income – We have a pension and provided the latest annual statement which was fine. The stated income required is 1100€ a month per person.

10. Minors clause – Not applicable for us.

The total cost for this was $258 for both of us. Notes: They didn’t take credit cards at the Embassy in Ottawa so we used debit card. While we were in the office they also took photographs and electronic fingerprints.

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Looking inland from Meia Praia, Lagos

All of the information will then be sent to Lisbon for review and approval by SEF. You will be notified when they have the approval from Lisbon and you have the choice of either returning to the Consulate or Embassy and having it inserted in your passport in person OR you can mail (courier) your passports to them to have the visas inserted and sent back. We used Canada Post Express Post and included a prepaid envelope for the return.

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At the bottom of the initiation well at Quinta da Regaleira, Sintra

We applied on June 23rd and were told we could expect them by the end of July. We put on our form August 20th as our intended entry into Portugal which we were told would be fine. We received a call on July 27th that our Visas had been approved and they confirmed we could make plans to leave at anytime.

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The side streets in Lisbon are worth taking extra time to explore

Our one way tickets are now purchased and we fly to Portugal on August 9th. We are very excited to begin a new chapter in our life and look forward to sharing more stories from Portugal. We plan to change the format of our blog to better show what life is like in our new home and would love to hear of your own experiences.

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Posted in Canada, Europe, Preparations, Travel Tips | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Lockeport, Nova Scotia – “An Island to Sea”

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“Chasin Crustaceans” – what a great name for a lobster boat!

Lockeport is a traditional Nova Scotian fishing community which has experienced a rise and fall similar to many other smaller coastal towns. Located in the Southwestern part of the province, Lockeport was founded as the Township of Locke’s Island in 1764. Its strategic location midway between New England and the rich fishing grounds of the Grand Banks caught the attention of two fishing families from Massachusetts, the Lockes and the Churchills.

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Courtesy Shipsearch Photos

The 1800s were the golden age for many of the towns in this part of the province as they served as a trading base between the rich fishing grounds of Atlantic Canada and the West Indies. Salt cod and lumber were carried on large sailing vessels to the Caribbean, returning laden with molasses, salt and other goods.

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View to the original homes from the same vantage point as the previous postcard view

Other towns such as Yarmouth, Shelburne, and Liverpool thrived during this period and several passenger steamers ran between the area and New England. Small fortunes were amassed and rum-running later flourished during prohibition in the United States.

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S.S. Boston in Yarmouth c1907 (courtesy Shipsearch Photos)

Lockeport’s economy grew steadily resulting in the construction of hotels, warehouses, and several fish plants. However, with a downturn in the fisheries and several fires, the town faced serious problems in the late 1890s. In 1907 the Township of Locke’s Island incorporated as the Town of Lockeport and was able to receive Provincial funding. The town recovered to a certain extent throughout the early years of the last century but today it remains a greatly reduced version of its former self.

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One of the old waterfront buildings no longer in use

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Significant restoration has occurred along South Street

Tim’s mother (Helen) was born in Lockeport, and the family connection has brought us to Lockeport on several occasions. Every summer she rents a cottage and enjoys relaxing by the beach and getting caught up on the changes to the town. We also spent time there with Erik when he was young. This strong family connection drew Anne, her Mom, and Erik to scatter her Dad’s ashes in the surf.

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Restoration of the South Street house where Helen was born

Its picturesque seaside location, lack of commercialization and friendly atmosphere makes it a great place to visit. The town’s website declares “Come for a visit, stay for a lifetime” and this has indeed been the case for many people looking for a relaxed lifestyle.

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A traditional smaller home in Lockeport

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Along the lower end of Hall Street

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“Widow’s Walks” were common on older Nova Scotian sea captain’s homes

While there are far fewer services than in the past, most of the core services remain including schools, a bank, post office, small supermarket, volunteer fire department, pharmacy, liquor store, and restaurant. Year round accommodations are available at beach front cottages and a bed and breakfast in town.

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The Town Market General Store has most everything you need

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Along Beech Street, the main business district

For such a small community (population of 531 in 2016) there are some surprisingly popular and well attended events. The Canada Day celebrations are known throughout the region as one of the best and feature the ever popular dory races and greasepole. Canadian actress Ellen Page, whose father is from Lockeport, mentioned it on The Letterman Show which garnered huge interest in the town. Other annual events include a Sea Derby, Lobster Festival and the popular Harmony Bazar, a festival of women and song.

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Information and gift shop

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Eiders feeding in the shallows at the east end of the beach

One of the main draws today for tourists and visitors is the world renowned Crescent Beach. Featured on the Canadian $50 bill from 1954 to 1975, this golden sand beach stretches for 2 kms on the seaward side of Lockeport.

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The $50 bill depicting Crescent Beach

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Looking westward on a foggy morning

While the water is refreshingly cold, the beach is beautiful and usually practically empty. When walking along you will seldom encounter more than a handful of people, even in the middle of July.

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Looking eastward towards the town

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Generally kids are the only people you’ll see in the water

We spent three days in July enjoying the sights and people of Lockeport. A cozy cottage at Ocean Mist Cottages for a night and then in the downtown bed and breakfast.

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One of the Ocean Mist Cottages where we stayed

We talked with Helen of growing up in Lockeport and the many changes she has seen over the years. She expresses sadness at the downturn in the town’s infrastructure, but very clearly a strong attachment to the town and its people, and a great fondness for growing up in this special place.

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Helen, Anne and Tim’s sister Jennifer enjoying an evening campfire

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“Littlebigharbour” miniature ships by Floyd Stewart

The setting is classic Nova Scotia, including the often fog shrouded lighthouses on the offshore ledges, the small strips of sand, the algae and periwinkle encrusted wharves, and the magnificent sea captains’ homes of the late 1800s.

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Carters Island Lighthouse from the waterfront

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The outer entrance to the harbour

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The original Joseph Locke homestead from the mid 1800s

Significant changes have occurred over the past two centuries but yet much remains the same and we’re sure that the next generations of residents and visitors will continue to enjoy the simple but profound beauty and sense of place of this beautiful coastal community.

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Posted in Canada | Tagged | 2 Comments

On the Road Again: Comings and Goings in Eastern Canada

So here we are back in Canada again, this time for a very specific purpose in addition to catching up with friends and family. As you know by now, we have applied for a Portuguese Residency Visa which is a requirement prior to getting a Residency Permit. We will explain the full process in a later post, once we have received our visas (fingers crossed).

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Arriving at the Halifax Airport after a long day of flying

Probably the first thing we noticed upon our arrival in Nova Scotia in late June was how clean and green everything was! It is quite a contrast to the previous five months.

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Backyard in Yarmouth at Tim’s family home

The first three weeks of our time here has been pretty hectic but there were several things we wanted to / needed to get done. With the help of a large rental van we said goodbye to our storage locker in Dartmouth and have stored all of our remaining possessions at Tim’s parents house in Yarmouth. This frees up $145 a month which we will enjoy more at the cafes in Lagos.

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She’s thinking of wine at the cafes!

Our driving started by making the trip to Yarmouth in the van with a stopover in the Annapolis Valley to visit Anne’s Mom and sister. Every time we are back in Nova Scotia there are a plethora of logistics to look after, mail to sort, and appointments to book. This time will be no exception but much of what we are doing now is in preparation for the move to Portugal in late August, so with a clear goal it does make some of the tedious bits more enjoyable.

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One of the footpaths at Cape Forchu, Yarmouth County

After a down day we headed back to Halifax where we loaded the van with the remaining stuff from the locker and headed to Sackville, New Brunswick where our son is currently attending university. This is also where we will be based for the time we are here. It is an older home he is sharing with four others, but everyone is away for the summer and it has everything we need. The town itself is very pleasant and has all of the basics within easy reach.

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Nova Scotia – New Brunswick border

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Our home for the summer in Sackville, New Brunswick

Another drive back to Halifax to exchange the van for a rental car which we will keep until we leave. Then it was off to Ottawa, a 1225 km drive each way to apply for our visa at the Portuguese Embassy. The applications have to be done in person at the Embassy or one of the three Consulates in Canada.

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Chateau Laurier and Rideau Canal – Ottawa, Ontario

One of the big differences in Canada from both Europe and Latin America is that most travel is done by car. Eastern Canada in particular is not well served by train or bus and air fares are expensive. So it didn’t seem unrealistic to jump in the car and drive across three provinces for our appointment. Road trip! The highways are all good, the traffic is light and we are very comfortable traveling here.

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Sadly the only moose we saw was dead on the side of the road

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An Eastern Canada highway icon – The Big Stop

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A Quebec pit stop after all of the Big Stop coffee

This wasn’t a sightseeing trip and we had a purpose so we stuck to the larger but less scenic highways through New Brunswick and Quebec. Buoyed by good tunes and coffee we had a great time even with the many hours of driving. The hours passed quickly enough with a few pit stops along the way and we were soon in Quebec City. This attractive city makes a wonderful place to visit for several days but we have been before so we turned it down in favour of a small village a little further on.

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Anne & Erik in Quebec City – 2007

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We splurged for the Chateau Frontenac when we visited in 2007

Fortune smiled on us and we found a wonderful B&B, the Auberge de Manoir Dauth in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Perade, a small village we had never heard of along the Riviere Sainte-Anne.

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Great room, great price and an excellent breakfast – we practically had the place to ourselves

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On the banks of the Riviere Sainte-Anne

We chose the less busy route along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River mainly to avoid the busy traffic and summer construction around Montreal.

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On the outskirts of Montreal

Returning to Ottawa for something other than work was a treat, and we arrived amidst the preparations for the big Canada Day celebrations the following weekend. We loved our suite at The Albert at Bay Suite Hotel which we have stayed at before and highly recommend as a downtown hotel. The city was bright with flags and Canada 150 signs everywhere. We are always proud to be Canadian but walking on Parliament Hill with the busloads of tourists did give us a lump in our throats. A large plate of ribs also filled our stomachs that evening.

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From the balcony of our suite

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Getting ready for the big day

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The National War Memorial – site of the tragic shooting in 2014

We won’t say much in this post about our meeting at the Portuguese Embassy except that it went very well, and we left very excited and positive.

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Portuguese Embassy

So much so that we stayed an extra night to enjoy the city, our suite, and a great Thai meal. The extra costs were justified by driving the entire way back home to Sackville in one day – 13 hours. Good planning or happenstance, that day was Sunday so we enjoyed light traffic and absolutely no highway construction the entire day.

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Lac Temiscouata, Quebec

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Rainbow over Grand Falls, New Brunswick

As most of you know 2017 is a year long celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Canada’s Confederation known as Canada 150. Being back for the summer months during this year has been an added bonus for us. There are many events to take in, but more importantly it has already reminded us of how fortunate we were to be born Canadians and to spend most of our lives here. Extensive traveling has also driven home that fact and we won’t forget our native country and the tolerance, acceptance, and generosity that are such integral parts of the Canadian way of life.

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Tim’s Dad and a Filipino Canadian entrepreneur at the Yarmouth Farmer’s Market

So it was very fitting to spend the Canada Day weekend with family. A short three hour drive and we were back in the Annapolis Valley to spend the afternoon with Anne’s Mother and sister at the special Canada Day celebration at the Evergreen Home for Special Care where they both live now. Walking into the large dining hall with Canada balloons, flags, tablecloths and everyone dressed in red and white was truly beautiful. A local band appropriately named “The Fogies” had everyone clapping and swaying right through to the closing with Oh Canada.

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Anne enjoying the music with her Mom and sister

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“The Fogies”

Yarmouth is often described as the tropics of Nova Scotia, and while it enjoys milder winters the down side is the damp and cool conditions experienced in much of the summer. Oh and did we mention the fog? Tim grew up here and Anne grew up in St. John’s, Newfoundland so neither of us are strangers to fog and damp weather. But it would have been nice to see the sun on the holiday weekend. That wasn’t to be however.

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Enjoying the view through the fog at Cape Forchu

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There are strong ties between Nova Scotia and New England that continue to this day

Regardless, we enjoyed a barbeque, hanging out in the garage, a few glasses of wine, seeing friends and family and overall just relaxing together. The fireworks were cancelled as was the pancake breakfast but the farmers market went ahead and overall we had a great weekend poking around this historic seaside town, seeing the sights, enjoying good food and just being Maritimers again for a few days.

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Tim’s family home in Yarmouth

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Yarmouth Bar in the fog. Lobster fishing is a major industry here.

We are back in Sackville again and feel as rested as we have in a long time. We are thoroughly enjoying our temporary house and home town, getting organized and feeling very excited about our upcoming adventure and move to Portugal.

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Posted in Canada, Preparations | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Changing Directions one Step at a Time

When we first started to imagine and then plan our journey through retirement we had a vague idea of what we were hoping to experience, and what we were ultimately looking for was even more uncertain. As we have said before that was quite all right with us and we remain open to what life throws at us. If we dig far enough back in our memories we had idealistic images of tropical beaches, rainforests and a simple village lifestyle. Many of those ideas have come and gone as we have gathered experience and memories traveling through 10 countries and over 50,000 kilometers.

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Burning leaves and yard debris at Playa Matapalo, Costa Rica

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Sunday afternoon walk across the Millennium Bridge in London

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A Christmas market and the Seville Cathedral in December

Just over a year ago when we actually set out, we had a plan to allow ourselves 5 years of slow travel to see as much of the world as we could before we settled into an area for a more permanent lifestyle. The past 15 months have been wonderful and exciting, but they have also opened our eyes to some of the challenges of extended nomadic travel.

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Playa Espadilla in Manuel Antonio NP, Costa Rica

We want to share some of the factors that have contributed to our decision to apply for residency in Portugal, and base ourselves there for the foreseeable future. Probably the most important lessons we have learned are to be open to change, to pay attention to your instincts when they kick in, and to allow yourself time and experience before making decisions on something as major as moving permanently to another country.

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Cascais and Estoril, outside of Lisbon

We have found accommodation near our budget however it has been quite a challenge. Securing monthly prices certainly helps, but even in less expensive countries finding a place that is comfortable, safe, close to amenities, and with decent services is difficult. It has become apparent to us that unless we are willing to travel for extended periods of time in Southeast Asia or Central America we will be unlikely to find accommodations that work for us unless we go to yearly leases.

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Grocery day in Quepos, Costa Rica – we needed a rental car to get there

Changing homes every month comes with downsides. Even at that slow of a pace we are not in a neighbourhood long enough to become a part of it other than at a surface level. Of course you do get a much better feeling of the community than staying a night or two at a hotel but it takes much longer to really get to know the area, the people who live there, and their way of life. When booking accommodations ahead without seeing them in person, they can be lacking in services and can be below a standard that we are comfortable with and it can often be difficult to change or leave.

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La Libertad, Ecuador

Relying on public transportation also limits the options we consider. One of the first things we look for is the availability of groceries, walking opportunities, and a little bit of outdoor space. In general we are more used to a rural lifestyle so adapting to life in a larger urban center has required some adjustment.

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In Lisbon we were able to get everywhere by bus or metro

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Enjoying a bicycle picnic in Swindon, England

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Montparnasse Station in Paris

This post isn’t intended to be negative, just an expression of reality for us. There are many people who have made the nomadic lifestyle work for them, some on a much lower budget but there are drawbacks that have made us reconsider certain aspects of our approach to travel.

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The huge Allbrook Mall near Panama City, Panama

After spending the past 5 months in South and Central America we feel confident that it is not an area that we want to consider settling into for an extended period of time. This was an important awakening for us, and one that made the entire period worthwhile. Somewhat naively in the past we thought that retirement in the warmth and vibrancy of Latin America sounded like what we wanted. There were many wonderful experiences, places and people along the way that we will always have very fond memories of, but that isn’t enough.

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Local families loved the beach at the end of the day in Ballenita, Ecuador

The sunshine and warmth may seem like paradise in the middle of a cold Canadian winter but in most areas the intense heat and humidity quickly becomes confining and limits the daily activities you can enjoy. Moving to different environments every couple of months takes a toll on your body and it caused us physical adjustments not anticipated. Anne suffers from environmental sensitivities and for much of the time we have spent in the tropics she has experienced hives, muscle pain and low energy making it very uncomfortable. Neither of us were able to spend the time outdoors that we enjoy so much.

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Hanging out in Manuel Antonio NP, Costa Rica

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Exploring the countryside near Atenas, Costa Rica

We have met many wonderful people throughout our travels, both locals and expats but there remains a significant divide between these two groups in most places. While we are not wealthy in Canada, the money, lifestyle and things we have mark us as privileged by the standards in most parts of Latin America.

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Just off the main street in Montanita, Ecuador

Living behind walls and bars, looking over your shoulder, hiding your stuff and growing skeptical of the people you meet changes you, and not for the better in our opinion. Dozens of stray dogs and cats, excessive attempts to get money from you by one means or another, and poor services all contribute to a very different lifestyle. There are opportunities to volunteer locally and help which requires a lot of dedication and emotional energy.

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Broken glass is a common sight on the top of the walls in many Ecuador towns

Obviously millions of people across the world live in these, and much worse, conditions and thousands of expats have made Latin America their home. So the last thing we want to do is sound like spoiled “gringos”, but we can honestly say that it isn’t for us at this stage in our life. Having said all of that we greatly enjoyed both Playas del Coco and Atenas in Costa Rica and look back at our times there with happy memories.

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Our friends in Atenas have made a great life for themselves

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We enjoyed the mountain town of Cuenca, Ecuador which is an expat favorite

Some well-founded advice that we hear often is worth repeating and we’d echo it strongly. Don’t get caught up in the “live in paradise for $1,000 a month” hype. Spend some time in an area you consider moving to first so you can see if it really will work for you. Rent first and buy later is the add-on that is also good advice. This is even more true for a couple who must share the same the goals.

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The lively street market in La Libertad, Ecuador

We are back in Canada now, and have just applied for a Portuguese Residency Visa. We will write a separate post about that process for Canadians after we receive them. For Americans, our good friends at No Particular Place to Go have a great description of what they went through.

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Colourful garden in Praia de Luz, Portugal

What made us take the path to Portugal you might ask. As you can tell from our posts from last fall we loved the time we spent there, both in Lisbon and Lagos. It is safe and relatively affordable, has good services, a temperate climate (no snow!), rich history and culture, and beautiful landscapes. We found the people to be friendly and helpful and in many ways made us feel at home. We just felt very comfortable there. The three months we spent only scratched the surface of this diverse and beautiful country.

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Meia Praia, Lagos, Portugal

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Just one of the many wonderful views in Sintra, Portugal

As a resident we will be free to explore the rest of Europe at a slow pace without having to leave every three months, there is a good health care plan and a relatively easy Residency program (for pensioners at least). We are also looking forward to not having to pack up and move every month. A home base sounds pretty appealing right now. It will allow us to adjust mentally and physically to one area.

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Walking the old Roman Bridge in Cordoba, Spain

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The town of Aljezur, Portugal from the walls of the old fort

We have an apartment in Lagos booked from October until the end of January. We will use that time to file for residency, spend time with friends, get reacquainted with Lagos and start to search for long term living accommodations.

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Wandering the streets of Lagos reveals many interesting finds

Portugal and the Algarve are both very popular right now so prices are going up, rental properties are becoming harder to find, and the country is starting to feel the pressure of increased tourism and an influx of expats. From what we have seen however it is a country that we want to commit more of our lives to and get to know much better. As always, we are open to what life throws our way but we will continue to move forward with open eyes and minds.

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Posted in Central America, Europe | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments