Lots of people have been asking “what are you up to?” and “what have you been doing?” Like so many others we’ve spent the last year or so taking care of ourselves, figuring out ways to fill in the gaps of our travel writing income, and trying to stay positive amidst it all. Unlike many others in our country, we are lucky that we have had a comfortable home and food on our table whenever we wanted it during the pandemic.
Like many of you, we worried, we cried, we laughed, we did puzzles, and we worked from our home.
We wrote a book. What Should I Do Now? that shares all the tips Diana and I have used when trying to decide just that.
And we contemplated our place in the world. We even explored the possibility of moving to Portugal.
Wisconsin Is Beautiful
As many of you know we moved to Madison, Wisconsin three years ago to explore a new place and for me to try living somewhere else. After spending my entire life living in Chicago it was time for this traveler to experience living in a new place. It was to be the first stop in what we hoped would be the beginning of our journey to move around the world and experience different places for longer periods of time.
It was also our first swipe at downsizing. We moved from a two-level house with over 4,000 square feet to an apartment about 1,400 square feet. Getting rid of all the “stuff” we had inadvertently collected was an interesting, emotional, and unexpectedly freeing exercise.
When we first moved to Wisconsin we lingered at supper clubs, sipped Old Fashioneds, ate brats and cheese curds, and sampled many Friday night fish frys.
We explored the Ice Age Trail by walking 40 Miles in 40 Days in the Ice Age Challenge. Experiencing breathtaking views while maintaining social distancing in 2020. We hiked many trails enjoyed the lakes, streams, and beautiful scenery throughout Wisconsin.
We experienced the small-town charm of Beloit, the Cheese Fest in Monroe, and it was like stepping into a Swiss wonderland in New Glarus. Kenosha provided a look at a town close to Illinois on Lake Michigan with friendly beaches and day charter fishing. We saw our first wiener dog races at the Wauktoberfest in Waunakee and celebrated Oktoberfest in Milwaukee and Germantown. We ate at the legendary Ishnala supper club in the Wisconsin Dells and watched the sunset on Lake Mendota.
Our home base here in Madison is exactly as advertised. A welcome spot for everyone. A community still growing and learning from each other. One that respects nature and spends a lot of time outdoors enjoying its lakes and countryside. Hiking, biking, snowshoeing, and ice skating make Madison and Wisconsin a year-round outdoor paradise.
Then The Pandemic Hit
One of the things that we did toward the end of 2019 was decide that we were going to travel less and enjoy our home more. In 2019, we went on 16 press trips, most out of the country. While we love traveling we were exhausted. When we were home we were busy writing and always playing catch up. When Diana’s Mom passed away suddenly in October of 2019 we needed to travel to LA several times to help with family matters and close her home. We even stayed home for Christmas, a first for us in a long, long time.
When 2020 rolled around we passed on our annual trip to NYC in January 2020 for the IMM (International Media Marketplace) travel conference. This is a marquee event for travel writers to meet with destinations and travel brands to discuss potential partnerships and trips. Not wanting to be tempted to plan trips, we just weren’t ready to get back on the road. We didn’t know that any travel we thought we might take in 2020 would never happen.
We started to hear about this strange COVID-19 virus in mid-February from friends in Asia. It sounded scary but surely it wouldn’t come to the U.S. A few weeks later, like the rest of the world, we started planning how to stay in our home and protect ourselves as best we could.
Long-time readers will know that Diana has a set of lungs that went through September 11th in NYC. As someone who lived in nearby Battery Park City, she has what is commonly known as the “WTC cough.” Anytime she gets a cold or any respiratory infection it turns into a bronchial infection and the cough worsens. I made it my personal mission to protect Diana and myself. The first few weeks our apartment looked like a staging area of the movie “Silkwood.” Opening packages in the hallway with a mask on, scrubbing down packages before they could come into the house. Washing up like I was heading into surgery afterward. Our home was never this spotless from top to bottom. Bleach and sanitizers were our new best friends. You all know the drill. It was exhausting.
When things started to settle down a bit in the summer we could a least feel comfortable leaving the house and going for daily walks. Our mood and sanity improved vastly. We still watched the numbers and stayed away from everyone but we felt like things would eventually get better, there was hope.
During that time we started to talk about other places we might want to move to. We fantasized about warmer climates and ocean waves.
Dreaming of Portugal
Since we started Food Travelist we have had the privilege of traveling to many places in this country and around the world. Every destination is unique and special in its own way.
Sometimes when you visit a place you feel a special connection with it. This typically happens immediately. Like the first time, I went to Paris. I had dreamed of going to France since I did a report on Paris in 6th grade. I remember cutting out little pictures and carefully pasting them in my binder (no fancy Powerpoint presentations back in the ’70s!). Just the excitement of the possibility of traveling there someday sent me over the moon. When I first arrived in Paris it was like meeting an old friend. So many familiar places and yet so many new ones to explore.
There have been other places that have felt this way to me. Germany reminds me of my family and I love it there, too. But when I first traveled to Portugal on a press trip by myself I fell in love immediately with the place, the people, and of course all the wonderful food.
I vividly remember calling Diana when I arrived at our hotel that first evening. We were at The Literary Man Hotel in Óbidos, Portugal. Óbidos is a World Heritage literary site. In other words, it’s a mecca for readers and writers alike. There are libraries everywhere in town. The grocery stores, the churches, and yes the hotel had little nooks with bookshelves full of books to curl up with.
I couldn’t wait to tell Diana about the magical place I was lucky enough to be in. Lucky because a friend of mine had been invited on the trip and couldn’t make it. She mentioned to the organizer that I wrote about food & travel and would be a great addition in her place (I’m forever grateful, Barbara!). I know that Diana must have been surprised because frankly, I’m not a gusher. I love to travel but I don’t typically get that excited about a place. Especially a new place. I usually take my time making a judgment. Getting the lay of the land and sussing out the situation. Definitely not the case on this trip.
Every place we went from the beaches to the cathedrals with huge lemon trees in the courtyards drew me in even further.
After spending four days in Portugal I returned and told Diana that we needed to travel there together. I said the magic words, “I think I can live there” and we should consider moving to Portugal. That certainly made Diana’s head spin. As most have figured out by now, Diana is way more adventurous than me. She’s lived in many cities both in the U.S. and abroad. So when she saw my excitement she couldn’t wait to travel to Portugal with me to see if Portugal could become our next home.
Should I Move to Portugal?
To make a long story, well, longer… After a long while, we were finally able to get back to Portugal together in 2019. We went on a press trip to Madeira (which is spectacular, highly recommend a visit). By extending our trip and travel around Portugal Diana could see what had turned me into a Portugal lover.
Thankfully, she fell in love with Portugal and its people immediately. As we drove from Lisbon to Porto and back we stopped at many lovely towns and villages as we thought about the possibility of moving to Portugal.
Fast forward to the beginning of 2020. We started doing some serious research (by we I mean Diana) on what it would take to move to Portugal. We joined many Facebook Groups, like Americans and FriendsPT, which provide wonderful resources and a place to ask tons of questions. We talked to our ex-pat friends who lived in other countries. When COVID hit we didn’t know what that would mean for our business, for travel in general, and for the possibility of moving abroad.
We slowed down our research and focused on staying safe and taking care of each other. Portugal never left our minds or our conversations. Anyone who regularly participates in our weekly Twitter chat #FoodTravelChat on Wednesdays became used to our many answers that were favorites from Portugal. Photos of pasteis de natas, limpets, octopus, and beaches filled our social media feeds.
By the fall, we were hopeful that COVID would be in control, or at least a vaccine would be available soon so we decided to start the paperwork to obtain a D7 visa. This would allow us to go to Portugal for four months and then meet with the immigration department to register for a two-year visa. It’s typically known as a retirement visa but we can continue work. Since all of our work can be done virtually (thank you, technology) we will continue to work. I’ll still be teaching at Roosevelt University in the Communications department and we’ll both be writing and pursuing our consulting businesses.
In the beginning, we kept our plans to ourselves. Only the few people we worked with on getting the necessary paperwork and some other ex-pat friends knew what we were doing. Because we didn’t know if it would all come together, or if COVID would keep us in the U.S. we thought it better to hold off until we were sure we would be going.
As we always say, we’d rather be lucky than smart and typically we are very lucky. Our paperwork went through quickly. Faster than usual. There were a few minor glitches and surprises along the way but all in all with a lot of assistance from experts and our guardian angels we received our visas.
We were also lucky to get our COVID -19 vaccines too. Like everyone else who waited and wanted to get the vaccine, we were overcome with relief and gratefulness when we finally got them. Our gratitude to the scientists and healthcare workers during this time cannot be understated.
With our visas and our shots, we were ready to go. What once seemed like a dream was becoming reality. Our journey will begin as a road trip in a few days. A road trip with two little anxious cats, Jake and Amelia, who have no clue why we keep getting rid of comfy chairs and couches they have become so accustomed to.
When we leave Madison, we’ll head to Chicago to kiss and hug my family, then travel to Cleveland for a night before we get to Newark where we will leave for Lisbon, ultimately arriving at our apartment in Cascais about 25 minutes west of Lisbon.
Follow Along Our Move To Portugal
Excited. Anxious. Scared. Happy. Yep, we’re all of the above. We’re not going to candy coat the experience. There will be ups and downs, we know that. You will get the facts on why we did it, how we did it, and what it’s like to move to Portugal and live there. We’ll be honest, we’ll be transparent because that’s what we do. We hope that you’ll follow along with us on this exciting journey.
We’ll be talking about learning Portuguese, checking out international moving companies, the cost of living in Portugal, and how many people retire in Portugal.
We’ll be posting here on the site and on social media and through articles on Travel Awaits and Getting on Travel. We’ve already written many articles on Portugal. Check them out and you’ll get a good idea of why we chose Portugal as our next home.
If you have any questions along the way please let us know. If you come and visit, and we hope you do, the first pastel de nata is on us. Obrigada!
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