I wake up to the sound of gulls jabbering. A thick, muffling fog rolled in overnight. The construction on the building in front of me hasn’t started yet. It’s much better to wake up to the sound of gulls than jackhammers. Motivating, even.
It is cold again, but still warmer than a month ago. This past weekend was glorious in Albufeira. A cold front had moved in a week before, bringing rain and cloudy days. The country has been tamped down by Covid protocols; people were ready for a break. I felt an energy on Saturday that hadn’t been there before. The sun was shining. The air was warm. People were out walking the streets and the beach, almost all of them masked even when walking outside. In my previous travels, I had passed little restaurants that were closed. On Saturday, many of them were open for takeaway.
The government releases figures every day, tells people what is going on in the battle against Covid. Portugal was the #1 hot spot for Covid after the Christmas holidays. Hospitals reached the breaking point and some non-Covid patients were airlifted to other countries. Medical teams came in from other EU countries. Four weeks of hard lockdown turned the tide. Last week, WHO reported that new Covid cases were down 56.5% in Portugal, the largest decrease in Europe. Hospitalizations continue to fall. All good news. The lockdown has been extended through March 15th, but people can see that it is working and most (not all) are supportive.
All of this keeps me from exploring as much as I like. Or maybe it gives me an excuse not to explore. When I think of going out I also consider that I will have to walk back up. My Saturday shopping excursion was fun, but climbing back up the hill with my bags of groceries was… challenging. And yes, I am out of shape, but you need to understand that “climbing back up the hill” is more like climbing a series of steep hills. My apartment is about six levels up from the beach. I have found sets of stairs as an alternative to hiking up the streets. These seem easier (or maybe faster) than the steady walk up a street. They probably aren’t, but I’m good with whatever psychological games I need to play to get me up the hill. Still, I cursed myself for not taking a taxi back.
I’ll Take My Wins Where I Can Find Them
Saturday was full of little victories.
I hit one more “big” grocery store, the Pingo Doce. I cannot find everything I want or need at one store so shopping is a matter of rotating through Aldi, Lidl, Continente, and now Pingo Doce and then remembering where the hell you found avocado oil or the Biscoff cookies or full fat milk as opposed to 2%. I still hit my neighborhood supermercado to pick up necessities. Today those necessities were Oreos, Ruffles potato chips, and plain M&Ms. And cream and eggs and bread and meat and all that responsible stuff.
I realized today that I am spending more on groceries than I normally would. I recognize that it’s a symptom of insecurity. I normally don’t have that much junk food in the house. Now I have it just in case I have a craving. Or I start missing the States and my friends. I figure as I adapt, my food bill will go down. But right now, it’s my only real expenditure and I am indulging myself.
One thing I have missed is prepped foods. While Costco rotisserie chicken is legendary and most American supermarkets carry rotisserie and fried chicken and other prepped meals, I haven’t found that in Portugal. I think the Continente might have some. Saturday I discovered some prepped meals at Pingo Doce. Since I my “kitchen” consists of two burners and a microwave (no oven), I wish I had found this weeks ago. Still, I didn’t order from the counter. My Portuguese is non-existent and I was shy about approaching the counter. I realize—again—that my life will be a lot better here if I make the effort to learn the language.
I am slowly trying new foods. Near the deli counter I picked up a package of Croquette de Picanha. They looked like hush puppies or maybe donut holes. I figured, how bad can they be? Spoiler Alert: They were neither hush puppies nor donut holes.
I was inspecting a pastry at the bakery counter when the baker pushed a package of six little pastries towards me, said a lot of stuff quickly in Portuguese that even if I had caught the words I would not have understood. I read the label: Pastéis de nata. The famous Portuguese treat. I said to him in English, “You are a dangerous man.” He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s my new BFF.
On the way back, just a few doors down from the Pingo Doce, is TimTim’s Chinese Restaurant. Their sign is on the sidewalk saying they are open for takeaway. I walk up the two flights of stairs (talk about being motivated!) and put in an order.
I wait in the sunshine, breathing in the fresh air. One or two people pass me on their way up from one street level to the next. The city is filled with these back stairways, short cuts from one street to another. I am just now discovering that they are the rule, not the exception.
My order is ready and it is less expensive than I had calculated in my head—just under 15 Euro. I tip generously because restaurants and their staffers have taken a huge hit this year. I tell the woman, “You are saving my life,” and she laughs. But she doesn’t know how nice it will be to have a meal that I didn’t cook (my cooking is abysmal). She doesn’t know how much I have missed Chinese takeaway and pizza and Costco chicken. Tonight, I will have a feast and I am bubbling with happiness and anticipation.
It’s All Scenic
I’d say that I took the scenic route back, but honestly, it’s all scenic. The two mile trek back to my place involves many stops, some to rest and some to take pictures of the painted utility boxes (which deserve their own post). I am trying to be more “mindful,” to take notice of the everyday things. I have seen the painted utility boxes on previous walks without really taking them in. On my return journey, I find them seemingly at every turn.
I walk along the beach road, just above Praia des Pescadores. The beach is uncrowded, but busier than I have seen so far. I can’t imagine how cold the water is—I have been spoiled by the warm waters of Hawaii, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Florida. I grew up in New England where stepping into the Atlantic usually sent a shockwave through your body. I am almost ready to dip my feet in here, even if it is cold. The waves aren’t big, but the surfers are out, just happy to be in the water.
The climb home discourages me. I am not conquering these hills. I am not magically getting in shape. (I dunno, could be the Oreos and potato chips, Barb…) I feel old. My next Airbnb is in town, much closer to all the stores and halfway up a hill. It will be easier there, I tell myself.
Let’s Have Mikey Try It
I put the groceries away and look up the word picanha on Google translate. I want to make sure it is not fish. Rump steak. Okay. I have never eaten a croquette anything in my life. I am not an adventurous eater but I am committed to trying a new food a week. I heat it in the microwave, wishing I had an oven because I know that this is NOT the way to go with this thing. They are fried, so the microwave will screw up the texture. But even the microwave cannot ruin these things. They are GOOD! I have a new food. My discouragement vanishes.
Next up is the pastéis de nata. I tell myself it is my reward for not dying on the hills today. OMG! When the travel ban is lifted, you have to come here just to eat these things! I am so glad I did not die before I ate one of these. Pastéis de nata is a puff pastry shell with a sweet custard filling, carmelized on the top. I don’t know if you’re supposed to use a knife and fork or if it is finger food. I eat it standing over the sink to catch the little flakes of puff pastry that don’t make it into my mouth. (Sinful waste, I think to myself.) It is my new favorite thing and I am VERY GLAD there are six of them in the package. I am also glad that they are a two mile walk from me because if they were close by, I am very certain I would gain 40 pounds in a week. I resist the urge to binge on another—“Pace yourself”— but I plan on having one for dessert that night. These things are seriously yummy.
Must Do Better
I won’t lie. I am more tired than I should be. I had planned to walk the beach on Sunday but I was just not up for it. But I have tons of food in the house and work to do. Little by little I am learning about my new country, even if I cannot explore beyond my first city. In a way, this takes the pressure off me. For now, I don’t have to figure out car rentals or driving or the train system. I love that there is so little traffic in Albufeira but I don’t know that I’m ready to head out on the A22. So, the lockdown is not as onerous for me as it is for most. It provides good cover for my cowardice. But soon I will have to step up to the plate. And I will. In the meantime, I’ll keep climbing the hills. And get that walk in on the beach.