Welcome to Portugal, Madonna

Welcome Madonna,

Since I’ll probably never run into you at Jumbo, I thought I’d say, Ola.

You left New York City for Portugal’s creative atmosphere? Really? I think you realized age has a time limit, and Portugal is more peaceful than NYC. Besides, who wants to raise kids in a Trump reality?

Internet photos display your new Sintra palace-home, with its greenery, flowers, tree-lined paths and pond. You’re installing heating and dehumidifying systems? As soon as I could, I ran away from Chicago’s freezing winters. After living in Oman’s desert heat, I thought I could handle Portugal’s winters. Outside, yes. Inside, no. Here, insulation is exotic.

2-sintra town




Homes in Sintra





portugal Sintra palace angled

Moorish-influenced castle in Sintra – very fairy tale-like

Other Cascais settling-in realities surprised me. The realtor exposed the hot water gas device in a kitchen cupboard. Even in developing Oman and Turkey, I had never seen such a contraption. Then brown water spilled from the old kitchen taps. I bought drinking water filters. That soon soured. I was accustomed to home-delivered bottled water, and found an English-speaking saleswoman with Eden Springs Water.

By December 26th, I was freezing in my quaint blue-and-white-tiled flat. A British friend  helped me buy a mobile gas heater from Jumbo. It used a huge gas canister often seen in third-world photos. I then stressed trying to order them from Portuguese-speaking only suppliers. At a spring International Women of Portugal, IWP, outdoor social tea, other expats complained about Portugal’s cold winters. I finally felt normal. IWP also hosts ‘Sintra Walks’. However, ageing has made hiking for three hours too demanding for me.

Lisbon Tiles 98Portugal is famous for its tiles, used as an inefficient method of insulation in older buildings, and as decoration in churches and other public places. Here are magnets sold as tourist items. 


On the plus side, you can directly pay household bills such as electricity via automatic bank transfers. My electrical and water meters were located inside my flat so meter-readers appeared every few months. I tried the call-in service. I pushed multiple buttons which led to more recordings in Portuguese but no, “For English, press 2”. Then Google Chrome’s translator made it possible to pay the water bill on-line. Once. It was so frustrating; I relied on the periodic meter-readers. Even the SEF government office to register foreigners only has Portuguese speakers.

Cascais and Sintra have many English-speakers at companies to help summer tourists and year-round foreign residents. Nowadays, I print Google translations and use a translate app on my smartphone.

Golden Visas, which you may have used, were temporarily suspended for corruption. Wait until you encounter the tax office! After your Customs ordeal, it will be worse. Cascais tax office was not helpful. I finally phoned the tax office in Lisbon. After being bounced around, and asking for a French or English speaker, the fifth person advised me, in French: Apprende Portuguese. With only a few days before a deadline, stress sucked away my sanity.

Later, another ex-pat introduced me to her English-speaking tax consultant.

A visiting American friend complained how when she said Ola to people, only unpleasant stares returned her greeting. Turns out American everyday friendliness is rare here. This may originate from Salazar’s dictatorship, overthrown in 1974. Police states discourage friendly exchanges between strangers.

On the brighter side, most doctors speak English. Cascais grass and many trees are green even in January. In the summer, you can pluck oranges from trees in public parks. Once the bulk of the tourists leave in late September, both Cascais and Sintra become more relaxing.

The GB (Great Britain) Store located across from the tall, yellow Ecuador Hotel saved me with free English books. Actually, it’s a small grocery store with hard to find foreign food, including delicious Thai soup. The GB Store’s free, rotating library is open as often as the store: a lot, even on Sundays until 4:00 pm.

Jumbo added an ‘American corner’ which has pancake mix! Jumbo also sells Mexican and Asian food while many restaurants serve sushi.

The Cascais Villa Cinema, an employee told me, is the only one in all of Portugal that does not interrupt movies with a 10-minute break. Unfortunately for your kids, children’s movies are dubbed in Portuguese. However, at the Cascais Shopping Mall Cinema, some of those also air in English. Unlike Spain and France, most movies here are shown in English with Portuguese subtitles. The same for television. However, when actors suddenly talk in a foreign language, it’s translated only into Portuguese.

A Cascais delight is its open Farmers’ Market, selling food, flowers and clothes – year-round – on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

red wet flower cascaisyellow roses-z

From Cascais’s open market downtown: a group of 18 long-stemmed roses cost only six euros! Clothes and other things (purses, sweaters, bed sheets) are available outside and fruits, vegetables, plants, nuts, bread, flowers are available inside.

A major reason I retired in Portugal was to live in a culture where most people are poor, like me. However, local greed in Cascais astounded me when my two-year lease finished. Rents skyrocketed. I moved east, across the river from  Lisbon, to Almada. I had considered Lisbon, but it had gone all New Yorkish, renting closets for 500 euros a month!

Newly discovered problem: Amazon USA, UK, Germany, France and Spain do not ship many products to Portugal. Books and e-books and some items, yes; but not shower curtains nor essential oils.

Your life is so different from mine. I envision you have people who do your shopping, accountants who pay your bills, and an entourage that – like Elvis’s – acts as your social world.

1-sintra park going uphill

Both Sintra and Cascais are abundantly green and full of flowering bushes, green grass, blooming trees, including orange and lemon trees.

Your experience here will probably be with the elite. We both know elites around the world are similar. You can go horseback riding on your estate. Be incognito when you choose. Avoid stress with money. And, as usual, have difficulty meeting and talking with your equals since there are so few, especially in Portugal.

I really don’t know how long you will last here. Portugal’s energy level compared to NYC is like five percent. But its safety level is more like 95%, which, when raising kids, is invaluable.

So no, I don’t care much for your music, except for “Like a Virgin” but I did love your movie “Truth or Dare”. I loved the, “Men lie,” close-up. One of my nieces reminded me I had taken her to see you in your first movie, “Desperately Seeking Susan” in 1985. You were fantastic and a joy to watch in that movie too. I have always admired your ability to make money, survive in a male–dominated world, and perform to sold-out crowds.

Like you, someone called me a ‘hag’ over an Internet site. Ageing is not fun. The worst part for once ambitious me, has been losing that inner drive. Being a mother forces you to stay on your toes, keeping you connected to the next generation. Being an older woman helps you understand time. Being rich protects you from some stress. But being you is probably not easy at all.

So, if I recognize you when I see you, I’ll give you your freedom, nod my head, and smile, and be on my way.

Welcome to Portugal.
Alice Delaney Walker

PS – I heard you left the Palace option to live in Lisbon. Wise choice if you want to socialize.




2 thoughts on “Welcome to Portugal, Madonna

  1. Alice, first of all, your photography is truly lovely. Thanks for sharing it with us.
    Having said that, your experience here in Portugal is so different from mine! I’ve been here five years, lived up north, in the center, and now northwest of Lisbon. Everywhere, I have found the locals eager to assist and understand our needs.
    That’s not to say I haven’t run into a snafu or two (notably with SEF, with changing policies and required documentation), but even then I’ve found people almost apologetic about the problems we had.
    I can’t go step by step to present a counter to each of your complaints, but just as an example, instant hot water tanks are the thing these days in the U. S., because they are so much more efficient.
    Above all, I made an effort to learn the language, with CDs, an intensive course in a university, and over time, daily contact with the Portuguese. I’m curious why you don’t, as you speak French, as I do. You must have a gift for languages, and Portuguese is not hard.
    Good luck with it all, and keep writing!


    1. I’m dyslexic – trouble with words. Part of it is that listening is difficult – and essential – in learning a foreign language. The nerves don’t go directly to the hearing part of the brain.

      Additionally, memorizing is 100 times more difficult for a dyslexic. Thus learning vocabulary is very difficult.

      With all the French classes I have taken, I should, at least, be at a high intermediate, lower advance level. However, I’m only at a high beginner level.

      I studied Latin in high school and college and that helped with English, and my love for teaching English.

      Portuguese is considered difficult. Reading it as subtitles on TV, it’s easy to see the connection to Latin, but hearing it? I have a basic CD program I occasionally listen to.

      So yeah, I have SO MANY HANDICAPS, and one of them is being poor. Having money does solve a lot of problems. Or, at least, minimize problems or make them invisible.

      Cascais is not friendly to foreigners – there’s a jealousy there against ALL foreigners since nearly all foreigners are richer than the locals (except land-owners). I’ve experienced that type of jealousy and resentment as an American teaching overseas – from Filipinos and Indians especially.

      We all live different lives, and experience different truths. Please do not deny my experiences as truth. They were and are very real for me.

      Thanks for the discussion!

      Liked by 1 person

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