A Trip to the Algarve

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A Trip to the Algarve

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In October 2021, my wife and I went to Portugal for two weeks. It was our first trip since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We went to the southern coast of Portugal, the Algarve. Our purpose was a reconnaissance with an eye to relocation. We'd been toying with the idea of moving overseas for several years. Spain had long been at the top of our list––we spent almost three months in Andalusia a decade earlier and fell for the place––but the Spanish tax and import regulations were a bit difficult, so we looked next door to Portugal. Portugal had inviting tax and import regulations.

By that October, Portugal's COVID-19 travel restrictions had eased. You just had to have up-to-date vaccines and documentation of a recently conducted, negative test. That was easy enough, so the time was right for getting on a plane.

The more difficult thing was returning to the United States. For that, we had to get another COVID-19 test within hours of travel, it had to be of a certain type, and it had to be administered and certified by an approved agency. Fortunately, a company had cracked-the-code on meeting the requirements through online monitoring of a self-administered test. We bought and took with us three tests each––backups to the backups.

The strangest-feeling part of the whole trip was the hours-long layover in Newark on the outbound leg. People were walking around without masks on, and we reluctantly took our masks off to eat. We had both received boosters of the Moderna vaccine, but we felt naked and vulnerable. We left our masks on throughout the flight.

After landing in Lisbon, we got our rental car and drove a couple hours to Albufeira. It's a coastal town about dead-center on the southern coast. We stayed in a house, which we rented because we wanted to make our own meals. Portugal is not much of a culinary destination––the best meal we had in a restaurant was a simple margherita pizza. On top of that, we are vegetarians, and my wife has a shellfish allergy, neither of which works well in a food culture based upon seafood and pork. Also, because this was a reconnaissance with an eye to establishing residence, it was important to shop around and see the pricing and availability of goods.

An unexpected opportunity to do some shopping came early in the trip. My wife and I had packed for the typical Algarve weather for this time of year: cool, windy, occasional rain. Instead, what we got was very hot and very dry. So, it was off to the mall to reconfigure our wardrobe. We found that we dislike Portuguese malls just as much as we dislike American malls.

But we like beaches and long hiking trails, and the Algarve coastline has plenty of that. This is where Portugal shines: miles and miles of walkable beaches, and miles and miles of coastal trails. Our days were spent driving to, and then walking trails and beaches at, coastal destinations along the entirety of the Algarve coastline.

We also like friendly people, and the Portuguese are definitely that. My wife and I have travelled extensively, typically staying in each destination a month or more, and the Portuguese are at the top of the friendliness scale.

Two days before our departure, we took the US-mandated COVID-19 tests. We logged into an online teleconference system and self-administered our tests at the direction of a talking-head on the screen of our laptop computer. We both received negative test results, which we forwarded to the airline.

Then we drove to Lisbon, where we spent our last two nights in a downtown hotel. We walked around the city for hours, quickly discovering that we had arrived on one of Portugal's many holidays. But we were impressed by Lisbon as a city that felt safe and walkable, much unlike typical American cities of similar size.

Our return flight was easy on the Portuguese end. On the American end, we met the lines and discourtesy typical of the US customs process. Then we caught a connecting flight to Richmond, Virginia, and from there drove a couple late-night hours to our house in Tidewater Virginia.

A year after this trip, we moved to Portugal. As I type this, we have been residents for seventeen months. We currently live in the Algarve, a twenty-minute drive from the house we rented in 2021. The long beaches and friendly people more than made up for the bland food and the trip to the mall.

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This item was submitted on March 9, 2024 by Daniel M Newell using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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