(Photo: Cascais Beach)
When people explained to me at the beginning of this journey, that travelling changes the very essence of one’s soul and one’s being, I could never have truly understood fully what it meant, that was, until I had reached the end of it. My original plan was to travel for two years and then return to Ireland, to my career and my family home. But two years on, having had the most wonderful life-changing experiences, we made a firm decision that we would not return to Ireland but instead search for a place to live, with a warm climate, in a country that wasn’t costing us every penny of our earnings and our every waking moment to have a basic quality of life. And so, we returned to a little town just outside Lisbon for the second time. Cascais, just 30 minutes by train outside Lisbon in Portugal, is a town steeped in history. During the invasion of Portugal by Napoleonic troops in 1807, the citadel of Cascais was occupied by the French, and as you stroll around Cascais there is indeed a very French feeling about it, right down to the fantastic architecture of the buildings scattered along the coastline. Art galleries and Museums are plentiful and it is one of the most picturesque and attractive towns I have ever had the good fortune to visit, and now to call home. It’s a seaside town where the Portuguese Royal Family and members of Government have chosen to make their home and indeed our own President Michael D. Higgins frequents. At one time, Madonna lived nearby and still owns an old castle style home near the beautiful nearby village of Sintra. Cascais is basically the Riviera of Portugal and is ranked highly for its quality of life, and doesn’t cost a fortune to enjoy. Its name means “seashells” and it is situated on the mouth of the Tagus River estuary with miles and miles of soft white sandy beaches where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean, it is drenched in continuous fabulous warm sunshine and clear blue skies. Good for the soul! The choice was an easy one to make in terms of a new place to call our home. It’s a stones’ throw from Ireland, making it totally accessible for travelling back and forth to visit friends and family and it didn’t cost us an arm and a leg to do so. Within a matter of weeks we found a beautiful unfurnished apartment, with a swimming pool and beautiful gardens to laze around in during our free time. To have this quality of life here costs half of what it cost us back home! I kid you not!
Adding to the excitement of arriving in Cascais on 1st May 2019 was the arrival of my children, my son-in-law, my sons beautiful girlfriend and of course, the most adorable little three-year old grandson any grandmother could wish for to welcome us when we landed. Having spent the time in Serres in Greece, it was the icing on the cake to end our journey. The next couple of weeks were spent relaxing, eating fabulous meals together, spending time on the beaches and familiarising ourselves with our new surroundings. The time was spent with our family, full of love and laughter and catching up with all our news and checking out our new home. I was almost afraid to go to sleep in case I woke up and it was all just a dream. As the weeks flew by, we busied ourselves with settling into our apartment, with constant trips to the nearby store of IKEA for furniture and household items, which Colm spent hours putting together and to my amazement (for one who hates this sort of thing), a job he really enjoyed! For him, it was like figuring out complex wooden puzzles and before we knew it our apartment was fully furnished and cosy. With balconies to the front and rear we could sit out on summers evenings, overlooking the pool and garden with a glass of good Portuguese wine and take it all in with an air of disbelief that this was our life now. Thinking back to when we made the decision, almost two years ago, on a rainy cold evening in the midlands in Ireland, to begin our travels, not knowing where it would take us, and to finally have reached a point in our lives where we could feel like we were truly living life to the full. There are no words to explain the joy and contentment that we felt and still feel every morning we wake up in this fabulous part of the world.
(Photo: The view from our balcony)
Of course, to continue living here we needed to source work, and thankfully very soon after our arrival we both secured jobs, mine being the job that I’d been doing as we travelled and absolutely loved; teaching English and Colm in the IT Sector in the city of Lisbon. Teaching English at a top class English Language School in the centre of Cascais is more than I could have ever hoped for, and to say it’s been one of the most rewarding and satisfying jobs of my entire career is an understatement. The saying “find a job that you love and you’ll never have to work another day in your life” rings true for me each day as I teach English to students ranging in age from very young teenagers to adults. A whole new world has opened up for us here, and I can honestly say that the only downside so far is the fact that we have to climb so many hills walking around due to the geography of this part of Portugal. A small price to pay indeed The language barrier is also something that we are trying to overcome, but I’ve no doubt that in time we will be speaking the local lingo fluently. I have had a couple of embarrassing moments where I thought I was saying that I liked particular foods in Portuguese, when in fact I was saying I enjoyed something a little bit more saucy and vulgar and so my reputation has gone before me already and I’m only here 8 months Portuguese is a difficult language to learn, but hey, we’ve the rest of our lives to tackle it.
“Are you homesick?” is a question we are frequently asked. The answer? Not in the slightest! We have had our friends and family visit from Ireland. The journey takes less than three hours with daily low-cost flights, and we can pop back to Ireland whenever the mood takes us. And we did, in September, for my son Cathal’s birthday. Having completed all the birthday celebrations, we wandered around our hood and actually stayed with our great friends and neighbours beside our old home. While we had an absolutely memorable and amazing time, it reaffirmed our decision to stay in Portugal. We do miss our friends back home, but many of them are making plans to come out to join us here in Portugal for a little break of their own. And what a great excuse to get away to the sun now that we’re here. We have made fabulous friends along the way too and we’re surrounded by the most fantastic ex-pat community here, work colleagues, as well as Portuguese. Up to recently we have spent our weekends sitting on the beach, enjoying great company and eating amazing food such as the Portuguese sardines, a whole variety of seafood, downing dozens of the famous pasta de natas, and enjoying inexpensive yet top quality Portuguese wine and sangria. My walk to work is 20 minutes along the beach, and Colm’s a bit longer of a journey back and forward to Lisbon with a cheap and regular train service on our doorstep.
Lisbon is becoming one of the most renowned cities in Europe now for its’ food and wine, and it is also gaining recognition as being the new IT Hub of Europe. It is such a unique city. There are no high-rise office blocks, but colourful quaint old buildings with balconies and satin shutters at every turn. There are craft fairs and markets everywhere, stomach-rumbling smells drifting from the many bakeries and restaurants dotted around the city. There are beaches everywhere along the trainline and street performers pop out of no-where and are a constant source of entertainment. I recently took a stroll up a cobbled side street and came upon a group of musicians performing on the balcony of their apartments with a singer belting out the tunes of Amy Winehouse and the like. More talented musicians you would find hard to come by anywhere in the world. I sat on the sidewalk with lots of other gob-smacked people in the sunshine, listening to their fabulous performance. There are a multitude of little cafes to sit and enjoy a coffee and a pastry and bask in the warm sunshine of the afternoon. The sunshine, however, has disappeared for a couple of weeks as it’s now almost Christmas day and the weather has taken a change for the worst. Living by the coast brings with it strong winds and heavy rain. But it will last for about another week and then we’ll be back to blue skies and sunshine according to the locals.
For us, this Christmas begins with us travelling to Chicago tomorrow morning to spend Christmas with family in sub-zero temperatures. I’m beside myself with excitement at the prospect of seeing them all for Christmas. And so, this will be our life. Travelling, (as indeed all of my children do on a regular basis), back and forward from Ireland, Spain and from Chicago to here and back and elsewhere around the world. As a family, travel has always been an important part of our lives, and rearing children with the familiarity of travelling around the world as part of their life experience has been an integral and important part of my parenting role as a mother. It is a trait that I learned from my own mother and father, who spent time (and indeed hard earned money) taking us abroad as children and travelling to many countries around the world. In fact, my Mum travelled all over the world right up to the moment she became too ill, just before she passed. I have the most fantastic memories of when she arrived home from visiting different countries and recounting hilarious stories (in her best Dublin accent) of her travels on camels backs, boating along the River Nile in Egypt, visiting the Pyramids, to name but a few. She would share the most amazing and fantastic stories with us about her travel experiences and was constantly badgering us to book flights to here and there. One of the first countries my Mum and Dad took me to as a very small child was Portugal, and so I have fantastic memories having holidayed here back in the late 1970’s. Raising children to encounter other cultures and nationalities is, in my opinion, one of the most vital forms of education we can pass on to the next generation. It opens their hearts and minds to people of all races and religions and teaches tolerance for one another more than any book or teacher ever will. I’ve no doubt that I will visit many more countries for brief periods in the future, as will my children and grandchildren. The Irish gypsy gene is very much in my blood and how lucky am I? Without it I certainly would not be here today. Nor without the total support and love of my children and of course the dedication and love of my husband Colm who has stood by my side through the ups and downs of the last two years and made the final landing here soft and smooth for us. Oh! what a journey it has been!
Finally, a little piece of advice! If you have a longing to try something new, no matter how old you are. Do it! Do it! Do it! Do it! Without hesitation! No choice or decision is permanent. With proper planning, you can change your life, or your mind if that’s the outcome, and return to where you were to begin with if you discover it’s not for you. At least you will be happier knowing that you tried to reach your goal, tried to follow your dream, to live every moment of your life to the fullest and even if you do change your mind about it, you’ve tasted it! Find out what it is you really want to do, and make it happen. Money is no excuse for not trying …. there are jobs out there that you can do to earn a living as you travel, or whatever it is you want to do. There is no obstacle that cannot be removed with creative thinking and determination!
And on that note….Irish Granny on the Run, is now Irish Granny in the Sun! Thank you all for following my blog over the last two years. It’s been a joy to write about our adventures knowing how many of you have been following it and reading. Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and as you ring in the New Year, may you make a resolution to do something outside of your comfort zone that will make bring joy and happiness into your life in 2020, and as you do, I’ll leave you with this little poem…
THE CLIMB – Celia Szelwach
The challenge of the climb, demands their return,
A journey of endurance, they hope to now learn,
Though their bodies weaken, their hearts never tire,
As the goal that they seek, stretches farther and higher,
At times they may struggle, will their climb be in vain?
When they reach the summit, will it be worth the pain?
The doubts churn and linger, while their legs drag like lead,
But their faith in themselves, forces them on ahead,
With chests and eyes burning, the climb seems too great,
If they only knew what lies ahead in their fate,
And just as they seem, about to turn back,
The pull from within, springs a mighty attack,
Fear and pain succumb, To the spirit that drives,
The free heart forward, through the hope that survives,
Upward they surge, their courage full beam,
A mountain they conquer,
In life as in dreams!