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Living in Portugal - November 2023

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

Happy Holidays! We hope your Thanksgiving day was filled with family and good cheer, and as the Christmas season kicks into high gear we wish you all an early Merry Christmas.

Understanding and assimilating into the culture and celebrations in a new country can be a tough transition. Halloween for example is celebrated in Portugal but no where near the highly commercialized US version. There are bags of trick or treat candy in the stores, some new brands and flavors to consider. There are costumes and a few kids roaming the streets to fill their bags. Thanksgiving on the other hand doesn't exist here and most are unaware of this holiday celebrated in the states. Expat groups organize Thanksgiving celebrations and feasts but must teach the hotel/restaurant chefs how to make traditional US recipes. It's just another day here although Black Friday has made its way into the European retail market celebrated as "Black week"and everyone has caught on to the special sales and prices it comes with (Portugal Black week sales are up 12.5% this year). Its hard to adapt but we're doing our best, no re-creation of the traditional thanksgiving feast for us, instead we are in Austria for the week and enjoying their traditional foods of the season; Pork Knuckle, Schnitzel, Wiener Wurst, Cabbage Salad, Strudel, and Viennese Pastries! Not a bad substitute.

November weather in the Algarve has been a mixed bag of light rain early in the month, cooler temperatures (Mid to high 60's), and several late November warm sunny days too... The weather forecasts are seldom correct so it's a day by day decision based on what you see when you look outside in the morning. Should I wear shorts or pants is usually the toughest decision, or deciding to do laundry or not based on the weather conditions outside and if it will be warm and dry enough to put our clothes out to dry. The local Portuguese usually answer this question for us, if we look outside and see others with clothes put out to dry then we follow suit. It's a tough set of morning decisions, usually made only after coffee for me.

This month you may have heard about the political changes in Portugal with the resignation of the Prime Minister. Claims of political corruption, and arrests of prominent politicians presents a first for us to experience political upheaval in Portugal. The Portuguese don't seem to get too worked up over things like this, they will voice their concerns to others in a calm and matter of fact way and don't tend to dwell, get worked up, or overly dramatic. Even the media remains fairly calm and fact based on their reporting (at least from what we can tell, not being fluent in the language), this should be interesting.

In case you don't know, here's what's happening...

This week the Prime Minister (Antonio Costa) resigned surrounding claims of corruption and the arrests of his chief of staff, Vítor Escária, a close adviser to the prime minister, Diogo Lacerda Machado, the mayor of the town of Sines, the socialist party politician Nuno Mascarenhas, as well as two directors of Start Campus de Sines, Afonso Salema and Rui Oliveira Neves. The arrests and corruption claims were carried out following an investigation into alleged illegalities in Costas government’s handling of lithium and hydrogen projects, and the development of a massive data farm in Sines (and more to come i'm sure).

We are still learning and trying to have a full understanding of how the Political structures function in Portugal. Here's a brief, high level description...

Politics in Portugal operates as a unitary multi-party semi-presidential representative democratic republic.

  • The President of Portugal (Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa) is the non-executive head of state with several significant political powers, including the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Presidential powers include appointing the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, in which the President must be guided by the assembly election results; dismissing the Prime Minister; dissolving the assembly to call early elections; vetoing legislation, which may be overridden by the assembly; and declaring a state of war or siege.

  • The Prime Minister of Portugal (Antonio Costa) is appointed by the president and is the head of government, the country's leading political figure and de facto chief executive. As head of government, the prime minister coordinates the actions of ministers, represents the Government of Portugal to the other bodies of state, is accountable to parliament and keeps the president (Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa) informed.

  • Executive power is exercised by the Government, whose leader is the Prime Minister.

  • Legislative power is primarily vested in the Assembly of the Republic (the Portuguese parliament), although the government is also able to legislate on certain matters.

  • The Judiciary of Portugal is independent of the executive and the legislature. The President exerts a sort of "moderating power", not easily classified into any of the traditional three branches of government

  • Since 1975, the party system has been dominated by the social democratic Socialist Party and the liberal-conservative Social Democratic Party.

The tangled web of the Government here complicates things a bit for what happens next.

One day after accepting Costas resignation, The President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa acted under the Constitution to dissolve the Assembly and call for snap elections to occur early next year. The current Assembly will remain in office until elections are held and are currently working in a bipartisan way to ensure that the 2024 budget continues on track toward approval and that the government functions proceed without interruption.

Even through this scandal and upheaval, there is a sense of calm. Unlike in the US, there are no opinionated media rants, little to no hardline taking of sides on the issue, and most reporting and voices of dissatisfaction regarding the situation are handled with facts and calm dialog. Sure people are not happy here that these things are going on but seem to wear with pride that even though the public is generally aware that corruption is happening, they are pleased that it is being dealt with and confident those involved will be held accountable. Elections are called for March so we'll see how it goes from here.

Mary had found an open appointment (which are hard to come by here) at the IMT (DMV equivalent) in the town of Beja about an hour and a half drive from our house. The appointment was necessary to complete the exchange and deliver the required documents so she could get her Portuguese drivers license. One of the last steps in our relocation process we were happy to make the drive. Beja is a mid sized agricultural town located in the heart of the Alentejo district of Central Portugal. Not much to see here other than miles of Vineyards, Olive, Orange, Almond trees, and the imposing Beja Castle. Located in the Northeastern end of the city the Medieval castle is set on high ground of the city overlooking the region for miles. Todays Castle rests today on top of the original Roman fortifications, rebuilt by king Dinis in 1310 as part of the king´s reinforcement of national defences. The imposing Torre de Menagem, now the symbol of the city of Beja, with its battlements and narrow walkway running around the tower. At the top, there is one of the best views over the city and the surrounding region.

Another beautiful winter beach day in Alvor. Tons of shells washed up in the sand today. We have had unusually high surf for the Algarve the past few weeks.

Over the centuries, St. Martins Day, in late Autumn, has evolved into a celebration of the harvest. In Portugal, Dia de São Martinho has become a day to celebrate the maturation of the year’s wine production. On this day in many Portuguese communities, a large party is held. A bonfire is built, recently-harvested castanhas (chestnuts) are roasted, and the first wines of the season are tasted.

As they say in Portugal: É dia de São martinho. Comem-se castanhas; prova-se o vinho! (“It is St. Martin’s Day. We’ll eat chestnuts; we’ll taste the wine.”)

In celebration of Dia de São Martinho and International wine tourism day, the nearby council of Lagoa organized a wine tour to celebrate the day. The festivities started in Ferragudo with a presentation of the Arade region wines from Gilmar Brito, winemaker and consultant for several prominent wineries throughout Portugal.

Next, we boarded small boats for a trip up the Arade River, past Portimão's three bridges and the remains of an old sardine factory on shore, landing at Arvad winery for our next stop.

At Arvad lunch was served with wines from their vineyards, hosted by the Mayor of Lagoa and other prominent guests from various wine and tourism businesses in the region

Our last stop was Morgado do Quintão, a historic Biodynamic farm in the foothills near Silves, founded in the early 1800s by the Count of Silves. The farm has a national monument Olive tree that has been dated back to the Roman occupation in the Algarve. The old Olive tree is said to be over 2,000 years old (Pictured below). Several Fig, Carob, and Olive trees can be found in old groves on the farm that are well over 200 years old. Old grape vines that are 50-80 years old, most are the Negra Mole variety, a grape native to and grown only in the Algarve region of Portugal, can be found here also along with new plantings from last few years. Similar to Pinot Noir, Negra Mole is a light style wine that is difficult to grow and make wine from, but is becoming a very popular varietal. We were treated to a beautiful sunset, music, roasted castanhas (chestnuts), and more food and wine topping off a nice day of celebration in the region.

Another amazing beach day!

Hike along the bluffs above Praia da Prainha, and do submarino

Rare Balloon launch near our backyard

Barney and Sonny living the dream...

As always we hope everyone is doing well, healthy, happy, and thriving. We miss you and love you all...A lot!

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Thanks for the great article, I had no idea that was going on in Portugal, and thanks for explaining about the government. Missed you both for Thanksgiving!

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