Epilogue

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We got the keys!!!!!!!! 

Its been four months since we arrived in Lisbon to make Portugal our home for the foreseeable future.

I’ll be honest, its not been easy.

Sometimes my mind drifts back to those wide open spaces of Patagonia, the biting wind off a Faroese mountain, the expanse of sea seen from the deck of a cargo ship, the sunny over-the-topness of California, the frenetic stickiness of a Hong Kong evening, the vast expanses of Mongolian plains and Siberian taiga, and I can’t quite believe we actually did it. Or that we stopped!

After a year of being on the move and just having a backpack each, with little more to worry about than which country to visit next or whether to splash out on a flight or endure a 24-hour bus journey, we have been thrust into the bureaucracy of setting up life in a country that sure loves its bits of paper.

I fought my way doggedly through the bureaucratic process of being ‘fully legal’ – registering as resident, becoming tax registered, setting up as a sole trader so I can work and pay taxes, enrolling in social security, registering with doctors….. even getting a bus pass was immensely complicated …. The list seemed endless, with a frustrating circularity whereby I couldn’t do one thing until I’d done another, but finally I am getting there.

Lauren started school in September, and after a rocky first day (“no one knows me, they all already have their own friends, I have no one to play with”) she has become a hit in the playground due to her possession of a ‘cool’ skipping rope (devices are, mercifully, banned at her school). She has a little circle of friends and while it’s not like Mozambique where they were forever in and out of each other’s homes and at times I’d have a houseful of girls, she has been to one sleepover and has requested a 5-girl sleepover for her tenth birthday next month. I don’t think she feels fully settled or integrated yet, but she is getting there.

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First day of school…..  

As expected, the year of online schooling had no negative impact on her academic abilities – she is bringing home excellent marks and was even moved up to the ‘native speakers’ class in Portuguese, which given its her third language, is pretty impressive. The school is definitely stretching her, but she is coping well.

I attacked our move here like a job.

Multi-page, colour-coded excel spreadsheet ‘to do’ list and all.

After an intense but relatively short search, helped by very specific criteria (budget and proximity to Lauren’s school as I refuse to drive every day), we bought an apartment ten minutes’ walk from the school, and I am currently writing this on a small corner of the dining table, surrounded by rubble and building supplies with most of our possessions piled up around me, as three workmen rip out some of the features less to my taste. The place is small but in a good, up and coming part of a well-established family-friendly area, and we are very happy with it.  I am sure it will throw some surprises at us, it’s an old building, but so far so good.  The mortgage process was stressful but helped by a patient bank manager who has known me for years, and by a large deposit thanks to a very kind friend.

I have been doing some work for a former client, and there is potential for more on the horizon, so fingers crossed I will be able to pay the mortgage, the school (more than the mortgage!!), the ballet, the gymnastics, the hip hop classes, the 10-day “not obligatory but we will make your kids feel like shit if you don’t let them go” school trips to France …. and maybe even food and the electric bill as well….

Emotionally, its been a rollercoaster – we only moved in to the new place last week, and before that we were staying at a friends place a bit out of town. It was wonderful to be able to stay somewhere while we dealt with all this, and we are immensely grateful, but we were desperate to be in our own place, and properly settled. Commuting in to do the school run twice a day was a drag. While we were fine with moving every few days and living out of backpacks last year, once the decision was made to settle, that is what we both wanted to do, and the limbo of temporary accommodation and not being able to really unpack has been hard.  Even though we are currently living among the dust and building equipment, we are happy to be in our new home.

We haven’t truly explored Lisbon yet – most weekends we have been trekking up to my parents’ place, enjoying spending time with the family after many years of brief intense visits and then nothing for months. Those weekends not spent up there have somehow disappeared into the black hole that is IKEA and the Portuguese equivalent of Homebase (AKI).

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Lauren has taken to skipping everywhere……. 

I miss my network far more now I am settled than when we were travelling. I was privileged to have a wide and varied support network in Mozambique – like-minded colleagues and friends who ‘got’ my work and shared my interests, other families who shared the joy and stress of raising our kids, good friends I could unwind with and when necessary unload upon…. People who looked out for me, and Lauren, and for whom I did the same. It will come here, to some extent, I guess, although European life is more self-contained and insular. All those sleepovers and dinner parties are far easier to handle when you have staff, large houses, live close to one another, and don’t need to plan things weeks in advance… . but hopefully I will find my niche here, and Lauren will do the same. In the meantime, once the builders have gone, you are all invited to visit us here in Lisbon!

So as I sit here watching a guy plaster my new ceiling, I sign off this blog (for this really is the last post) in a positive frame of mind – the worst of the transition is over, we are in our new home, I am working, Lauren is doing well at school both academically and socially, we are loving being close to family, and the rest will come.

On this exact day last year we set sail on a cargo ship for the other side of the world. This year we are setting off on another adventure, as we make our new home really ‘ours’, and create a life in our new neighbourhood.

Wish us luck.

Thank you all for reading, and for those who celebrate Christmas, in whatever way – have a wonderful one.

 

 

 

 

 

She’s In! We are moving to Lisbon!

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We finally got confirmation that Lauren has a place for next school year at the French school in Lisbon. She has been on the waiting list there and in Porto since early this year, and the response has always been that they were full, until we finally got a notification that she has a place, just as I was seriously starting to contemplate a move to France!

I want to keep her in the same system she has been in up until now, as it suits her, gives her three languages, and also has a great deal of flexibility, eventually leading to the IB in either French of English, giving her plenty of options. The possibility of doing another year ‘online’ is also attractive, as who knows, maybe we will manage another trip before she leaves home :-).

Speaking of ‘home’, we at least know now where we are headed. Lisbon, capital of Portugal and a hot destination for digital nomads right now. Rents have gone through the roof, and its scary what a simple 2-bedroom apartment can cost these days. My image of doing the odd consultancy and living an easy life has been replaced by the need to rake in some serious dough to afford both the city and the school. Not to mention the surfing lessons she seems dead keen on…. Oh well, I’ve had a year off, can’t exactly complain!!! Better start polishing that CV, its been a long time since I had to go actively looking for work.

Of course, the main upside of a move to Lisbon is that we will be close to the rest of the Ennis family. Lauren is already making a list of all the yummy things she wants my parents to make for her (she is a child that thinks with her stomach) and the cool things she can do with my brother on their mysterious ‘uncle days’ (I suspect there may be food involved in these plans also). Being close to her cousin who is now 5 is also a main draw.

For my part, I don’t feel at all ready to ‘settle back down’ but I must admit I am looking forward to working again. I’ve done the odd bit on the road but miss the intellectual stimulation and satisfaction of working hard and doing a good job and feeling I’ve contributed to something bigger than me. I’m ready to re-engage. I have mixed feelings about being back in Portugal, I spent my adolescence there and it wasn’t the happiest experience (but then whose adolescence was?!) but then that was a small village nearly 20 years ago, not the buzzing capital city in 2018. Hopefully we will have lots of visitors.

But first, we have a third of the globe to cover – Xi’an next to see the famous terracotta warriors, then Beijing, then through the Gobi desert to Mongolia, where it seems we will be sleeping in the wild in a Ger, then on to Moscow, Brussels, Lisbon…..

Surprise!

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Pre-christmas Ennis family selfie….

Apologies for the radio silence, but it has been in a good cause.

We were supposed to embark on the next leg of our adventure – a cargo ship from London to Montevideo – last week, but while we were in Iceland we got news that the dates had shifted, and we would actually sail on the 18th December as opposed to the 12th.

This gave us options – hang out for another week in the UK, spend more time in Ireland, or pull off a big surprise to the folks back ‘home’ in Portugal.

With help from my brother, we managed to fly from Ireland to Portugal and surprise my parents, casually walking into a café where they thought they were meeting my brother for mid-morning coffee.

Lauren and I hid down on the beach until they arrived, which was no great hardship with December weather like this:

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Finally we saw my Dad’s car pull up, and we raced ninja-style across to a spot where they wouldn’t be able to see us, then crept up the stairs behind them and into the cafe.

I wish I’d got a picture, as the realization slowly dawned that their much-loved granddaughter and daughter had just walked in, when they thought they weren’t going to see us for another 7 months. They were literally speechless – dad got out a ‘what the….?’ and mum not even that, and as Lauren loves telling people, their mouths ‘were actually hanging open’.

We spent a lovely 5 days at ‘home’ (as much as anywhere is home these days), including a trip to our favourite Indian restaurant, innumerable toast and coffees, a few walks along the beach or cliffs, some sunshine and some rain. We also put up the Christmas tree together.

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Winter sunset at our local beach bar (credit: my brother).

Really it was just lovely to see everyone, including my nephew who is growing up into a lovely lad thanks a great deal to a devoted father. We will definitely miss every one of them over the next 7-8 months until we return to Portugal, despite the wonders of skype, whatsapp and email. Christmas will feel particularly strange, as we will be mid-atlantic and unable to even call. But an Ennis Christmas rarely deviates from a much-loved pattern so we will be able to imagine the champagne for breakfast, the charades, the complaints and eye-rolling from mum about the ridiculously big turkey the men bought, and the perfectly cooked result after she works her magic.

We got back to the UK yesterday, to a snow-covered country tearing itself apart over Brexit.

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We will be glad to get away again next week, aboard the Grande Amburgo, or ‘great hamburger’ as we have re-christened it.

 

Family Time and Preparations in Portugal

The last 5 weeks were a mixture of family time and preparations for our trip. It was lovely to spend some time with my parents, brother and nephew in the beautiful Silver Coast. Of course being August we shared it with millions of tourists!

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It felt like we were up and down to Lisbon every 2 minutes for endless vaccinations – the nurse yesterday at our final session yesterday declared Lauren to be the most vaccinated child in Portugal! We also managed to fit in plenty of homeschooling, using the British curriculum until we (finally) get the French school books we are anxiously waiting for.

We also had chance to catch up with our lovely friend Denise, watch a partial eclipse at sunset, go to the beach, lots of swimming, go for dog walks, visit Lauren’s future school, and have a very large number of coffees. Lauren also had a special ‘Uncle day’ with my brother (I’m not allowed to know what goes on during Uncle days, but I know they involve history and treats) and a day out at the incredible Oceanarium in Lisbon (thanks Rick).

Last night we had a farewell family dinner, tonight will be farewell beers, then its off early tomorrow to Rome!

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The Ennis family.  A rare photo where everyone is behaving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lycée Français Charles Lepierre – Lisbon

Review of the French School in Lisbon, Lycee Francaise Charles Lepierre.

Lycee Francaise Charles Lepierre French

Yesterday we went to visit the school we hope Lauren will return to after her year of on the road schooling, the Lycée Français Charles Lepierre, in Lisbon. The kids aren’t back yet, but teachers were, all looking slightly frazzled as they prepare to receive their over 2000 (!) kids back for ‘La rentrée’ next week.

First impressions? Its huge. Compared to the lovely Maputo French school with around 600 kids, LFCL as those in the know call it, is enormous. With separate sections for preschool and various other groupings of 3-4 years, with separate playgrounds and buildings, it seems to be run with military precision. The director of elementaire was too busy to give us more than 5 minutes, but they were a productive 5 minutes, and with a very French roll of the shoulders and twist of the hand, he gave us permission to faire un petit tour of the primary school buildings and the grounds.

There seem to be 7 or 8 classes for each year, as opposed to the 2 Lauren was used to – she seemed a little overawed but also excited at the prospect of so many kids.

The school is heavily oversubscribed, caused by Lisbon’s increasing popularity with French nationals, and more generally with digital nomads and celebrities (Madonna visited the school recently as she has moved to Lisbon, and is reported by the Portuguese press to have enrolled her son at the school). No guarantees were given about admission, but we were told French nationals have priority, then children coming from the French system – which will include Lauren as she will be doing the full curriculum for her year by correspondence, through the French education ministry. If she doesn’t get in, we may consider moving to Porto, which also has a French school.

Lauren was particularly interested in seeing the canteen and the library – in the former she loved the hi tech conveyor belt system for stowing the trays and in the latter she was delighted to meet Joana the librarian who not only showed her the library but gave her 5 books to read – 2 of which have already been devoured. So much for packing light!

Extracurricular activities include a vast array of sports and arts – Lauren is particular interested in the Surf classes held every wednesday.

Overall I have mixed feelings about the school – there is no doubt that the fairly academic and structured French system suits Lauren, and there is no doubt that it is one of, if not the, best schools in Lisbon. The various teachers we met on our petit tour were lovely, stopped to talk to Lauren (and did talk to her as well as me, which was nice) and were interested in our plans and very welcoming.

But it’s so big. It’s such a change from the lovely school in Maputo where even I, a long-time avoider of PTA and committees and social events at school, still knew most parents and teachers by sight and Lauren knew all of the kids. I feel like Lauren will be just another small fish in a highly competitive and enormous pool, and while part of me thinks that is exactly what she needs, another part of me wants her to stay in a cosy, comfortable environment for a few more years. But that’s just me being an overprotective mummy, I am sure she will thrive and be finding her way around the place in no time, if we manage to get her in. And if it doesn’t work out, well we can simply choose a different path.

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