As regular readers will know, I moved here from Poland. The reasons I made the move were many and diverse. First, Portugal is in the Eurozone, so I could start to earn a currency which is worth more than the money you use in a game of Monopoly. Secondly, I had been in Poland and in my school group for 3 years and really needed a change of scene and a different type of challenge and experience. Thirdly, I wanted to live somewhere with sunshine. Poland has oodles of summer sunshine, of course, but only in months where there is literally no EFL work whatsoever and I was annually, forcibly removed to that ghastly England place that I was running away from in the first place.
Anyway, Lisbon, land of sunshine, beaches, oranges growing higgledy piggledy in the city centre – I definitely picked the right place. Soon after I arrived, my school training week out of the way, I was dragging myself out of bed early for October and even November beach trips, to sunbathe. Being a Brit and living somewhere that you can be found playing frisbee in nothing but a pair of shorts in the first week is a novelty that is unlikely to wear off quickly, I can tell you.
Make no mistake, with day after day of sunshine, that can make even a day with a 5 degree celcius ambient temperature feel more like 15, It’s certainly been a ticket to a warmer, sunnier life here.Yet, at the same time, this has been perhaps the most frigidly cold and unpleasant winter – purely in terms of the cold – that I’ve ever experienced. Three years ago, my first winter in Poland, happened to be the coldest they’d had in about 5 years. Temperatures one weekend plummeted to around -36 celcius and my leg hair freezing to my jeans was something that happened with alarming regularity. All this however has nothing on this winter, here in Lisbon.
Humidity sits at somewhere around 80% for the duration of the winter months and so, even with a day temperature of perhaps 15 degrees and a night temperature of 5 degrees or above, when you are out of the sun, the dampness of the air really bites you. But worst of all, the vast majority of flats have no heating and, in many cases – especially with the older buildings – no insulation either. Enter my flat.
Arriving here in early October, it was a paradise. A 1 bedroom ground floor flat with a partition wall, a compact kitchen in the lounge and an extravagant shower area at one end of the bedroom, leading out to a patio. It was perfect. As it was on the ground floor, it stayed cool throughout the day, and retained warmth throughout the night. The patio was also an excellent place for breakfast. Then the coldest weeks of December arrived and the whole space became a damp, frozen hell hole, owing to the fact that the windows are never really closed, there are gaps in the frames, only single glazing, a total lack of daylight entering the apartment and zero insulation in the two exterior walls. Mould started to appear everywhere and regenerated as fast as I could clean it away. Even with a dehumidifier and a small convection heater.
I had been warned that this was going to be tough but, after getting used to pacing around, walking to work, etc in sub zero conditions for 3 months every year, one imagines it will not be so difficult. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The frosty conditions are sufficiently intrusive here, that it’s caused weight loss, joint pain, and skin irritation. I assumed that this was just to be the reality of being here in Lisbon but, luckily, I spent some time at a friend’s apartment during the Christmas break and noticed that while in her flat it was also a little cold, a little damp, it was an entirely different proposition to where I was living. As luck would have it, I had only signed up to live here for a 6 month trial period, and I’ve managed to find a new build apartment, with some insulation and a much lesser impact of damp air, which I’ll be moving to next week.
But a word of advice to people thinking of moving to Lisbon, or this area of southern Europe more generally – if you come here in the summer or autumn, you absolutely must consider the winter. If you don’t it can end up being quite damaging to your property and to your health. Never underestimate the importance of being insulated. Unless you’re a penguin.