We turned to Europe. Vacationing in France over the years, its castles and cobblestone streets, statues of kings-silent witnesses of a grand history - had stolen our hearts. Museums and palaces beckoned us back, to say nothing of baguettes and croissants. And Brie and Bordeaux. But I digress.

There were considerations, like the cost of living there and the jaw-dropping online application process for a residence visa. Truth be told, we were also skittish about strikes. My spouse and I had each been stranded at various times on one side of the Pond or the other due to airline or railway…um…issues.

We considered Spain, but Portugal was a better option. Because of my husband’s ethnicity, we would be on a fast track to citizenship. (That fast track became a slow boat, but that’s another story.)

In September 2012 we arrived in the countryside near Braga and spent six months in a 200-year-old stone cottage. We then moved to a seaside condo in Esposende. Next, we stayed near the castle town of Penela at the lovely home of a British expat who preferred to spend his retirement riding his Honda Africa Twin moto around the world.

Later, living northwest of Lisbon in Mafra, we visited the famed National Palace so many times that I volunteered as a tour guide. They replied they already had an English-speaking guide, so I suggested I do it in French. (This was an overreach of my capabilities, and fortunately, they turned down that offer as well.)

Weary of renting, we searched for property to buy. Mafra was pricey. So we acquired a quinta in the cherry capital of the country, Fundão. For three years we felt settled, even putting the long-unattended vines to good use, producing wine and eau de vie. Life was good.

Then, in quick succession, my husband’s employment ended and the pandemic began. By October 2020 we had sold the quinta and moved into an autocaravana.

At a campsite in Lagos, we met a Swedish couple shopping for a home in Portugal. They said they were finished with cold weather. No problem for us, we said. We were skiers who had lived in Northern New Hampshire and the Rocky Mountains. One conversation led to another and in a week I was on a plane to Stockholm.

Affordable home

In two days I found an affordable home. A 1906 traditional farmhouse painted bright red, doors and windows trimmed in white, in a heavily forested region in central Sweden, across the road from a picturesque lake. We were moving into the highest ursine population in the country. The property’s owner said one summer she awakened to find bears sunning themselves in the yard.

While that never happened on our watch, we were treated to small and large wildlife sightings, including moose. Once, as the strains of Handel’s Messiah floated through the house, we heard a plaintive wailing outside. Looking through the window we spotted a huge fox five metres from our front door, head thrown back, singing along - pitch perfect - to the Hallelujah Chorus.

Credits: Supplied Image; Author: Tricia Pimental;


There were differences between life in our new country and the old. Each with a population of roughly ten million, Sweden is five times larger than Portugal. Driving into town for groceries took an hour, not ten minutes. There are multiple mountain ranges, three seas, the islands of the archipelagoes, and more than 96,000 lakes.

The Portuguese usually greet each other with hugs and/or kisses. Not the Swedish, although if you meet someone for the first time, you are expected to shake hands. The Portuguese can seem taciturn, but get one started and you’ll spend hours talking. Swedes prefer not to engage in small talk, calling it kallprat, literally “cold talk”. Controversial issues are frowned upon. In a close encounter of the conversational kind, talking about the weather is acceptable, but only briefly, or you may be considered pladdrig, or “babbly.”

Similarities do exist with food and drink, with both countries sharing a fondness for pork and fish. As a pizza lover and Mexican food junkie, I loved the proliferation of kebab pizza establishments, and the vast salsa selections in supermarkets due to the country’s beloved Taco Fridays.

No self-respecting locals skip their daily fika-coffee and cake - but we missed Portugal’s ubiquitous corner café found in every aldeia. Boxed red wine is as popular a beverage there as in Portugal, but is only available in a state-run store, and costs three times as much.

Ultimately we found the many months of snow and ice too challenging. Last March my husband walked in with yet another armful of wood for our cast iron stove and simply announced, “I won’t do another winter here.”

Ironically, our application for Portuguese citizenship had been approved while we were in Scandinavia. When we opted to return, we were truly going home.


Native New Yorker Tricia Pimental left the US in 2012, later becoming International Living’s first Portugal Correspondent. The award-winning author and her husband, now Portuguese citizens, currently live in Coimbra.

Tricia Pimental