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Emma, Central Portugal

Emma from Australia here. After 20 years in the film industry in Sydney I had had enough of 80-hour working weeks and wanted to get a life. I had planned to be travelling for a few years but I fell in love with Portugal as soon as I arrived. When I saw charming ruins for sale at my kind of price, I decided to buy here.

The visa process for a non-EU citizen was an epic challenge and I couldn’t live in Portugal while I waited for my residency to be approved. At the same time, my house-buying process was also an ordeal, as the house is old and the paperwork way out of date. So between Portuguese lessons, I battled the embassy, the vendor’s lawyer and the architect working on my project plans, via email and phone from Berlin. After 9 months, with the help of my Portuguese teacher and the local Câmara, I had the deeds and visa in hand at last.In the final trial of relocating, my cat took a whole week to travel here from Oz. But in Jan 2008 we settled in, recovered from the dramas and started loving our tiny village life in Central Portugal.

Can you tell us something about your property?

The global financial crisis hunted me down and slaughtered my financial plans. Ouch. I’ve had to delay building/restoring my ruin until the market and exchange rate improve. So, I’m still living in a tiny, uninsulated old house which is falling apart around my ears. I never planned it this way, but at least the visitors find the rustic life an exotic novelty.

And I’ve had to try to live very cheaply. But being poor is a way of life in rural Portugal, and that helps to make the transition from modern-city-apartment-with-dishwasher, to outdoor-plumbing-and-cooking-over-a-fire, much easier. And it’s given the neighbours and I something else to bond over other than our physical aches and pains. “Chicken is €1.29 at Intermarche!” Downsizing feels good, and I am more responsible and kinder to planet earth these days. So long as there are fresh vegies in the garden and I have no office to go to every morning, I feel richer than ever.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

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The neighbours and I have had our battles (all over my naughty sheep-rounding-up dog) but they have been kind and generous and I am considered part of the family. We may not always understand each other, but my comprehension of toothless Portuguese improves every day. There are very few expats in my area, and almost no one speaks English in the shops, so learning Portuguese has been essential and very rewarding.

What do you like about life where you are?

I love the silence of the area where we live, and the uninterrupted views of trees. I love the routines of country life – harvests of vegetables, then grapes, olives and chestnuts and now oranges. I like the quirks of village living like the bread truck every morning and the fish truck on Wednesday. I love the weekend local markets, going to the same growers for whatever they have fresh from their gardens that week.

But – how bad are Portuguese drivers?! And no, I don’t need another plastic bag, thanks! And do you think it’s wise to smoke while nursing that baby?! Oh and, yes that’s right I can mix mortar. Wow. And change a tap washer. Golly.

But really I love the Portuguese, for their patience, their lack of pretentiousness and their pastries.

Visit Emma’s website at www.emmashouseinportugal.com for more information on life in Portugal

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