We got our new bank cards. Whew! And just in time. I had taken out a bunch of cash here – before we knew we were going to be heading back to Valencia the weekend before last. The Spanish bank card fee at the ATM was 9 euros. What?! I didn’t want to have to do it again. But more and more we were running into the situation where shops and services that would normally take debit or credit cards couldn’t process our Spanish or American cards. Not credit or debit.
It makes me wonder what they do with tourists. Or maybe where we’re going these days isn’t tourist central. But it’s got me looking out for differences in payment. Yesterday, we went to the InterMarche. It’s a grocery store and they have a good gluten-free section. Checking out, I noticed the line of machines they had for card processing, instead of the one we’re used to in the US and Europe. One machine for each type of card. One for Visa. One for Mastercard. One for ??? I didn’t recognize it. I’ve never encountered this before coming to Portugal. In any country.
I had forgotten to check the mail. We don’t get much here. I’d been waiting for our banker to call us and tell us the cards were in – like they do in Spain. They don’t mail them to you there. You pick them up at your branch. But he was on vacation last week so I knew we were out of luck. Then Jeff checked our mail box and voila! we are back in business. No more hefty ATM fees. No more ‘Is this a Portuguese bank card?’ Now we’re like everybody else. Walking up to the slot machines at the check out and inserting our Portuguese card into the appropriate slot. Punching the buttons. ‘Come on. Show Mama what ya got!.’ I had transferred money into that account when we opened it, but couldn’t access it. Like looking at candy as a kid through a plate glass window. It was in there. I could see it! So close.
But to ensure I would be good to go, I headed to the ATM in the larger town closest to us. Sure enough, it didn’t work. I went inside to ask for assistance and learned that the ‘validation’ process is like accessing Fort Knox. Lots of typing, bank generated text codes. Then I was walked through how to set up my secure account on a bank PC. Finally, I downloaded their app and entered a 2-party authentication code. Then my phone rang. My PIN code wouldn’t work until I had passed a verbal authentication quiz. Luckily, I was at the bank. The guy there helped me answer some of the questions I wouldn’t have known the answer to. Holy Cow! I dare anyone to access our accounts. I can barely do it, and I’m ME!
I’ve been ill on and off since we’ve been in Portugal. Bronchitis and the like. The Dr here says I need to be patient. ‘We don’t know what the lasting effects are yet. Take it easy.’ But I’ve had 3 good days filled with more energy, so decided to celebrate by running some errands after my bank foray. With more confidence that I can actually buy what I need. And I’m equipped with additional knowledge I didn’t have when we first arrived. There will be a paper number and I will take one.
Since arriving here, I would go into a shop. Sometimes, there was no one in there. I would head to the counter and the person behind it would look past me and then push a button that triggered the digital number over their head to ding. They would shout out the number, I would look behind me, then put my hand up as the only person in the shop. They would point me to the red number pulley thing and direct me to take a number. But I’m the only person in here – I would think. Doesn’t matter. At first I thought this was an anomaly. But then it happened more than just a few times. Process is process, I guess. Yes, I’m a slow learner. Today, I executed this maneuver with the precision of a local who’s able to pay.
But with caution. Cases are rising everywhere now. Even ticking up in Portugal. Yesterday, we had over 300 new cases in the country. Still a fraction of the over 30k reported in Spain with only 4 times the population. I’m very worried for Spain and those I know there. It breaks my heart to read the news. Family doctors are threatening to strike in Valencia. They’re having to see over 100 patients a day. It’s overwhelming them and they’re not even to flu season yet. And now the EMT (transit workers). Essential workers have been pushed to the limits.
The Portuguese government is trying to do everything they can to avoid another national lockdown. We went to our local cafe the other night for Jeff’s favorite beer and a fresh squeezed lemonade for me. It was 19:45. The owner came up and told me its good we came when we did. The new law in Portugal – no business can sell alcohol after 8pm. None. This includes supermarkets – any place that would sell it, can’t after 8pm. They know COVID spreads on these outdoor terraces. They want to stop it by keeping people from sitting outside in the evenings for hours with their friends – like we saw in Valencia. And they’re serious about it. She was upset. It’s her business. But we’re actually happy.
Last night, Jeff suggested we walk down at 7pm to throw them a little business. Normally, they’re the hub of the community. We were one of two tables last night. Safe drinking. It will be a rough winter for them – I fear.
After discovering a local Super El Chino – I was in heaven – I decided to take myself out for a little lunch in Leiria. I’ve missed Indian food. Punching in the address into the devil’s GPS had me on familiar roads, initially. Then some swings around roundabouts unfamiliar. Finally, it had me turn down a road below the castle where those standing around looked at me strangely as I executed this maneuver. I would soon find out why. This was the narrowest street I have ever gone down in a car (or on a horse) in my life. No exaggeration. At one point I rolled down the windows and brought the mirrors in. This allowed me to continue, but honestly, I have no idea how. In my rearview mirror was a tiny little car behind me who was taking up all the space I could see. My car is much bigger than hers.
Years ago, when Jeff and I took the kids to Mykonos for the first time we traveled very narrow streets and survived them by pure magic. At the time, Jeff said they called the country Greece because they have to put magic grease on their cars to traverse the country. Today, I was gifted with some more of that magic. I looked out my side window at one point. My door handle had one inch clearance. Holy moly. A cat watched me as I had to navigate around a building that jutted out into the already nearly in-navigable road, but it swiftly ran away. I couldn’t blame her. I didn’t want to watch, either.
One hundred yards of sucking my breath, looking out of just one eye, saying ‘Ooooh’, heart pounding, swearing, talking to myself, and profuse sweating – oh, the sweating – I emerged around a corner into a small square where two men were standing. My eyes were the size of saucers, and theirs were too. They looked as surprised as I was, as I was spat out of the Street-that-shall-never-be-navigated-by-a-large-saloon-car. I’m pretty sure that’s its actual name in Portuguese. One of the men gave me the signal for ‘Roll down your window’. I did.
‘What the actual hell was that nightmare?’ I asked him.
‘How did you come down that road?’ He asked me. ‘That doesn’t seem possible.’ His friend was doubled over laughing.
‘No kidding.’ I told him ‘Your guess is as good as mine. I have no idea. Is my car covered in scratches? I didn’t hear anything but I’ve been hyperventilating so maybe I missed it.’
He looked my car over. ‘No scratches. Do you need help?’
A part of me wondered if he meant ‘mental help’ for driving down that road.
‘If you have a Valium or a Xanax I’ll take it.’ I told him. ‘But I really need parking and a towel.’
‘Its difficult in the old part of the city.’ But he pointed me in the right direction and I found parking. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived at the Indian restaurant it was closed. But because I had no idea what I was doing and got lost trying to find my car I found some of the most amazing shops. My kids will freak out when they visit. Super hip – but sadly, closed in the afternoon, like everything. I’ll be going back very soon to check them out.
I came home and Jeff was waiting at the gate.
‘You look smiley.’ He said.
‘Well I have just survived the narrowest street in the world without damage to our car. I’ve been quadropoly validated by our new bank. And I found the best El Chino ever created. So it’s been a pretty good day.’
I guess sometimes getting lost is the only way to get found.