Read Part 1 here.
The second time we were without a vehicle for an extended length of time was when we moved to Portugal for what was supposed to be 9-12 months of language study, but ended up being almost 2 years, thanks to a complicated Angolan visa process and then a surprise pregnancy.
Our situation was a bit different this time around than when we moved to Japan as newly-weds. For one thing, we had two children by this time. Alex was 4 when we moved to Portugal, so he could walk and get on and off buses without much assistance, but Stephen was only about 9 months old, so he had to be carried. We quickly discovered that strollers are a royal pain when riding public buses, so Rusty opted for the Kelty kid carrier, and I just used my sling. We only bothered with a stroller when we knew we were going to be doing a lot of walking, like if we were spending the day at the zoo.
The second difference was that we used public transportation much more in Lisbon than we ever did in Mito. At first we thought we might like to ride bikes from time to time, like we did in Japan. We bought bikes right after moving to Portugal, but Rusty decided he didn’t like his and sold it to a friend right away. Mine sat outside our bedroom window the entire time we lived there, and then I gave it away when we left. I don’t think I ever rode it. We lived within biking distance of our language school, but there wasn’t a route that didn’t involve either giant hills or a busy road with no shoulder. I also don’t think we really thought through how we would bike with two kids in tow. (Hint: It’s not as simple as biking solo.)
But beyond that, the public transportation system in Lisbon (and across all of Europe, really) is so efficient and accessible, and for the most part, safe. We bought monthly bus passes that allowed us to ride a bus line and also included the Metro (subway) and trolley systems downtown — convenient when we were going sightseeing. We rode public transportation to school, to take Alex to school and pick him up, to go to friends’ and teammates’ houses, to church, to the mall for Date Night. And we walked — A LOT. European neighborhoods are laid out in such a way that most everything you need for daily life is within walking distance. We were a 5-10 minute walk away from a bank, post office, supermarket, green grocer, butcher, bakery/cafe, doctor, dentist, pharmacy, park, several restaurants, etc. Europeans don’t NEED a car for daily life in the same way that many Americans NEED a car, mostly due to the appalling lack of decent public transportation options in all but the largest cities. When we lived in Nashville, our (church-provided) house was in a VERY affluent neighborhood, but it was 15 minutes by car from the nearest shopping center with supermarket, ATM, restaurants, etc. And of course no public buses came to that area!
Of course, there were some things that were frustrating about relying on public transportation — waiting in the rain at bus-stops, crowded buses, not remembering that the schedules change on weekends and holidays, barely missing your bus, and getting on the wrong bus without realizing it (I remember a particularly frustrating afternoon when I did just this while trying to get myself and the two boys to a team meeting on my own). Rusty chafed more than me under the restrictions of not having his own vehicle… he loves to get out and explore on his own, to not be bound by bus routes and schedules.
When we realized that we would be in Portugal longer than we had anticipated, and also that we were going to have a baby there, we began looking into getting a vehicle. We purchased one from some Brazilian friends at church who were leaving Portugal and returning home. Of course, as a pregnant woman with swollen feet and an aching back, I appreciated not having to walk so much or haul my whale-sized self onto and off of buses. But the biggest thing I noticed once we were driving again was how much more quickly we could get places in our car. Going to church via bus and Metro took the better part of an hour, depending on all the connections. In our car, we could do it in about 25 minutes or less. Getting to the beach on public transportation was a huge feat that involved about 2 hours each way — thus, a trip to the beach was typically an all-day affair. But in our own car, the trip took 30 minutes, so we started going more often, sometimes just for a couple of hours in the afternoon. I was surprised at how much riding public transportation for over a year had skewed my perception of how far away certain things were.
Of course, many things are easier when you have your own car. But I will always be grateful for the experience of doing without a vehicle while living in Japan and in Portugal. Through that, I learned that it IS possible to live long-term without a car, even with small children, and that there can be many benefits to this life-style — better health, lower transportation costs, and a reduced carbon footprint. I also learned a respect for those who live this way, whether because they can’t afford to own a car, or by personal choice.
I am also VERY thankful for our car!