A Date with My Portuguese Destiny
Seventeenth Week of a New Life
During week seventeen, I had been summoned to appear before immigration officials to determine my Portuguese fate. Would I stay or would I go?
Journey to the Spanish Border
With my temporary visa in place, my next hurdle was to prove to Portuguese immigration officials that I was going to be a good resident and not a burden on society. My appointment with my Portuguese fate was scheduled as far north as possible in the small town of Viana do Castelo, 58 kilometers from the Spanish border.
When I arrived in the station at Viana do Castelo, I began to notice how deserted it all seemed. As I stood at the top of the steps outside the empty train station looking at the streets that spread before me, the town seemed like a weird version of a Portuguese ghost town. A cab was waiting so I decided it might be best to escape up the hill to my hotel and come back down for lunch. Without my bags, I could make a faster escape if I found myself chased by the ghosts of Viana do Castelo’s past.
Night on the Hill
After a quick taxi ride, I walked into the lobby of the hotel and was greeted with the most amazing view I’d ever seen from reception. Or perhaps anywhere. The floor to ceiling windows framed sweeping views of the Sanctuary of Santa Luzia, perched high on the hill overlooking the town. As you stood admiring the church, which alone was impressive enough, you could also enjoy views of the river to the left and the sea to the right.
My room afforded me the same breathtaking views complete with a terrace to sit and enjoy. It was a magical feeling, sitting there with all this beauty below, and only the sounds of birds chirping and the gentle breeze to interrupt.
There was no chance I was going back into the ghost town for lunch. I’d starve here on this terrace first.
Exploring Viana do Castelo
Sadly, the next morning I left my paradise on the hill and headed down to a more budget friendly apartment which would be my home for the next three nights. Unfortunately, the apartment was overcome with a funky smell and mold that was crawling out of every crevice imaginable. Within the hour, I had collected a refund on the apartment and was checked into a lovely hotel down the street with a nice comfy bed and a mold-free bathroom.
With accommodations sorted, it was time to hit the streets and find out more about this seemingly empty town. As I wandered, I realized that despite first impressions from the train station, there were a fair amount of locals buzzing about, chatting happily as they passed in the streets. The sidewalks were clean and pristine art-deco style buildings lined the main street. The whole scene felt like a movie set of the 1950s.
I wondered what magic fairy dust they sprinkled on the town to make the people get along so well. Perhaps since they live in a small town, they find ways to peacefully coexist. Maybe it’s just the extraordinary beauty of this place.
Perhaps the reason the area around the train station was so dead is that people don’t leave Viana do Castelo.
The next morning, I awoke a bit nervous. After breakfast at my nice, mold-free hotel, I began the 11-minute walk to the immigration office. I had already done a dry-run the day before. After all I’d been through in the past year and a half, I did not want to miss my chance to finalize my escape to a new life. If I missed my appointment, I would go to the back of a very long line that I had no intention of joining again.
So as not to leave anything to chance, I walked carefully to avoid getting hit by a bus or kidnapped by a van full of ill-intentioned hooligans. As I was getting close to the immigration office, I had an extra half-hour so I stopped into what looked like a simple local cafe. After entering, I realized it was actually a scrappy bar with people drinking at 10:30am. While I like a party as much as the next guy, I thought it best to skip the adult beverages for now as the immigration officials may frown on morning drinking. Perhaps that is reserved for those with full Portuguese citizenship.
After I finished my coffee, I walked over to face the Portuguese music. After confirming with a guy waiting outside the locked door of the immigration office that an official would call me when they were ready, I took a seat and began to wait. Nervously, I watched the time pass. 5 minutes. The door opened and a woman called a name that was not mine. 10 minutes. Another woman collected the guy who helped me when I arrived. 25 minutes had passed when the door opened and a rather attractive Portuguese man called “Tisdale”. I collected my things and presented myself for inspection.
Inspection and Verdict
Mr. Good Looking, led me into a warm room, and motioned for me to take a seat at the last desk in a line of three. He sat behind the desk and asked for my papers. As he scrutinized them, a million reasons for panic flooded through my brain. On the wall behind him hung a sign that said “Here you can be happy.” Well if it was just me and you having drinks tonight, maybe. But in our current situation, it’s not so easy.
He asked a few questions as he went through my papers while banging things into a computer. Finally, he motioned for me to step over to a machine at the opposite side of the tiny room. He was taking my photo for my id card. I was in!!!! After the fingerprinting session, I was told my id card would be sent to my address in 1 to 3 months. I was shown out the door without gaining any phone numbers for later.
I emerged from that warm, tiny room into the bright sunshine of the happiest town in Portugal. As I walked back into the center, I thought that on my “newest resident of Portugal” high, I would fit in perfectly with the uber-happy locals.
I am home now.