Monday, February 25, 2013


The paperwork should be filed today, and that will signify the birth (in legal terms) of TerraPlana.  It's only a placeholder right now (we did not even fully capitalize it).  The company will not begin operations until sometime next year.  Still it is yet another milestone for us, and one more thing to check off the project plan.

It is a great feeling to see things moving along, even if we are only just at the beginning of a very long road.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


The location topic is the oldest cliche in real estate, but it was a critical focus for us.  We spent over a year searching for the right property in the right place.  Ultimately, we found it in a neighborhood that was not our first choice.  However, this spot is unique.

View TerraPlana in a larger map

This map displays some critical facts:

First, the property is in a small group of houses that are somewhat isolated from neighbors.  This is useful because only two of the neighboring properties are residential.  This greatly limits potential problems with residential neighbors (noise complaints etc).  The old city in Porto is densely populated, so this is a unique plus for our property.

Second, the map shows that the property is on a wide tree-lined avenue (Avenida Rodrigues de Freitas).  Tree lined avenues are very rare in Porto.  The city is characteristically medieval (in fact, it is among the oldest cities in southern Europe).   The roads were never intended for modern trafic, and the antique stone architecture does not present any opportunity for improving access to cars.  Sadly, pedestrian sidewalks generally suffer.  In most parts of the city, the pedestrian sidewalk is only one meter wide (often less).  However Avenida Rodrigues Freitas was clearly designed to be a significant road, and although the neighborhood has fallen somewhat out of favor, it still retains some nice features.  In addition to the wide tree-lined sidewalk, the avenue is dotted with significant architectural monuments.  The area remains an important junction joining downtown Porto with all points to the east.  Although there is some road traffic, TerraPlana is insulated by the wide sidewalk, on-street parking, and a particularly nice tree directly in front of the building.

The third thing that can be gathered from this map is the orientation of the property.  The street front of the property is north facing, however, the building has a very large, south facing garden.  The garden is the outstanding attribute because there are no buildings to obstruct constant direct sunlight onto the garden and into the rear of the building.  The climate in Porto is ideal, spring and fall are warm and pleasant, summer can be hot, but is generally not unbearable.  Even in the winter, the rainy days tend to be interrupted with moments of brilliant sunlight.  It is likely that the garden of TerraPlana will be the main focus for clients for nearly 10 months of the year.

Finally, it is worth pointing out a few of our immediate neighbors.  The placards shown below are common sites around Porto, the top gives a brief description in Portuguese, and the bottom gives the same information in English (sometimes crudely translated).  Common as these placards are, it's still unusual to have so many of them within 50 meters of each other.

Jardim de São Lázaro (Jardim de Marques de Oliveira)

Mention the official name of this park, 'Jardim de Marques de Oliveira' and you are likely to be met with a blank stare by most Porto residents.  Mention the more common name 'Jardim de São Lázaro' and most Porto residents will probably think you are interested in finding a cheap prostitute.  None the less, the park is really picturesque, well maintained, and although small, very pleasant (especially if you are interested in finding a cheap prostitute).

Directly behind the park, and across the street from TerraPlana is the Municipal Library (Biblioteca Municipal)

Biblioteca Municipal (Convent de Santo António da Cidade)

The Municipal Library is a really beautiful building.  Inside, it is built around an impressive interior courtyard.  It also houses some of the archives of the city.  In the picture below, you can see a little damage on the far side (some broken balcony railings and windows).  This winter, one of the tree's in São Lázaro park fell over in the wind and crashed into the library.  It was really sad because the tree was the oldest in the park.

Across the street from the park to the south is the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Esperança (Church of Our Lady of Hope).  It is particularly for having been designed by the great 18th century Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni

Nossa Senhora da Esperança (Church of Our Lady of Hope)

Nasoni is really significant in Porto.  He left his mark on almost every significant building from the 18th century, and helped define the Portuguese Baroque style.  Having one of his buildings as a neighbor is pretty special.  Below is the view from São Lázaro park.

University of Porto School of Fine Arts

Finally (as if these monuments were not enough) there is the real reason that we believe this location is a great place for a bar.  Just up the street from all these monuments is the University of Porto Faculdade de Belas Artes (University of Porto School of Fine Arts).

The University of Porto is a very good European university.  It is well respected in Europe, and hosts many international students.  Being situated next to the university might seem a drawback for anything but a college oriented bar, but the School of Fine Arts is something quite special... These will be good customers to have!

One last picture to tie it all together...  This is a view of the street showing the tight cluster of significant buildings surrounding TerraPlana:

Friday, February 15, 2013

Anything That's Not Falling In Now Probably Never Will

After seeing the last post regarding our beloved house, it would be reasonable to assume we have lost our minds.  Why on earth would we be sinking all our money in this dump?  In Portugal?  A country suffering a serious economic crisis, not to mention the European Union (who's crisis can be described as existential).  We can discuss the economic situation in time, the next few posts will be dedicated to showing that our house is, in fact, special (and not just especially odorous).

First off is the condition.  Rot in the wood and shit on the floor are not usually selling points.  In most houses, rot in the wood would mean a complete, ground up, rebuild.  In such a case, a buyer would actually have a better economic proposition buying an empty plot of land because at least that does not involve demolition and disposal costs.  Antique architecture in Porto is special in this regard.  Most of the historical district in Porto is constructed of walls which look something like this:

This is a sample, our walls are even better.
Anything older then about 100 years is likely to be constructed from walls made entirely of granite stone.  Usually the individual blocks of stone are quite large, sometimes more then a meter across, and doors and windows (as on our house) are framed in solid granite blocks.  A single block of stone this size can weigh 2 tons or more.  This city is old, and although our house is probably not much more then 100 years old, the walls almost defiantly predate it.  Porto was a large city during Roman times, and some of the walls laid down then (or even before) are still supporting buildings today.  Effectively, anything on our house that is not falling in now will probably be standing in 1000 years.  In today's disposable society, that kind of permanence is hard to comprehend.

When our house was built, it was well understood that some parts would be reused, and other parts (such as the wood structure) would be more temporary.  Temporary is a relative term of course, the structural wood was probably put in with projected life of a 100-200 years (an eternity when compared to more contemporary building techniques).

When the builders laid our stone walls, they understood well that these walls would last far beyond the house they were creating.  In fact, they built in features that would be useful if someday in the future the house was no longer even a house.  In a way, it could be said that the builders anticipated TerraPlana or something like it might someday come to be.

In the picture below, you can see the stone work framing the doors and windows.  You can also see two large blocks under the windows.  Compared to the other stone blocks used in the house, these are actually quite thin, and are designed to be removed if for some reason a door is more desirable then a window.

Thanks for thinking ahead

The current condition of the house is bad, but we didn't really buy a house (the price we paid accounted for the condition).  What we really bought was 4 walls, and they are among the best walls constructed in the past 1000 years!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Condition Can Be Safely Described as Shitty

Although we have great hopes for TerraPlana, it can't be denied that the current condition is a little rough.  It's been about 4 years since anyone has lived there (if you don't count the vagrants).  In that time, the roof gained a few leaks, which unaddressed, caused rot in some of the wood structure (even some mushrooms... yummy).  Inside, it's a moist, musty mess, and that was before the vagrants broke in!

Our little piece of heaven.
It's easy to have sympathy for the squatters of the world.  It's a crime to see so many useful buildings in a city sitting vacant when there are people who would love to make use of them, and  it's not uncommon to see buildings rehabilitated by squatters... in some cases even turned into cultural and community centers.  However, sadly, TerraPlana was blessed with less civic minded occupants.

What a bargin.  It even comes with furniture!

From the looks of it, the main activity in taking place in our house for the last few years was drinking cheap boxed wine, and making a fantastic mess.  The current state of the house is basically every flavor of disgusting (right down to the used condom in the bottom right of the last picture), and that's before you get to the picture below, which seems to be the room they chose as the bathroom.

Lovely brown accents.
Gladly, those days are over.  Our first improvement to the house was to add the following security system.  It's been a few weeks now, and happily, we can report that the wall shitters have not returned.
Party time's over.