Wednesday, March 27, 2013


The United States could learn a thing or two from Portugal when it comes to immigration.  I have been living in Portugal for a little over a year now, and although there was a fair amount of paperwork (some of it a bit silly) I was able to achieve a Residence Visa simply by showing that I had enough money deposited in a Portugese bank to cover my living expenses for the term of the visa.  There were other requirements, (health certificate, criminal background check, etc) but basically, showing that I had the financial means to live here was all that I really had to do.  Ironically, the most difficult part of applying for the visa was actually something that the United States makes very difficult...  In the United States, the only official government body able to provide a criminal background check is the FBI.  Presumably, this is something that could be done by typing a few keys into a computer at the local sherifs office, and yet, I had to send $18 dollars with a copy of my fingerprints (taken, at the local sherifs office) and then wait one and a half MONTHS for the FBI to do it.  It's plausible that the G-Men at the FBI then do something much more intensive then typing a few keys into a computer.  Plausible, yes, but it seems more likely that they are just slow, inefficient, or incompetent (or some combination of the three).

So, legal residence was not difficult to obtain, and why should it be?  I'm here, spending money in the local economy.  I don't have the right to work, I'm basically just a long term tourist.  Why wouldn't a country want as many of those as it could get?  And now, we have made an investment into property, and with luck we are going to start a business.

Opening the business will require a change in status for my visa, fortunately, Portugal provides an Investment Visa for this purpose.  Additionally, there are incentives such as reduced taxes for foreign investors which is useful since the United States is one of the few countries that require full tax filing REGARDLESS of residency (creating a interminable headache for all Americans living abroad).

Falar Português?

Learning Portuguese is proving to be a little harder then anticipated, but it's coming along.  Although similar, Portuguese is considered more difficult then Spanish because there are more vowel sounds.  It is also proving difficult to practice the language because English is common, and it is easy to fall back on when I should be forcing myself to speak Portuguese.  There are free language lessons for legal residents sponsored by the European Union.  In fact, since my classes are at night, they even provide a small allowance for meals; so, I am in effect being paid to go to class.  My ability is improving quickly, but I still have a long way to go.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cast Iron

Although it was not our original intention, when we started designing the cafe, there were a lot of elements (railings, spiral stairs, etc) that seem to suggest cast or wrought iron.  Cast iron can be a beautiful material, and when done properly it can have a really interesting antique look, however it is also a challenge because there has been a far amount of cheap, tasteless, naff crap made recently.

Done right, cast iron has an interesting antique feel... Done wrong, it feels like the garden section of Home Depot.

We need a real artesian who can craft what we want and also has access to antique molds which will properly match the age of the building.  Fortunately, Porto has a lot of cast iron around, it is very common for buildings to have cast railings, and other accents.  So it seemed that there must still be some craftsmen in the city, but how to find them?  Searching the internet did not turn up much, we found some specialists in the US, and England, but it just feels like something we should be having done locally.

Then we found CIF.  They are located about 10 kilometers up the Douro river from Porto.   Although they are also creating modern pieces, walking into the foundry was a bit like stepping back in time.  It's an awesome place, something like Willy Wonka meets Mad Max!

If it were up to me, they would have Umpa Lumpas, but I guess you can't have everything.

What a wonderful place, filled with things that can rip you to shreds, cut you to pieces, and incinerate anything that remains! 

Where the magic happens
Modern demand seems to have tilted towards their line of wood stoves and ovens, some of which are really beautiful.

Hansel and Gretel where cooked in one just like this.
We spent a few hours wondering around this place.  It was hard to keep from being giddy as a school boy...  Every now and then it was good to remember that this is one of the few places where falling into a bubbling cauldron of multen metal is a real risk.

These are the forms filled with molten metal
Here is a video of a new batch being made out of the rejects:


After seeing the foundry, they took us in the back where we got to see what really makes this place special.  They have a huge storeroom filled with forms, some of them dating from over 100 years!

Somewhere in here our railings and staircase is waiting to be born

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sunday Market!

Got a surprise today, there had been some word on the street that it was coming, but really we had no idea what to expect.  And then today, there it was...

A Sunday market around Jardim de São Lázaro, and not just that, continuing up the street all the way to our place and beyond!

Most of the stuff on offer is on the lower budget end, but there were some gourmet stalls focused on local cheeses, breads and pastries.  Street markets are not that common here, so this was a really nice surprise.

Granted, it's not Broadway Market in London but it's still pretty cool.  If nothing eles, it shows that the municipality is focusing some attention on the area.  Maybe we can stake out the space in front of our door and have a stall selling pizza by the slice?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

More Plans Sent for Approval Today

Today's submission was to the Historical Society of Porto.  This is a unique requirement that is placed on our property (and others in the center of the city).  The historic district of Porto has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and because of this, there are additional requirements when renovating buildings in this area.

The requirements are not overburdensome, unless you have a plan to drastically change the appearance of the building, and since we don't, it appears that approval should be a reasonably simple process.  Given the unique beauty of Porto, it's nice to know that it is being perserved and protected.  There are also programs to give assistance (both technical and financial) for renovation.

The unfortunate aspect for us is time.  It is expected that we will wait about a month for official approval from the Historical Society.  One month is not too egregious by itself, but there's a catch.   We also need to apply for approval from the municipality, and their process is quite in-depth (and multi-stage).  All together, the municipal approval will take something like 2-3 months.  However, we can't even start the process with the municipality until we have approval from the Historical Society.

This is a ridiculously long time to wait for approval, and it really shouldn't be this way.  If we could at least apply concurrently  that could save a month.  Then there's the simple fact the approval itself does not appear to be more then an afternoon's work for a person...  What are they checking anyway?

Anyway for all of you waiting for a nice pizza and a good drink in our sunny garden...  We are sorry for the delay, normal service will commence as soon as the guy behind the desk says so.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Playing House

We have been busy the last few weeks, finalizing plans with our architect.  He has really done an outstanding job.  This week, we are going to submit the plans for approval(s).  There are a number of approvals that have to be cleared before we will be licensed to start construction.  We have already had a number of meetings with various departments to talk with them about our ideas, and understand the requirements.

For the most part, things have gone smoothly, but there are always a few surprises.  The health department are particularly pedantic, especially when compared to some of the places you see running.  It is sad to think that over time, the quant, local Portuguese bodegas that are so common here (and so integral to the local flavor) will slowly be devoured by an army of bureaucrats demanding separate men's/women's employee changing rooms.  Most of the restaurants in this city would never have gotten off the ground if they had to fight the regulations we are up against today.

But, lets not get diverted... This is not a blog post about the frustrations of planning permissions and regulations (although there will almost certainly be a few such posts before we open).  This is a post about the excitement of seeing a dream take physical shape.

TerraPlana at 1cm = 1 m
After months of discussing ideas, things are really starting to come together.  Our jaws dropped when our architect brought out this model of the house.  Looking at this, we can really start to imagine what it will be like to move around in and around the space.

If you get close enough, you can almost smell the pizza
It's hard to appreciate how cool this model is in pictures, and it will be even harder to describe with words.

A few things can be pointed out.  First, the top floors of the building will be separated into a small apartment.  The bar will occupy the ground floor.  From the very beginning, we understood that the focus of the bar would be the garden at the back of the building.  Since the garden is at a higher level then the street, we made the choice to open the ceiling and create a mezzanine level above the bar.  Since the current second floor has two large doors opening onto the garden, there will be a small metel catwalk above the bar, joining to the upper level of the garden through these doors.  There will also be a spiral staircase to the mezzanine which is not shown in the physical model, but can be seen in the drawings below.

Everything will become clear when we have the life size model done
This model is really the culmination of a million small decisions that we have been making.  As with any choices, the big fear is always, "Will we regret this someday?"  It seemed natural that when we finally came to this point, where the plans are basically done, we would have last minute second thoughts.

And yet, here we are and there is NOTHING but excitement!

The work ahead of us cannot be ignored.  Just the approval process is going to take months.  We have a lot of work to do regarding materials, engineering, and building.  We haven't even signed a contractor yet.  Then there is the work to start the bar.  Decorating, finding distributors, creating recipes etc...  It's going to be a busy year.