A Dream Home at Bargain Prices in Laidback Lisbon

Seated in the Jardim de Estrela, Molly Ashby sips a latte-like beverage known as meia de leite. She smiles as she listens to a young man playing a guitar on a nearby bench. Joggers pass by, some with dogs on leashes. A turtle basks on the edge of the pond. A group of men in smart vests, dark jackets, and jaunty caps are immersed in a card game at their regular table.

“Look,” she says, nodding toward an elegantly dressed couple strolling hand in hand. “And up there,” she adds, pointing to a fat pigeon parked on the head of a solemn-looking statue. “This is my favorite part about life here. Everything just seems more poignant in Lisbon.”

Molly has traveled enough to know what she likes. An “Air Force brat”, she moved every three years, living in Thailand, Taiwan, and on various bases Stateside. When her family retired to San Antonio, Texas, she finished her schooling and later met her husband there.

“I again started moving every three years when my spouse and I began working for the Department of Defense Dependent School System,” Molly says.

When it was time to retire they chose Portugal, having fallen in love with it during two postings in the Azores. “We were drawn to the more peaceful, slower pace of Portugal, the mellow nature of the people, the importance of aesthetics in everything, and the variety of cultural options in such a small country,” Molly says.

She and her husband further narrowed their choice to the capital, Lisbon, for its logistical advantage regarding return visits to family in Texas. In 2013, they bought an apartment in a 1910 building located in the freguesia, or parish, of Campo de Ourique. The investment, including $75,000 for extensive renovation, was $270,000.

“We created a dream home at bargain prices,” Molly says. “The only caveat I have is that repairmen here are on their own schedules. But that’s part of the laidback Portuguese way, and as we are retired with time to be patient, it wasn’t a hassle.”

The Ashbys dine out often, and the spectrum is wide. For instance, at nearby Tasca de Esquina, dinner can run up to $60 per person, but eating at the Campo de Ourique market means a full meal with wine for about $12.

“We love the European lifestyle,” Molly notes. “While there are many options for food, clothing, housing, and so on, there’s not the excessive sense of consumerism we found in the States. Our lives have become uncomplicated.”

Part of that simplicity is not owning a car. “We walk everywhere,” she says. “All we need for daily living is within easy reach: hardware store, seamstress, dry cleaner, grocery store, butcher, gym, park, clothing store, electric repair shop, and more. On these everyday strolls, we’re treated to the aesthetic pleasure of viewing charming colonial architecture and experiencing the culinary delights of fresh-baked pastries and the aroma of sweet, strong, coffee at cafés that seem to appear on every corner.”

While she hasn’t used the country’s health system, Molly is aware of the availability of quality free or low-cost care, as well as private assistance. And the family cat has routine checkups at a vet (naturally, right around the corner) for a mere $24—a big savings over the States.

Filling free time is not a problem. The family has an interest in all aspects of the magnificent Lusitano horses, and the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art is based in the nearby Gardens of the National Palace of Queluz. Walks, visits to the gym, and a monthly book club meeting keep her busy. Her main priority is taking Portuguese language lessons, and practicing as much as possible.

“I volunteer at ReFood, a charity food donation organization, where I’ve met people from Mexico, Brazil, France, and, of course, Portugal,” says Molly. “My intent was to speak only Portuguese, but there, as with so many conversations with anyone under the age of 50, everyone defaults to English when I speak. This has probably been my biggest frustration to date.”

Not a big problem, while she’s living her dream.

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