So we have a flat! We took the flat of the restauradore — the one flat we never saw listed, which we only found because Gabe asked the guy with the Smart car if he had any flats other than the one he was showing us. Sure enough, he did, and we are all the happier for it!

Somewhere between Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, this flat became the gold standard against which all others were compared. We looked at one other flat yesterday, one that we knew would be out of our price range but wanted to see if it might be a good holiday rental for visiting family to use. It was gorgeous inside, with incredible views, but we immediately ruled it out for ourselves — besides the price point, it was not as conveniently located, not as well-appointed, etc. Not to mention the five flights of stairs it took to earn the amazing views. (Those are the first photos in the set below — notice that the best views in the whole place are from the bathroom!)

Once you start comparing all other flats (or partners, or jobs, or anything really) to the one you prefer, you know you’re in.

We took a second look at it yesterday afternoon, and while I was too tired and hungry to recognize its good bones on Wednesday, luckily Gabe spotted them, and this time so did I. And as soon as we walked into it again, it was confirmed for both of us. All we had to do was look at each other, nod, and it was done.

It’s all brand new inside, and really nicely redone, too, with little touches that make it really lovely: exposed stone window ledge, beautiful wood floor, sliding doors, a heated towel rack, dishwasher, nice tile for the bathroom and kitchen, etc. Although it’s very small, it still has two bedrooms, and despite being on the ground floor, it’s light and airy enough that it looks cozy instead of cramped. The pop-through window from the kitchen to the living room helps a lot in that regard, as it makes an otherwise tiny space feel a little less claustrophobic. Even so, we won’t be making dinner together for quite a while!

And no wonder that it’s so well done inside — the family who owns it is like the hospitality mafia, with the patriarch an architect, the eldest son a contractor, and the other two sons in the tourist/real estate business. They have one business buying, redoing, and selling/renting flats in old buildings, another running an inn up near Sintra (a beautiful town on the coast), and will be opening another restaurant/guest house in Lisbon this winter.

They’re all Anglophiles, too — both of the sons we met went to school in England and speak perfect though strangely accented English (Portuguese with a posh British lilt layered on top). The father seems to be similarly afflicted, as the son told us a story of how the dining chairs came from Camden market in north London, where the old man bought 200 of these chairs because it was cheaper to do so in bulk.

The best part for me is the history of the place, which you just can’t get in California. Besides the little old restauradore across the street, who must have been there for at least 250 years, the building itself used to be a convent, which the eldest brother didn’t realize until some tourist came by looking for the Convent of So-and-So. Our back windows look out over the red tile roofs of what used to be the nun’s prayer cells, which have also been converted into studios. There’s also a giant brick smokestack in back of our building, but none of us could guess what it came from. A mystery to figure out during the year to come!

Somehow this history just makes it all the more exciting to me, the history geek, although as the guy pointed out, it’s sad that it was so utterly forgotten that they had to rely on some out-of-date guidebook to find out what it used to be. Still, it’s amazing to be in a city that has that much history to be forgotten!

The flat is on the ground floor, for which my knees are incredibly grateful, but because we’re on a hill, the back windows actually have a great view. Even so, it’s a (mostly) flat walk to get down into one of the main commerical/tourist districts, with tons of shops, restaurants, museums, and transportation. (Those are the pictures towards the end of the set below, of the clock tower and castle — took us about 15 minutes’ leisurely walk to get here.)

In the other direction, it’s a very steep but short walk to get into an area where all the nightlife is, which is nice to visit but even better when you can leave it behind and go back to your nice quiet neighborhood without drug deals taking place outside your door.

We are both completely enamored of it, in case you couldn’t tell, and all day we kept expounding on the benefits of the flat. We move in next weekend, as they are still putting the finishing touches on the flat (as you can see from the photos), and we had to give a week’s notice on our current housing anyway. It’ll be a looong week of sharing a bathroom with 4 guys and a kitchen with a guy who cooks delicious-smelling curries every day (and doesn’t share!) — but at least we know there’s a great place waiting at the end. A side benefit of this plan is that we caught the landlord while he was shopping for furniture at Ikea last night (I thought he’d be out partying!), and gave him some direction as to what we wanted.

So after nearly six weeks without a home, we finally have a place to call our own again. Now we can actually go out and see the city a bit, since we got both our flat and our mobile phones settled yesterday. Phew!

We got a great deal accomplished in our first week, and I feel really good about where we are. Every day I’ve been getting more and more comfortable with the city and its bustle, and what I saw as shabbiness at first is now incredibly intriguing and lovely to me. Not so much the ubiquitous graffiti and dog poo, but those I’m getting used to ignoring.

What’s helping more than anything is that I’ve found the people here to be amazingly warm and friendly, pretty much across the board. The guys who showed us flats (below you will find a picture of Gabe helping one of them, an architect, figure out an engineering problem in the other flat we saw yesterday), waiters, the cleaning ladies in our building, even strangers we stop on the street to ask directions — everyone is so warm and friendly, and totally willing to help a couple of foreigners. I would think it’s because Gabe speaks the language, but even though I know only three phrases in Portuguese, they get so excited when I ask them how they’re doing in their own language.

We celebrated the acquisition of our flat with a yummy dinner and incredible mojitos, sitting outside in a courtyard between tall, yellow-and-blue tiled buildings, with the ubiquitous sound of a jackhammer the only interruption to an otherwise lovely night. A fitting end to a busy and productive week.

(Please note in the photos below: a police Smart car! Ha!)

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