Anu Patrakka – A Finnish Freelance Writer/Artesan/Photographer Loves Her Life Portugal

I don’t recall anymore how I found out that Anu Patrakka from Finland lives in Porto area. I have never been to Portugal but my sister’s ex-boyfriend’s family spent a lot of time there. One of Finnish bosses was a super fan of Portugal, he loves “fados” – and of course a good port wine which comes from porto ( also known as Oporto in English). Porto is the second-largest city in Portugal, after Lisbon, and one of the major urban areas in Southwestern Europe. The urban area of Porto, has a population of 1.4 million.

In 2014, Porto was elected The Best European Destination by the Best European Destinations Agency.
But let’s see what Anu tells us in her own words about her life outside Porto – and how did she get there from Finland.

Taking a leap to the other end of Europe.

Olá! I’m Anu from Porvoo, Southern Finland. I live in a small village near Vila do Conde in Northern Portugal, close to the amazing city of Porto. Before coming to Portugal I worked for more than 20 years in Finland as a secretary/executive assistant. In the end I got rather tired of the business world and decided that it’s time to do something else. I left my job, packed a few things and came to Portugal. Nowadays I live with my Portuguese partner/husband and his elderly mother on a real farm, quinta.

How did you end up living close to Porto, Portugal?

This is actually the second time I live in Portugal – I took a year off from work some 6 years ago, and spent 6 months in Aveiro and another 6 in Espinho. Back then I visited Vila do Conde and thought that if I ever come back to Portugal to live, I will live here. The city has everything; a river, the seaside with beaches, a  small centre with a weekly market, an old part of the town with ancient buildings, nice restaurants and cafés and a metro connection both to Porto and the airport. It is calm and quiet except on market days, and safe enough. I lived near the centre of the city for a year or so before moving to the quinta.

How do you find the lifestyle in this village compared to your hometown in Finland?

Living on the outskirts of a small village is not such a quiet life as you would think. There’s plenty of action going on, with the neighbours doing this and that, farm animals running loose and the village parties. By now I know more people here than in the city in Finland where I lived for almost 9 years. Everybody knows everybody and everything about everybody, that is so true! The neighbours also help each other when needed, without being pushy.

The Portuguese health care works just as well as in Finland. I’m basing that on my personal experience as well as having seen how well my mother-in-law has been treated in hospitals. However, the financial crisis with its cost cuts has affected the health sector. In addition, it is mostly to the families to look after their elderly people, and you can have assistance at home only from the private sector – if you can afford it.

Most things in Portugal are clearly cheaper than in Finland; house rents, property prices, food, wine, dining in restaurants and clothing. Cars, combustibles, electricity and water are quite expensive. Public transport is  quite good by my standards at least, but of course it depends on where you live. Even in the villages you have a grocery store or two, and an ambulant fishmonger, baker, vegetable seller etc. who stop round the corner almost daily.

The winters in Portugal are a lot milder than in Finland. However, it may be very humid, up to a point that is nearly intolerable. We have a machine to help with that. The temperatures may go below zero at night, and  only the more recent houses are equipped with central heating. Even in winter, when the sun shines, it shines with all its force and there is a lot of light, unlike in Finland. I love that.  In summer it may be very hot especially inland and in the South. Where I live, a few kilometres from the  Atlantic Ocean, it’s windy most days. The heat waves may last a few days, and bring along forest fires. They  are actually the worst thing about summer, when there’s a lot of smoke in the air.

What kind of an advice would you give to someone considering a move to Portugal?

Travel a little bit in Portugal to choose the place where you want to stay. Ask suggestions from people who live here or have been here. Find out about the practicalities – e.g. it may be advisable to arrange a permanent travel (or health) insurance before you leave your country of origin. A housing agent will help  you to arrange your first apartment, and a written rental contract is very useful when arranging the taxpayer´s number that is needed for almost everything.

It helps a lot if you learn to speak at least a little bit of Portuguese. With a basic vocabulary you can easily handle the everyday life, but you get so much more out of your life here if you speak the language.

At the moment Portugal is very attractive for at least Finnish pensioners; they don’t need to pay income tax for the first 10 years. The pensioners remain in the Finnish social security, hence Finland pays for healthcare in Portugal. To make all this happen it is needed a bit of paperwork, of course.

How do you make your living now – and how would you like to develop that career?

I work a lot but still need to work on generating some income. I run the household including the garden and kitchen garden, I do my bit in looking after my mother-in-law – those are the everyday “musts”. I write  Normaali Irtiotto blog and have a photo blog PhotosAlma (in English) and a lifestyle blog (in Finnish). So far I’ve had one photo exhibition in Lisbon, and I need to find more use for my photos. I’ve written two unpublished (so far) novels, and will soon start working on a third one. I teach Finnish and work as a guide when asked to do so. And, if all this is not enough to occupy my days, I design and manufacture unique Milmanda handbags.

What is the essence of the area to you – what do you absolutely want your friends to see or feel about it vs. your country?

In this context I’d like to talk to you about Porto. It’s a marvellous city that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. Just the laidback atmosphere of it, the beautiful old buildings, little specialised shops, cafés, restaurants, the street artists and street art, the River Douro with all the bridges crossing it, the uphills and downhills of the city, not forgetting the abundance of port wine cellars on the other side of the  Douro and the rabelo boats on the river. Porto bustles with life, every day, all day and night, and has  everything to offer for a visitor; even beaches.

What do you absolutely miss from your country/elsewhere heritage …or elsewhere?

I miss my family and friends, of course… and some food ingredients, e.g. cholesterol-free baking fat, the  variety of dairy products, rye bread and salmiakki, the salty candy. In the winter I miss the central heating  and a bathroom with heated floor.

Knowing more about life and having lived with your decisions for a while (like work) – would you still choose to be there and why?

Yes, I would. This is my home. I´m daughter of Carelian emigrants, and I never had strong roots in Finland. I
remember well, when after the first few months in Portugal a friend took me to the Caramulo Mountains.  We climbed up to 1000 metres and I looked down to the valleys, over the forests and the fields with sheep a-grazing and birds chirruping – I felt very strongly that I had found the place, the country where I belong.

What should everyone know and understand about Portugal and its culture?

I’m still learning to understand the Portuguese people – the people who explored the world and have a magnificent history, but today are one of the poorest countries in Europe. The essence of the Portuguese soul is in saudade, the longing for the times gone by. The melancholic fado songs are all about that.

The Portuguese welcome foreigners warmly were it just to visit here or live here. I’ve never met such sympathetic people anywhere. On my photo shoots people often stop and talk to me, curious about why I’m photographing a door knocker or whatever. They actually really talk to me, a perfect stranger – about their lives.

I feel very fortunate to live here. I may not receive such a nice salary, but in other ways my life has become a lot richer.

Thanks to Anu from for taking the time to write down here thoughts, you can see below how to connect with her.

Connect with Anu:
Anu Patrakka @ LinkedIn/
Anu Patrakka @ Facebook

Share this interview with your friends – and let us know if we could interview you via email for our website.
Contact us via email!