A friend recently visited me here in Portugal and when I asked her what she liked about the country, I wasn’t surprised when she said, “I feel safe here.” I do too. I feel free to explore and enjoy and that’s not something I take for granted. Let me give you an example.
When I visit a new place, I like to get lost. Not on my way to the hotel, or anywhere I need to be by a certain time, of course, but if I’ve got a map in my bag for when I’ve done roaming the streets, I prefer to choose my route based on whatever catches my eye at the time.
As a result, I often find myself way off the tourist trail and sometimes in decidedly less salubrious areas. This happened not so long ago when I visited Vila do Conde, a lovely seaside town just north of Porto which is famous for its lace-making and hosts a big national arts and crafts fair every year.
Most of the town is well-maintained and quite pretty but I’d found myself in a residential area where the views were of cheap patterned sheets flapping about in the breeze, coarse insults scratched into someone’s garage door and makeshift outbuildings of red brick and splattered cement.
Granted, I’ve been in far worse places but this was definitely down-at-heel and in other countries I might have felt on edge. Not so in Portugal. It struck me that even in a place like this, I felt safe.
This feeling of personal safety is one of the things that I immediately noticed when I first moved to Portugal from Venezuela; the simple freedom to walk down the street without the very real fear that someone might rob or even kidnap me.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not just in Venezuela that I’ve felt restricted by the threat of crime. When I lived in Tanzania, there was always an underlying concern, especially after dark or away from busy streets, which made it prudent not to take risks. In my home country, the UK, the media-hyped danger of rapists and muggers made me wary of going for walks alone or late at night.
So maybe I’m being naive, after all, crime is on the increase in Portugal, especially now that times are tougher financially. Or maybe it’s just the contrast; from having had to be extra vigilant, I now feel I can relax.
I don’t skip around the streets in blissful ignorance; there have been a couple of times when I’ve felt the need to keep a tighter hold of my bag and be more alert in Portuguese cities and I once had an unpleasant encounter while walking in the woods but these instances are few and far between.
This overriding sense of security is something I frequently feel grateful for, particularly when I’m walking the dog in the forests near our village or travelling alone. It’s one of the many reasons I’m happy I moved here.
How safe do you think Portugal is? Let me know what you think in your comments.
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