In the United States, when you rent an apartment, it usually comes with ceiling fixtures. They may not be exciting, but they’re there. As Harold checked out unfurnished flats we quickly learned that is not always the case in Portugal. It appears that when the previous tenant moves out, they remove their lights and cart them off. Who knew?
In Porto you might be lucky to have a bare bulb hanging from the junction box in the ceiling (our apologies for the blurry photo). Some rooms might have no light at all—just bare wires (brown, blue and yellow/green). The brown wire is the hot, the blue is neutral, and the yellow/green is safety ground for those that are curious. The ceilings also tend to be a little taller in modern buildings, 8 1/2 feet, which presents an installation challenge since we didn’t include a ladder or step stool in our luggage.
Another curious thing: There is a wire hook near most of the junction boxes. Due to the temporary nature of the ceiling fixtures, most suspended fixtures just hang from that hook making installation, and presumably removal, rather simple. Flush mount fixtures are a bit more of a hassle, but most have slots that the hook will go through.
Our shopping for lights found us a great ceiling fixture at a small local hardware store. We were struggling with our rudimentary Portuguese as the shop owner didn't speak any English. We decided to take the light, but we're faced with the dilemma of not having a ladder. Unfortunately, the store owner didn’t sell ladders (sigh). We continued to shop and found several more things we needed beyond the light, then headed to the register to pay.
To our stunned surprise, the owner went to the storage room and brought back a ladder that he used in the shop. Since it was late Friday afternoon, and he was closed for the weekend, he said we could borrow it until Monday so we could install the light. This is only one example of the wonderful generosity of the Portuguese people.
We left the shop with the lamp, a clothes rack, several other kitchen items, and the borrowed ladder. That night the dining room had a proper light fixture instead of an ugly bare bulb thanks to the kindness and trusting nature of a shop owner. We subsequently outfitted the rest of the apartment with lights, making a mental note that when we depart, those lights will be packed with the rest of our belongings.
Harold is a former software engineer. Jana is an author. Together they're exploring their new life in Portugal.