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Archive for the ‘happy holidays’


An Algarve Summer in Pictures – Part 1 4

Posted on October 29, 2013 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

(Ben) This summer, my brother in law has spent a few months in the Algarve. He’s recently caught the photography bug, and has been turning out plenty of beautiful pictures that put our washed-out iPhone efforts to shame.

He’s also kindly agreed to let me share a selection of the photographs here. So today, I’m pleased to present an Algarve summer in photographic form. There will be more to come in a subsequent post.

Cabanas Beach, East Algarve

Cabanas Beach, East Algarve

Oranges in the orchard

Oranges in the orchard

A Tavira Terrapin

A Tavira Terrapin

The wild West coast

The Wild West coast

Alcoutim river beach

Alcoutim river beach

Castro Marim medieval fair

Castro Marim medieval fair

Octopus jerky at Castro Marim Medieval Fair

Octopus jerky at Castro Marim Medieval Fair

Praia da Luz in the peak of summer

Praia da Luz in the peak of summer

Fiesa Sand Sculptures

Fiesa Sand Sculptures

Strange red bug

Strange red bug

Canon at Sagres

Canon at Sagres

Castro Marim Castle

Castro Marim Castle

All images (C) Robert Herring 2013. All rights reserved.

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Cruising to Madeira 4

Posted on October 15, 2013 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

(Ben) Every time I post on this blog nowadays I seem to begin with an apology for the length of time between my updates. I guess it’s no bad thing that I’ve got plenty of work to do, with employment being so hard to come by here in Portugal, but I do wish I had a little more blogging time.

Still, while the work keeps coming, I have to keep doing it, so I’m glad I have at least found a quick gap in which to type up this quick update.

Hitting the high seas

Hitting the high seas

I guess it’s technically autumn now here in the Algarve, but you wouldn’t know it with temperatures still frequently in the high 20s. Even so, the evenings are getting a little cooler, and though I’m stubbornly remaining in shorts and flip-flops, my wife is now in jeans by sundown most days!

The tourists seem happy with the weather, and there are still plenty of them around, but we’ve had to accept the end of summer and get back to the grindstone.

However, we have booked ourselves a little holiday! Next month we head off on a cruise to Morocco, Madeira and the Canary Islands. A cruise is something we’ve always wanted to try, even though many of our friends have appeared baffled by our desire to do so!

This time we will see Madeira from the opposite direction

This time we will see Madeira from the opposite direction

We’ve looked into cruising before, but the thing that’s put us off has been that the majority of routes start in Barcelona, which for us involves a drive to Seville, followed by a flight, before we even get to board our ship.

Last week, I discovered a very inexpensive cruise beginning in Malaga, which is much easier as we can get there in the car in around four hours, the last hour of which is through stunning mountain scenery.

So we set off next month and will be calling at Barcelona, Casablanca, Madeira and Lanzarote. Ironically, it’s revisiting the Portuguese island of Madeira that we’re most excited about, but setting foot in Africa for the first time is also rather thrilling.

Somewhere to revisit in Madeira

Somewhere to revisit in Madeira

We’ve clearly taken quite a gamble with a November cruise. The weather will be hit and miss at best, so we’re glad we stocked up on high strength travel sickness pills when we were in the US earlier this year! But ultimately it’s all about having a break from the routine and finding out, once and for all, if cruises are something we enjoy. Given that I’ve always got awfully excited about simple ferry journeys, I think there will be enough to keep me entertained!

And if it’s all a disaster…well, at least then we’ll have some funny stories to tell on this blog when we get back.

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Summer in Portugal – why the Portuguese don’t sleep 4

Posted on August 12, 2013 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

Summer in Portugal is a wonderful time and particularly so in the Algarve. Entertainment offerings crank up during July until they reach fever pitch in August. For holidaymakers evenings can be spent enjoying relaxed meals sitting outside restaurants, followed by shopping, drinking or dancing for endless hours at a range of venues, local festivals and travelling markets. Days are for tanning by the pool or swimming in the sea of one of the Algarve’s many stunning beaches.

Summer in Portugal - hot sushi and sangria by the sea

Summer in Portugal – hot sushi and sangria by the sea

For those of use who live here, fitting in the countless summer activities around a fulltime work schedule and a calendar of visiting guests can be tricky – and very tiring! In the past couple of weeks we have spent the day at a waterpark, visited a casino, listened to an amazing sunset DJ set, swum in the sea, been out for dinner, danced the night away at the local nightclub and attended numerous BBQs. All while working 8-10 hour days.

With this many activities to pack into the schedule, something has to give. In our case, it’s been sleep that we’ve passed up on in order to fit everything else in. So it was a treat last night to get our first full night of deep sleep in about two weeks – despite the noise from a late night football game in our village.

This week, with a couple of beach visits, a night out with friends and attending the Olhão shellfish festival already on the cards even if nothing else comes up, I suspect we will be straight back to cutting out sleep in order to enjoy everything the summer has to offer.

Summer in Portugal - beautiful bars welcome you at sunset

Summer in Portugal – beautiful bars welcome you at sunset

It’s a routine that has taken us some years to adjust to and we debated yesterday why it is that the Portuguese don’t seem to sleep. Our conclusions, based purely on personal observations since we’ve lived here, are that our Portuguese friends are able seemingly to stay up all night every night during the summer months because:

1)      It’s too hot to sleep, even if you wanted to

2)      There’s so much to do that the frenetic energy of the Algarve continues to pulse through your veins when your own stock of energy runs out

3)      The Algarve is so quiet during the nine non-summer months of the year that everyone enters into a state of semi-hibernation to prepare for the following summer, when they do it all over again

Summer in Portugal - balancing work and play

Summer in Portugal – balancing work and play

After four years, we are beginning to adapt to the routine, with snatched cat-naps here and there giving us the energy for long days of work and even longer evenings and weekends of play. It might be tiring at times, but come October when we are sitting indoors and watching the rain pour down for days on end, we will be glad to know that we squeezed every last drop out of the Portuguese summer.

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Algarve – East v. West 14

Posted on July 29, 2013 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

As with any area of Portugal, the Algarve has its own particular flavours, sights and sounds, which combine to give it a wonderfully distinct regional makeup. Yet numerous differences exist within the Algarve region itself. If you are looking to move to the Algarve, or just come here for a holiday, this post should help you decide which area is right for you.

Algarve beaches - head west for stunning cliffs

Algarve beaches – head west for stunning cliffs

Beaches

The Algarve unquestionably has some stunning beaches. Those in the eastern Algarve (between Faro and the border with Spain) tend to be long, flat expanses of sand, which are perfect for lazy days soaking up the sun or lengthy beach walks. They include a number of delightful sand-spit beaches, which are accessed by crossing the tidal rivers and saltpans that make up the extensive Ria Formosa nature reserve. Crossings can be made by boat (for a small fee), by water taxi (for a slightly larger fee) or – in the case of Barril beach near Tavira – by a miniature train, which is particularly popular with small children.

The train at Barril - eastern quirks

The train at Barril – eastern quirks

West of Faro, the beaches tend to be backed by crumbling red and yellow cliffs, with tiny coves and eye-catching rock formations dotted about in the sea. They are arguably more scenic and are perfect for cliff-top rambles. On the Algarve’s western coast, from Cape St Vincent northward, the winds and giant Atlantic waves make for some great surfing spots.

For those who like to bathe in the sea, it’s worth noting that the sea water is significantly colder west of Faro than east. The warmest water in the Algarve is said to be in Monte Gordo, close to the Spanish border.

Stay east for a cheaper life

Stay east for a cheaper life

Cost

There is a notable price variation as you travel along the Algarve coast. The eastern Algarve is (very roughly) 20-30% cheaper than the central and western coast, for everything from accommodation to a glass of beer. We notice this price change every time we venture west and, though it doesn’t make much difference for the occasional day out, it soon adds up when we spend anything more than a day or two away from our eastern Algarve home.

Cuisine

The heavily seafood-influenced diet of the Algarve is available across the entire region, with specialities such as cataplana and arroz de marisco found in restaurants from one coast to the other. However, non-Portuguese food is far more readily available towards the west than it is in the east. We can get Chinese and Indian takeaways in our local area, but for decent Thai food or proper English fish and chips we have to head westward in order to be sure of both availability and quality.

Algarve cuisine - seafood is available from coast to coast

Algarve cuisine – seafood is available from coast to coast

Authenticity

The eastern Algarve is more authentically Portuguese than the central and west. Although we still get our fair share of tourists in the east, there is something more traditional about life here. It’s hard to define precisely how this is evidenced, as it’s really a range of small factors which combine to provide a more genuine experience of Portugal.

As an example – if you order food and drink in Portuguese in the eastern Algarve, the waiter will reply to you in Portuguese. Head west and the waiter will reply in English, no matter how good your attempt at speaking Portuguese might have been. In the central and western Algarve, particularly in places such as Vilamoura, the majority of restaurant boards will list their specialities in English first and Portuguese last (if at all). In the east, it’s the other way around.

Although these are subtle variations, the combined effect is that the eastern Algarve provides an experience of Portugal that just somehow feels much more genuinely Portuguese.

Eastern Algarve - more Portuguese

Eastern Algarve – more Portuguese

Weather

While the Algarve enjoys an alleged 300 days of sunshine per year, there are notable temperature differences as you travel along the coast. The sea is at its warmest off the far eastern coast by the town of Monte Gordo, where a sheltered bay means that the water is always more tempting than elsewhere. Lagos, towards the western end of the Algarve, tends to be windier and cooler than many of the other coastal towns. On the western coast, the winds sweeping off the Atlantic mean lower temperatures and beaches more suited to surfers than sunbathers.

Generally, we find that as we drive westward along the Algarve coast, we lose around 2-3 degrees of temperature the further we travel. Of course there will be times when it’s the other way round, but this is our general finding based on the years we’ve lived here.

East Algarve - there's no place like home

East Algarve – there’s no place like home

So these are some of the reasons we ended up living in the eastern Algarve. We enjoy visiting the west and Praia da Rocha, as the first place we ever stayed in Portugal, will always be close to our hearts, but at the end of a long day out we’re always happy to be heading home to the east.

Let us know which part of the Algarve you prefer by leaving a comment in the box below.

 

Image credits: Flickr, Wikimedia Commons

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Expats in Portugal: 5 Tips for Summer 6

Posted on July 22, 2013 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

Expats in Portugal tend to have a love/hate relationship with the summer. While we look forward to the arrival of sunshine, atmosphere and things to do, we usually start to complain by mid-July when the roads get busy, restaurant service becomes shambolic, and timing a trip the supermarket badly can mean queuing like it’s Christmas Eve!

Crowded Praia da Dona Ana - Lagos

Crowded Praia da Dona Ana – Lagos

So, in honour of the fact that we’ve now arrived at the time when we all begin to complain, here are five lighthearted tips to help residents in the Algarve cope with the summer.

 

1.      Time trips to the supermarket carefully

The worst possible time to arrive at the supermarket is when everyone’s on their way home from the beach. Sunday afternoons can be pretty hateful too.

All you have to do is think outside the box. Go early, when the tourists are sleeping off their hangovers, for minimal queues and maximum choice. Late doesn’t work quite so well, as although there may not be many people there, there’s probably not much stock either. Right in the middle of a hot day can work too – if, of course, you don’t have to work!

Sunshine - it's here all summer

Sunshine – it’s here all summer

2.      Get out of the expat mindset

It’s hard to get used to the fact that the sun is guaranteed to shine every day in the summer, and break out of the expat mentality that makes you feel compelled to get outside so as not to “waste the weather.”

Four years on, we’re still struggling to break our conditioning, but we’re getting there. We just have to get our work done and trust that the sun will still be there tomorrow.

 

3.      Go off the beaten track

There’s no getting around the fact that you may resent the thousands of people on “your” usually-near-deserted beach, but the tourists are the lifeblood of the Algarve economy.

Solitude - it's there if you know where to look!

Solitude – it’s there if you know where to look!

Instead, you must learn to go to places that the tourists haven’t discovered. We know a river beach that is never thronged, and also plenty of busy beaches where solitude can still be found after a 15 minute walk.

Best of all though, get to know some people with a house in the hills and ideally a pool. Then, spend your weekends there and save the beach for mid-September. We’re very lucky to have relatives in the country!

 

4.      Put water under the air conditioning

We always thought that putting a bowl of water in an air-conditioned room was an old wives’ tale. It’s not. If you spend a lot of time with the air conditioning on, the extra humidity from the water will prevent the worst of the peeling lips and sore throats.

Summer festivities

Summer festivities

5.      Remember you’re not on holiday

If you’ve retired then go ahead and enjoy yourself. If, like us, you still have a hefty Monday to Friday workload, you’ve still got to get it all done, and doing it with sunburn, heatstroke or a hangover is no fun at all.

 

So, sad though it is to accept, you must get your head down and get it done – and what better incentive is there to hammer through it than a beach at the end of the road – even if it is really bloody crowded!

 

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

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You Know it’s Summer in Portugal when… 4

Posted on June 06, 2013 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

Unusually for June, the weather here in the Algarve is cloudy and a little chilly today. The absence of summer got me (Lou) thinking about the sights, sounds and smells that I associate with summer in Portugal.

Grass cutting - the sound and smell of summer in England

Grass cutting – the sound and smell of summer in England

In the UK it used to be the sound of lawnmowers whirring and the smell of freshly cut grass that meant summer had finally arrived. Here in the Algarve, the warmer weather means that grass cutting takes place in early spring, but there are other factors that I realise now signal the start of summer. Here are my top five:

The smell of sardines cooking

June is sardine season, when freshly-caught sardines are enjoyed by all and sundry. Walking through the streets of our village, we are guaranteed to pass at least one person cooking on a tiny grill outside their front door, with 6 or 8 sardines sizzling away and spreading their fragrance throughout the nearby streets. Guaranteed to make your mouth water!

Sardines - the scent of summer in Portugal

Sardines – the scent of summer in Portugal

The sound of tourists in our pool

This one definitely means that summer has arrived. While I sit indoors typing I hear splashes and the happy shouts of children jumping into the pool and playing water-based games over the edge of our balcony. It’s at once joyful and a little frustrating, as by the time I’ve finished work the sun has moved off the pool area. Still, that’s what weekends are for.

House martins darting through the evening air

It’s true that one swallow doesn’t make a summer, but the arrival of hundreds of house martins certainly does. In every nook and cranny below the eves, nests appear and the evening sees the skies filled with whirring wings as they dart around catching insects to feed their young. Watching the tiny birds peep their heads out of the nests while waiting for their dinner is a delight that heralds the arrival of summer every year. The fact that the parents poop daily all over our car is a price we are happy to pay.

House martins

House martins

Queues

Living in a popular tourist destination means that summer is announced by the arrival of queues. On the roads, in the supermarket and in coffee shops, the long-suffering locals have to wait patiently behind hordes of tourists dithering over which direction to take, muddling through coins they are unused to or trying to comprehend the baffling array of different coffees and pastries available.

Market stalls

The arrival of summer sees little white market stalls popping up across the Algarve, as the makers of local jams, cakes and handicrafts sell their wares, moving from town to town with the market throughout the summer months. Often only setting up late at night, the market stalls provide a nice addition to the local entertainment, offering an excuse to socialise over a flaky honey pastry during the warm, balmy evenings.

Sunflowers - a sure sign of summer in Portugal

Sunflowers – a sure sign of summer in Portugal

So, these are my top five sights and sounds that show me that summer in Portugal has truly arrived. I have to add that when Ben read this post, he said that his personal way of knowing summer has arrived is hangovers – something which I certainly second!

What is it that signals the arrival of summer in Portugal for you? Please leave a comment below to let us know.

Image credits: Wikimedia and Flickr

 

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Holidays in Portugal – Aldeia da Pedralva 2

Posted on May 21, 2013 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

It’s sometimes hard to convince friends that just because we live in a holiday destination it doesn’t mean we are on holiday all the time (it’s Lou here, by the way). We still have to work, pay bills, go to the supermarket and complete all those household chores which are a part of daily life. So a couple of weeks ago we decided to take a break and go on an actual holiday in Portugal, to the idyllic Aldeia da Pedralva.

Holidays in Portugal - Aldeia da Pedralva

Holidays in Portugal – Aldeia da Pedralva

Aldeia da Pedralva is a tourist resort located approximately halfway between Vila do Bispo and Bordeira, on the Costa Vicentina area of Portugal’s west coast. Popular with surfers, the west coast is more wild and unspoiled than the beaches on Portugal’s south coast, so we were excited to be exploring a different part of Portugal than we are used to.

Aldeia da Pedralva has an interesting history. It was an almost entirely abandoned village when the owners first discovered it. They spent two years gradually purchasing the dilapidated houses and another two years renovating them. The sympathetic renovation work was designed to maintain a traditional Portuguese village feel, complete with winding cobbled streets, mismatched house sizes and white-painted walls. The atmosphere is one of tranquil relaxation – often the only sounds we could hear were the birds singing and the tinkling of the sheep bells as a small flock grazed on the village’s grassland.

Cobbled, winding streets

Cobbled, winding streets

The houses themselves are a delight. Each one is different and has its own character and charm. We stayed in a one-bedroom house with delightful views over the open, hilly countryside, which is dotted with trees and flowers as far as the eye can see. Our house was quaint and rustic, yet spotlessly clean and with all the facilities we needed for a weekend away. It had a small yet perfectly adequate kitchen and a good-sized living space, as well as a large bedroom with an extremely comfortable bed. The bathroom was particularly charming, with a stone-walled shower very much in keeping with the whole feel of the village.

Unique houses in a tranquil setting

Unique houses in a tranquil setting

Aldeia da Pedralva is designed as a base for active holidays, yet it also makes a wonderful, peaceful retreat for those looking to escape modern life. WiFi is only available in the reception area, which was at once refreshing and a little unnerving (I am a massive iPhone addict). There are no televisions or radios in the houses. The emphasis is on enjoying the wonders that nature has to offer, along with fresh, clean country air and good food.

Quaint touches abound

Quaint touches abound

There are two restaurants in the village, which I will review in detail on our sister blog Food and Wine Portugal, but suffice it to say here that the food in both was excellent and the service extremely friendly. Both are worth a visit on their own merits and we will definitely eat at them again next time we are in the area, even if we are not staying at the village. Breakfast was also included in our stay and consisted of a good continental spread, along with gallons of coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice (so fresh that it was actually squeezed in front of us).

The pretty blue house

The pretty blue house

We spent our weekend at Aldeia da Pedralva exploring some of the west coast, as it is an area with which we are largely unfamiliar. Driving through the winding hills, we visited a number of windswept beaches, splashing around in the huge Atlantic waves coming rolling in. The highlight had to be the beautiful Praia do Monte Clérigo, where we lazed about in the sun for several hours, treating ourselves to a drink and a cake from the (horrendously overpriced) local café.

The rugged west coast

The rugged west coast

Praia da Amoreira, a stunning and desolate beach accessed by driving down a mountain, also deserves a mention. The scenic drive makes a wonderful approach to the sands, while the beach is backed by flower-covered dunes which are host to a variety of wildlife.

Overall it was a delightful weekend. We came away feeling refreshed and reinvigorated, which is exactly how a holiday is supposed to leave you feeling. The combination of the local attractions and the village itself, with its hidden nooks and crannies for curling up with a book in the sun, makes the perfect break – it’s definitely somewhere we will be heading back to next time we take a mini holiday in Portugal to escape the stresses of modern life.

Beautiful countryside

Beautiful countryside

In the interests of full disclosure we were invited to spend the weekend at this resort. However, be assured that all views are our own and that our opinions cannot be bought!

If you enjoy reading the blog and want to hear more about how our life has changed since moving abroad, why not check out our book: 

Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same

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Travelling Around the Algarve 10

Posted on May 09, 2013 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

(Ben) I must start today’s post with a humble apology. This blog’s been a little neglected of late, due to a combination of hosting guests, working to save up for our impending tax bill, and our decision to move house in the near future.

I’ll go into more detail on the latter in a future post, as I want to give the story behind our plans to move and details of the plans themselves the space they deserve. For now, however, I’ll just say that we are remaining in the Algarve but moving somewhere with a little more life and variety.

Now, I’ve got you guessing, I’ll proceed with today’s post, which is about travel within the Algarve. The tourist season is underway, and we find ourselves being asked lots of questions (both by our own guests and by random people we meet) about how best to travel around the Algarve region. I’m going to start by talking about trains.

Trains in the Algarve

The Algarve train line stretches for almost the entire length of the coast, beginning at the border with Spain at Vila Real de Santo Antonio and ending just shy of the far West in the city of Lagos.

Algarve Trains

Algarve Trains

For those visiting the East Algarve, where we currently live, the train is a great way of getting around. It’s cheap, and practically hugs the coast from Faro to the Spanish border. It’s not especially fast (Faro to Tavira takes 40 minutes), but it’s cheap, and, importantly for tourists, it’s possible to access beaches and resort towns by alighting at Olhao, Fuseta, Tavira, Conceicao or Monte Gordo.

West of Faro, the train’s not quite as good as the route map might suggest. Between Faro and Portimao, few of the stations are anywhere near the towns that they suggest they are. Albufeira station, for example, is several miles from civilization. Journeys on this section of the line seem long, with Faro to Lagos taking nearly two hours – twice as long as by road.

Still, I for one love a journey on the train, but if you intend to take a long trip, don’t do it in July and August. I travelled from Tavira to Lagos and back last summer for a meeting when the temperature was pushing 40 degrees, and it was torturously hot on board.

Buses in the Algarve

The Algarve has a surprisingly extensive bus network, and for some journeys (Faro to Albufeira being a good example), bus travel is a more sensible option than riding the rails.

Faro Buses

Faro Buses

However, it’s fair to say that travelling by local buses and locating the correct bus stops and timetables can be a challenge if you don’t understand Portuguese.

If you do fancy giving it a go, however, I can recommend a fabulous website, Algarve Bus Info. The site owner has clearly spent hours amalgamating all possible Algarve travel information into one place, and the information also covers train timetables and tips on journeys to Lisbon as well as Spain and beyond.

Car Hire in the Algarve

If you really want to experience the Algarve properly, it’s undoubtedly best to hire a car. Most of our guests don’t bother, but they’re lucky enough to have my wife to drive them around!

If you really don’t want to drive in Portugal, then it’s best to choose a resort such as Lagos, Tavira or Albufeira, where you can rely on an airport transfer at either end of the holiday and have sufficient amenities on hand that you need not travel away from the town.

But this, to me, is missing the point. You won’t find tucked-away, “secret” beaches without a car. You won’t be able to stop at tiny makeshift fruit stalls, and you won’t get to go off the beaten track and find the “real” Algarve.

Explore the inland Algarve with a hire car

Explore the inland Algarve with a hire car

Also, at least outside of peak tourist season, it’s often cheaper to hire a car for a week than it is to pay for two airport transfers.

So, my local’s recommendation is to take to the roads when you visit the Algarve – you’ll see so much more of this wonderful region.

If you’re looking for a hire car, we recommend Economy Car Hire. Alternatively, use carhirefaroairport.com to search a host of local companies all at once. Enjoy your trip!

Image credits: guymoll, Wikimedia Commons

 

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How to Speak Portuguese – Lou’s Ten Portuguese Language Cheats 13

Posted on March 21, 2013 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

Life in Portugal can be tricky enough when you’re trying to negotiate the endless paperwork or identify strange looking cuts of meat in the butcher’s, let alone when you try and work out how to speak Portuguese.

How to speak Portuguese - be prepared to study hard

How to speak Portuguese – be prepared to study hard

The difficulty with learning Portuguese is that what you say and hear doesn’t seem to correspond much with the written language, especially when you live in the Algarve where people have a heavy accent. With accents peppering the words and changing both the sound and the emphasis, Portuguese is a hard language to master. We have been here for nearly 3.5 years now and are still nowhere near fluent, although I do feel that we are learning more every day. In our case it doesn’t help that we both work from home, rather than having jobs where we spend all day with people speaking Portuguese.

If you are moving to Portugal soon or even just holidaying here, here are my top ten (tongue-in-cheek) Portuguese language cheats that will hopefully help you out.

Speak fast

When you are uncertain of what you are saying in another language, it is natural to speak slowly and try to say each word perfectly. If you do this in Portugal, you may well be met with a blank look. Instead, speak as fast as you can, pretending that you are speaking flawless Portuguese. You will have a much better chance of being understood.

Uma imperial

Uma imperial

A beer please!

‘Uma imperial se faz favour.’

This means ‘a small beer please.’ In most bars you will get a lovely, small glass of beer. Given how hot the Portuguese summer is, ordering a succession of small beers means you don’t end up drinking the too-warm second half of a pint. In some touristy areas, even if you ask for an imperial you will be given a pint (‘uma caneca’) anyway, so that the bar can charge you more.

This phrase is often usefully followed by ‘mais uma, se faz favor’ – ‘one more please!’

Obrigado/obrigada

To say ‘thank you’ in Portuguese, men say ‘obrigado’ and women say ‘obrigada.’ The gender of the person to whom you are speaking does not matter. This is FACT, even though some Portuguese people will try to tell you that’s not how it works.

Can to be this

‘Pode ser isto’ – the literal translation is ‘can to be this,’ but this rather awkward phrase is actually used to mean ‘can I have this,’ so you can use it in shops, cafés, restaurants and anywhere else where you are able to point to the item that you desire.

Pode ser isto - useful for buying all kinds of things

Pode ser isto – useful for buying all kinds of things

If in doubt, smile and nod

When we first moved here, even basic interactions could be a struggle, despite six months of me obsessively playing Portuguese language CDs in the car anytime I drove anywhere before we left England.

There were many times when neighbours, shop assistants and others that I interacted with tried to make pleasant conversation about the weather, football or other random subjects. At first I would freeze in such situations, looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights while my fellow conversationalist painstakingly repeated the sentence in a futile attempt to make me understand. The result was usually an awkward silence while I blushed and felt stupid.

These early struggles allowed me to develop the smile and nod policy. Now when someone speaks to me and I don’t understand them, I don’t panic, I just smile and nod. Astonishingly, 90% of the time this is accepted as an appropriate and satisfactory response on my part. Although I still have no idea what has been said to me, instead of just feeling tongue-tied and stupid, I use my nodding time to replay the sentence in my mind and try to catch the key words that will make it all become clear.

Of course, this policy is far from fail-safe and it is absolutely not to be used when dealing with government officials, lawyers or anyone else where you could be agreeing to something serious without realising it!

Instantly get rid of excess waiters!

Instantly get rid of excess waiters!

Warding off additional waiters

‘Já pedi’ – this means ‘already asked,’ and is a handy phrase for using in bars or cafés where you have already ordered but you spy a second waiter approaching with a notepad and an eager look in his eye.

Write it down

If you need to deal with officials in Portugal who don’t speak English, it’s often helpful to write down your request and take it with you on a piece of paper. That way if you bungle the pronunciation and they look confused, you can just hand over your pre-written request and – provided your handwriting is neat – be understood.

This approach was essential when we were trying to obtain our atestado document to prove that we lived in our village and had to ask two local residents to sign our form (apparently in the village council’s eyes the rental agreement for our apartment was not sufficient proof that we lived there).

I’ve also successfully used this method the first time I ordered a large takeaway and the first time we had to exchange our empty gas bottle – knowing that my grasp of Portuguese was at the time insufficient for these (now mundane) conversations, I took along my trusty piece of paper, which on both occasions saved the day.

Write it down

Write it down

After-dinner conversation

‘A conta, se faz favor.’

In Portugal you are welcome to sit and relax once you have finished your meal in a restaurant. You can enjoy the company of your friends or family and engage in after-dinner conversation, without the staff desperately trying to get you out of the door so that they can turn the table. This is part of what makes dining in Portugal such a pleasant experience. However, for those ready to pay and leave, it can be a little frustrating. If that’s you, use this phrase, which means ‘the bill, please.’ Of course you could also use the internationally recognised mime of writing on your hand!

Have a glass of wine

It’s astonishing how much more confident a glass of wine can make your attempts to speak Portuguese. After three glasses I’m unfailingly convinced that I’m fluent, much to the dismay of my Portuguese friends.

Confidence in a glass!

Confidence in a glass!

And if all else fails…

‘Desculpe, não entendo.’

If all else fails, you can resort to this phrase, which means ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand.’
Our efforts to speak Portuguese have been overwhelmingly well received. Even when we get in a muddle and mispronounce things or say something silly, the fact that we have tried always goes down well. Even if you have no plans to work out the full intricacies of how to speak Portuguese, a few choice phrases will ensure you stand out and earn you service with a smile wherever you go.
Boa sorte!

If you want to hear more about our adventures with the Portuguese language, why not check out our book: Moving to Portugal

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons, Flickr

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Ben’s Portugal Blog Update 5

Posted on March 18, 2013 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

It’s been quite a weekend for us here in Portugal.

It started on Friday with a visit to our accountant. This is an annual meeting, which reveals the provisional figure for our tax bill.

Suffice to say the news wasn’t good. We have a gargantuan bill to pay in the summer and sadly, due to the fall of sterling, something of a shortfall to make up between times.

Portugal Blog - Saving up for the tax bill

Portugal Blog – Saving up for the tax bill

If you’d have told me late last year that it would have made better sense to keep our tax savings in the safety and security of a Portuguese bank, I probably would have laughed. We left it in a UK bank. However, a run of bad news out of the UK this year has hammered the pound. On a Portuguese tax return, your UK-based earnings are converted at the exchange rate on the last day of the tax year. For 2012, that was about 1.23. We ended up moving the money at 1.15. Well, it doesn’t take a mathematical genius to work out that that’s a pretty crappy turn of events does it?

Now, the events in Cyprus have seen the Euro struggle a bit, so we may make back some of our losses in the coming months. But this does go to prove that living in one country and continuing to earn money from one with a different currency can put you in some precarious situations. You win some, you lose some.

“Still, at least we have the sunshine,” my wife said. This proved rather ironic when at 9am on Sunday morning we were woken up by an apocalyptic hail storm, featuring stones the size of marbles.

This weekend, we’ve also spent a lot of time on the phone with various friends and family members planning their holidays in Portugal. Strangely, we don’t get an awful lot of visitors in the winter(!) but we have a flurry due in the next month or two. Hopefully, summer will make an appearance soon for us as well as them, as right now you can’t predict what’s going to happen from one day to the next.

Portugal Blog - More days like this soon please

Portugal Blog – More days like this soon please

So, for now, it’s time to get our heads down and make up the tax bill money as quickly as possible, which means switching to frugal mode. The irony here is that we actually rather enjoy the lean times – being economical yet inventive in the kitchen, and being forced to enjoy free (and healthy) outdoor activities. We just need it to warm up a bit. The beach costs nothing – but it’s not much fun in a hailstorm.

PS. We’ve had some great (and enlightening) responses to our Portugal Blog Survey, posted last week. Soon we will publish some details of the responses, and start to tailor some posts based on requests readers have made.

Euros image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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