Charting a couple's move from London to Portugal, tales, adventures and moving advice


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Moving Back to the UK: Five Good Things 1

Posted on July 27, 2015 by Ben Algarve

Throughout all of last week, I kept snoozing a task to write a post about some of the good things about moving back to the UK, to balance out my previous post about things we were missing about Portugal.

Ironically, the main reason I didn’t get the post written was that I went down with a nasty bug, so all non-essential tasks got pushed into this week.

I’d forgotten about summer colds. It’s fair to say you don’t really get them in the Algarve. However, back here in the UK the weather has recently turned distinctly autumnal, and the past weekend was a total washout. I feel partly to blame because the weather turned on the day my new hammock arrived from Amazon.

UK in July

The UK in July

So, against a backdrop of retreating “man-flu” and grey skies, I find myself writing a post that’s supposed to focus on good aspects of moving back to the UK!

Thankfully, I still find it easy to come up with plenty. Yes, we miss Portugal, as I lamented last week, but we really are enjoying life back in the UK. Years away have helped us to see the place through fresh eyes.

Here are five things we love right now:

  1. Beer Gardens

OK, so our beaches aren’t quite up to East Algarve standards, and the weather doesn’t really allow for much sunbathing, but we still have them, and they’re still a wonderful place to spend time.

British Beach

British Beach Life

What we DO have is beer gardens. Hundreds of them. Often with play areas and sometimes even with free bouncy castles (and having a toddler gives us parents an excuse to venture on to those too!)

Moving back to UK - beer gardens

Moving back to the UK – beer gardens

We could head out to a different beer garden every Saturday and Sunday and not even scratch the surface of what’s in our local area. It’s “England’s Green and Pleasant Land” in easily digested portions – washed down with real ale or fruity cider.

Beer garden

Beer gardens

  1. Food

The novelty of food choice in the UK still hasn’t worn off. Supermarket shopping is still a joy, and then we have the food festivals, the farm shops, the delis, the greengrocers, the bakeries, and the butchers’ shops. The other day I realised I’d gone for over a month forgetting we have a Marks and Spencer Food Hall just down the road!

When I mention this, I always seem to court controversy. Yes, there’s some choice in Portugal, but I’m not sure that people who’ve been away from the UK a while realise quite what a revolution there’s been in gourmet and artisan food.

Roast beef

Real roast beef

A few recent examples: Oyster and Vinegar Crisps, made in Kent using Whitstable oysters; a honey chilli chicken dish from the local Chinese; amazing rare roast beef as part of a pub lunch; local plums that simply have to be eaten over the sink because they’re so juicy; and, at the top of the list, a salad made purely from the element-defying produce grown on our patio.

Salad from English Garden

Salad from an English Garden

I could happily spend a fortnight in Portugal eating clams, bream, bacalhau and arroz de pato – but after six months here I’m still spoiled for choice.

  1. eBay

My wife and I love a bit of eBay. It’s great to be able to get even a few quid back for things we no longer need, and I have now started to redouble my efforts to build my son’s legacy collection of retro vinyl records and computers!

Having full and easy access to eBay beats the expat Facebook groups for buying and selling, complete with their timewasters and daft offers. That’s not to say we didn’t have some success selling some bits and bobs before we left, but it was a rather gruelling process.

  1. Television

A full Sky package, complete with catch-up and “on demand.” Now TV for movies, and Netflix for everything else. AND it all just works, without messing around with Filmon and suchlike, or waiting for buffering, thanks to a sensible broadband speed!

Although we have precious little time to watch TV, we now spend that time actually watching it, rather than arsing around getting it to work.

  1. Things to Do

Every weekend, there are at least ten events we’d happily commit our time to, and that’s just in the local area – without even thinking about heading into London.

Yes, there are lots of things to do in The Algarve too, and I miss some of them. However, the parties and festivals tend to follow a predictable annual schedule, which after a few years starts to feel like retracing old ground.

We really miss Portugal. We’ve certainly posted enough about it! However, the above are just some of the reasons why, right now, we really like being back in the UK.

Some thing cant compare

Some things cant compare

It doesn’t mean I don’t still get homesick, or that I don’t miss my friends, the weather, and the sea. But if I can come up with this much enthusiasm after a week of grey skies and coughs and sneezes, there must be something right. Sometimes you need to be away from somewhere a while to appreciate what’s good about it!

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Here’s the UK link:

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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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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Missing Portugal… 6

Posted on May 18, 2015 by Ben Algarve

I woke up missing Portugal today.

It didn’t help that when my wife opened the blind this morning it didn’t really get any lighter in the room! After a weekend of weather that was sunny enough for sunburn, today we have wind whistling through the house, and a sky so grey it looks like a melancholy tribute to Monday mornings…

It’s funny how things work out, because we had a superb weekend. We had some friends come down and spent lots of time in the sun – on the beach, at home, and in several pub gardens! It really was idyllic, and weekends like this make us very pleased that we chose this place to live.

A beautiful British pub garden

A beautiful British pub garden

So it’s funny that I feel wistful for Portugal on today of all days. However, I think I may have discovered why it works like this, thanks to a very astute forum comment from someone going by the name of “GeniB,” which I will now paraphrase (with permission).

She speaks of a warning from her brother before she first set out to move countries; He said that she was about to become a “third country person.” The meaning of which wasn’t clear to her at the time.

She understands it now, and I do too. The “third country” is a fictional place, created in your mind, that encompasses the best parts of the countries you have lived in. It’s where “home” would be in an ideal world.

For me, it would be the England we’ve just spent the weekend enjoying, with our good friends and our children, but with a week of solid sunny weather now on the cards to make Monday a little more cheerful. Obviously there would be a pool outside the window (and my electric moped). My “third country” would still have London an hour away by train, but also be walking distance from the kind of beaches I now have to fly to.

Weather in Portugal: Impossible not to Miss

Weather in Portugal: Impossible not to Miss

The supermarket in my “third country” would be AWESOME – because it would sell British sausage rolls and jam doughnuts, but also a huge selection of Portuguese wine at 3 Euros or less. And every time you went to it you’d bump into someone you knew, because both your English and Portuguese friends would shop there. Shoppers would shop at Portuguese pace, but the checkout folks would work at English pace 😉

Anyway, that’s enough daydreaming, because sadly my “third country” only exists in my head. Ultimately you have to choose one of the other, at least until you retire! I wouldn’t want to swap back to Portugal permanently, because overall I’m happier here in the UK. But I’d do anything to be able to teleport there for a day or two each week. In the absence of a teleporter, I think it might be time to book some flights for a quick trip back!

Eating tapas in England

Eating tapas in England

What would YOUR “third country” be like? Let me know in the comments!

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Some More Random “Moving Home” Observations 3

Posted on April 21, 2015 by Ben Algarve

We’ve been back in the UK a couple of months now, but everything still seems rather alien!

In my last post I was perhaps a little negative about the Portugal we’d left behind, so I’m going for some more balance this week.

Life in the UK has been good, but with an undulating backdrop of homesickness. It doesn’t help that I still do a lot of writing work about Portugal, and having to write about beaches I am no longer just down the road from isn’t the most fun way to begin a working week!  Suffice to say I really don’t think it will be that long until we pop back to the Algarve for a visit.

That visit would probably feel more urgent if it weren’t for the glorious weather we’ve had in England, and that’s where I’ll begin my list of random observations:

1. The weather here isn’t that bad at all.

I know we’ve been lucky with a dry April, but we’ve just spent a long weekend visiting family and we’ve been happily outside for rather a lot of it. Yesterday we had a pub lunch in a beer garden and I woke up today with a tanned face. That was NOT something I was expecting!

Delightful weather in England

Delightful weather in England

The other pleasant surprise is that even when the headline temperature looks low, it’s actually perfectly warm in sheltered spots. Of course I miss the Algarve weather, but what we’ve had since we’ve been back is more than acceptable, and actually far more practical for our baby son.

2. The UK mobile network is APPALLING!

I said that these would be random observations, so now we go from weather to phone signals!

Last weekend on our big family trip, there wasn’t a single house we arrived at where we could get decent data reception. This includes an area covering Kent, Outer London, Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. 3G reception on motorways was rubbish too.

I don’t know if it’s just that the UK’s network struggles with the number of people, but by comparison Portugal’s mobile infrastructure is fantastic.

Lots of Traffic and no Phone Signal

Lots of Traffic and no Phone Signal

3. We still have Portuguese “muscle-memory”

I don’t know how long this is going to last, but we are both still often convinced we are going the wrong way around roundabouts, and occasionally find it hard to remember the English word for something (my wife struggles particularly with “coentros,” which is coriander).

Worst of all, we’ve yet to shrug off the continental “hug and kiss on both cheeks” greeting, which in the UK results in either a near-head-butt or the recipient thinking you’re going in for a snog, neither of which comes across as particularly dignified…

4. England is expensive

This is a complicated point, but overall it’s a very good job there are more earning opportunities in the UK, because it’s far harder to live on a budget.

It’s not that all day-to-day things are more expensive. Groceries, for example, are probably cheaper than in Portugal, and as I’ve said before there is far more variety. Our utility bills are less too, but that’s completely cancelled out by a council tax bill of nearly £200 per month.

Where the budgeting unravels is in entertainment. Back in the Algarve, ten Euros could mean a good long trip to the bar and a bite to eat to take home. Here, that ten Euros won’t come close to buying the first round.

At the moment we’re spending every weekend catching up with friends and family, so our spending pattern isn’t typical, but suffice to say we keep having to top up our entertainment budget, and the credit cards are coming out far more than they did in Portugal!

Seafood - Available in the UK as well as Portugal - for a price

Seafood – Available in the UK as well as Portugal – for a price

In addition, working longer days and commuting means being more tired, and that’s when the lure of the takeaway menus becomes strong.

Finally, there’s just so much in the UK that you CAN do! After years of missing the theatre, and the easy access to gigs and festivals, we feel like we want to do it ALL. To do so we must work hard to earn it – and on that basis it’s easy to identify the start of that slippery slope back to the rat race. We must proceed with caution!

5. We’ll probably visit Portugal sooner than we thought

One thing that did come up during our manic weekend was the rather sad realisation that once we’d done everything we had to do, we’d be going “home” to elsewhere in England, rather than “home” to Portugal.

This was actually quite a good thing to realise, because it reminded us that we still have plenty waiting for us in Portugal: somewhere to stay; all of our friends, and all the places and things we miss. I even still have my two most beloved Portugal purchases – my moped and my Weber barbecue! There’s absolutely nothing stopping us going and working from there for a few weeks whenever the “homesickness” gets too strong.

Well, there is one thing stopping us, which is that while we continue to socialise “UK style” every weekend, we’ll never have the time nor the money. So, on that note, I shall sign off and get some more work done 🙂

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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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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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Blowing Hot and Cold 3

Posted on April 09, 2015 by Ben Algarve

It’s far too early to say whether or not our decision to move from Portugal back to the UK was the right one, but we’re being asked the question an awful lot already!

All I can therefore do is tell you how we’re feeling about it right now – and to put into context how much things have changed, I’m currently typing this on a commuter train home from London!

That side of things isn’t bad at all, surprisingly. Especially as I type this, because the Easter holidays meant the London commute (thankfully something I only have to do once per week or so) was hassle-free. The fact it’s been gloriously sunny today in South East England has helped too.

Zooming to work and back

Zooming to work and back

I should also add that after several years away, I again feel that shiver of excitement as I pull into the big city, whack up the volume on my iPhone, and join the throng heading for the tube. When I left I’d truly had enough of it, and if I had to do it daily I soon would again, but being part of the beating heart of the city is something you come to miss, assuming of course that it appeals to you in the first place.

In other respects it’s been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. We’ve just finished the long Easter weekend, which flew past heartbreakingly quickly, especially as it was the longest work-free break we’d had since Christmas (and that does include the time we were moving countries!)

In the run up to the break we were loving every minute of being in England – and not in a “rose tinted” way. We’ve really settled in our new house, and love our local town and all it has to offer.

Then Good Friday came around, and we were reminded of what a cruel mistress the British climate can be. We stoically set off for our planned drive around the coast anyway – a coast that turned out to be so foggy and dull we couldn’t see the sea despite driving within metres of it. Meanwhile, Algarve weather reports taunted us from afar.

A grim UK day

A grim UK day

After a relaxed Saturday, we had friends around for a dinner party on Sunday. It was lovely to chat about careers and politics instead of expat life and village gossip. Once again everything felt right.

Unfortunately a boozy dinner party now takes me twice as long to recover from as a three-day festival would have “back in the day,” so I felt distinctly jaded as the long weekend came to an end, and with that came my second real burst of homesickness for Portugal.

Homesickness is a strange thing, because it really is like a kind of sickness, and one you have to wait to run its course. We experienced it several times for England throughout our early days in Portugal, and I’m sure it’s not the last time we’ll have an attack of it this way around.

The strange thing is that if I were to revisit the “pros and cons” list right now, it would still fall 80/20 in favour of being in the UK – but that’s talking about head before heart, and I’m pretty sure homesickness comes from the latter.

Anyway, let’s zoom back to now (or at least the time I typed this post).

Well, the sun’s still shining; the crowd on the train has thinned out, and I’m left sitting very comfortably with a table to myself. Soon I will hit the part of my train journey with lovely coastal views.

Meanwhile, I’m digesting a delicious burger and a peanut butter shake from Shake Shack in Covent Garden – something I would have obsessed about for days in the Algarve, but which today I was simply able to grab on my way home from work.

Burger from Shake Shack

Burger from Shake Shack

The simple fact is that both places have their pros and cons. If you took the opportunities of South East England and dumped them in the warm and picturesque paradise of the East Algarve, then the whole world would want to live there. In many ways (and on certain days) I still want to live there anyway…

BUT…that’s why we went through the pros and cons for such an agonising length of time. Deep down we know we made the right decision, but I’m sure I’ll always feel a sense of longing when I see the many photos of us enjoying our Portuguese dream, photos that now adorn the walls of our lovely new UK home.

Flipping it the other way, however, it took me ten minutes to type that last paragraph because I was transfixed by the beautiful view out of the train window. I think I can only conclude that your physical location is just a small part of a far bigger and more complicated picture…

IMAGE CREDITS: Wikimedia Commons

Please 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

Or find it here on Amazon.COM, for US readers:

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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Portugal vs. England! 6

Posted on July 10, 2014 by Ben Algarve

(Ben) As you undoubtedly know if you’ve followed the blog for a while, it’s been a rather long time since I posted an update from Portugal.

I won’t apologise, as adjusting to having a new baby at home leaves us with little time, and I now plan to type quite a long update to make up for it.

Last week, I took a little trip to London. My mother had a major operation earlier in the year and I’d wanted to visit sooner, but the NHS decided to schedule the operation to coincide with Louise’s due date.

Going back to the UK always provides me with plenty of inspiration for the blog, because after so long in the Algarve I cannot help but make contrasts between my old life (and home) and my new one.

A taste of my old life

A taste of my old life

Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s best not to take to the keyboard and rant on the day of my arrival in London for fear of offending those who still live in the big city. However, it’s proof that I’m living in the right place that I usually spend my first 24 hours in the UK feeling unsettled, stressed and annoyed.

It always begins with the simple things: Why do I always have to wait nearly an hour for my luggage at Gatwick despite already having waited in an immigration queue for ages? HOW MUCH is my train ticket into London? Why are there SO MANY people here? Why don’t they TALK to one another instead of gazing at their iPhones? You probably get the picture.

This trip back was particularly gruelling as I arrived in London during the evening rush hour on the hottest day of the year. I got to my London-bound train just as the doors were closing, and was surprised that I managed to squeeze my suitcase into the vestibule. I was even more surprised when at least eight other people squeezed on behind me into the same vestibule, complete with eight more suitcases and a bike. As I gasped for air and tried to contort my arms enough to remove the antibacterial hand gel from my bag, I couldn’t help but wonder how on earth I managed to put up with London commuting for over a decade.

By the time I arrived at my destination I was hot and bothered and experiencing what could only be described as sensory overload. I stood outside the train station feeling truly overwhelmed by the number of people, and genuinely surprised that I felt like such a fish out of water in a place I’d lived for so long.

Clapham Junction - A Blast from the Past

Clapham Junction – A Blast from the Past

After a quick and easy hotel check-in, I popped in the bar for a bottle of beer, which I drained in minutes due to the heat. I then found myself wondering how much longer it would be until someone came and asked if I wanted another one. Then I remembered that it doesn’t work that way in England, and that I’d have to go and get it myself. I then calculated that (based on current exchange rates) two beers in the hotel bar would cost as much as 10.2 bottles of Sagres in my local at home, and decided to give the second one a miss.

The next morning, I truly was a visitor in my old life, as I had to set off first thing to do a job on a client site. By now I was beginning to enjoy the change of scenery rather more, but still couldn’t help but notice things, such as how miserable everybody looked despite the sunshine, and the fact that there must have been around £4000 worth of smartphones and tablets contained within every three metres of train space.

With my work complete, I went off to meet my mum, and it was at that point that I began to enjoy London life. We went to the theatre in the evening, something always certain to give me a reason to miss the easy access to culture that I used to benefit from. People spotting in Soho was lots of fun too, but most of all it was wonderful to see my mum after so long, and to see her looking so much better than she did last time I saw her. Indulging in various foods I’ve missed for months was pretty damn good too.

Gourmet burgers in London

Gourmet burgers in London

Thanks to the wonders of free hotel Wi-Fi and FaceTime, I was able to maintain regular contact with home, and I checked in with Louise and our baby at least a few times each day. I have a lovely screenshot of him smiling at me on the camera, although I think the fact that daddy had turned into an iPad may have spun his little head a bit.

The rest of my few days flew by, and before I knew it I was back in Faro, complete with lots of little presents for the family and a selection of bargains from the 99p shop, all of which will save us many Euros over the coming weeks.

So, all in all it was a good trip, but one that only went to reinforce the fact that Portugal is now my true home—something emphasised by the fact that it took me 48 hours to stop speaking Portuguese in shops by mistake.

Back to paradise

Back to paradise

Hopefully I’ve managed to be as balanced as possible in my account of my trip, and stopped short of offending my London associates. However, I must have a few little mini-rants before I step away from the keyboard:

  1. How does anyone cope with the dreadful mobile data network in the London area without smashing their smartphone in frustration? Perhaps it’s the sheer number of people, but I’ve not had such problems with connectivity anywhere else in the world.
  1. How is it that the UK media blame the EU for excessive rules and regulations when there are seemingly more of them IN the UK then anywhere else in Europe? “No glass bottles outside!” “No smoking on this section of pavement!” “No flip-flops in the bar!” “No cash payments on the bus!” Come on! Just let people live their lives.
  1. £4.80 for a 330ml bottle of beer? Seriously?!

Fancy a change from UK life? Read about how you can do it in our book: Moving to Portugal

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Moving Abroad – Quality of Life 0

Posted on January 21, 2013 by Ben Algarve

Moving abroad is something that everyone does for their own personal reasons. For us, quality of life and better weather were two key reasons behind our decision to move to Portugal (it’s Lou here, by the way).

While sunshine and high temperatures aren’t guaranteed in Portugal in the winter, it’s fair to say that overall the weather here is a vast improvement on that in England. We’ve had a wonderful December, full of bright, sunny days, albeit turning cold the moment the sun goes down. January has been more of a mixed bag, with rain showers and cloudy days reminding us that it is still winter after all. This weekend, high winds have deterred us from venturing too far, so we’ve made the most of relaxing and appreciating the quiet life of the Algarve.

Moving abroad - where will your journey lead you?

Moving abroad – where will your journey lead you?

After a wonderful meal of fresh fish at Vela 2 in Santa Margarida on Friday night, we battened down the hatches and spent the weekend indoors, hiding from the wind. Although some chores did intrude on our relaxation (our oven is now sparklingly clean!) I was able to indulge in some Portuguese cooking, finish knitting two scarves that I started before Christmas and bake banana bread with a chocolate spread centre.

One of the things that I love about the Algarve in winter – and the reason I can relax so thoroughly when the weather is bad – is that there simply isn’t that much to do here when it’s not sunny. In our local area, poor weather means that our choices are limited to the cinema or shopping. Although there are occasions when we do yearn for a little more, it generally means that we can spend the winter months hibernating and relaxing, saving up our energy for the frenetic life of Portuguese summertime.

Moving abroad - a new dawn

Moving abroad – a new dawn

Of course winter doesn’t mean that we don’t have to work. Come rain or shine, my working day begins at 8.30 am. On days like today, when I have a huge ‘to do’ list, the day began even earlier. I got up and opened the shutters to see what the day was like, only to realise that it was still dark. It came as quite a surprise – my lack of a commute to work means that those weeks on end of getting up while it’s still dark (and getting home while it’s dark) during the English winter are a thing of the past. It’s something that I have almost, after more than three years in Portugal, come to take for granted.

This morning served as a wonderful reminder of how much our quality of life has improved, in subtle ways as well as obvious ones. We still have to deal with the pressures of work and the endless chores and trips to the supermarket, but we’re more relaxed while we’re doing it now. Instead of a hellish commute to work through London traffic in the dark, I drank my tea this morning while typing and watching the sun come up over our balcony. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer start to the week – it reminded me all over again how lucky we are to be living in Portugal and how much our life has improved since moving abroad.

Want to hear more about how our life has changed since moving abroad? Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same reveals it all.

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Flying to Portugal 4

Posted on July 05, 2011 by Ben Algarve

As I type this I am 30-odd thousand feet above Portugal or Spain on my journey back to the Algarve, after a quick week working and socialising in London.

We are very much looking forward to re-establishing a routine after our recent residency nightmares, which were exacerbated by three weeks of toothache, which thankfully has abated since a trip to the dentist in London.

Heading home to Portugal

Heading home to Portugal

All in all, June was probably our most unsettled month since moving to Portugal, so I am relishing the thought of something approaching normality, or as least as close to normality as we can get as the real holiday season beings in the Algarve. This means strategic planning is required when visiting shops, beaches and restaurants, to avoid the worst of the hordes.

Montegordo Beach - in quieter times

Montegordo Beach - in quieter times

Tomorrow should be a rather exciting day, as we are finally picking up our own car after 18 months of supporting the local car hire companies. Car hire has proved so affordable throughout the winter that if we could get those rates year round, we would be tempted to just keep renting ad infinitum. The trouble is that in the summer, we can end up paying the same to hire a car for a week as we usually pay per month off-season…..and that is if one is available.

Shortly after finally getting our residency, we were approved for car finance on something nearly new–quite a feat when our income all comes from the UK. I apologise to the environment for the trees that must have been felled to produce all the paperwork that was required! If anyone wants information on what we did and what was required, let me know, but I won´t bore everyone reading the blog with the details here.

I don´t have a lot more to say, having been away from Portugal for a week. Once we arrive back, I look forward to embracing life in the sun, which I have been unable to do fully with residency stress as well as toothache!

All is good right now, but I imagine within a week or two I´ll be complaining about the tourists….there are certainly plenty of them on this plane 😉

QUICK UPDATE: After typing this on Friday on the plane, I didn’t get round to posting it until Tuesday. We are now back, the sun is shining….and…….we have our car! It was a quick and easy process, but at some point soon we really ought to attempt to translate all the bits of paper we mindlessly signed when we collected it. Oh, and my wife is already complaining about traffic and “dawdling tourists.” All much as predicted then really!

Image Credits: Deanster1983 Bert Kaufmann

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Culture Shock Abroad 8

Posted on February 15, 2011 by Ben Algarve

The start of the month saw us once again boarding an Easyjet Airbus and setting off to London for a short work trip.

You would think that after over a year of doing this it would become somewhat routine, and in some ways it has. We still spend the week preceding our trip with feelings split between looking forward to seeing friends and dreading having to re-join the rat-race. Otherwise though, the “culture shock abroad” experience changes every time.

Despite having lived in London for well over a decade before moving to Portugal, the place feels more alien and unfriendly every time we visit. The times we spend with friends and in our old local bar are “just like old times,” but the rest of the time we feel increasingly lost and culture-shocked.

From London to Portugal - the old commute

From London to Portugal - the old commute

Regular walks on Algarve beaches, accompanied by frequent “Bom Dia” greetings and smiles from strangers, have now become our “norm.” This means tube commuting is now a time of bemusement, despite the fact that I was once one of those people hustling along, eyes down, earphones in, staring at a smartphone as if profound answers were contained within.

Although I used to be a Londoner, I now spend the first 48 hours in London getting funny looks from people when I catch their eye and smile – it takes me two days to put my guards back up and build up the requisite amount of background anger and resentment to fit in on the 0830 to Waterloo!

The hardest thing about all of this is that it’s very hard to express these feelings to friends without coming across as a born-again expat hippie, and giving the impression that my view is as simplistic as “London’s crap and Portugal’s great.” That’s not it at all. It’s just that our lives are so much different now.

Culture shock abroad? Out most frequently used train in Portugal

Culture shock abroad? Out most frequently used train in Portugal

I often don’t charge my mobile phone for days after the battery has run out. I always have time to cook healthy food, exercise and, to quote the Center Parcs marketing team, “stand and stare.” Those things have enhanced my day to day existence more than any increase in salary and status ever could have done. So when I notice people on the London commute, looking thoroughly miserable despite their designer clothes and shiny cutting-edge gadgets, I feel nothing but bewilderment.

“How’s Portugal?” is becoming an increasingly difficult question to answer, now that everyone we know is already well versed in the superficialities of the weather, food and drink. We’ve now lived an utterly different culture for long enough that it’s difficult to answer the question without risking causing offence by making honest comparisons. We love it here in Portugal and we would hate to have to go back…..and it’s very hard to say that without it sounding like a condemnation of the lifestyle we left behind.

It’s important for us to remember that WE are the people who moved and, as a result, the people who are going to change as the cynical, hard skin of city life falls away. As time goes on, we are going to have to be careful to ensure that the happiness our new life has brought us doesn’t come across as self-satisfaction, even if it not intended as such.

“How’s Portugal?” Fine thanks.

Photo credits, charbel.akhras Tony Castillo Quero

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Flying Home for Christmas 3

Posted on December 14, 2010 by Ben Algarve

What a difference a 2.5 hour flight makes. This time last week I was shivering my way around a -3C London and now I’m back in Portugal it’s 19C outside and bright enough to give me a migraine!

Our trip back to England was the usual mix of good, bad and ugly. The good = Christmas meals and drinks with family and friends. The bad = coping with city crowds and being sneezed over by those with colds and bugs. The ugly = negotiating weather delays and engineering works on public transport.

After a fantastic start to our UK trip, when we visited family in the country, our first 24 hours in London provoked in us the kind of strong feelings of anger and frustration that we

A Snowy Arrival in England

A Snowy Arrival in England

moved to Portugal to get away from. In retrospect I’m glad that I resisted the temptation to post on the blog to relieve my annoyance last Sunday evening, as I fear I may have offended everyone I know who lives in England’s capital!

After the initial anger subsided, which was primarily caused by a public transport journey of epically crap proportions, we relaxed into London life for a few days, and, as always, had some good and memorable times with friends. We also destroyed the majority of the good work our Weightwatchers stint had achieved by tucking into vast quantities of fish and chips, cider and curry, along with a plethora of pastry-based products.

After a rather expensive check-in back at Gatwick airport, thanks to Easyjet’s kind decision to massively reduce the weight limit for our suitcase, we boarded our plane back to Faro, and spent a bumpy couple of hours being entertained / annoyed by a gaggle of hen party visitors, before arriving back in Portugal.

As we have to return to the UK at regular intervals, the moment we arrive back from one visit is always fantastic, as it means there’s plenty of time before we have to think about doing it all again, and our travel plans this time round meant we arrived back with a weekend ahead of us.

After a Saturday of unpacking and settling, my Outlook calendar bleeped and reminded me of a Christmas market in the beautiful hamlet of Cacela Velha taking place the next day—a reminder I had set a long time ago when I heard about it on one of the expat forums.

We gathered the family on Sunday morning and spent a wonderful morning browsing stalls of local handicrafts, cakes, jams, plants and wine. We left having indulged in artisan quiche and honey pastries, not to mention a couple of freebie glasses of local wine, and by then had a few carrier bags between us containing treats which may well appear on the Christmas table or in certain family Christmas stockings…..

After the market we took the family to show them the town of Vila Real de Santo Antonio, right on the Spanish border. We are fans of this very likeable town, which, unusually for the area, is built on a grid system, just like downtown Lisbon.

Christmas Model Village in Vila Real de Santo Antonio

Christmas Model Village in Vila Real de Santo Antonio

The town boasts a number of individual shops which are great for a browse, including kitchen stores, large linen emporiums, and even a large shop dedicated to Christmas decorations. We alternated wanders around the shops with sit-downs and rest stops at a couple of cafes – a fantastic way to spend a Sunday.

An extra treat was coming across a huge model village that had been constructed specially for Christmas. This free-to-enter exhibit was truly impressive with a breathtakingly intricate level of detail. I heartily recommend that anyone in the East Algarve area go and take a look.

Our relaxed weekend was the perfect antidote to the frenetic pace of our time in the UK, and served as a perfect reminder of why we moved to Portugal. Later that evening, as I sprinkled lemon thyme over our roasted vegetables, procured cheaply from the market that morning, I felt ever so happy. Home sweet home.

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The Weather Outside is Frightful 4

Posted on December 02, 2010 by Ben Algarve

Tomorrow, all being well, we’re off to England for some pre-Christmas family festivities (yay,) and some work appointments (boo!)

For once we are looking forward to the trip back a little bit, helped by the fact the first thing we will be doing on arrival is shopping for and cooking a full traditional English Christmas dinner.

We are also really looking forward to seeing some of the snow everyone is talking about. We’re not bothered about seeing a lot (too much of it may mean the airport is closed,) but we really hope to see some, as there is almost zero chance of ever seeing any in the Algarve (though I’m sure I have read somewhere that snow has once fallen on the Algarve’s beaches – maybe someone could clarify?)

London in the Snow

London in the Snow

I’m not sure how prepared I am for the cold. Now we have acclimatised to the weather in Portugal, anything under 18C seems distinctly chilly, and we are surprised that after just a year, we have, as we wondered we might, joined the native Portuguese people in wearing jumpers and jeans as soon as the mercury goes below 20C, and looking in bemusement at tourists in shorts and flip-flops. We were those people just a year ago—it turns out just one year in a warmer climate is all it takes to lose that hardy British resilience to meteorological hardship!

So, for this visit to the UK we have already been packed for two days, needing to make sure we could fit thick coats and jumpers into our meagre Easyjet baggage allowance along with the family Christmas gifts.

Now all we have to do is head off tomorrow and hope the airports are open, and also keep fingers firmly crossed that we don’t catch any of the myriad colds and bugs that everyone seems to have in the UK at the moment – lots of vitamin C on the menu today…

So…..England again–these trips come around so/too fast. As ever I am excited to see people, but at the same time can’t wait to be back here in Portugal—home for Christmas.

Seasons greetings 🙂

Photo credit: John Curnow

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