(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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- £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
Readers in the USA will find it here.