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

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A Rather Grey Summer in Portugal 15

Posted on July 30, 2014 by Ben Algarve

MOANING, WHINING POST TO FOLLOW…YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

(Ben) Well, here I am with a beautiful new baby in the middle of the Portuguese summer. I should, by all accounts, be walking on air. And a lot of the time I am. However, over the last few days I’ve hit a bit of a wall.

Although I pride myself on giving a “warts and all” account of life in Portugal, I do try to keep my posts largely positive. As a result, I’ve spent much of the day glancing at my “to do” list, seeing “write Moving to Portugal post,” and switching back to doing something else because I don’t want to use this blog as a place to moan.

Unfortunately though, I’m also rather obsessive about ticking off all the things on my “to do” list—so if you’d rather not hear me have a cathartic brain-unload, you may wish to navigate away now and return another day when I’m back to talking about sardines and sunshine.

So, what’s landed me in this rather grey mood? Here are the main things:

  1. The state of the world 

Israel and Palestine; Russia and Ukraine; My own local bank being exposed for corruption on a grand scale; I (really) could go on…

Sometimes I wish I could temper my natural curiosity and need to research, because the current state of the world is truly depressing, and potentially on the precipice of some seriously horrible shit.

Head in the sand - like most of the Western World

Head in the sand – like most of the Western World

To add to this, I get frustrated that so few people seem to realise or care, and know far more about football and the Kar-bloody-dashians than they do about issues that will, one day soon, affect them and their families.

“Ah, but how can the world depress you when you’ve got such a beautiful new son?” I hear the optimists amongst you say. Because he’s got to grow up in this world too, and there’s only so much I can do to protect him from it—and that frequently keeps me awake at night.

  1. Portugal’s “Summer”

It’s not been that bad, but this Algarve summer has been far cooler and cloudier than usual. I moved here for the weather, and never expected to wake up to grey skies in late July.

  1. Job dissatisfaction

I should make very clear that I’m very lucky to have the wide range of regular work that I have. However, I’ve recently started to realise that I spend much of my working life prioritising earning money over doing work I enjoy.

Yes, yes, I know the same applies to half the working world, but I’d love to spend more time lavishing care on this site and on www.foodandwineportugal.com – I’d also love to write another book, but my new-found identity as “provider for a family” has turned me back into a wage-slave, which is exactly what I moved away from the UK to escape.

Losing sight of why we came here

Losing sight of why we came here

There are other things I could cite: niggling health symptoms, family crap, but those are the main reasons I’m having a bit of a down phase.

So, on that depressing note, what do I propose to do about it? Well, the one thing I am always glad of is that I’ve never been one to wallow in the doldrums for too long. Much of today has been devoted to working out how to redress the balance and flick the positivity switch back in the right direction.

On that note, here’s my plan:

  1. I’ve already enrolled on a Child Psychology course, and later today I’ll be making a start on the lectures. I recently found out I’d got a good mark in the Open University course I completed last year, but struggled to justify signing up for another module straight away thanks to ludicrous fee increases and the need to spend the money on nappies and formula. Even though I’ve not missed the stressful run-ups to assignment deadlines, I have missed the mental stimulation and the learning, so this is a good compromise, and I’ve managed to find a properly accredited course for far less than the punitive OU fees.
Time to start studying again

Time to start studying again

  1. I intend to continue to spend hours of each day playing with my baby son, who always does something exciting and new every single day.
  1. By the end of today, I want to kick off my next online project—perhaps some kind of “expat dad” blog, or a new eBook. To ensure I stick with it, I will (at least try to) refrain from being swayed by Euro signs when I’m offered writing work that I know will bore me to tears.

That just leaves me with the general state of the world to sort out—something I’ll probably struggle to manage single-handedly! Still, I’ve plotted a bit of a life plan for the next few months, which is quite enough for one day.

If you’ve reached this point in the post—well, I really should thank you for listening! If you’re bored of hearing me moan, I did warn you!

I’ll conclude by suggesting that prospective Portugal expats take this post as a lesson that real life follows you everywhere you go, and that moving abroad is not a cure-all. On the other hand, I just know I’d feel way more down in the dumps if I had to commute home from central London this evening instead of sitting on the balcony studying my for my new course 😉

There ends my catharsis. I feel better already.

IMAGE CREDITS: Wikimedia Commons

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Portugal Life: Ten Things I Love 9

Posted on February 03, 2014 by Ben Algarve

The depressing cloud that is January has left us now, but February offers little consolation beyond the fact that it’s a short month and there’s therefore a little less time before the next payday.

The Internet is full of pop psychology at the moment, and if you’re a self-help-sceptic, the thought of anything resembling a “gratitude diary” probably makes you want to scream. However, I do think it sometimes does a lot of good to take stock and think of some reasons to be cheerful, thankful, or just less grumpy – whatever works for you…

So, with that in mind, here’s one of those “ten things I love” posts, that were so fashionable a few years back. It’s winter in Portugal right now, so there’s little to say of beaches and sunshine, but I’m going to smile this Monday for the following reasons:

1. The nursery

What was once our spare room is now (almost) a nursery – or a nursery combined with my office, which itself is diminishing in size by the day! We still have some bits to do, but (largely down to the generosity of others) there’s already a beautifully decorated cot, a pushchair, and a wardrobe full of clothes and nappies. Not a day goes by when I don’t wander round and admire it.

The Nursery in Progress

The Nursery in Progress

Friends who already have children tell us it will never look like this again, so we need to make the best of it!

2. My new stereo

We recently made a modest investment in a new stereo, in the main so I could finally play the records that I’ve gradually accumulated since I decided to collect disco rarities. Discovering obscure B-sides while I cook is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

3. Fresh linens

Despite Louise’s rapidly expanding bump, I still seem to climb into a beautiful bed, complete with fresh new linen, at the end of every weekend. I know this is one of the chores I’ll have to add to my roster in the coming weeks as “the bump” gets bigger. I’m making the best of it, because with the best will in the world I can only make a bed as competently as a well-meaning teenager.

4. Brussels sprouts

This will seem like a strange one, but I love sprouts, and until recently they’ve not been that easy to find in our part of Portugal.

Recently, though, they’re become consistently available in our local supermarket, in sensible quantities at around just one Euro. I’m sure I’ll tire of them soon, but I’m loving them right now.

5. The mild winter

The weather in the Algarve since Christmas has been nothing to write home about, but it has been consistently mild. As a result, we’re not struggling to keep our apartment warm, which is a first for this time of year, and a welcome change.

6. The price of Portuguese wine

Last night we both commented on how good the wine was with our Sunday dinner. It had one of those “gold award winner” stickers on it, and was absolutely delicious. It cost €2.49 from Lidl. (Louise only had a few sips!)

Portuguese Wine

Portuguese Wine

7. Poverty pasta

Poverty pasta is a January and February tradition for us, and it’s only semi-ironic in title! With most of our money being diverted to the baby fund and the good people at American Express (who kindly volunteered to pay up-front for most of Christmas), each week we currently make a huge pasta bake that does one huge dinner and a left-over lunch, with enough spare for anyone who happens to pass through our doors while it’s in the fridge.

Our poverty pasta bake sometimes features tuna, sometimes left over chicken, but always a ton of fresh local vegetables. It’s life affirming and mega cheap, and loads of fun to make.

8. Vela 2

Vela 2 is one of our favourite restaurants, but for some reason we’d forgotten about it recently – perhaps because it’s now moved out of town and into a nearby village.

Whilst trying to think of something to do on Friday evening, I suddenly remembered it. Five minutes later some friends unexpectedly dropped by, and an hour later we were all tucking into as much sparkling fresh fish as we could eat for no more than about €15 each in total.

It’s things like this that remind you that living in the Algarve can be pretty special whatever the season.

9. My food smoker

The Smoking Gun on Food and Wine Portugal

The Smoking Gun on Food and Wine Portugal

I won’t talk about my new Smoking Gun Food Smoker here, you can follow the link and read about my favourite new kitchen gadget. Suffice to say it has brightened up my winter!

10. Having work

I moan more than enough about never getting outside while the sun’s shining, and not having loads of extra time since I moved to Portugal. But I didn’t move here to retire. We still have to put the hours in, often for a level of reward that makes us realise how lucky we really were when we worked in London, but we’re fortunate to have built up the work we have, most of which we do from the comfort of home.

What are you loving right now? Please tell us in the comments below. I’ve spent plenty of time feeling a bit jaded lately, but reading this back makes me feel very positive. Maybe this pop-psychology fad is a good thing?

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Moving Abroad: Speaking from the Heart 7

Posted on October 22, 2012 by Ben Algarve

We’re so close, I can taste it. A life so sweet, can’t afford to waste it.”
Michael Jackson “We’re Almost There.”

We were rather down in the dumps for much of last week. A combination of the change in seasons, sad / bad news of family and friends, and the sucker punch that was Portugal’s 2013 budget announcement left us feeling rather listless and uninspired.

Yesterday, however, I began to see the wood for the trees.

It’s easy to become so wrapped up in your day-to-day existence that you lose sight of the big picture. When I heard the song quoted above, everything became clear.

It’s a song I’ve quoted before on this blog – just over three years ago, in fact, when we were less than a month away from moving to Portugal from London. I remember the time well. We were working ludicrous hours and trying to fit “moving abroad” into the evenings and weekends. The resulting feeling was somewhere between excited expectation and semi-hysterical exhaustion, and the song always seemed rather poignant.

Moving abroad - not all about the money

Moving abroad - not all about the money

When I heard it yesterday, it wasn’t in some kind of romantic setting. There was neither sand nor sunset in sight. In fact, I was standing on the balcony while rain lashed down, contemplating the fact that the 2013 budget means that we’re looking at yet more years of doing little more than treading water economically.

Hearing that line, and remembering the tremendous sense of anticipation we felt before moving abroad, brought everything into perspective. It’s easy to forget that being here in Portugal is exactly what we worked towards for so much time. We’re no longer “so close we can taste it,” we actually here…we’re doing it….and we’ve made it work for three years in very challenging conditions.

When I wandered back inside, my wife was on the sofa relaxing with a book, the smell of our roast duck had began to waft around the apartment, and a cheap but tasty bottle of red was sitting waiting to be popped. All was well with the world.

We’re all living in a world where just five minutes on a news website can be enough to cause mild despair. But sometimes, you can live in that same world, in exactly the same circumstances, and all it takes is one line of a song to make you shed a tear of happiness. I guess that’s what real life is all about.

Considering moving abroad? I’d recommend it! 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

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A Fresh Outlook – and a Wonderful Book 9

Posted on March 28, 2011 by Ben Algarve

As a regular reader of the blog pointed out, my last post was “uncharacteristically negative,” so I’m pleased to report that last week was a better one! We heard from our Portuguese bank that our paperwork was finally back from London and were invited in to apply for our car finance. We have yet to hear back as to whether or not we can go car shopping, but fingers are firmly crossed. If we are successful, we can go shopping for something with a service history and a warranty, rather than having to take a €5000 gamble!

Just as suddenly as it had arrived, our homesickness vanished, helped by some fine weather and a conscious effort not to allow the slow-turning wheels of bureaucracy to phase us.

I’ve said this before, but I think it bears repeating: moving to a warm, sunny country does NOT make you immune to life’s crap. Sure, I don’t have to start every Monday on the London underground, wedged cosily against a strangers armpit, but living in Portugal, when you have a living to earn and tax to pay, does not mean 365 days a year of “summer time, and the living is easy.”

Portugal Spring Flowers

Portugal Spring Flowers

However settled we feel here most of the time, decades of conditioning as to how things work in a different culture, and one where you speak the language, don’t just get shaken off after 18 months. I feel I have a duty to people considering a similar move to be completely honest about this. Things that were previously simple—such as making an enquiry to the tax office or seeing a doctor, become vastly complicated.

I sent two very simple questions by email, in perfect Portuguese (translated with the help of a Portuguese friend), to Portugal’s Financas several weeks ago and have received no response.

What would I have done in England? Well, I would have picked up the phone and used my extensive vocabulary to bitch and moan until I got the answers I required. Now here, that’s not an option. Despite my best efforts, my Portuguese vocabulary doesn’t yet stretch to complaining over the phone. Sure, I now know the difference between a dourada and a robalo, but proudly showing off my knowledge of fish is unlikely to get me anywhere with the tax office. It’s an unsettling feeling.

It’s my duty then to warn prospective expats of something the estate agents selling a new life in the sun are unlikely to mention: The language barrier has the potential to turn previously intelligent, articulate people into blathering fools. Stumbling your way through a two week holiday with nothing but “sim” and “obrigado” is one thing, negotiating the realities of life is quite another!

Shellfish on a Trip to Spain

Shellfish on a Trip to Spain

Anyway, as you can probably tell, I’ve now managed to be a lot more philosophical about all this, freeing up my brain to enjoy some of the good things we moved here for. Last week we found time to enjoy the beach, watch sea trout sizzle on our barbecue and venture into Spain for a feast of shellfish at the weekend. Our equilibrium has been restored.

Key to restoring my spirits last week was the arrival of a book called “The Moon, Come to Earth,” by Philip Graham, a series of dispatches from an American author who spent a year living in Lisbon.

I’m always keen to read tales of people integrating into other cultures, and the adventures of Philip and his family have so many parallels to our own experiences that I found the book truly compelling.

Graham has a fantastic gift for analogies. I particularly loved the observation that “making complex financial arrangements in a language one barely understands feels like riding white-water rapids using a teaspoon for an oar.” That sentence alone went a long way to shaking me out of my dark mood last week!

My wife can always judge how much I’m enjoying a book by how often I want to read a section out loud to her. I read her so much of “The Moon, Come to Earth,” that I hardly think it will be worth her reading it herself!

The author skillfully blends his Portuguese discoveries with his personal thoughts and feelings as he watches his daughter’s integration into Portuguese life and schooling, and her poignant last days of childhood as adolescence begins. This book is absolutely essential reading for anyone considering moving abroad with children.

“The Moon, Come to Earth” helped me in another way too. Graham spends a lot of his time in Lisbon sitting and observing – taking it all in. As our work and red-tape stress has increased, we have unconsciously stopped doing this, ending up back on a bit of a hamster wheel, albeit a sunnier hamster wheel with cleaner air. The wonderful observations in the book jolted me back to remembering why we moved here, and the need to slow down, soak up the culture and open our minds to understanding the different way of life. For that, I am very grateful to the author, and heartily recommend the book to anyone with an interest in life in Portugal.

You can find the book here:

The Moon, Come to Earth: Dispatches from Lisbon

With all that said, however much I remember why we moved here, manage to slow down and soak up the culture and adapt to that different way of life, I have a feeling that the tax office failing to respond to my queries is still going to piss me off.

Have a good week 🙂

Exploring Portugal - Castro Marim from the Castle

Exploring Portugal - Castro Marim from the Castle

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X Factor? Get me out of here….. 7

Posted on October 26, 2009 by movingtoportugal

It’s been a while since I moaned about London life and seeing as we leave in 9 days (typing that just pushed my heart rate up!) I imagine this will be my last little political rant….

As a TV show, I can’t say I actually have any issue with the concept of “The X Factor,” but the reason it is right up at the top of the list of “things I hate” right now is how it highlights the vacuous way of life everyone seems to be being encouraged to adopt.

Several times per day I am becoming tempted to deactivate my Facebook account as yet another of my friends posts some inane comment about “The  X-Factor.” Visiting the offices of my clients all I am hearing is chatter about “Miss Frank” or “The Twatty Twins.”  As if this wasn’t enough, the tabloid front-pages scream out more “X-Factor” exclusives everywhere you go.

All of this is producing within me emotions from mild depression to actual FURY! As well as religiously watching this drivel, people are voting on it, talking about it, twittering about it, reading about it and texting about it. Some of these people are my friends, and are, at least in some cases, quite level headed, interesting people. Are the government in some way complicit in allowing this nonsense to slowly rot away our collective intelligence?!

Some really significant stuff goes on in the world. The country is at war in a couple of places, the politicians and the bankers are all stealing our money, and the British National Party are on “Question Time,” yet nobody talks about any of that. People prefer to be anaesthetised for weeks at a time by the antics of wannabe fast-track celebrities, while Cheryl Cole and some others decide which one of the contenders gets to record a shit ballad for Christmas number one, thus financing Simon Cowell’s next party, and next teeth.

When people seem to be putting more thought into who to vote for in The X Factor than who to vote for to run the country, something has surely gone horribly wrong? I am really struggling with the fact that this isn’t glaringly obvious to more people around me.  The UK seem to have adopted apathy as the key lifestyle choice and “not my problem” as the collective mantra. Unless people begin to wake up and take more interest in the society around them than the sad little lives of Jordan and Kerry Katona, I really to fear for the future of our culture.

Moving back to the key topic of moving to Portugal, I am sad to say that, yes, they do have X Factor in Portugal (in fact across most of Europe and even “XSeer Al Najah” throughout the Arab world, according to Wikipedia.) The silver-lining in that particular cloud though, is that I won’t understand a word when people are talking about it. The same will go for politics – I am going to go out of my way to not know about it – that way I may not feel so cross all the time!

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Your money or your life! 0

Posted on August 12, 2009 by movingtoportugal

My blog has been neglected of late. Although we now only have 2.5 months until the big move to Tavira, we are so busy with the everyday matters of running a business, living in a hectic city and the general day-to-day crap that London, and life, throws at you.

Work is the main problem. Given that it is a recession, I should really be grateful that business is going well, but I could actually do with it being quieter so that we can actually make some progress towards preparing for our move! In addition, it has been a “clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right” kind of week where I have encountered so many “not my job, not my problem” types that I despair for the UK’s collective work-ethic!

I also feel rather duplicitous. The reason being that the people I am working with don’t know that very soon I am going to be telling them that I am selling out and moving to the sunshine. I know business is business but I have built up long term relationships with these clients and actually quite like some of them! I am hoping very much that after they are all told in the coming weeks of my plans, I will start feeling a bit more like I have “given my notice.” If nothing else I won’t have to be scared of accidentally blurting out something about Portugal!

Balance?

Balance?

So I am plodding on, being efficient, and having to pretend that I care while I work 15 hour days and weekends. The main comfort being that this IS the final charge to the finish line and then I can start to build my new life with work/life balance always being a priority.

What makes me so happy about the move is that where I am at the moment is at the start of a process I witness the middle and end of in many of my business associates.

Typically, these people are middle aged entrepreneur-types who have been sucessful with their businesses and have all the usual trappings of an affluent lifestyle. I can see us moving along the same path. We have a nice house in a good area, a decent car, a fridge full of overpriced food from Waitrose and an expensive weekend-break habit.

Then there are the downsides; you don’t get to spend a lot of time in the nice house because you are always at work and when you are in the nice car you are invariably stressed and late for work. Then, the Waitrose food goes out of date because you didn’t get home until 10pm so had a crappy takeaway or didn’t eat at all, and you spend every weekend break either on your Blackberry or on a gridlocked motorway.

What disturbs me most is that there seems to be a direct link between how much money these people have and how unhappy they seem. Given this evidence I am glad I am opting out of this materialistic lifestyle. When you would happily give away all of the gadgets and luxuries just to have some peace and time, then something needs to change!

This brings me on to a lovely story my mother told me. I don’t know it’s origin, and I think she adapted it to fit our sitution, but it goes something like this.

Some wealthy tourists were on a beach in Portugal. They saw a local Portugese man sitting next to his fishing boat, reading a book. They went and asked the fisherman if he would be willing to take them fishing.

The man said no straight away. He said that he went out very early in the morning, that on some days he would go out again later in the morning, but that every afternoon, he would sit on the beach and read a book.

The tourists were surprised and tried to persuade the man, telling him money was no object. The man again said no. He said that he went out very early in the morning, that on some days he would go out again later in the morning, but that every afternoon, he would sit on the beach and read a book.

The tourists were slightly disappointed, and said they were surprised he would turn down good money for a fishing trip. The fisherman explained his logic thus:

“I have said that I only fish in the morning, and in the afternoon I sit on the beach and read my book. I could take you fishing and then I may as well take the next people who ask me. Before long I may build up a reputation and make excellent money from taking people fishing. It could become so popular that I could buy another boat, and pay someone to run even more fishing trips – maybe even three or four boats. I would be very busy and make lots of money……and then maybe once or twice a year I could take a week off, and sit on the beach and read my book.”

I think many people in London would benefit from the fisherman’s wisdom.

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