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 0

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!

Our Moving to Portugal book is still on special offer on Kindle:

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

And here’s the US 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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Five Reasons to Miss Portugal 2

Posted on July 17, 2015 by Ben Algarve

The time has come for yet another post about the things I’m missing about living in Portugal!

Before I start, I should make clear that in all honesty I’m not really missing The Algarve that much anymore. We’ve all become very used to the UK being “home” again, but there are still some specifics that trigger a feeling of yearning – and it’s those that I list below:

  1. The Weather

Let’s start with the obvious one. It’s was inevitable that we’d miss weather like that shown below:

Weather Portugal

Weather in Portugal

That said, it is summer in England, and it hasn’t been too bad at all. Also, I genuinely like this climate’s changeable nature (and I’m really not just saying that to make myself feel better!)

Having a couple of days of sun and then a couple of wind and rain is actually pretty handy for a freelance worker, because it’s easy to buckle down to work on the inclement days. While I miss the weather in Portugal, I don’t miss wishing I were outside when I had to work, and feeling jealous of the tourists…

  1. Sardines

It’s sardine season in Portugal, and I would love to dig into a huge plateful, complete with a simple salad and some slightly overcooked boiled potatoes!

I’ve been almost tempted to buy some in the UK, but I fear they may taint the memory. I may just wait until I’m back in the Algarve – I’ll let you know…

Portugal Sardines

Portuguese Sardines

  1. Friends and Spontaneity

This is a big one.

We love being back amongst all our UK friends, but we very much miss our friends in Portugal, particularly the fact they were right on our doorstep.

Everyone here is busy, and arrangements have to be made in advance. That’s fine, but we do really miss the doorbell ringing at random, and the ability just to head into town and “see who’s about.”

  1. Earning in Pounds and Spending in Euros

This one only occurred to me today, when I read that the Sterling / Euro exchange rate has hit a high of €1.43 to the Pound in the wake of the crisis in Greece. Several papers are saying it could hit €1.50.

I still keep an eye on the exchange rate, but it only really sunk in today that it no longer has any impact on our lives. If we were still in Portugal we’d be rubbing our hands together right now about how much more our money was worth.

  1. My Moped

Yes, I know I’m like a broken record about my beloved electric moped. It’s actually still in Portugal awaiting our next visit.

Moped

My moped in Portugal

I’ve looked into getting one in the UK, but it’s all about health and safety, ankle protection, and biker jackets.

I’m not interested. I want to ride around in the blazing sun in shorts and flip-flops, with shopping irresponsibly balanced in front of me. I miss it SO much.

So there you have it. That’s what I’m missing about Portugal right now.

Before I sign off, I’m pleased to tell you that I’ve temporarily reduced the price of our Moving to Portugal book in Kindle format. For now, it’s just £1.99 in the UK and $3.08 in the USA – grab one now!

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

And here’s the US link:

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

IMAGE CREDIT: Wikipedia

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Portuguese Wine: The Rescue Parcel Arrives 0

Posted on July 02, 2015 by Ben Algarve

I’ve already moaned before about how much we’ve been missing Portuguese wine since moving to England again.

Well, last week, thanks to the valiant efforts of several family members, our problems on that score came to an end. Thanks to a family road trip to the UK and some spare vehicle space, we were reunited with some of our old favourites.

Portuguese Wine - in the UK

Portuguese Wine – in the UK

The objective now is to make them last! So far we’ve been rather restrained and only opened a few, and donated some to friends too. It’s been lovely to taste these wines once more, and best of all to be spared the frustration of spending £6-10 a pop in the UK on bottles of questionable swill from the supermarket!

Also in our rescue parcel from Portugal was my beloved Weber barbecue, which regular readers of the blog will know is something of an obsession of mine. I must once again thank all those involved in reuniting us with it. I honestly don’t know if the wine or the barbecue was most exciting, but I think probably the latter!

Barbecue from Portugal

Reunited with my barbecue from Portugal

I’ve not got a huge amount of time to update on much else at this point, other than to say that all is pretty good back here in England. Yesterday, we had a trademark English one-day heatwave(!) but by today it was cool enough for jeans once again. I’m genuinely not saying this to make myself feel better, but I actually don’t mind this at all, because it’s far easier to get stuck into work when the weather outside isn’t sufficiently pleasant to entice me out.

However, that only applies during the week. Rained-off weekends are not cool at all, so here’s hoping we don’t have too many of those.

On that note, I’ll leave you with a shot of Whitstable beach approaching sunset last Saturday. With views like this, moving back to the UK doesn’t feel too bad at all – but as I’ve said before, you’ll probably get a different take on this from me come November!

One last thing actually: Quite randomly, I just discovered you can actually buy Casal Garcia, one of Portugal’s favourite Vinho Verdes (Green Wines) online, in ENGLAND, and for a good price that works out to less than £5 per bottle. It’s on Amazon of all places! What an amazing discovery! I’ve put the link here for you. I’m sorry to tell American readers that I can’t find a similar one on the US site :-(

Case x12 -Casal Garcia NV – Green Wine

Sunny English Skies in Whitstable

Sunny English Skies

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Missing Portugal… 4

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 :-)

Please take a look at 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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A Few Reasons why we Left Portugal 14

Posted on April 14, 2015 by Ben Algarve

Just a quick post today, but one that I’ve really agonised about writing.

Last time I posted, I was discussing our mixed feelings about being back in the UK, and alluded to a certain sense of homesickness for Portugal.

I’m pleased to say that (for now at least) the homesickness has abated. Right now I don’t think I could possibly be more certain that we’ve done the right thing.

Of course, the fact the weather in the UK is glorious today (and significantly warmer than the Algarve!) has a part to play.

Weather in the UK

Weather in the UK

However, it’s actually more been related to a succession of recent reminders as to why we decided to leave.

I’ve yet to go into that much detail about all the reasons and motivations behind our decision, but one of them was definitely that the slow pace of life we’d moved to Portugal specifically for came to be one of our major bugbears. We just weren’t ready to slow down that much, and the fact we came from London, rather than a small town, made the difference even more pronounced.

Examples of this have come through thick and fast this week: Our Portuguese accountant said we’d have our tax estimate “in the first week of April.” It was therefore annoying to politely ask when to expect it at the end of the second week, only to receive a curt response saying it wasn’t done yet – with no commitment whatsoever to another date when we could reasonably expect it.

Deadlines - Often Missed in Portugal

Deadlines – Often Missed in Portugal

Then, following on from having our Portuguese car cleaned and valeted, we relisted it for sale, with the price clearly marked. This hasn’t stopped at least three people asking for the price. One wonders how they are ever going to complete a vehicle transaction if they can’t read three paragraphs of text.

Then there are the expat chancers who think a “sensible” offer for a car is nearly half your asking price.

My wife’s fun and games have involved our Portuguese bank, where getting them to answer the phone, let alone send a simple, promised email, seems completely beyond their capabilities.

Then there’s the clear contrast between doing business in the two countries. I’ve just increased my hourly consultancy rate by the equivalent of €14, with the full approval of every UK client I’ve asked. In Portugal I’ve had people object to paying that for a morning’s work.

Portugal - we still miss this beautiful place

Portugal – we still miss this beautiful place

Let’s get something clear. I love Portugal. I adore it, and miss it every day. But I don’t miss any of this nonsense. There’s just too much short-termism, too much vagueness, and too many people who think that working for cash instead of doing things properly is subversive and clever, rather than something that just goes to ensure they will never have a stable economy they can truly thrive in.

Shortly after I moved to Portugal, someone told me something. They said that if a Portuguese business has a target of taking €100 per day, but somehow takes €200 on the Monday, they won’t see it as smashing their target; Instead they’ll close on the Tuesday and take it easy.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Nothing at all. But it’s not us. It’s never been us, and I can’t imagine that it ever will be.

I’m prepared for flack for writing this, having seen how defensive people were when I dared to suggest there was more choice in UK supermarkets than those in Portugal! However, I’ve always set out to give an honest account of my experiences.

There are loads of comebacks to what I’ve said here. I should be more patient, perhaps, or try harder to understand the culture of the country I moved to? Both are fair comments, to a point, but I’m trying to paint an honest picture for people thinking about moving to Portugal.

If you’re prepared to slow right down, put up with people continually missing deadlines without getting irritated by it, and are content to quibble about sums of money that wouldn’t buy you a weekly London TravelCard, then you’ll be perfectly happy. We weren’t as prepared for this as we thought we were, and life got frustrating. I hope at least some readers appreciate me pointing this out.

One final point: You obviously cannot write a post like this without some generalisation. There are clearly thousands of highly dynamic Portuguese people who meet their deadlines and reply to emails when promised. There are probably even some expats who do everything by the book, rather than cherry-pick the rules that suit them. I’m only sharing our experiences, not seeking to tar everyone with the same brush. So please bear that in mind before attacking me in the comments :-)

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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

Posts you might like:

Moving Back from Portugal – Some Early Observations 15

Posted on March 18, 2015 by Ben Algarve

Moving back to the UK after a long time in Portugal has been just as much of a shock to the system as when we did things the other way around. We’d become completely used to the Portuguese way of doing things, so it’s been a surprisingly interesting adventure.

In this post, I’m going to recount some of our initial observations and comparisons. It’s a terrible shame you can’t take the best of both countries and merge it all together somewhere in the hot sun!

Food, Glorious Food

The food in Portugal was one of the reasons we looked forward to moving there, and we still love it (enough to maintain Food and Wine Portugal!)

But….we have to be honest and say we started to get bored with a lack of variety, especially in the winter months, when we found ourselves in a bit of a rut of eating the same thing week in, week out.

Food in England - serious variety

Food in England – serious variety

Quite sensibly, Algarve restaurants often close for some of the winter or run with restricted menus, and there’s not so much of a takeaway culture. This is healthier, no doubt, but we had started to crave choice, and often found ourselves really uninspired by our options.

Well, now we have that choice. In the time since we left, food options in the UK seem to have multiplied far beyond what we remember, and all the shops seem to have all the products, all the time. Every trip to the supermarket or high street is both overwhelming and tremendously fun.

And now we DO have takeaway options: Chinese, Thai, Indian, Fish and Chips, Pizza, Kebabs – all to our door in thirty minutes. Not a habit we wish to get heavily into, but really exciting, not to mention useful when you are working, unpacking and baby-entertaining all at once.

I could go on for far longer about food, but for now England gets a big tick from us, even though we do already miss a few Portuguese dishes. However, what it really comes down to is that bacalhau aside (which would require a trip to London), there’s nothing we could get in Portugal that we couldn’t get here. There’s a LOT we can get here that we couldn’t easily get in Portugal. Oh, and all the supermarkets here deliver – very handy when you have a baby!

Booze, Glorious Booze

Now for the flip-side of the coin: beer and wine is expensive back in the UK. Really expensive.

In addition, when it comes to wine, it’s not actually that good here either. The entry cost for a bottle of wine seems to be about £6 in England now, and I’ve yet to be remotely impressed by anything at that price.

In fact, I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that I could go into a Portuguese supermarket and choose ten reds at €3 and under that would all be better than any “budget” bottle in Britain.

Unfortunately, at £6-10 a pop, wine’s not something to waste, so my research will be slow! If the friend I spoke to last night on the subject is correct, the best option is to drink wine less frequently and splash out on pricier bottles. Either that or we will plan a trip to France soon!

Our last remaining bottle of Portuguese wine

Our last remaining bottle of Portuguese wine

On the other hand, beer and cider here is a delight, just in terms of variety, even though it’s obviously far more expensive than in Portugal. A serious craft-beer culture has sprung up in our absence too, making every (rare with a baby) trip to the pub a rather exciting experience.

Media

I have to say I’m loving having full access to English newspapers again, complete with all the magazines and supplements at the weekend. Although I could read a Portuguese newspaper, it would take me days, and with such basic comprehension I think a lot of nuance went over my head.

Yes, you can get English newspapers in Portugal, but the choice is usually The Sun or The Daily Mail, without any supplements included. I always found it quite entertaining that the only papers available to the expat immigrants to Portugal were the right wing, anti immigration options!

Then there’s TV: In Portugal we had a full Meo package and it was….OK. However, much of the “premium” output was American trash and we never found much to watch.

Now we have a full Sky package with “catch-up” and more box sets than we could ever get through. And we have a Netflix subscription too. We’ve barely had the time to play with any of it, but I can’t imagine us finding a time when we feel there’s nothing to watch.  Best of all, it all works without fudged VPN solutions and hassle, and it’s quick, thanks to an Internet connection that’s about five times faster than we could get in Portugal.

Weather

Well, there’s no contest here is there? Portugal wins all the way, and a week spent seeing 27-degree temperatures, along with Facebook barbecue pictures from friends, resulted in our first real attack of homesickness for Portugal.

It’s not all bad, however. It may not be anything like Portugal back in South East England, but it has been dry and largely sunny since our return. A brisk walk in the sunshine to warm up and it’s actually quite pleasant out there…or so I continue to convince myself!

The sun does shine in England sometimes

The sun does shine in England sometimes

However, what I am struggling with is the reality of the fact that it could conceivably be months until we have a day that resembles summer, and that’s hard to get used to. We didn’t realise how much we’d come to take the weather for granted until we were back.

Culture

After Portugal’s solid climate victory, the UK’s lost some ground, so let’s move onto “culture.”

Here the UK is winning…big time. It’s almost as if every show and performance we’ve ever wanted to see has all been arranged for our return – or perhaps there was always this much going on and we’d just forgotten.

It seems as if every week we hear of something else we want to go to. So far we’ve got tickets to see our favourite DJ (Dimitri from Paris) play on an outdoor terrace on May bank holiday; Tickets for a one-day-only concert performance of our favourite musical (Follies) at The Royal Albert Hall, and tickets for Chic, Grace Jones and Kylie at Hyde Park in the summer!

And that’s really just the start. We’re only just beginning to see festival line-ups; remembering about Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre…the list goes on. I don’t think we ever realised how much we missed all this stuff.

So, all in all we have a rather mixed bag of first impressions, but putting the weather aside, we’re finding much to inspire us back in the UK. Now if someone could just recommend a serviceable red wine for less than six quid, our lives will be complete!

If you’d like to read more about our five years in Portugal, 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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Christmas in Portugal: Vila Real de Santo Antonio 10

Posted on December 09, 2014 by Ben Algarve

Christmas in Portugal was rather magical for our first couple of years here, helped by the beautiful lights in our local town of Tavira. I talked about them in this post, and it’s really hard to believe I wrote it five whole years ago!

Due to the financial crisis, things have been a little flat in many Algarve towns in recent years, with slashed budgets meaning that last year Tavira only really got a tree. Still, it did better than some towns that got nothing at all.

Christmas in Vila Real de Santo Antonio

Christmas in Vila Real de Santo Antonio

We’re hoping Tavira has the “old” decorations back this year, but we’ve not had a chance to visit after dark (and given that our six month old son screams during dark car journeys, that chance won’t come easy!)

Anyway, we wanted to go somewhere where Christmas cheer was guaranteed, so we headed to the border town of Vila Real de Santo Antonio, which always makes a big effort for Christmas.

The highlight, as ever, was the huge indoor nativity scene, featuring thousands of animated figurines, complete with impressive lighting and water features. This year, there was the addition of “flying” doves over the scene too. It was as enchanting as ever and the aforementioned six-month-old seemed suitably spellbound.

Vila Real Christmas Scene

Vila Real Christmas Scene

As well as the nativity scene, there’s ice skating (on a rather small scale), a Santa’s grotto, and a small craft and food market.

All the typical Portuguese “festival foods” were present and correct: farturas (akin to donuts), smoked octopus and (most importantly for Christmas) freshly roasted chestnuts. Mulled wine was the only thing absent, but we can’t expect to find British drinks on the border of Spain and Portugal!

Portugal Christmas: Chestnuts

Portugal Christmas: Chestnuts

In case you’re not familiar with the place, Vila Real also boasts some decent kitchen and textile shops, so is a good place to grab gifts. However, it’s worth noting that everything starts to wind down quite early for Portugal (8/9PM), which is surprising when summer markets often don’t get started until after that point.

Vila Real Christmas Craft Market

Vila Real Christmas Craft Market

If you’re in the Algarve during the holiday season, I highly recommend a trip to Vila Real de Santo Antonio. It may not quite match Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland, but it’s cheaper, easier, and just as likely to spark that festive feeling.

If you’d like to read more about our five years in Portugal, 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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Christmas Gifts for Portugal Fans 5

Posted on December 01, 2014 by Ben Algarve

It’s now December, so even the “haters” now have to accept that Christmas is coming and give into festive cheer! Or at least that’s the theory!

With that in mind, today I’m going to suggest a few items that would make great Christmas presents for people who love Portugal, or perhaps even plan to move to the country like we did.

1. Piri Piri Starfish

This is our all-time favourite Portuguese recipe book, with lots of evocative writing about the country and it’s cuisine.

Piri Piri Starfish - A great Portuguese recipe book

Piri Piri Starfish – A great Portuguese recipe book

It’s also (sadly) one of only a couple of the recipe books we’ve bought over the years that’s still in print and readily available, with others now becoming rather hard to find. Grab it while you can!

It’s on Amazon UK here:

Piri Piri Starfish: Portugal Found

Readers in the US should find a copy here:

Piri Piri Starfish

2. Moving to Portugal – The Book

Yes, it’s our own book, and yes, this is a shameless plug. But if you buy if, for yourself or a friend, we get a small Christmas present in the form of a royalty payment too 😉

Moving to Portugal

Moving to Portugal

Find it here on Amazon UK:

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

3. Rosetta Stone Portuguese

If you’re really serious about learning Portuguese, then Rosetta Stone really is the “gold standard” in language-learning.

Rosetta Stone Portuguese

Rosetta Stone Portuguese

It’s worth pointing out that Rosetta Stone teaches Brazillian Portuguese, which is a little different from European Portuguse – rather like speaking American English rather than UK English, but you’ll still be understood – and certainly understood better (and respected more) than the many expats who think that speaking English loudly in Portugal is the way forward!

Rosetta Stone Portuguese is on Amazon UK here:

Rosetta Stone Portuguese (Brazil) Complete Course (PC/Mac)

And on Amazon.COM here:

Learn Portuguese: Rosetta Stone Portuguese (Brazil) – Level 1-3 Set

4. The Book of Disquiet

The Portuguese are very proud of their literary heritage, and there’s no better place to start than with this translation of Fernando Pessoa’s “Book of Disquiet.”

Fernando Pessoa - The Book of Disquiet

Fernando Pessoa – The Book of Disquiet

It’s not the easiest of reads, but an essential for anyone who wishes to immerse themselves in Portuguese history and culture.

It’s on Amazon UK here:

The Book of Disquiet (Serpent’s Tail Classics)

US Readers will find it here:

The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Classics)

5. The Rough Guide to Portugal

We have a shelf full of Portugal guide books for the use of us and our guests, but if we could only have one, it would have to be the Rough Guide.

Rough Guide to Portugal

Rough Guide to Portugal

Some of our other guidebooks are better in terms of photos, but often gloss over places that are worthy of explanation. So if you’re setting off to really explore Portugal (and you really should!) this is the book you need.

Find it on Amazon UK here:

The Rough Guide to Portugal

Or on Amazon US here:

The Rough Guide to Portugal

We hope this list helps you with a few ideas for you and your Portugal-loving friends! Seasons Greetings!

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