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Country Life in Portugal 5

Posted on April 04, 2013 by Ben Algarve

Some months ago my mother asked if Ben and I would house-sit for her and take care of her pets while she spent ten days in England. We agreed without a moment’s thought, eager to sample Portuguese country living. We live in a modern apartment where we are very happy, but had always wondered what life must be like living in the countryside in the middle of nowhere. This week, we have had the chance to find out.

Country life in Portugal - abundant flowers

Country life in Portugal – abundant flowers

My mum’s house sits at the centre of an orange grove. Olives, apples, pears, plums, pomegranates, loquats, grapes and more all grow in amongst the orange trees in a sprawling and largely untamed orchard. Bay trees, which fetch such a high price in England, spring up everywhere the second you turn your back and it is a constant fight to chop them down and compost them before more appear. In the midst of the abundant vegetation, an old stone irrigation tank has been turned into a rustic swimming pool, making an idyllic setting for long summer evenings.

When we arrived with our suitcase last week, ready to begin ‘house sit 2013,’ the first thing I noticed was the intense, mingled scent of jasmine and orange blossom, so strong that the air feels like some kind of flowery, breathable soup. The next thing I registered was a hyperactive kitten leaping out of a clump of poppies to playfully attack an unsuspecting cat that was out for a stroll. And thus the animal antics began.

The kitten looking for her next victim to pounce on

The kitten looking for her next victim to pounce on

Now, when we agreed to house-sit I obviously knew my mum had pets. I also knew that they were all a bit bonkers in their own way. The elderly, pint-sized dog (smaller than all the cats, including the kitten) is completely deaf and a bit incontinent. She is also fond of finding neighbouring dogs ten times her size and yapping ferociously at them. The kitten – the latest addition to the ‘family’ – bolts around the house at hyper-speed, attacking the other pets, the humans and pretty much anything else that takes its fancy. There is a giant cat that seems to be half cat and half panther, both in size and temperament. There are also another three cats, plus one semi-feral cat that gets fed but not let into the house.

Kumquats

Kumquats

Some cats are allowed out of the front door, others out of the back door and some have to remain inside. They all have different amounts of weighed-out food, while the dog is on six different kinds of medication for her ailments. A full three pages of the seven page instruction manual that had been prepared for us was devoted to what and when to feed the pets.

Despite all this preparation by my devoted mother, the first feeding time was a disaster. Before I had even opened the first packet of cat food, the kitten was up on the worktop trying to prise the packet out of my hand with her claws and I earned my first scratch. When I did get the packet open and tried to squeeze the food out into the bowl, she put her head into the packet and ate the cat food as it emerged. Meanwhile a swarm of hungry animals was weaving around my legs, each intent on getting its dinner as soon as possible.

Kitten charging around the worktop at feeding time

Kitten charging around the worktop at feeding time

After distracting the kitten with some biscuits, I was able to get the cat food dished out and give the patient little dog her medicine. While I was doing this, the kitten took advantage of my inattention and ran from bowl to bowl, using her lightning-fast speed to wallop each cat over the head in turn and then grab a chunk of their food while they were distracted. Copious amounts of hissing and clawing ensued. When I tried to intervene and remove the kitten, the giant panther-cat bit my foot. Thankfully I was wearing trainers and survived the incident with all toes intact.

The panther-cat ended up eating the dog’s food. The dog ate the kitten’s food. The medium size cat chased the kitten around the room. Then the panther-cat was sick on the floor. Twice. It was chaos. I ended up going to bed at 2 am, exhausted and wondering if it would be acceptable to call my mother and beg her to come back early.

Divide and rule - panther-cat eating her own food!

Divide and rule – panther-cat eating her own food!

A new ‘divide and rule’ approach the next day helped with feeding time and by the end of our week in the country it had become a precise, military-style operation, with each animal eating its own food out of its own bowl in a separate room of the house, with an airlock style system of closed doors in between them all.

We had planned to spend our days in the countryside relaxing, reading books, barbecuing and perhaps even having a dip in the pool, weather permitting. Sadly the weather not only didn’t permit going in the pool, it pretty much ruled out going outside. When the sun did occasionally peep out from behind the clouds, it was accompanied by winds strong enough to have me chasing the washing around the property from where it had blown off the line. Instead of our anticipated mini-holiday, we spent our days sitting indoors and working.

Country life in Portugal

Country life in Portugal

The silence and solitude of the countryside were both peaceful and a lonely at the same time. During the day I enjoyed hearing nothing more than the bees humming as they pollinated the orange blossom in the orchard, but at night I missed the distant (and somehow reassuring) sound of traffic passing on the EN125. Being able to see the stars so clearly in the night sky was amazing, but having always been quite afraid of the dark (as you can’t see who/what may be creeping up behind you) I also found the outdoors a little spooky. It turns out that in the countryside, as in space, no one can hear you scream.

Having a fabulous array of fruit, vegetables and herbs at our disposal was something we had looked forward to. Unfortunately the rain meant that the ground in the orchard had turned into a bog, so other than grabbing a couple of oranges off the nearest tree we simply stared at the other produce across an ocean of mud before going to the local shop. Still, the herb garden was accessible and we very much enjoyed picking abundant quantities of fragrant goodies and cooking with them in the large, country-style kitchen.

I did enjoy the country kitchen

I did enjoy the country kitchen

With the rain, the snails also came. Going anywhere outside after dusk was a horrible, crunchy walk of death. Even when we used torches somehow the poor snails still found their way under our trainers. After the third night we tended to only go out during daylight hours.

This all sounds rather negative and I certainly don’t mean to dismiss the idea of rural living – the space, scents and solitude were all wonderful at times. I think that it is just that, for me, moving from London to a sleepy seaside village is far enough – a move to the countryside would just be one step too far. Although I’ve always had a distant romantic notion of living in a farmhouse with a brood of children around me, eating my freshly baked cakes smothered in my freshly made jam, while my husband puts his feet up by the open fire, it turns out that actually, at heart, I’m a city girl through and through.

 

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Just Another Day in… Portugal 4

Posted on October 02, 2012 by Ben Algarve

Many times, I have lamented the fact that people widely assume those of us living abroad do nothing all day but float in the pool drinking mojitos.

Even friends who visit us get a false impression, perhaps not realising that we work 12-hour days and see no daylight for at least a week to get ahead and have time to spend with them when they arrive.

Having said that, I would never deny that I now have a far better work / life balance than I had back in the UK. It is, after all, one of the reasons I moved to Portugal in the first place.

London Tube - I Don't Miss this Part of my Day

London Tube - I Don't Miss this Part of my Day

With this in mind, I have decided to detail a typical working day for a freelance writer and IT geek living in Portugal – that person being me.

The day in question is yesterday – a day where that work / life balance was just perfect. It’s not always like that – but it’s what I aim for!

9AM: Woke up, grabbed laptop, and went through my usual morning routine: Cleared the spam from my email accounts, checked the commission earned from my various online endeavors, then browsed quickly through Facebook, Twitter, News (Portugal and UK), weather, and a few forums I frequent.

9.30AM: Checked how many copies of Moving to Portugal – The Book had sold during September (a pleasing number), updated my book sales spreadsheet, then dealt with a few emails, mostly related to book promotion but also a couple of technical bits and bobs from IT clients in London.

9.45AM: Settled down to put the finishing touches to a magazine article about property in Portugal – finalized some text and edited some pictures of houses.

11.30AM: Decided to grab a quick dip in the bath and a read couple of chapters of my book (John Stienbeck’s “East of Eden” – a book that has been frequently passed over for lighter reads, but one I am now forcing myself to persevere with). One of the main benefits of being a self-employed homeworker is the ability to get properly “up” whenever I like – but if I have to actually speak to anyone, I must be properly presentable.

East of Eden - A Highbrow Bath Choice

East of Eden - A Highbrow Bath Choice

12 NOON: Wife popped out to dry cleaners, picked up lovely fresh rolls and made delicious chicken and sweetcorn rolls with Sunday dinner leftovers.

12.30: Sat down to make a few work calls, but made the mistake of trying to contact people in Portugal during the three-hour “lunch window.”

1.00PM: Heard from magazine editor that she is happy with my article, with just a few tweaks to be made. Celebrated by heading off on my moped to get some sunshine.

1.30PM: Stopped at the hamlet of Cacela Velha where I was thwarted from a planned walk due to high tide, but managed to spot birds of prey of some description.

View from Cacela Velha

View from Cacela Velha

1.45PM: Stopped at a small cafe for an espresso. Checked email on my phone and electronically signed a contract to do a batch of six IT articles for a regular client. This ensures extra money but means another venture out on the moped will be unlikely before the weekend. Also confirmed a few of hours of remote IT support with clients for later in the week.

2.00PM: Moved on to Manta Rota and did a swift 5km walk along the shore and back (using the much loved Pedometer app on my phone). Headed home with just a very quick stop for a can of Iced Tea.

Manta Rota Walk

Manta Rota Walk

4.00PM: Back to work. Dealt with new emails, made the last of my calls, completed and sent the final version of my article and sent out a couple of invoices.

5.00PM: Blog stuff: answered comments, removed spam (grr), made a start on this post.

6.00PM: Had a quick look at the titles of the technical articles for the next day (so my subconscious could make a start during the night), and headed to my local for a quick pre-dinner Super Bock.

8.00PM: Settled down for something my wife and I call “picky dinner” – basically composed of whatever we can find in the fridge and cupboards when we don’t want to go to the shop.

Portugal "Picky Dinner"

Portugal "Picky Dinner"

So, with that committed to text, what did I miss out? OK, I’ll be honest: about 15 more checks of Facebook, five of Twitter, several cigarettes and a cheeky couple of Ferrero Rochers…..BUT no cocktails and certainly no floating in the pool!

Even so, yesterday was a good day. Today will be less so, as I have all those IT articles to write. I’d better get on with it.

Thinking of working on your own work / life balance? Please check out our book:

Moving to Portugal

Tube image with thanks to Wikimedia Commons.

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Living in Portugal – Goodbye Winter 6

Posted on January 20, 2011 by Ben Algarve

Let’s get the bad bit out of the way first: the first couple of weeks of our 2011 in Portugal were pretty crap.

A rapid succession of stomach upset, flu and then ear infection, all accompanied by a heavy dose of post-Christmas blues, resulted in the very beginning of the year feeling quite some distance from “living the dream.” This serves to illustrate the fact that living in Portugal, or any other “hot” country doesn’t suddenly make you immune from the rubbishy bits life throws at you sometimes.

Thankfully by the start of this week, rest, antibiotics and a regime of early, brisk walks, had fully restored my lust for life.

A January Walk in Portugal

A January Walk in Portugal

I’m pleased to report that we haven’t so far had a repeat of last year’s soaking wet winter, and the weather in the last week or so has finally made us realise why the Algarve is a popular destination for winter sun. It’s hardly been shorts and flip-flops weather, but most days HAVE delivered t-shirt and shades weather.

The area is blissfully quiet, and my early morning walks have taken me past fields covered in yellow flowers, rows of almond trees dripping with pinky white blossom, and sparkling sea views, complete with locals wading in the Ria Formosa searching for clams.

Down the road where some of our family live, the orange harvest has begun, and we look forward to popping over there this coming weekend to assist, both in picking the fruit and finding ways to use the considerable glut of shiny citrus!

After such a depressing start to the year, it’s wonderful to feel inspired again, and it’s uplifting to wander around the quiet sunny streets in the morning, losing count of the number of smiles and “Bom Dia” greetings I have exchanged on my trek. It’s impossible not to feel blessed when my mind goes back to a couple of years ago, when we would have been fighting through the ice and rain on the morning drive into London.

Living in Portugal - The Start of the Orange Harvest

Living in Portugal - The Start of the Orange Harvest

My already high spirits were boosted when, earlier in the week, I received the exciting news that this blog has won an award from Expat Arrivals after being shortlisted from nearly 1000 blogs. This recognition for the time I have put into it has really spurred me on to take it to the next level, and this year I plan to take and upload a lot more photos of our adventures in the Algarve. A big thank you to all the regular readers of this blog who have helped to make it a success!

So – onward and upward! I wish everyone a sunny and positive 2011.

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The Good Life 2

Posted on May 17, 2010 by Ben Algarve

Living here in Portugal seems to have made me interested in gardening. It was something I always wanted to be good at in England but a combination of poor weather and lack of time to properly look after the things I had planted made for a certain amount of disillusionment.

Spring Onions were my first priority. They seem to come up in many recipes but are not widely available here – in fact the only bunch I have seen were in posh English-style supermarket, Apolonia, at over five euros per bunch! This made them a very sensible thing to grow for ourselves.

What started off as a pot of spring onions, some rocket and a herb garden soon got out of hand the next time we visited the garden centre. The thing is, most things seem to grow so well here AND quickly, which as an impatient person is important – to hold my interest and prevent me wandering off to find a new hobby!

We now have the following growing, in addition to the things mentioned above: lettuces, strawberries, radishes, peas, tomatoes, peppers, peaches, lemons and kumquats. Every morning when I step outside, something has grown or sprouted, and wandering outside before cooking in the evening to snip some fragrant basil or peppery rocket is relaxing and life affirming.

Various plants including jasmine

Various plants including jasmine

All of this edible produce has been placed amongst flowers we never saw in England – delicate looking white jasmine and beautiful purple and white daisies.

Those of our friends in England who teased us and referred to us as Tom and Barbara from “The Good Life,” sitcom when we lived in the Surbiton area will now be amused, no doubt, that it has all come true, although chickens and goats on our small terrace are not being considered!

In other news, the weather here in Portugal is now starting to look a lot more summery, after being given back a little of winter early last week. More friends have booked to come and see us in the near future which we very much look forward to, and, really excitingly, some family members seem to have found a suitable property near to us here in Portugal, so before long we may have some family living nearby, which will be wonderful.

Other than the mosquitoes, which appear to have declared war on us, all is rather good in Portugal right now.

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