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

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7 Positive Life Changes 9

Posted on July 19, 2010 by Ben Algarve
Meravista
Clapham Junction - Not Missed!

Clapham Junction – Not Missed!

After my slightly negative post on Friday, it’s time to put my positive head on again to start the week. Also, I am either getting more used the weather or it has cooled down a bit, so no moaning from me today!

So to start my week filled with positivity. Here are….seven positive ways life has changed since we moved to Portugal:

1. My most frequently used method of public transportation is now a small boat that takes me to the local beach and back, sometimes with a light spray of sea cooling us down as we go. This certainly beats London Underground and South West Trains.

2. We now start each day with a drink on a sunny balcony, rather than in a car, hating every other human-being on the A3.

3. I often have time to have lunch at a table – rather than lunch which is encased in pastry and eaten whilst walking and checking emails on a handheld device.

4. Swimming is now something we do almost daily rather than something we just do on holiday.

5. Our main method of cooking is outside on a barbecue rather than the wok in the Chinese takeaway down the road.

6. We look tanned and healthy, rather than drawn and anaemic.

7. We get to wear shorts and flip flops every day without the risk of coming home with trench-foot.

As always, for sense of balance, here are a few things that aren’t quite as good.

1. We have a LOT less money.

2. We now frequently buy meat that we discover is off when we get it home and have to throw it away.

3. We have to be a lot more organised in terms of making sure we have what we need at home – no 24 hour Tesco’s for us any-more!

It’s really not bad at all. My little whinge last week should only be viewed as a blip :-)

Have a good week.

Image credit: Martyn Davies

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A Weekend of Discovery Part 1 2

Posted on February 09, 2010 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

Last week was a week of really loving being in Portugal, without a single wobbly “what have we done?” moment. The process of settling in has continued, helped by some beautiful weather especially over last weekend.

As we currently have a car, we took advantage of our mobility, and the sunshine, and went on one of our exploration weekends.

We headed west, initially in the direction of Albufeira – a holiday playground or hell-hole, depending on your point of view. The first

Saturday lunchtime, February

Saturday lunchtime, February

beach we stopped at was Santa Eulaila. This seemed a popular spot, with the trademark orange cliffs and a good mix of locals and tourists. We enjoyed a drink in the sun (overpriced – double what we are used to in the Eastern Algarve) and then went for a walk along the beach, climbing over rocks through sparkly rock-pools to get to quiet coves further east. This beach was a joy, and some people (more determined than us) were even braving the February water.

Continuing our tour, we had a huge selection of other beaches in the area to choose from. We went for Olhos De Agua, as I had seen a recommendation online somewhere. This was, to us, a disappointment. We really aren’t fans of the “Little Britains” that exist all over this part of the Algarve, and this was one of them. Menus entirely in English, lots of English bars and the depressing sight of people sitting in a darkened bar watching English football on the first truly beautiful day of the year. They could have saved their flight money and gone to Blackpool…

Moving swiftly on, as we did on the day, hunger led us to stop in the concrete jungle in the middle of Albufeira for a quick snack. Once again, we lamented the fact that a lot of our fellow Brits come all the way to Portugal and then opt to eat in McDonalds and KFC. This, coupled with encountering one too many of our fellow countrymen ordering food and drink without even attempting a “Bom Dia,” “se faz favor,” or “obrigada,” led us to escape this area and hit the road again, with a fresh understanding of why several Portuguese people have been surly towards us until it becomes clear we are attempting to learn the language. I really don’t blame them.

Heading further west, we made a beeline for a beach called Praia Dos Tres Irmaos, between the busy resorts of Praia Da Rocha and Alvor. We had found this fairy-tale beach over five years ago when we first visited Portugal, during a long cliff top walk. We had walked for a few miles from Praia Da Rocha, and found a lift built into a cliff which took us down to a small bar/restaurant built into the rocks, looking out onto a gorgeous sunny cove. The whole place has a real air of “secret beach,” and I have fond memories of body-surfing in the waves with a couple of other tourists of unknown nationality, united by our enjoyment of the sea and sun.

We had always said one day we would go back again. Our TomTom satnav proved next to useless and we had a couple of occasions of driving into tourist complexes we were pretty sure were out of bounds to us. After a while it seemed the beach was not accessible by car, so we ended up reluctantly parking at Alvor, determined to get the last couple of hours of sun on a beach, even if it wasn’t the one we intended.

At Alvor, we looked left and were pretty sure that we recognised where we were and that a determined walk would get us to the beach we had originally intended. We set off, walking through thick sand, so determined on our destination that at times we almost forgot to take in and appreciate the sparkling sea next to us.

Sun down in Alvor

Sun down in Alvor

After climbing some rocks to get over a cove, our excitement built as we approached the place that we had been looking for. We found the lift, or at least a wooden panel where we were sure it had been. We assumed the place must be closed, it being winter. We then found a gap in the cliff where we were able to peer down, and there it was….what was left of the restaurant. Whether by falling rocks, or bad weather, the place was destroyed. All that was left was a shell. It was rather sad after waiting years to find the place again. Having said that, we were still delighted to have found the beach we remembered so fondly, even if, due to the lack of the lift and the tide being in, we couldn’t actually set foot on it.

After a drink at a couple of friendly bars on Alvor beach, we headed back to the car, by now feeling the usual craving for seafood that a day on the beach brings on in us. We headed into Portimao and to one of our first Algarve discoveries and favourite restaurants, that has thankfully stayed put in the years since we discovered it: Dona Barca. You will find a review over on my Food and Wine blog www.foodandwineportugal.com

The weekend was only half way through and there was still more to discover…it follows in Part 2, which will be posted in the next couple of days.

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Exploring the coast –Part 2 – Montegordo and Praia Verde 0

Posted on November 27, 2009 by movingtoportugal
Meravista

Heading East towards the Spanish border, we arrived at Montegordo. The guidebooks had warned us this would be a brash and over-touristy resort, but I must admit I have a bit of a fondness for tourist tat (perhaps because I grew up near Great Yarmouth,) so we were eager to see what it was like.

Montegordo is only about 2km away from the Spanish border and it did have the feel of a Spanish resort. Yes, there were plenty of high-rises and nasty 60s and 70s hotel buildings. Yes, there were more places doing burgers and pizzas than genuine Portuguese cuisine and YES, there was a cheesy cocktail bar that was actually called the “Copacabana!”

MontegordoOff season though, it was hard not to be charmed by the lovely big beach, so long as you stayed facing the sea and didn’t concentrate on the high-rise skyline behind it. Is seemed somehow to be a lot more sheltered and warm than around Tavira, despite being no more than 15 miles away, and were it not for the vast amount of washed up jellyfish and lack of protective footwear, I may have been tempted to have a November swim. We had a very pleasant meal of giant prawns and freshly grilled sole. Unfortunately it went downhill with the dessert which had been sprinkled with cinnamon that tasted like it had been scraped from the back of a musty old wardrobe. The owner had been so nice we didn’t have the heart to tell him, so we went and paid inside and beat a hasty retreat before he realised we hadn’t eaten it (seems it may take a while before we stop acting English!)

On the road back, we turned off to visit another beach called Praia Verde, (green beach,) so named because of the forest on the dunes behind it, which is quite unique in this part of Portugal. The beach is at the end of a tourist complex, which you can imagine being very busy in season, but off-season it was truly deserted. There is something quite strange about these places when there is no-one there at all, they make me think of the deserted amusement park in the 80s film “Big” with Tom Hanks. They are both romantic and slightly spooky. The beach itself was beautiful – like Montegordo without the high-rises, or indeed any of the people. This would be a wonderful place to come back to, but you would need to take everything you could possibly need as there are no facilities open at all off-season.

We didn’t hang around that long, as we needed to make use of the kind of sanitary facilities not available at this time of year(!) As we drove away there was someone who obviously lived on the complex playing with his young child in the car-park and I found myself wondering whether living somewhere which is SO quiet for half of the year would be very liberating or very lonely, and couldn’t decide either way….

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Exploring the coast –Part 1 – Santa Luzia and Praia Do Barril 0

Posted on November 23, 2009 by movingtoportugal
Meravista

For the next few days, we spent our time exploring our local coast. Our first stop, just to the west of Tavira, was a beach called Praia Do Barril. As with the majority of beaches along the Eastern Algarve, the beach is on a sand-spit island. Several of the beaches require you to take a very short ferry ride or water-taxi to reach the sands.

Praia do BarrilPraia Do Barril is slightly different in that you can take a tiny narrow-gauge train to the beach from a very pretty white-washed resort called Pedras Del Rei, or alternatively take a wonderful 15 minute walk beside the tracks – across the marshes and lagoons and through fragrant woods.

When you arrive at Barril, which forms part of the Isla De Tavira, you can quickly see why the Isla was listed in a recent survey of the top ten beaches in the world. The sands are an almost Caribbean white and soft like fine sugar and the sand and sea stretches as far as the eye can see in both directions. Being off-season, there was hardly anybody around – however there are a couple of cafes present to provide some somewhat overpriced sustenance, or, in our case, a small icy glass of Sagres beer.

Although windswept, the low dunes provide shelter from the wind and people were sunbathing happily, despite it being mid-November! Sadly, the very fun looking 6-seater pedaloes with a built in slide to splash into the sea were not for hire at this time of year, but I plan to be first in the queue when the next season begins!

On the way back to Tavira, we stopped in Santa Luzia, a rustic fishing villageSanta Luzia Village with a number of seafood restaurants. We deliberately chose the shabbiest place for a shellfish snack –determined to remain outside our comfort-zone and be forced to attempt to speak Portugese (it would be very easy to be lazy in the Algarve as anywhere even vaguely touristy-looking will assume you only speak English.) We had a plate of large prawns and in place of the clams, which were not available, we had cockles. I expected cockles to be the small chewy things in vinegar like you get in jars in the UK, but these were served in their shells, steaming hot and fresh, with wine, garlic and olive oil. They were a revelation, and I intend to slurp an awful lot more of these delicious morsels from their shells in weeks to come. Every last bit of the garlicky sauce was soaked up in the fresh bread and we left very happy.

Santa Luzia itself was a charming little place, a lot more “local” than many of the places in the Algarve, with the river shimmering at the bottom and small fishing boats bobbing around. During the Summer, it is apparently possible to take a boat across to the beach (Santa Luzia beach also forms part of the Isla De Tavira) but this didn’t appear to be running off season.

Tomorrow: Monte Gordo and Praia Verde

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So why Portugal? 4

Posted on May 19, 2009 by movingtoportugal
Meravista

 

Praia Da Rocha was where it all started. On our last visit to Portugal, my wife and I were trying to remember how we ended up in The Algarve the first time some 5ish years ago. Much as I would like to claim a cultural or intellectual reason,  I think it was no more than the typical Brit “it’s hot and cheap” rationale.

I certainly don’t think we expected to fall so head over heels in love with the place! Our approach to holidays was always to start off with where we could fly to cheaply, then TripAdvisor our way to a well reviewed hotel within whatever budget we had at the time. We always managed to get ourselves a bargain and had great holidays every time. We did, however, usually go to a different destination every time, working on the basis that there is a whole load of world to see in the short time we have on this planet….

Portugal was different. Within a couple of days I had this strange feeling that I didn’t really need to see anywhere else in the world. 

Anyone who has been to Praia Da Rocha in peak season probably thinks I sound insane at this point. For those who haven’t, Praia Da Rocha (Beach of the Rocks,) is a truly stunning resort, with a huge beach divided in two distinct parts – the Eastern end near the fortaleza (fort) being a huge, deep expanse of sand rather like some some of the resorts of Spain’s Costa Da Luz, and the western end featuring beautiful coves with high orange cliffs and various rock formations along the coastline. 

The thing is, in the kind of terms the travel books talk in, Praia Da Rocha is an over-commercial resort, “destroyed” by high rise apartments and hotels. There is even a “strip” featuring a huge range of bars showing UK football, and  “ALL REALITY SHOWS!” Don’t get me started. Why anyone would watch Bradford City vs. Rotherham when the sun is blazing and there’s a beach 50yards away is truly beyond me, but each to their own…

The thing was that wife and I went off season, so although we could imagine the true hideousness of this resort in July and August, we were able to avoid the worst of the Brit tourist invasion and appreciate all that was good and beautiful about the place. After our first 7 days, we ended up somehow convincing our respective workplaces to let us extend our holiday by another 5 days. We don’t pay the kind of fees the airlines charge for date changes lightly. This wasn’t the usual feeling of hoping to win the lottery so as not to go back to work, this was the start of something.

I always knew that one day I would have to live abroad. I am a firm believer in it being better to regret things you have done than those you haven’t. I also think it strange to assume the place you were born is the place you were meant to end up. A plan started to form.

We went back. Again and again – between then and now we have explored a lot of Portugal.  By the second or third time we knew for sure we were going to move there someday. At that early stage we weren’t sure how, but I remember that we started the countdown about 3.5 years ago. The last time we went, when I was in the usual slightly distraught state I am in when I have to return to London life after time in paradise, my wife pointed out it was now only 8 months to go. Bloody hell.

In the years inbetween, many things have happened. We have paid off a mountain of personal debt, visited both Portugal and Madeira many times, learned a little bit of the language (just enough, as it happens, to say a sentence convincingly enough for the Portugese recipient to fire one back that we do not understand a word of) and secured UK work that can be done from Portugal. The slightly OCD side of me has researched everything to the finest detail. Looks like we are actually doing it!

Back to the original question though: “So why Portugal?” Time for bullet points:

1. Some of the nicest, most polite and relaxed people I have ever met.

2. A culture where people love, enjoy and appreciate good food as much as we do, whilst keeping things simple and not resorting to the kind of truffle-oil based competitiveness you get in the UK. 

3. A Climate that won’t make me miserable for at least 6 months of the year.

4. A desire to bring up our children in a society not as fundamentally arsed up as that in the UK.

I could list many more (I haven’t even mentioned wine yet!) but my eyes are tired. This blogging business is exhausting, and I don’t think I’ve written this many words since school!

Grilled Sardines at Praia Da Rocha

Grilled Sardines at Praia Da Rocha

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