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


Fine food, flood and fire! 6

Posted on January 05, 2010 by Ben Algarve

Apologies for my prolonged absence! Our first festive season in Portugal has been mixed, to say the least – so here follows a bit of an update. Much as I am a “glass-half-full” kind of person, there have been some negatives in the past few weeks, so in the interests of being fully representative of our time here, I shall tell you of the bad bits as well as the good!

Snow in London

Snow in London

Shortly after my last post we took a trip back to London to see some family, do some shopping and do some work. We were lucky to see some snow while we were there – snow, which I am sure you know, still shows no sign of abating three weeks on. A few days was quite enough for us! Our trip back was something of a high point – we wondered if we would yearn to be back in London again, but it was, in fact, quite the opposite. The same old things that annoyed the hell out of us still annoyed the hell out of us, and we were counting down the minutes until our return to Portugal before we got through Gatwick airport.

We were amazed that, after just 2 months in Portugal, we had already got used to a life without there being four more people in each square metre than there is really room for, found the sheer amount of “do this….do that….don’t do this” signage and accompanying announcements maddening and, despite having lived in the big city for over a decade, found the whole place SO fast and SO busy. It’s incredible how quickly different becomes normal.

We had a great time seeing our friends and family, felt smug that a city the size of London couldn’t manage to produce civic Christmas decorations that came close to those in Tavira, and had a lucky escape out of Gatwick, despite the weather, to return home for Christmas.

My wife had to work from home right up until the end of Christmas Eve, on the first year in five that I had a decent, long break. Perhaps next year we will manage to co-ordinate our diaries a little better and finally both have a long Christmas holiday! As a result, Christmas itself, though wonderful, was all over a little too quick. We managed to construct a full English-style Christmas lunch, including frozen sprouts – we were sadly unable to find any parsnips – perhaps next year we will drive to Spain, where apparently they are available!

While the UK had the snow, we got the rain – and not just a little – they say when it rains, it pours. “They” are correct. With only a small respite on boxing day, we got used to the water crashing down, both outside, and at some points, through gaps in our window frames. Here began our issues. With the rain came the damp, and with the damp came the mould. Day after day, we kept discovering more walls in the house dripping with water, and mould appearing in more colours and varieties than on a top-class Christmas cheese-board. We were aware houses in the Algarve are prone to damp but local people have informed us that the quantity of rain, and the amount of accompanying damp is truly unusual, the same as the extreme cold has been in the UK this year. We are currently engaged in a running battle involving air conditioning, dehumidifiers, towels, bleach sprays etc. It is not fun, and the atmosphere in the house has made us ill, but we will win this war!

Tavira Fireworks

Tavira Fireworks

New Year’s Eve came around, and as we were both quite unwell, both with mould-related issues and the after effects of over-indulgence in rich food and wine, we had a quiet night in and watched Tavira’s fireworks display from the roof terrace. The Portuguese certainly know how to put on a show – it was a truly breathtaking display – lasting about 15 minutes, set to music, and genuinely far more impressive than anything I have ever seen in the UK. It made us very proud of our little town.

The following evening though, things swung the other way. We took a wander into Tavira to watch a band playing in a temporary arena on our town square. We were enjoying a drink and really rather impressed with the rock cover-versions on offer! We spoke about how agreeable the atmosphere was and how “they could never do this in London without a load of police and security.”

Five minutes after this remark there was a huge explosion about three feet behind us. A yob had thrown a firework directly at us. Had it landed any closer, it would have done us serious harm. We were truly shaken – it was a big enough explosion to cause the band to stop playing and many people scattered, appearing to look for the perpetrators.

This incident marked the beginning of the biggest crisis of confidence we had experienced since our arrival in Portugal. The helplessness of not knowing enough of the language to say “who the f*%k did that, did you see anything?” along with feeling ill, and having a mouldy house, led to our first serious doubts since our arrival.

I am very pleased to say this only lasted a couple of days. Some chance encounters with typically friendly Portuguese people in the following days, a bit of sunshine, and the incredible service from the estate agent in helping with our mould problems quickly restored our faith. We love it again now – but as I said at the start of the post, it has certainly been a mixed few weeks!

Apologies again for the gap between posts, I won’t let it happen again 🙂

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Christmas lights and cove beaches 7

Posted on December 14, 2009 by Ben Algarve
Tavira's Christmas angel

Tavira's Christmas angel

We had an eventful weekend in the Algarve. It started off with a wonderful walk around Tavira looking at the Christmas lights. When you think about some of the awful “too cool to actually be any good” displays that have adorned London’s Regent Street is recent years it is fantastic to see Christmas done right. As I mentioned in a previous post ( they really go for Christmas in a big way here in Portugal and the lights in Tavira, along with a natural setting that is already pretty stunning, makes for the kind of Christmas display dreams are made of. To add to the atmosphere, outdoor speakers have been placed strategically around the town piping Christmas music out as you walk around the pretty streets. (Although hearing “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” when it’s 18 degrees Celsius and sunny is rather surreal!)

On Sunday we went for a drive west to visit some cove beaches around the Carvoeiro area. All of the guidebooks advise you to steer well clear of these areas during high season as they get absolutely mobbed with tourists, leading to perfectly justified comments that these areas have been “spoiled” by tourism. Out of season though, you get to appreciate the incredible natural beauty that led to these places becoming over-run in the first place. To start with we visited Benagil – a small cove beach with the trademark stunning cliffs behind it. Despite being mid-December there were a couple of hardy souls sunbathing and, protected from the wind by the cliffs, and in the direct sun it was actually pretty warm.

We stopped for a quick drink but were unfortunately served by a young lady for whom the term “moody little cow” would be quite flattering. Having encountered plenty of nightmare Brits who don’t even attempt a “Bom Dia,” I can understand a bit of negativity but we do try our best with Portuguese and were, as always, very polite. The locals in the cafe were getting friendly smiles from the same person, so the grumpy behaviour was reserved for us. A shame. Still, if she ever fancies moving to the UK I’m sure she has a great career waiting for her in the call-centre industry.

We then headed to Praia Da Marinha. A stunning spot with amazing cliffs and rock formations. We went for a short walk east along the cliff-tops, and again, once warmed up from scrambling down the rocks, could easily have been fooled into thinking it was a warm spring day, despite it being nearly Christmas. As with many places in Portugal, it is hard to describe in words the beauty of some of these cove beaches, and we never seem to take a photo that does them justice. There is, however, one below that should give the general idea.

Cove at Praia Da Marinha

Cove at Praia Da Marinha

After our walk, we decided to check out Algarve Shopping, a huge shopping centre in Guia, near Albufeira. It was at this point that the weekend got less pleasant. A couple of posts back I was extolling the virtues of shopping centres here in Portugal and how they make a good day out destination. Well, this place for me was the exception. It was frantically busy, not surprising with it being nearly Christmas, but the whole atmosphere of the place just wasn’t the same as Tavira Gran Plaza or Algarve Forum in Faro. This really did feel like “spoiled touristy Portugal,” and I imagine it being equally unpleasant for all of the Summer season. It felt like being back in London, and we couldn’t wait to get away. To top it all, as we were leaving, I had to face my biggest fear – a large black rodent running across the car-park. We won’t be going back to Algarve Shopping! The only saving grace for this part of the day was the sunset as we left (see photo below.)

Now, with only a couple of weeks until Christmas, we have to take a quick trip back to the UK. I think it is a good sign of how we are settling in that, other that being excited about seeing friends and family, it is truly the last thing we want to do. It is strange to start yearning to be back here before we have even left. Having said that, when we get back it will be the first time we will have “come back home” to Portugal.  That feels exciting.

I will leave you with a trio of other photos of Christmas, Algarve style. Boas Festas!

View from the Roman Bridge Tavir

View from the Roman Bridge Tavira

Beach at Benagil

Beach at Benagil, mid December

Sunset over Algarve Shopping, Guia

Sunset over Algarve Shopping, Guia

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It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas 3

Posted on December 01, 2009 by movingtoportugal

We needn’t have worried that being in Portugal wouldn’t feel as ‘Christmassy’ as being in cold England. The Portugese seem to go in for Christmas in an even bigger way than the Brits, probably helped by the two bank holidays at the start of December on the 1st and 8th!

Christmas tree at Forum Shopping in FaroBeing a country populated by 98% Roman Catholics, the religious aspect is obviously more widely important than in the UK, illustrated by the huge range of nativity scenes available in shops and as part of town decorations. This said, the consumer-Christmas that we all know and love/hate (delete as applicable) is alive and well in Portugal as well.

Yesterday we set off to buy our tree – we were originally going to go to the Portugese equivalent of the UK Homebase or B&Q (Leroy Merlin,) but got caught in our first traffic jam in 4 weeks(!) on the outskirts of Faro. We happened to drive past the huge Forum shopping centre and the beautiful Christmas lights drew us in.

Shopping Centres are treated as a real day-out destination in Portugal. They are similar to centres in the UK, but probably a bit closer to the ones you would find in America. Generally though, a shopping centre is the same the world over – a load of shops on a few levels, with a big food-court at the top. In Portugal you usually find a large hypermarket at the bottom and a multiscreen cinema somewhere as well. 

The difference though, is the atmosphere. I associate shopping centres in the UK with chavvy kids and queues at Primark. Here, the atmosphere is relaxed, and there always seems to be a large outside area with pavement cafes and people drinking Uma Bica (an espresso) or Um Imperial (a small beer.) The opening hours are long – where we visited yesterday was open until midnight, and still buzzing with people when we left at 10.30pm.

There are a lot of families, some clearly on a day out with 3 or maybe even 4 generations of the family out together. Last, but not least, the food court, which,  although it has plenty of junk food outlets (including the first McDonalds we have encountered in Portugal so far,) there also seem to be some local and healthy options on offer – we had a bit of a nose at peoples plates and saw a lot of things we would like to try, rather than “shit-in-a-tray” that we would rather avoid!

As we sat under the lights of the very impressive tree, drinking some delicious coffee, which we still can’t believe is only about 60 cents per cup,Christmas lights at the Algarve Forum we really started to understand the point of this “shopping centre as a day out” thing. Do a bit of shopping, have a decent lunch, have a beer, watch a movie, have a coffee, bit more shopping, another beer or two, perhaps a snack, then grab everything needed from the supermarket and head home. Obviously, as a fairly typical man, the fact that “have a beer” can be included in the list makes a day of shopping seem a lot more attractive, though I couldn’t see this working particularly well in binge-drinking Britain!

As Christmas gets nearer, I’m sure the pace at these places will get a lot more frantic and will probably be as hellish in the few days before the big day as they are everywhere else in the world, but as far as last night was concerned, we actually had a really good time at a shopping centre, which isn’t something I thought I would ever say.

Otherwise, it all seems very similar to Christmas back in England, and with the current cold nights, it is suitably chilly to feel right. Even the Christmas songs playing in the supermarket are the same selection which my wife adores but that start to drive me to distraction by around 15th December! We are enjoying trying different festive foods, and all the Portugese versions of the things we have at home as well. My father-in-law is arriving in a few days with a few essentials we haven’t been able to get (i.e. bread sauce mix,) the tree is going up this week, and then we can start to look forward to our first Portugese Christmas. I can’t wait.

Seasons greetings to all!

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