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


Surviving Budget Travel From Portugal 6

Posted on December 01, 2011 by Ben Algarve

Budget air travel is a necessary evil for expats like us who have to make frequent trips between old “home” and new “home.” After a while you get these things down to a fine art. My wife and I are the polar opposite of those who hold up security queues due to bottles of water, and board planes with irritatingly large “carry on” cases.

In fact, we are the ones at Faro airport shaking our heads in the direction of those people, perhaps doing less than we should to disguise our contempt!

Anyone who has travelled on Easyjet will know that it brings out the worst in people. (We won’t even talk about what happens to people travelling Ryan Air!)

Those, like us, who opt for the “Speedy Boarding” option, will know the Speedy Boarding queue is the VERY best place to spot the kind of selfish behavior I speak of. My wife and I always try to give off an air of cool nonchalance as we reach this special queue, as if we really don’t care where we end up sitting. However, I am going to let you into a secret: it’s all a well-rehearsed act.

Portugal - Where are the Best Easyjet Seats?!

Portugal - Where are the Best Easyjet Seats?!

In truth we have EVERYTHING planned with well-rehearsed military precision, and we are actually just as bothered about where we sit as everyone else. We just find it rather undignified to be one of those people saying “Speedy Boarding” as loudly as possible as they rubberneck everyone else’s boarding cards to check they are in the correct queue. Come on people, you’ve paid around 16€ to get on the plane first – you ain’t flying first class.

We are reaching the Christmas season. So as a special gift to my blog readers, I’m going to share our secrets. Here is the Speedy Boarding Blueprint to Success, especially useful for couples flying between the UK and Portugal!!

1. Obviously, you’re going to need to book Speedy Boarding for this guide to apply to you. Save time by doing it when you book online, rather than at the airport.

2. Swallow the cost and book as much hold luggage as you need. That way you can get on the plane like a pro with just the stuff you require for the flight. As well as making things less stressful for you, this stops you looking like a selfish prick when you bang your big carry-on case into everybody’s knees.

3. As you have booked Speedy Boarding you can use the dedicated check-in queue at the airport. Check in online too and print your boarding pass at home, then you can join the Speedy Boarding OR Bag Drop queue, depending on which is shorter.

The Easyjet "Fast Lane"

The Easyjet "Fast Lane"

4. If your check-in assistant seems nice, it can sometimes be worth asking which gate the flight is likely to leave from – often they know this long before it appears on the board. If you know the secret, you can get to the front of that special queue before the masses know which gate to go to, ensuring you one of the best seats.

5. Even if you can’t find this information out, if you know your airport and route well, you can often hazard a decent guess as to the gate–they seem to be the same a lot of the time. I can guess gates at Gatwick and Faro now to a reasonable degree of accuracy. Am I going to mention the specifics? Of course not, I’m not sharing my biggest secrets!

If you can’t find out the gate in advance, you’re gonna have to be watching those screens when the time comes. When it does… not pass Dixons, do not collect a panini, and head straight for the gate. If you miss the gate announcement by two minutes, there will be 15 people in the Speedy Boarding queue in front of you. I PROMISE.

6. Once you’re at the gate, shit gets serious. Now is the time to ascertain whether you are boarding the plane via air-bridge or coach. If it is the latter, well, sadly, bets are largely off.

Having to board a coach mixes up the queue and it is no longer first in the queue, first on the plane. The only strategy is to end up nearest the doors, so you are first off the coach and onto the steps BUT… don’t know which side’s doors will open. The truly shameless actually ask the driver – seriously, I have seen it happen – but I have a tiny bit too much dignity for that. Remember, what we are aiming for here is cool nonchalance.

If you have an air-bridge at your gate, then it’s all down to your queue position. First 6 people, and you are pretty much guaranteed the front row, my personal preference. First 18, and even if the front row has gone there are 12 exit row seats near the middle. Run, rabbit, run!

Have a Good Flight to Portugal!

Have a Good Flight to Portugal!

7.  Be the model of politeness with all the cabin crew when you board. If you get on the plane as part of the very first group, they will know you are no amateur, and you will catch them in a good mood before 150 people run over their feet with the wheels of their big cases and zap their customer service skills. It’s nice to be nice in any case.

This politeness may pay dividends. On more than one occasion we have had cabin crew standing protectively by our seat row, seemingly trying to maximize our chances of the third seat in our row staying empty to give us more space.

8. If you don’t end up with a friendly crew-member helping maximize your space and comfort, there is another option. Now, it’s perhaps a little unorthodox, and I’m not prepared to admit whether I have used this tactic but….OK, here it is:

Watch the aisle like a hawk. Take note of anyone who appears to be eyeing the spare seat in your row. As they approach, produce the most contagious sounding, unpleasant cough you can muster. There’s a good chance they will walk on by. Keep this up until boarding is complete, and you can then luxuriate into your third seat.

I hope these tips prove useful, tongue-in-cheek though they are. Try not to use them too much though between Gatwick and Faro…I wouldn’t want anyone giving us too much competition for those front row seats!

Have a good flight.

PS. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I am typing this on a plane. This message goes out to the person in his 20s sitting in front of me: Young man, turning round every two minutes to shout to your friend three rows back is really bloody irritating for others. Parents tell toddlers off for that. Please stop it.

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Ten Life Lessons 5

Posted on June 08, 2010 by Ben Algarve

It has been a hectic couple of weeks with yet another trip back to the UK due to another wedding. We are now settling back in to life in the Algarve, and it is now, thankfully, two whole months before I have to go anywhere again.

Our residency nightmare is on-going, and I’m not going to detail the complete and sometimes humorous debacle at this point, as I am going to save it all for a detailed post as and when the process is complete. Regular readers will, however, probably be able to fill in a few gaps from some of the points in my list below.

SO: here are ten “life lessons” I have learned since my last post:

1. However long you wait and however hard you try to get hold of a Portuguese residencia certificate, once you finally get your hands on it, it is unrealistic to expect it to be valid for the correct amount of time or feature your correct residential address. Sad but true.

2. It is best to avoid leaving your wallet in a seat-back pocket on a plane, and unrealistic to expect anyone to hand it in.

London Stansted - Unpleasant

London Stansted - Unpleasant

3. Even if you use a “wine bottle irrigation system*” several of your plants WILL DIE if you leave them on your terrace for five days away in 30 degree heat.

4. Do not fly out of London Stansted – it is FAR too small for the number of people who use it.

5. Do not expect the young ladies at WH Smith in Stansted to pause their inane conversation about who they kissed on their night out, no matter how many miles long the queue is.

6. Never expect the boarding process on an Easyjet aircraft to be anything other than a hideous experience that highlights the ugliest parts of human-nature.

7. Expats should never convince themselves that it is possible to do ANY trip back to the UK without spending a small fortune.

8. The ability of Ebay buyers to collect items they have purchased at the agreed time has not improved in the last six months.

9. Café Nero sells half-decent espresso, Premier Inn does not.

10. When it comes to the World Cup, I will always be an England fan, however long I live in Portugal.

*A wine bottle irrigation system involves filling an empty wine bottle with water and upending it in the soil in a plant container. The plant takes the water it needs gradually and some kind of vacuum effect keeps the rest in the bottle. It is very effective, but unfortunately in this climate the plants need litres per day. Perhaps I need to start buying wine in five litre bottles ?!

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The first day, and the night before… 15

Posted on November 16, 2009 by movingtoportugal

The day finally arrived. On Wednesday 4th November, my wife and I pulled up outside Gatwick airport, no longer in possession of a house, car or anything tying us to England. It marked the start of a very surreal period in our lives which is currently ongoing….

I loaded all of the cases and bags onto a trolley and my wife left me there to take the hire car back. I struggled across Gatwick with everything and checked into our hotel.

For the next couple of hours I explored the facilities Gatwick airport has to offer (surprisingly few to entertain you after an hour or so, as it happens, and I was almost glad of the frantic thirty minutes I wasted retrieving my mobile phone which I managed to drop in the amusement arcade!) By now, my other half should have arrived back and I made plans to go for a celebratory drink and take my wife shopping for beach attire at the few shops in the airport.

Unfortunately my wife, despite having lived in London for around ten years, is not a seasoned rail traveller – she usually drives, and the chaos of Clapham Junction had served to give her one last London story to tell. Whether she got on the wrong half of the train or fell asleep and missed Gatwick is still being debated, but she ended up zooming down to the South Coast to a place called Barnham, about 5 miles from Bognor Regis. She had to get off, wait for another train and then begin an hours journey back to Gatwick airport, during which she stood up to ensure she stayed awake. Sadly the shops were by now shut, so no beach-wear shopping. There was just time to have one last bit of junk food from Burger King before getting a few hours sleep ready for our early flight.

Tavira - our new homeThe morning came and it was time to start our new life. As a treat we had booked “speedy boarding” with Easyjet, which entitled us to a separate check-in desk and allowed us to board the plane first. I have to say that unless I run out of money, I will always do this in the future. The £16 it cost allowed us to feel like we were travelling with a civilised airline rather than a budget one and it avoided the whole “Boarding Group A or B” scrum that always ensues and highlights the very worst parts of human nature. We secured seats on the exit row with good legroom and had an uneventful flight into Faro.

It was an incredibly strange feeling, flying into Portugal on one-way tickets and I almost wish I could have been more aware of what was going on. It was surreal and overwhelming and all my wife and I managed to keep saying to each other was “this is so WIERD!”

We arrived in Faro and, after an interesting experience with the automated gates I can now use with my high tech biometric passport (I got trapped inside the gates alongside two other passengers – hurray for technology,) we retrieved our cases.

We were met by the car hire man, who we recognised from past trips and told him we were here to stay. He offered two pieces of advice to us; firstly he said that we would really struggle to slow to the pace of Portugese life and secondly that we would, in the coming months, keep doubting ourselves and our decision. Just ten days on, I have already come to see the huge wisdom in these pieces of advice, but more on that in future posts!

We drove into Tavira, and once again I wished I could take more in. We were almost silent, overwhelmed by the enormity of what we had done and at the same time, more excited and alive than I had felt in years. After some fun and games getting our head around Tavira’s one way system we got to the estate agents, and within an hour, we had the keys to our new home.

It is funny how things change in your memory, as the living room and kitchen were smaller than we remembered, and the roof and ground floor terraces were bigger – still, given our plans to spend a lot more time outside this was the right way around!

Our first takeaway mealWe went on a small expedition out to the town and came back with our first takeaway meal – piri-piri chicken, duck rice (arroz de pato,) chips, salad, 4 Sagres beers and 2 desserts – all for the bargain price of 11 euros. The general consensus was “yep, we are going to like it here.” The eating was good, and full of excitement and anticipation for the future.

The rest of the day was lost to excitedly exploring our new house, and we also visited our local bar. We introduced ourselves as having just moved in and were welcomed warmly by the owner of the bar who insisted on giving us our second drink on the house. We then had a rather stilted conversation, due to the fact that no one could understand each other, but this gave us the determination to learn something new to say to him each time we visited.

By the time the time came to turn in for the night, the fact we lived here had still far from sunk in, but we were here. A most exciting day.

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