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


Escaping to Lisbon 7

Posted on August 26, 2014 by Ben Algarve

(Ben) The Algarve is always mobbed with tourists at this point in the summer, and it’s fair to say that we usually reach a point where we’ve had enough of the invasion.

This year, we were at breaking point by the start of August, and felt the urge to get away. I was given the opportunity to do a bit of work in Lisbon, and we figured that as most of Lisbon’s population seemed to be in our little town, it would make sense to swap with them, and spend a little time in the city.

Lisbon Centre

Lisbon Centre

I headed up on the train by myself last Wednesday, with wife and baby following the next day by car. The train journey was a great experience (and good value too), but I’ll write about that in more detail in a future post.

As I had most of the first day to myself, I headed onto the metro system and took a wander around downtown Lisbon. I started off at Lisbon’s main food market, the Mercado da Ribeira, and was delighted to find that half of it has been turned into a huge “tapas hall” run by Time Out. I enjoyed various fishy tapas, which fuelled me for the long, hot walk up through the Baixa and Rossio districts.

Time Out Lisbon - Sardine Escabeche Roll

Time Out Lisbon – Fish Escabeche Roll

Once my wife arrived, we went and had dinner in the hotel restaurant, which I’ve reviewed on my Food and Wine Portugal blog here.

The following day, I went to check out the twice-weekly flea market, known as the Feira da Ladra. This was a truly fascinating experience, with stalls selling everything from tourist tat to complete tat, via genuine collectables and antiques.

Some of the “stalls” were no more than sheets on the ground covered with random items – I saw everything from single shoes(?) to old computer motherboards and 60s porn magazines. Much of what I saw wasn’t even fit for landfill, and I’m sure many stallholders sell nothing at all, but I have no doubt that people with the right eye could find real treasures amongst the millions of items on offer. Below are a few photos to give you an idea of what the market has to offer.

Lisbon Flea Market

Lisbon Flea Market

Lisbon Market - Random Items

Lisbon Market – Random Items

Lisbon Feira da Ladra

Lisbon Feira da Ladra – Dog not for sale..

Feira da Ladra Lisboa

Feira da Ladra Lisboa

After a quick lunch, and an exhausting uphill walk that got me nowhere near the castle (thanks for that Apple Maps), I returned to the hotel via some kind of inner city ghetto zone (thanks again, Apple Maps), where our three-month old son had truly made the room his own. If you’re interested, I’ve written an article about holidaying with a new baby on my new Nervous New Dad blog here.

We dedicated the rest of our stay to exploring a couple of places on the outskirts of Lisbon, with a view to a potential move up there at some point in the future. We tend to blow hot and cold about staying in the Algarve, and sometimes feel the urge to move closer to the city. For now, however, we’re just interested in getting a feel for some of the places we could live.

The first place we explored was the surfing mecca of Ericeira, around 40 minutes drive from central Lisbon. Although the place was absolutely stunning (see photo), it wasn’t for us. It seemed rather too self-consciously quirky, and parking was horrific. For us, it was like getting Brighton’s “The Lanes” district, without getting all the other good stuff in Brighton. It was a fine day out, but neither of us got that “we could live here” feeling.

Ericeira Near Lisbon

Ericeira Near Lisbon

We felt very differently about Alcochete, a small town facing Lisbon over the Tejo estuary. The town had a great feel, and the journey to Lisbon was both simple and beautiful, over the iconic Vasco de Gama bridge. The town also had a river beach with warm (but sadly rather dirty looking) water. There were people swimming there, but I’m not sure it was the best idea—there was certainly no blue flag to be seen.

For now, we’re happy enough where we are, but if we do decide to head closer to the city one day, Alcochete is certainly on our short list.

Alchochete Near Lisbon

Alcochete Near Lisbon

So, now we’re back in the Algarve with only a few weeks until the place quietens down. Until then, we will keep our heads down and get on with our work, and wait patiently to get our little town back!

As mentioned earlier, you can read more about our first breaks with the new baby over at my Nervous New Dad blog.

If you want to read more about moving to Portugal, check out our book here:

Moving to Portugal

Readers in the US can use this link to find the book:

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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How are Things in Portugal? 2

Posted on March 29, 2012 by Ben Algarve

“What’s the situation in Portugal?” is a question everyone asks us, often with the kind of awkward concern usually reserved for the unwell.

It’s a difficult question to answer. A country doesn’t immediately turn into a different place due to a bailout. Portugal has some serious problems. Many, such as high youth unemployment, political sleaze and tax evasion, are pretty similar to problems present elsewhere in Europe – including the UK.

Cascais Political Graffiti

Cascais Political Graffiti

Some people are struggling, some are doing very nicely, thank you. In that respect, things in the circles we move in are little different to how they have always been.

That said, it’s easy to live in a bubble. After all, we are in our 30s with established careers. We are not amongst the thousands of Portuguese youths who have worked hard and gained degrees, only to be advised by their government to leave the country to find work elsewhere.

Some of the More Creative Lisbon Graffiti

Some of the More Creative Lisbon Graffiti

This past weekend, I have been in Lisbon. There has always been plenty of graffiti in the city, as indeed there seems to be all over Portugal. I try not to have a major objection to it – I would rather live in a society where young people express themselves with a spray can than by joining a gang, as seems to be the trend in other places I could mention.

On this visit, we couldn’t help but notice the huge increase in political graffiti, which provided us with more of an insight into “what is the situation in Portugal” than we perhaps gather from our sheltered little lives in the Algarve.

Lisbon Political Graffiti

Lisbon Political Graffiti

Also, during our hours in the car to and from Portugal’s capital, we heard a catchy little tune on the radio a few times. The song is called “Sexta Feira” by Boss AC. I looked it up on YouTube on my return home, and managed to find it with an English translation. Light-hearted and catchy though the tune is, the message behind it is one of despair from a generation singing “alguem me arranje emprego” (basically, “get me a job!”)

I see no easy answers to the situation. My own lost generation is already one where many of our circle are approaching their 40s without a home of their own due to daft prices and deposit requirements. I fear for this next generation where many are staring their mid-twenties in the face with no sign of any job. And this is far from unique to Portugal where a youth unemployment figure of around 30% isn’t that much higher than the figure in the UK, and way below the figures in Spain and Greece.

The subtitle-free version of “sexta feira” has been watched by over 2.5 million people now. The question of “how are things in Portugal?” is perhaps best answered by that fact alone.

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A Trip to Lisbon 8

Posted on August 10, 2011 by Ben Algarve

We had a week off work last week, and beyond a vague intention to have a break in Lisbon at some point, we had no firm plans.

Our plans accelerated on Friday evening, just hours after switching off our laptops, when a quiet drink on our terrace was disturbed by the appearance of a scuttling rodent. Long term readers of the blog will be aware that I am not exactly a fan of these things, so I quickly found myself safely locked indoors, booking a hotel in Lisbon for the following day!

We spent five days in Lisbon, a brief account of which follows. I do intend to write a more detailed account of our stay there, which will form part of a forthcoming Kindle book – stayed tuned for details.

SATURDAY: After arranging for our relatives to remove some plants from our balcony, with our beautiful peach tree believed to me the main attraction for the newly discovered vermin, we headed off up the A2 toll road to Portugal’s capital. Our planned arrival time was scuppered by the level of traffic approaching the main 25 de Abril bridge into the city. So after a couple of hours of traffic jam, we only had time to settle into our hotel and enjoy a light dinner, consisting of a Greek mezze platter (something we would never find down here in the Algarve), and a couple of very overpriced cocktails.

SUNDAY was exploration day. We purchased a one day public transport pass and boarded the clean and efficient metro into the Baixa area. I was delighted that, although it had been some time since I was last in the city, I instantly knew where I was, and had a rough idea of my way around.

After a scarily expensive toastie and iced tea, which reminded us instantly that we weren’t in the more affordable sticks any more, we set off on a wander to explore downtown Lisbon.

Santa Justa Elevador

Santa Justa Elevador

First stop was a free-to-enter design museum, which included some fascinating exhibits including iconic 70s furniture and HiFi systems. We then boarded the Elevador de Santa Justa, a huge vertical lift that, in seconds, takes you from the low-lying baixa district to Chiado and Barrio Alto, located on a steep hill above. We walked though Barrio Alto, Lisbon´s main nighttime restaurant and bar area, which is strangely quiet and residential during the day, and onto the pretty park at Praca do Principe Real, where we stopped at the Esplanada café for a cooling drink.

When we settled at our table, I was a little disconcerted by the guy sitting across from us, who kept catching my eye, but all was explained when I read my guide book and found the café described as a popular gay pick-up spot!

We failed to find our way into the very well hidden botantical gardens, and started to get hungry, so we decided on a picnic in the Parque Eduardo VII, which we reached via metro, stopping en route at the huge Corte D’Ingles department store for provisions. We enjoyed our picnic of cheese, bread, chorizo and bola de berlim (Portuguese cream donuts) in blazing heat….or at least I did – my wife ate most of her food standing up to avoid the ants….

Amazed at how much we had achieved in one day, we headed back to the hotel for a quick swim before dinner, which turned out to be a very quick swim due to the vast numbers of noisy children in the hotel pool.

Late in the evening, we ventured out, again by metro, to the completely transformed Barrio Alto district. Packed with tourists when we went into our chosen restaurant, these were largely replaced by locals by the time we left around midnight.

The noise and atmosphere carried us along and we visited several bars and drank numerous cocktails. By the time we stumbled out of a cab and into our hotel, people were already in reception checking out ready for early morning flights.

MONDAY was a bit of a write-off, after the excesses of the night before, so we enjoyed the TV in our room, a room-service pizza, and several overpriced but rehydrating juice drinks from the minibar. In the afternoon, we started to feel guilty about wasting our holiday time, so set off by metro to Centro Columbo, a shopping center described in our guidebook as the largest in Iberia, located next to Benfica football stadium.

Benfica Stadium Lisbon

Benfica Stadium Lisbon

I don’t know how much of our distaste for the place was due to the hangover, but we couldn’t get away quick enough. It was packed with people and almost impossible to find our way out of. Our shopping trip turned into a military operation to source a DVD, bags of popcorn and soft drinks. We were quickly back at our hotel, the only saving grace of the entire jaunt being a large tub of green apple sorbet which finally started to make us feel human again.

TUESDAY: Cautious of having squandered one day of our break, we were up early and headed off to the Parque das Nacoes, a huge area of Lisbon developed for Expo 98 and dedicated to leisure. We enjoyed views of the river and the stunning Vasco de Gama bridge whilst walking around and then headed to the large Oceanarium via the rather disappointing and poorly maintained water gardens.

Lisbon Oceanarium Penguins

Lisbon Oceanarium Penguins

The queue at the Oceanarium looked horrendous, but actually moved very quickly, and we were soon inside to look at the marine life in Europe’s second largest aquarium. We enjoyed the Oceanarium, but it was packed, and quite hard to get near the windows to the main tank. However, we were particularly taken with certain species, particularly the impossibly cute otters, who I swear were enjoying the attention, seadragons, and brightly coloured jellyfish.

For what its worth, although we enjoyed the oceanarium, I probably enjoyed the aquarium at the Algarve’s Zoomarine more, because what it didn’t have in sheer scale, it made up for in additional space to relax and enjoy looking at the fish. Had we visited at a slightly quieter time, I may have had a different view.

Otters at Lisbon Oceanarium

Otters at Lisbon Oceanarium

After a quick mobile lunch of crepes and waffles from Oriente station, we headed back to the hotel, aching all over from walking up and down the steep hills of Lisbon. It seemed like a good time to visit the hotel´s spa. After this we didn’t fancy going far, so took the chance on a local Chinese buffet restaurant, which was surprisingly good quality, compared to the disastrous meals we have had in similar establishments, such as the one I talk about here.

WEDNESDAY was our last full day in the Lisbon area, so we decided to venture a bit further to explore Sintra, Estoril and Cascais. Details of our explorations of these areas follow in next week’s blog post. Please come back and read it!

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And…..relax….. 5

Posted on August 31, 2010 by Ben Algarve

Apologies for my absence last week – it was a rather unsettled week that threw a few curve-balls in our direction!

First of all we both came down with a nasty flu-bug – I guess we were due an illness of some kind, having been very lucky on our travels between London and Portugal so far.

Being ill forced upon me a life-change that had been long overdue: I decided it was time to give up smoking – something I knew I had to do before the low cost of cigarettes in Portugal

Lifesaver - the electronic cigarette

Lifesaver - the electronic cigarette

turned me into a lifetime chain smoker. I now have behind me eight days of really rather horrific “cold turkey” and am in possession of an “electronic cigarette” to give me a blast of nicotine in an emergency.

So, between flu and cold turkey, blogging moved rather far down my list of priorities last week!

Another reason for a slightly grumpy temperament last week was the Algarve in August. We had never been here in August before and I may even go far as saying I would rather not be this time next year. It was pretty horrendous.

Restaurants that are usually a pleasure to dine in became shambolic. Supermarkets were like Christmas Eve in London and we spent time in traffic queues for the first time since we moved to Portugal.

We had been told to expect it but we weren’t really prepared for it – it was a lot busier than July. If the first time we had visited the Algarve had been in August I would say there is a good chance we never would have returned!

And then, almost as quick as we had noticed all of these people, they all disappeared. This weekend they all, collectively, buggered off again – restoring the calm and serenity of our little town. I am looking forward to again swimming in the pool without having to dive underneath a film of sun-cream, and being able to buy prawns without having to queue for half an hour. Listen to me, the grumpy new “local.”

When we originally moved to Portugal, now ten months ago, our plan was to spend a year in the Algarve and then a year a bit nearer Lisbon to decide which lifestyle we preferred. At various points we have become convinced that the Algarve is right for us, making a Lisbon experiment unnecessary. After an Algarve August we are back to considering trying out somewhere a bit nearer the city next year.

The best advice we read while preparing for this move was to rent for the first couple of years – it gives us the flexibility to change our minds and experiment – and isn’t that what life should be all about?

I’ll be back next week, hopefully as a longer term non-smoker and slightly less grumpy with it!

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