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

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Moving Back to the UK: Five Good Things 1

Posted on July 27, 2015 by Ben Algarve

Throughout all of last week, I kept snoozing a task to write a post about some of the good things about moving back to the UK, to balance out my previous post about things we were missing about Portugal.

Ironically, the main reason I didn’t get the post written was that I went down with a nasty bug, so all non-essential tasks got pushed into this week.

I’d forgotten about summer colds. It’s fair to say you don’t really get them in the Algarve. However, back here in the UK the weather has recently turned distinctly autumnal, and the past weekend was a total washout. I feel partly to blame because the weather turned on the day my new hammock arrived from Amazon.

UK in July

The UK in July

So, against a backdrop of retreating “man-flu” and grey skies, I find myself writing a post that’s supposed to focus on good aspects of moving back to the UK!

Thankfully, I still find it easy to come up with plenty. Yes, we miss Portugal, as I lamented last week, but we really are enjoying life back in the UK. Years away have helped us to see the place through fresh eyes.

Here are five things we love right now:

  1. Beer Gardens

OK, so our beaches aren’t quite up to East Algarve standards, and the weather doesn’t really allow for much sunbathing, but we still have them, and they’re still a wonderful place to spend time.

British Beach

British Beach Life

What we DO have is beer gardens. Hundreds of them. Often with play areas and sometimes even with free bouncy castles (and having a toddler gives us parents an excuse to venture on to those too!)

Moving back to UK - beer gardens

Moving back to the UK – beer gardens

We could head out to a different beer garden every Saturday and Sunday and not even scratch the surface of what’s in our local area. It’s “England’s Green and Pleasant Land” in easily digested portions – washed down with real ale or fruity cider.

Beer garden

Beer gardens

  1. Food

The novelty of food choice in the UK still hasn’t worn off. Supermarket shopping is still a joy, and then we have the food festivals, the farm shops, the delis, the greengrocers, the bakeries, and the butchers’ shops. The other day I realised I’d gone for over a month forgetting we have a Marks and Spencer Food Hall just down the road!

When I mention this, I always seem to court controversy. Yes, there’s some choice in Portugal, but I’m not sure that people who’ve been away from the UK a while realise quite what a revolution there’s been in gourmet and artisan food.

Roast beef

Real roast beef

A few recent examples: Oyster and Vinegar Crisps, made in Kent using Whitstable oysters; a honey chilli chicken dish from the local Chinese; amazing rare roast beef as part of a pub lunch; local plums that simply have to be eaten over the sink because they’re so juicy; and, at the top of the list, a salad made purely from the element-defying produce grown on our patio.

Salad from English Garden

Salad from an English Garden

I could happily spend a fortnight in Portugal eating clams, bream, bacalhau and arroz de pato – but after six months here I’m still spoiled for choice.

  1. eBay

My wife and I love a bit of eBay. It’s great to be able to get even a few quid back for things we no longer need, and I have now started to redouble my efforts to build my son’s legacy collection of retro vinyl records and computers!

Having full and easy access to eBay beats the expat Facebook groups for buying and selling, complete with their timewasters and daft offers. That’s not to say we didn’t have some success selling some bits and bobs before we left, but it was a rather gruelling process.

  1. Television

A full Sky package, complete with catch-up and “on demand.” Now TV for movies, and Netflix for everything else. AND it all just works, without messing around with Filmon and suchlike, or waiting for buffering, thanks to a sensible broadband speed!

Although we have precious little time to watch TV, we now spend that time actually watching it, rather than arsing around getting it to work.

  1. Things to Do

Every weekend, there are at least ten events we’d happily commit our time to, and that’s just in the local area – without even thinking about heading into London.

Yes, there are lots of things to do in The Algarve too, and I miss some of them. However, the parties and festivals tend to follow a predictable annual schedule, which after a few years starts to feel like retracing old ground.

We really miss Portugal. We’ve certainly posted enough about it! However, the above are just some of the reasons why, right now, we really like being back in the UK.

Some thing cant compare

Some things cant compare

It doesn’t mean I don’t still get homesick, or that I don’t miss my friends, the weather, and the sea. But if I can come up with this much enthusiasm after a week of grey skies and coughs and sneezes, there must be something right. Sometimes you need to be away from somewhere a while to appreciate what’s good about it!

Our Moving to Portugal book is still on special offer on Kindle:

Here’s the UK link:

Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same

And here’s the US link:

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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Some More Random “Moving Home” Observations 3

Posted on April 21, 2015 by Ben Algarve

We’ve been back in the UK a couple of months now, but everything still seems rather alien!

In my last post I was perhaps a little negative about the Portugal we’d left behind, so I’m going for some more balance this week.

Life in the UK has been good, but with an undulating backdrop of homesickness. It doesn’t help that I still do a lot of writing work about Portugal, and having to write about beaches I am no longer just down the road from isn’t the most fun way to begin a working week!  Suffice to say I really don’t think it will be that long until we pop back to the Algarve for a visit.

That visit would probably feel more urgent if it weren’t for the glorious weather we’ve had in England, and that’s where I’ll begin my list of random observations:

1. The weather here isn’t that bad at all.

I know we’ve been lucky with a dry April, but we’ve just spent a long weekend visiting family and we’ve been happily outside for rather a lot of it. Yesterday we had a pub lunch in a beer garden and I woke up today with a tanned face. That was NOT something I was expecting!

Delightful weather in England

Delightful weather in England

The other pleasant surprise is that even when the headline temperature looks low, it’s actually perfectly warm in sheltered spots. Of course I miss the Algarve weather, but what we’ve had since we’ve been back is more than acceptable, and actually far more practical for our baby son.

2. The UK mobile network is APPALLING!

I said that these would be random observations, so now we go from weather to phone signals!

Last weekend on our big family trip, there wasn’t a single house we arrived at where we could get decent data reception. This includes an area covering Kent, Outer London, Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. 3G reception on motorways was rubbish too.

I don’t know if it’s just that the UK’s network struggles with the number of people, but by comparison Portugal’s mobile infrastructure is fantastic.

Lots of Traffic and no Phone Signal

Lots of Traffic and no Phone Signal

3. We still have Portuguese “muscle-memory”

I don’t know how long this is going to last, but we are both still often convinced we are going the wrong way around roundabouts, and occasionally find it hard to remember the English word for something (my wife struggles particularly with “coentros,” which is coriander).

Worst of all, we’ve yet to shrug off the continental “hug and kiss on both cheeks” greeting, which in the UK results in either a near-head-butt or the recipient thinking you’re going in for a snog, neither of which comes across as particularly dignified…

4. England is expensive

This is a complicated point, but overall it’s a very good job there are more earning opportunities in the UK, because it’s far harder to live on a budget.

It’s not that all day-to-day things are more expensive. Groceries, for example, are probably cheaper than in Portugal, and as I’ve said before there is far more variety. Our utility bills are less too, but that’s completely cancelled out by a council tax bill of nearly £200 per month.

Where the budgeting unravels is in entertainment. Back in the Algarve, ten Euros could mean a good long trip to the bar and a bite to eat to take home. Here, that ten Euros won’t come close to buying the first round.

At the moment we’re spending every weekend catching up with friends and family, so our spending pattern isn’t typical, but suffice to say we keep having to top up our entertainment budget, and the credit cards are coming out far more than they did in Portugal!

Seafood - Available in the UK as well as Portugal - for a price

Seafood – Available in the UK as well as Portugal – for a price

In addition, working longer days and commuting means being more tired, and that’s when the lure of the takeaway menus becomes strong.

Finally, there’s just so much in the UK that you CAN do! After years of missing the theatre, and the easy access to gigs and festivals, we feel like we want to do it ALL. To do so we must work hard to earn it – and on that basis it’s easy to identify the start of that slippery slope back to the rat race. We must proceed with caution!

5. We’ll probably visit Portugal sooner than we thought

One thing that did come up during our manic weekend was the rather sad realisation that once we’d done everything we had to do, we’d be going “home” to elsewhere in England, rather than “home” to Portugal.

This was actually quite a good thing to realise, because it reminded us that we still have plenty waiting for us in Portugal: somewhere to stay; all of our friends, and all the places and things we miss. I even still have my two most beloved Portugal purchases – my moped and my Weber barbecue! There’s absolutely nothing stopping us going and working from there for a few weeks whenever the “homesickness” gets too strong.

Well, there is one thing stopping us, which is that while we continue to socialise “UK style” every weekend, we’ll never have the time nor the money. So, on that note, I shall sign off and get some more work done 🙂

Please take a look at our book!

Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same

Or find it here on Amazon.COM, for US readers:

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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Moving Back from Portugal – Some Early Observations 15

Posted on March 18, 2015 by Ben Algarve

Moving back to the UK after a long time in Portugal has been just as much of a shock to the system as when we did things the other way around. We’d become completely used to the Portuguese way of doing things, so it’s been a surprisingly interesting adventure.

In this post, I’m going to recount some of our initial observations and comparisons. It’s a terrible shame you can’t take the best of both countries and merge it all together somewhere in the hot sun!

Food, Glorious Food

The food in Portugal was one of the reasons we looked forward to moving there, and we still love it (enough to maintain Food and Wine Portugal!)

But….we have to be honest and say we started to get bored with a lack of variety, especially in the winter months, when we found ourselves in a bit of a rut of eating the same thing week in, week out.

Food in England - serious variety

Food in England – serious variety

Quite sensibly, Algarve restaurants often close for some of the winter or run with restricted menus, and there’s not so much of a takeaway culture. This is healthier, no doubt, but we had started to crave choice, and often found ourselves really uninspired by our options.

Well, now we have that choice. In the time since we left, food options in the UK seem to have multiplied far beyond what we remember, and all the shops seem to have all the products, all the time. Every trip to the supermarket or high street is both overwhelming and tremendously fun.

And now we DO have takeaway options: Chinese, Thai, Indian, Fish and Chips, Pizza, Kebabs – all to our door in thirty minutes. Not a habit we wish to get heavily into, but really exciting, not to mention useful when you are working, unpacking and baby-entertaining all at once.

I could go on for far longer about food, but for now England gets a big tick from us, even though we do already miss a few Portuguese dishes. However, what it really comes down to is that bacalhau aside (which would require a trip to London), there’s nothing we could get in Portugal that we couldn’t get here. There’s a LOT we can get here that we couldn’t easily get in Portugal. Oh, and all the supermarkets here deliver – very handy when you have a baby!

Booze, Glorious Booze

Now for the flip-side of the coin: beer and wine is expensive back in the UK. Really expensive.

In addition, when it comes to wine, it’s not actually that good here either. The entry cost for a bottle of wine seems to be about £6 in England now, and I’ve yet to be remotely impressed by anything at that price.

In fact, I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that I could go into a Portuguese supermarket and choose ten reds at €3 and under that would all be better than any “budget” bottle in Britain.

Unfortunately, at £6-10 a pop, wine’s not something to waste, so my research will be slow! If the friend I spoke to last night on the subject is correct, the best option is to drink wine less frequently and splash out on pricier bottles. Either that or we will plan a trip to France soon!

Our last remaining bottle of Portuguese wine

Our last remaining bottle of Portuguese wine

On the other hand, beer and cider here is a delight, just in terms of variety, even though it’s obviously far more expensive than in Portugal. A serious craft-beer culture has sprung up in our absence too, making every (rare with a baby) trip to the pub a rather exciting experience.

Media

I have to say I’m loving having full access to English newspapers again, complete with all the magazines and supplements at the weekend. Although I could read a Portuguese newspaper, it would take me days, and with such basic comprehension I think a lot of nuance went over my head.

Yes, you can get English newspapers in Portugal, but the choice is usually The Sun or The Daily Mail, without any supplements included. I always found it quite entertaining that the only papers available to the expat immigrants to Portugal were the right wing, anti immigration options!

Then there’s TV: In Portugal we had a full Meo package and it was….OK. However, much of the “premium” output was American trash and we never found much to watch.

Now we have a full Sky package with “catch-up” and more box sets than we could ever get through. And we have a Netflix subscription too. We’ve barely had the time to play with any of it, but I can’t imagine us finding a time when we feel there’s nothing to watch.  Best of all, it all works without fudged VPN solutions and hassle, and it’s quick, thanks to an Internet connection that’s about five times faster than we could get in Portugal.

Weather

Well, there’s no contest here is there? Portugal wins all the way, and a week spent seeing 27-degree temperatures, along with Facebook barbecue pictures from friends, resulted in our first real attack of homesickness for Portugal.

It’s not all bad, however. It may not be anything like Portugal back in South East England, but it has been dry and largely sunny since our return. A brisk walk in the sunshine to warm up and it’s actually quite pleasant out there…or so I continue to convince myself!

The sun does shine in England sometimes

The sun does shine in England sometimes

However, what I am struggling with is the reality of the fact that it could conceivably be months until we have a day that resembles summer, and that’s hard to get used to. We didn’t realise how much we’d come to take the weather for granted until we were back.

Culture

After Portugal’s solid climate victory, the UK’s lost some ground, so let’s move onto “culture.”

Here the UK is winning…big time. It’s almost as if every show and performance we’ve ever wanted to see has all been arranged for our return – or perhaps there was always this much going on and we’d just forgotten.

It seems as if every week we hear of something else we want to go to. So far we’ve got tickets to see our favourite DJ (Dimitri from Paris) play on an outdoor terrace on May bank holiday; Tickets for a one-day-only concert performance of our favourite musical (Follies) at The Royal Albert Hall, and tickets for Chic, Grace Jones and Kylie at Hyde Park in the summer!

And that’s really just the start. We’re only just beginning to see festival line-ups; remembering about Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre…the list goes on. I don’t think we ever realised how much we missed all this stuff.

So, all in all we have a rather mixed bag of first impressions, but putting the weather aside, we’re finding much to inspire us back in the UK. Now if someone could just recommend a serviceable red wine for less than six quid, our lives will be complete!

If you’d like to read more about our five years in Portugal, please check out our book.

Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same

Or find it here on Amazon.COM, for US readers:

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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