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

movingtoportugal



The Road We Didn’t Take 6

Posted on May 29, 2013 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

Hi, Ben here, looking suitably shame-faced as to the amount of time it has taken to write this update post. It’s been so long since I wrote a personal update that some kind readers have even been in touch to check all is well with us, which is very touching. So, today, it’s time to catch everyone up with what’s been happening.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that we planned to move house. Well, to put things quite simply – we didn’t. But, I’m going to take the time to explain what went on.

Earlier in the year, as regular readers will know, we took a trip to the USA, our first “proper” holiday since we moved to Portugal nearly four years ago.

Our New York Holiday Unsettled Us!

Our New York Holiday Unsettled Us!

On our return we felt rather unsettled, and struggled to get back into our regular routine. This wasn’t helped by the fact my wife went freelance at the start of the year, which meant our routine bore no resemblance to the one we were used to anyway.

Time in New York and Florida reopened our eyes to various things: culture, the theatre, a huge array of dining options and, above all, the size of the world outside our tiny Algarve village.

In some way, our brains rebelled, and we became convinced it was time for a change, so we decided, quite impulsively, that we wanted to move to Lagos before the start of the summer. Lagos is a sizeable town/city in the west of the Algarve, which is rather more varied and cosmopolitan than where we live now.

So, we set off on some viewing trips and came very close to moving, but the fates conspired to convince us that a move West wasn’t meant to be.

Lagos - Not Meant To Be!

Lagos – Not Meant To Be!

First, we found an apartment we loved, and arranged a day to collect the keys, only to find on “move day” that the owner has decided to sell it instead of rent it out.

Deflated, we zoomed around several estate agents and found another apartment, put down a deposit, and returned a couple of weeks later to collect the keys.

Well, it turned out this wasn’t meant to be either. From the moment we entered the property, everything felt wrong. Then we met the next-door neighbour, who was a bit of an oddball and someone who, it transpired, had a key to the apartment that he was reluctant to relinquish. This was just one of several boring issues that combined to give us the desire to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible.

Thankfully, we hadn’t burned any bridges in the East Algarve, and we were able to return home and remove the estate agent’s signs.

With summer approaching, we’ve now resigned ourselves to staying put, and somehow it feels right – not just a resigned, giving-in kind of right, but REALLY right.

Since the day we got back, we’ve spent great times with friends and visitors, met lots of great people and made real progress with our Portuguese. Right now, it feels almost strange that we felt compelled to have a change, when there’s really nowhere we’d rather be than here.

This will do for now :-)

This will do for now :-)

So, for now at least, the East Algarve is where we plan to stay – and if we do move in the future, I have to say it’s unlikely that it will be to Lagos. We’ve come to associate the place with being stressed, and spending far more time than anyone really wants to in estate agents’ offices. We’ve also discovered that “that end” of the Algarve is windy almost all the time and considerably cooler than the sheltered area we’ve become used to.

What we have learned from the whole experience, however, is that we need to spend more time exploring the country we now call home. One of the key reasons behind our wanting to move was to vary our routine and stop living a “small town” life in the same shops, bars and restaurants. We’re determined to spend our free time doing more so we avoid having another identical summer. Hopefully, that will give me plenty to discuss here on this blog. I’ll try my best not to leave it so long before my next update.

Wondering about moving abroad yourself, or want to hear more about our experiences? Please consider buying a copy of our 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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Cycling on the Ecovia Algarve 10

Posted on March 29, 2010 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

It is a lot easier to get out of bed in the mornings now, when the sun streams through the window almost every morning as soon as we pull up the shutters. It’s not just us either – everyone around from the locals to the tourists seem to be giving off far more positive vibes, and right now this coastal region of Portugal is a more than pleasant place to be!

Budget bikes!

Budget bikes!

Our new solar-powered energy has found us walking and exercising a lot more and last week we decided the time had come to purchase some bicycles. We had noticed an offer in our local supermarket – some basic bikes for the bargain price of 50 euros each, and my wife was especially excited – not about getting the bike itself so much but because hers was purple and had room for a basket on the front!

It doesn’t seem to be publicised very much but there is now a route of cycle paths called the Ecovia, which stretch the full width of the Algarve from Sagres to Vila Real De Santo Antonio. These routes are marked with signs and blue arrows and are primarily on dedicated cycle paths or traffic-calmed roads. It is not perfect – occasionally it becomes unclear where the route goes and you have to use an element of guesswork to find the next blue arrow, but for us that all adds to the fun.

Over the weekend, we tried two stretches of the route – the first a short one there and back between Cabanas, Conceicao and Tavira, and the second a longer ride from Cabanas to Manta Rota and back.

The Tavira route takes you over fields and meadows, then into the Ria Formosa Natural Park and across the salt pans. This is a mainly flat route – perfect for our first day on the bikes. This route is gorgeous at this time of year as the meadows are covered in yellow flowers as far as the eye can see. We are told there is not usually such an abundance of these flowers but the extreme wet weather we had followed by this hot sun has made for a stunning landscape.

Coming back from Tavira approaching dusk, the flowers start to close, turning the yellow fields into yellowy green fields. The only downside to this sun-down journey being that marshy ground + dusk = hordes of mosquitoes, and a wife with a right arm which is currently double the size of the left after an allergic reaction!

Our Sunday ride was much longer and more strenuous for two unfit people with a fondness for food and wine, especially with hot sun beating down. The track seems to disappear in Conceicao for a little while, but using a map we were able to guess the route and after a wiggle through Conceicao village and over the railway line we again found the blue arrows.

This ride took us across dirt tracks and small roads – through fields of olive trees and fragrant orange groves. The whole ride was a wonderful assault on the senses with heady scents of orange blossom and the faint aniseed smell of wild fennel.

After the fields the route follows along the side of the treacherous N125 road, though not on the road itself, then cuts towards the coast on a dirt road between the Qunita De Ria and Quinta De Cima golf courses. I can only imagine how fabulous it must be to play on these luxurious courses – maintained to perfection and stunning to look at. Sadly my pitch and putt skill level and limited budget preclude me from being allowed anywhere near the first tee.

Boats at Fabrica

Boats at Fabrica

Once through this long dirt road with plenty of challenging hills, not helped by the rough road surface, the track then joins a normal but very quiet road, which runs towards the beautiful traditional hamlet of Cacela Velha. We took a small detour down to the tiny fishing village of Fabrica and had a soft drink and a rest. Whilst there I had to take a picture of the enchanting little boat shown in the centre of the picture in which it would be a challenge to accommodate one tiny person.

We pushed the bikes up the hill out of Fabrica and pressed on towards Cachela Velha, our original destination, past quintas with fruit trees and horses outside. We got to Cacela Velha pretty quickly and were amazed at the number of cars there compared to the few we saw when we visited off-season – this gave us a bit of a taste of just how busy the Algarve is going to be in a couple of months time!

The amount of people, along with the temptation of a very steep hill to rocket down on the way, persuaded us to press on to Manta Rota – a decision we came close to regretting as soon as we realised that what goes down must go up. This was a very hilly road which made us wish we exercised more often and ate less pies. The road down into Manta Rota was fine with a steady downward incline to cruise down, but all the while I was very conscious of the fact we would have to get back up it again later.

We arrived at Manta Rota, and after a refreshing paddle in the sea, we enjoyed a lunch of razor clam rice in a cafe. As suspected that steady downward incline into Manta Rota became a torturous mile long upward incline on the way back, not helped by a stomach full of seafood and the onset of heartburn!

It is fair to say the ride back wasn’t quite as fun as the ride there but our poor level of fitness is to blame for that. Wanting to look closely at the golf courses gave a good excuse for

Manta Rota beach

Manta Rota beach

pushing my bike rather than riding it up several of the hills on the return journey! Despite the hard work, we still had that slightly sad feeling when we drove up our road, which made us feel a bit like young children having to put their bikes away at the end of a summer Sunday.

Once the aching limbs and sore bits have subsided we very much look forward to riding some more of the Ecovia – and I’m already starting to wonder about how long it would take to cover the whole distance with some nice overnight stops along the way…

Information on the Ecovia can be found at http://www.ecoviasalgarve.org/ – In Portuguese only.

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Fine food, flood and fire! 6

Posted on January 05, 2010 by Ben Algarve
Meravista

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
Meravista
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 (http://www.movingtoportugal.org/?p=175) 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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The first day, and the night before… 15

Posted on November 16, 2009 by movingtoportugal
Meravista

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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No turning back now….. 1

Posted on September 07, 2009 by movingtoportugal
Meravista
Burn baby burn

Burn baby burn

This is the week when it all really starts to happen. The letter giving notice on our house in London is typed and signed, and as of tomorrow, my clients start to be told what is happening.

It is scary stuff, yet somehow it seems to have removed a lot of the stress. It turns out waiting to take action is more stressful than taking action! Everything can now be “out in the open” and I can stop leading a double life.

Burning bridges, it turns out, can be rather theraputic.

Tavira is now just 63 days away :) If someone could stick half a dozen sardinhas on a BBQ for me somewhere, and chill a couple of bottles of Vinho Verde that would be great!

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Finally…..a good Summer! 2

Posted on July 03, 2009 by movingtoportugal
Meravista
England's green and pleasant land

England's green and pleasant land

I have been a bit slack of late when it comes to keeping this blog up to date. Those reading from England will know that the weather here has been really rather special the last couple of weeks, and after three back-to-back bad summers before now it is about time!

So, blogging has taken a low priority, below barbeques, pimms, cider and getting in far too late every evening. England is a contrary so-and-so – spending years winding you up with shocking weather and grumpy people  - pushing you right to the point where you arrange to leave and go to Portugal, then at the eleventh hour becoming a lovely sunny place where strangers smile! Still, there’s no way it will be permanent and the fact the good weather has had such a positive impact on my state of mind affirms our decision to move to where the sunshine is.

Now, after a month of sunshine, we find ourselves with only FOUR months to go until move day which is pretty daunting, but having said that, we do seem to be making progress – our work situations are getting to the point of being finalised and there are finally spaces appearing on shelves where our Ebay and car-boot efforts are starting to make visible progress. The build up of savings is starting to slow down at times – it seems a lot easier to build funds up when there aren’t so many opportunities for al-fresco dining in London!

The next thing we have to do is book some flights over to Portugal to arrange our fiscal numbers and then the next milestone is being able to “go public” with our news to my clients. I have been itching to do for several months but business reasons have prevented me from doing so. I am a very direct and honest kind of person and dislike feeling duplicitous, so I am really looking forward to everyone knowing, even if it does mean telling the same story to dozens of people. Perhaps I should just print the blog URL on some cards and hand them out?

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Tavira….excited! 0

Posted on May 20, 2009 by movingtoportugal
Meravista

 

The source of much excitement

 

After much exploration, we have decided on Tavira to start with. We also intend to try the silver coast, renting in both areas to check all goes to plan and see which we prefer.  We have the deposit paid on a lovely town house and when not stressing about finalising things here in the UK we are getting extremely excited, mostly about the following things:

1. Shopping at the mercado for fish.

2. Learning to properly cook said fish – if there are 365 ways to cook Bacalhau I want to learn them!

3. Experimenting with sub-2 euro wine – see the food and drink forum at www.expatsportugal.com !

4. Roof terrace. BBQ. Roof terrace. BBQ.

5. Having friends to stay and impressing them with my top class sardine filleting skills (yet to be fully developed.)

I must confess to having slightly shocked myself that they are all largely food based things. I guess that solves the mystery of the expanding waist-line!

I know all of the wonderful bits will be mixed with a few unpleasent surprises and tangles with beaurocracy but I’m a glass-half-full kind of person and in truth I’m kind of looking forward to them too. At least they will hopefully provide some amusing content for this blog…

A couple of photos:

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