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