All change! The blog is moving to my new web-space complete with a fresh new layout.
See you there
All change! The blog is moving to my new web-space complete with a fresh new layout.
See you there
We needn’t have worried that being in Portugal wouldn’t feel as ‘Christmassy’ as being in cold England. The Portugese seem to go in for Christmas in an even bigger way than the Brits, probably helped by the two bank holidays at the start of December on the 1st and 8th!
Being a country populated by 98% Roman Catholics, the religious aspect is obviously more widely important than in the UK, illustrated by the huge range of nativity scenes available in shops and as part of town decorations. This said, the consumer-Christmas that we all know and love/hate (delete as applicable) is alive and well in Portugal as well.
Yesterday we set off to buy our tree – we were originally going to go to the Portugese equivalent of the UK Homebase or B&Q (Leroy Merlin,) but got caught in our first traffic jam in 4 weeks(!) on the outskirts of Faro. We happened to drive past the huge Forum shopping centre and the beautiful Christmas lights drew us in.
Shopping Centres are treated as a real day-out destination in Portugal. They are similar to centres in the UK, but probably a bit closer to the ones you would find in America. Generally though, a shopping centre is the same the world over – a load of shops on a few levels, with a big food-court at the top. In Portugal you usually find a large hypermarket at the bottom and a multiscreen cinema somewhere as well.
The difference though, is the atmosphere. I associate shopping centres in the UK with chavvy kids and queues at Primark. Here, the atmosphere is relaxed, and there always seems to be a large outside area with pavement cafes and people drinking Uma Bica (an espresso) or Um Imperial (a small beer.) The opening hours are long – where we visited yesterday was open until midnight, and still buzzing with people when we left at 10.30pm.
There are a lot of families, some clearly on a day out with 3 or maybe even 4 generations of the family out together. Last, but not least, the food court, which, although it has plenty of junk food outlets (including the first McDonalds we have encountered in Portugal so far,) there also seem to be some local and healthy options on offer – we had a bit of a nose at peoples plates and saw a lot of things we would like to try, rather than “shit-in-a-tray” that we would rather avoid!
As we sat under the lights of the very impressive tree, drinking some delicious coffee, which we still can’t believe is only about 60 cents per cup, we really started to understand the point of this “shopping centre as a day out” thing. Do a bit of shopping, have a decent lunch, have a beer, watch a movie, have a coffee, bit more shopping, another beer or two, perhaps a snack, then grab everything needed from the supermarket and head home. Obviously, as a fairly typical man, the fact that “have a beer” can be included in the list makes a day of shopping seem a lot more attractive, though I couldn’t see this working particularly well in binge-drinking Britain!
As Christmas gets nearer, I’m sure the pace at these places will get a lot more frantic and will probably be as hellish in the few days before the big day as they are everywhere else in the world, but as far as last night was concerned, we actually had a really good time at a shopping centre, which isn’t something I thought I would ever say.
Otherwise, it all seems very similar to Christmas back in England, and with the current cold nights, it is suitably chilly to feel right. Even the Christmas songs playing in the supermarket are the same selection which my wife adores but that start to drive me to distraction by around 15th December! We are enjoying trying different festive foods, and all the Portugese versions of the things we have at home as well. My father-in-law is arriving in a few days with a few essentials we haven’t been able to get (i.e. bread sauce mix,) the tree is going up this week, and then we can start to look forward to our first Portugese Christmas. I can’t wait.
Seasons greetings to all!
Heading East towards the Spanish border, we arrived at Montegordo. The guidebooks had warned us this would be a brash and over-touristy resort, but I must admit I have a bit of a fondness for tourist tat (perhaps because I grew up near Great Yarmouth,) so we were eager to see what it was like.
Montegordo is only about 2km away from the Spanish border and it did have the feel of a Spanish resort. Yes, there were plenty of high-rises and nasty 60s and 70s hotel buildings. Yes, there were more places doing burgers and pizzas than genuine Portuguese cuisine and YES, there was a cheesy cocktail bar that was actually called the “Copacabana!”
Off season though, it was hard not to be charmed by the lovely big beach, so long as you stayed facing the sea and didn’t concentrate on the high-rise skyline behind it. Is seemed somehow to be a lot more sheltered and warm than around Tavira, despite being no more than 15 miles away, and were it not for the vast amount of washed up jellyfish and lack of protective footwear, I may have been tempted to have a November swim. We had a very pleasant meal of giant prawns and freshly grilled sole. Unfortunately it went downhill with the dessert which had been sprinkled with cinnamon that tasted like it had been scraped from the back of a musty old wardrobe. The owner had been so nice we didn’t have the heart to tell him, so we went and paid inside and beat a hasty retreat before he realised we hadn’t eaten it (seems it may take a while before we stop acting English!)
On the road back, we turned off to visit another beach called Praia Verde, (green beach,) so named because of the forest on the dunes behind it, which is quite unique in this part of Portugal. The beach is at the end of a tourist complex, which you can imagine being very busy in season, but off-season it was truly deserted. There is something quite strange about these places when there is no-one there at all, they make me think of the deserted amusement park in the 80s film “Big” with Tom Hanks. They are both romantic and slightly spooky. The beach itself was beautiful – like Montegordo without the high-rises, or indeed any of the people. This would be a wonderful place to come back to, but you would need to take everything you could possibly need as there are no facilities open at all off-season.
We didn’t hang around that long, as we needed to make use of the kind of sanitary facilities not available at this time of year(!) As we drove away there was someone who obviously lived on the complex playing with his young child in the car-park and I found myself wondering whether living somewhere which is SO quiet for half of the year would be very liberating or very lonely, and couldn’t decide either way….
For the next few days, we spent our time exploring our local coast. Our first stop, just to the west of Tavira, was a beach called Praia Do Barril. As with the majority of beaches along the Eastern Algarve, the beach is on a sand-spit island. Several of the beaches require you to take a very short ferry ride or water-taxi to reach the sands.
Praia Do Barril is slightly different in that you can take a tiny narrow-gauge train to the beach from a very pretty white-washed resort called Pedras Del Rei, or alternatively take a wonderful 15 minute walk beside the tracks – across the marshes and lagoons and through fragrant woods.
When you arrive at Barril, which forms part of the Isla De Tavira, you can quickly see why the Isla was listed in a recent survey of the top ten beaches in the world. The sands are an almost Caribbean white and soft like fine sugar and the sand and sea stretches as far as the eye can see in both directions. Being off-season, there was hardly anybody around – however there are a couple of cafes present to provide some somewhat overpriced sustenance, or, in our case, a small icy glass of Sagres beer.
Although windswept, the low dunes provide shelter from the wind and people were sunbathing happily, despite it being mid-November! Sadly, the very fun looking 6-seater pedaloes with a built in slide to splash into the sea were not for hire at this time of year, but I plan to be first in the queue when the next season begins!
On the way back to Tavira, we stopped in Santa Luzia, a rustic fishing village with a number of seafood restaurants. We deliberately chose the shabbiest place for a shellfish snack –determined to remain outside our comfort-zone and be forced to attempt to speak Portugese (it would be very easy to be lazy in the Algarve as anywhere even vaguely touristy-looking will assume you only speak English.) We had a plate of large prawns and in place of the clams, which were not available, we had cockles. I expected cockles to be the small chewy things in vinegar like you get in jars in the UK, but these were served in their shells, steaming hot and fresh, with wine, garlic and olive oil. They were a revelation, and I intend to slurp an awful lot more of these delicious morsels from their shells in weeks to come. Every last bit of the garlicky sauce was soaked up in the fresh bread and we left very happy.
Santa Luzia itself was a charming little place, a lot more “local” than many of the places in the Algarve, with the river shimmering at the bottom and small fishing boats bobbing around. During the Summer, it is apparently possible to take a boat across to the beach (Santa Luzia beach also forms part of the Isla De Tavira) but this didn’t appear to be running off season.
Tomorrow: Monte Gordo and Praia Verde
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.
The 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!
We 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.
It’s been a while since I moaned about London life and seeing as we leave in 9 days (typing that just pushed my heart rate up!) I imagine this will be my last little political rant….
As a TV show, I can’t say I actually have any issue with the concept of “The X Factor,” but the reason it is right up at the top of the list of “things I hate” right now is how it highlights the vacuous way of life everyone seems to be being encouraged to adopt.
Several times per day I am becoming tempted to deactivate my Facebook account as yet another of my friends posts some inane comment about “The X-Factor.” Visiting the offices of my clients all I am hearing is chatter about “Miss Frank” or “The Twatty Twins.” As if this wasn’t enough, the tabloid front-pages scream out more “X-Factor” exclusives everywhere you go.
All of this is producing within me emotions from mild depression to actual FURY! As well as religiously watching this drivel, people are voting on it, talking about it, twittering about it, reading about it and texting about it. Some of these people are my friends, and are, at least in some cases, quite level headed, interesting people. Are the government in some way complicit in allowing this nonsense to slowly rot away our collective intelligence?!
Some really significant stuff goes on in the world. The country is at war in a couple of places, the politicians and the bankers are all stealing our money, and the British National Party are on “Question Time,” yet nobody talks about any of that. People prefer to be anaesthetised for weeks at a time by the antics of wannabe fast-track celebrities, while Cheryl Cole and some others decide which one of the contenders gets to record a shit ballad for Christmas number one, thus financing Simon Cowell’s next party, and next teeth.
When people seem to be putting more thought into who to vote for in The X Factor than who to vote for to run the country, something has surely gone horribly wrong? I am really struggling with the fact that this isn’t glaringly obvious to more people around me. The UK seem to have adopted apathy as the key lifestyle choice and “not my problem” as the collective mantra. Unless people begin to wake up and take more interest in the society around them than the sad little lives of Jordan and Kerry Katona, I really to fear for the future of our culture.
Moving back to the key topic of moving to Portugal, I am sad to say that, yes, they do have X Factor in Portugal (in fact across most of Europe and even “XSeer Al Najah” throughout the Arab world, according to Wikipedia.) The silver-lining in that particular cloud though, is that I won’t understand a word when people are talking about it. The same will go for politics – I am going to go out of my way to not know about it – that way I may not feel so cross all the time!
In order to take my mind off the intense pain of my dental abscess while the antibiotics do their thing, I have spent a lot of time on the web over the past couple of days.
As a keen cook, exploring all of the the different food Portugal has to offer is one of the things I am most looking forward to – and the fact that I am currently only able to eat foods which require little or no chewing has found me looking lustfully at food-related websites. This web-surfing landed me at http://www.continente.pt – the website of a Portugese supermarket chain. I have spent a fair bit of time browsing this site to get an idea of how much things are going to cost when we arrive in Portugal.
I thought I might make more sense of the foodstuffs if I translated the whole site into English with Google Translate – it is not perfect but it generally gives you a good chance of working out what something means. That said, it has left me with a few unanswered questions this time:
1. If I fancy a stew, does “diced biological calf” taste as nice as stewing steak?
2. Will eating “a piece of cool hunting” improve my street-cred?
3. Does “dogfish, whole, clean” imply that unless specified other fish is “dirty”?
4. Can I really buy a “small horse” for 40cents?
Discoveries like this are when I remember what enormous fun this journey is going to be, and with the stress of moving, we don’t often get a chance to remember that at the moment. I can’t believe it is less than three weeks until we go!
I’m off to find out what kind of fish a “cool hunting” is….