Our first year in Portugal

Our first year in Portugal

We are approaching the first anniversary of our move to Albufeira. Looking back we have had a phenomenal year, learnt a lot and definitely changed for the better.  I wanted to write this post to pass on some of the experiences and what they meant to us.

Harry at school

Without doubt we are most proud of our fantastic son Harry.  There is no doubt that, of the 3 of us, he was by far the most wary of the move from Belfast. He was leaving behind friends, a brother and sister, and a school he was very settled in.

I would describe Harry as a quietly confident child; he does take on new challenges but definitely has initial doubts on his ability to handle them.  As parents, we didn’t doubt his ability to grasp a new language and were also confident his social skills meant he would make friends fairly easily.  We did have concerns on how long it would take him to adjust to an environment where none of his old friends were around. I would say that, alongside my ability to keep my business going, it was the most critical thing to making the move a success.

When we first arrived one of the first things we did was enlist a private tutor who took Harry for 2 mornings a week at 2 hours a time.  This was a fantastic investment.  Maria was superb at giving Harry the confidence that he could learn a new language, and he thrived under her creative way of teaching, playing games and challenges as part of the structured learning.  In all, Harry took these lessons from the week after we arrived in June through to the start of September and it turned out to be massively important when he started school.

I’ve covered the overall process to get Harry enlisted at school in a separate post.  When we (finally!) completed that, we visited the school the day before the classes themselves started.  This was on a sunny Thursday afternoon, and parents and children were in attendance together.  It was here that the reality truly hit home. The teacher spoke Portuguese, obviously, and we struggled to follow.  But there was something touching about the way the other children, their parents and the teacher, all made us feel welcome.  After the meeting we were given a tour of the school and it felt right.

Harry started on a Friday and it was one of the longest mornings of our lives.  We were so worried about how he was getting on, if he was interacting with friends and if he was following the classes.  As the days went into weeks, he did struggle to settle.  He found Monday in particular a hard day – he started at 8.15 and didn’t finish to 17.10.  That was well over 3 hours longer than he was used to and the intensity tired him.  However, he did reveal he was making friends and he definitely showed signs of gaining confidence with the language and started interacting with the “banter”.

The standard of work is definitely a big step up from what he was used to at home, and he is tested regularly during the term.  He is now gaining 60% plus in all subjects and we are massively proud.  Harry himself prefers this school to the one at home; he finds the teaching much more suited to what he likes and the teachers are more relaxed in their approach. Picking him up each day I beam with pride when I see him walking out with friends, laughing and chatting in Portuguese!

Work

I run the business I set up in Belfast from Albufeira.  I do most of my work remotely anyway but it was still quite a step into the unknown to distance myself from any immediate face to face contact with my clients.

In the initial weeks most clients were supportive, but what surprised me a little was that 2 were not.  They made some narky comments, and despite me tackling the issue head on, it did take some management to get to the bottom of the issue. It turned out it was little more than jealousy that they couldn’t do what I was doing!

In terms of how work has changed I have made subtle but important changes to my routine.  I have made a conscious effort to take more time on marketing the services to the correct customers; some companies are simply too old school to work over Skype and Google Hangouts and consider someone working remotely as not working at all.  I developed a great partnership with another consultant doing a similar work – life change in France, and leads coming in now really have no issue working with a virtual advisor. I am developing some really great relationships and finding out interesting new businesses and ways of working while doing it.

I also invested a lot of time in making the company truly cloud only and completely paperless.  I was working here for nearly 6 months before I had to go and get a printer and print a bank form for a client.  We are living in a much smaller building than at home and space is of prime value. Removing the need for an office has really helped us.  In terms of going cloud only, it means I can move between 2 laptops and an Macbook Air seamlessly without worrying about version controls and flash drives.  (If this interests you, you may find value in this post on my business site).

It is a pleasure working from Portugal. You cannot help but feel inspired by the sunshine and the coastline.  I definitely feel that I have professionally relaxed a lot working here and the quality of my work is improving (I believe anyway!).  I am able to devote the time saved from having no commute into a dedicated creative session, and the business development work is really benefiting.  There is no doubt that this move has strengthened the business and enable me to start working with Companies outside my catchment area.  I have now gone from having businesses in Northern Ireland to working across 5 countries.  All from a lounger in my sunny garden!

Family

As a family we are finding this move has brought us all closer.  Not just in a literal sense as we no longer have a 4 bedroom house to space ourselves in, but emotionally.

My wife and I spend all day together, every day.  That would probably scare a lot of people, but we have always done everything together and it didn’t faze us.  It is wonderful that we can have lunch together now and spend time talking, something we definitely didn’t get enough time to do at home.  There are also no need for the distractions in life – we just spend time talking and listening. Its important and its really helped us manage things, like Harry getting settled down in school.

We are very disciplined during the week and avoid the temptation to eat (and drink) out.  We visit the gym 3 times a week and then just enjoy the environment.  An evening visit to the beach is a pleasure, but sometimes just a quiet moment in the garden works.

Evening football on beach in Albufeira
Evening football on beach in Albufeira

In terms of Harry, I now have the absolute pleasure of the school run.  This was something I never got the chance to do at home, and its my favourite part of the day.  That time is sacred and no work deadline ever gets in the way.  Now that the attractions are opening again we have a To do list that we are diligently working through.

At weekends we always make time to take in at least one meal out a weekend.  The food is awesome and its our mission to support our restaurant and bar owning friends here as much as we can, but also to try and find something new as much as possible.  (I think my favourite dish so far has been the black rice fish paella but there are so many that will be a separate post in itself!)

In terms of family at home I’m really pleased at how often they have visited us.  It does wonders for Harry to see them and is always a brilliant surprise for AnneMarie.  For some reason they always entrust me with the details, and to keep it as a surprise for the other two – I am useless at keeping surprises but getting good practice at getting better! Its lovely taking the family out to meet the people we’ve met and to enjoy the places we’ve found.  I did receive a wonderful message from my Aunt who said she found it “great to share our new lifestyle”.

I think overall this move has been important.  I am personally more relaxed and content, and I think we are all becoming like the laid back locals by osmosis.  The town has a wonderful vibe, things get done and in their own time, and rather than getting frustrated with that, we actually enjoy it.

Visiting Portugal

I intend writing about our tours in more detail but so far we have fantastic 4 day breaks in Lisbon and Porto, and our now spending time at weekends touring different places around the Algarve.  The country is beautiful, there is no denying that, but the level of beauty and the variety has astounded us.  The fact that we are based here and can effectively have a weekend abroad every weekend if we wished inspires us.  We definitely have a lot more to explore and now we have the time to do it.

Cable Car tour in Porto
Cable Car tour in Porto

What is also underestimated is how lovely Albufeira itself is. Outside the main bar areas there are some great views in restaurants and we walk endlessly just taking in new places in the town.

Summary

All in all, I think its been a great decision and paid off well on all fronts for us.  Its hard to believe our first year is nearly over, and we are looking forward to many more.  I hope this post has given some insight to the many, many great moments we have had so far, and if you want to contact me to discuss anything in more detail I’d be delighted to hear from you.

Memories of Portugal winning Euro 2016

Memories of Portugal winning Euro 2016

I’m writing this on the day Portugal play Hungary in a World Cup 2018 qualifier, a repeat of a game from the Euro 2016 Group stages which ended in a thrilling 3-3 draw. Portugal struggled that afternoon, and remembering that match, and what followed, brought back fantastic memories for us a family.

We had just arrived permanently in Albufeira, on 15th June 2016.  The Euro 2016 buzz was just starting but no-one could have imagined how the tournament would end for Portugal.  The night before we travelled, we watched Portugal draw 1 all with Iceland.  Despite taking the lead through Nani, Portugal never imposed their superiority and Iceland, who themselves would have a great tournament on their debut, equalised in the second half. By the time we had arrived in Portugal, decked out in Portugal attire, and watched Ronaldo miss a penalty as Portugal drew again versus Austria, it seemed like just another same old tournament experience for them; never meet expectations as a dark horse and exit meekly.

Something happened in that Hungary match though.  I was now in work mode, working at home online all day but still enjoying the honeymoon of having the sun, pool and beach to enjoy in the evening.  However, the football was also on, so on the Wednesday night of our first full week, despite promises not to be tempted to go to the bustling bar scene every night, we decided to take in the double show of Portugal-Hungary and Ireland-Italy.  The match against Hungary was probably the best match of the entire tournament.  Hungary took the lead three times, and three times Portugal equalised.  Each time they were behind Portugal were out entirely on the “as-it-stands” table; when Iceland scored late in their match against Austria, Portugal ended up third in the Group. In previous Euros this would have meant elimination, but in this expanded tournament, they went through to the knockout stages. In doing so they missed a game against England, but were instead due to face Croatia, who had just defeated Spain, winners of Euro 2012 and Euro 2008.

I had seen a pretty average, defensive team at that stage, but I was convinced they would do well.  They were hard to score against, had arguably the best player in the world in Ronaldo, but most importantly, had a really good route to the final.  All the pre-tournament favourites were on the other side of the draw: France, Germany, Italy, Spain, England (lol – only joking!).  If Portugal beat Croatia they would be in the quarter finals and facing teams that had never been there before.  What if…..  I’m not making this up, and my family will attest that this is true, but that night I made a pact with my friend Luis in the sports bar we watched the matches: When (note not if, but when!) Portugal win, I will run the bar, you sit in my seat and enjoy it.  He laughed politely, thinking I’d had one too many, and we went home.

That Saturday we had a pizza pre-match and came back to watch Portugal in a dull scoreless ninety minutes against Croatia.  Croatia were by far the better team but couldn’t break Portugal down.  In extra time, very late in extra time, Ricardo Quaresma scored. The place went crazy. Portugal were now in the Quarter Finals.  They hadn’t even won a match in standard time at this stage!

The next Thursday I broke my “won’t go to bar during the week while working” pledge again. Portugal v Poland.  We were two minutes late in arriving by which stage Poland had taken the lead. Here we go everyone thought but Portugal swiftly equalised through Renato Sanches. (Incidentally, the parents of Renato Sanches were in the Algarve at the time and we were told by friends they were fantastic people).  Portugal then did something strange; they played well and dominated the match.  Ironically, they couldn’t break down the opponents, after this being their tactic in the previous round.  And so we got to penalties……  This is one of my fondest memories of the early weeks in Portugal.  The atmosphere and camaraderie in the bar was amazing. No-one gave them a chance but they did it via 5 perfect penalties.  Portugal were now in the bloody semi finals! And their opponents? Wales!

That night’s walk home was amazing. The traffic on the main Avenida Dos Descobrimentos stopped. Horns blared. People were hanging from car windows.  Everyone was partying. It was like they’d won the whole thing.  People were starting to believe. We were experiencing something special. I sat in the garden and listened for ages.  This was amazing to be in the midst of it.

For the semi-final we were in Lisbon.  We were going to Nos Alive the following day and had taken a break to see the sights of this fantastic city.  “I wonder where we could watch the match” I said to AnneMarie, my wife.  Wow! We found the official fan park and it was housing a massive screen and enough space for thousands of people.  Before the match excitement was building in the city.  Everyone believed.  No-one could talk about anything else.  If Portugal won, they would be in the final facing either France or Germany.  They probably couldn’t beat either but if they just got there….

We stood fairly close to the screen and the rendition of the Portuguese national anthem made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.  The whole country was behind them 100% and I could see what this was meaning to the “ordinary people”.  The match itself was great. Portugal won easily, and made the experience even more enjoyable.  By now our Portuguese attire had extended from 3 replica jerseys to face paint, 2 Portuguese flags and a horn! We were basically Portuguese ourselves now weren’t we?!

After an amazing three nights at Nos Alive (more on that in a later blog), we got the train back Sunday afternoon on 10th July 2016. Our mini break over, we should really have been going home and settling down for a quiet Sunday night before starting work the following day.  I spent the train journey listening to podcasts on Euro 2016 that I’d missed whilst at the concert.  Portugal were to face France. I just couldn’t help but feel that this was their time. France were the hosts but hadn’t really impressed until the semi final win over Germany.  Portugal could frustrate them.  I turned to AnneMarie in the seat behind me on the train: “Portugal are going to do it – I’m convinced they will”. She thought I was mad in the head; from what she’d seen Portugal were no better than the teams that had long since gone home.

I was confident though.  I packed the t-shirt Luis had given me for loyal service in attending their bar. I would need it. I would be working later after all.  We again got a pizza in the same restaurant and table that we had before the Croatia match. (I’ve always been extremely superstitious when it comes to football!).  Luis had reserved seats and we found three empty seats draped in an Ireland flag perfectly positioned in front of the largest screen in the bar.  We were ready for an amazing match!

An amazing match we did not get. Portugal lost Ronaldo early to injury and both teams struggled with the occasion.  However, this seemed to suit Portugal. France got more and more frustrated, borne down by the expectation of the home crowd.  Portugal, minus Ronaldo, seemed to gain strength as a group, determined not to let their captain down.  By the time extra time came I could only see Portugal winning.  They would have to score though and that didn’t look likely.

The bar was buzzing. Despite the match being disappointing, the crowd were loving it. This could be history in the making and they knew it.  The bar staff, our friends, were so nervous it was almost funny. Almost. I felt for them.  They were working on a night they could have been with their own family and friends.  On many occasions I caught them in a daze, arms at their sides, just staring at the screen, willing, hoping…2016-07-10 19.19.24

108 minutes. Portugal had a free kick.  It was a great chance. They hit the bar. The groans in the bar could have sunk a ship.  Oh no! That was their best chance, gone.  But wait, here comes Eder.  Now I will admit when Eder came on I laughed.  I actually said to Luis, if that’s their best chance we may as well go to penalties now.  He agreed. Eder was not a great player if you were being kind.

I am so sorry Eder! He scored a sensational goal one minute after the free kick hit the bar. Portugal were now winning. We went crazy. This was amazing. My son, Harry, was mesmerised.  The staff were nearly crying. They were so close.  This was cruel they thought. France would score, win on penalties and Portugal would revert to the norm, plucky nearly-rans.

The minutes went by and the final whistle came closer. By this stage I think Luis had more or less sank to his knees and we had imposed a ban on any more orders from the customers.  They stared at the screen as the match entered injury time.  This was happening.  This was going to actually happen! The last few seconds seemed to take an eternity.  Finally the referee blew! Portugal had won Euro 2016. Portugal had actually won! (and I was right lol!)

What followed will remain in my memory for ever.  The streets filled with people immediately. Cars drove by with people hanging from windows and doors.  Horns blared. We gave hive fives to children, families, sobbing men, grannies, anyone. The place was going mental. Everyone was celebrating.  At one stage I had an eighty year old woman, driving a car on her own, stop in the middle of the street, run round and give us a high-five and a hug.  She just wanted to share in the experience!

It was amazing and we will always be so grateful to the wonderful Portuguese people for what they allowed us to experience. I hope, in some way, you’ve experienced a little of it too via this recollection. (And yes, I did serve the bar that night – thankfully the Trip Advisor reviews weren’t too bad and it’s still open for business!).

2016-07-11 02.07.02

 

About our journey

About our journey

We have been visiting Portugal for holidays since 2005.  We had previously taken vacations in mainland Spain and the Spanish islands and also spent time in Turkey, Tunisia and the Gambia.

However, when we found Portugal we fell in love immediately. The Portuguese people are probably the friendliest, most humble and helpful group we have ever encountered. On top of that, Portugal has a tremendous climate, with round the year sunshine and an Atlantic breeze that reduces the drain of the heat.  The food is special, and if, like us you are a fish lover, you can access some delightful fish dishes.  Our holidays were always based in Albufeira, the largest town in the tourist region of Portugal, the Algarve.  However, we have spent time throughout the Algarve and visited the wonderful historic city of Lisbon. Its a great base to visit cities such as Seville in neighbouring southern Spain.

In 2015 we purchased an apartment in Albufeira and spent the majority of the summer school holidays based here.  I am self employed and run my own Company; its 100% cloud computing based and can really be ran anywhere with a wifi connection.  This flexibility allowed us to make great use of the apartment in the second half of 2015.  At the end of each trip we began to get really sad at the thought of returning to Belfast.  On a cold, rainy day in Belfast late November 2015, I texted my wife and asked her if she fancied moving to Portugal permanently. I received an instant response – “YES”.  At that point we began the process of emigrating and in June 2016 we finally moved permanently. More on that process to come as it was interesting to say the least!

We are now here and well settled.  My Company has adjusted well to the move and our 10-year old son is attending a local Portuguese school.  He had no Portuguese before we made this decision but is now being taught in, and speaking Portuguese well.

We took the decision to start the blog for a number of reasons.  Number 1 was we wanted to document our adventure, and share it with others who may be thinking of making a similar move to ours.  The second reason was that we have found it difficult on occasion to find accurate information on how to manage the logistics of moving to Portugal. As we learn the answers we will share them here for you.

We hope you enjoy and do please contact us with any questions you may have.

Obrigado!

N