The second weekend of June saw me jet off to London to meet two of my three sisters for the weekend. We had booked tickets for the Take That concert last year, long before Portugal was ever a possible move for us. It felt really weird but thrilling to be landing in London from Portugal knowing they were coming from Ireland. It was to be a proper girlie weekend and the first time in quite a long time I’ve had 3 nights away from my boys.
I arrived Friday afternoon and after checking into our AirBnB near the O2, I ventured into London and Oxford Street for a bit of shopping. It had been so long since I’d gone shopping on my own that I almost didn’t know where to start.
Well, it was Pandora I popped into first. And I came away with my first Pandora bracelet with charms, and a beautiful necklace too. Despite there being a Pandora in Abergavenny, I’d never been in a store before and I could have gone madder than I did in terms of spending. But as I said to BattleDad and my sister later, they won’t be stuck for ideas for my birthday or Christmas presents in the future!
After a bit more shopping I headed back to our apartment, conscious of not being in London longer than I needed a week after the latest terrorist attacks.
My sisters arrived Saturday morning and we had a fun filled day in London before having a lovely meal in the Ice Bar.
I’ll be writing about that separately but suffice to say we had a blast, a cold one! Sunday saw us doing some more sightseeing before an early dinner before the Take That concert. The concert was amazing and All Saints, the supporting act, brought me back to the 90’s and early 00’s!
We had VIP tickets and they were worth every penny! What does VIP get you? This……..
On Monday we all headed to Gatwick to go our separate ways and we all agreed it had been a fantastic weekend and was something we should do on an annual basis but with our other sister along too. The 4 McKenna girls together!
It felt strange knowing I was leaving the cooler air of London for the hot air of Portugal. I chuckled to myself when the air hostess welcomed everyone to Portugal and wished them a good holiday. I thought “I’m not on holiday”!
And something exciting happened while I was away. A certain little boy had the stabilisers taken off his bike and lo and behold he was peddling independently when I arrived back. That week we also got word that the Landy was finally fixed (at a cost) and we collected it before it was BattleDad’s turn to head to London himself, for a Guns and Roses concert. It took him back to his year spent in Paris as part of the opening crew of Euro Disney, blasting G’n’R in his earphones of his Walkman. Showing his age now haha!
And the evening he arrived we had a fun thing planned!
The day after cleaning our new place, my parents and I ventured as far as Ayamonte, Spain. You can either drive across the border or go the route we did, by ferry. On the Portuguese side of the river is a town called Vila Real de Santo Antonio, which I mentioned in my previous Portugal Diaries post. This town is gorgeous. From the harbour you can take a ferry across the river to Ayamonte in Spain. It costs just €1.50 each way and you don’t need your passport.
Ayamonte is a town, quite different to Vila Real with smaller coddles pedestrian streets filled with various shops, cafes and restaurants. We visited as my mum wanted extra wool from the Chinese shop there. Afterwards we had lunch in Vila Real, which really is fast becoming one of my favourite places to visit in Portugal.
With BattleDad back from Paris later that Thursday, we met our movers at the place where we would be storing the bulk of our belongings for the next few years early the next morning. An articulated lorry and smaller van pulled in a few minutes after we did at 8am and we were met by the man who owns the place, Peter. He moved to Portugal in the 2000’s and was very friendly and welcoming. The two drivers were Aaron (lorry) and Darren (van) and both were really nice.
They started off-loading our stuff and separating it into home stuff, coming to our new place, and storage stuff. We helped where they would allow, and also fished out one or two things that were marked for storage that we wanted with us. When the lorry first arrived I thought “I’m sure we didn’t pack a lorry full of stuff” but Aaron informed us we were his last load and our stuff only took up one third of his truck.
BattleKid spent most of the time in the car watching YouTube videos on BattleDad’s phone which was just as well as we saw our first bit of rain. By 11am the lads were finished, so they followed us from Sao Bras to our new place. The lorry didn’t come up to our park but that didn’t matter as everything we needed had been transferred into the van. The lads off-loaded our stuff and took a look around and were quite impressed with our new pad.
They were willing to put boxes into various rooms but we said to just stick everything in the living area as we’d sort it out ourselves later. We then went for lunch in the restaurant before thanking them and returning back to my parents. We didn’t unpack anything that day. We did also get a recommendation from Aaron for a good place for a meal and he was spot on. Thanks a million to him (if he ever reads this) for the recommendation of Xicken Piri-Piri!
We did start unpacking over the weekend and got through a good bit of stuff. In the process we discovered some boxes hadn’t quite made it to the home and three had to be returned to storage. But our new home was taking shape.
The next week BattleDad was back in Paris so I went up to our new place with my Dad a few times to unpack in between relaxing, blogging and walking the dog. On one particular evening, BattleKid and I made the mistake of crossing a sand path that had some water in it on our walk with BattleDog. The result was two pairs of very mucky feet. As we approached my parents decking I shouted for them to help and get water and towels. My mum panicked thinking something had happened to BattleKid but she and my Dad laughed their heads off when they saw our feet. Of course BattleDog was ok as he had avoided the path we took!
Thursday of that week, the last of June, saw BattleDad return from Paris, so we decided to move into our new place on the Friday. We packed up in the afternoon and after dinner, set off to spend our first night in our new place. It felt a bit strange leaving my parents place after nearly a month with them but it also felt good to finally get into our new place as a family.
That weekend we visited Vila Real again for a bit of shopping and the same evening we installed BattleKid’s Fairy Door. We also decorated his room for him with various stickers we’d brought with us and his room started to feel more like his old one. We also worked out how to get the sprinklers in our garden working. The grass was looking dry and quite sad, if I’m honest. We fiddled with the hose and hey presto, on came the sprinklers. We still haven’t worked out how they can be set for specific times but BattleKid had a whale of a time running through them and getting soaked in the process.
Our second full week in Portugal saw BattleDad heading to Paris for work to be on his clients site. I hadn’t expected him to be in Paris until the week after but he had to go both weeks which was a bit of a pain. So, while getting used to driving on the wrong side of the road, BattleKid and I took it easy at my parent’s place.
We visited Gran Plaza for some shopping where we discovered a Tiger ride. BattleKid loved it and it is much better value than the other kids rides they have there.
I also finally got word that our decking was finished so we could access our home. On the Wednesday I collected the keys and my Mum and I got stuck into cleaning it and getting it ready for our belongings arriving from the UK on the Friday.
You are probably all wondering what our new place is like. Well, we haven’t rented a house, mainly because long-term rentals are very, very hard to come by, especially in the Algarve. Most rentals are short-term, and during the summer months, so landlords can capitalise on the busy summer months. You can’t blame them. There are also larger taxes placed on landlords who do long-term rentals so it is more tax efficient for landlords to capitalise on the summer months only. Which is not great news if you are moving to Portugal and want to rent a house/apartment.
Having found this out, we knew our options were limited. We can’t get a mortgage yet until we build up our credit rating here in Portugal and we couldn’t afford to buy something outright either, not for a few years. So, we decided to buy a static holiday home and have sited it on a very nice holiday park only 10 minutes’ drive from my parents. We figured that a lot of people in the UK live in a caravan or static while they build their house, so why couldn’t we! The only difference is we will be living mostly outdoors, hence needing a deck built, and it will be for 2-3 years while we save enough money to buy outright.
This option also gives us a chance to decide if Portugal is really right for our family. If not, we can move on and have the option of keeping the home, and either letting family use it as a holiday base, or renting it out to cover the annual ground rent. It probably sounds mad to some of you, but it gives us the flexibility to settle in, decide if this is where we want our forever home, and it’ll always be ours. We will have no mortgage once our house in Wales has sold (we currently waiting on an exchange date from our solicitors), our monthly outgoings will be next to nothing, our ground rent is paid annually, so we are sorted until January, and we will be saving a huge amount of money each month. After 2-3 years, and adding our savings from our house sale to what we save in the meantime, we will hopefully be able to buy a nice villa (with a pool!) outright and remain mortgage free.
As well as providing a better, outdoor life for BattleKid, and having access to better education than the UK, our other main reason for moving to Portugal was to press reset on our financial lives. Portugal is a country that is cheaper to live in and to be able to be mortgage free in a few years’ time with a nice villa to show for our efforts will be amazing. The big red reset button has been well and truly pressed. Another advantage is if we don’t like Portugal for some strange reason, we will have substantial savings behind us to move on, either back to Ireland or the UK, and even there, be mortgage free with a holiday home in the sun.
So, this is what our new home and decking looks like.
It has two bedrooms which is enough for the three of us. The garden has fencing all round to keep it secure for BattleDog and has ample room for both him and the boy to run around in. We still have some gardening work to do to get rid of the sandy gravel and stones but that’s coming soon.
Our holiday park is located outside a small village and has an almost rural setting. We have a pool on site, a bar/restaurant and a children’s playground. It is only 10 minutes to my parents and only 15 to Tavira itself so we are not far from anywhere. The only thing is you NEED a car to be able to get anywhere. Hence my worry about the Land Rover, which remained in Faro for the whole two weeks BattleDad was away in Paris!
So there you have it. A bit unconventional, but it will do us for the moment and is only temporary. Do you think we’re mad yet?
Well we’ve been in Portugal for eight weeks and it finally feels like we are starting to settle into our new life. But the last few weeks haven’t been without their dramas either! For the first couple of days, we relaxed in my parents’ house, pottering into Tavira once or twice for shopping. It was all about getting over the mammoth drive for mum and dad and wondering if our Land Rover was still sick or not.
We got into a routine with BattleDog of walking him regularly to toilet him as my folks don’t have an enclosed garden for him to be free in. Theirs is open so regular walks were necessary, not that he was complaining. BattleKid often joined me on his bike, and found a great run-off for himself near my parents’ house. I’d stop him at the top of this short hill, checking no cars were about. After a thumbs up from me, he would get a run off and free wheel down with feet up. The neighbours were all very impressed with his skills, I can tell you!
On cooler days, we also visited the playground in my parent’s park and let him burn off some steam. However, we soon found out that evenings were off limits. The playground is located beside a very small lake, and in the evenings the mosquitoes come out in their droves so unfortunately it was off limits after 5pm.
The Sunday after we arrived in Portugal we ventured a bit further and discovered a small town called Cachopo. My Dad had spotted an ad in The Portugal Newspaper, an English paper, which mentioned the start of a festival in Cachopo, which is located in the hills above Tavira. The road up is quite windy and remined me of the roads in Tenerife. We made our way through some stunning scenery and found ourselves in a lovely quaint little village. There were plenty of cars and coaches about so we knew we were in the right place.
The festival was on its first day and we strolled through the stalls where the locals were selling all manner of handmade things. From cheese and bread, to stools, candle holders and even knives, the craftwork was amazing. At the top of the town was a square where they were setting out for music and there was also an open-aired restaurant. We didn’t stop for something to eat and instead strolled back down the town past the stalls where I got a candle holder for me parents as a present and a little stool for BattleKid. And they weren’t expensive either.
We walked around the town and my mum went into the church in the village which looked lovely from the outside. BattleKid initially wanted to follow my parents in but in the darkness of the entrance he changed his mind so I just admired it from outside. Cachopo is a lovely little village with cobbled streets, typically bright doors and all the quaintness you’d imagine of a small Portuguese town. All of us commented on how lovely it was as we made our way back down to Tavira.
On the drive back, we had our first road kill. A snake! And not a small one either as we all felt it in the Land Rover, so you can imagine it wasn’t small by any stretch of the imagination. Right there I said there is no way I can live that far up if there are large snakes about.
BattleDad had warned me of some wildlife I should be prepared for but I had hoped to avoid things like snakes for a while yet. BattleDad’s aunt, who has been living in Portugal full-time for over five years, has so far managed to not see one so I was kind of hoping I’d have her luck. Yeah right! But again, the scenery on the way back from the hills was stunning and BattleDad was already scouting some dirt trails to take his bike up!
While BattleDad was working during the week after we arrived, I went into Tavira with my parents a few times, enjoying the sunshine and familiarising myself with the place once again. Tavira is such a lovely town. It hasn’t been commercialised like the Western Algarve so it still very traditional and Portuguese.
At the end of our first full week in Portugal, once the Saturday arrived, we decided to head East and visit Vila Real de Santo Antonio, which borders Spain across the river inlet. It is a beautiful town, with white-washed buildings interspersed with colourful ones. When we arrived, and finally sorted out paying for parking, we headed towards a square and there was a market in place. Market stalls seem to be quite popular, especially at the weekend, and again the stalls were full of homemade goods, a lot of cork produce (did you know over half the world’s cork is produced in Portugal), fresh fruit and vegetables, and homemade foods.
We strolled through one of the main shopping streets before finding a café beside the marina for a drink and cake. We then admired the various boats and yachts moored in the marina before heading back to the car.
We decided to head towards a town called Alcoutim, where BattleDad had read there might be a castle to explore. However, 20 minutes outside of Vila Real, the red engine warning light came back on the car and we headed back to my parents’ place where we called Land Rover Assistance.
Our car troubles were not over and she was recovered to Faro for inspection. BattleDad and I then had to make our way to Faro Airport to collect a hire car and I finally admitted to him I was worried about driving on the left-hand side. I naively thought that since you were on the left of the car, everything would be in reverse, including the accelerator, clutch and brakes. I told him this while we were waiting at Hertz and he couldn’t help but laugh at me. The peddles, it turns out, are in the same place as a right-hand drive car so your feet do exactly the same things, in the same place. I had been worrying for nothing! It still took me a while to remember that the gear stick was on my right instead of my left.
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We raced back to Tavira once we had the hire car as we had dinner booked for 7pm at a lovely restaurant called O Castelo. It had been recommended to us by BattleDad’s aunt and I have to say it was such a nice meal after the day we had just had. The food was excellent, the portions were huge and sitting outside to have a meal in the evening was just what we had hoped for and part of the reason we had taken the decision to move to Portugal. Outdoor living was a huge factor for us, and here we were, finally starting to enjoy it. We will definitely be returning to O Castelo for a meal and I’ll be reviewing it at a later stage on the blog.
On the way back to the car after dinner we came across a live statue and at first BattleKid wasn’t too sure about him but soon put the money in his tin for him and shook his hand. This was the first time he’s seen a statue.
All in all, it was a hectic first week and a bit in Portugal and we were left in limbo and with some amount of uncertainty with regards to the car. It left us wondering if we had made the right decision bringing it to Portugal and considering whether or not we should ship it back to the UK and sell it rather than matriculating it and being left with it for 5 years (the rule of bringing a car in tax free).
After very little sleep, my alarm went off at 4.45am UK time. Bleary eyed doesn’t even cover it. I got up and helped BattleDad sort our bags before he walked BattleDog. I got BattleKid up and dressed and we loaded the car back up, full to the gills. We set off at 5.25am to make our way out of the beautiful mountains of Northern Spain to head South, down the backbone of Spain to Portugal.
I had to admit the windy roads of the mountains did nothing for my stomach, making me reminisce about Tenerife. It took us over two and a half hours to get out of the mountains and find flat roads as we started to make our way to the A67, which we finally joined just above Osorno. To be fair we had gone through some amazing countryside, some of the likes we would never have expected for Spain.
We started searching for a services to stop at and grab some breakfast, but we soon discovered that Spanish services are not located at the side of the motorway. The first one we eventually found was more than 2 miles off the motorway! I walked BattleDog while the boys headed to the toilets before we finally sat down to bacon sandwiches (not the UK type) and a cuppa. The services were ok and we filled the car to ensure we had plenty to get us to the next one.
We had made that rule when we stopped outside Santander, and I was glad we had filled up there instead of hoping we’d have enough in the tank, as the journey out of the mountains used up quite a bit of fuel.
Bellies somewhat sated, we drove back the 2 miles to rejoin the motorway and carried on for another two hours. Somewhere before Valladolid, we diverted into a small town to fill up again with fuel. Here, an attendant filled the car, and BattleDad later wondered if she had put the right type of diesel into the car. More on that to come, keep reading.
Just outside this town, we eventually came across more motorway-type services so we decided to stop here for lunch and a toilet break for both us and the dog. The food here wasn’t great but it filled a hole. We didn’t need to fill the car as it hadn’t been long done. BattleDad said he’d carry on driving for a while longer before handing it over to me so he could get a snooze.
Literally minutes outside this services, the car went into restricted performance mode, we lost power and had a bright red engine warning light on the dash. Cue serious amounts of panicking from me. We hadn’t even passed Salamanca, had over 400 miles to go and all with a car full of belongs, dog and child. This is not what we needed right now. My panicking didn’t help the situation either.
BattleDad had a diagnostic plug-in tool with him that linked to his phone to check the error and it said something to do with the Turbo. He cleared it and said we could probably carry on but keep the revs under 2k and the speed steady to reduce our chance of the turbo kicking in. We had been making really good time, I’ll say no more, and our ETA started extending now.
An hour later we swapped over and I got my first taste of driving on the wrong side of the road. It was ok as it was motorway the whole way, so only two lanes and intermittent vehicles to worry about. We drove through some horrendous storms too as we headed South. We were really surprised as the saying “the rains in Spain fall mainly in the plains” was coming true.
After an hour BattleDad woke but I carried on, just hoping to get us to Tavira without any more hiccups. I drove us nearly 300 miles to the other side of Seville before we stopped for a toilet break. We decided not to eat as we were only an hour and a half from my parents place and I knew my Dad would be getting dinner ready for us.
BattleDad took over and just before we crossed the Spanish/Portuguese version of the Severn Bridge we got another repeat of restricted performance and red engine light. I wasn’t as worried this time as we were closer to Tavira but I was still worried. BattleDad cleared it again and we crossed the bridge into Portugal.
We came across a road block and found border patrol checking documents in some cars. Needless-to-say the UK number plate meant we were pulled over too. BattleKid was asleep and the border patrol office just checked our passports and sent us on the way. Had he opened the boot he’d have gotten a black surprise in his face.
We finally arrived into my parents place near Tavira at 6.15pm, after 13 hours on the road. Both exhausted and relieved we’d made it, I was so glad to get out of the car, unpack and sit down.
We were here, we’d arrived and our journey to start our new life in Portugal had come to an end, nearly 56 hours after we had left South Wales.
BattleDad, BattleKid and I were early to bed that night after a very long day and none of us arose until well after 9am, which is almost unheard of…..
To be continued….
If you missed my previous instalments of The Portugal Diaries you can read Part 2 and Part 3 again.
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