Written by Catherine Durnford-Wang
Photography by Pietro Faccioli
I was lucky enough to live in southern Portugal for ten years. I moved there from Toronto when my then husband I wanted a lifestyle that was a little less rushed than the one we had. We both had full-time jobs that were responsible and time consuming and the rat race was beginning to feel unappealing. The ex was an avid and very good golfer who had been to Portugal with a group to golf the various courses in the Algarve. The area left an impression on him.
We sold up everything and moved there. It was amazing to be walking on the beach in January, visiting market towns and seeing the obvious differences and listening to the foreign language being spoken all around us.
The first thing we did was buy a house and used a local lawyer to do the paperwork. There is a lot of red tape in Portugal (was at that time 1988) and things could get complicated but on the flip side, no one got too stressed about it. I hired the lawyer’s secretary to come to the house and give me Portuguese lessons; it’s an extremely difficult language to master. The Portuguese make many sounds that we just don’t have in our English language.
We started a business that is still there in the town of Almancil in the Algarve but now under new owners. Our retail business, like all others, shut from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm, allowing people time to go home for a proper meal or to have a leisurely lunch in a restaurant. The locals were appalled that people in our society eat a sandwich at their desks with no stop for lunch.
The country side is really beautiful and diverse. One of my favourite things was to stop when the poppies were in bloom and just stare at the fields and fields of bright red that seemed to go on for miles. Seeing carob trees, olive trees, almond trees, orange trees and others being nurtured in the countryside where I walked my dogs never ceased to amaze me.
The people were friendly, especially if you attempted to converse in their language. Buying at the open air markets it was obvious I was not Portuguese (being blonde and fair) but so many of the marketstall owners helped me with my language skills as I pointed to my selections and they told me how to say it in Portuguese. The same applied to everywhere I shopped. Where I lived in the Algarve there was a huge ex-pat community of mostly British people and getting to know actual Portuguese was difficult. Not that they weren’t friendly but I think it’s natural for people to mix and congregate with people who are similar to them.
Loved the food — being a person who loves fish and seafood, it’s a mecca. We didn’t have television for probably the first three years and it was refreshing not to be inundated with news and to be able to just live in your own little bubble.
Going to a coffee shop can be a social experience. I drank bica (a strong espresso type coffee) and with it would have a pastel de nata — a wonderfully delicious pastry. Most coffee shops also served alcohol so you would see workers there having a bica plus a shot of medronha at around 10:00 am.
Everything seemed so foreign to me and exciting. There were still gypsies travelling in caravans getting from one point to another as well as older couples in traditional garb riding in their horse drawn wagon through the town.
Quite honestly, I lived there for close to 10 years and I really loved it. In addition to the joys of Portugal itself, being in Europe made for easy travel to other countries. While there I visited Spain, France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, Finland, Sweden, Netherlands and England and Scotland. Also went to Morocco. Spent many great long week-ends in southern Spain, Lisbon, Porto and other interesting parts of Portugal. Drank a lot of wine, ate a lot of fish.
On a trip to Asia, in addition to Japan and Thailand, I visited Hong Kong. While there I took the boat to Macao. Very interesting to see and hear Asian people speaking Portuguese.
Even though I lived there for nearly ten years I was never a legal. I worked there and purchased property and cars and travelled back and forth but was never supposed to be there for more than six months (if memory serves). My ex was from England originally and so when Portugal joined the EU he was fine. As I said earlier, there was a lot of red tape and lots and lots of protocol but the flip side to that was nothing seemed to be enforced. Lucky me having lived there as long as I did as a Canadian.
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Photography was taken from the following Flickr album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pietrofaccioli/albums/72157651438726871