Desculpe, eu falo um pouco de português…

or…. Why Learning the Lingo is a good idea

After two years of having a house in Portugal, ‘Her Outdoors’ (my lovely wife Angela) wrote a blog on our different approaches to ‘Learning the Lingo’. A further two years on, I thought I’d update you on our progress. Or lack of it on my behalf. However, to use a gardening analogy, there are green shoots of hope, thanks to a new online course I have started. More of this later.

Why do you need to learn Portuguese when everyone in the Algarve speaks English, you may ask? The short answer is you don’t, but they don’t. Sadly, the majority of “estrangeiros/expats” don’t bother to learn the language. Not surprising, as some expats only have to enter a shop and they get a cheery “Hello Mr/Mrs English person.” It could be the shorts in winter, or the socks with sandals, or maybe it’s the look of panic on our faces as we silently practice our opening sentence?

From my experience, it seems that some Portuguese can speak English, but choose not to. This is something I’ve encountered in bars/restaurants, in the Camara (Town Hall) in the IMT (Instituto da Mobilidade e dos Transportes – (equivalent to DVLA in UK) the Centro de Saude (Health Centre) and even the GNR (Police). The reason I was with the GNR? See my previous blog on Unwelcome Visitors.

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.
If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

(Nelson Mandela – spoke two languages)

It has been in these ‘official’ situations that I have been rather embarrassed that I haven’t made much progress in learning Portuguese. After all, we are living in Portugal… and what do some Brits say about foreigners in UK…? What I have learned, is that starting with a few words of apology for my limited Portuguese such as “Desculpe, eu falo um pouco de português…” seems to unlock their English vocabularly. If that doesn’t work I resort to making a fool of myself by trying Eurospeak … “Quelle heure ist es mi querido amigo”. No wonder they don’t give me the time of day!

Unlocking the vocab of beaurocrats, officials and professionals is one benefit from learning the local language, avoiding embarrassment another. But there are other benefits, although I forget what they are…

Donald Trump only speaks one language… too late to learn another?

Oh yes, I remember – to stave off alzheimers! Research suggests that part of maintaining a good memory and healthy brain should include challenging and expanding the mind. One of the most beneficial and successful ways to do this is by learning a new language. Another way of challenging and expanding the mind is by integrating into the local community to fully experience a different culture.

Boris is multi lingual – so be careful of learning too many languages…

So, where were we two years ago… Oh yes, Angela and I were having private lessons with a young bi-lingual lady. Unfortunately she had to stop due to health reasons and my Portuguese effort lapsed. Angela persevered and embarked on an online course, with impressive progress. She seemed to be enjoying the classes and spoke highly of the teacher, the methods and materials used. Not to be outdone, I recently decided to have another go and enrolled on the level 2 course.

I have to confess to being a lazy learner. There, I’ve said it! Like most people, I do need to feel that I am progressing when trying to learn something new. In previous classes I didn’t get that feeling, so motivating myself was hard work. Fortunately, thanks to this new online class with  portugueselanguagelessons.net I can see progress already.

Emma, the tutor, is great. Well prepared, calm when faced with students’ technical/organisational problems, very committed and uses constructive criticism to improve pronunciation and sentence structure. The echo of unhelpful comments from a previous tutor such as … ”Alan, you are getting as bad as ??? (name omitted to save embarrassment)” is a thing of the past.

So what makes the courses effective? They are well planned and incorporate different materials. It’s a very interactive course – there’s no hiding at the back of the class (my usual tactic) as, following a plenary session, students are paired up to work on class activities in ‘breakout rooms’ – an unfortunate term as there’s no escape! At first this was daunting, perhaps more so for me as I started on the level 2 course due to the suggestion from ‘Her Outdoors’ that I would be bored on a basic level 1 course. Her other suggestion that I suffer from ADHD is said ‘tongue in cheek’, (I think…) but, ” You have a low boredom threshold” is not too far off the mark.

I’ll never be a highly committed language student like ‘Her Outdoors’ (she listens to language stuff while gardening) but I’m hoping that I can sustain my enthusiasm to learn Portuguese and that the alzheimer’s research is right about the benefits. The question is, can I continue to remember to turn up for the class…?

OTHER ONLINE RESOURCES USED:

  • Vocab: *Quizlet, Memrise, Duolingo, Drops (there are free versions but upgrades are available)
  • On-line Dictionary/Reference: Linguee (best for EPin context: uses the word in example sentences) 
  • Conjuga-me (verb conjugation/quizzes) 
  • Reverso (gives pronunciation) 
  • Google translate (for longer passages – use at your peril!)

*Quizlet I find is particularly useful for learning new vocabulary and improving pronunciation.

Splendour, spikes surprises & sundance

Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.

Random, irrelevant quote from Aldous Huxley, who was possibly high at the time, due to LSD. Read on for evidence…

What a lovely surprise I got the other day. Well, two surprises actually. Firstly, while out doing some early morning perusing in the garden, I was delighted to discover that one of my Cactii. what I believe is a Echinopsis Spachianus (otherwise known as a Golden Torch Cactus), was in full flower and what a dramatic bloom it has!

Echinopsis Spachiana

Larger than my hand and sweetly scented like almonds it is simply magical. I had noticed chocolate coloured hairs forming, followed by an elongated furry, fluffy bud which swelled. This resembled some kind of freakish sci-fi fantasy. And now the short-lived flower has burst forth. This flower is magical in more than just appearance. While trying to ID it I found it contains mescaline, famous for natural psychoactive effects which Aldous Huxley described as ‘formless kaleidoscope-like distortions from light coming through the eyelids’.

But, before you consider trying to harness this LSD like power, you would have to negotiate through the treacherous, perfidious thorns. Definitely not for the faint hearted. Unless you are looking for an out of body experience, accompanied with pain!

The path to enlightenment, otherwise known as a Golden Torch Cactus

My second surprise was getting such an instant response from ‘Sundance’, despite him being buried in his computer. He promptly went out, took a look, gave a few “wows” and dashed back for his camera! Rarely have I been able to get such an instant response to anything that isn’t football related. Quite fortunate really, as this inflorescent only opens at night. and blooms for just a few hours. Here is the result…

Short lived splendour of Echinopsis Spachiana

Mérida, MEMORIES, MONTY PYTHON & Ben Hur

I’m not the most thorough researcher when it comes to travel plans, preferring to take what comes, as we meander along our journey, but Her Outdoors is . So, whenever we travel from/to the UK in our camper van, she likes to find and take in, the the many Unesco world heritage sites on our route through France, Spain and Portugal. Sometimes, through shortage of time, or lack of internet connection, the research can be minimal and we miss things, or leave them for another visit.

On a previous trip we visited Mérida in Spain and were quite impressed with the aqueduct there we came upon. As we were keen to get to Portugal, we only stayed one night and so had a quick recce at the aqueduct, rather than walk along it’s original 17 km length! We took the pics, parked up for the night and then got an early start the next day. What a mistake!

Mérida Aquaduct

Alzheimer’s Alert here… last year when we decided to visit Mérida, we had forgotten all about our previous visit! What a wonderful surprise, then to discover the amazing and extensive Roman ruins that we had been totally unaware of on our previous visit.

Wondering about the Monty Python and Ben Hur references? You’ll have to watch the video to find out… Or, unlike me, do more detailed research!

MONSARAZ

Monsaraz

Monsaraz isa hill top village, some 200km east of Lisbon, near the border with Spain. We visited on our way back from the UK in our campervan. Monsaraz is a delightful place which attracts many tourists.

Monsaraz is just 150km away from Merida in Spain, the largest Roman settlement on the Iberian peninsula. Watch out for a future blog and video on Merida.

Her Outdoors shouting for help… in the great outdoors!

The lake you pass on the route in from Spain provided us with a very refreshing swim, on a baking hot day, prior to walking round the village. It seemed like we had the whole lake to ourselves. Except for a lovely French couple we met who were also enticed by the cooling waters of the lake.

Refreshed and ready to roam…

Sintra

Sintra is a place that is well worth a visit when you are in or near Lisbon. Situated about 30km from Lisbon it’s a delightful town situated within the hills of the Serra de Sintra. But be warned, if you are going with a caravan, the advice is, don’t!


One of the less tight spots

We travelled there in our motorhome, 7.1 metres long and 2.2 metres wide. Whilst we managed on the tight, twisty roads, it’s not recommended. Our quest to find an overnight parking spot was an adventure, which culminated in a misty drive through the hills, then through a little village with about 15cm between the wing mirrors and the house walls. We couldn’t even get out to take a pic! Eventually, we found a secluded lay-by on a quiet road, shrouded in a thick mist. Very atmospheric.

Breakfast Coffee @ Royal Picnic spot

We awoke to a fabulous view to the coast, a short distance away, and across the road was a royal picnic area! What an amazing find, what serendipity. The added bonus for us was that it was very near the Penn Palace, our destination for the day (see the video below).

algarve Succulent gardening

Her Outdoors is involved with three Algarve gardening groups, the aim of many of the groups is to share their interest, experience, expertise and knowledge. Normally this involves visits to each others gardens (followed by lunch!).

One of the groups she is involved with is a Succulent Appreciation Society. They decided to visit our garden and do something a little different. by developing an area into a succulent garden. The quandary for her Outdoors was deciding which area to develop. See what they achieved in a couple of hours!

From this…
To this in 2 hours!

Watch the video!

A 2 hour garden makeover

Early, Surly and Burly – how to register your Driving Licence in Portugal.

Excitedly, we rose at 6am to get ready for our day out. We’d heard about how popular it was, and that only 50 people were allowed in per day so that people were queuing from the early hours of the morning for the privilege. Not wanting to miss out and to avoid waiting for 7/8 hours, we got there for 7.30am and were relieved to find ourselves 16th in the queue. Success, we thought! But then we started to worry when other people started joining the ones in front of us! More on this later…

Our day out, you ask? To the O Instituto da Mobilidade e dos Transportes (IMT) office in Faro to register our British driving licences before the Brexit deadline. (Apologies for mentioning B*****, but it’s a vital part of the story.) The implications of not registering driving licences include fines, being unable to drive and possibly having to take a driving test!

7.30am in the growing queue… which stretched around the corner!

While in the queue, we had a panic when we realised that we had a vital bit of evidence missing, so had to dash off to a nearby kiosk for photocopies of driving licences and passports, returning just as they were opening the office. Once inside, we were given a ticket like the ones at the supermarket meat counter – quite apt really…) and readied ourselves for a long wait.

Krafty Kow Sauce!

What became apparent was that one woman, who had ‘snook’ in the queue, somehow got a handful of tickets from the security guard who was issuing tickets, (apparently there because of scuffles previously because of queue jumpers…). We wondered whether she’d mistaken the IMT for a supermarket meat counter and was planning on having a BBQ, or whether she was an agent, getting tickets for her clients. It turned out to be the latter, not the fatter! Lots of looks and murmurings ensued from some of the disgruntled, but less than rebellious crowd, but no direct challenges. What a sauce that woman had – but not the BBQ type!

IMT Lottery Numbers…

After 90 minutes of waiting patiently, our numbers came up. Her Outdoors (indoors for a change) was lucky, being served by a pleasant, friendly woman, I on the other hand wasn’t! I was served by a burly, surly woman who took to banging on the glass partition to suppress the noisy, increasingly rebellious hordes. She did this while chomping on her breakfast, avoiding eye contact typing one fingered and who returned my licence by throwing it at me. I have some sympathy for someone doing a boring, repetitive job but… It’s one of Portugal’s mysteries how a country full of such lovely, friendly people chooses some of the less lovely and friendly ones to work in the IMT/Camara etc. Or is it that British expats are losing their charm and welcomeness?

The actual admin part was quite straightforward, with only a smattering of Portuguese used and some gesticulating. I avoided using any rude gesticulations to convey my thoughts on the experience and was sent on my merry way with a withering hand wave.

To register your licence you should go armed with originals and photocopies of:

  • A completed IMT Modelo 13 application form;
  • Proof of residency;
  • Proof of identity; (Passport/ID)
  • Your Fiscal (tax) number (NIF);
  • Your current driving licence (both sides);

Afterwards, you will be given a paper that allows you to drive, albeit within Portugal. If the validity of the paper expires before you receive your new licence, all you need to do is to get up at 6am, queue for hours and… Happy driving!

Algarve Winter Gardening

In January and February the garden is full of colour, a time when we see the bottom meadow at its very best. While the top meadow has more varied wild flowers, the lower one is covered in almost luminous verdant green, speckled with dazzling little yellow flowers, the oxalis. I have a love/hate relationship with this persistent little plant which is almost impossible to eradicate. It’s a bully, not a comfortable companion to other less invasive plants and in fact, it’s having a high old time all over rural Algarve. But after getting used to parched brown earth one has to admit they do make a wonderful display.

Oxalis

This is the setting for our almond trees which are wearing their wedding dress again, albeit less showy than usual after Alan’s severe pruning last year. Then there’s aloe arborescens thrusting their red-hot-poker flowers heaven-wards while the anoenium’s conical yellow blooms provide a halo effect. You might be forgiven for wondering how crocosmia is in flower in winter but in fact it’s chasmanthe floribunda, commonly know as African flag which produces long tubular bright orange more open flowers all winter. Oh and the first poppy is in bloom, just to remind us of the feast of red to come. 

Almond inspired
Dolce & Gabbana.

Talking about almond blossom, and remembering that February is a romantic time of year, (we’ll at least on the 14th) I recently read a lovely tale about St Valentine and the girl whose sight he miraculously restored. When he was martyred, she planted an almond tree on his grave, or so the legend goes, thought to be the reason why the Almond tree is used as a symbol for love and virginity. Isn’t it wonderful the way nature, art and romance is intertwined?

Van Gogh’s Almond Blossom

Algarve Building Planning Process

Congratulations…

We’ve just celebrated our third anniversary, it being three years since we embarked on our latest venture. We were warned by several friends that we could be in for a rocky ride. We didn’t expect it to be plain sailing, but neither did we expect three years later to be still having basic communication problems! And who do we have to thank: Loulé Camara? Our Architect? Our own naivety?  Obviously I’m not referring to our marriage, (although we did get wed three years ago) I’m referring to our planning application for a bathroom extension.

Fine for some people…

We’ve been very happy since we moved to Portugal and have particularly enjoyed developing our garden. We wish we could say the same for our house. The main issue is that we have a very small bathroom: no proper shower and not even a full bath. Having lived in the Sudan, ‘Her Outdoors’ thinks what we have is luxurious, however not everyone likes the ‘Bohemian’ lifestyle. When family and friends stay, we want them to feel comfortable, hence our need for a modest bathroom extension and outdoor shower near the pool.

We employed an Architect to start the planning process in January 2016, thinking it would take probably a year to submit the plans and complete the build. However, three years on, we’ve only recently had our building project rejected, mainly because our annex is not connected to the main building. It seems that even with the best scenario, it’s likely to take at least another 12 months before we can start building.

So why has it taken so long you ask (well you might not ask, but I’ll tell you anyway!). One factor in the process taking so long is because we are trying to follow the ‘correct process’; find an architect, draw up plans, submit an application, find a builder etc. The ‘incorrect way’ is to find a builder,  build,  then employ an architect to draw up what has already been built. The final stage is to submit the project and argue the toss with the Camara, or get fines/penalties. Many don’t even bother with the final step. Submitting a project that is, fines or penalties are non negotiable! Getting planning approval is essential in obtaining an ‘Habitation Licence‘ which is vital if you want to sell your property.

Perhaps our biggest mistake was that we never met our architect. Because of the language difficulties, it seemed easier to communicate online. We did approach a number of Architects and went with a ‘local’ architect who had a good command of English besides being competitively priced! Or so we thought. During the course of the process we have discovered that he is currently based in the UK and that the business address he uses on official documents is from N Portugal. One of our prime requirements when seeking an architect was a local person, with experience of dealing with Loulé Camara as they are notoriously difficult to deal with!

We knew when we bought the property that the pool wasn’t legal, but this is a common occurrence in Portugal. We were assured that the legalisation process would be relatively straightforward and negotiated a reduction on the price to cover costs. However, when submitting our building plans we discovered that the annex is also not legal and therefore we had to re-submit plans. We have subsequently discovered that some roadside walls surrounding the property have not been included in the project plans. So, more plans to submit!

Apart from realising how gullible we are, we’ve learned quite a lot from the process of buying a property and embarking on building plans. We now know the limitations of building in ‘RAN’ or semi-agriculture zones. We’ve learned that it takes over a month to get an appointment at the Council and that if the Camera official decides to take a holiday then the appointment is cancelled. We know that if we did it again we’d definitely approach it differently:

  • Get the full history of the property before you buy.
  • Check that the habitation licence reflects the property you are buying.
  • Don’t rely on your Lawyer to check all is in place.
  • Meet the architect before starting the process.
  • Check out the Architect’s credentials, past projects and experience of working with the local Camara.
  • Insist on regular communications and receiving copies of any letters etc from the Camara.
  • Attend any meetings with the architect and Camara officials where possible.
  • Make fee payments based on progress.

Now, where’s that bottle so we can celebrate… or rather commiserate with each other!

EnglishPortugueseDutchFrenchSwedishGermanItalianHungarianSpanishArabicRussianChinese (Simplified)