All posts by Alan


In our early days in the Algarve, along with friends, we visited the Piri Piri*, a typically Portuguese restaurant in Quarteira. We mistakenly thought it was a comedy club cum restaurant, firstly by the words over the door, mentioning ‘comida tradicional’** and then by the laughable service from the waiters. I’ll give the waiters their due though, they were obviously playing up for the customers and were quite entertaining, until…but more of that later.

As soon as we sat down we were served pea soup, without being asked. Pea soup with lots of garlic. Pea soup with enough garlic to frighten off Dracula himself! (Funnily enough, garlic is also thought to keep mosquitos at bay. That could be true, as we didn’t see any in the restaurant. Or within a two mile radius.) 

Our drinks and main meal orders were taken and delivered with much gusto and clowning around (the waiters, not us!) accompanied with lots of pats on our backs as they passed our table. I wasn’t sure whether they were trying to be friendly, or to make us burp! Getting desserts was a visual exercise – we had to go to look at the cabinet under the counter and choose our dessert. Our choice was then slammed on the counter and a spoon thrown in, with the instruction to serve ourselves. Platinum service? More like comedy gold!

The food was good (apart from the garlic soup) and overall it was a good experience. Very reasonably priced, including a house wine. (We were even allowed to choose the colour!)

The evening was spoiled for our friend though, when she ripped her new trousers on a nail sticking out on her chair. Our complaint was met with the Portuguese equivalent of “Oh dear” (at least we think it was!) and the waiter replaced the chair with another. But then left the damaged chair out, waiting for another, unsuspecting customer. Eventually, at our friend’s suggestion, they put a note on the chair!

The offending chair with note – “Avariado” – defective/broken/faulty. Not sure if that’s describing the chair or the service.

The waiter made light of the torn trousers*** (possibly still ‘in performance role’?) but with no real acknowledgement of liability or of offering any recompense. What do we have to do for a free beer we wondered! 

At this stage I should say that on the whole, Portuguese people are lovely, friendly, helpful and considerate and that bad service is not the norm. However, say something challenging to them, or complain about their service and faces seem to glaze over, their shutters come down and the doors are closed for business. All metaphorically speaking of course.

Venture into the world of public service bureaucracy and bad service can reach a whole new level! Woe betide anyone who fails to speak Portuguese! I did try, but failed miserably, when attempting to make a Doctor’s appointment at the local Centro de Saude (health centre). First I was told I wasn’t registered (even though I’d had previous appointments) so had to go to Loulé to register. Off I trooped to register in Loulé. There I was told I couldn’t see a Doctor and that I had to return to my local health centre. On returning to the local health centre, armed with a more competent Portuguese speaker (Her Outdoors), I was able to make an appointment. 

People queue at the IMT, looking forward to the the long wait, surly staff and lukewarm welcome.

Undeterred by such appalling service and bureaucracy, we recently embarked on a venture with the Instituto da Mobilidade e dos Transportes (IMT – Driver and vehicle registration) to import a UK registered motorbike. So far, after two trips to the Alfândega and the IMT, several hours on the computer and a number of phone calls, we are still working on it. More of this in a future blog, when we have hopefully completed the venture and recovered from the trauma. 


Random pic of ripped pants, but not our friend’s!

* Other restaurants are available in Quarteira, including our favourite, Tin Tin! We also like Zip Zip in Paderne, and the Bang Bang near Boliqueime. All so good, they named them twice!

**‘comida típica portuguesa’ – traditional Portuguese food’. Easy to think it was a comedy club/restaurant, considering our very basic Portuguese (much improved, but we are still learning!) The copious amount of wine we consumed might also have been a factor!

***The offended trousers were invisibly repaired at an expense far in excess of the cost of the meal. They have subsequently been passed on to a charity shop and were last sighted heading into Nando’s Portuguese restaurant in Cambridge.

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 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…?


  • 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


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 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 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.


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