Week 23: First days

Leaving the ferry behind in Bilbao and driving off down south

Disembarking in Bilbao and driving off down south

The day’s crossing from Portsmouth to Bilbao was unexpectedly enjoyable. Our deluxe cabin – yes, we pushed the boat out – had plenty of space and two forward-facing windows. We arrived in Bilbao on a beautiful morning, the sun scattering silver flakes over a glossy sea.

Segovia's famous aqueduct

Segovia’s famous aqueduct

We then travelled slowly through Spain, driving four to five hours a day, staying the first night in Segovia and the second night in Mérida. Spanish main roads are wide and largely empty and make for fuel-efficient driving, though an economy of fuel must be the only good economy these roads represent. We, at least, were grateful for them. The third day we drove through the Sierra Aracena, which was beautiful and lush, then crossed the bridge over the Rio Guadiana into Portugal – we were home.

About to arrive in Portugal. In the distance you can just about make out the bridge over the Rio Guadiana, the river border between this part of Spain and Portugal

About to arrive. In the distance you can just about make out the bridge over the Guadiana, the river border between this part of Spain and Portugal

I especially liked that we arrived in the Algarve on what would have been my father’s birthday. The only tiny blot on the landscape was a niggling small cold I had, just a few sniffles and a bit of fuzzy brain. I expected to throw it off immediately.

We’re hiring First Friends’ chalet for the next four weeks while we get ready to move into our new home. As we arrived, they helped us unpack. The contents of our small car filled every surface inside the chalet and the veranda outside as well. It looked like the exploded view for a puzzle you would never attempt to complete. But then we shouldn’t have to do it again. We’re not far from our new home now. After a lovely evening, we had an early night, then the problem with my lungs began. It seemed a monster had taken up residence in my chest. It came accompanied by a full pulmonary orchestra of rattles, wheezes, whistles and clangs. For the next 24 hours, it was as much as I could do to breathe. Neither of us slept. Husband went off on his own on Sunday to see the house and greet the Sensibles; a visit we had long ago scheduled in.

This became unexpected blot number 2. Husband returned downcast. The Sensibles wanted to know if they could postpone their leaving. The estate agent, they said, had given them to believe that this might be possible, by up to two weeks.

Oh no. No, no, no. We would have nowhere to stay by then, and a pantechnicon’s worth of possessions would arrive and have nowhere to go.

Monday 27 October

Twenty-four hours after the pulmonary orchestra started up, it left. Only a desultory flautist remained. A decent night’s sleep was possible despite the occasional mournful piping. By the following day, the flautist had left too. We had a 9.30 meeting with our estate agent. Words would have to be spoken.

We met over a bica at our regular café. (Yes, we have a regular café!) After greetings had been exchanged but before we’d raised our complaint, the estate agent’s phone rang. The conversation was long, heated and in Portuguese, but Husband understood it pretty well, and I got the gist. It was Mr Sensible who’d called, and the estate agent’s side of the conversation could be summed up like this: ‘Senhor, I do not know what planet you are on but nowhere here on Earth could you sell a house, take the money and then carry on living there. It simply doesn’t happen.’ It seemed effective, if somewhat harsh.

The estate agent then took us to Tavira to organise a whole bunch of important things. I should mention that although the pulmonary flautist had departed, he had left behind a small and rather upset dog. The dog mostly whined and growled, but occasionally had a fit of barking. This did not escape the agent’s notice, who added to the tour of Tavira a clinic where I could get help.

Our agent, we discovered, has a remarkable ability to do a lot in a small amount of time. She circumvented queues by catching someone’s eye, posing a quick question and getting either the answer she needed or an appointment later on at a fixed time. We discovered the best place to park, the photocopy shop, the telecoms company, the bank, the local lawyer, and more. She achieved quite a lot of this by talking everyone to death in whatever language was required. For us, this is an English she has streamlined by abandoning articles and prepositions, and for whose word order she has scant regard. Her finest moment came when she stopped and made a phone call in the street. A window on the first floor just above her head opened and an arm came out. I identified the arm as probably belonging to the lawyer I’d glimpsed earlier in the day. The agent reached up with a sheaf of newly photocopied papers, the hand took them and withdrew, and she flashed us a grin of pure satisfaction as we went on our way. How clever was that?

Also pretty clever was the appointment she set up with Mr Vinegar at the bank – quite literally his name; he wasn’t acidic at all. Instead he was another in our line-up of pleasant, efficient, charming Portuguese professionals. There must be some rotters out there; we just haven’t met them. It was a long meeting – by this time our agent had moved on – but at the end of two hours we had opened our bank account. We already had fiscal numbers (rather like NI numbers) from our lawyer, and with two forms of ID apiece the rest was relatively easy.

One of the charming things about Mr Vinegar is that he uses the word ‘imagine’ rather like we might use ‘if’. When I’ve learnt some Portuguese, I might discover this is a faux ami; or it might turn out to be a delightful quirk of his own. Every possibility was presented in this way. ‘Imagine you want a credit card as well as a debit card.’ ‘Imagine you want a savings account to earn interest.’ ‘Imagine you want to take out more than 200 euros in a single day.’ Yes, just imagine! Not only did we have a flesh-and-blood bank manager, whom we were invited to call with any query or request, but he made banking seem almost thrilling. Imagine!

I love it here.


PS As I was typing this blog entry, the Sensibles came to visit us at the chalet. Husband has gone off to see his baking guru in Scotland, Andrew Whitley, to take a course entitled Baking for a Living. So I heard, in German this time, their side of the story. They want nothing more than to hand over the house to us and leave on Saturday 15 November, driving home with a trailer and reaching Germany on the Sunday, when there are no lorries on the roads. The completion of a property transaction, however, has to be on a weekday. So could the completion be on the nearest possible weekday beforehand, and could they and their trailer-load remain at the house until the Saturday? The ‘two weeks’ idea came from a set of crossed wires, they explained, now straightened out. I checked with Husband, just landed in a cold and wet UK. This sounds all right to us.

Husband's first loaves made in the Algarve

Husband’s first loaves made in the Algarve


  1. Penny Johnstone

    This has to be your best blog yet, I laughed from start to finish and thought it was a visual as well as verbal
    masterpiece! Life is clearly not going to be dull in Portugal, but what happened at the clinic? Has the dog left? xxx

  2. Chris Bosworth

    What a wonderful piece of writing! I am really going to enjoy reading your future blogs…..Your agent sounds amazing, so organised and just what I imagine one would need when embarking on such an adventure as yours!! Hope you are feeling better now and that the Sensibles move out on the agreed date….

  3. fatma

    Well well, finally the fruition of all the months organizing and angst – well almost, 15 November? ‘O’ Day, otherwise known as Occupation Day! And Husband no sooner arrived than back in Scotland? Did I read right? Were you driving through Spain ‘to’, as I was driving through Spain ‘back’? Something poetic in that but not sure what. Breathe, in….and out. Take in the air. Touch the earth. Look forward to next installment of the pragmatic Estate Agent, and ‘O’ Day!!

  4. Kate (Kelly-Tanguay)

    Lovely to hear you have arrived safely, orchestras, flautists and dogs not withstanding. It would almost be worth moving countries to find a bank manager like your’s..I wonder is he a fan of John Lennon?
    I love reading your writing and am looking forward to the next instalment only the day after tomorrow (I’m late picking this up). Hurrah!


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