Living the dream… 3 months on

It was quite easy to leave England.  Or so I thought!  I had a home in the Algarve, and a ready made life, carefully nurtured over 15 years.  A variety of friends awaited, and activities to engage in.  I loved the place I was moving to.  You’ve seen the photos.  How could I not?  And yet… was the honeymoon over?

There was a certain euphoria in making the dream a reality.  Even saying goodbye to lifelong friends was done with gaiety, each one a celebration of our shared lives.  They could visit, couldn’t they?  And the same for my family, though not without a pang or two.  Everyone was excited and pleased for me.  The move went smoothly.  Fragments of my old life, packed in cardboard boxes, made its way overland to join me.  But when it arrived I was filled with dismay.  Much of it seemed irrelevant to my new life, here in the Algarve, squeezing our comfortable space till it felt cramped.  I closed the door on the second bedroom.  Avoiding it all.

I didn’t miss my old home in the UK, as I thought I might, but I did miss its warmth.  I had moved to a land of sunshine and blue skies, but the house was cold.  Designed to keep out heat in the summer, in the winter they are not so easy to keep warm.  Tiled floors, though beautiful, don’t help.  Out and about and busy in the daytime, I was happy enough, but returning home meant putting on extra layers of clothing.  The house is air-conditioned and individual rooms can be heated, but moving between them was uncomfortable, even with plug-in heaters.  I was miserable, and cross with myself besides.  Why was I not happy?  Everyone knew I was living the dream.

Language is so important to me.  I hide behind photographs, but I deal in words.  Somehow it hadn’t mattered when we came to our holiday home but, proudly obtaining residency, I felt inadequate and frustrated by my inability to converse freely with locals.  I still do, but I’m trying!

So much gloom!  Did you know?  Could you tell?  My life in pictures continued to shine forth at intervals.  I reinstated my Monday walks, reflecting the joy I still found in the amazing outdoors, but on a personal level I couldn’t quite find the idyll.  People here are kind, and my disorientation was noted.  We discussed heating issues, and others, and I was assured that the first year could be difficult.  The weight of expectation, perhaps?

Gradually I am getting there.  Most of the boxes are unpacked, and painting done.  With new settees and carpet our home feels comfortable and welcoming.  But I’m not flexible and adaptable.  Why didn’t I know that about me?  My husband has made the adjustment far better, and retained his much needed sense of humour.  And he can still make me smile.  How lucky am I?  Living in ‘almost paradise’.

Linking to Cathy’s Prose invitation, over on Wander.essence.


  1. I read this offline, as I do most posts, and oh- how my empathy flowed/soared in your direction! I well remember long ago during an extreme rainy season in Costa rica… I had walked out to interact with people, most I could not understand b/c of my limited spanish. An American sports program was on the television set of the bar/restaurant/store, and there was a Burger King/Whopper commercial. It showed a warm hb bun, hot crispy fries, and a cola on crushed ice. Ah, I longed for that type of comfort food – and \I didn’t even like Whoppers!!! I could almost taste that coke w/the crushed ice…. Years later, I still recall that moment of extreme homesickness, triggered by a simple commercial!

    Ah, but the people we meet, and the life hurdles we clear! With each move there are new people that come into my life that I cannot imagine knowing, and my life is better because of their presence.

    I admire and respect your post, showing the not-so-sure side, and we are reminded that we all have times like that – but it’s rare to admit it. Thanks for being a light for others, no matter the weather!

    1. Lisa, you say the nicest things! I’m happy tonight, having exchanged a few silly texts with my youngsters. It doesn’t always take much, does it? I’m listening to Biffy Clyro, just because our house used to rock with the sound whenever James was around. 🙂 🙂 This is home and I love it but I do miss them. Hugs, darlin 🙂

      1. On a little calendar I used a quote from Lawrence Welk, “There are good days; there are bad days. Today is one of them.”
        \You’re a strong force yet also delicate and sensitive; like the full moon shining, or the new moon at rest, we need that balance!

  2. Hi Jo!

    Making such a life-altering change – despite it sounding glorious and adventurous – is never easy. And, there will always be ups and downs. Even where the grass is greener. Like you living in the Algarve now, Mark and I have been thought of as “living the dream”. It’s a lifestyle. It doesn’t come without its own challenges. But, indeed, you will find solutions and adapt. Expectations and big plans are the downfall of “dreams”, “goals”, and life changes. Taking it as it comes and being flexible are a must when changing gears, especially when it comes to living in a different country, in a different culture.

    When you described the cold in your new home, I had to think about the multiple-month house sits we have done in San Diego in winter last year, and shorter sits in other warm places, or longer ones over the summer… the houses were always cold inside and while nice outside, we had to put extra layers of clothes on indoors, whether it was summer or winter! I dislike having to do that when it is finally warm out.

    You will make positive changes and you will be happy!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Liesbet! I’m feeling so much better about life, even though it’s teeming with rain today. Happy reservoirs, right? 🙂 🙂 Thinking positive instead of moaning. Today will be a day of housework and learning Portuguese 🙂

  3. You just put into words what I’ve often felt too whenever I move to a new place. It’s almost like growing pains as our heart grows to embrace our new home and experiences. Wishing you much happiness and many beautiful moments as you adjust.

  4. I think you’re brilliant to share the “other side of the coin” with us. Nothing is black and white and nothing is all brightness and color. Learning to live within the shading and shadows is a lifelong endeavor for us all. 💙

  5. Hi, Jo. Your adjustment to a new life resonates with me. Like you, my dream is being realized. But there are still ups and downs regardless of our circumstances. There have been moments in our trips when I’m less than flexible–even though I pride myself on my flexibility. All that change at once is stressful. No doubt about it. Do what I did. Give yourself permission to be grumpy and even miserable at times. It’s part of the discovery process!

  6. It’s tough living in a new country. When you can’t speak or read the language, you are driven to using your eyes and your hands as ways to communicate, to understand, to learn. That can be really difficult if you’re a word-oriented person but I found when I went through that (lived in Japan), my photography changed/evolved because I started using “seeing” in ways I hadn’t before. (This was 30 years ago so didn’t have the same access like the web gives us now). I think part of my unconscious was weirded out by not having access to English to explain everything because that was so my norm before. In the beginning, everything was about comparing — I tried to understand the new place/culture by comparing it to old place/culture. Took time to let that go because even if something seemed similar it wasn’t because the underpinning was different. I think part of the drops in emotions was missing the old social net — not just the close friends but the acquaintances and routines of day to day; and also I think parts of ourselves are anchored in cultural assumptions that we feel are reality and living in a place with different cultural assumptions, those pieces become unmoored. Maybe part of ourselves doesn’t like being unmoored and fights back — gets angry or sad unntil we find new anchors. I was a lot younger than you and single so your experience will be very different but there may be similarities. You may find yourself more adaptable than you think later. The adjustment period is different for everybody. It can be hard in the beginning. And cold? Yuk!

    1. The house does seem warmer now we’ve lived in it for a while, but it’s Spring and the weather has been glorious. Next winter we’ll be better prepared. Thanks for your thoughts 🙂 🙂 Life is mostly pretty wonderful!

  7. I like how you have been so honest here, and possibly expressed things that many people who have moved abroad feel, but don’t like to ‘admit’ to others. Although my displacement here in California is only temporary, I can sympathise with a lot of what you are saying… Many of our belongings which made the long journey by sea to get here, are now stowed away in cupboards (or are back in the packing box they arrived in!) because they just don’t ‘fit’ here and look a bit out of place. I don’t want to dispose of them, because as soon as we are back ‘home’ they will be right again. I think the reality of living somewhere is quite different from being there on an extended holiday.

    1. Thanks, hon. 🙂 🙂 San Diego has a year round climate. doesn’t it, and I could be jealous of that, but really, I have very little cause for complaint! The house feels much warmer than when we moved in last November, and it does feel like home. I just need to work harder at the language. 🙂 Sending hugs!

  8. RJo – life is always about change, isn’t it? After I retired, I told myself to make 5-year plans – that much I could commit to. More than that was difficult for me (we are restless, aren’t we?) But your photos display hopefulness, beauty and clarity. Change is life 🙂 – Best of life to you – as always – Susan

      1. It was a lovely day! Coffee with the t’ai chi group after our session, a bit of food shopping, Portuguese homework and reading up on the roof, then a catch up with a neighbour whose cat I was looking after while she was in the UK (it still doesn’t like me 🙂 ). Just had supper and I need to bash on with the blog, so many thanks to you!

  9. I’m just a couple of years ahead of you on making a big move to a place I consider idyllic. I’m still settling into some of the adjustments and changes that keep cropping up. But in the overall scheme of things, I couldn’t be happier. You’ll get to that point, too. How could you not!

    PS… I left tile floors behind in the old place. They are not ideal in any sense. Sounds like carpets will be helpful.

  10. Dear Jo I’m so pleased I did a quick browse through the reader this morning and found this so very honest and touching update on your new life. I’m sure non of your blogging community guessed the underlying anguish you so bravely hide. It takes courage to put it out there. Language must be a huge hurdle, but I’m sure that will slowly come to you and console yourself with the thought that, I’m sure, winter over there will be a lot shorter than in UK. Then you will be pleased you have a cool house come summer time. Hang in there, be gentle on yourself, keep walking.

    1. The response has been amazing, Pauline, and people so very kind. The house is much warmer now than when we first moved out and the language… well, it just needs time. I’ve had the most wonderful day today, watching the Children’s Parade for Carnival, then a long, lazy lunch and a wander through Tavira’s lovely back streets. I really don’t have anything to complain about when I look around me. Thanks so much, darlin! Hope you’re having a lovely time with family. 🙂 🙂

  11. Jo I’m thinking that making such a move, no matter how positive, is a huge adjustment. I think there has to be some grieving for a life left behind which in time allows the new book to open and be written. Be gentle with yourself my friend. Hugs from frost bitten Canada. Typing under a blanket. 😊

    1. Bless you, hon! 🙂 🙂 Nobody is happy all day every day, Sue, are they, nor should they expect to be so. It wouldn’t be honest to pretend, and I know that a lot of people have been curious about how it’s going, so I thought, time for an update. But there is so much positive about this new life- it’s just getting old me to accommodate to it (and work a bit more on the language 🙂 ) Thanks, darlin!

      1. Sending hugs Jo. No one can be happy all of the time. I appreciate the update and your honesty. I think it helps others when we can show that life isn’t always easy. We all have bumps in the road. Xo

  12. You’re doing incredibly well Jo, it can take an incredibly long time to adjust to a new life in a new place so three months really isn’t long is it? I totally get the language issue, you want to feel like you’e getting somewhere with it I guess. Hopefully it’ll come in time. As for the house, all homes in hot countries lack the warmth and charm of cold-climate ones. But I’m sure you’ll slowly adapt and in time wonder what all the fuss was about.

  13. I promise that if anyone “gets” this post and your feelings, it is I! It took me a whole year to adjust to my first move out of a long-time home, and then we switched gears and moved even farther a year later. That was two years ago, and I am just now coming to terms with my new house and, to some extent, my new life. I went from cold (but cozy) to sunny, green, and warm also (where my blood promptly thinned and I felt cold all the time!) and from an old house with warm wood to a modern house with glass and concrete. I missed my tiny grocery store where I knew I’d see a friend every single time I walked in. For the last 3 years, I have not once run into an acquaintance at the store; my husband laughs that this affects me, but even though everyone here speaks my language, they might as well not since no one talks to me on these daily outings. (The good part here: I can wear messy ponytails and workout clothing all day long and know that no one I know will see me!)

    I think you also got the vacation-home-turned-permanent-home shock. We have long thought they we would retire someday on the island where my parents currently live, my brother owns a house, and the rest of my family vacations. But little inklings, including the experience you are having, give us pause. Maybe the specialness of that place lies exactly in the fact that it is special! – that it is a place where we have no real responsibilities for a week or two! This place we are now felt like a vacation place, but it didn’t have those memories; perhaps that was a good thing.

    I do believe we are adaptable creatures, and I think those with naturally positive outlooks do best, which makes me believe that you will overcome these early feelings of displacement. I thought I WAS adaptable, as you did, and that nasty little surprise exacerbated things. Not only was I not perfectly happy with my seemingly idyllic new surroundings, but I thought I had failed in some way to boot, that I was a different person from who I thought I was all along. I have a less angsty husband who struggled to understand my inner unhappiness and grouchiness. I could go on and on, but what good is it to know someone else dealt with this? I guess I just want you to be understood. I did get past a very low stage; only you will know how to get past yours, but I feel strongly that you will!

    1. Bless you for this, Lexie 🙂 🙂 People have been so kind, when they might well have said ‘give that woman a kick up the Jacksie!’ My husband has been getting quite exasperated, in a ‘what the heck else can I do to make you happy’ sort of way. He has had to tackle DIY and decorating, not to mention registering with the health service, all in a foreign language and without a great deal of help from me, it has to be said. The house is warming up now that we’re here full time, and we have made some lovely friends. Most people nod and smile at you in the street. I’ve managed to get my hair cut here for the first time and could exchange a few pleasantries with the hairdresser. I still wander the back streets and think what a lovely place I’ve come to. Will it be my forever home? I don’t know! There’s a lot of world I’d love to see but I’m not brave enough to do it alone, and Mick is fully content to stay here. We have family and friends coming in the next couple of months, and a long-promised trip to the Azores. Not much cause for misery, is there? But I did feel I needed to keep it real on here. Sending hugs to you, and thank you 🙂

  14. Oh Jo sorry to hear it’s a bit of a struggle at present 😦 It will naturally take time to adjust to living in a place full time rather than just as a visitor – brave of you to put it all out there in writing and hope it has helped to share. Pretty photos don’t always tell the real story of what is going on behind the scenes – that is part of the problem with Instagram and Facebook it’s just a snapshot and an edited one at that! I can well relate to feeling the cold in winter – I don’t think I’ve ever felt so cold in my life as the first winter we spent here in Perth. Naively I assumed we wouldn’t need a heater! Houses here are built to cool places down in summer not warm them up in winter and there just isn’t the same level of insulation that you’d get back in Europe. Suffice to say we quickly had to go out and buy a couple of heaters when the cooler nights began to take hold in April and May. It can feel bitterly cold in the houses in the winter months but be warmer on a fine day in the sun outside – my German friend says the same and of course no one back home can understand why she is complaining! We have wised up though and are now spoiled with a beautiful real wood stove fire in the kitchen/family area plus an extra gas one in the sitting room and reverse cycle air con/heating upstairs so it’s always warm and toasty in the cooler months. Plenty of blankets (including electric ones for the bed) and Ugg boots are essential too! The language will naturally take time but being surrounded with it will help. I know I was lost when I first had to go up into the Advanced German language group that I do each week owing to insufficient numbers in the lower group but eventually it started to click and I can understand and speak so much more now. In fact I now watch the tv news in German (on Deutsche Welle ) – great for my language practice and far less depressing than the English speaking news at present! Hope you gradually start to feel more comfortable and hopefully the onset of spring will help, take care xx 🙂

    1. Thanks for this lovely and supportive message, Rosemay. As with most things, you’ve hit the nail on the head, but it isn’t as gloomy as it might sound and we are definitely getting there. 🙂 🙂 Bright blue this morning- t’ai chi and maybe I’ll attempt the hairdressers, after I put the washing out. Hugs, darlin!

      1. You’re so welcome Jo – old cliche but taking each day as it comes is probably the best approach. Also so glad that you felt you could share with blogging friends too as life can be tough at times. Bright blue skies and t’ai chi sound good to me. Hopefully you go ok at the hairdressers too and they don’t do anything too drastic! Maybe pictures and hand gestures? Still should expand your Portuguese vocab! Take care and many hugs! 🙂 🙂

  15. Hello Jo, I enjoyed reading this. We have just bought a small house in Ireland and we are planning to use it as a holiday home and then move there permanently, so this was very interesting.

    1. Well, you won’t have language issues, Emma- or not very real ones, anyway 🙂 🙂 And that and the cold evenings have been the biggest problems. I will envy you your roaring fire 🙂 But it’s getting warmer here, and I love the place. I’m just a slow adapter.

      1. Me too – I have moved so many times when I was a child and as a young adult, I didn’t want to move again but various forces (both positive and negative ones) are pushing me that way.

  16. It’s funny, the little daily pleasures can come to mean a lot in our lives. As I get older, being warm enough, especially in the evenings, matters to me, so I can sympathize with you if you find your house too cool. I hope you’ll find a way to find a sense of warmth there.

    Although I lived abroad for about twenty years, I went because of my husband’s job, so my expectations were modest. I can see that there might be a downside to moving to such a beautiful place as Portugal where expectations are high. From what I have seen of you, though, you have boundless energy and a big love of life, so I expect you to adjust to life in your new home and find ways to make it as enjoyable and worthwhile as you could hope for.

    1. Thanks a lot, Nicki. The house is starting to feel much warmer as it is lived in, and loved, and of course Spring is well and truly here. The language is my biggest challenge, and that needs time.

  17. Jo, I feel for you. I loved France. I was happy. We had friends. We were busy and purposeful. We spoke the language. And yet…. and yet I was always homesick underneath. In the end, so was Malcolm too – and he never had been, ever, before it suddenly struck him. It was one – by no means the only – reason we came back. Now though, as Brexit begins to change Britain in unimaginable ways, I wonder… Good luck. You’re working hard at your new life. You’ll get there! xx

    1. I hope so, Margaret, and thanks for the good wishes. We have a lot going for us, and people have been very kind, both in reality and on here. I half expected laughter at my self-indulgence. Giving myself a shake and off to t’ai chi soon, and the hairdresser’s, if I dare venture there. 🙂

  18. Oh, my dear I misread ambivalence for contentment. I didn’t know, I couldn’t tell. It’s a huge move so it’s bound to be one of mixed feelings. Your honesty is wonderful in a world of airbrushing to make things perfect. Just as well you cohabit with a smiling man – although that could be difficult too. Store hugs in places where you need them most, for when you need them most – although even hugs aren’t all-powerful.

    1. The magic carpet of words, Meg. It can fly you very high but the dipping low feels precarious. Those hugs are precious to me. He isn’t a hugging man, and we’ve had plenty of cross words as he struggles to understand. I can feel his frustration as he wonders what it takes to make me happy. We can soar very high on occasion, and we can usually laugh at ourselves- sometimes with a little prompting. 🙂 🙂 I meant to say all this in an email, Meg, but it’s good to put it out there. The responses have been so very kind and thoughtful. I half expected to be laughed at for my self indulgence, because there is no real doubt in my mind that I’m living the dream. And how dare I feel sorry for myself, with lovely Bobby just 3 weeks dead? I need to conquer the language,darlin. That’s the biggest issue, and it needs more time than I have been willing to invest. At the Seniors club, where I will attend t’ai chi later this morning, Portuguese is the common language because they are a very mixed bunch. Some wonderful characters and very welcoming, but still I don’t find it easy to blend in. 🙂 But I could just as easily feel that at ‘home’, without the language barrier. Don’t worry for me, Meg! I will be fine 🙂 Just keep sending the hugs.

  19. I am so appreciative of your honesty, Jo. I think I only saw and heard the “up” part of your experience. But I did wonder! It was such a big adventure for you to undertake, and I know you’re slowly making your new home personal and it will one day fit you perfectly, but the adjustments have to be significant. I admire you following your dream and agree with you entirely, that each day it is going to be more of a settled peace. It sure is lovely! 🙂

    1. I can’t fool myself, Debbie, so it’s no use pretending, but I do have a wonderful life here. I’m just not as adaptable as I hoped I’d be 🙂 🙂 I don’t even know why I thought I would be. Self-awareness is obviously not my strong point 🙂 But I can laugh at myself, and I’m mostly happy, so thanks for your support, hon.

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