The sun here gives me energy

This month we meet Elly van Hulst (56) and ask her 12 questions about her move to the Algarve. The Dutch ex-athlete moved to the south of Portugal 18 years ago. Before that, she was a world class runner who competed in two Olympic Games; her world record on the 3000m stood unbeaten for over a decade. Currently she lives near São Brás de Alportel, together with husband Theo and their five dogs, where she runs a real estate business.

See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine November 2015


What inspired you to move to the Algarve?

Elly: I first came here in 1980 for training, together with 25 other athletes. In the winter, it’s more convenient to train in Portugal, where the temperature is 20˚C, than in Holland, where it can be minus 2˚C. Your muscles are suppler, the running goes better and your body recovers quicker. We returned every winter for a few months and I felt well here. I already knew that I wanted to move away from Holland after my running career. I’m not a cold weather person. Everything is brighter and nicer when the sun shines, so Portugal was perfect.


When did you feel at home here?

Elly: immediately. As I was competing all over the world, I was travelling a lot, but I instantly had a good feeling about the Algarve. Already during that first visit in 1980, I fell in love with the subtropical climate, the friendly people and the country. Every time I landed on Faro airport and got off the plane, I took a deep breath, took in that particular Algarve smell, -a mixture of sea and pine trees- and thought ‘I’m home again’.


Was it hard to get accustomed to the Portuguese lifestyle?

Elly: it wasn’t too hard. Some things take getting used to though. When building our house, for example, in the beginning we’d ask the plumber or carpenter: ‘Can you come tomorrow and do some work?’ And they replied: ‘Yes’. So the next day we were there, waiting for them. Nobody turned up, which made us quite angry. Now we know that you have to deal with the Portuguese people in a different way. The Dutch, German and English consider it impolite to say ‘yes’ and then don’t come, but the Portuguese find it more impolite to say ‘no’. You have to leave it up to them and ask ‘When can you come?’ Then, the reply will probably be something like: ‘Well, tomorrow isn’t that convenient, but I can come the day after’. Problem solved.


How does your life differ now you live here?

Elly: as moving to Portugal coincided with me stopping running, it was a huge change. Before I moved here, I ran 52 competitions a year and trained the rest of the time. When I had to stop because of exercise-induced asthma, it was hard. I wanted to continue running, but I couldn’t. Starting over somewhere new was a good decision; it would have been way harder for me to deal with the lifestyle change if I had stayed in Holland. Here in Portugal, I had a new country and a new company. I still run, maybe once a month.

Also, I went to the Algarve to have a less hectic life and that’s what I got. Back in the nineties there weren’t that many computers here and house transfers had to be written down, or typed up on a big typewriter; it took hours. When computers finally came into fashion, they stood unused for the first 1.5 years, as nobody knew how to work them. It was rather charming.


What is your favourite Algarve moment?

Elly: early mornings. I’ve got five dogs, all rescue dogs from the Algarve, and I walk them at about 6am when the sun has just risen. It’s quiet; no cars, no people awake yet but plenty of birds and rabbits. During those walks I usually take a break and sit on a rock enjoying the view.


What annoys you here?

Elly: the fact that opening times don’t actually mean opening times. Take for example the Finances in São Brás, which is supposed to open at 9am. So there I am at 9am, waiting in front of the door. Nothing. Three minutes later, the first employee arrives, and at five past nine, the second. Then they have to turn on the lights, unpack their bags, start up their computers, etc. It’s the same in most shops here in the Algarve. I don’t get it: why can’t they just come 15 minutes earlier so business can start at 9 like it’s supposed to? It’s probably my Dutch mentality, but I just can’t get used to this.

What also sometimes annoys me is when two cars pass each other in a narrow street, the drivers recognize each other, wind down their windows and start to chat. If I’m in a hurry and can’t pass, I use my claxon, which makes them angry.


What do you miss most from Holland?

Elly: nothing actually. I like Old Amsterdam, Dutch cheese, but that’s also being sold in Apollonia. And I like Indian cooking, so friends bring over the herbs and spices from Holland. The few times I go back to the Netherlands I do think ‘oh, nice, a kroket’, but you can get those in the Algarve as well, and I never eat them here. As for the Dutch weather, I don’t miss that at all! Rain in the Algarve is good, but just for two days; after that, the sun has to shine again!


Which 5 words would best describe the Algarve for you?

Elly: honesty (of the people here), a relaxed environment, less stress, a lot of sun, and less rules.


What’s your favourite spot?

Elly: São Brás is really nice, it’s got everything. I also love the beach near Carrapateira which is on the west coast of the Algarve, near Bordeira. It’s such a wide beach, with the river mouth ending up in sea. Usually I take my dogs and go for a walk while they splash in the water: pure enjoyment!


In what way does the Algarve inspire you?

Elly: the weather here gives me a lot of energy. I work seven days a week, sometimes from early mornings to late at night. Especially in the summer the days are long, so you can do a lot of viewings in one day. If I’d do the same amount of work in Holland, I’d be a different person. Here, the sun and the nice climate make up for a lot. Also, being my own boss means I can sit in a chair in the sun for an hour in the middle of the day if I want to. Living here is more affordable, so it’s also more relaxed. If three coffees, for example, only cost € 2.40, you take the time to visit a café more often.

Real estate in Portugal is different too; the clients here are happier, more enthusiastic. Buying abroad is a challenge. Their enthusiasm is catching and when showing people around, I always try and also show them a bit of the country, point out a blossoming almond tree for example, or drive through the surrounding villages. It makes the job nicer for me as well.


How’s your Portuguese coming along?

Elly: it could be better. As I mostly work with foreigners, I usually speak English on the job. My Portuguese is probably a bit like ‘I supermarket going to now’, but I can get along fine. In my opinion, if you live here, you should at least try and make an effort to speak the language.


Do you have a secret tip for our readers?

Elly: look further than just the beach. Portugal is such a pretty country; not only the Algarve, but also other parts, like the Alentejo or the Serra da Estrela, which make for a nice day trip. When staying in the Algarve, also consider visiting the roads less travelled. Take for example the old road from São Brás to Lisbon. It has about 365 curves and it takes you an hour to drive 50km, but it’s worth it. Especially in spring time, with cork trees and mimosas in bloom. It’s just gorgeous.


See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine November 2015

Posted in Algarve expat stories.

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