Just like a holiday

This month we meet John Martin Bradley (54) and ask him 12 questions about his move to the Algarve. Originally from the UK, John moved to the south of Portugal two years ago. Together with his children Thomas (15) and Tilly (13) and husky dog Amy, he now lives in the centre of Lagos where he works as a photographer and writer. His latest book is called Travels with an African Husky.

See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine June 2016

What inspired you to move to the Algarve?

John: on my birth certificate it says ‘Lagos, Nigeria’. My dad was a commercial pilot so we travelled around a lot – I’ve lived in 24 different towns. I always thought it’d be funny to visit Lagos in Portugal and tell the people there I’m originally from Lagos.

Joking aside, I lived in Cape Town with my kids for six years. It was a dangerous city, full of kidnappings and murders. So I looked for a place which was safer, but with a similar climate. I briefly went back to the UK, but the weather was terrible. Then I found the Algarve: I came here in March 2014 and the sun was shining, it was just great. A few weeks later, my then 11 year old daughter asked if she could buy an ice-cream and I agreed. She waited for me to come along, as I had always done in Cape Town, but I told her she could go alone. I watched her from the balcony, skipping along the road with a big smile on her face. The fact that this was possible meant a big deal.


When did you feel at home here?

John: that took about a year. It was a gradual process, but I remember a moment where I sat in a café and watched some guys sing and play the guitar. It was an open mike night and eventually I joined in. Now I’m not that good, but everyone was so encouraging and positive, it was just a really nice vibe. That night, I felt happy and at home in the Algarve.

Was it hard to get accustomed to the Portuguese lifestyle?

John: I wouldn’t say it was hard, but it does take a certain mind-set, and if you don’t have the right one, you’ll never be happy here. You have to let go of the stuff you’re used to or else it drives you crazy. In the UK, for example, we’re a big fan of queuing. When it’s your turn in the queue for the butcher, you order your meat and try very hard to be quick so you don’t hold up the rest. Here, you don’t hurry because the butcher takes his time, chats and asks how your family is. This takes some adapting, but is actually quite pleasant.


How does your life differ now you live here?

John: it’s way more relaxed; I’m a different person in the Algarve. In South Africa I was constantly on my guard, I’d never sit with my back to people or next to a road. Here, life isn’t so on edge and I feel a lot happier as a result. In the UK, I had less time as it’s an expensive place to live, so you have to always work and earn a lot of money. I rather earn less and have more time to spend with my children, which is possible in Portugal.

I like the way the Portuguese people are with kids: one night there were kids playing football in the street and all the Portuguese walking past would interact, either cheer them on, stop and smile or give the ball a kick themselves. I bet in the UK, people would probably complain about them.


What is your favourite Algarve moment?

John: having a summer BBQ on my roof terrace which overlooks Lagos. Together with my kids, and sometimes family and friends, I cook sardines or whatever other fish was caught that day, entremeado and make my own sauces.

What annoys you here?

John: the noise in Lagos’ old town centre. It’s mainly because of drunk tourists and it can get really intrusive, especially in summer. One night at 4am, two wasted American girls were having an argument on the street just below my apartment. I got annoyed and noticed I had a bucket of water on my balcony which I tipped over… They stopped talking immediately.


What do you miss most from the UK?

John: cheap electronics. I bought a refurbished computer, and iPad and a phone in the UK and got it all delivered to the Algarve. Even with the shipping costs, it was still way cheaper than if I had bought it in Portugal.
For the rest I don’t miss anything. I’m very proud to be English, but I’m more in love with the UK when I’m not actually there and it’s an abstract, nostalgic thought in my head. The reality isn’t that good.


Which 5 words would best describe the Algarve for you?

John: number one is definitely the light, which is really good here. I’m a photographer, so having good light is very important. For the rest I’d say the smell of the sea, the food, the beach and the people.


What’s your favourite spot?

John: outside the green building in the city centre of Lagos. There’s now a shop in it called ‘Obrigado’. I don’t know why, but I fell in love with that green building on my first visit to Lagos, about ten years ago. I never imagined that I’d end up living a stone’s throw away from it. On the plaza there, people sometimes play guitar music which I can hear in my kitchen. It’s like they’re playing especially for you, which is brilliant. That is, if they’re any good.

In what way does the Algarve inspire you?

John: I’m living a life that many people dream about and this encourages me to live in the moment. In a cold country, you’re always living in the past or the future, either reminiscing about your last summer holiday or looking forward to the next one. Here, you play beach tennis, hear the click clack of flip flops on the marble stairs and find sand in your sheets when going to bed; it’s like being on holiday all the time. Both the environment and the climate inspire me to get off my backside and make the most of life.


How’s your Portuguese coming along?

John: I really struggle. I know about 500 words, but I still find it hard to understand what people here in the Algarve are saying. People from Lisbon are easier to understand.

In my kitchen and bedroom, there are big papers hanging on the wall, both full of commonly used Portuguese words which help with constructing sentences. I’d love to be able to hold a fluent conversation in Portuguese. I actually thought I could do it by now…


Do you have a secret tip for our readers?

John: If you move to the Algarve, let go of things you take for granted and be OK with things that are different. It’s all about the mind-set. If you come here looking for England/Germany/Holland with sunshine, you’ll be disappointed and unhappy. Oh, and do make an effort to learn some Portuguese.

Pictures by Kyle Rodriguez


See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine June 2016

Posted in Algarve expat stories.