27 October 2017 and it’s so hot in Setúbal that, even though we’re under the semi-protective shade of an umbrella at a restaurant opposite the town beach, I have to discreetly remove my socks as my feet are on fire.
Two weeks later and we’re shivering in our house wondering what the hell has happened to the weather whilst realising we’re woefully unprepared for winter in southern Europe.
It’s 15C at night, which friends in the UK tell us is balmy as they’ve got 5C. Maybe they have, but not inside their centrally heated houses where they can walk about in tee-shirts.
After 14 years in the Canary Islands we already knew about the important difference between Britain’s centrally heated houses and ones in (mostly) warmer climes with little or no heating. But we still weren’t prepared for the temperature drop between the Canaries and central Portugal.
It’s colder than we expected and we don’t have the necessary gear to deal with it.
A curious (aka annoying) quirk about Tenerife is there are many people who spend their time in the south of the island who couldn’t tell an Italian from a Canario; haven’t left their resort area since they went on an island tour in 1985 and so have “seen everything there is to see”; and who think Rioja is a local wine because, well it’s Spanish who are experts on the weather in the north of Tenerife. So much so they know more about it than folk who actually live there.
The reality about the north Tenerife winter weather is we lit a fire (at night) for less than two months a year, owned no thick woolly jumpers, and had a brolly which mostly gathered cobwebs beside the front door. In our wardrobes were a couple of light jackets which were called upon once or twice a year when it was cool enough after dark to warrant something more than long sleeves when we ventured out.
Subsequently, we’re simply not prepared for winter in Portugal… and neither is our house. It’s normally only rented out in summer. There are gaps in the window and door frames and the roof of the living room where we huddle at night consists of thin planks between us and the terracotta tiles. Sitting watching TV at night there’s a cool breeze. If it wasn’t for one small wood-burning stove we’d be frozen. It helps warm the room to bearable standards, but a lot of the heat heads straight through the roof and into the night sky. Our Canarian born car isn’t prepared either. When the temperature drops to 3C in the morning it coughs and splutters and goes back to sleep till the sun gets properly up.
We make an emergency plan of action of things to buy urgently. Jumpers (including woolly cardies – the first time ever for me), jackets (thicker ones), blankets for our knees (to support the fire at night), an oil burning heater (the first we buy couldn’t heat a doll’s house, the second – bigger – does the trick), and rolls of foam strip to help insulate the windows.
It doesn’t make us cosy wosy, but it makes winter life survivable.
Jump forward to November 2018. One week we’re sitting in the hot October sunshine, the next we’re filling the wood basket and humming Christmas Wrapping after a visit to the shops (British 80s music seems popular here). Things change quite drastically. Winter is coming… but this time we’re ready.
There’s a new, more solid door to our rear terrace. It has a draught excluder to deter cool breezes and scorpions. The living room roof has been panelled (after wasps started coming into the room via the tiles to escape the heat in summer) which keeps the hot air trapped inside. A couple of hours of burning logs early evening keeps the room warm until the following morning. And we’ve boosted the cosiness factor with the addition of mock fur blankets, slippers and slobby lounge wear (only to be worn when there’s no chance of coming into contact with another human). Inside we’re sorted, as snug as bugs in a rug.
And as for outside? It’s been a noticeably cooler November than last year, but we go walking in perfect temperatures of around 18C and still have to put on sun cream whenever we plan on being outside for any length of time.
It’s not like winter in the Canaries, but neither is it anything like winter in northern Europe. It’s a sort of pleasingly comfy halfway house.