In a relatively short time, the progress from a dictatorship to a modern democracy is outstanding.

On the road at night

Many people still complain about driving conditions, it just makes me smile. Mopeds (and there were no big bikes then) almost never had a rear light (or a silencer!). A friend stopped one man he had almost run down on a dark road at night and berated him (that’s the polite word). The moped driver’s response was “Why do I need a rear light, I don’t need to know where I have been?”.

Much worse was donkey carts at night, and there were many of them. They were very slow, of course, and had no rear lights. I am not sure if they had any lights at front either. Most roads were narrow country lanes, and in the dark the mopeds and the carts were slow and lethal.

One of the charming things you would see was if you drove through a small village, people would wave at you. Foreigners were a relatively new phenomenon.

Algarve to Lisbon was several hours, very slow, very twisting winding roads. You could get over the river into Lisbon by the then new, Ponte da Salazar (April 25th bridge). If you went by train, you had to terminate on the South side and cross by boat.

These days Portugal ranks number five in the world for the length of motorways per capita. Only Canada and the USA have more, in Europe Portugal is only second to Spain. France comes 10th, Germany 12th, the UK isn’t even in the top twenty-five.

Air travel

Faro airport was small, badly designed and unfit for purpose, but then it was new. To the UK you could only fly TAP or BA. There were charter flights, but you couldn’t travel on them. Ticket prices were either high or higher. Most flights were on a Thursday, Saturday or Sunday. Most long-term residents will remember standing by the large gates overlooking the runway. You could see your friends arriving and walking across to the ‘terminal’. You could see them and they could see you so lots of waves were the normal. There might have been a duty free ‘shop’ or counter, but I can’t remember one. Everything was very basic, nothing like the gleaming new airport we have now.

Telecoms

So much that we now accept as normal and routine is in fact a real sign of the progress Portugal has made. Take teleconnections. No mobile phones obviously, no internet either. In the 70’s you couldn’t get a normal fixed line phone unless you had priority, mainly doctors and Priests (and probably politicians). The waiting list to get a phone was years long, people would buy a property just because it had a phone.

An international call had to be requested from the operator. Once booked, it could take hours before you were called back with the connection. I won’t even scare you with the cost of calls.

Have women in Portugal broken through the ‘glass ceiling’?

Prior to the 1974 revolution, women were rarely seen in management positions. There was very little gender equality in business. There was a certain social group of men in senior management who always wore their jackets over their shoulders. It was a strange habit, now long gone, that made a strong statement about who you were and what you did.

The impression I got was that after the revolution, most men in management didn’t think anything had changed. Women thought otherwise and started to grasp the new opportunities.

French not English

Prior to and shortly after the revolution, French was the ‘official’ second language, not English. How things change. These days it’s difficult to find someone who doesn’t speak English, which is great, but it makes it more challenging to learn Portuguese. Back then, no choice. Some people spoke English but day to day you needed to learn. Tourism was very new.

Shopping

The vast availability of all your favourite products, from back bacon, to cheddar cheese and mayonnaise, not to mention Marmite just weren’t available. If you wanted Hellman’s mayo, you had to drive to Ayamonte, and many of us did. That didn’t involve a bridge, then it was a very small ferry that took a few cars across to Spain. Quite cheap and regular, but a far cry from the ease we can travel to Spain, and further.

The entry of Portugal into the common market changed everything. Products you had never imagined you could find locally flowed into the country. I drove to the border between Vila Real and Ayamonte on January 1, just as we entered the EU. Border guards were still on duty, but when I asked, they said “We don’t know what to do. We have seen on television that the border is now open, but nobody has told us officially”. They let us through without checking passports.

Fishing villages really were fishing villages

Until tourism really started to arrive, in the late 70’s and early 80’s, what are still charmingly described in travel brochures as ‘fishing villages’, really were simply fishing villages. Even Albufeira was simple and basic. Foreign residents were few and far between, and we all seemed to know each other.

What hasn’t changed?

What hasn’t changed is the remarkable hospitality of the Portuguese people. A well-known travel magazine recently headlined this ‘Why Portugal Is Considered the Friendliest Country in The World’. That’s simple, the Portuguese people. The air is still clean, the beaches are superb and award winning. Fish is still as fresh out of the sea as ever. Eating out costs a fraction of Northern Europe and crime is low. Add to that excellent telecoms and fast fibre in most built up areas. Cheap flights and a modern airport and an extensive uncrowded motorway network.

Portugal has made amazing progress in less than fifty years. It’s not a perfect country, but it’s very close. What is there not to like?