Córdoba, Spain

 

Friends were visiting from the States and it was their first trip to Europe. Over the past few months we have spoken about what we might do together during their time in Portugal. It probably would have been enough for them to stay local, however, it wouldn’t have been enough for me. I wanted them to fall in love with my country and that meant seeing the country that borders Portugal to the east. We decided on two days in Sevilla (two hours by bus — see blog from 2019) and two days in Córdoba. Why Córdoba you might ask?

Not too long ago I made a decision that has proven to enhance my life and make for a better experience for my guests. Whenever friends or family visit me from the States (or anywhere for that matter), we go someplace I have never been. If I keep going back to the same towns and cities, I will resent my guests and be bored to death. Don’t get me wrong, there are places I love to visit over and over again:  for example Tavira, a town about 30 minutes away from where I live — a French bakery, La Baguette Artisan Boulanger Français, and a pottery shop, Aroma Ceramics. These two places alone make Tavira worth a visit. There are also several restaurants I never tire of. My guests are rarely disappointed; of course, that makes me happy.

So Michelle, John and I did some touring around Faro first. They arrived New Year’s Eve day. To my surprise, the long journey from New York to Faro did not stop them from wanting to explore and sample the food of Faro.  I cooked, certain that they’d want to remain home to rest. The idea of staying up to bring in the new year seemed out of the question. I was shocked to see that they were perky and eager to stay awake and enjoy their first New Year’s celebration in Europe.

They dragged me kicking and screaming to the Faro marina where a lively band played and a fireworks display did not disappoint. I was surprised to see a few thousand locals enjoying the night together.

 

 

Being the morning person that I am, I’m not sure how I managed to stay up for the count. I spent last New Year’s eve in Morocco with friends and I still can’t remember whether or not we brought in the new year together. I’ll have to call Patrick and Sue to ask them.

Back to Michelle and John . . . After a few days staying close to home, we headed for Spain. I won’t be blogging about Seville because I have been there several times and although I love the city, I do not have much to say this time. I will mention that it was colder there than I thought it would be (close to freezing at night) and that Airbnb Adventures offered a paella rooftop experience that was outstanding. We had a challenging time leaving our Airbnb to get to the rooftop location. Our key got stuck in the door and we had to figure out a way to leave the key in the door, leave the door open and escape through another opening. I’m not sure why these things happen to me, but I’m beginning to wonder if I bring them on myself. No matter, we got out safely, made it to our dinner on time, and dealt with the lock issue later in the evening. I must admit I was a bit cranky, but my friends know how I am and put up with me.

 

Córdoba

The first thing I want to say about Córdoba is that everyone should visit this magnificent city. It has a rich history, it is walkable, it is breathtakingly beautiful, and it is very affordable.

 

 

We took a bus from Sevilla to Córdoba. It is an easy and comfortable two hour ride at about 24 euros round trip. The bus takes you to the city centre and then you can either walk or Uber to your destination. Google maps showed that we were about 23 minutes from our Airbnb by foot, so we decided to walk. Technology is only great when it works and this time it did not; we were taken about 1.5 kilometers from our Airbnb and I had to find another means of getting there. About 10 minutes later and none the worse for the wear, we arrived at our Airbnb. This two bedroom, two bath apartment was on four levels. We had a cozy living room and kitchen on the first floor, a bedroom and bath on the second and third floors, and a rooftop terrace on the forth. Honestly at $217 for two nights (all total), I think the place was a find (click for listing).

 

Salón con muralla Romana auténtica

Casa de diseño a 200m de la Mezquita

Casa de diseño a 200m de la Mezquita

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That stoned wall you see in the first picture is actually the original wall built by the ancient Romans — it is the wall that borders the Jewish Quarter and built in the first century; how’s that for experiencing history.

I will once again reiterate that I am not a travel writer, therefore, I will not share the history of this beautiful city or everything we did while visiting. There were some highlights in our 2.3 days in Córdoba and I am happy to share those with you. Part of the reason travel is so much fun for me, is that I do not chronicle every moment. I am happy to pass along details to any of you, please ask.

Staying in the centre of Córdoba, in the heart of the Jewish Quarter, was a good call. We were minutes from everything you’d want to see and experience while visiting. Arriving on a Sunday made it somewhat difficult to shop for groceries (eg., coffee, milk, wine), but with perseverance, we did find a Chinese all-in-one shop. To our pleasant surprise, the shop even had an Iberian paté we all three thoroughly enjoyed. We were also smart enough to bring some cheese, jamon and crackers from Sevilla. We were hell bent on enjoying our rooftop terrace while the sun was shining and we could experience the tiny bit of warmth we had left. It was all glorious:  our friendship (over 20 years), the view from our terrace, the historical significance of the place, the sun, and the fact that we’d made it there. These are the moments in life we live for.

We had tickets for a genuine Flamenco concert — music and dance — that evening and we were priming for it. We had dinner at a beautiful tapas restaurant close to our Airbnb. It wasn’t the best meal I’ve had, but I certainly enjoyed the atmosphere and the Spanish wine John selected. The Flamenco concert,  was to be performed within the Arab baths of Santa María dating over one thousand years.

img_5179

The concert was about 90 minutes in length, the performers were all sick with a cold (except the guitar player), and we had front row seats (there were only 9 people in the audience). I have often wondered if I would enjoy a Flamenco concert and it would be unfair not to comment:  I will say that first of all, I’m glad we did it and second, I would not do it again. I might also add that John caught whatever germs were spread that night.

The next day was very special and truly unforgettable. It would be our only full day in Córdoba and I was determined to make the most of it. I woke up early and went straight to The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba (Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba).

 

If you do nothing else in Córdoba, you must visit this significant landmark. It dates back to the 12th century and it is Islamic, Roman, Byzantine, and Christian, all rolled into one truly magnificent place of worship. You can spend hours and hours exploring this historic site. Afterwards, I ventured out to see the city by day.

The Roman Bridge may have been my second favorite site.

Image result for The Roman bridge in Cordoba

The bridge flows over the Guadalquivir river; grand and gorgeous is all I can say about it (last photo from stock pics on the internet).

After a bit of lunch back at the Airbnb, I walked about three minutes to a hammam where I had an appointment for a warm bath, a sauna and steam, and a massage. The Hammam Al Andalus, is one of the most beautiful I have ever been to and worth every euro I paid (70).

 

I returned to our Airbnb just in time for a pre-dinner cocktail. We had reservations at Casa Mazal Restaurante Sefardi; Middle Eastern, Jewish, Spanish and very authentic. We did the tasting menu and once again John chose the wine — I can pick a good wine, but John knows wine better than I do. The restaurant was quaint and the service excellent. I would have to say that I enjoyed the appetizers far more than the main dishes, but overall, this restaurant did not disappoint. My friends usually claim that they will only take a small taste of dessert and more often, eat at least their share; I’m used to that.

It was an unusually chilly night is Spain, so we hustled back to our apartment and headed straight for bed; very comfortable beds I might add.

Córdoba is a place I will someday return to. I could have spent a week walking, exploring, eating and drinking. It’s only four hours for me by bus (3.5 hours by car) and I know there was more to experience. The history and the melding of so many cultures over the last two thousand years, makes Córdoba a city to behold and cherish. It’s Unesco World Heritage Centre will be forever etched in my travel memories.

 

Paco

This is Paco, my new companion. Paco is a rescue dog; I will be officially introducing him to you next week. The importance of adopting a pet, rather than purchasing one, has been an urgent message I have been wanting to relay for quite some time.

 

 

Tips From A Seasoned Traveller — Part II

Tip #6 — Traveling solo is a great opportunity to meet people. Strangers seem to be drawn to someone sitting alone; especially if you’re smiling.

I was forced to meet people wherever I went because I had forgotten my laptop charger (grabbed the wrong cord actually). I was struck by how friendly people were and how much they truly wanted to help me. One guy on the train to Bordeaux, held my laptop on his own lap for an hour while it charged (stop those dirty thoughts, his wife was the one sitting next to him). I was almost pleased to have had to ask for help — something I’m not very good at I’m afraid.

 

 

This event was a beautiful gesture in Bordeaux on Christmas day. Bodega, a restaurant in the city centre, was feeding the homeless. Festive music and good food was provided. They served wine and passed foie gras. I was extremely humbled by what I saw. I was also invited to join in, so I stayed for a bit.

Tip #7 — Money:  don’t carry huge amounts of cash; use your debit card for purchases and use ATM machines to get cash. The conversion rates are usually reasonable (TD bank boasts reimbursed ATM fees for certain accounts). It is safer all around. Check with your bank.

Tip #8 –Tell your bank and credit card companies where you are traveling.

It’s no fun getting denied use of your card when it’s for your own protection.

I had a bit of a conundrum this year:  do I visit someone I know for Christmas, stay at home in Portugal, or do I extend my U.S. travel plans to Europe and go someplace I have never been? I decided that I have grown quite a bit over the last few years and that I would be fine alone over the Christmas holiday. I was not alone before Christmas and I would not be alone after Christmas. I had spent a little over a week with friends and family before Christmas eve and friends came from New York on New Year’s eve. I have never seen Paris during the holidays and I wanted to be there when it was all lit up and festive. It’s not my favorite city, so I didn’t want to be there Christmas eve or Christmas day. I researched cities within three hours of Paris and I decided it was time to experience Bath Spa and Bordeaux. Bordeaux wines are some of my favorite wines and I had heard about the wine museum there.

Tip #9 — When you’re travelling through Europe or anywhere for that matter, take the train as much as possible.

Train travel was once very inexpensive (in fact in Portugal it still is), however, the cost of  has gone up quite a bit in most parts of Europe. Still, the train is the way to go. It’s less of a hassle than air travel and much more comfortable. Move about, see the countryside and get there on time (most of the time).

 

Next stop:  London, England

When you live in Portugal there are very few options for direct flights to the U.S. TAP flies to New York and Miami, but if you’re headed to Baltimore, you’re going to have to fly to France, Germany or London first. These countries are all east of Portugal, making it a bit frustrating. I imagine there will be more options out of Lisbon and Seville in the future. But this is how I ended up in London on the outbound flight. Knowing I had to return to London inbound, I decided to spend a few days there and I’m really glad I did. I’m not a frequent visitor. My main reason for going is the theatre and there was always plenty of that in New York City. This time around I would not be going to NYC and there were a few plays I wanted to see in London.

First I want to tell you about a hotel I thought was perfect if you’re looking for something inexpensive and centrally located. I found this hotel called Motel One London–Tower Hill. I’m not sure why they put “motel” in the name of the hotel because it’s nothing like a motel. Small but with an excellent mattress and great linen and wired for every device. I was close to the Underground and several excellent eating spots. By the way, the Underground is working well these days. I was able to get everywhere quickly and efficiently. It isn’t so cheap anymore at almost 5 quid a ride.

Back to my main reason for going. I wanted to see Sam Tutty in Dear Evan Hansen. I got a center stall seat (orchestra in the States) for 100 pounds. I’m not sure how that happened. I bought the ticket on-line and there were only four seats left; the other three tickets were almost twice the price. Sometimes being a solo traveller pays off. The play was wonderful, my seat was perfect, and it made London worthwhile. I also saw Ian McKellen’s one man show; all I can say is if you get an opportunity to see it, go. I saw Come From Away on the same day; although it was somewhat enjoyable, I have to say I didn’t love it — no memorable tunes and a bit campy.

I ate well, but it was more about the theatre. There was a bit of rain (it was London), but I had some sunshine too. I found a great Columbia jacket while wandering around between shows. It was about a third the original price and ended up being my “find” of the trip. Sometimes I purposefully leave articles of clothing at home so that I will have no choice but to buy whatever I need while I’m away. That was the case with a windbreaker/rain jacket.

No stories of dred to share; all went well in London. I hear that Big Ben is up and running again, so if you find yourself there, go and see it. I have decided that since I am now living in Europe, I will make a theatre trip to London annually and see several shows over a few days. I have a love/hate relationship with New York City and now I can add London to that short list.

Tip #10 — Travel is a good excuse to leave negative stuff behind.

I watched and read very little political news while I was away and I found myself in a much better emotional state of mind.

 

Bath, England

Bath is a place I have wondered about for many years. I took the train from London and arrived about 90 minutes before I could check in to one of the most most beautiful Airbnbs I have ever stayed in. It was in a 260 year old building with gorgeous views of the countryside. With time to spare and a rainy day, I found a brick oven pizza place not far from the train station. The chef was Neopolitan and the pizza was outstanding. I later learned that Franco Manca is a chain restaurant; you could of fooled me.

My friend Rachel was coming from South Wales the next day, so I was alone the first evening. Six weeks prior, I had made a reservation at The Olive Tree Restaurant, the only Michelin star restaurant in Bath and the food was exceptional. I then dropped some pounds off at the casino, met some really nice locals at the blackjack table and went back to my beautiful apartment.

 

Rachel joined me the next day and we did the Thermae Bath Spa, which was a two hours of pure bliss. There was a rooftop nicely heated pool which was great for my sore muscles. We went out for cocktails at a very upscale bar and then Rachel treated me to a terrific Italian dinner at Martini Restaurant. The entire experience was delightful in every way and it made me want to return to Bath often (and I will). It also made me want to see more of Rachel (and I will).

 

Paris, France

I had taken the Eurostar to Paris a number of years ago and I thought I should take a short trip to Paris on my way to Bordeaux. This time the boarding process was much more efficient. It’s a 3.5 hour journey; comfortable and fast. I got lucky and didn’t have anyone sitting next to me.

There were announcements about the Metro strike at the train station in London and all I could think was that the French were going to mess with my travel once again. Sure enough I arrived at the train station in Paris and there were hundreds or thousands of people everywhere. Gypsy taxi drivers were asking for crazy fares to wherever and on principle, I wasn’t having it. I decided to use Uber to get to my hotel. I can’t say how many people had the same idea, but I can tell you that there were many, many, many people outside the station looking at their phones and looking for their Uber.

Tip #11 — Do yourself a favor and do not overplan. Allow yourself the luxury of free time.

Leave your hotel or Airbnb and wonder around. I always seem to discover something wonderful or unexpected. It’s honestly one of the best things about traveling to a place you’ve never been. Get out and explore.

The metro strike forced me to stay local and that turned out to be a good thing. I discovered an outdoor food market that went on forever. I spent quite a bit of time there and enjoyed it.

I had to take a very expensive Uber share to the train station. Traffic was terrible and the Uber driver was agitated; seemingly trying to make as much money as possible during the strike. We arrived at the train station, I exited his vehicle to get my luggage and he drove off. I chased him, banged on his back window and he stopped. I went over to the driver’s side window, he rolled it down and I told him that my luggage was still in the trunk of the car. He got angry at me for some reason that I still do not understand. Needless to say, he only got one star and no tip. Another wild day of travel.

Tip #12 — Allow yourself plenty of time to get places.

Have a good book and relax when you get to where you’re going.

 

Bordeaux, France

I chose a hotel right in the centre of the city because I love walking. The Quality Hotel was very central and super affordable. The desk staff seemed to be very sensitive to my solo status and they made me feel welcome, comfortable and at home; an especially nice since it was Christmas. They even upgraded my room. I think the mattress and linen were the most comfortable for any hotel I have ever stayed in or perhaps it was just my satisfied frame of mind.

 

 

The day I arrived was dark and dreary and I was fairly spent. I got to the hotel, unpacked and set out to find a place for dinner. I found a fantastic ramen restaurant, Restaurant Fufu. To say that I was pleased is an understatement. Saki and hot soup on a rainy night . . . ah. And the last seat at the bar too. Had this place been open Christmas day, I would have returned for more.

effects

 

Cité du Vin the Bordeaux wine museum was the main reason I wanted to visit Bordeaux. It was a fairly new, high tech experience, very close to the center (about a 30 minute walk) and right next to a very cool (newish) food market with restaurant vendors. The museum boasts an innovative way to learn about the history of wine and the different varieties of wine from all over the world. You can do it at your own pace, but I would recommend a minimum of eight hours. After you’ve explored the museum, there is a beautiful space at the time of the museum where you get to choose a lovely glass of wine and take in a spectacular view of Bordeaux. Get Your Guide offers tickets in advance at a discounted price.

The next day was Christmas day and I was a bit concerned because I had attempted to make a reservation for dinner months prior, only to discover all the restaurants I tried were closed. I decided to just leave it and find a restaurant while in Bordeaux. Christmas morning I walked around town and found a man cleaning a restaurant in one of the main squares. He told me the restaurant would be open for dinner and he noted my reservation in a book. I was pleased that that was taken care of. I had dinner at Le Noailles Restaurant next to the Intercontinental Hotel and the food was traditional French cuisine; beautifully prepared and presented. I paired the food with a 2015 Bordeaux (1/2 bottle, see pic below) and the whole meal was wonderful. I need not have worried because unbeknownst to be, there was a large food festival with music right across the street from the restaurant. No regrets though, I loved my dinner and I was glad that I had made a reservation because they turned many people away.

I took a slow walk back to my hotel and had a delicious nights sleep.

Home on the 26th. I flew back to Faro; on time and uneventful, the way one hopes it will be.

Tip #13 — Expect that there will always be a few bumps in the road and breathe.

I committed to adopting a pooch last week. We’ve met, he’s just under a year old, and I have named him Paco. Paco will be joining me at home in a few days. After a bath (or two), I will blog a photo.

Tips From A Seasoned Traveller — Part I

Tip #1:  If you can fly non-stop and it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg, do it.

These days connections are killers. A delay in your first flight can mean hours of stressful time spent in an airport; sometimes even overnight or if you’re lucky, in an airport hotel. Keep in mind that the airline will not put you up overnight if the travel issue is beyond their control and just about everything is beyond their control.

 

dc58cfac-2abf-44d6-81da-476d2c308e9c
I recently acquired this Pan American Airlines  (iconic airline that went under in 1991) travel guide published in 1970 (7th ed.). Fun reading.

 

It’s good to be home after several weeks away. I had a five city, three country holiday and it was exhilarating and exhausting. French air traffic controllers and French metro workers managed to mess up my travel on two separate occasions; not in a minor way. These days travel can take its toll on the body and mind; add disgruntled workers to the mix and you’re in for some major stress.

How airlines, hotels and Uber, handle these delays and glitches is key to how well we cope. I thought I might share some stories:  how I reacted to people along the way and how they responded to me. I’m going to name names because I think you should know how some businesses handle customer service. In a couple of cases I believe my reaction was justified and in other cases, I may have overreacted. I tend to judge myself harshly.

Tip #2 — You have to be your own advocate.

Being quiet and meek is not the way to go when you’re either on a schedule or you have been treated poorly. Many airlines or countries today have rules about delays and compensation. The airlines are responsible for providing “passenger rights” either in writing or on-line. It is well worth your time and energy to become familiar with these.

 

Prior to setting out for my long journey, I decided that I would not blog about the cities I visited — sometimes it’s more fun to just experience a vacation and keep the memories to yourself. I’m going to stick to this decision, however, there were some highlights that warrant mentioning. I also captured some moments on camera that I am pleased to share.

Tip #3 — When you travel by plane or train, always have your confirmation/reservation numbers handy. The same is sometimes true for hotel reservations.

If you need to rebook, revise, reschedule, or reference your booking, it’s a whole lot easier when you have this number handy.

 

My journey began in Lisbon with a text from British Airways sometime in the wee hours of the morning. I usually fly in and out of Lisbon because it is cheaper than flying from Faro; 3.5 hours away by train. The BA text let me know that I might have flight delays due to the French air traffic control strike. I was unaware of this strike because my news is all Trump, all the time.  Sleep was impossible after reading the message and so I decided to be proactive and call the airline. I was able to connect with a customer service representative fairly quickly due to the hour of the morning. I explained that I would like to be rerouted in order to avoid flying over France — it was after all east of Lisbon and I was headed west to Baltimore. The very cordial representative explained that she had limited options for me. She told me that the best she could do would be to put me on a later flight from London’s Gatwick airport. It would provide a cushion in case I missed my connection to Baltimore. She was fairly certain that I was not going to make the connection. I would have booked the later flight, however, that flight would take me to Dulles airport in Washington, DC; a minimum of 80 minutes by car to Baltimore. She informed me that I would have more options working with an agent at the airport. I thought there might be a more direct option. In fact, I knew there was, but would I get it.

Since sleep was elusive, first because of the possible delay and second, because I had discovered I had brought the wrong computer charger and I was wondering how I was going to be away for over two weeks without use of my laptop. I packed up and went to the airport, arriving at about 7:15 a.m. A very kind British Airways agent informed me that the agent I needed to speak with would be at the counter at 8:25 a.m. I took a deep breath and waited. At about 8:20 a.m. the original agent walked over to me with good news. He said the delay to Gatwick had been reduced from two hours to 45 minutes and that I should have no problem making my connection. He said that I would be landing in terminal 3 and I need to go to terminal 5, but I “should” have enough time. Minutes later the check-in desk opened and I handed a different agent my passport. She called her supervisor over and told her supervisor that she was concerned that I might miss my connection because I was landing at terminal 3, not 5, where my connection would be.

The supervisor said, “No, you will be landing at terminal 3 and your connection will be at terminal 3.”

I replied, “Are you sure because your agent (I pointed to him) told me my connection would be at terminal 5.”

She said, “He doesn’t know.”

I walked away confident that even with a delay, I would make my connection. You know what I’m going to tell you next, don’t you? The pilot came on the loudspeaker and greeted us warmly. He said that he was glad that we had received an opening to depart and that we would be leaving soon. An hour later he greeted us again, telling us that he was cleared and then uncleared, three times. I was concerned at this point, however, I chose to remain calm, knowing that being anxious wouldn’t get me there faster. The flight finally took off about an hour and 15 minutes after it was scheduled to leave. When the pilot spoke to us again, he told us that we were landing in terminal 3 (by this time I had learned that my connecting flight would be at terminal 5). The flight attendant calmed me and said that I needed an hour to make the connection and although it would be tight, if I was fast, I’d make my flight. For the next hour I took about a hundred deep breaths. Just before the plane landing the flight attendant came over to speak to me, informing me that the pilot had contacted the connection flight’s pilot and that the Baltimore bound pilot would wait for me. I was impressed with how I was being treated and sat back and relaxed. Planes that were landing in London were backed up and we were an additional 20 minutes late landing. At this point I had exactly one hour to make my flight. I hustled, followed the purple signs to “connecting flights,” and made it to terminal 5 in 30 minutes.

When I got to terminal 5 I had to use my ticket to gain entrance to the terminal’s check in area. I attempted to gain entry and was denied. The readout said that I needed to see an agent. Two minutes later I was speaking with a British Airways agent and I explained what just happened. She informed that I was re-booked on the Dulles flight. I pleaded with her to allow me to try to make it to the gate. No can do, there are rules you know. She told me that I needed at least 35 minutes at that point to make the flight and that I only had 30 minutes. I put on my best “you cannot do this to me face” and told her that I had to get to Baltimore in time for dinner. She handed me a meal voucher and apologized.

Curious to see whether or not I would have made it to the gate for the flight I was originally booked on, I headed that way. You guessed it, I made it to the gate with time to spare. I didn’t even approach the desk knowing that my luggage was on the plane going to Dulles. The gate was open for at least another 20 minutes. One more reason to do carry-on if you can. I’m not sure they would have reticketed me anyway.

I proceeded to head toward my new gate. I wanted to drink alcohol, but I thought it might prevent me from getting some much needed rest on the flight. The departure time was “on time” and so I waited at the gate. Just when they were about to board the computers went down and they were forced to board manually; more delays.

I landed in Dulles three hours later than I would have landed in Baltimore. The passport line was over an hour long and I knew a car was waiting for me on the other side — dollar signs flashing before my eyes, I was beyond exhausted. My friend Adam had said he’d pick me up, but he wisely sent a car instead; he had three days of his daughter Emma’s Bat Mitzvah festivities ahead of him.  I stupidly totalled the hours I had spent getting to Baltimore and it was just under 24 hours. I cursed the French, British Airways and my anal retentive personality. I walked into the arrival area searching for my name on a big card. The area was swarming with people waiting for their loved ones and there were many men holding up cards with last names on them . . . none of them mine. I was about to contact the car service, but decided if I didn’t pee first, I would wet my pants. Standing by the bathroom was a massive human with my name across his tiny iphone — I should add that my name was spelled correctly for a change.

I said, “Hi, I’m the guy you’re waiting for.”

His reply, “I’m Nick, can you wait right here while I go pee. I’ve been standing here a long time.”

Of course I let him go first. You know when you’re weary and angry and blurry eyed and you just want to go to bed; decisions are never easy — we could have peed at the same time. The 90 minute trip to Baltimore is just a blur. It was 4:00 a.m. back home and I couldn’t keep my eyes open in the car.

We arrived at the hotel and I asked Nick if I was supposed to tip him. He smiled and said it was all included. I didn’t want to think about what “all” meant. I dragged my bag and backpack to the hotel door and the door was locked. I looked for another entrance and that one was locked as well. I stood in the cold — a lot colder than what I am used to — and started thinking about how I might contact the hotel desk. I had no phone service in the States and I didn’t know if I’d find an internet supplier out on the street. Defeated and at a loss for solutions, I was about to sit on the curb when a gentlemen opened the doors and invited me in. They could have stuck me in a closet or office and I would not have noticed. Fortunately, it was Hotel Revival (a Hyatt property) and the room was very nice.

The next day I wrote to British Airways needing to share my story. It was a two paragraph complaint and I included every reservation number, flight number, times, details, the size of my underwear; hoping for some compassion. The reply was laughable, but expected. “You’re flight delay was due a problem with the handicap ramp.”  What? I wrote back and asked if they had even bothered to read my email. The second reply was a bit more thorough, basically informing me of time restrictions and airport travel time, yada, yada, yada. I wrote a third email and finally got somewhere. Even though “it was beyond our control” they were willing to reimburse me for the car service to Baltimore. I did not know that an airline can redirect you up to, I believe, two hours from your destination airport without being responsible for getting you to your original destination.

I got the receipt for the car service from Adam and I discovered why Nick did not expect a tip:  $211 for my ride to Baltimore. The receipt has been submitted and a reimbursement is in the works . . . pending any unforeseen delays.

None of this was made up. Well maybe the underwear comment.

Tip #4 — Unless you want the added expense of a rental car or lots of taxis/Ubers, choose a hotel in the centre of town. If you can avoid a main street or bar/restaurant street, you’ll have a quieter night.

Walking around a city or town is the best way to get to know the landscape. I use Hotels.com and they do a good job of sharing which sights they are close to and how far they are away from the airport and other forms of transportation.

Tip #5 — It seems as if delays are inevitable these days. If you are checking your bags, make sure you have a carry-on bag which will have your necessities:  water, snack, phone charger, laptop charger, lip balm, travel itinerary, passport, make-up, reading glasses, a good book, a small pillow (there are some nice inflatable pillows on the market), etc.

Purchasing some of these items can be expensive (an Apple laptop charger can cost you up to $80). The more you have at the ready, the more comfortable you’ll be.

 

Baltimore was my first stop. Emma’s Bat Mitzvah, good eating, time with friends and family, two very nice hotels, a bit of gambling, and my delay a distant memory; all made for a very pleasant first five days in the States.

Next week:  London, Bath, Paris and Bordeaux. Stories to share from the same holiday.

 

Sharing:

I am not opposed to sharing recommendations for hotels, Airbnbs, airlines, restaurants; however, I prefer you send me a message with any specific requests. I did not keep copious notes this time, but I’m happy to rely on memory and an internet search or two. As always, I must mention that these are only recommendations and my needs may differ from yours.

My Head Still Hurts

 

Image may contain: 3 people, including Christopher Papagni, people smiling, people sitting, table and indoor
In my sister AnnMarie’s Port St. Lucy home, April 2019. Kat in the middle and AnnMarie on the right.

Image may contain: 2 people, including Christopher Papagni, people sitting and indoor

This is my older sister Kat (short for Kathy, which she doesn’t like to be called). I love writing or calling her ‘my older sister.’ No matter how old we get, Kat will be my older sister. I know when she reads this she’ll say, “You fucker.” I’m going to tell you a story about Kat and me. What I am going to tell you took place 54 years ago, so I can’t swear by some of the details. What I can promise is that it happened and for some reason unbeknownst to me, the incident has come back into my consciousness dozens of times since.

 

A Hard Hit on the Head

I was not a well-behaved child.  Two of my older sisters, AnnMarie seven years older and Kat, six years, pretty much took care of me throughout my youth. My sister Marguerite is older, but she did not live with us; her presence in my life has been significant as she is my Godmother and we share the same father. When I was a small child, my mother didn’t have the time or patience to be a mom. AnnMarie was stern and Kat was happy-go-lucky. They took turns babysitting for me and my younger siblings. I had a lot of energy and I rebelled against authority, I still do — rebel against authority. My sisters knew how to handle me. AnnMarie only had to look at me a certain way and Kat would sweet talk and bribe me. They never had to play good cop, bad cop; as rambunctious as I was, I respected them. I also knew at an early age, that it wasn’t fair that I was dumped in their laps.

Early on, I was their play toy. They diapered me, dressed me up, paraded me around in a baby carriage, and smooched me until I screamed for them to stop.

IMG_4956
I was two years old and it’s a 58 year old photo.

I got older and a bit harder to handle. This particular memory is vivid and somewhat painful and bittersweet. I was about six years old and it was Kat’s turn to babysit. I must have been wired-up and not listening very well because I remember my sister was not her usual cheerful self — keep in mind that if I was six, Kat was 12. Considering all that she was responsible for, a fairly mature 12 year old I’d say. I recall an ultimatum:

Probably something like, “Stop horsing around or I’ll go get AnnMarie.”

I continued to act out and Kat grabbed a glass platter (Kat says it may have been plastic, but I honestly believe it was glass) and broke it over my head. The platter broke into many pieces and I stumbled, a bit stunned, and a little dizzy. Kat must have regretted doing what she did, but I didn’t notice any remorse at the time.

She said, “That shut you up.”

Admittedly it did, but only for a minute and then I got up and said something I have regretted ever since.

“I hope you die in your sleep tonight.” Or something like that.

She told me to go to bed and to close my bedroom door. I’m going to say it was about 6:00 p.m. We were normally sent to bed at about 7:00 p.m.; which I still think was too early. I got under the covers and wept; I wept for a long time. Kat didn’t come in to check on me. I’m sure it was one of those tough love moments I remember so well.

The guilt I felt about what I’d said to my sister tormented me. What if she’d died in the middle of the night? I couldn’t imagine what that would have been like. I actually believed that I had the power to make her die just by saying the words out loud. I knew that the only way to prevent her death would be to apologize to her.

Sometime later that night, I left my bed to see if she was breathing. I tiptoed into her bedroom and saw that she was. Relieved, I shook her shoulder and whispered her name. At that time it was okay to call her Kathy.

“Kathy, I have to tell you something.”

She opened her eyes and said, “What’s up Chris?”

“I’m sorry I told you that I hoped you would die. I love you.”

Tears streamed down my cheeks as I imagined what could have happened had I not gotten to her in time. My sister smiled and lifted the covers, motioning me to climb into bed. I sniffled and wiped the snot from my face with my pajama sleeve and crawled under her blanket. I don’t recall ever sleeping with Kathy before or after, come to think of it.

She pulled me close and said, “I love you too, now go to sleep.”

It was at that moment that I learned about forgiveness and the importance of my words. I don’t believe I have ever uttered anything that hateful again in my 60 years of living. Of course I have been angry and I have said things I regret, but I have never wished death on anyone — well maybe one person, but since millions feel the same way, it doesn’t count. I feel like I was given a pass that night. Either somebody wasn’t listening or some angel from above gave me a reprieve — whatever it was, my sister was spared and I am forever grateful.

As time progressed, Kat was my confidant. When I was bullied at school, it was my sister I cried to; when I thought something bad was happening inside my body, it was Kat whom I told; and when I was ready to tell someone that I was gay, Kat was the first person I shared it with. On Kat’s wedding day, there were three men who could have given her away (her father and two step-fathers), but it was I she asked to escort her down the aisle. When my sister’s only child had a full body cast removed when she was two years old, it was me my sister wanted by her and my niece’s side, at hospital. When my sister was arrested for carrying a gun without a permit, I was her one call from the police station. In my late teens I left home and needed a place to live and my sister took me in; I should also note that I had my Great Dane, Dana with me. I never told my sister that I was in a very bad place back then and that her love and generosity saved my life. She probably knew.

Like most close relationships, our has had its ups and downs. Blame and who has been right or wrong is not important. What matters is that we have a bond that comes from a life of sharing pain and joy. That bond should never be broken or taken for granted.

I have a special bond with each of my surviving siblings. I am closer to some than others; I imagine this is natural. Personalities, daily life, history, all play a part in the symbiosis of our relationships; however, what binds us is love and moments we have shared and will continue to share.

Kat never broke another plate over my head or put a hand on me after that incident. I can’t speak for my sister, but it’s my guess that we both learned a life lesson that day. We are fragile creatures and our time here is limited. I’m at a place in my life where I only want to celebrate our love.

AnnMarie, the stern one, a few years ago. My sister’s strength and steadiness is and always will be an inspiration to me. 

 

 

Nourishing the Mind & Body and How Faith Factors In

 

 

If you read my blog last week, you were probably thinking that I was as one reader put it, “In a funk.” In all honesty, you and she were probably right. One of the things I pride myself in is riding out those feelings and moving on. I find that if I face the fact that I am obsessing about silly things and I look those demons in their eyes and confront them, I will be that much healthier when I’m done dealing with them — them being the voices in your head that try to trick you into believing things about yourself that are just not true. This week I will focus on mind, body, and spirit. There is a reason these three are grouped together and I will explain why each is extremely important and how I attend to these aspects of self.

I realize that this particular blog will be all about me and I apologize in advance for that. The easiest way to write about this particular topic is to discuss how I apply the principles to my own life. Some of you will relate to my experience and others will not. Those who do not can either share what works for them with my readers or move on to other blogs. Hopefully, these folks will find my other topics more appealing. Oh and yes, I apologize way too often.

 

Mind

I have loved learning since as far back as I can remember. Fond of books, intellectual games, seminars, white papers, documentaries, and anything related to the mind and thinking. My Ph.D. is in education and although I am proud to have gone that far in my university studies, I do not believe it would be wise or satisfactory to stop now. Semi-retirement has provided a great deal more time for seeking the truth and exploring areas of thinking I have not yet explored. A few examples are:  language, world history, religion and culture. The ability to travel more has also been a useful tool for learning and it’s fun.

There are limitations that I have to contend with. I am not as bright as I wish I were; not fishing, I speak truth. When I was tested as I child, I was placed in average classrooms — thankfully, I do not believe this is practiced in elementary schools today. I’m afraid my turbulent home life and socio-economic status growing up lended itself to poor learning skills. I realized this was the case when applying to universities. I worked hard to break through my environmentally imposed limitations and excelled in my late teens and early 20s. The knowledge that a quieter home life, a proper diet, and sleep, could improve my study skills was a celebrated revelation.

I no longer view my brain power as an obstacle. Instead, I consider any amount of new knowledge as an achievement. As much as possible I nurture my mind and hope that it stays sharp until the day I die. I also believe that it’s possible to expand one’s mind at any age (even with limitations).

Image result for learning quote

“I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn.”

— Maya Angelou

 

Body

Coming to terms with an aging body is a reality we all eventually have to face. I can tell you from experience, it ain’t easy.

Physical appearance is everything in modern society. We spend a lot of time primping and shopping to make ourselves attractive. Keeping yourself trim for the wrong reasons could lead to body image problems that end up doing long lasting damage. People who have come to learn that taking care of one’s body is more about quality of life and good health, are far more likely to accept their physical imperfections. Being comfortable in your own skin comes from knowing that are treating your body respectfully and not taking it for granted.

Your body is a vessel for living your life fully. You can either abuse it and have to deal with the consequences or you can treat it kindly and make the journey easier. I realize that some health issues are genetic and/or unavoidable. I am writing about the things that are within your control and attainable (e.g., diet, exercise, medical care).

Quick Observation — Not too long ago I was employed by a narcissist. This person, which shall remain nameless, spent a lot of time looking at a reflection of herself. I didn’t notice it at first because I was one of many who admired her. Clearly, we see what we want to see. After awhile, I noticed that whenever we sat down for a meeting or go to a restaurant, she would position herself across from a mirror or window. She would glance over at herself occasionally and give herself a discreet approving smile. Every so often, when she didn’t think anyone was watching, she would stare at herself. Along with this self-adoration came constant boasting and taking credit for other people’s accomplishments. This extreme example of narcissism is shameful.

I share this observation because I met someone this week whom I notice does the same kind of thing in public. I also notice it at the gym with bodybuilders. Of course, not all bodybuilders are narcissistic and like cake decorating, you can’t know how the cake is turning out without constantly examining it. It’s important to love yourself and I’m not advocating the alternative; however, when I see an extreme example of self-love, I wonder where it leads. If you love yourself that much (mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all) is there room to love anyone else? It goes back to balance which I will discuss in more detail later. It is probably healthier for the ego to love yourself, but to also be aware that you are not the most attractive person in the room and that attraction goes way beyond the physical. Who we are and whether we live our lives with integrity, what we stand for, the good deeds we do — these are the things that make us attractive . . . inside and out.

Attending to the physical aspect of my life is probably the most challenging for me. At sixty, there is not much I can do about my body. I have significant arthritis in two places and it’s not getting any better. Having had too many surgical procedures, I’m avoiding having to go through that again; I fear that soon, I will have no choice. Fortunately, I enjoy going to the gym and by nature, I prefer to keep moving. I often consider how fortunate I am and how much worse it could be.

 

Spirit

Let me be clear that when I address the third sector of my own personal wellness, spirit does not mean religion. As a devout atheist, I think about religion only in its historical context. However, this does not mean that I am not spiritual and that I do not have faith. In fact, if there were to be a god I might worship, I would have to say it would be Mother Nature. The wonders of the earth are tangible, genuine, and a gift given to us by nature.

“If you can’t be in awe of Mother Nature, there’s something wrong with you.”

— Alex Trebek

There was a time in my life when spiritual awareness was dormant and not on my radar. I had no time for seeking answers to life’s most difficult questions:  who am I, how do I fit into the grand scheme of things, who are my mentors and teachers, and why am I here? Buddhism can teach us a great deal about how to explore these questions. Although I am not Buddhist, I do believe in many of the religion’s principles.

I have come to realize that faith for me is believing in myself. Belief that living life to the fullest is one of humankind’s obligations; a way of returning the favor of being given life. The belief that you as an individual has a responsibility to the earth, your fellow human, and the rest of the animal kingdom, is faith in life itself. Birth provides life and the ability to love. I have great faith in love. I believe love is the foundation of most religions and it is faith in love that will keep humankind thriving. If we ever cease to exist, it will be because we lost faith in love.

My faith lies in my belief that humankind is good and loving. I use meditation and other forms of self-reflection to remain in touch with my spiritual consciousness.

 

Balance

Moving to Portugal has been a blessing in many ways. It is a wonderful place to live and host guests. Friends and family often ask how I spend my day. I answer that question with a bit of hesitation and resentment. Part of me feels very protective of how I spend my time. Another part of me wants to share what I consider to be my good fortune, without boasting or judgment. I still consider how I spend my time to be extremely personal.

If I have learned anything, it is that balance is key for anything even remotely akin to happiness. My answer to “how do you spend your time?” would be that I am working toward personal fulfillment, but that seems rather pretentious and evasive. Perhaps a better answer is that I am attempting to create balance in my life; a balance between the peaks and valleys, a balance between what is too much of a good thing and what is too painful to consider, a balance between the person I’d like to be and the person that I am. I would like to be at peace with who I am.

person standing at the entrance of the cave on shore
Photo by Marco Trinidad on Pexels.com

What in the World?

How does one reconcile, in one’s mind, the hate and corruption one sees throughout the world?

The sad answer is that it’s almost impossible to make it right and all you can do is your best.

 

This past week was a difficult one for me. I wonder if I should even write while I’m feeling so much rage. I don’t consider myself any more virtuous or high minded than anyone else, but I do have a moral compass and it is definitely searching for my true north. I am aware that many people are sick and tired of hearing about corruption and don’t want anything to do with partisan politics. That’s not a good reason for me to shut-up about it. World leaders everywhere are making decisions that affect the lives of many in a truly destructive way. I’m not so naive to think that it is any better or worse than it has ever been, nonetheless, I am discouraged by what I see and hear.

Leaders have been corrupt for centuries; most likely since the very beginning. What I find difficult to swallow, is the absence of concern from the people who are affected by their decisions. We work hard, we take care of one another, and we attempt to create a future for ourselves and our families. However, what we are seeing more and more, is greed and dishonesty among the politicians we put our trust in.

 

What I see

  • I think that as long as these bad actors continue to get elected, apparently by whatever means it takes, this virus will grow bigger and will cause greater harm to the world.
  • Local grassroots leaders may also be corrupt, however, keeping a watchful eye on these politicians is somewhat easier when you can look them in the eye and hold them accountable.
  • We often use the “holidays” as an opportunity to tuck these issues away while we celebrate and escape the news. Taking a break from harsh reality is a good thing, however, politicians count on times like this, hoping we might forget our grievances. Our current administration uses news cycles to deflect from big issues, creating new fires and attempting to bury important stories.
  • The media has always manipulated the truth, spun lies, distorted facts, etc., but lately it seems more like a competition for who can do be better at this game.
  •  I recently decided to listen to those for whom I care a great deal, to hear their point of view and try to better understand their perspective. Their truth is just that and I find it difficult to argue with someone who firmly believes his or her truth.
  • When you feel marginalized, patronized, ignored, and lied to, it’s easy to understand why you might look to a different source for salvation.
  • There have been many studies done (WSJ piece) on the psychological toll the current environment is taking on our lives. The inability to do anything about the chaos and lies, leaves us feeling hopeless and lost (US News piece). Depression, a lack of sleep, anger, hopelessness; it all eventually catches up with you.
  • People have justifiably stopped watching the news or listening to the media. The average person doesn’t know what to believe anymore, and therefore, chooses not to believe anything.

Here is when you add what you see. This is the part that is most interesting. We all see something different because we have different perspectives and histories. Thinking your own perspective is the correct one, is dangerous. It will leave you feeling angry and frustrated. I feel this way almost every day and I have to remind myself to take a step back and breathe.

 

Where It’s All Going

  • Hate to say it, but I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better. The greedy, lying, SOBs, have far too much to lose and they won’t stop until they get want they want; often at our expense.
  • Authoritarian power mongers are winning elections in many countries; their collective power and clout is helping to put them in office and keep them there. Then of course there are the dictators who gain power by other means. I don’t necessarily see these men as more dangerous than those who are elected.
  • Some leaders use fear, lies and deceit, to get elected and stay in office. It appears that facts and truth is not enough to disprove their rhetoric.
  • There are movements all over the world to stop these hacks. There are also people and organizations putting millions of dollars into the hands of smart leaders who can, at the very least, slow down corruption.
  • Young people, in greater numbers, seem to be joining the conversation lately and that’s a good thing.
  • Sometimes we take three steps forward and six steps back.
  • I truly hate feeling this way, because it’s already pretty dire, but I believe the worst is coming. I don’t believe we are at our breaking point just yet. I don’t think we are capable of wrapping our heads around just how bad it can get. Our optimism can blind us.
  • I think climate change will be more catastrophic than we ever imagined. The rain forests, our oceans, oxygen levels, fossil fuels, dwindling natural resources, garbage, plastics, etc. — way too complicated for the average person to comprehend. We are at a point in mankind’s development where facing the reality of the damage we are causing to our fragile planet, is imperative. Denying, defraying, and hiding the truth, will only hasten our demise. I’m not so much worried for myself, but for our children and their children. Closing our eyes and ears is not the answer; the next generation will pay the price. In the past, the cost was not quite so clear. The world population is higher than it’s ever been and getting bigger.
  • Optimism is a good thing, but using it as a way to deny reality, is dangerous. It is human to be hopeful. It is human to see the good in people. It is human to protect and preserve one’s self, and it it also human to repeat history. We need to wake-up and consider the future.

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. Being in Portugal, where they naturally do not celebrate Thanksgiving, was not a good thing for me. Next year I need to either be with friends and family or create a Thanksgiving feast in Portugal. I find myself going down a rabbit hole of negativity and deep concern.

 

Sparing You and Me Both

I’m going to stop here and state, that I am aware that what I am writing about is fairly negative and seemingly fatalistic. I am normally upbeat, positive and hopeful. I hate that I don’t feel that way lately. I’m not depressed, unhealthy or lonely. I’m sensing a great deal of concern from average people who feel that their hands are tied behind their backs. So the big question is, what can you do to change the world so that it’s a better place for our children? I’m in awe of Jane Fonda who fights for all of us each day. At 82 years old, it would be easy for her to enjoy her wealth and abundance. She and others like her (i.e., Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter) inspire me and move me to action.

A friend of mine has being doing his part to lift the spirits of those around him by posting positive quotes on his Facebook page. I came across this one just the other day:

“The biggest obstacle to changing the world is the believe that we can’t.”

— Marianne Williamson

group of people taking photo
Photo by Rebecca Zaal on Pexels.com

Toulouse and All of Her Charms

Toulouse is all too often overlooked, but it’s one of France’s most historic and fascinating cities. Known to locals as La Ville Rose (The Pink City) after the distinctive pink stone used to construct many of its buildings, Toulouse receives just a fraction of the tourists of Paris or Nice.

Lonely Planet text (I have been buying Lonely Planet travel guides for at least 30 years and swear by them)

 

 

 

It’s hard to believe that there was a time in recent history when people were afraid to travel to cities because of crime and grit (1970s and 1980s). These days you visit many cities all over the world and experience something totally different:  they are clean, public transportation is efficient, you find many great restaurants and in some cases, the comforts of home in an Airbnb.

I chose Toulouse for several reasons:  I had never been, it is a direct flight from Faro, the airfare this time of year is very reasonable, the weather is mild, and I liked what I saw on-line. This was probably my best travel decision of 2019. Toulouse is gorgeous and so easy to navigate — I love walkable cities. It is France, a country where cuisine has been a focus for centuries, so there are indoor and outdoor markets and good food everywhere. There are many sites to see and they’re not all churches. I was very fortunate to find an Airbnb right in the center of the city. It was next to the Garonne River and a five to twenty minute walk to all the places I wanted to visit.

 

Air Travel

I flew EasyJet (a bargain no-frills airline) and my roundtrip fare, with carry-on, was 101 Euros roundtrip. These people know what they’re doing and they make it easy to fly. I feel fortunate that Faro is one of their hubs. You get your boarding pass on-line and you don’t have to check in at a desk, which will save you boatloads of time.

One hour and 50 easy minutes (even shorter on return) later and I was on the ground. Toulouse has a modern airport and you won’t walk for twenty minutes. Off the plane and out the door quickly.

 

Ground Transportation

There is a tram right outside of the Toulouse terminal that will take you right to the center of Toulouse (and everywhere in between). It is 1.70 Euro and a ticket can be purchased at a multi-language machine right next to the tram. Purchase two tram tickets if you intend to return by tram. It’s a 30 minute ride and it leaves about every 15 minutes — very civilized. You can also take a taxi or an Uber for about 20 Euros.

 

Accomodations

I looked at hotels and the ones in the center of Toulouse were 125 to 400 Euros per night. I like using Airbnbs when I plan on buying food at the market and preparing it myself. It’s a great way to eat fresh, local products and save some money. I found an Airbnb right in the center of Toulouse next to the Garonne River. The three nights with fees and all was $269 (I pay Airbnb with U.S. dollars and it saves me a few quid). I don’t usually share my Airbnb link, because everyone is looking for something different and I don’t want to be accused of giving bad advice. I am making an exception, because Nathalie’s place was beautifully appointed, in a great location and at a great price. She even left me bread, cookies, milk, coffee, juice and delicious homemade apricot jam.

Nathalie also lists the apartment on her own:

http://tounis.jimdofree.com

It’s a small studio with a sleeping alcove with a double bed and a good mattress. In addition, white cotton sheets and a down comforter made for cozy nights.

 

Dining & Food Markets

There are four indoor/outdoor markets in Toulouse that operate every day except Monday (you need to check the schedule for exact times). This link will provide some great information:  market info. My apartment was just two blocks away from Carmes, so I went to the market several times.

 

 

There is a public garage above the market and if you go up to the roof, you will be treated to a spectacular panoramic view of Toulouse.

 

 

 

Le Colombier

Listed on several sites as one of Toulouse’s finest traditional restaurants, I was compelled to give it a go. I learned from several on-line sources, that Le Colombier specializes in cassoulet. When I made my reservation for my first night in Toulouse, I intended to try the cassoulet, which was one of my favorite dishes when I was working at the French Culinary Institute. I had a nice leisurely walk to the restaurant, passing several historic sites along the way. Unfortunately, when I arrived I was not hungry enough for a hearty French stew. I ordered an aperitif thinking that might help my appetite, but alas, it did not.

The server pushed hard on the cassoulet and I nearly caved. Instead I ordered a pre fixe dinner where duck was one of the entree choices (I can’t recall the other option). I started with escargot; the snails were tender and very garlicky, just the way I like it. I also had some good dinner rolls to sop up the olive oil the snails were cooked in. The duck leg cooked very slowly in red wine sauce was probably the best duck (aside from Chinese Peking Duck which is one of my all time favorites) dishes I have ever eaten. The duck meat fell off the bone and the vegetables in the sauce were a perfect accompaniment. My savory taste buds were very satisfied. There were a few traditional dessert choices and I decided to go with the apple tart with whipped cream, real fresh whipped cream. I was pleased with all of my choices and walked back to my Airbnb with a full tummy and a happy heart. This is ultimately what I love most about France. The French know food and wine and rarely disappoint.

 

d24bde04-732b-426d-b4c5-1bdd7e7ac569

 

My second day I had dinner with a friend at a Thai restaurant, Baan Siam located in the Carmes neighborhood, near my Airbnb — I like to walk home and go straight to bed after a good meal. There were several Thai restaurants near me and I chose Baan because it was on a quiet street and it had great reviews. As I have stated in previous blogs, Faro, regrettably, does not have a Thai restaurant, therefore, I satisfy my Thai cravings when I travel. I ordered several very traditional Thai dishes and again, was happy with my choices. I won’t go so far as to say it was great Thai food, but I can say that it was very good and the service was excellent.

I had my final dinner at an Italian Café because I was craving pasta. The server told me that the tagliatelle in a ham and cream sauce was their specialty. I was not bowled over, so I won’t mention the name of the restaurant. I did have a beautiful red from Puglia and that saved the meal.

There are hundreds of restaurants to choose from in Toulouse and they range from inexpensive and trendy to high-end and classic; you will not run out of excellent options no matter how long your stay.

 

Sites

I usually try to do an organized food tour on my first full day so I can learn more what a city has to offer. Airbnb usually has several options depending on the city you are visiting. I signed up for a food and wine tour with Jessica. This time I was treated to a private tour; not good for the guide, but fortunate for me.

Jessica Hammer on (TripAdvisor and Airbnb).

These are some of Jessica’s best spots. I don’t think it’s fair to Jessica to include them all; for more information and her excellent recommendations, I advise you to take her tour — at 80 Euros it was a bargain.

  • Maison Beauhaire – MOF (a big honor in France) boulanger. We tasted the chocolatine and the baguette de tradition. The baguette was excellent (even heated up the next day).
  • Papaix et Fils – farm to counter foie gras producer. We tasted their foie gras à la ancien (fatty duck liver cooked in duck fat – the ancient method), as well as their duck boudin, two types of magret de canard (dry-cured and slow-cooked), their white boudin with foie gras, and their duck saucisson. I purchased duck boudin to take home. As long as it is vacuum sealed, it is not a customs problem.
  • Various charcuterie from le Cochon Regaleur
  • Xavier Fromagerie – MOF fromager/affineur. We tasted their:
    • Crottin de Justine (raw goat milk cheese with a natural rind from the Lot, north of Toulouse)
    • Comté Réserve (the specialty of Xavier Fromagerie – a raw cow’s milk cheese, pressed and cooked, from the Jura, made only with summer milk from the cows when they graze in the mountains, aged at least 24 months)
    • Laruns (raw sheep milk cheese from the Hautes Pyrénées, southwest of Toulouse)
    • Bleu de Séverac (raw cow milk blue cheese from Aveyron, near where Roquefort is produced)
  • Criollo Chocolatier – various ganache and praliné chocolates (special tip: Criollo has another boutique in Toulouse on the Place St Etienne that also has a salon de thé/tea room where you can sit and have a cup of hot chocolate. I missed out on this treat, but I’ll be back.)

See other places to go for food in recommendations below.

There are numerous wine shops throughout the city. I went to several and found the sellers to be very helpful and friendly. You can expect to pay anywhere from six to 25 Euros for good French wine. I decided to stay away from wines from Bordeaux since I will be visiting there for Christmas.

Le Capitale — Hotel DeVille

 

 

 

Couvent des Jacobins — The Church of the Jacobins is a deconsecrated Roman Catholic church located in Toulouse, France. It is a large brick building whose construction started in 1230, and whose architecture influenced the development of the Gothique méridional style. The relics of Thomas Aquinas are housed there. Wikipedia

Toulouse’s Best Museums

Honestly, there are many museums in Toulouse and I had little time to explore. I’m saving most of the suggested museums for my spring trip. The above link highlights several.

 

Toulouse has a large gay population; therefore, there are quite a few gay bars and several shows with drag queens and female impersonators — the French love theatre. I wish I could say that I took part in the late night festivities, but alas I’m getting older and my ability to stay up past midnight has diminished.

 

The French Language

People will tell you that when you are in France no one speaks English and that the French expect you to speak French. This may be the case for some travelers, however, this has not been my experience. It’s true that there are some French people who do not speak English, just as there are some American who do not speak French; take me for example. I would say that most merchants spoke enough English to communicate and when all else fails there is always Google translator. The French, in general, love when you make an effort and who can blame them.

 

A Few Recommendations

  • If you are inclined to book a tour of any kind, do it the first or second day so that you can get the lay of the land and recommendations from your guide.
  • Whether you choose a hotel or an Airbnb, try to stay close to the city center if you enjoy walking. You might get a good deal outside the city, but then end up spending more than you’re saving in transportation expenses.
  • You can rent a city bike in Toulouse for a nominal 30 minute rate. As long as you dock it at any of the many docks throughout the city, every thirty minutes, you only pay the initial fee. Everybody does it and I believe the city likes it that way.
  • There are traditional French restaurants that offer classic dishes and then contemporary restaurants that are a bit more creative; both are very good, you just have to know what you want. The ethnic restaurants and street food options are outstanding.
  • Bring an umbrella if you’re traveling in the fall. The good news is that it doesn’t rain all day, everyday; however, the rain can be heavy at times in November.
  • As with any old cities, the sidewalks in the oldest part of town can be narrow.
  • Sundays in Toulouse are much quieter than the rest of the week.

 

  • Jessica’s notes to me:  If you have the opportunity to return to the Marché Victor Hugo for lunch at one of the restaurants, my recommendations are Le Louchebem (where my old-school French friends go for magret de canard, steak frites, and other meat-centric dishes) and Au Bon Graillou (for really good grilled fish – based on the recommendations of others, as I’m not a big seafood eater myself).
  • If you’re looking for other restaurant recommendations, my good friend Cat, who is a writer and food blogger, has written a great article on her 30 favorite restaurants in Toulouse, with short and sweet descriptions of each. It’s a fabulous resource if you’re looking for a good place to eat (all different kinds of food at different price ranges). https://catskitchenfrance.com/toulouses-top-30-eateries/
  • I also wrote a blog post about the winners of the 2018-2019 Lucien Vanel restaurant awards in Toulouse:  https://www.tasteoftoulouse.com/the-best-restaurants-in-toulouse-prix-lucien-vanel-2018-2019/ Out of the ones I’ve already visited, my favorite meal this year was at Une Table a Deux. I also loved eating at Les Fortes Têtes, which has good vegetarian options and excellent service (one of those places where you can tell that everyone loves working there).
  • If you want really typical cooking from southwest France, with impeccable local sourcing, I highly recommend le J’Go.
  • If you’re in the mood for exploring, I’d recommend checking out the Saint Cyprien neighborhood, on the other side of the Garonne river.
  • The Boulangerie Cyprien in Saint Cyprien is another one of my favorite bakeries, especially for their chocolatines which have THREE bars of chocolate, instead of the regular two. They also do a really cool baguette de charbon (charcoal).
  • Another of my other favorite chocolatiers in Toulouse is Cacaofages, also in Saint Cyprien, and they specialize in chocolate sculptures, so their shop looks like a sculpture gallery (except it’s all CHOCOLATE!) and they also have a salon de thé with fantastic hot chocolate.

 

Back to Me:

When I fall in love with a city, I always leave behind a reason or two to return.

Side Note:  I shouldn’t write this:  when I visited Vienna a few months ago, although beautiful, it felt severe, angry and cold (not temperature, it was May), however, as soon as I got off the plane in Toulouse I felt warmth, joy and comfort. Is it the people? The history? My mood? Probably all of the above. Something to keep in mind when people write about travel, their accumulated baggage may help form their opinion.

I have guests in Faro from the States, therefore, there will be no blog next week. See you all soon and thank you again for your interest in my adventures.