Why I Love Faro and Plan to Stay Put
When you live in a place where they speak a different language and the customs are not what your accustomed to, you cannot help but ponder on how you fit in. The truth is that I have never fit in. Family, school, neighborhood, work, social gatherings — you name it, I was out-of-place; sometimes I still am. Mind you, it wasn’t always people who made me feel this way; it was mostly my own voice telling me I didn’t belong.
So when I decided to move to Portugal, for many who know me well, the first question was: how will you be able to live in a foreign country? Having rehearsed for this move my entire life, my answer was: oh that’s the easy part.
In the past, I have mostly written about logistics and concrete matters related to my move abroad; today I want to write about how it feels to be an American overseas. First allow me to describe the setting.
[Covering an area of 4,997 km (3,105 miles), Algarve is home to 438,406 permanent residents. According to statistics from Pordata, 10 percent of the population is expats.] It is my understanding that about 11 percent of the Portugal expat population is American. I would say that this figure is far smaller in the Algarve. If you break it down, the number of Americans living in Faro is actually quite small.
The Algarve (the region of Portugal where I reside), is the southernmost part of Portugal. It is a tourist destination for many Europeans seeking predictably good weather, an affordable holiday, outdoor activity, and a safe place to hang your hat. My earlier blogs will tell you why I chose Portugal and Faro; I’ll spare you those details here.
People who look and sound like me are difficult to find in Faro. I workout at a large gym and I am one of two Americans. The other, Al, is also from Brooklyn, but he has lived in Portugal for a long time. It took several years of walking by him at the gym before I learned that he was from Carroll Gardens, a neighborhood not far from my own. Al’s a big guy who is probably a teddy bear, but he looks like someone you wouldn’t want to make angry. I think I look that way when I’m not smiling.
My apartment building is entirely Portuguese and the restaurants I tend to eat in are patronized by a majority of Portuguese people. I’m simply stating fact, no judgment.
Having described feeling out-of-place my entire life, you would think I might feel that way in the Algarve, but I don’t. I feel welcomed, accepted, and like I belong. I’m sure most of these feelings reside in my head and are not based on reality, but does that really matter? I could get all philosophical about what is real and what is made up in our imagination, but I don’t want to scare you.
Thoughts that Swirl and Machinate
These days, I feel as if I’m living outside of myself. I’m like a voyeur watching this old guy navigate a life he cannot quite believe he is living. It’s fascinating for me to watch him fumble. I’m not concerned that you’ll think me mad, because I am certain most people feel this way from time-to-time. Who am I? Where do I belong? How do I fit in? If you’re human, you frequently consciously or unconsciously, ask yourself these questions.
So why do I feel so much at home in Portugal? I will refrain from creating a list and instead, try to describe my dominant feelings. But first . . .
An aside: I flew into Bordeaux because EasyJet cancelled my flight directly into Toulouse and I rebooked on RyanAir to Toulouse which is two hours away. I like the train system in most of Europe, so I figured I’d spend a couple of days in Bordeaux and five days in Toulouse; a city I have come to love. I literally just missed my train from Bordeaux to Toulouse because I booked the wrong time and didn’t notice it on the ticket until I was on the bus to the train station. I jumped off the bus to call an Uber. It was sort of like a scene in a film . . . me leaning into the front seat asking the driver to please try and get me to the station quickly, but unfortunately traffic and slow drivers made it impossible. I tried to book a ticket for the next train, but it’s full so I’m stuck in Bordeaux — not a bad place to be stuck — a 5 hour wait I’m afraid. When I booked this trip, I was unaware that it was Easter week. What do they say about breathing or that things happen the way they’re supposed to? I’ll blog and people watch and eat and answer emails and people watch and sulk. I get to sulk just a little. It was a stupid mistake. This too shall pass . . .
I saw this restaurant in Bordeaux on-line while I was waiting for my train. I took a shot at a reservation and they had one seat left (sometimes traveling alone has its advantages). I sort of thought they were lying until I sat down and people started flooding in. I ended up having one of the best sirloin steaks of my life. I almost went all out for a 50 Euro dry aged T-Bone, but I held back having had already incurred extra expenses from missing my 10:28. A nice Medoc and some potatoes au gratin . . . yada, yada, yada. All that for 25 Euros; now I understand why they were all booked-up.
BDX Café is attached to a stylish boutique hotel near the Gare St. Jean in Bordeaux. I’m killing time here while I wait several hours for my train to Toulouse. The homemade chocolate cake with fresh whip cream is divine and I’m sipping a Kressmann’s Blanc Grande Reserve while I type away on my fully charged laptop (multiple outlets at my feet).
I met a very nice young lady on the train who helped me pass the time and gave me a good restaurant recommendation. She was smart, very pretty, and delightful. I suppose I was meant to meet her. I hated saying goodbye at the station. People come and go so quickly here (movie reference; know which one?).
Back to the Main Reason for this Blog
Let’s return to why I feel so good about my life in Portugal. First and foremost, removing myself from a place where I wasn’t very happy, was a tremendous boost to my spirits and self-esteem. I took life by the balls so to speak. When you enter into a situation knowing that the change could and hopefully will improve your life, it gives you hope and the drive to push forward.
I found myself and Giorgio (my pooch at the time) in the position to reinvent myself. I wanted to relax more, care less about what others thought, embrace the European lifestyle, travel, and most importantly, take better care of myself — eat better, sleep more, have regular check-ups, and leave the world of answering to others behind.
It didn’t hurt that I found myself a place overlooking the Ria Formosa and Atlantic Ocean. When the high school is not holding classes, it’s peaceful and perfect and when the students are there it’s youthful and nerve-racking. I think it’s good to have the former to look forward to.
I am a man of many hobbies (e.g., cooking, reading, gardening, writing, film watching, home decorating, learning Portuguese, and keeping up with friends); therefore, I am never bored or at a loss for projects. You’ve heard retirees say, “How did I have time to work?” — that’s me.
I’m close to a large market for fresh fish and beautiful groceries (French owned with many French products), an open air farmers market on Sundays, two Lidl’s, an Aldi’s, many restaurants, numerous good coffee shops (latté one Euro everywhere — café com leite), several closed-to-traffic shopping streets with great stores for clothing, etc. a mall, a multi-screen cinema, a jazz club, great pet shops, good doctors, a wonderful vet, several rooftop bars with magnificent views, and parks everywhere. There is a big park next across from my apartment; it’s being totally renovated and I’m excited to see how it turns out — I liked how rustic it was before they started.
Now I’m certain you will read what I just wrote and think, “No wonder he loves Faro,” and you’d be right. But for some reason expats have stigmatized Faro as a town you only go to for the airport and train station. Whenever I have an expat friend over from another town, they make a comment about how they’d misjudged Faro. Some say, “I could live here.” I don’t really need the validation, but it’s nice to hear that others think I made a good choice. A friend from Manhattan recently purchased in Faro. She is a person of great taste and doesn’t decide anything lightly. This has been not only gratifying for me, but also validates my decision to settle here.
Odd as it may seem, I am happy to be one of a small minority of Americans. I navigate through Faro as a proud resident of a beautiful country and I think, I am an American in Faro.
Toulouse is quickly becoming my second city after Faro. I love everything about this French gem (I have blogged about Toulouse in the past). Ninety quick minutes on a budget airline and I am eating French classic dishes and drinking beautiful French wines. This city has everything I love about Paris, except that it’s less crowded, friendlier, and more affordable. I will only point out a couple of highlights since I am here to just be. Now pass the foie gras.
My airbnb is close to the center of Toulouse and has everything I could possibly need. My first night was quiet and comfortable and I slept nine hours. I think last time I slept-in was 1989. Nice hotels in Toulouse are close to 200 Euros a night and this Airbnb was just a little over 60 Euros a night. I don’t always choose an Airbnb, but for five nights I like a kitchenette and a quiet neighborhood (near everything).
I booked this very popular, modern French cuisine restaurant well over a year ago and then I had to cancel several times due to COVID-19 cancellations. They were extremely accommodating and it finally happened my second night in Toulouse. My one big splurge. The dishes were visually appealing and tasted magical. You have a choice between two tasting menus and nicely paired wines (optional). I spent about 65 Euros and for a meal of this caliber, that’s pretty good.
Went to Victor Hugo Market at lunchtime; it’s my favorite and a five minute walk from my Airbnb. After a sweet walkabout, I had lunch upstairs at L’Impériale. If you’re in the mood for authentic country French, it doesn’t get much better. Get there early because the place fills up quickly. They’ve got the charm and the service down pat. The cassoulet made me think about small country inns on the outskirts of Paris; a warm fire and hearty cuisine.
The dish pictured in the middle is an escargot crumble. It must have been cooked in reduced red wine; like many French country dishes. I never had anything like it. I lapped up the sauce with some good crunchy bread.
I sat across an elderly country at lunch. I assume it was a Good Friday fish day for them. It was one of those couples who have been together for 50 or 60 years; they say nothing out loud, but the words between them are sweet, filled with tortured and loving memories. Watching them through my invisible window was a privilege I do not take lightly.
Tonight I booked a Vietnamese meal to prepared in the home of a Vietnamese home cook. I found it on Airbnb. No doubt it will be memorable. I will add more tomorrow.
Vietnamese dinner at Vivi’s home: I love these “dine in someone’s home” experiences. Vivi moved to Toulouse after studying in Montreal. Born and raised in Vietnam where her family resides, Vivi was a delight to be with. She’s authentic, young, smart, a developer, a writer, and an excellent cook. There were two amazing things about this enchanting evening: first, it was just the two of us (not so good for Vivi) and second, Vivi’s warmth and willingness to share her story. Once again, I am grateful.
I have a few more days here in France. Vivi told me about a Korean restaurant I will try for lunch. I purchased some good eats at the market yesterday and I’m just back from buying a crisp baguette at the local boulangerie. After a few days in a particular place you get to know where to shop and who serves the best latté. My favorite thing about an Airbnb is the ability to buy local food and eat in in a comfortable apartment setting. I will post now rather than wait so that I can enjoy the rest of my trip. If anything amazing or out-of-the-ordinary happens (it probably will), I will include it in my next blog.
Upcoming Travel Plans
In a few weeks I travel to Berlin, then on to Amsterdam, followed by Geneva, Milan, and Nantes. There are some small local excursions in between and a Northern European cruise in October. I have COVID-19 doubts about the cruise, but we shall see.
Lately I’ve been thinking that I am travelling too much and it’s wearing me out. I miss Paco and my creature comforts (the familiar). I admit my desire to explore and experience new things is currently stronger than the wish to curl under a blanket on my sofa with a good book and a glass of Portuguese red, but I suspect the latter will become more attractive over time. Until that happens, I will fight the urge to hibernate.
I was feeling a bit down about my blog until my birthday came around. I received birthday wishes from quite a few friends and acquaintances and many of them encouraged me to keep blogging and posting photos. Honestly, I wasn’t sure anyone was listening or watching. Some of you have been following me since the beginning and I appreciate that. Since I am not one to disappoint . . . there’s no stopping me now (four years of consistent blogging). I’ve thought about self-publishing a book about living overseas, but isn’t that what I have right here on these pages? Perhaps a book containing chronicling highlights in the future. For now, this suits me just fine.
Au revoir pour le moment mes amis.
Please forgive spelling and grammatical errors; my proofreader is on vacation (ha!).