I was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1959. I've lived in several different places, but this is the first time I have resided overseas. My career has gone in multiple directions; however, education is my passion. My Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from New York University has opened many doors and for that I am grateful. Writing has become a pastime I enjoy and hope to further pursue. The future holds no limitations and I am keeping all of my options open. I have landed in Portugal and there is a vast and beautiful world to explore.
Recently, a few people very close to me expressed their concern about my travel habits this past year. No one said as much, but I got the feeling that some may have thought I was running away from something. Damn it to hell when people who love me are right. It’s true, I was running away; I’ve been running for a long time, and . . .
Not running from any one particular person, place or thing, but I do run. When you become aware of something and you own it, you’re more likely to make change happen. Change is happening for me now.
Arguments for Staying Home More
Spend more time with your pet.
Enjoy and appreciate your home.
If you like routine, it’s easier to keep up with it at home.
Your food won’t go stale.
Commitment to create a nest you’re happy to nest in.
Becoming a regular at neighborhood eateries is extremely satisfying on so many levels.
Making Travel A Treat
If you’re like me, too much of a good thing gets old fast. I’ve learned that I need time between travel. Travel is exhausting these days; you need time to fully recover before you venture out again. If you space it out, it gives you time to anticipate your next adventure.
The joy of discovery is the single most important thing in life. Don’t forget it.
— The Common Wanderer
2023 Travel (scheduled)
No travel until March 1st!
Florida, Liverpool, Nantes, Pornic, Oban (Scotland), Dubai, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, and Hong Kong. My very first trip to Asia. I believe this will be more than enough travel for one year. I’ll be in my own bed a lot more in 2023.
Just an Aside
Two amazing things happened in 2022: I reconciled with a family member that I have been estranged from for too long. I love this person very much, therefore, it was a difficult estrangement. The other is that I have come closer to being a whole person who truly believes that I am enough. I know it’s a big deal.
I don’t want my blogs to become boring or irrelevant. Please share your honest thoughts with me; I promise not to cry or block you. You can only send me a private message. I appreciate the ability to put my twisted thoughts in writing and share them with you — always with the intention of helping someone, somewhere, who may relate in some way.
A difference of opinion, politicians/political parties, immigration, abortion, racism, the royals, religion, gay marriage, gender identities; you name the issue and everyone around you is on a different side. It’s important to stay true to yourself, but the truth is, we need one another. If you began eliminating people in your life because their values or beliefs were different, you’d end up with your principals and many lonely nights. We have to find a way to be with one another despite our convictions and predilections.
What It’s Like These Days
It so often feels as if no matter what you say, you will either offend someone or clash with them on some issue. The last thing I want is to be surrounded by people who always agree with me or vice versa. I am fascinated by what people think and feel. Of course there are red lines. For example, there are people out there today who proudly state their hate against Jews. For me, if you hate an entire population of people and wish them ill, we cannot be friends, family, or acquaintances. That sort of toxicity has no place in my life. These people may have some wonderful qualities, but annihilation, extremism, and hate overshadows all else as far as I’m concerned.
I was having dinner with a friend last night and we got into a conversation about marriage — who should be able to marry whom, that sort of discussion. I could tell from the start that she was going to say some things I fundamentally disagreed with. She went on to explain where her values came from; clearly she was taught from a very early age that there are things good christians should do or not do. I asked her if she intellectually believed that what she was taught was right and she emphatically said, “No!” For me, that makes all the difference. I have prejudices that I believe are wrong and unfair, but I know they are wrong and I’m working to change a position(s)/belief(s) that has been embedded in my consciousness for many years. We need to accept our differing beliefs, knowing that the foundation of these beliefs were deeply laid. And that most people are inherently good.
Listening to a different point of view is necessary and helpful. It helps me to formulate an informed, stronger, more absolute opinion or thought. Challenging someone is also good; provided the individual being challenged is open to what you have to say.
Love Conquers All
If that isn’t a load of horseshit, I don’t know what is. In fact, when I love, I expect the best in people. My expectations have always been too high; however, altering or lowering my expectations seems wrong on so many levels. So this is what I do lately: I accept people for who they are, but . . . if their thinking is radical and fundamentally flawed (in my opinion), I put a bit of distance between us and focus more on relationships where the people I spend time with are kind, empathetic, thoughtful, and reasonable.
Love can be tarnished or erased by hate and/or hurtful acts.
I realize some of what I write seems contradictory — human beings are one huge contradiction . . . aren’t we?
If you have found a way to cope with differences that can be divisive, please share your thoughts. Thank you.
I’m not poetically inspired very often these days; certainly not the activist I was in my early 20s. The number of issues which tear us apart concerns me. I find that it’s much too easy to just push away someone who doesn’t think the way you do. Stephen Fry was an outstanding debater and an awe inspiring intellect. If you have some time, check him out on Youtube.
Peace of Mind
When mercury's gone retrograde for what seems like eternity
Voices inside your head keeps interrupting your thoughts
Arguing about who said what to whom on the radio
And planes fly in and out of your personal air space
Breathe the quiet you long for
A moment to survey your power
Learn from tomorrow's mistakes; yes that's right (and left)
Be the child whose innocence kept you in slumber
Technically you're only temporary
You can delete, revise, redraw or backspace
Allow your emotional intelligence to rule your intellect
Eliminate the static before it eliminates you
There is a place they call nirvana
Tickets to and fro are gratis
Try too hard and you'll end up in limbo
Having peace of mind is yours for the asking
HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM ABBA!
No One is Harder on You Than Yourself(mostly true)
Note: Not sure what went wrong, but I have lost a couple of hours of work on this blog. I typed out the questions below and then answered them truthfully. I thought about my answers all day the following day; if I’m going to be honest with myself, the answers were disturbing — lots of self-loathing. My computer failed to save my answers; divinely intervention? I’m going to complete the same exercise again, being kinder to myself this time. It will be interesting to read back my responses in order to determine if my current state of mind influenced my answers. I will report on this assessment. I should also note that I abandoned this blog three times. I obviously did not want to write it . . . or did I?
An Honest Conversation With Myself
Putting the above photo collage together was difficult. I usually hate photos of myself. Today I am asking myself why I have such a hard time looking at my photos:
Are you unhappy with the way you look in the photos (in general)?
Is any reminder of your looks repulsive?
Do you think it’s vain to post photos of yourself?
Do you ever attempt to alter your image?
Would you like to look different? How different?
Are you obsessed with the way you look?
These are tough questions; answering them honestly will be even more difficult.
Are you unhappy with the way you look in the photos (in general)? I am, yes. I was never happy with photos of myself, even when I was in my 20s and 30s.
Is any reminder of your looks repulsive? Not repulsive; however, it’s rare when I am not disgusted with the way I look in a photo. Of all the photos at the top, the bottom right is the only one I like. I was very relaxed and at peace that day (in the Azores).
Do you think it’s vain to post photos of yourself? I do. I think people who post pictures of themselves on a daily basis may be dealing with some sort of issue — I don’t necessarily think they are vain, they might need positive feedback or praise (just one possibility). I feel sort of righteous stating this; I don’t like it.
Do you ever attempt to alter your image? I rarely do. I usually consider that I should have thought about it, but by then, it’s too late.
Would you like to look different? How different? I would. I don’t mind my age; however, the bald, pasty, sagging neck look is unattractive. I would not mind for all of that to go away. I realize two things: First, I’m not alone in how I feel about myself, and second, I won’t ever do anything to alter the way I look. I am disgusted by dramatic plastic surgery. There I go being righteous again.People should be able to enhance/alter/change their looks, without judgment from others.
Are you obsessed with the way you look? I think the word is more “reoccupied.”
Reading back my answers makes me sad. I’d like to be happy with my looks. No, no, I’d settle for satisfied actually. I don’t like that I care so much. When I ask people in their 80s about this, they tell me that they no longer give a shit. What that tells me is, I just need to be patient. I also need to be a whole less judgmental.
I’m not going to go into this in any great detail; however, I do think people prefer pretty/handsome people. I’m not sure how conscious we are of this.
Are you influenced by societal expectations or the expectations of others? I’d like to think that I am not, but that would be lying to myself.
The first comment when you see people you know is often, “You look great! Or, you’ve lost weight. Or, you have changed a bit.” It’s all very superficial and only reinforces the importance of how we are supposed to look. I wonder if that will ever change?
I go to the gym five or six times a week, I watch what I eat, I give myself a facial a few times a year, I shave more than I’d like to, and I try to dress well (not stylishly, but I like looking neat and feeling comfortable). I’d like to trust that I’m doing enough for my self-image.
Detaching Versus Fully Embracing
There are times when living in denial seems a whole lot easier. Is it completely necessary to examine certain aspects of who you are? I ask myself this question often. For now, I’m going to say the answer is yes.
This isn’t about my looks necessarily; however, it is about self-esteem. The older I get the more I realize that compromise and placating myself is key when dealing with major life questions and issues. I’m talking about negotiating with yourself. Here’s how an internal conversation might go:
What’s bothering you today? I’m pissed off that blank ignored me at the restaurant last night. In what way did you feel ignored? Blank didn’t ask me a single question about myself and blank didn’t listen to anything I said. This person is not a friend, it’s someone you know from an expat group; why does what they think matter? It doesn’t matter, it shouldn’t matter.
Oddly enough I do feel better after this back and forth with myself.
The End Goal
A very simple end goal for me is: I want to be so secure with myself that any notion of how I am perceived by others would be meaningless and quickly dismissed. Well, fat chance it could ever be that easy. I’m thinking there is a place I can settle into. For example, a place where the people I trust and love matter a great deal and others matter less. I want to be so comfortable with myself, that I can just be me. Period, end of story. I’m laughing out loud because I have a long, long way to go.
When things went sideways for me back in Brooklyn 10 years ago, I decided there was only one solution to getting back on track. I was determined to start taking better care of my emotional well-being with the hope that all else would fall into place.
There are a few things to consider when you decide to turn it all upside down for the sake of survival. For instance, will there be casualties; people in your life who want you only as you were – – even if that person wasn’t you at all. The fallout can be pretty ugly and may even set you back a bit.
A xanax prescription, numerous years of therapy, too much eating, drinking, a life coach, the advice of friends, and a couple of failed relationships, got me thinking: something had to change.
I was having lunch with someone I liked and respected in my new hometown of Portland, Maine. I had given up quite a bit in order to settle in Maine, however, in my mind it was either stay in Brooklyn and give up on being true to myself or leave a career behind for the unknown. There is a reason they say, “Never look back.” “They” being the people who always know better.
Once you make the decision to start anew, lamenting about the old is like picking a scab. You have to ignore the scab and let new skin grow.
Back to my lunch with the devil.
This person had been supportive of my new life until I questioned the life she decided I should live. A reality I didn’t realize at the moment was a life that would benefit and suit her. It took me some time to realize the lamb was a tiger in disguise. One of the fallouts of an unguarded perception of new people in my life.
I confronted the beast expecting to be bitten; instead, she did everything she could to convince me that her intentions were noble. I assure you, they were not. I got burned a couple of times as I slowly learned not to play with fire. I’ve since proceeded with caution, as I wait a bit for one’s true character to show itself.
Ways to Dig-In
There are a few housekeeping matters to attend to before you can embrace the business of assessing who you want to be versus who you are. Also, some matters to keep in mind:
Changing everything is probably not a wise move. There are many aspects of our lives we just need to learn to accept (e.g., aging).
Just saying I want to change won’t cut it.
You have to really want it. Being only partially committed means probable failure.
Have people around you who know about the change you want to make and will support you.
Celebrate the smallest achievements toward your goal.
Practice the change and forgive yourself if you fail.
If you can see it, you can have it. Before I moved to Portugal, I would envision my self-decorated apartment. In my mind, I could see myself slowly sipping coffee on my terrace. I wasn’t surprised when it happened.
Always be good to yourself. It’s an “I love you” and “you matter.” There is no one in the world more worthy of your love.
How Well Do You Know Yourself?
I have learned that objectivity is difficult when applied to oneself. It’s natural to want to think the best of yourself; however, the lens you see yourself through might not be clear or accurate. I have been known to ask friends questions with a preface they might be surprised to hear:
“I’m going to ask you a serious question and I need an unfiltered, honest reply. Donna, I’ve been wondering about my anger level lately, I think I might be overreacting at times and I imagine it could be off-putting; have you experienced this with me?” You will more than likely get a very direct and illuminating response. This is what you need from people you trust. At times, you may even get some suggestions for change.
Another method might be through therapy. My therapists conveyed thoughts in a gentle and helpful way. There have been many.
You could write a blog and ask for feedback. Just know that putting your truth in a blog can be brutal. I’ve has a couple of people tell me that they think I overshare. What you hear may not always be constructive.
Concentrate on self-awareness. Take notes and consider setting goals. Evaluate how well you are doing from time-to-time. Be honest with yourself, but forgive yourself for any transgression(s).
People tell me I was brave for packing up and moving abroad; I can tell you it wasn’t bravery at all, it was a decision that I am fairly certain, saved my life.
I promised myself that I’d stay put until my trip to Florida in March; I am keeping my word! It feels great to be grounded for a long stretch. A little like lockdown without having to stay in my apartment or wear a mask. It is my understanding that due to increased COVID cases, we may return to mask mandates. I think that would be the wrong way to go.
Sorry about the cheesy quotes, I can’t help myself.
I usually cut, paste, add, revise, trim, and republish, when I update a previously published blog. I decided that this topic is more than most, a reoccuring theme in my life, it would benefit me more, to start from scratch.
This will not be the last time this topic comes up. I know now that letting go is a lifelong struggle for me. A struggle I am determined to conquer.
This list is not an exhaustive one. I think about letting go on a daily basis; new items get added, while others fade away. Where I am emotionally matters a great deal in terms of how well I cope. Also, how well I have slept, how I feel at any given moment, what I have planned that day, the people I am with, and so on, factor in.
For me, people have always been my biggest challenge. When you hold yourself up to high standards, you tend to expect the same of others. When you do this, you set yourself up for tremendous disappointment. Human beings make lots of mistakes.
It should be noted that I own my shortcomings and difficulties. I know that I’m stubborn, righteous, too direct, sometimes unforgiving, unrelenting, and occasionally wrong. Still, there are three things that can come up in a relationship that may or not be deal breakers. If a couple of the boxes or one box in particular is checked, it’s game over, done, so long sister. The three are trust (deception), a failure to listen, and taking me for granted. There are more, but these are the big three.
If you don’t like Paco, it can be a problem. I do forgive people with a deep seeded fear of dogs. I’m not sure how anyone can truly fear this guy.
Material things are nothing but a trap. When I moved to Portugal I left behind most of my things. I found it to be easier and more freeing than I expected. I highly recommend practicing detachment from material things. The one exception for me is my home. I am profoundly attached to my home; it is my safe haven, my nest, my sanctuary. I have learned that time at home is healing and restorative — especially when I’m home with Paco.
I occasionally come up with a new idea. Let’s call it a new way of being or a change in the way I have lived in the past. For example, there was once a club of sorts. For the sake of this blog I will say that I belonged to a bowling league. I bowled with the same group of twenty or so people for 10 years. During our scheduled season, I bowled every week for 12 weeks. After two or three seasons, I became frustrated because my bowling was not improving. I bowled on days other than league days, I took lessons, I purchased new equipment; nothing worked. After a while I felt like a total failure and it didn’t feel good at all. I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me to quit. I was complaining to a friend over a beer and he asked me why I bowl. Oddly, no one had ever asked me this question. It took me 10 long minutes to respond and I finally answered that I had no idea. My friend’s advice was try a new activity. I heeded his advice, took up tennis and never looked back. It’s so easy to fall into a rut and allow misery to be the norm. This was one example of way too many.
You can apply this same condition to people in your life. If you cannot answer this simple question about a friend, it may be time to walk away: Does your friend treat you with respect? You can substitute family members or co-workers for friends in this exercise. Although, I acknowledge that walking away from either may be extremely complicated and difficult. Our attachments come with all sorts of societal baggage and expectations. The bottom line is that you need to take care of yourself. This has been one of my toughest life lessons.
What An Absence of Emotional Pain Feels Like
Therapy and aging are two different, yet equally effective ways of dealing with the people and things in life we need to walk away from. I once had a life coach helped me through a difficult break-up (and career crap). What I remember most about our conversations were how she normalized my angst. There are times and experiences in life that will make us feel bad no matter how hard we try to deny or hide it. The greatest lesson I have learned is to feel it and ride it out. When people tell you it gets easier, you never believe them, but the truth is that if you are able to endure the discomfort and hurt, it does get easier. You must also accept that: 1) it may become difficult again, and 2) people will try to accelerate the process — mostly so that they can feel better. Grieve, be angry, suffer, retreat, agonize over the pain; do it all at your own pace.
I titled this section “What An Absence of Emotional Pain Feels Like;” however, I’m not so sure emotional pain ever leaves us completely. Except of course, when we are dead. Emotional pain and discomfort seem to go along with the human condition . . . human beings feel many things, emotional pain is just one of them.
Feeling moments of joy after an emotional upset is entirely possible and probable. When those moments finally come, embrace those feelings as well. We are allowed to feel all of the range of emotions we were meant to feel. Most of us overly concern ourselves with how things might appear to others.
A Peaceful Place
Moments, hours, days, and sometimes weeks, away from people and situations that are causing us anxiety, is usually a good thing. Taking a step back to assess your feelings and state-of-mind, is a healthy part of the wellness plan. Some people know what is bad for them in an instant; others have to be told. I am open to being told, because I know that I don’t always see things that are right in front of me. I am blinded by empathy, obligation, and habit.
I returned from a recent trip completely depleted. Isn’t a vacation supposed to be restorative? These days travel can zap all of your energy. Airports, Ubers, long lines, an hour wait for your table. No doubt you get the picture. I have consciously decided to give myself a break from travel and remain at home for a stretch. Except for the next few days: a short trip to Monte Gordo, Portugal and Seville, Spain. I’ve promised myself that this is it for a while.
My next trip (after Seville) will not be until March 2023. I will be flying to Fort Lauderdale to spend some time with good friends. Beyond Florida, I’ll be in the UK for a bit and France for short time. I’m realizing more and more that just a few days away is all I need for a reboot. My biggest trip in 2023 will be a two week adventure in Asia — land and sea. More about this trip in the coming months.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for reading my blog. I haven’t published for a while, spending most of my free time reading. A few of you reached out to me to see if I was okay. I cannot tell you how much that meant to me. I also want to let you all know that I feel better than I have in a long time. The essence of my life has always been love; I am feeling love deeply and profoundly at this moment in my life.
“I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.” – Audre Lorde
Mind, Body, Spirit & Self-love
Self-loathing is no picnic and often not easily recognized by the loather. Hiding my sexuality for the first chapter of my life, marrying a woman, being a way too chunky teenager, having a psychologically abusive mother, being bullied by my peers, and failing at every sport I tried; all added up to a boat load of self-hate. Cornered in a world where a perfect appearance and one’s socioeconomic status was everything, I clawed my way into acceptance (with chewed off nails).
Looking back, questioning how I would make it out of my situation alive, hadn’t occurred to me. It was all about survival and a convincing facade. If I could convince people around me that I was someone they wanted me to be, I could fake my way into their approval.
It wasn’t until I failed miserably at marriage, that I learned I couldn’t keep it up forever. It was coming out of the closet, meeting mentors who genuinely cared about me, and having my best years ahead of me, that led me to believe happiness was possible; is possible.
I need to be clear that I do not believe that my life is any better or worse than anyone else’s. I’m fully aware that we all have troubles and worries, that is the essence of life. It’s all about how you navigate the bumps in the road. Sorry, I’ll be using a lot of metaphors.
The Mind — First you have to convince yourself that you can think on your own. You have to believe that thoughtful decisions lead to positive outcomes. You have to stop lying to yourself. You need to occasionally use your brain. Therapy and meditation helped me here.
Your Body — No self-help book will or can teach you how to love your body. The best thing you can do is accept the body you were born into and work like hell to improve it. I workout six days a week and I enjoy it immensely. I love it because I see upbeat and positive people first thing in the morning and because I know how good it is for my well being. I change up my routine so I don’t become bored. If there is no gym wherever I might be travelling, I walk. I do my best thinking while engaged in a rigorous physical activity. I try to stay off of my phone (texting and emails) I and I listen to interesting podcasts and motivating music.
When I believe there may be something wrong internally, I have it checked out by a doctor. Being fearful of a serious illness will not make it go away; if anything, it will only get worse and lead to something even more serious.
Spiritual Growth — I am not a religious person; however, I do consider myself spiritual; spiritual in the I belief that we are all connected in some way or another. When I say all, I mean all. Humans, other animals, fish, insects, trees, the stars, black holes, cosmic matter . . . all. The collective energy called the universe is an energy that is recycled and reintroduced in order to create energy for future use. Yes, negative energy exists — that is the yin & yang of this vast cycle we are a part of. Nature is the great equalizer here on earth. I know that some days are going to be harder; days where more energy is expended than taken in. Accepting this makes everything just a wee bit easier. Tomorrow may be more difficult or it may be harder, however, I rely on the balance of nature to equalize the flow of energy. I am fairly certain that when I have an opportunity to reflect on my life, I will remember continuous highs and lows that all add up to a life lived. I have the choice to create lasting memories which will hopefully make the not-so-great memories fade into the background — life lessons if you will.
The power of energy has is not fully understood. Working against that power (force) mostly gets you in trouble. More and more, I am teaching myself to move in the same direction, rather than swim against the current. We can learn so much from the flow of the universe. For me, being a spiritual being means listening to nature and those who understand nature. I am enough because I have play a role in keeping the cycle moving (as do you). If I work against that purpose, I am disrupting the natural flow of things. I am choosing a freestyle stroke in a powerful, turbulent river. I’m also fully aware that Kim Kardashian’s existence is not more important or powerful than my own — this goes for everyone else as well.
Loving Yourself — Well then, it stands to reason that if you spend time nurturing your mind, body and spirit, you will learn to love and appreciate yourself. The rewards that come from nurture are plentiful. Pause often in order to practice gratitude. There is good in most things; that which may be challenging, often leads to something good or better. You are right to think that it all sounds hokey and I am nothing more than a snake charmer; however, it is the simplest things in life that seem to provide the most illuminating answers. Life is complex, but if you proceed one step at a time, with thoughtful intentions, you’re less likely to fuck it up.
Lately, I find myself choosing a quieter lifestyle. It’s not that I did all of my partying as a young man; I was always an introvert. I have stopped fighting the urge to go to bed early. I love drifting off on my sofa while a good film is playing. I love a good night’s sleep. I love getting out of bed while it’s still dark. I love the quiet of the early morning. . . coffee by my side. I love getting a headstart on the day. I love walking Paco at 5:00 a.m. without a leash. I love getting a lot of heat about this from nearly everyone I know.
What do I mean by “A Plan.” If you have dreams, you can’t just sit around waiting for them to come to fruition. I think grabbing life by the cojones is the way to go. If you fail, you fail. Get back up and try again. Perseverance, grit, desire, and a little bit of luck, will get you across the finish line. The greatest example of this in my life, is my Ph.D. Trust me, it’s not just smarts that gets you that piece of paper. You have to want it so badly that you know in your heart and soul that you cannot and will not settle for less. Most accomplishments take this kind of commitment; anyone who tells you otherwise, is lying.
Don’t look to others to bolster your pride and self-worth; allow it to come from within and celebrate who you are, every chance you get.
Life changes, the world changes, we change. You cannot say to yourself, well I made a big change 10 years ago, so I guess I’m good. Cher is my inspiration, she reinvents herself quite often; it’s the reason she’s still relevant at 76. Jane Fonda and Dr. Fauci are a close second. Role models work for me on many different levels. I hope to re-evaluate my life right up until the day that I die — a death that I do not fear. What I fear is inertia.
I struggle so much with spontaneity. I know from past experience, that if I change things up spur-of-the-moment, I often have a better time than if I stick with the same ol’. Routine is great most days, but sometimes we need a reboot; spontaneity can do that for us. I’m going to practice what I preach today.
Parceling life up and looking back at decades, makes reflection easier. You have to be older in order to do this, explaining why youth seldom reflect on the past. When you’ve lived more years than you have looking forward, it’s easier to reflect.
What you see when you look back is up to you. Your collective memories are all a part of one huge pool. Bad memories are powerful and work hard being dominant, but you can push back just as hard. Allow the good memories to come to the surface by acknowledging them and celebrating them. My late night dancing days were extremely pleasant. These memories play a prominent role in my past because for me, they symbolize freedom, growth, and experimentation. In some ways, I believe that my identity was shaped on the dance floor. These memories serve to reinforce the good that can come from giving yourself permission to take risks, live in the moment, and feel — not as easy as it sounds. I work hard to peel off the protective armor I started wearing the moment my mother gave birth to me. It serves a purpose yes, however, it can also prevent us from the self-exposure necessary to feel. The deeper the cut, the harder the loss, the greater the healing, the greater the growth. The key is allowing it to happen. Denial, pushing it down, projecting, glossing it over; it eithers prolongs the pain or stops the healing. My scars are a reminder that I have healed. I wear my scars as badges and I take pride in the healing I allowed; knowing that it isn’t always easy to leave the scab alone.
Blog inspired by Lori Owens Kostiuk (click her name for website). Lori is doing some very significant work on the power of art and healing. Take a look.
Between now and March 2023, I have very little planned. My sister and brother-in-law will be visiting from North Carolina in early November and I’m surprising them with an overnight trip to see the incredible Algarve rock formations (my sister has never read and will never read my blog, so she won’t see this; I love her nonetheless). A food & wine trip to Lyon, France with friends in mid-November and a weekend at the Spanish border in December. That’s it until March when I will be traveling to Florida for a week of curated memories; sharing a house with two of my favorite people in the world. Note: no trips added since my last blog and that’s on purpose.
If you love cruising, some of what I have to say may disturb you.
How it All Started
I booked this Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) cruise about a year prior to the pandemic and it finally left port on October 5. I have heard great things about NCL and I was excited about seeing parts of northern Europe I had never explored (Belfast, Cork, Invergordon, and Kirkwall). Knowing how travel is these days, I decided to arrive in Amsterdam (our starting point) a day early in order to ensure being at the port for the start of the cruise; I also have a good friend in Amsterdam that I was hoping to visit. I had a voucher for British Airways due to a canceled flight during the pandemic and I thought I’d make good use of it. I had a 90 minute connection at London’s Gatwick, but I thought there would be no reason to rush to Amsterdam.
Taking your luggage on board with you is always the way to go, however, this was a two week trip and I wasn’t up for cleaning my underwear daily; besides I needed some nicer cruisewear. I used a larger suitcase making carryon impossible (although I have to say I did spy some pretty large bags carried on board). I’m not exactly sure why, but I had 100% confidence that my luggage would arrive with me in Amsterdam. Ha.
I’m on antibiotics because of a prostate infection and the meds were in my suitcase (dumb, dumb, dumb – never again). I will spare you the details of my lost luggage, but I will share this: unless you advocate for yourself and be firm with the third party lost luggage company, you will never see your luggage in time for your adventure. I am certain that if I had not asked for details about when and where my bag would arrive at the airport, I would have waited days longer to receive it. As it was, the day after my Amsterdam arrival I went to the airport to wait for my bag to come out of the luggage carousel. The flight my bag was on was early and my bag was the first one on the belt, with a large “rush” tag on it. I screamed so loudly airport security gave me a cautious glance. I kept my happy dance for the rest room. British Airways will be receiving a not-so-pleasant letter from me.
I made my way to the cruise embarkment building anticipating an easy check in (I was three hours late due to my necessary airport run). By the way, I didn’t mention my hotel situation on purpose. Whether I had stayed at the Ritz Carlton for a Hostel, I would not have slept five minutes. I was so anxious about my lost luggage that I had decided if it didn’t arrive on cruise day, I would head back to Faro and just accept the loss. Sleep deprivation takes your mind to awful places; I was worried about Paco, the world economy, and my prostate. Nothing good comes from a sleepless night. But as reported, I had my luggage and I was ready to check-in.
I walked into the port hall and there were no less than 1000 passengers on several lines waiting to check in. I walked up to a staff member and asked where to go for priority check-in. I had paid (or thought I’d paid) an additional $250 in order to be at the front of the line for the beginning and end of the cruise. It once took three hours to disembark a ship and I vowed never to put myself through that again. This very pleasant staff member told me that there was no priority check in and I’d have to wait with the rest of the passengers. I smiled and walked away. The next staff member I approached apologized and walked me over to a priority line. Again, persistence paid off. I had my cabin key in 20 minutes. No doubt some of the people in that hall waited several hours. I was thinking that the $250 I paid for priority check in was the best money I’d ever spent.
I settled into my oceanview cabin. I didn’t pay the hundreds extra for a balcony knowing northern Europe would be chilly in October and I wouldn’t be lounging on my balcony. I want to see the ocean; having a glass barrier is fine by me. I was very pleased with my cabin location – it is essential that when you book you find out where the bars, party rooms, and casino are located, you do not want your cabin to be above or below any of these places. My room was nicely situated close to a couple of nice restaurants and guest services. I decided to tour the ship and get my bearings and basically wear myself out before a much needed nap.
On my tour of the ship I stopped by guest services to ask a few questions regarding the details of the cruise. It was there that I learned that when I pre-registered I had not completed the priority check in payment and therefore, I was never signed up for it or charged. So just minutes before, I dodged a multi-hour process just by saying that I had priority check in. I felt bad, but a nap and some time would take care of my guilty conscience.
I’m not terribly fond of luxury travel. Perhaps it was having been raised in Coney Island, a poor section of Brooklyn or maybe it’s having empathy for those will never enjoy it. When I have staff servicing my basic needs several times a day, I find it uncomfortable. I prefer doing most things myself. The way I deal with the discomfort is to spend some time meditating; considering my good fortune and ways of giving back. It helps me to be more in the moment and to just enjoy myself. I must admit, it took a few days to settle into this temporary lifestyle.
The Third Night
It often takes a while, but when I allow it, my body will finally submit to most situations. On the third night of the cruise I was finished with eating, listening to a live band play some very smooth jazz, and sipping martinis. It was about 9:30 p.m. and I thought I’d read in my quiet cabin. I noticed Gerry (my stewart) has provided turn down service; the lights were dim and the curtains were drawn closed. I flossed, brushed, moisturized, and thought about how delightful the day had been on board this conflicted ocean liner – conflicted because of the various juxtapositioned spaces, although close together, clearly designed by different designers. One space modern with bold bright lights, while another wood paneled and soft. Still further aft, a series of too bright shops that could be in any mall is South Dakota. I don’t mind it really; however, the brain does begin to question why. Coming out of a bewildered trance, I turned out my cabin lights and drew open the curtains. The sea was white capped and crashing against the bow of the ship. Outdoor beams highlighted the shores of the English Channel and the rocking of the ship was akin to a mother gently pushing the side of a newborn’s cradle. I propped myself up against my window and took it all in, reminding myself to breathe and smile. This is why I happily grouse and pay the price of admission. This I could get used to.
Piss & Moan
I can’t ever share my experiences with you without complaining about something, so here goes. I’ll try my best to keep the soap box stuff to a minimum.
As you know, the pandemic changed travel forever. I can picture the NCL top management sitting around a big, expensive, boardroom table with good coffee and danish. The big boss starts the meeting by stating how much the company lost over the last two years. No doubt NCL alone had over a billion dollars in losses. The question of the day: How do we recover those losses? It will be all about how they survived on loans and keeping their lenders at bay. How creative they were with luring people to future travel by offering big deals and refundable deposits.
How the minions suffered with small furlough payouts or minimal unemployment, will not be mentioned at this said meeting. The theme is how much better off we will be in spite of a small hiccup. They may even mention how many of the smaller cruised companies were squeezed out of the market, creating even greater future earnings. Nothing new, this is corporate culture.
Not having cruised for sometime, I can easily see where they are recovering big profits:
They keep the actual cruise cost at pre-pandemic prices and make everything an add-on cost (dominal fees).
What is included in your initial cruise price is considered “complimentary;” not sure it’s complimentary if you’ve paid for it. The airlines are notorious for doing the same thing. On a recent flight I asked if lunch would be served. The flight attendant said, “Sir, we will be offering a complimentary snack (a teenie package of pretzels) and water. If you go to our website (you’ll need to sign-up for on-board wifi, extra cost) you will find a bistro menu with pricing. Let me know if you need anything.” “Oh, and we do not accept cash.”
The cruise served something akin to bitter mud and called it coffee or you could visit the Java Café and get an American coffee for $3.00 or a latté for a nominal $3.95. The lines for coffee all day were impressive. Our addiction to caffeine has created massive revenue opportunities. On the fifth day I learned that I could use my $75 on-board credit for coffee; I joined the java line that day and everyday after. I also learned to add hot water to the mud they served to counter the bitterness.
I think specialty dining has been around for quite some time, but now you can be treated to a “special” Italian or Japanese dinner with some additional costs. They will add 20% gratuity to the entire bill. If you already paid a 20% gratuity for the entire staff of the ship (which I did), you now need to add this gratuity to your totals. Since you’re eating a “special” dinner, you won’t want to drink that swill included in your $380 beverage package, you’ll want to order a special bottle of wine – only marked up 600% for your total enjoyment.
We’ll be happy to wash your dirty clothes for a nominal . . . whatever they decide people will pay. Just buy new underwear at every port, it will be cheaper.
Jump in front of the line for a mere $250.
Let us take you on a one-of-a-kind excursion for four hours at a mere $189 (food and beverage not included).
Do you need transportation to and from? We offer that too. A thirty minute ride to the airport for $75 per person – not per vehicle, per person.
We know you’re all addicted to your phones; therefore, allow us to profit from your addiction. You can have wifi for the entirety of your cruise for only $220 or $29 a day; a bargain no. *Please note, wifi will be stronger in large public areas . . . if and when you’re able to connect. My cell worked in all of the EU ports — another Portugal bonus.
Remember when you could swim in an indoor pool and use the jacuzzi without paying extra? Now you can enjoy our indoor thermal spa for only $249 for the entire length of your cruise. Extra benefit: it will never be crowded because working class people will not be using these services. We do have a “complimentary” outdoor jacuzzi if you dare to try and use it. Two hundred and eighty pound Joe got in at 11:00 a.m. and still hasn’t left at 4:00 p.m. Our waitstaff will deliver your beverages at no extra charge.
Do you also remember when the fitness center on board held classes every morning? I recall it was often just me and the yoga instructor or abs trainer. No worries, they still hold classes; however now, there is that annoying nominal fee.
Please don’t worry that your favorite cruise company will go away, they have obviously found many ways to recover their losses and then some. Cynical? No, just sharing facts. The cost of each of the extras may not be completely accurate, as the amounts were from memory. You can be certain that I mostly understated the costs. At the end of the day, I spent over $300 onboard; actually not-so-bad for 10 days.
Reminds me of what the Port Authority of New York said when they built the Verrazano Bridge: “When the cost of building the bridge is recovered, we will remove all tolls from the bridge.” It’s been more than sixty years and the cost of crossing over to Staten Island has increased to a nominal $22 a trip, but hey, you only pay one way and they maintain the bridge so that it will never collapse.
The cruise companies will no doubt recover their losses and profits will continue to soar. Don’t forget billionaires did really well during the pandemic, most increasing their wealth tenfold. How did you fair? Perhaps the billionaires could have paid for the vaccine and contributed to unemployment payouts? Not on your life.
Yes, I have stood on my soap box for far too long; my apologies.
Prologue: After writing this bit I was enjoying a delicious filet mignon dinner with Oren (met him in Dover on my walk to the castle – very impressive castle by the way). I mentioned my blog and that I had just been ranting about all the little extras on board. He replied, ”You know, I added up what a comparable hotel would cost, a nice lunch and dinner out, entertainment and drinks and I realized the cost of this cruise is actually a really good deal.” It made me feel better about all of the nickle and diming happening on the ship; I think Oren is right, it’s a pretty decent deal. Still, I’ll be staying away from the top shelf scotch and the Cuban cigars, thank you very much.
The Best Things about a Cruise
Being surrounded by the open sea. There are few things more humbling than the vastness of the ocean. When you see nothing but water (similar to looking up at thousands of stars), it is a reminder of how tiny you are compared to the size of the earth and the universe. Best not to try to take up more space than the universe provided.
I loved walking back to my cabin after a night out on the ship. I could sit in a lounge with a cognac enjoying live music and decide that it is time for bed and be brushing my teeth five minutes later.
I enjoyed turn down service. If you’ve ever had it, you’ll understand.
I could read in a different quiet spot on the ship every day.
You could look at the menu and decide to try three appetizers and two entrees.
If you are friendly (not always easy), you can meet interesting people from all over the world.
Several different opportunities to submerge yourself in water.
I managed to get lost almost every time I left my room and it didn’t bother me.
There are times when you get to see the best of humankind, usually it’s the staff.
Being an early to bed, early to rise person has its advantages: mornings on the ship were very quiet, including the dining room at breakfast.
A wine and chocolate tasting was very well done. I learned a lot and the five wines they paired were excellent. The nominal fee was actually quite reasonable.
I’m not sure if it was the rocking of the ship, the cozy cabins, being away from day-to-day problems, etc., but I did sleep well on the cruise.
When everyone went on shore and I decided to remain on the ship, it was heaven.
The Ugly Bits
You will witness entitled passengers being rude to the cruise staff.
All of the nominal charges and super inflated prices on board.
Some of the food served was downright bad. I had pancakes that I was certain were pre-cooked and microwaved.
Loud passengers who will do anything to be noticed.
Cueing up sucks.
I couldn’t help but wonder how much longer this type of overindulgence will last in our society.
People talking politics in the hot tub.
Individuals who, for whatever reason, feel the need to share their stories without being asked to do so.
Embarkment terminals are depressing – they can be very large and empty.
Closed spaces (much like airplanes) can mean suffocation by unpleasant human odors – you know what I mean.
I don’t love group tours. Waiting around for things to get started is frustrating for me.
A Wonderful Surprise
Two Scottish ports were canceled due to rough weather. Instead we sailed into Dover, England and I got to see the white cliffs of Dover; truly majestic. I can look forward to Scotland at another time, perhaps at a better time.
I know I didn’t write very much about the ports of call. I did get off the ship in Dover. I met a new friend outside the ship and we walked a couple of miles to Dover Castle on the hill. I’ve visited quite a few castles; although this was a very well preserved castle, it was a castle. A typical Dover pub for a pint was a nice change. My first visit to Belfast, I decided to see its coastline, which was magnificent. Cork was our next to the last stop; a beautiful city and one of the best fish chowder’s of my life. We docked in Portland, England on our last full cruise day. I wanted to see the Jurassic coast, however, that tour filled up quickly, so I begrudgingly booked Corfe Castle and the English countryside. Long story very short, we couldn’t go to the castle right away due to a parking issue, so our guide decided to detour to the Jurassic coast; it was meant to be. The castle and the coast were spectacular (see photos below).
I cannot imagine more than one cruise every few years. I write this realizing I have an Asian cruise planned for November ‘23. It doesn’t count because I booked it several years ago and it has been canceled and rescheduled numerous times (COVID). It’s a wonderful way to travel, but I find all the food and partying to be a bit decadent.
Near Future Travel
Fortunately, between now and March I have every little planned. My sister and brother-in-law will be visiting from North Carolina in early November and I’m surprising them with an overnight trip to see the incredible Algarve rock formations (my sister has never read and will never read my blog; I love her nonetheless). A food & wine trip to Lyon, France with friends in mid-November and a weekend at the Spanish border in December. That’s it until March when I will be traveling to Florida for a week of curated memories; sharing a house with two of my favorite people in the world. All of the above amply spaced out and well planned.
Friendships are a true gift, but they aren’t always easy and they should never be taken for granted. As with all relationships, you have to nurture them. I have three male friends I have known for a combined total of close to 100 years. These men are different in many ways; they do not know one another; I love all three for different reasons. When I spend time with each of them, I have a totally different experience.
I spoke with them separately about spending some bro time together; in two cases without their female spouses. They all three agreed to see me for quality time we may not have shared otherwise. All three have agreed to my public blog. My goal is to illustrate in words and pictures, how each person in our lives provides us with something unique and necessary — as necessary as the air we breathe.
No Two Friendships are Alike
I learned early in life, that friendship cannot be easily explained. A person may appear one day as if placed down by a divine hand and the next thing you know, you are the best of friends. What makes this connection different? Everything. Trust, security, loyalty, companionship, confidant, active listener, great dining partner, a shoulder to cry on, understanding, a history, strength, support, and so on. My friendships with these three men consist of all of the above and more. I thank them for sticking with me and by me; I congratulate myself for doing the work necessary to cultivate good friendships. I have other men and women in my life that I love and adore, but I limited this piece to Adam, David, and Don because they are the three I planned various parts of this trip with.
All three are exceptional men. I have never had more than a friendship with any of them. They have seen me through the best of times and the worst of times; I hope they feel the same way about me, I’m fairly certain they do. What I think makes this situation somewhat unique is several things: first, only one of them is gay, but our sexual orientation is not what binds us; second, the three only know of one another through me, and lastly, they each provide support and love in very different ways. I know how fortunate I am; however, laying it out helps me to understand why the work we put into relationships is worth the effort. I’m a firm believer that most of us take way too much for granted (including me).
I believe that most people would agree that men are vastly different from women in many ways. I’m being cautious here as to not offend either sex. For the purpose of this piece, I’d like to note my observations (not absolutes):
Men leave a great deal unsaid.
Men are a bit uneasy when discussing how they feel.
Men are fairly competitive with one another.
Men believe they are physically stronger than women, but there are times I would have to disagree.
When men are into a sports event, very few things can/do distract them.
Straight men are stubborn about asking for directions when lost.
Gay men are particularly nostalgic.
Gay men and straight men usually enjoy very different types of music.
When a straight man is forced to be with someone or do something they’d rather not do, you will live to regret it in one way or another.
Gay men talk about being gay, straight men do not talk about being straight.
Men, gay or straight, prefer to be behind the wheel, as opposed to sitting in the passenger seat.
I have never heard a straight man utter the words, “thread count.”
Gay men tend to care more about fabric, wall color, and furniture.
Straight men do not moisturize.
Don’t beat me up over my impressions and experiences.
Any fool knows men and women think differently at times, but the biggest difference is this: men forget, but never forgive; women forgive, but never forget. —Robert Jordan
All over the world when you test men and women for facial cue recognition, women test…better. It’s a negotiation tool. —Michael Gurian
Adam and Toronto were my first stop. I didn’t really give Adam a city choice; I was trying out a new direct flight from Faro to Toronto. I had only been to Toronto once and I have always wanted to return. I proposed a few days with me in Toronto and Adam said yes. I wasn’t surprised, we’ve been close friends for a long time.
I met Adam at the James Beard House in New York City in the 90s. We sat next to one another at a table of foodies; Adam was by far the foodiest. When he talks about food and wine his eyes sparkle and he becomes charmingly animated. I knew I could learn a lot from him. I invited him to L’Ecole at the French Culinary Institute and we became fast friends. He eventually asked me to be his Best Man. His wife is one of my favorite people and his children are two of the finest humans I know. Adam considers me part of his family and I am thrilled to have that distinguished place in his life. He is smart, worldly, empathetic, and he accepts me for who I am.
Adam is a planner. Being like minded about researching a place before you travel there is something we delight in. He sent me a long list of possible eateries and told me that each of them was negotiable save one. There was a restaurant he decided was a must and getting in during our time in Toronto was going to be challenging. I must confess that I never doubted his abilities for even a nano of a second. He got us in. Knowing it was a bit more than I would usually spend on a meal, he offered to treat. Adam is one of my most generous friends.
Rather than name specific places we visited or talk about dishes we ate, I’d rather share the dynamics of my relationship with this very special man.
I feel fortunate because not all straight men can get close to gay men. We all know why these limitations and challenges exist; therefore, I will spare you the psychology of all that. I will also point out that I am not easy to be friends with. I am demanding; I can be selfish; I often run my mouth endlessly and expect you to listen to every word I say; I can be controlling, fussy, and I sometimes lack empathy. So when someone (Adam) decides despite all of those obstacles and challenges, they still desire my company, I’m game.
Adam is a practicing Jew. I have had the pleasure of Passover meals with him and his family. I also attended his daughters Bar mitzvah (Bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah refer to the Jewish coming of age ritual. The plural is b’nei mitzvah for both boys and mixed gender groups, or b’not mitzvah for girls. Wikipedia). Sharing Adams faith with him is something he may not know is very special for me. Although, I am not Jewish, I love how strong his faith is and how happy it makes him. In some way it probably shapes my trust in him as a human.
We share a love of food, art, theatre, travel, making memories, and life itself. If I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t sure about my friendship with Adam at first. God knows he was persistent and laser focused on forming a friendship. I’m pleased that neither of us gave up. Adam is a mensch.
Adam’s advice is always thoughtful and sound. I picked his brain a lot this trip. Someone I have known and loved for many years passed while I was in Toronto with Adam. The support and love he showed me as I grieved was much appreciated and a tribute to the friend and man he is.
I might also add that his wife is very special to me. It is not always the case that you love a friend’s partner; both Adam’s wife and Don’s wife give their husbands the space to be with me.
David and I met while sharing a house in The Pines on Fire Island. We ended up with bedrooms on the same floor with a shared bedroom inbetween. There were something like 11 other men involved in the share. David wasn’t anything like any of them. David was easy to talk with and real. Early on in our friendship we went for long walks on Fire Island and shared some of what frustrated us about our boyfriends at the time.
We participated in the share for several summers and spend time together during the other three seasons. We shared a very close friendship with a third man from the house who eventually died of complications from AIDS. David helped take care of Roger at the end of his life (he’s a saint) and always kept me in the loop. He called me shortly before Roger died to let me know it was time to say goodbye to him.
In many ways, David has taught me how to a gay man. It was David who instructed me on how to party safely. He accompanied me to many club events; he always made sure I was enjoying myself and made it home safely.
In addition to the many things we love doing together, we have one thing that we are polar opposites about; David loves opera and I hate it. He always had very expensive seats to the Met and once, I’m still not sure why, I accompanied him to see an opera. Once was more than enough. I love how passionate he is about opera, music, theatre and art. I asked in if he ever dreamed about being someone else or doing something else and he told me that he would have loved to have been a famous opera singer. You think you know someone.
David is a magnificent and talented artist. Several of his pieces have been shown in prestigious galleries and institutes. He is humble and creates in order to move people in some way — not in order to get rich from the sale of his work. He is a weaver; not shocking that the loom in his studio was larger than the bed I slept in. He is also painting these days. He’s his worst critic, but no doubt, he is good at everything he does.
Everything David owns in his beautiful apartment has been carefully curated. His taste is impeccable. I cannot say this about everyone I love, but David is someone whose home I could live in comfortably. It is surrounded by beautiful things; however, it remains cozy and comfortable. Oh and he is a wonderful cook; especially his Swedish dishes which come from several years of living and studying weaving there. He speaks Swedish too. I’m so pleased to have stayed with him. Now I can picture him in his studio. Now I can say that I have been to the homes of all three of these friends; they are all magnificent in different ways.
My conversations with David are usually very intense. We share just about everything and we share without judgment. As with most friendships, being friends doesn’t mean we are the same people. We are passionate about different things. What I think is unique about us, compared to Adam and Don, is our own stories of fighting to be ourselves as gay men. Our stories are different and similar, but they are ours to share with one another. Our conversations on these trip were no different. However, this time we talked more about quality of life, future plans, and end of life.
David visited me in Portugal and trusted me to plan his time with me. Except for insisting we spend no more than three hours in a car at a time, I did the same with him. He took me to Hanging Lake, Glenwood Springs, Maroon Bells, Aspen, and several excellent restaurants. I won’t lie, one of the hikes was quick challenging, but I have no regrets and I will remember the experience forever. He also threw a party for me and allowed me to invites other friends who live in Denver. I was also able to meet people in his life I have not met in the past.
I’ve known Don longer than my other two friends; we were roommates at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte (44 years ago). Don is a very successful architect. When we were roommates he promised to design an underground house for me. While in Detroit, I asked him if he is still committed to design that house for me and he said he is. That’s all I needed to hear.
We chose Detroit because of its rich architecture and outstanding restaurants. Neither Don nor the reason for meeting there were disappointments. The city has rebounded from despair to beauty and culture at every turn — we were impressed. Cranbrook House & Gardens were a real trip. We took a side trip to Ann Arbor which was also fruitful.
Don was my best man when I married 40 years ago. He arrived at the church missing a sock and someone else from my wedding party had to run to a store to buy him socks. This is probably one of the things I love about Don. He is about as easy going as a human can be. I checked this fact with him on this trip:
Don, have we ever had words?
No, I’m pretty sure we haven’t.
That’s pretty crazy considering how difficult I can be.
Don and I have long periods of silence when we are together, no matter where we might be. The silence is about respect and comfort. There is no concern about what might be unsaid. When Don says he wants to see a building, I want to see that building. When I say I want to eat Italian, Don is fine with Italian. The ease of our choices is delightful.
I learned something shocking about Don on this trip: he has never been to a nightclub. This blows me away on so many levels. He believes in God and doesn’t shove religion down my throat. He speaks fondly and respectfully of his incredible wife and two amazing daughters. I listen with awe and delight, having been in his life for all of the milestones and disappointments.
I cannot say that I got closer to these three men on this trip, because I’m not sure we can be any closer. I feel privileged and blessed to have had the time to be with them and I’m pleased that they made the time to be with me. True friendship is a gift that keeps on giving and these three friendships are more than I could ever hope for.
The three cities we spent time in matched our personalities in a way. Toronto is intelligent as is Adam. Denver is filled with natural beauty and light, not unlike David. Detroit offered a rich history; Don as my oldest friend knows a whole lot about that.
I realized on this trip that all three men love to walk, love to eat, love film, love to talk, love their friends and family, love to read, and truly love life. These are the things that bind us together.
An Old Friend I Haven’t Seen
I met Gina over 15 years ago at an accreditation conference. We hit it off instantly and we’ve never lost touch. I had breakfast with her and in Denver. It was as if no time at all had gone by.
My three times cancelled cruise (COVID) to northern Europe is coming up in just a week. I’m sad about just getting home to see and spend time with Paco and then having to leave him again. I know he loves his sitter, but I like to think he’d prefer to have me at home. When I return from the cruise I intend to stay put for a few weeks. The timing of the cruise is not ideal, however, there is nothing I can do to change NCL dates.
Lyon, France with friends in November and a few trips planned for 2023.
My Paco (right) and his best friend Petucha, while I was away
I apologize for spelling or grammar mistakes. I’m not in the mood to reread this blog.
A little bit of Milan as well (less than 24 hours in this city)
Photo: Milan and Genoa (on this trip)
My Blog My Opinion
I’m stuck in my hotel room in Genoa today (Wednesday) due to severe thunderstorms (I love them, but they never happened). I shouldn’t say “stuck” because I’m in a very pleasant hotel in the oldest part of Genoa and my room is quite comfortable. I love reading; watching films can be relaxing, but writing takes me to my happy place. I have been travelling quite a bit and I thought some travel tips might be useful to some of you.
These days, I mainly travel for two reasons: 1)to try food in different parts of the world, 2)to experience change. I’ve noticed great things happen in my life when I shake things up a bit. In the process of shaking, I like to minimize things that could go wrong.
Deciding on Where to Go
I’ve written this before, but it’s worth repeating: the older I get, the less I want to leave the comforts of home. I love my life in Faro and I miss it when I am away. Then why do I do it? It’s a complicated answer, however, I’ll give it a try: I travel because I think I should. Lame answer isn’t it, but it’s true. I believe that I grow as a person when I travel. I know I grow physically from all of the eating I do (another blog).
When experiencing different cultures, you are able to broaden your thinking about the human condition. Of course you can experience differences in your own backyard, but it’s not the same when you’re surrounded by people who look different, sound different, behave differently, and interact with you differently — and that’s all good.
I’ll use my current situation as an example. I am in the Old Town.
“The historical centre, also known as old town, of Genoa is one of the largest and most-densely populated in Europe. Part of it was also inscribed on the World Heritage List (UNESCO) in 2006 as Genoa: Le Strade Nuove and the system of the Palazzi dei Rolli.” Wikipedia
As I dragged my suitcase through the narrow, hilly, horribly humid streets I noticed two things: First, there are prostitutes everywhere. They don’t seem to be hiding at all. Second, the area is ethnically diverse. I know that neither of these things is atypical to Genoa, but they stand out here. Where do my thoughts go? Well, I’m certainly happy to see so much diversity. To me that always means more food options and a city that is welcoming immigrants. The prostitutes? I’m not so sure how I feel. I guess if it’s legal and I don’t know the answer to whether or not it is, then I would think there would be regulations around health and safety matters — I’m speculating. Prostitution doesn’t directly impact me personally; however, in my mind, where there are prostitutes, there are illegal drugs and other crimes. This way of thinking stems from my early years in certain parts of Manhattan (remember when Times Square was a hell hole?). Right or wrong, these impressions are part of a history I cannot erase. The prejudice around the selling of one’s body is also deeply embedded.
So as I walk around the Old Town and take it all in, I don’t judge the people I see, but I do wonder how and why it is accepted here and not in other places. We humans are complicated; my prejudices and thoughts are not something I am ashamed of, but the more I learn, the more I understand, and therefore, the less prejudiced I become.
Back to deciding where I want to travel. My first priority is to choose a place that I haven’t been to, where I can fly direct. I hate changing planes. Most of my travel woes occured when I missed my connection or had delays on my first flight which caused me a great deal of anxiety — then and now. There are times when a connection cannot be avoided, but I try to minimize the frequency.
On this trip, I flew directly into Milan. I’ve been to Milan many times because of my position at the French Culinary Institute. I had no desire to spend time in MIlan. Genoa is only 90 minutes away by train and I have always wanted to experience Genoa. Seemed like a no brainer and so far, it’s working. I take the train back to Milan tomorrow and I get to visit with a friend. the next time I’ll go north to Lake Como.
I try to choose places where I can experience dining at ethnically diverse eateries. The cuisine is excellent in Faro, however, it is not diverse enough for me. I had Korean food my first night in Milan. This made me very happy.
Update on prostitutes: The Old Town was swarming with police at noonish today (Thursday); I don’t think it’s legal. I didn’t see a single prostitute.
How to GetWhere I’m Going
I love trains and I hate buses. Even though there are usually less delays with buses (in Europe), I hate them so much. Sometimes I have a choice and sometimes I’m forced to take a bus. For example, Sevilla is a couple of hours away, but you cannot get there by train from Faro. Then of course there is flying — terrible for the environment, I know. I prefer to fly out of Faro because I live 10 minutes from the airport and that is a big reason why I chose Faro. Faro has several budget airlines (EasyJet, RyanAir, Jet2, Air Transat, and a couple of others). I can book these airlines inexpensively and fly direct to many cities; then if I need to I can add on a train trip (Genoa where I am now for example). These airlines are all about loading them up and shipping them out, making their on-time-record pretty decent.
There are times when I am forced to take the train to Lisbon because I cannot fly direct to my final destination. I will occasionally add on a Faro to Lisbon leg, but only if the connection is less than three hours. The train is just a little over three hours, therefore, it doesn’t always pay to fly. I normally add an overnight stay in Lisbon; it’s a beautiful city with lots to see and do.
How Long to Stay and Where to Stay (and cruise bookings)
For certain destinations, there are sometimes flights only once a week in and out of Faro. For these trips the decision has been made for me. If there are a couple of flights a week, I will take a three or four night trip, depending on how close or far away the city is. If it is a trip to France and it’s a little over two hours in the air, three nights is sufficient for me. If I’m flying to the States or any place where I’m flying over seven hours, I will go for a week or more. My problem has always been that I miss being home after a few days. This includes times when I am having a great time. I know, I am a complicated fella.
I love using Hotels.com to book. After 10 nights, I get one free night (it depends on the per night costs for the 10 stays — it’s a average cost for the free night. There are times when I have to pay a little bit more for the free night. How is it free then? Who knows.). I have achieved a certain status due to frequency of use, so sometimes I am upgraded to a nicer room or they might leave me a bottle of wine or even include breakfast — as long I don’t end up with twin beds, I’m happy. Happiness being relative. I love when a good breakfast is included. It means I eat more than usual, but I’m learning to be more selective about my choices (i.e., granola rather than three croissants). Booking.com sometimes has more choices, however, I’ve noticed the deals are not as good. It’s good to compare. I think most of these booking platforms are similar. VRBO is good for long stays in homes or apartments. For booking flights, I love Skyscanner.com. I have gotten some great deals on this site and they send alerts.
I use Airbnb a lot when I’m staying more than two or three nights. I like that I can cook my own food and I love the often, not always, homey feel. People can be very generous and creative — I have stayed at amazing Airbnbs at bargain per night rates. Look closely at the cleaning fee, service fees, taxes, and the cancellation policy. When COVID hit us and flights and trips were being cancelled, I did lose some money. Now I mainly book hotels or Airbnbs with generous cancellation policies (some even the day before travel). I only bother with travel insurance if I’m taking a cruise. I think most have restrictions and do not pay out. For cruise bookings I use Ryan Holland at Vacationstogo. He’s a true pro and gets what I like. It’s all about customer service and knowing the customer. I usually book my own excursions, but not always. Sometimes the cruise lines give you credits and then it might be a good deal. Again, do the research and fine the best deal for you.
For me, finding a bargain is a great deal of fun. There is nothing better than planning a trip to a great city for a song. I look at it this way, the less I spend on airfare and hotel, the more money I have for dining out. As you already know, I live to eat. If you are one of these people who eat to live, I am so sorry for you.
How Much Do I want to Spend?
My budget is always different depending on the following: If it’s a quick weekend away, it’s a tight budget. A longer trip requires more comfort and therefore, a bigger budget. I trip I have waited a lifetime to take (Asia 2023) will mean a greater budget. I don’t love spending money on high-end hotels (although the Sofitel in Havana almost changed my mind; it was fabulous). Sometimes I book a really inexpensive vacation and then I upgrade right before I leave. You know, if I find money in my dirty laundry or a great aunt dies (never going to happen). If you’re travelling with a friend or partner, budget must be discussed and agreed upon.
Tipping: know the tipping practices of the country you are in. Whenever staff go above and beyond, I reward them generously. As a person who worked for gratuities for many years, I know how it feels to be snubbed or rewarded.
What to Do Once I Get There
If I’m traveling to a different time zone or after a long journey, I plan a nap. If I know I’m arriving early (most U.S. east coast flights arrive in Europe in the morning), I write to the hotel and let them know my flight time. I usually write something very humble, such as: “I know this may not be possible, but if you have a room available by 10:00 a.m. I would be very grateful. I will be arriving after a very long flight and I will need to rest and freshen-up.” It doesn’t always work, but I sure am happy when it does. I have learned that when travelling, being nice goes a long way. Should be the way we live, but it’s difficult sometimes because people (hospitality people specifically, aren’t always nice. I have noticed that if you are super nice to angry staff, they sometimes chill out. I live in a fantasy world most of the time.
When planning your first day, keep it light; pace yourself. I always say that if I fail to see or do something and I really like a city or place, not seeing or doing everything will give me a good reason to return.
What if Something Goes Wrong? Stop laughing!
What is that saying? “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Pessimistic at best. Considering the amount of travelling I do, I’d have to say I have very few problems when I travel. Here are some of the things that I do to avoid problems:
Do your homework and keep your documents in two places: in your phone doc file and print out paper copies. If something happens to your phone, you’ll be glad you had your docs with you.
Always keep your passport and visa in the same place. I pack mine days before a trip and I keep it in a deep pocket of my carry on (and I keep a 20 note folded up in my passport case in case of an emergency). Note the expiration date of your passport and visas on a digital calendar months before the expiration date. Pop-up reminders are very helpful and will prevent you from paying expediting fees. I know too many people who have had to postpone a trip because their passports were either expired or the new one did not arrive on time. Make sure you don’t need a visa to go wherever you’re going. Travel agents are useful for this sort of thing. The travel agent I used for my Cuba trip did everything and it was worth the extra money I paid for the trip.
Order a taxi or transfer the day before an early flight. You cannot count on Uber at 4:00 a.m. (Maybe in big cities, but not in Faro). You’ll pay a bit more, but you’ll make your flight. Today, my taxi driver wanted 30 euros for a six minute ride to the airport. I bargained him down to 25; still too much. The world has become a greedier place.
Arrive earlier than you think you should for your flight. Getting through security and passport control can take longer than you think. Download a movie or bring a good book. Most airports have free wifi. Having time to spare is so much better than begging people to let you in front of them — some people are gracious and kind; others are bitter. Some people will hold you accountable for every bad thing that ever happened to them. That horrible person may be the reason you miss your flight. I can recall a moment in the Miami airport when I came close to crying. A stranger took tapped my shoulder and led me to the front of the line without even asking anyone; he’ll forever be my hero. I wasn’t blessed with balls that big. Strangers can surprise you and restore your faith in humanity.
When you travel to a country with a different currency, either get some at your bank before you leave or keep some from a previous trip. Not all taxis take cards. And what if you haven’t eaten for a few hours? Even in the digital automated world we currently live in, sometimes you have to have cash.
Pack light. I usually try to book an Airbnb with a washer. If that’s not possible, I wash by hand. If you’re going somewhere for more than four nights, you do not need underwear or pants for every day you will be away. Most items of clothing will dry overnight. In an emergency, you can always buy a few things.
Keep a toothbrush, toothpaste, medication, your phone charger, a pair of underwear, and any other essential item, in your carry on bag. If your luggage gets lost, you’ll get by for 24 hours. If the airline does lose your luggage, ask for a clothing allowance. My favorite pair of shorts were purchased in Seattle when my luggage remained at JFK.
If you have an early flight, stay very close to your hotel — it will reduce your stress. As I type this I am in a hotel room 10 minutes from Malpensa Airport in Milan. I have a 6:00 a.m. flight (not by choice) and I’ll need to wake early. Sidenote: I did not sleep well thinking I’d sleep through a call and my phone alarm. It doesn’t matter that this would never happen.
Try not to plan your travel back-to-back. I’m sort of in that situation now and it’s not good. This was all due to COVID disruption, rescheduling of cancelled flights, etc. A day of getting to the airport, security lines, Ubers, trains, and buses, can zap you of all the energy you have. Your body needs time to recover.
Try not to stay with friends and/or family for more than three nights. Having guests isn’t easy; after a while you’ll start to get on each other’s nerves and it can ruin a good vacation. If you can afford it, find your own place to stay. I stayed with a friend for over two weeks once and I still feel bad about it.
Bring a small pillow or one of those neck thingies. My pillow has a 100% soft cotton case and it helps me to sleep better on trains, planes, and buses.
Lastly, don’t let the details bog you down. Remember, being organized is supposed to make life easier and help to avoid headaches and disasters. Keep telling yourself how much fun you’re having.
Cop-out I know, but true: as I get older I will be taking shorter, easier, higher end trips. Possibly one long journey a year, to places I have never been . . . I think, perhaps, maybe? I can talk myself into just about anything. Remember not to take your health for granted — there may come a time when travel is not possible. I’m a realist . . . except when it comes to eating great food. I think I’ll eat well until the clock stops ticking.
Toronto, Denver, & Detroit, coming up on the 14th, Northern European cruise in early October, Lyon with friends in November (what was a three night trip has become a seven night trip due to a flight cancellation — more wineries and more French food), Florida with friends in March, back to Liverpool in April so I can spend time with a friend, and a big trip to five Asian countries in November (with same friend — no not that kind of friend). I haven’t planned all of 2023, but I know I will spend more time at home in Faro.
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Restaurant Tips and Pics of Genoa
Alla Lunga Restaurante in the Old Town, Genoa is superb. Local ingredients, excellent service, great atmosphere, and not pricey.
Locanda Spinola, Old Town, homemade pasta and fresh fish. Not a bargain, but excellent traditional Genova cuisine.
Il Mannarino, if you love meat you will love this restaurant. My friend Valentino took me there because my father was born in Bari (outside of the city in Bisceglie) and the owners of this restaurant are from there. I had an outstanding lunch. I did not have steak, but no doubt it would be good here. Beautiful memories.
There is a lot to see and do in Genoa (Genova here). I mostly ate at reasonable restaurants on side streets. After years of travel I can recognize and smell the tourist traps. The food where I dined was good and the service was excellent; however, I only note when they are exceptional. When visiting Italy, I eat pasta daily; it’s my birthright.
Abandoning a full-time career has provided for more time to sit around in groups and shoot the breeze. Sometimes, rather than contribute, I observe. What I hear, stirs up all sorts of thoughts and emotions. First and foremost, I fall back on a belief I might be running into the ground: people do not listen to one another. Everybody has something to say and few among us listen.
It’s true, make a conscious effort to observe what is happening around you today. I guarantee what you hear will disgust you. People talk over one another, disregard major points being made, ignore emotions and cries for help, and generally exhibit rude behavior. There are exceptions of course. I have a friend who will look directly into your eyes and actively listen. It’s incredibly effective. He always makes you feel as if he is taking in every word and processing what you are sharing. There will be a pensive pause and then a brief and thoughtful response. It’s the most incredible virtue.
I have observed him interacting with others and I have noticed that some individuals do not acknowledge his excellent active listening skills. These people are so wrapped up in their own need to spew bullshit, that they take no notice of the curtesy that has been extended to them. I’m sure there have been numerous studies done to help determine why people have a need to be heard and/or speak. I think it boils down to a few basic principles:
Human beings rightly or wrongly believe that others care deeply about what they have to say. We have a strong need to be thought of as a person of authority.
We all believe that we are actually listening, even when we’re not. Try telling someone that they haven’t heard you.
We are afraid of silence. I’ll never understand the fear of silence. Have you ever observed an older couple in a restaurant sitting across from one another eating and neither one of them is speaking? It’s not that they have nothing to say to one another; in fact, they are more than likely just enjoying one another’s company and the silence. Many words are often spoken in silence; a look, a squeeze of the hand, a tender stroke on the cheek.
I’m not a psychologist or an authority on communication. What I know, I know from observation and reading. How often have you heard someone pose a question to a group, where an answer might not be readily available or known? You will rarely hear people say, “I don’t know.” Instead, more often than not, individuals will make up facts or distort the truth. This need to appear to know the answer is stronger than a desire to be truthful. Why is it so difficult to say, “That’s something I need to learn more about,” or “I don’t know.”
I absolutely love asking Alexa (Echo by Amazon). She (it) doesn’t always know the answer, but when she does, it’s extremely gratifying.
It’s natural to want to be right. When you’re in a group and everyone wants to be right, that’s a problem. Or when you have one person who always wants to be right, that’s also a problem. I know someone like this and he makes me crazy. I need to explore what this says about me.
Exercises You Might Like
Give the individual you are speaking to two minutes (more or less) to speak; tell them that you will not speak until their finished. When you are done responding, reverse roles. Do note use a timer because it can be distracting — approximate the time. The point is to not interrupt and allow your partner to complete a thought.
Listen and then speak: tell yourself to listen carefully and not to speak until you know the person whom is speaking is finished.
Ask a question and listen to the answer: whether or not you know the individual well doesn’t matter. There is always more to learn about someone. See what happens when you ask a question and silently listen to the response. During the lockdown a friend and I spoke daily. We made a commitment to ask one another three questions a day. It was an incredible exercise. I have known this friend for over 25 years, but I came to realize that I did not truly know her.
Ask for feedback: ask the person you are having a conversation with if they felt heard. “Did I listen to what you had to say today? Did it feel different than it has in the past? Could it have been better for you?” When you become a better listener, your partner will also improve.
Ask for what you need: we seldom if ever ask our partners to listen attentively. “John, I know you usually listen to what I have to say, but I’m asking you to focus on my words today. What I have to say is important and I’d like you to listen more carefully.” This request, repeated now and then, will remind your partner that you need to be heard. The other person will respect you for being clear. Always return the favor.
Provide positive reinforcement: “Wow Annie, I really felt like you were listening to me just then. Thank you, it means a lot to me.”
Admitting You’re Wrong
I think that when you realize you were or are wrong, the best thing to do is say so. People will be extremely understanding and they will more than likely tell you so. Telling someone something is legal when it’s actually not, doesn’t count.
A Good Read:
I Might Be Wrong by Björn Natthiko Lindebald
A weekend in São Bras de Alportel with friends this coming weekend, Milan and Genoa early September, Toronto, Denver, & Detroit, mid-September, Northern European cruise in October, Lyon in November; followed by a few other trips in the not-so-distant future.
Summer is almost over, I sure hope you’re enjoying it. I just finished a complete renovation of my bedroom. If you want a lift, spruce up a room or your entire home.