The Canary Islands

Natural Beauty and Tranquility

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Looking toward El Teide (the highest peak in Spain) on the island of Tenerife

 

There are many places all over the world that offer the traveller unparalleled beauty; however, from where I’m sitting, the Canary Islands have many destinations beat for the following reasons:

  1. Gorgeous natural beauty off the coast of Africa (part of Spain)
  2. Many natural parks, hiking trails, and hidden treasures
  3. Many micro-climates
  4. Volcanic beauty
  5. Easy to get to from anywhere in Europe
  6. Extremely affordable
  7. Very friendly
  8. Easy to travel from one island to the other
  9. Great roads for driving
  10. Excellent cuisine

Admittedly, I was fortunate to be visiting a friend who has lived in Tenerife for a few months. Alex is a world traveler and he has excellent taste. He designed my four-day trip to the Canary Islands based on answers to my questions about what I wanted to see and do. I have known Alex for many years; he knows what I like and do not like.

I will not be laying out my trip in order of chronology; instead I will write about what I enjoyed the most, first, then go from there. I will not be writing about every restaurant; however, I will highlight a few that were memorable. I will note all three hotels and I will share several travel tips.

Alex generously sent me the latest edition of Lonely Planet (we both love this guide), so that I could read about the islands prior to traveling.

Tenerife

El Teide is a magical place.

 

 

 

Weeks prior to my visit, Alex and I discussed where we would go and what we would do on my trip. He told me later that the one thing I was certain about was taking the cable car up to the summit of El Teide. This is the highest mountain in Spain, 3718 meters or 12,198.16 feet. I para-jumped out of an airplane a few years ago and I wasn’t as high up off the ground as I was on El Teide.

All of the roads leading up the mountains of the Canary Islands are narrow and not for the faint-of-heart. The views were breathtaking and worth the scare, but I’m not sure everyone would agree. I was fortunate to be with a good driver who was willing to stop whenever I needed a break or wanted to take a photo.

We stayed at Parador Nacional. This Parador was located right inside the Parque Nacional del Teide (see below). I was very happy about the fireplace and the indoor pool, but in truth, the place needed a bit of TLC. Many bikers and hikers use it as a place to stop for a bite or a resting spot. The desk person told us that we needed to make a reservation for the cable car that would take us to the summit. I went to the reception desk at a specified time and the desk person said that they only had a few spots left for a cable car going to the top in 30 minutes. We hustled and made it with time to spare (the Parador was only a few minutes away). It’s chilly at the summit all year round, so dress warmly. The peak is often covered with snow this time of year, but not this time.

Note:  twenty years ago I would have insisted that we hike to the summit of El Teide; however, on this trip, I was happy to enjoy the warmth and safety of a cable car.

Paradors are state-owned and there are 94 of them throughout Spain (six in the Canary Islands). I’ve stayed at six or seven Paradors on other trips to Spain. They can be pricey and accommodations vary from castles that are centuries old to buildings that are newer and nothing special to look at. Alex told me that there are three types of Paradors:  1) Paradors that are in a historic setting, Paradors that are themselves historic, and Paradors that are in nature; More on Paradors (click).

 

 

Parque Natcional del Teide covers 189.9 square km. and you don’t want to miss it. Drive, hike, walk; it’s beauty and splendor will astound you.

We made a one hour stop in Vilaflor, a small, pretty little town, on the way down the mountain. It was our halfway point to the ferry and worth a stop.

We took a side trip to La Laguna for a walk about and to have lunch. La Laguna is on the Unesco list of world Heritage sites. It is beautiful, young, sophisticated and I wish I had had more time there. We had lunch at Restaurante Guaydil (click for website) and it was by far my favorite meal of the trip. The cuisine was contemporary and the restaurant was packed with happy locals.

 

La Gomera

La Gomera was my favorite island of the three we visited and I hope to return there someday. We took the car on the ferry (we took the car on all three ferry trips) and after a pleasant 50 minute ride, we drove on a beautiful, windy road to one of La Gomera’s breathtaking valleys. Hermigua, our destination, was a 30 minute drive on a very scenic route.

We stayed at a boutique hotel, Rural Ibo Alfaro, moderately priced and very comfortable. The views from our room were spectacular (see photos below).

In the evening, we took a walk down to the valley to a very nice restaurant, Tasca Telémaco. We had tequila at the bar and then sat down for Almogrote (click for recipes), a cheese paste Alex is very fond of. We also had a delicious seafood Paella; I believe Alex only agreed to share the Paella because I wanted it. He feels very strongly about eating Paella in other parts of Spain where it is prepared properly. He gave me a hard time about putting chorizo in my paella — clearly I am a sinner.

We finally had a chance to hike on this island. There are many trails throughout La Gomera. We chose a trail deep in the forest — reminded me of the Amazon rain forest; very green and very damp. The trail took you to a small church, Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Lourdes. It was about 20 minutes from our hotel, near El Contadero. We walked for about 1 kilometer and came upon the church and stream. Alex told me that I was on holy ground. Very peaceful and serene indeed.

 

 

 

 

Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria is where my plane landed. I took an easy flight from Lisbon on TAP (Air Portugal). TAP is a bit more expensive than some of the other airlines, but the airplanes are generally newer and service is excellent.

Alex picked me up at the airport and drove me to our first Parador.  Parador de Cruz de Tejeda is where we had our best views. Our balcony was high atop the mountains and made the price of the hotel worthwhile. We had a nice breakfast (not cheap) and a very relaxing stay. I would definitely have eaten dinner somewhere else. The Parador had a spa, but it was 25 Euros just to use the jacuzzi (which looked amazing BTW) and the hours were not convenient. I would have splurged in the morning, but the spa did not open until 1:00 p.m. and we were long gone by then. Unlike Americans, Europeans tend to care more about their own staff and spa and gym hours are not always ideal.

Restaurante & Brewery Taxeda — This Tejeda brewery offered delicious tapas and micro brewed beer. We tried the Scottish brew and were not crazy about it; I thought it was way too hoppy. I love trying micro brewed beer and I wish I hadn’t switched to wine so quickly.

 

 

 

We were only in Tejeda for 16 hours, therefore, I can’t say very much about it. The views were spectacular and if you enjoy a curvy climb, you will love the views as you approach Tejeda. We didn’t have the time to hike on this island; however, the trails looked amazing and I’m certain they would not disappoint.

Note:  If you enjoy a good cocktail, I do not recommend staying in a Parador. The bartenders have no idea how to mix a drink — I’d say they are generalists who know the bare minimum about bar service.

 

This Type of Travel

One of the things that struck me on this trip was something Alex said to me several times (to be fair, I don’t always listen). Alex said that tourists visit the Canary Islands and never leave their all-inclusive hotels/resorts. The first thought I had was how unfortunate for them. The truth is that some people are happy to remain in their limited surroundings and just eat, drink, and enjoy the sun. It wouldn’t be fair to criticize these travelers. If that’s the way people choose to vacation, they should be permitted to do so without ridicule. I guess that is why all-inclusive properties do so well.

That’s not the way I prefer to travel. I want to eat what and where I choose to eat. I want to see as much as I can so that I know what to take a closer look at when I return. And if I don’t return, that’s okay too. Alex and I laughed about doing three islands in three days. That meant many hours on the road and three island hopping ferry rides. We originally had a whole week to explore; however, due to  my unfortunate calendar errors, our days together were nearly cut in half. It forced us to narrow down our choices and choose what was most important for this short trip. I admit it was a world-wind tour, but I wouldn’t change a thing. When you’re making memories, it’s best to go with it. We were both flexible enough to make some changes if time or circumstances allowed for it; adaptability and flexibility are key.

Be prepared for:

  • varying climates
  • a good deal of time on the road
  • making reservations for just about everything
  • some spots on the islands are very tranquil (on purpose)
  • this time of year is the peak season in the Canary Islands — the weather is mild (except for at high altitudes)
  • be aware of in-season travel and crowds in certain places
  • if and when driving, you’ll be waiting for and passing many cyclists
  • the motorcyclist will make you crazy (unless you are one)

All of the islands offer these great maps that show roads, historic sites, and hiking trails; use them, they are very helpful.

 

 

 

Scary Story:

As you know, when you travel abroad you need your passport for just about everything.  We were in the car line for the ferry and Alex wanted me to use the 30 minutes we had to explore Los Christianos, the marine area next to the ferry terminal. He thought I’d enjoy that more than sitting in a hot car. I can make a short story long, so I’m going to cut to the chase.

I needed my passport to board the ferry and I got through the line quickly. I saw Alex on the top deck and made my way to greet him. We enjoyed a very pleasant crossing and 50 minutes later we were in the car and on our way to Hermigua on the island of La Gomera. About 20 minutes into our 30 minute journey up the mountain, Alex received a telephone call on his car Bluetooth. The person said, “Christopher,” and then some other dialogue in Spanish. Alex made some arrangements in Spanish and then thanked the person several times. I was dying to know what was going on. I had dropped my passport on the ferry and someone turned it in. Alex made arrangements for us to pick it up prior to boarding the ferry the following day. Needless to say, I was and still am very grateful. I wonder what I would have been like when the desk person at our hotel asked for my passport and it wasn’t in my pocket. Alex noted that it would not have been pretty. I know I have an angel on my shoulder because had it not been found the remainder of my vacation would have been a downer. Instead I had a few cocktails to celebrate my good fortune and slept like a baby that night. If Alex had not purchased our tickets in advance, they would not have had his cell number. If Alex’s cell was turned off, we wouldn’t have been able to take the call at that moment. If cell service was spotty on the mountain, the ferry staff may not have gotten through. If I had thrown my passport away when I threw away the rest of my trash, I would never have seen it again. The “what ifs” can make you crazy.

The moral of this story:  1) Always put your passport in a safe space, and 2) Be grateful for your good fortune.

Side note:  Los Christianos is a strange sort of grungy tourist spot. The sand on the beach is brought there from somewhere else, the food spots are sub-par, and you get this “nobody wants to spend money” vibe. I wouldn’t waste my time here. There are so many other beautiful places to visit in Tenerife.

Added Bonus for my adventures:

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I took this photograph in Tenerife while dining on Maria’s (Alex’s mom) delicious Galician chicken stew. I now have a framed photograph for my apartment.

Traveling as an American Expat

My New Backyard (Europe and Africa)

 

 

Happy New Year! It’s nice to be back after a couple of weeks of celebrating and traveling.

If you prefer a travel blogger who provides the easiest way to get there and all the places to go, stay and eat; that’s not me. I’ll give you a glimpse of what I experienced and then some thoughts on culture, value, ease, etc. I may occasionally plug an exceptional restaurant and/or hotel. I want this to be fun and it won’t be if I have to chronicle my trips from start to finish.

I titled this piece “Traveling as an American Expat” because I noticed that each time I have left Portugal it has been very easy to exit and even easier to re-enter. I’m not stating that every American has the same experience that I have, but I have admittedly been pleasantly surprised. I have left Portugal a dozen times and I have only had to show my resident visa once and that was in Edinburgh and it took all of three seconds. I look around at border patrol/customs and I notice others do not have it as easy; this is especially true for middle easterners and that makes me sad. I won’t go into political implications and biases, but suffice it to say that I am ashamed of how many in this world are treated because of their residence or religion.

Allow me to come clean about a few things before I begin:

  1. I am extremely fussy. I like things a certain way and I’m rarely if ever completely satisfied; ask my friends.
  2. I often learn as I go. Because I sometimes make impulsive or rash decisions, I usually make a mistake and then try not to repeat it.
  3. I don’t take pictures of everything and I don’t go on social media every time I have an experience. I’m trying to be more present and that means less time on my cell phone.
  4. I don’t rely on TripAdvisor or sites where people share their opinions. I find that the average person’s standards are not up to snuff. I’m feeling somewhat hypocritical because I have been known to share my dining critiques on social media. Some people will write nice things because they can never say anything bad. Some people will always be nasty because they have no idea how else to be. Some people will write about food:  quality, taste, value, and so on and they know nothing about food.
  5. I truly love traveling off-season. The deals are hard to beat and there are so few tourists, you get a true sense of what it’s like for the locals. You may discover that some places are closed off-season or hours might be curtailed; a minor inconvenience I am willing to put up with. Be sure to research the weather if that is a factor for you. I prefer to travel to places where temperatures are mild in winter.

 

Asilah, Morocco

 

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I took this photograph from the living room  our Airbnb in Asilah

 

I took a day trip to Tangier over 15 years ago. I have always felt that since I had a guide and I only spent eight hours there, that it wasn’t fair to say much about Morocco. The last time I took a ferry from Tarifa, Spain and to be honest, it was more about stepping foot on the African continent. I wanted to travel to Morocco the same way this time; however, the ferry schedule off-season is sporadic and getting to and from Tarifa would have been no easy task. Instead, I took a comfortable and very affordable (34 Euros roundtrip) bus to Seville, Spain and then a flight on RyanAir (120 Euro round trip with checked bag). RyanAir is a no frills airline. Check-in is sometimes chaotic; however, the staff is efficient and travel is a bargain. I had a new airplane on my return flight which was very comfortable. Honestly, the flight is 30 minutes and the best part of that is that if you have to pee, you can hold it in. When you arrive in Tangier, you breeze through passport control because there are no other people at the airport. I don’t believe there are more than 10 flights going in and out of that airport in a 24 hour period; it’s almost eerie it’s so void of people.

My friend Patrick rented a car to get to Asilah and there were no other people at Avis so we got our car in five minutes. Again, we left the airport without seeing very many other people. Take note that if you decide to drive on Moroccan highways (toll roads) you need Dirham because they don’t accept anything else except Moroccan money at the toll booths. The roads are new and easy to drive on; except for the very strong winds that Patrick was forced to navigate.

When we arrived in Asilah we followed our GPS to the house, but it took us to a huge public outdoor bazaar. There were hundreds (maybe thousands) of Moroccans participating in an outdoor festival. When were a little lost looking for our Airbnb. The crowds were walking in the streets and the people did not really seem to notice our car, nor did they care to move for us. It was a strange experience. We had to crawl through the crowds of people. We eventually got hold of our host who told us that we could not park outside of the house which was located inside a walled city — the Medina (not the famous one). The Medina was filled with shops and homes and very narrow streets. We had to park in a paid lot in the middle of the festival and walk to our house. It was only meters away from the parking lot, but prior to setting out to find our place, we had no idea how far we’d have to lug our bags.

 

We found our house, which was not quite like the photos, but isn’t that usually the case. Still, it was a beautiful house with ocean and Medina views. We would all have been happier if it wasn’t so cold in the house. It took us 24 hours to figure out how to make it warm and we only had 48 hours. The best thing about the house was Fatima. Fatima and her husband are caretakers for the house and they truly did take good care of us. We had a terrific breakfast and they made us a fire. Fatima quietly disappeared and made-up my bed during breakfast. I’m nearly 60 years old and I’m not sure anyone has made-up my bed since I was five years old — that was a real treat.

The house was in the Medina (not the one in Saudi Arabia), a walled city in Asilah, (click for more from Lonely Planet).

We had a full day to explore the Medina and the surrounding area. Fortunately, we are all walkers and so we walked. The Medina had narrow streets and pathways and lots of artisan shops (see my big purchase below).

We decided to celebrate New Year’s Eve at a restaurant in Asilah and we stumbled upon:

Port IV (click) Restaurant

This is probably Asilah’s best place to eat right now and we enjoyed it immensely. The service was good and almost all of us were happy with our choices (no photos, sorry). Having a full bar was a bonus and the owner made me a very authentic gin martini. I was one happy fella. Although I was unable to stay up till midnight, I did enjoy being with friends and being in Morocco; it’s a night I won’t soon forget.

 

Tangiers (Tanger for the locals)

 

 

As I mentioned earlier, I visited Tangier years ago. I had only seen a small part of the city and from what I have heard, it has changed quite a bit. I stayed at the Movenpick Hotel and Casino for two reasons:  First I got a great off-season rate for this four star property and second, I was in the mood for some blackjack. Both paid off. My room was spacious and beautifully appointed (some really nice bathroom products as well) and the casino was pleasant and on the second day, I celebrated a small winning streak. I had a nice meal at Miami Restaurant which was nearby. Their French pastries were especially lovely. Most Moroccans speak French and there were French pastries at every turn (you see smatterings of French culture). There was a great deal to enjoy and celebrate. I went home a winner in every sense of the word.

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The two official languages are Modern Standard Arabic and Amazigh (Berber). Moroccan Arabic (known as Darija) is the spoken native vernacular. The languages of prestige in Morocco are Arabic in its Classical and Modern Standard Forms and French, the latter of which serves as a second language for many Moroccans.

Languages of Morocco – Wikipedia

 

 

Note:  I walked into the center of the city and if I’m going to be honest, although the city was clean and no one warned me to be careful, I did not feel safe. Beggars follow you and they do not take no for an answer; it can be off-putting and disturbing.

 

Seville, Spain

 

 

I am in love. Seville is a beautiful, culturally rich, culinary mecca, just three hours door-to-door from my place in Faro. I only just returned home, but I have already booked a hotel for the end of February. I now know that Seville will be my home away from home. I am delighted to have rediscovered this breathtaking city.

You will enjoy these two pieces written by my food writer friend Joanna Pruess. She wrote about Seville for Specialty Food Magazine. Joanna primed me for my Seville adventure with her delicious point of view and fabulous recipes:

Tasty Bites of Seville (click for article)

Savoring Seville (click title)

The Seville bus station, train station, and airport are all linked by a four Euro bus that has many stops throughout the city and runs every 20 minutes or so. The bus and train stations are centrally located and easy enough to get to. These days Uber rides are very inexpensive and although I love to walk, you can’t beat a five Euro Uber ride across town. The drivers usually speak English and they are (for the most part) good drivers.

I stayed at very nice Airbnb for 65 Euros a night. It was a two bedroom apartment in a great area — 20 minutes by foot to just about everywhere.

Note:  I have mixed feelings about Airbnb (see one of my earlier blogs). Some hosts are gracious and generous and truly want you to have a great stay. Others, seem to only care about making a buck. Be sure to read reviews and check for amenities. After awhile, you become better at discerning the true intentions of the hosts. They also have a review policy I totally disagree with:  both parties have to complete a review in order for the review to be posted. If you write a warranted poor review and the host does not review you as a guest, the review will not be posted by Airbnb — it seems like a way to ensure only good reviews get posted. I’m not sure how Airbnb gets away with this.

The weather in Seville was great for walking around the city and spending time outdoors. I don’t believe it snows in Seville and when the sky is blue, it is an intense blue.

Shopping

I had one objective as I explored Seville. Paella is one of my favorite dishes to cook and I was determined to bring two ingredients back to Portugal:  Bomba (click) rice and saffron. I’ve tried many different kinds of cooking rice and Bomba is by far the best for paella (https://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/rice-recipes/chicken-chorizo-paella/ Jamie Oliver’s recipe.

Also  . . . Spanish saffron which is less pricey in Spain. I paid 14 Euros for about an ounce of saffron — it’s fresh and beautiful and I can’t wait to cook with it. I use it when cooking rice with meat dishes as well. I also purchased hand sliced jamon (Spanish cured ham) and some homemade nougat. Purchasing food in other countries is one of the best things about travel and there are many items that you should only purchase in the country where it originated or was made. Note:  if its fresh food and you’re flying, be sure to have it vacuum sealed.

There are many shopping areas throughout the city; small boutique shops are my favorite. I was also impressed with the number of small art galleries. The artwork I looked at was quite beautiful and not outrageously expensive. A plug for El Cortes Inglese, a big chain store where I can spend hours just milling about. It’s like the Harrod’s of Spain. I’m praying one comes to Faro or the Algarve soon; hey we have an IKEA and Zara, so . . . what are you Spaniards waiting for

 

Don’t miss out on Contenedor if you visit Seville. It’s fresh, delicious, quaint, and well priced. Make a reservation (click for website).

I have already booked a hotel for a few days at the end of February and beginning of March. I did not book an Airbnb because I do not plan on cooking and I’d prefer amenities like a gym and indoor pool when I’m doing a quick culinary exploration trip. Yes, I’m spoiled, but after 40 years of busting my ass, I deserve it. I will write more about Seville after that trip.

My big purchase in Morocco:

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I purchased this hand-woven Moroccan runner in Assilah. The merchant said, “I don’t haggle,” but I got the rug for about 80 Euro less than ask. He didn’t know what he was in for when I walked into his shop. I have all the information about where the rug was made and how it was made.

 

Gun Shots in the Woods

 

The trigger my mother squeezed on a .45 Colt rifle in the woods of upstate New York that summer night will be an image captured and cemented in my mind for a lifetime.

 

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I’m the teenager with the shaggy brown hair unloading my stepfather’s jeep c.1973

I was an overweight, troubled, 14-year-old, with a great deal of anger. My stepfather, Frank, reluctantly accepted that I came with the package when he married my mother. I’m sure on some level he knew I was gay and that turning me into a “real man” was either hopeless or a waste of his time. But try he did, as often as he could. As far as my mother was concerned, on this particular dark night in the woods, he went too far.

As a family, we spent a lot of time camping in the summer. My mother and stepfather enjoyed being outdoors and it was an inexpensive way for a big family to travel. Frank relished seclusion in the wild, so we usually camped far away from the rest of civilization. There was a lean-to (three-sided housing structure) camp high in the New York Adirondacks called Pharaoh Lake. We would spend hours in Frank’s loaded-up jeep to get to the camp. We would have to get out of the jeep and hike the last hour because the trails were steep and rocky, it was too dangerous to ride up in the vehicle. To be fair to my mother, the safety of her children was paramount.

Our family trips would start out on a positive note. Frank and my mom were eager to get us out of the city and they looked forward to time with each other in their own private lean-to. Unfortunately, drama was a big part of my mother’s life and it almost seemed that she lived to create as much of it as possible. This trip upstate would be no exception.

 

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A Lean-to

 

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My mother the redhead at Pharaoh Lake c.1973

 

We had a pleasant enough first few days:  hiking, fishing, target practicing with Frank’s rifles; rifles he proudly displayed on the back wall of the open lean-to — I’m talking four or five rifles. We were instructed to stay away from the guns and I’m assuming he hid the bullets. Frank was stern and if you were smart, you did whatever he asked you to do; especially when he was drinking. I usually responded to instructions with a grunt or a nod.

My chores were fairly simple. I would be responsible for gathering wood for fires, sweeping up the campsite, storing the boating equipment; for the most part, doing these things without having to be told. For some reason, I never knew why, my mother was fairly agitated a few nights into our trip. She’d snap at any of us who had anything at all to say; especially laying into Frank (later in life she was diagnosed as bi-polar). She prepared the usual campfire meal of spam, potatoes and some canned vegetables. We all ate quietly so as to not upset her any further.

Dinner was over, my sisters cleaned up and darkness descended on the campsite. Frank stoked the fire with one hand and nursed a glass full of Canadian Club with the other. I crawled into my sleeping bag with a flashlight and a novel. I kept to myself growing up. My siblings liked to play cards and horse around; I wanted no part of it. I was no angel mind you. I was defiant and arrogant most of the time; feeling fairly superior and smarter than the rest of my siblings — they called me Big Cheese. My cocky attitude didn’t sit well with Frank. Whenever he had the opportunity, he’d try to set me straight. I was deep into my novel when I heard my name called several times. I walked out of the lean-to to see what was up. Frank told me to take the empty water cans to the stream to fill them. I asked him how I was going to do this with it being so dark on the lake.

With his back to me, Frank responded, “Take a flashlight and holler if you need help.”

My mom must have heard this and shouted, “Oh no Frank. He’s not going out on the lake by himself.”

We had a small boat with a trolling motor and the stream was a couple of miles from our campsite. I was fairly certain the man had lost his mind because it was pitch black on the lake and I was wasn’t very good at navigating the boat even in broad daylight. I don’t recall there was much of a moon that night. They argued back and forth for a while. My mother suggested that he send Frank’s son, my stepbrother Larry, who was a few years younger than I. Frank continued to insist that I go to the stream and I figured my mother would convince him otherwise. Voices were raised and my siblings all sat silently waiting to see how this one would play out.

Frank finally shouted, “He’s going Lou and that’s the end of it.”

This next part happened so quickly I wasn’t even aware of it at first. My mom ran to their lean-to and grabbed the .45 Colt. She cocked the trigger and aimed the rifle at Frank. The kids watched in horror as my mother ran down a list of reasons why she was going to shoot him. My sister Grace’s finger nails broke through skin on my arm and my brother Leo dropped to the ground to hide behind me; he would have been eight or nine years old at the time. Frank seemed genuinely frightened, although I’m still not sure if the rifle was loaded; Frank would have known. He actually had the presence of mind to point to us standing off to the side.

“Lou you’re scaring the kids.”

My older sister Kathy actually walked toward my mom to plead with her.

“Put it down mom, he’s not worth going to prison over.”

My siblings and I were probably all thinking what my sister was able to say. My mother eventually put down the rifle. Frank left the campsite with Larry and the water cans and was gone for quite a while. My mother apologized to us for scaring us. I secretly cheered her on, hoping I’d have one tenth of her chutzpah when I got older. My mother and Frank thrived on this kind of insanity and they’d usually kiss and make-up pretty quickly. But not this time. While Frank and his son were getting water, my mother instructed us to pack. It was our usual bedtime mind you; I was hoping she wasn’t serious.

When Frank got back to the campsite, we were all standing by the trail with our packed bags.

My mother said, “We’re leaving Frank. I’m done.”

He tried to reason with her, but she was fairly resolute. She let Frank know that we were going to walk down the mountain and find our way home. At this point his anger and drunken state prevented him from putting up a fight.

“Do whatever the fuck you want; I’m done too.”

We hiked in the dark for over an hour until we got to the road leading to the highway. I’m not sure what my mother was thinking; I’m not sure she was thinking at all. The six of us were walking on the road for maybe twenty minutes when Frank drove up beside us and told us to get in. It took some time, but my mother finally caved and we all climbed into the jeep. My mother was crying hysterically and some of my brothers and sisters were weeping as well. I was numb; wondering when and if the drama would end.

They argued parked on the shoulder of the road and then finally decided to pull into a nearby motel. We were six hours drive from home and Frank had been drinking heavily; there was no other option. I don’t recall getting any sleep. I was only 14 years old, but I was certain that I could survive on my own, therefore, I plotted my escape. Just as soon as we returned to Brooklyn, I was going to talk to my father and move in with him. I dreaded the idea of living in his dark and dreary studio, but anything was better than the life I was living.

The following morning, my mother came to our motel room to wake us. She told us that she and Frank had made up and that we were going back to the campsite. I’m sure that I rolled my eyes and silently protested. To my mother’s credit, she didn’t blame me for their argument. She kissed the top of my head and assured me that things would get better. She was optimistic and convincing and because I’d heard this before, I doubted her. I changed my mind about moving in with my father; I always did. As insane and chaotic as our household was, truth be told, I couldn’t have imagined myself anywhere else. This was my life and until early adulthood, I believed it was perfectly normal.

Much of my youth is a blur; I guess your mind sorts it out for the sake of self-preservation. Today, quiet means everything to me and my primary goal in is to avoid drama. Admittedly, that’s not always the case; in truth, there is a little bit of momma in me.

 

Alternative fact:  A different version of the story . . .

This particular camping incident is fairly vivid in my mind for obvious reasons; however, there is one part of the story that I am not sure about. My mom may or may not have fired the gun. There is a tiny part of my brain that has her pointing the gun up to the sky and pulling the trigger; you know, for dramatic effect. I figure one of my brothers and sisters will read this and tell me which version is correct. It just seems like something my mom would have done. Unfortunately, I cannot ask her. I don’t think she would have minded retelling the story; she wore these memories like a badge of honor.

 

Fantastic offer for the holidays

I have written about this beautiful bed and breakfast outside of Faro a few time and just learned that they are offering a Christmas package that would be a special gift under anyone’s tree. If you’re in the Algarve or coming to the Algarve, Mercedes is not your typical vacation spot. I took these photos just a few weeks ago when I spent some time there. Paco (their pug) is a wonder.

 

 

 

Mercedes Country House – Christmas Package 2018

Check in: Dec. 23rd

Check out: Dec. 27th with late check out (subject to availability)

Breakfast included each day

Meals (wines: white, red and vintage port included with dinner Dec. 24th and lunch Dec. 25th)

Dinner:  Dec. 23rd

Lunch:  Dec. 24th

Dinner: Dec. 24th (traditional Christmas eve Portuguese dinner) 

Lunch:  Dec 25th (traditional Christmas day Portuguese lunch)

Dinner:  Dec. 25th (optional 20€ pp)

Dinner: Dec. 26th (optional 20€ pp) 

 

1 Person – 540€

2 People – 690€

3 People (extra bed in the room) – 840€

info@mercedescountryhouse.com

 

Catania, Sicilia . . . Finally!

 

Good stuff about Catania — click on anything underlined for more info

It’s pouring rain outside and I’m okay with that. After four or five months of nothing but sunshine, the rain is a welcome relief. Sunshine starting Friday (two days away).

I arrived to Catania on Monday evening and I’ll be here for a week. Flying through Milan was the least expensive way to go and I guess one layover was acceptable. I almost left Milan without my luggage, not knowing that I had to transfer my bag to my next flight. Usually, when I fly the same airline, they transfer my bag. Anyway, I had lots of time in Milan and I got it done and met a few nice airline people along the way.

Here are some of my first impressions:

  • It’s much more expensive than Portugal. Food, taxi, band aids, and buses.
  • The natives are friendly, but there’s a little edginess (not a word) — like living here isn’t easy.
  • The Old City is beautiful; very dark and very old (lava rock has been used for building).
  • The beef here is incredible.
  • So far, I haven’t had any bad food. Snacking on Parmigiano Reggiano, prosciutto, oil cured black olives and good Sicilian red wine (very robust and dark).
  • It’s easy to get lost, but people are helpful and it’s a way to discover your surroundings.
  • Sicilian food is not the same as Italian food.

I’m staying in an Airbnb apartment with two terraces; one off the bedroom and the other off the dining room. I have a view the Old City and the Port — both are magnificent. The trash collectors wake me up, but I’m an early riser anyway. The apartment is fully equipped save for an umbrella. I think I can live without it.

 

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No donuts in Portugal and I LOVE them!

 

 

Prestipino (Old City) is a bakery around the corner from my Airbnb. Claudio (my host) told me about it, along with many of his favorite eateries; one of the many things I love about Airbnb travel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There are bakeries on every corner and they are all awesome. I can’t stop eating.

Sailed on the mediterranean and this is what they served us with prosecco:

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Bad angle, sorry.

 

 

The roasted tomatoes were sublime and the melon was the best I’ve ever had (so orange). Combine the food, the prosecco with the salt air and it was heaven on earth.

I had dinner at Steak House (www.steakhousecatania.it) last night. They had different cuts of meat from all over the world. Having been taught to buy local in Maine, that’s what I did. I had an awesome T-bone with roasted potatoes. I brought home leftovers and I will be eating steak and eggs (from the market) for breakfast tomorrow.

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Steak House

 

I went to the open-air market today and did not take pictures because my phone was charging and it was cloudy. I’ll go back before I leave. I had fresh oysters, freshly made caponata Siciliana and a basket of fried fish. I ate well. All of the street food tours were close to 50 Euros or more and I enjoyed time with the merchants and spent maybe 15 Euros all in. And I have enough food at home for a couple of meals. Travel with me and you’ll save big bucks.

After having a candlelit dinner (abbondaza from the market:  mozzarella, pizza, mussels, semolina bread, etc.) out on the terrace, I noticed some big black clouds moving in from Mount Etna. Moments later the thunder started and I quickly decided that this was going to be a delicious evening of soft music, Sicilian red wine and a long-awaited thunder-storm; honestly it’s been many, many months and a good storm is on my top five favorite things list. What a glorious night in Catania. Unfortunately, there was massive flooding here and that made it it a disaster for some; not good.

I went on a bus tour to Noto, Ortigia Island, and Siracusa today (the third full day of my stay). Etnatribe deserves a plug; they were fantastic. Mother nature decided that a thunder-storm would keep us away from the archeological park in Siracusa. It was raining so hard after lunch that they closed the park.  I was disappointed; however, I have seen Greek and Roman ruins in other parts of the world and I was happy to be safe in the van while it was pouring. Most vehicles could not drive on the roads it was raining so hard, but alas, we were fine. The big bonus was that our guide Orazio, is also an Etna guide and spent an hour telling us all about the volcano — fascinating.

 

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Greek amphitheater at the Archeological Parc
We started our tour in Catania and made our way to Noto with clear skies and very few tourists (apparently most people go there in the afternoon). Noto is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to . . . anywhere.

 

The next stop was Ortigia Island. This historical island is the original Siracusa before they expanded many, many years ago.

 

A day in Catania (at the Fish Market, Bellini Gardens and walking around)

 

I was scheduled to go horseback riding at Mt. Etna tomorrow, but it just got cancelled due to the weather; bummer. The best part of growing older is that you learn acceptance.

Cooking class this evening at the home of a very special Sicilian cook; born and raised in Catania. 

I walked to a very nice neighborhood about 20 minutes from my Airbnb. Thankfully, by now I know the streets and it’s very easy to walk around the city. Deborah and her partner Fabio were waiting for me. I was the only person to sign up for a class last night (lucky me) and I was so pleased that Deborah did not cancel. Aside from teaching Sicilian cooking classes, Deborah is also an attorney and mother of three. She and Fabio had a beautiful and inviting home and I had four hours of Sicilian bliss.

 

That’s her son Giuseppe washing dishes (above). He took a break from studying to say hello and help his mom — a good Italian boy and very charming.

We prepared a pumpkin risotto with fresh pumpkin and Deborah’s ricotta cheese (she shared that she makes it almost everyday because her family eats so much of it), a meatball and pumpkin dish (pictured above) and a not-so-sweet typical cinnamon and pistachio Sicilian custard-like dessert. Deborah and her class the day before made a delicious caponata and so we ate that as well; lucky me. She also had leftover pistachio cake, which she generously shared. Deborah also baked brown bread and that too was delicious.

The names of Deborah’s traditional Sicilian dishes:

Risotto alla zucca con ricotta di pecora; polpette e zucca in agrodolce; and Gelo di cannella.

The Arab, Moroccan influence in Sicilian cooking makes it very unique and not very Italian (to this southern Italian boy). The seasonings and spices are much more middle Eastern than typical Italian. The meal was delicious, but even better than that was Deborah and Fabio’s delightful company. I believe I have made some new lifelong friends. The Sicilian red Nero d’Avola sealed the deal. What a magical experience offered by Airbnb. If you’re headed to a city for vacation, I highly recommend checking out what they have to offer. It’s usually local residents sharing their talents.

I booked a room at the airport hotel due to my early flight Monday morning; I figured it was best to plan a soft landing. Tomorrow morning I will leave my Airbnb and go to relax at the hotel’s pool, spa and bar. This trip has been a truly restorative and educational experience. Had I know Sicily was so incredibly beautiful and inviting, I would have come sooner. The good news is that there is so much more to explore. I will be back.

A Side Note: 

Before choosing Faro as my new home, I considered Italy along with a few other countries. After one week in Sicily I realized that if I had moved to Italy, I would become rather large. There is something about the soil, the climate, the history, the regulations, and my Italian background that would make it impossible to avoid eating and drinking everything in plain sight.

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A view from the Bell Tower in one of the many churches of Noto. My God did I see a lot of churches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Most Frightening Experience of My Life

Our memory is a powerful tool that assists in our pursuit of happiness; preventing accidents, mistakes and reminding us daily, that we are human. Memory can also be a rehashing of the most horrendous experience of our lives, relentlessly replayed, over and over again.

It was 1:15 a.m. and I was standing at a bus stop in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. I was 17 years old, naive and immature. I had just come from my first disco roller skating party.  Happy and dreaming about my future as I waited for the bus. I had been longing for freedom and finally had it. I was living on my own and earning money and I could do just about anything I wanted. I had signed a month-to-month lease in a single occupant border house near Brooklyn College and I was struggling through my first semester. That night, the disco party I attended was everything I hoped it would be.

Standing by myself, I reflected upon what I had experienced at the rink. I met new people — possibly new friends, and I skated, I laughed and I had a blast. Waiting for the bus was routine; I must have done it dozens, if not hundreds, of times before; however, never at that hour. So there I was waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and before I knew it, it was 2:15 a.m. I was aware that buses do not run as frequently in the late evening; however, I assumed they ran all night. I was beginning to think that I might have to walk home — I was about 3 miles away. It was right about that time that a car pulled up to the bus stop. A guy got out of the car and asked me if I was waiting for the bus. For a second I thought that it might have been someone I had met that evening and that perhaps he was going to offer me a ride. Unfortunately, that is how my mind works. As he moved closer to me, I told him that I had been waiting for the bus for a long time. Don’t ask me the color, make or model of the car, that I cannot tell you.

The next part happened very quickly and years later, the details are still fuzzy. The guy who had gotten out of the car, continued walking toward me.  I recall seeing two or three of them, all around 18 to 20 years old, getting out of the car as the first guy approached me. The guy almost in front of me, turned and yelled something to his buddies and I knew I was in trouble, in fact, I feared for my life; it was a feeling in my gut that I cannot explain. I turned and started running as fast I could. I looked back and noticed the guys started to disperse in different directions; I knew they would try to cut me off. I turned back around to see where I was going and I was met with a fist to my face. I started yelling, “Help, please help me.” One of the guys put his hand over my mouth and they all started grabbing my arms and legs. I thought that they were going to try to carry me to the car, so I began kicking and flailing my arms. I was somehow able to break free and I once again started running for my life. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a car coming down Coney Island Avenue; I ran out in front of the car waving it down. The car stopped and I had a brief moment of relief.

I shouted, “That group of guys is trying to kill me,” pointing behind me.

The next part was truly frightening and I still feel the intense fear I felt over 40 years ago. The car doors opened, another group of guys got out of the car and then they were all chasing me. It only took seconds for them to catch me and what I felt and heard is as clear today as if I’d heard it yesterday.

“Fucking faggot.”

“Grab his watch.”

“Make him bleed.”

“Mess him up and teach him a lesson.”

Other instructions and comments were shouted out and I’m not sure how much time went by, but sometime later . . .

“Okay, okay, I think that’s enough, leave him alone.”

I didn’t see the guy who said it, but I was grateful that one of these barbarians had an ounce of compassion.

In a second they were gone and the quiet on the streets of Brooklyn was deafening. I recall the concrete under my face being warm, the street lights were blinding, and I had no idea where I was. I put my hand in my back pocket and my wallet was still there; I remember thinking that was odd. I could also feel my gold cross was still around my neck. Blood was dripping from my forehead and every part of me ached. All I wanted to do was sleep. I’m not sure how long I lied on the curb before hearing a voice and feeling a hand grab my arm.

“Are you okay?” It was a foreigners voice; Syrian or Pakistani, definitely Middle Eastern.

I told the stranger that I was badly hurt and needed to get home. The exchange we had is not completely clear in my memory, but I do recall that he insisted that I go to a hospital. He said that we were not far from Coney Island Hospital and that he would take me. I told him that I was beaten and robbed and that they’d probably taken my cash (I’ve never kept my cash in my wallet). He didn’t seem to care about money. To this day I am not sure if he was a car service driver or a citizen who was driving by, saw me lying on the curb, and pulled over. The irony still haunts me; horrific violence and extreme kindness, minutes apart.

I’m not a religious person, but I recall making a deal with God that night as this stranger drove me to hospital, if I made it out, I would never put myself in a dangerous situation again. The man who drove me said very little. At one point he hit a pothole and apologized several times; such compassion.

We were met at the emergency room entrance by an orderly. The driver quickly shared how he’d found me, then he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I hope you’ll be okay.” A gurney was wheeled outside and I was helped onto it. I was in a lot of pain and bleeding and I just wanted to sleep. I’m pretty certain that I was left in a hallway in the triage area. There was a lot of screaming and crying and I faded in and out of sleep. Occasionally, a nurse would come by to take my vitals and to ask me how I was doing. Time passed very slowly. I remember thinking that I probably wasn’t dying — I assumed they would have taken care of me right away if I was; at least that is what I had seen in the movies. It must have been six or seven in the morning before I finally saw a doctor. He said that I was badly bruised and that the cut on my head was superficial. He told me to put ice on my head and ribs and he gave me some Tylenol to take. Our interaction was brief. It occurred to me that I never spoke to the police that night. An orderly asked me if I wanted to call someone to come and get me.

I remember thinking, who do I want to see right now. It was my mom of course. When a child gets into trouble, who does he usually turn to. I was in trouble and naturally I was blaming myself — and I was my mother’s child. Why was I out in the wee hours of the morning? Wasn’t I putting myself in Danger? Didn’t I know better? Was I asking for it? I knew my mom wouldn’t blame me; she’d hold me and let me cry. But alas, she was living in North Carolina with my stepfather and several of my siblings. I had no choice but to call my father. My dad did not usually go to bed until after midnight because he worked late. I knew I was going to have to wake him and I knew he wouldn’t be happy with me. My dad viewed any kind of illness or pain as a weakness; a character flaw. He expected his kids to be strong; the boys didn’t cry and the girls did not whine. I was not a tough teenager, but in front of my father I always appeared confident; a mask I wore for him for many years. I called his home number and he picked up on the third ring.

“What,” is how he answered the phone.

I said, “Dad, it’s Chris.”

“Chris, is everything all right?”

I told him what happened to me, showing no emotion, as if reading from an encyclopedia. He almost let me finish, but he couldn’t help himself and said,

“What the hell were you doing out at 2:30 in the morning?”

I asked my dad if he’d come to get me and he said he’d be there as soon as he could. We both hung up and I sobbed until he got to hospital. The reality of what could have happened on the streets of Brooklyn hit me hard that morning. Had that one guy (probably the leader) not told them to stop beating me, I probably would have been bashed to death.

Two things that stand out for me about that horrible experience:  First, when my dad arrived and saw how badly I had been beaten, he held me while and cried, and second, I’m was not certain of the boys’ motive for beating me and I was left with many questions:  Were they a gang and I just happened to be a warm body they could victimize? Were they out looking for gays to bash and was I hiding my sexuality well enough? Was this an idea one of the boys had and the rest played along with it? Was it just a random act? What came over the one boy who asked the rest to leave me alone?

The biggest question that I have asked myself far too many times, is how has this impacted my life? Have I been blaming myself for this act of violence my entire life and what does this say about my own self-esteem? I’m a fairly guarded individual, is this the reason why? Is this the reason I am against violence of any kind? What kind of adult might I have been had this not happened to me? I’ve also been trying to pay my debt to the stranger who stopped, my entire adult life (no regrets).

The mysteries of this memory will never leave me and what lingers is this:  there is very little in this world I fear and I refuse to spend my life looking over my shoulder.

My heart and respect goes out to Christine Blasey Ford. Your bravery and duty to country, fucking blew me away.

 

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Photo by Michael Foster on Pexels.com

Airbnb Travel

 

 

 

The Host

Much has been written and battles have been fought around Airbnb and because so many are hosting or booking these days, I must say up front, that I am fearful I will offend one of my “host” readers. Having worked in the hospitality industry for over 20 years, I feel compelled to share some of my experiences and thoughts about Airbnb with you. It is my hope that the Airbnb experience will soon be elevated and booking will be less of a shot in the dark.

There are several different ways to view the host experience. Unfortunately, I believe that too many see it as a way to make quick and easy money. This pattern of thinking is too easily conveyed to your guests. Those who are trying to create a unique and memorable experience for their guests are more likely to reap financial rewards. Good reviews will come if you treat your guests as you might treat a friend or relative who will be staying with you in your home or using your home on a temporary basis. There are some inexpensive and simple things you can do to make your space welcoming and comfortable.

As with most matters in life, good communication is essential. The following are numbered according to their importance to me as a guest:

  1. When you describe the space on your home page, be clear about what you’re offering. If it’s bedroom and a sleeping alcove, don’t call it a two bedroom.
  2. If there are several flights of stairs to navigate, be upfront about that in your description and don’t bury it at the bottom or as an addendum.
  3. If it’s a small kitchen or a kitchenette, make that clear.
  4. If your place is hard to find, provide explicit instructions on how to get there. There is nothing worse than being lost in a foreign cities while you’re dragging two suitcases.
  5. Create a list of grocery stores, restaurants, and attractions in your area. It doesn’t have to be a book; two or three pages should suffice. Videos work nicely these days as well.

 

What a good host MUST provide:

It is all about comfort and value. Too often a host will try to cut corners in order to save money. This practice will come back to bite you in the rear quickly and end up costing you a whole lot more than what you might have saved.

  1. A good mattress is non-negotiable. It is your responsibility to provide a comfortable and well made mattress. It does not have to be plush or super expensive. Be clear about the size of the mattress in your description. If it’s a high-end mattress, say so.
  2. If you’re renting your entire apartment, be sure to have decent, clean, and comfortable furniture.
  3. Be sure your kitchen is stocked with pots, pans, dishes, glassware (wine glasses), small equipment (coffee maker, etc.) and a corkscrew.
  4. Towels that you cannot see through would be nice and good linen is important.
  5. Outlets for electronic devices are necessary these days.
  6. If you do not have air conditioning, it would be good to provide a fan or fans. I once stayed with a host couple at an Airbnb in the Cayman Islands. It was 100 degrees and the wife wouldn’t allow me to turn on the AC because she said the electricity cost too much. My thinking was, “Why don’t you just charge more?”
  7. Either show your guests how to use appliances at check-in or provide instructions.
  8. Provide a contact telephone number. If you are not going to be available, find someone who can respond to an emergency. I once had a guest stuck in my building’s elevator at 1:00 a.m. and she had idea who to contact.
  9. If you have rugs they should be clean and not sliding all over your floor. Make sure your space is super safe.
  10. You should have soap and shampoo in your bathroom.  Little extras such as razors, cotton swabs, and air fresheners are a big plus.
  11. Provide extra toilet paper and trash bags. Some guests like to tidy up before they leave and there is nothing bad about that.

Remember the difference between booking a hotel room and your place is convenience, the ability for the guest to prepare meals, tips from a local, non-cookie cutter interior (your personal touch), location and cost. Your guests should feel good about having made the right choice. The more you share in the description and communication, the happier they will be with their choice.

People are looking for experiences they cannot find at a hotel or resort. Airbnb in most big cities provides a variety of experiences such as concerts in people’s homes, cooking classes, food tours, sailing trips, and so much more. You can share your recommendations on these experiences with your guests and therefore, help shape the ultimate vacation.

Being a Super Host on Airbnb is a tremendous plus. It will give you better placement in a very crowded market — that’s not changing any time soon; if anything it will get worse. You can become a Super Host by being responsive and securing outstanding reviews. Airbnb has some good tips on their site.

Tips for being an exceptional host:  

  • a small gift upon arrival, such as a bottle of wine or a package of sea salts or bath salts, will make your guests very happy.
  • share your knowledge without pushing your thoughts on your guests
  • let your guest know that you are not too far away if they need anything. I had a bad experience in Lisbon recently; my host lived in Australia. I had to make a toll call halfway around the world — not good. No apologies were given and it was reflected in my review.
  • offer to show your guest around the neighborhood if you have the time.

Being an exceptional host is a lot of work and  personally, I have no desire to do it again. I have to say when I did do it, I enjoyed it. I was meeting wonderful people from all over the world and the extra cash came in handy. Keep in mind that there will be wear and tear on your home and by the time you pay taxes on your earned income, you may not be making as much money as you hoped or expected.

 

The Guest

As a guest you have several considerations that will help ensure you choose the right accommodation and pay the right price. So may just look at the photos and book. There are a few problems with that. As you know, if you point your camera at the right angle, you can make a trash site look good. The other consideration is that a photo will tell you little or nothing about the location. Here are a few things you should consider before booking:

  1. What are your priorities? Location, price, space, authenticity, good reviews, air conditioning, big kitchen/small kitchen, water view, mountain view, near restaurants; you get the picture.
  2. Read the reviews! People will usually convey a problem even if there is a lot of praise and fluff.
  3. Is the host a Super Host?
  4. Do they respond quickly to your inquiry.
  5. Do you have to climb a lot of stairs?
  6. Is it in a noisy, touristy area. Some travellers like that (I don not).

Look at the fee breakdown. Some shrewd hosts make the base price reasonable and then charge crazy amounts for additional guests or cleaning. If you are asked to pay more than $50 to clean a one bedroom, your being charged too much. If your being charged a cleaning fee for a bedroom in someone’s home, well, I’d rethink that one.

There will sometimes be added taxes and that’s fair. Anything else besides taxes, cleaning or additional guests seems unreasonable to me.

If a host offers to pick you up at the airport for a set amount, do some comparison shopping. I once paid a host 50 Euros and later learned I could have taken a taxi for 20. A small mark-up is acceptable, but 30 Euros?

There are other sites out there (VRBO, Homestay.com, House Sitters, etc.). Comparison shop.

The truth is sometimes hotels are a better option. You might find more flexible check-ins, you might like to have a concierge, it may mean more privacy, sometimes there is an excellent restaurant in the hotel, and frankly, the whole guest review process on Airbnb can be unnerving. And because hotels now have loads of competition, you might get a great rate at a beautiful resort with lots of amenities. This why I believe there is plenty of room for both in the accommodation space.

Be a gracious guest. If you had a wonderful experience, repay your host with an excellent review. A small thank you gift is also a nice way to show your appreciation. In many cases you’ve saved a lot of money and got to live like the locals.

Postscript

A friend contacted me about Airbnb travel for women traveling alone. In short she doesn’t feel safe traveling this way and I completely understand her concern — another consideration. She likes being able to call to the front desk and getting an immediate response/help. If you think of anything I have not included, please let me know.

 

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More Money on Experiences and Less Money on Stuff

 

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The 34 footer I spent the weekend on in Portimão

 

Since giving up my consulting business in Maine and moving to Faro, I’m finding I have more time to think about how I want to spend my time . . .  and money. I have also been noticing that more is being written on how to spend your money — probably because I’m living on a set budget.

Note:  Good piece by Travis Bradberry in Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/travisbradberry/2016/08/09/why-you-should-spend-your-money-on-experiences-not-things/#2a7c4fd76520

Also see several good Ted Talks on Money & Happiness (Ted Talks does not allow me to copy link; Google it) — love Ted Talks.

What I am hearing and reading is that it is wiser to spend less on things and more on life experiences. You can read (see above) what the experts are saying so I won’t go into the “why.” Having just shed 98% of my material things to move overseas, I have to say, I like that advice. I’m also at an age where I believe I have lived over half my life. I’m 59 years old and I like red meat, alcohol and ice cream —  you do the math.

I learned in marketing seminars, that people will spend more money on experiences that they cannot create for themselves. For example, when I worked at the French Culinary Institute, I learned that people were willing to spend a boat load of money to cook with Jacques Pépin or other celebrity chefs. I get it, it would be a difficult experience to arrange on your own. I’ve decided to create more experiences based on what I have desired, dreamed or thought about in the past.

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Me with Jacques Pépin and Julia Child about 20 years ago. We were honoring Jacques and Julia and I had the good fortune to host the event.

 

Portimão Sailboat Experience:  My Big Adventure

I know this will sound crazy, but I love sleeping on boats and I don’t mind if they’re not moving. I know that unless boats are dry docked, they’re always moving; but you know what I mean. One of my favorite vacations was a tall ship cruise off of the coast of Maine. We stayed anchored near to the coast in the evening and that slow and steady rocking would put me to sleep. We sailed and docked at different towns during the day. So I planned a big adventure aboard a 34 foot, classic Swedish yacht, docked in the marina in Portimão, Portugal.

Yes, that’s my Macbook baking in the sun. And that’s the bed I had to crawl in and out of.

I visited Portimão briefly a few months ago. It is in the Algarve; therefore, very easily accessible by train or bus, there are many restaurants, beautiful beaches, and they have a casino. I figured now that I have a wonderful woman named Sandra to take care of Giorgio, I could enjoy a few of days of sun and fun; doing something I’ve never done before.

Day One

I’m still having trouble managing the train and bus schedules here. I waited on the train platform for an hour and realized my train schedule was outdated. I walked home — it was 100 degrees; by far the warmest day since I arrived in Portugal. I thought if I could sit in my cool apartment, I’d come up with an alternative plan. The next train was a few hours away, so I looked at the bus schedule. Great, a bus in 90 minutes that would get be there by 4:15 p.m. I lost a big part of the day, but my host was willing to pick me up at the bus stop. Honestly, the heat was extremely oppressive and I never drink enough water, therefore, my brain was fuzzy. I arrived at the bus terminal at about 4:30 p.m.

I settled onto my yacht (I like the sound of that), showered and headed for a nearby watering hole. I had a frozen daiquiri because I was very thirsty and I have to say, it was probably the best daiquiri I’ve ever had — fresh strawberries and as I said, it was extremely hot outside. When I finished my cocktail, the sun had gone down and the heat was more bearable. I walked to the casino (everything was in walking distance from the marina), and discovered the blackjack table wouldn’t open until 8:30 p.m. I played some slots (hate slots) and of course, regretted it immediately. By this time I was hungry and I thought that 7:30 p.m. was a safe bet for getting a table at a restaurant. The great thing about eating early in Portugal, is that you almost always get a table. Avoiding the smokers wasn’t easy; however, I managed to get a corner table at a nice tapas wine bar with a great view of the ocean and lots of people watching. I had a nice dinner and I’ll leave it at that.

After dinner it was time for some blackjack at the Casino. I’m not a big gambler; but I do enjoy an hour or two of gaming. There was only one blackjack table, so I had no choice concerning where to play. I observed the table for a bit before diving in. There was a crazy Frenchman chastising this poor newcomer to the world of gambling at the table. The bewildered chap had no idea what he was being yelled at for and I could tell he wouldn’t last. In blackjack, the last seat at the table leaves one open to the scrutiny of the other players. Making the wrong decision could prevent the dealer from busting and nobody at the table likes that. The chap left shortly after my arrival. Anyway, I wasn’t there very long and a woman visiting from China sat down beside me. We were both enjoying the crazy Frenchman’s antics and started chatting it up. Well Frenchie didn’t appreciate that we were talking and started giving me a hard time. Had he known I was from Brooklyn he might have thought twice about confronting me. Long story short, I gave him a piece of my mind and the pit boss came over to tell him that if he didn’t behave he’d be thrown out. That made him even angrier and he lost his concentration, made some stupid moves (like sitting on 12 when the dealer had a jack showing) and started losing big money. I admit I was secretly pleased. After awhile I got bored watching my Chinese friend rake it in while I lost almost every hand and I left. I did put 20 Euros into a slot machine because I’m a glutton for punishment.

Time to go back to the boat to enjoy the “experience” I paid for. Here’s are some thoughts before you run to purchase a boat:

  1. Buy or rent a sailboat that is large enough or fancy enough to have air conditioning.
  2. If you have to pump the toilet and sink to get water, wear shoes. I wasn’t permitted to (boat rules).
  3. People who sleep on boats like to party, so if you’re docked in a marina, you’re probably not going to get any sleep.
  4. Showering on a 34 foot sailboat is not really feasible.
  5. Getting up to use the bathroom is not an easy task. By the time you shimmy your way out of bed, you’re wide awake.
  6. The bathroom is sort of stinky and there is no way around that.
  7. If you have a glamorous notion of what it’s like to sleep on a sailboat, don’t do it. Doing it will destroy that notion forever.
  8. Always rent first.

Day 2

Exhausted from no sleep, I made myself some breakfast. The owners left me some delicious oranges to squeeze and some other healthy breakfast treats. I ate on the deck and watched the sunrise. I decided that it would be nice to spend the day at a pool club on the ocean. I had no interest in doing any group tours and I have a cave trip coming up in Lagos in a few weeks. Don’t worry, these are shallow caves.

When I got to club, the receptionist politely asked if I had a reservation and of course, I did not. She looked down at this massive chart and every beach chair had an X over it. I spotted one that was sort of half rubbed out and asked her about that one. She said, “Um, I don’t know,” and called over a colleague. Her colleague informed us that the party who had that pair of chairs had just cancelled. Well, there you go then, one of those two chairs was meant to be mine. I was fortunate that they didn’t have a “you had to rent two” policy. The beach club wasn’t cheap, but I honestly loved the people watching and the club was beautiful. I decided that they were probably not well-known for their food, so I decided to eat at an authentic Portuguese restaurant right next door. I made the correct choice, the food and the view were the highlight of my weekend (I’m not endorsing any businesses in this particular blog). A beautiful green-eyed black cat joined me for lunch. He was affectionate, sweet and very hungry. This always seems to happen when I’m missing Giorgio — animals sense everything.

I was pretty certain I’d have lunch and then nap all afternoon, but for some reason, sleep was elusive. Instead I drank frozen daiquiri and ogled the pretty people by the pool. I was struck by how many lovers there were enjoying a day at the club; lots of PDA (public display of affection for my older readers).

Image result for daiquiri
Daiquiri
Cocktail
Daiquiri is a family of cocktails whose main ingredients are rum, citrus juice, and sugar or other sweetener. Wikipedia
Ingredients1 1/2 oz White rum, 1/2 oz Simple syrup, 1 oz Lime juice
PreparationPour all ingredients into shaker with ice cubes. Shake well. Strain in chilled cocktail glass.
ServedStraight up; without ice
DrinkwareCocktail glass

At about 6:00 p.m., I headed back to the sail boat. I thought I’d have a gin & tonic (like the Brits) and read Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes — the perfect novel for this occasion. I took a sponge bath and it didn’t help, it was too darned hot. There was smoke in the distance and you could feel the intense heat from the fires in the hills. Soon after I cracked my book open, the wind started howling and the boat starting rocking fiercely. Not long after, it started raining. It’s been weeks and weeks since I felt a rain drop and this made me happy. You would think wind and rain would bring relief, fat chance.

Day 3

I slept a little better, but there was a massive “Back to the 90s” concert in the distance and falling asleep to Cher is like sleeping while standing; it ain’t gonna happen.

Again I watched the sunrise and had a healthy breakfast. The oranges in the Algarve are unbelievably sweet and tart and even a little salty; I had fresh squeezed juice again. My dad squeezed fresh oranges every morning when he retired in Florida.

I knew the heat was coming and I wanted off that freakin’ boat before it arrived. Now that I had learned to read the bus schedule, I knew when and were to catch the one that would drop me off a few feet away from my apartment. I was home by 11:00 a.m. and Giorgio was back in my arms by 12:30 p.m.

 

 

Looking back on my adventure, it’s safe to say I have no regrets. If I had known what I was in for, I would have chosen to book it in September or October. But honestly, life doesn’t happen unless we make it happen. This past weekend, life happened.

 

Other Adventures

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I paid to fly a plane; an experience I’ll never forget. I paid to jump out of one too (another one)!
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In Mexico. It was really hot and sticky and I was thinking, “Why did I do this?”
The day I learned how to butcher a hog
My friend MJ and I tooled around Sintra in this three-wheeled sardine can