Lyon and Grenoble, France

Finally made it to Lyon after three attempts — thank you COVID-19. EasyJet decided to change my return flight prior to leaving Faro, enabling me to extend my adventure several days and take a trip to Grenoble.

The Saône River in the light
The Saône before rainfall

I’m going to mostly write in real time; it’s easier on the ol’ noggin and I can post it as soon as I edit and return. Tenses may vary due to blogging style.

Travel

Summer has not been easy on my psyche; COVID, Portuguese red tape, failed friendships; to name a few. This trip would hopefully be the start of some exciting, long overdue, travels.

Faro airport was a breeze. I printed out my boarding pass and I didn’t have to show my EU vaccination certificate until I reached the gate. The flight was uneventful, except that EasyJet tries to sell you everything including the airplane, making closing your eyes for a few minutes impossible. It was a fairly easy two hours; add 30 minutes on the return.

Upon landing, everyone, and I mean everyone, got up to grab their bags. I always choose an aisle seat, making it easy to pop-up when I need to. I was in aisle three; a fella in aisle one had to put his luggage in an overhead bin in the middle of the plane. There was no way this guy was going to wait until everyone deplaned, so he insisted on muscling his way to retrieve his bags — I was somewhat sympathetic. He stalled next to me and pinned me against another passenger and an aisle seat. I waited a minute thinking he’d move, but the passengers behind me were not going to allow him through. He even tried yelling to the back passengers to grab his bag; however, no cooperation. After being pinned for several minutes I asked him to please give me a bit of breathing room. He tried to justify staying put.

“Please give me a little space,” I said.

“Don’t you speak French,” was his reply.

I admittedly told him to shut up. Yes, it was late and I was travel weary, sweating, and fed up. The plane was completely full of vacationers returning to France, so my frustrated response didn’t land well. The seas parted and I moved away from him. It was over in a flash, but I’m certain my angry American persona was duly noted by my fellow travellers. Drama seems to follow me wherever I go . . . or perhaps, I create the drama?

I had researched getting to Lyon Centre where I had an Airbnb reserved. I had to take a train which was not right outside the terminal, but the signage to get there was good (about a six minute walk). I arrived at a massive train station where there were no people. It was like the twilight zone, except it was only 10:00 p.m. There were machines for tickets everywhere, but I had no idea which one to use. A stranger entered the vast rotunda; fortunately for me he refused to leave me until we found someone who could help. He looked around and located someone who was going my way, he was not only going to the same train, but he was from Grenoble where I was off to in a few days. He offered restaurant advice and told me about some hiking trails I will explore. There are no accidents.

A Snack

Lyon is known for being the original culinary capital of the world. Many say haute cuisine started here. For this reason (and because I love food), I am going to mention eateries throughout this blog. As always I will only post names of restaurants or cafés if they are exceptional — why bother with mediocrity when you can have sublime.

When I arrived close to midnight, many restaurants were still open in Bellecour (my Airbnb neighborhood). I was tired and hungry, so I gave in to the hunger before bed. There was a sweet little French tapas restaurant at the base of my building. It was quiet, open to the outdoors and that was just about all I needed. I had a slice of country terrine that looked a lot like the one pictured here. Accompanied by a glass of French Bordeaux and some toast points, I was fairly satisfied.

French Style Country Terrine or Pâté (Terrine de Campagne) | Meanderings  through my cookbook
An example of a French Terrine

A terrine, in traditional French cuisine, is a loaf of forcemeat or aspic, similar to a pâté, that is cooked in a covered pottery mold (also called a terrine) in a bain-marie. If I’m going to be honest, it reminds me too much of my French Culinary Institute days. It’s a lot of meat and it looks and tastes way too fatty for my liking. I do love pistachio nuts and this time, the combination of the fat and a bold French red was sublime.

Old Lyon

Vieux Lyon sits on the River Saône quayside, overlooked by Renaissance-era mansions with hidden courtyards and terracotta-tiled roofs. The medieval Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste is noted for its ornate astronomical clock, while the Movies & Miniature Museum showcases scale models by miniaturist Dan Ohlmann. Hilly, medieval streets lead to fine-dining restaurants and stylish bars selling Beaujolais wines (Google).

I often choose the “Old Town” in European cities; it’s where you’ll experience the rich history and traditional foods of the region — Vieux Lyon was no exception.

My Airbnb (click for URL)

As I said before, this trip has been rescheduled numerous times, but this AIrbnb is the one that I chose over a year ago. Delphine, my host has been patient and kind, as I shifted around dates and number of nights.

I’m providing the URL (see above) because I found this accomodation to be one of the best I’ve ever stayed in. Stylish, cozy, comfortable, quiet, and nicely situated in the very heart of the old town. I think if it was chilly outside and had a fireplace, I would have squatted (unlawfully occupying an uninhabited building or unused land).

The building is probably close to two hundred years old. The apartment is on the second floor facing a small courtyard. To say that it’s quiet is to understate the silence. I don’t remember the last time the only thing I could hear was the hum of the refrigerator. Between the peaceful quiet and the cave like atmosphere, I am sleeping soundly.

That machine pictured above is the smallest washing machine I have ever seen or used. It is perfect for three or four garments and since I pack light, I was happy to take advantage of it.

Honestly, you cannot find anything like this in a hotel. Delphine provided a Nespresso coffee maker with pods, a cabinet full of staples and she told me about a restaurant in the neighborhood that I will mention later. I am pleased to share that this gem was just over $130 per night. Anything close to this at a hotel would be four star and easily $500 a night. Airbnbs are not always the way to go, but this one was the right choice.

Coffee Shop

I asked the owner of the restaurant where I enjoyed my snack on my first night, where I should go for coffee in the morning; without hesitation, he pointed to Slake. Fortunately, it is very close to where I am staying. My apartment is surrounded by quaint cafés; no doubt they are all good (I got to try several).

Slake Coffee House is warm, inviting, and the coffee is powerful reminder of how a good cup of coffee should taste. I could have sat there all day with my laptop and this view.

Although I love Portuguese cafés, I have nothing even close to what you see here, in Faro. I paid three times what I usually pay for a cup of Joe back home, but hey, I’m on vacation and this is paradise. I didn’t try all the baked goods, however, what I did taste had me wanting more.

The far left corner of the café was my cozy spot. I could see and experience everything.

My First Lunch

Café Terroir, recommended by my Airbnb host, is steps away from my apartment. I had the menu of the day. I ate well and I did not blow away my budget. All fresh, all local, and all good. I provided the menu if you care to see what I devoured.

Philosophical Thoughts for the Day

My idea of a good day on holiday is good coffee in the morning, a walk around the city, trying out the local cuisine, and a restful night’s sleep. My first day in Lyon offered all of that and then some.

Skipping the gym and walking for hours instead, is a great way to burn off calories and discover or rediscover, a city.

I have friends who have travelled the world and offer great recommendations. I think it’s important to listen to the people you trust; however, doing your own research and making your own choices is essential for making a vacation your own. I’m trying to be diplomatic here.

The Weather

Fall weather anywhere can be tricky. What I like about traveling in September and early October, is two things: 1) kids are back to school and not on holiday (sorry parents), and 2) it’s not as hot as summer can be. Lyon gets a lot of rain in the fall and I knew that I would experience rainy weather on this trip. Still, the temp is in the high 70s and thunderstorms are one of my favorite things — another thing I don’t get a lot of in Faro (300 sunny days a year). For the most part it’s been partly cloudy and pleasant. The weather, is what it will be, as they say.

Second Day

The weather my second full day in Lyon is absolument parfait. I’m headed to the train station to get tickets for Grenoble (the French Alps), where I head tomorrow. How could I be only two hours away from the Alps and not take a trip? A train to the station and a bus back. Public transportation is amazing in Lyon; easy to navigate and it takes you very close to where you want to go. Ticketing on buses is sort of on the honor system.

So far I have covered about half the city on foot and by train and bus. I return in a few days, so I thought I’d see as much as possible and get an idea for where I want to return.

Cuisine et Dépendances

I have a friend in Portland, Maine that has lived all over the world, travelled extensively, and she knows good food. When she told me about this restaurant in Lyon, I made a reservation immediately. Fortunately, unlike a couple of others I also wanted to try, it remains open.

The food was delicious and the service was outstanding. I had dishes I don’t cook and cannot get cooked this way back home. Escargot and magret, cooked to perfection; just enough on the plate to satisfy. I’m no longer in the business, so describing each dish is not going to happen.

It’s a good thing I brought my EU vaccine certificate; I’ve had to show it just about everywhere in France.

The restaurant was about a 15 minute walk from my apartment — providing a bit of exercise to ward off the guilt.

A Film

I know, I know, don’t give me a hard time. When I travel and I have the time, I see a film on the big screen I’m not sure will come to Faro (one multiplex theatre, however, not every film I want to see is shown there and sometimes, it’s only showing for a few days).

Tonight, instead of a big meal, I’m going to the movies to see Dune. I love space films and the trailer on this one looks pretty good. There are some films that are just better when they are bigger and louder, especially when they’re intergalactic.

Dune review — I think this Vulture review sums it up well. I will say that I enjoyed the film, even though it was dark and confusing at times. You’re told that it was only Part I from the get go; it will be interesting to see how far they go with the Dune series. I know that I’m spoiled in Faro where the price of admission is five euros and change, 13.50 euros was steep, but I am on vacation.

Moments to Share

Morning light
More morning light
Naturally I arrived at the Saturday outdoor market before it officially opened

Don’t you hate it when you see something and you can’t have it. Here’s what happened:

I have never gone wild for mussels. I’m not sure why; I love shellfish, always have. On my way back from dinner a few nights ago I passed a mussel restaurant in Lyon’s Old Town. Can’t explain why, but I wanted those mussels. For whatever reason it just didn’t work out. A couple of days later I’m doing a 45 minute walk to the Part Dieu train station. I had purchased a ticket for after lunchtime so that I could eat before boarding. I also wanted to arrive in Grenoble close to 3:00 p.m. for my Airbnb check-in.

I found Hippopotamus Steak House near the train station. I think it’s a chain, but none of the other places I passed were appealing; this place had a nice vibe. I look at the menu and right there, three down in the fish column, chorizo mussels — voila! Waiter comes over and I point to it on the menu. He quickly shares that they do not have the mussels. I may have wept loudly, I don’t recall. Instead I chose the fish & chips. But suddenly, divine intervention:

“I’m sorry sir, I misunderstood, oui, we have les moules.”

Again, I may have wept. Perhaps it was the size of the mussels or maybe it was the circumstances, but I know now, without a doubt, that I love mussels when they are small and happen to be in Lyon on a perfect day.

The waiter felt so bad for telling me they did not have mussels, that he showered me with extra dishes. I was happy to accept what was offered.

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Grenoble

First let me say that I’m glad I will be returning to Lyon on Monday. I held back a bit on the tourist stuff knowing I would be returning. There are several restaurants in Lyon I’d like to try and I will get to do just that. I’m also looking forward to a hotel I booked in a different part of Lyon.

Grenoble was planned because I love mountains and I have never been to the Alpes. I took a train through the Swiss Alps a number of years ago, but it was just a pass through. The Airbnb I choose is actually on the side of a mountain with a private terrace and a view (middle photo). I’m looking forward to a relaxing 90 minute train ride (I got a senior ticket, oy vey) and highly anticipated Grenoble. I should have plenty of time to take a walk and relax before dinner this evening. I made a reservation for dinner; if it’s good, you’ll hear more about it.

As I mentioned earlier, the airline changed my flight, I was able to add a few days to my trip, hence Grenoble. I honestly did not do a ton of research, but here I am. The weather forecast was for two days of rain and my expectations were low. I did make a restaurant reservation I was excited about (the one thing I did research). To my delight I exited the train and the sun was shining high in the clear blue sky and it was about 80 degrees; fortunately I had worn my shorts. I walked and hiked to my very secluded Airbnb, nestled into the Alpes (how the French spell it).

There were many people walking around visiting a multitude of art galleries and museums. I discovered that the Biennale Saint Laurent 2021 was in progress. These are the times when I remind myself just how fortunate I am.

I climbed the mountain (seriously) to my Airbnb, sat on my terrace (middle photo above), to marvel at my view and then I left to join the Biennale goers and find a bakery. I had a French press in my studio; morning coffee on the terrace would require the accompaniment of some French pastry (bread would be stale by morning). I visited a dozen galleries, saw some artwork I really liked, but not enough to schlep it home. I then walked into the centre of Grenoble where I found a marvelous bakery, a shoppers paradise (specialty foods, clothing, books, etc.), the Old Town. I wasn’t into shopping at that point and I had a bottle of French white chilling in my little refrigerator. My private terrace was calling my name and I was badly in need of a shower before dinner.

Chez Marius

Chez Marius might have been my favorite meal on this trip to date. I had flank steak in a porcini mushroom sauce and traditional potatoes baked in a light cream sauce; accompanied by a beautiful salad (fresh greens with a vinaigrette). An excellent organic Cote du Rhone, a beautiful clear night, and a table on the edge of an open doorway. I was in the most Zen state I have been in, in a very long time.

The End of a Magnificent Day

A seven minute climb to my mountain retreat, a sweet night’s sleep; window open, a slight cool breeze and rainfall as I dreamt of what the next day in Grenoble might bring.

As I crossed the Isère River on my way home from dinner (by bridge)

My Second Day In Grenoble

It’s day five of my trip and I can’t help missing Paco and my own bed. This happens everytime I go anywhere, but I push myself because I am compelled to see as much of our amazing planet before I die.

Side note: Celebrity just cancelled my cruise in Asia (five countries) scheduled in January ’22. I’m rescheduling it for January ’23 with a big cancellation credit. Plenty of time for COVID to play out and for a nice cabin selection. I’m learning patience — shhhhh!

The Esère River and the road I walked along side it:

The music part of the Art & Music Biennale

A fabulous female vocal trio, Trio Nazani. They sang acapella — mostly chanting and chamber music, astoundingly beautiful.

Lunch at La Toscana

Remember I told you about the guy who helped me find my way to Lyon from the airport. He was coincidentally from Grenoble. When I told him I was going, he shared this little gem. Grenoble is not far from Italy and there were many Italian restaurants. La Toscana was the real deal. I had orecchiette with eggplant, onions, and tomatoes and it was perfection. Good Italian wine from Abruzzo and the best Italian bread. I was so pleased.

Pasta always takes me to my happy place

Tonight a cocktail before dinner and then a local Thai restaurant. My Airbnb is so comfortable, I don’t want to leave. Since I have to hike up a mountain to get to it, I can’t drink too much or get home too late.

This is a good time to mention that although I love good company, I have been meeting many wonderful, interesting, kind, people all week. I bought a small piece of artwork today (see below) from the artist and truly enjoyed our conversation.

By the way the night did not go as played; see below:

The Sixth Day

This is when I start to wonder if I made my vacation a bit longer than I should have. I didn’t have much of a choice this time because EasyJet only flies in and out of Faro twice a week — four days or eight days, those were my choices. And so it goes, in a few hours I’ll get on a train for Lyon. The good news is that I have an upgraded room at a very nice centre city hotel and I get to see the Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth film that I missed in Faro (Supernova only played for two days).

A quick and cynical recap of my evening last night: I was getting ready to leave my studio tucked into the French Alpes and I hit the top of my head on a vaulted stairway ceiling — I’d been doing really well with that fucking ceiling till then. I waited for the bleeding to stop and it didn’t so I left with toilet paper stuck to my head. I hiked down the mountain and crossed the bridge to where the Thai restaurant supposedly was, but my Google Maps wasn’t googling properly and I ended up too far in the opposite direction. I murmured, fuck this, to myself and decided to go to this sandwich spot closer to where I was staying. I had seen pictures of the sandwiches before lunch, but I’d already decided on Italian and there was no turning back. I got to the sandwich spot and it was closed. I thought, fuck this shit, and I walked to this British ghetto where I intended to drown my sorrows in whiskey and fish & chips. If you’re thinking, “British ghetto in the French Alpes?” I promise you it’s true. There was this sprawling, out-of-the-way spot in Old Town Grenoble that was swarming with Brits and British pubs. No wonder the French kept it far from the rest of the village. I’m not sure why, but I’ve noticed when Brits travel, they like to go to British pubs; stick with what you know I guess. I picked the pub with the least number of humans, showed my vaccination certificate, and crawled into a corner seat where I intended to sulk and hide and sip my whiskey. American rap music was blasting into my ears and I thought, I gotta get the fuck out of here, but where the fuck will I go? I sat in suffering silence for what seemed like hours and no one came to take my order. I went to the bar where a lone service person tells me that I have to order drinks and food from her, there at the bar. I sigh, it was a big sigh with lots of drama attached, perhaps even Oscar worthy, I said, “I’ll have a dark & stormy and fish & chips,” she screamed over the rap, “I don’t know what a dark & stormy is and if I were you, I wouldn’t order the fish & chips.” It was a freakin’ British pub for Christ’s sake (she was British by the way). I thought, ain’t this the fucking worst night of my life? and said, “Have you got a bandaid, my head is bleeding.” I saw no sympathy in her judgmental eyes. She hollered, “I’ll go check.” My lady returned 10 minutes later sans bandaid. How is it possible that a commercial kitchen doesn’t have a bandaid? I ordered a rum & ginger ale and a medium rare burger, thinking I was already dead so what would it matter if I were to die again. She handed me one of those plastic disks that lights up like a spaceship and she told me to come back when it explodes. I ate that overcooked god-damned burger as fast as I could so that I could exit that rap den while I still had an ounce of dignity and or life left in me. I walked slowly dreading the mountain I still had to climb before I could crawl into my bed and sleep off the dread. I’m not proud of this, my blood stained pillow case and I have only ourselves to blame, but there is one thing I do know and that is that today will be better; I’ve set a low bar after all.

I posted this recap on Facebook and learned that my friends really do read my posts. The F-bombs were not said out loud by the way.

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Easy train trip back to Lyon and a short walk to my hotel. My Google Maps is super wanky these days and it took me there in a roundabout way; I’m certain it knows I need the exercise — cheeky GPS. I settled into Greet Hotel, a recently opened, trendy hotel that was priced right. I had upgraded to a larger room on an upper floor. I asked not to be put in a room with a skylight because I wanted to have a view. But of course they put me in a room with a skylight. After a few apologies, I got my view and a very comfortable room for my last two nights in Lyon.

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From my tiny balcony: Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere on the top of Fourviere Hill in Lyon

I walked over the bridge to Kenbo, an excellent Asian street food restaurant that was open (many restaurants are closed on Monday night). The restaurant was in a very funky, young neighborhood that had a good vibe. Not a bad day. Everything was smooth and easy and I finally got to eat the Asian food I was longing for. Almost forgot, my head feels a lot better, although it is still tender at the top.

Day Seven

I must admit I am ready to go home. I miss my dog, I miss my bed, I miss the gym, and I miss my normal life. I imagine most people feel this way after a week away.

Today I will do whatever I please (I know that’s what I do everyday), when I please. I did not pay for breakfast at the hotel because all I want is a coffee and a cookie. I have not stopped eating since I got off the plane in Lyon. Today will be a light food day and lots of walking. It will be partly cloudy and cool. Sunshine is forecasted for my day of departure and for several days after; isn’t that always the way? I can’t complain, I did have lots of cloudy sky and some rain, but I also so had some unexpectedly beautiful weather as well.

HEAT Lyon

I went on-line and found this amazing street food court about 30 minutes walk from my hotel. It was in a part of Lyon I had not been to and I love street food. The internet had it opening at noon.

I happily strolled to the location and viola, no more Heat. This sort of this has happened to me before. The problem with the internet, is that it is often not updated. I had past an Italian restaurant along the way with what looked like amazing wood fired pizza. I went to A Tavola and had an outstanding pizza. I could have been upset about Heat, but getter older teaches you to breathe and let it go.

The southern part of the peninsula is being built out and renovated. I think if I lived in Lyon, this is where I’d want to be — in that area on the Saône (the lesser known river in Lyon).

Don’t miss Supernova (Tucci and Firth), it’s outstanding cinema.

Final Impressions

Lyon is beautifully laid out; most of the city is a grid, making it easy to find your way. The rivers on either side of a center peninsula (where I stayed when I arrived and when I returned) help you navigate without too much effort or dread. I walked for hours and stopped in many galleries and food shops. I passed numerous churches and only went into one — I have strong feelings about the Catholic Church, I will not go into now. The people who live and work in Lyon and Grenoble are kind and helpful people; for that I am grateful. Many do not speak English, but thanks to Google translator, I got by. There were many museums I did not visit. I prefer the art being created now; especially by local artists. I’m not sure I will return to Lyon, there is so much more of the world to see.

The Rhône and Saône converge to the south of the historic city centre, forming a peninsula – the “Presqu’île” – bounded by two large hills to the west and north and a large plain eastward. Place Bellecour (my first location) is located on the Presqu’île between the two rivers and is the third-largest public square in France.

A whimsical piece I purchased in Grenoble. It will always remind me of this trip. I know it’s a bit off, my pic, not the painting — I took the photograph without lining up the lens.

The Final Day

I happily leave this place later today. Not that I didn’t love it here; in fact, I’m thrilled to have finally made it to Lyon. I want my Paco and my Portugal. It’s nice to be going home to a pet and a place I love so much — a choice I have never regretted. I’ve come to a time in my life where a cup of coffee out on my terrace, watching the sun come up, is all the paradise I need.

Au revoir pour le moment!

Stockholm, Sweden

Or as my friend David describes it: The Venice of the North

Ten years ago, a friend of mine and I rented a car and drove from Oslo to Copenhagen. Having spent just one night in Stockholm, it seemed like the right time for a longer visit. The country has had relaxed COVID-19 restrictions from the beginning of the pandemic and since I am vaccinated and an expert at social distancing, I booked the trip hoping it would not be one of the ones to be cancelled (I’ve had 10 or more cancelled holidays since March 2020).

The principle reason for this trip: I was invited to a gin tasting party in Vilamoura, Portugal shortly after moving to Faro. It was one of my first events as a retiree and I felt like a kid on his first day of school. If I am to be honest, it was a big trip to make just to taste some gin. But . . . there is a reason they say, “You never know what the day will bring.” At the end of the tasting I met a Swedish couple who had only moved to Portugal two weeks after me. Unlike the others at the tasting they were warm and welcoming; we became fast friends. They are the reason I visited Stockholm and Kälholmen island. I was invited over two years ago. The pandemic kept me away for awhile, but not forever.

I scheduled a few days in Stockholm prior to taking the trip to their island paradise.

During the first few days of my trip I was blessed with magnificent clear skies and temperate sunshine. One of the nice things about going to Sweden in the summer, is the almost springlike weather.

Three Very Different Overnight Accomodations

  1. An airbnb in Östermalm — My small studio was in a beautiful neighborhood filled will parks, eateries, and waterways. It was about a 30 minute walk to the Old Town and other sights. It was billed as a writer’s studio because it was on the top floor and had a skylight and writing desk. It was everything I love about Airbnbs; quiet, away from tourists, and affordable. I did not meet the host — it was perfect.
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Writer’s Studio

2. Källholmen Island — 2.5 hours from Stockholm by ferry. My friend’s cozy cottage; surrounded by water and nature, no running water and bathing in the Baltic Sea. The Swedes prefer and enjoy island living in the summer and Sweden has thousands of beautiful islands, small and large.

My bathtub

3. Blique by Nobis

A bit fancier and a nice way to end my stay in Stockholm. Strange name perhaps, but this boutique hotel was far from strange. Beautifully designed, new, and a bit trendy. The bed was fantastic and that makes me very happy. Odd to have down comforters in August, but heck, it’s Sweden so I just opened the window. An excellent gym helped with some of the guilt from this trip. Breakfast was included and it was one of the best buffets I have experienced.

Eating in Stockholm

I was impressed with the restaurant options in Stockholm; every type of cuisine I love was available. The Algarve does not have a Korean restaurant, making Korean a must. There were many Korean restaurants in Stockholm, some right near my hotel. Even my hotel’s rooftop restaurant had Korean food on the menu. I thought about going out for Italian food, but Asian won out again. I also indulged in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.

Ulla Winbladh

My new friends took me out for dinner at this beautiful, authentic Swedish restaurant, located in a beautiful park minutes from Stockholm’s center.

“At Ulla Winbladh you can enjoy authentic Swedish food crafts in a historic environment. Here we serve home-cooked food as it should always be, that is: a purely mind-expanding experience.
The inn Ulla Winbladh, whose name takes its inspiration from the national poet Bellman’s muse, is well known for its high-class Swedish food tradition. The inn in 1897 is something as unusual as a popular concept restaurant.

The building in which Wärdshuset Ulla Winbladh is housed was originally built for the Stockholm Art and Industry Exhibition in 1897 by the architect Gustav Wickman. From the beginning, the facilities housed an ultra-modern steam bakery at the time and was then called Reinholds Ångbageri. Later, the business became a patisserie where, among other things, waffles with whipped cream and jam were served. When the patisserie was transformed into a restaurant in the mid-50s, the name was changed to Wärdshuset Ulla Winbladh. The name comes from Bellman’s most famous mistress and muse who in reality was named Maria Kristina Källström. In the 18th century, it was common to go out and have fun at Djurgården, something that Bellman and his girlfriends often indulged in. 

In 1992, the restaurateur, cookbook author and food columnist Nils Emil Ahlin took over the inn and created the Ulla Winbladh we know today. Since 2004, Wärdshuset Ulla Winbladh has been owned by Stockholms Restauranger & Wärdshus, which works to manage the Swedish food heritage. The ambition is to nurture and develop the atmosphere and history that the inn in 1897 holds and of course – the Swedish taste traditions.

Guide Michelin has now presented which restaurants in the Nordic region will receive the world’s most prestigious restaurant award this year. At the press conference, the 2020 Michelin stars and recipients of the Bib Gourmand award were announced. The latter award – Bib Gourmand – indicates a restaurant that serves “well-cooked food at a reasonable price”. We humbly thank you for keeping our Bib for the thirteenth year in a row! Last year, Ulla WI nbladh broke a record as the restaurant in Sweden that kept its Bib Gourmand for the longest period.” Restaurant website

This dining experience was a real treat. The outdoor eating area made for a very pleasant evening. The crayfish, cheese pie, and creamy chanterelle mushrooms were highlights.

Museum

Millesgarden Sculpture Park is located outside the city. Milles’ home and studios are on the grounds and you get to tour the house and gardens. The restaurant on site was terrific. You get a spectacular view of Stockholm from the gardens.

“Personally Milles loved and wished to evoke at Millesgarden the gardens of Italy’s Mediterranean coast. In the newly-built loggia, the Little Studio designed by Evert Milles, Carl commissioned a fresco painting of the bay of Naples with acan­thus and cactus in the foreground and olive and wheat being farmed in the distance.”

There were many fantastic parks in and around Stockholm, making walking for hours a pleasure.

Transportation in and Around the City

I took a taxi into the city after landing; it was about 65 Euros and at midnight, worth every penny. Travel weary and punchy, there were no Ubers available. A train goes into and out of the center for about 12 Euros; that’s how I returned to the airport — it’s about a 40 minute ride.

Stockholm has a very clean and efficient subway and light rail system. I used my ATM to buy tickets and frankly, didn’t even look at the cost of a ride. I believe it’s under four euros; not cheap, but it gets you there quickly. I did not use the bus or tram system, but I noticed the buses were all new. I was told that there is only one tram line left in the city. I did use Uber a few times and found it to be pretty quick and reasonable.

One Unexpected Memory

My friend David lived and studied in Stockholm many years ago. He met a gay couple while he was there and they have stayed in touch. David suggested that I meet them and doing so was one of the highlights of my trip. Claes and Nils have been together for over 30 years (I think that’s correct). We enjoyed a couple of excellent meals together and I got see their lovely home. They were warm, gracious and gave me hope for finding lasting love.

Overall Impressions

First and foremost, Sweden is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been — in or outside of the city. Almost everyone speaks English. The Swedes are warm and welcoming. I hope no one minds that I add that they are also very attractive. The closer you get to the city centre, the more diversity you see. There is no shortage of culture and attractions. The architecture is breathtaking and unique. The Swedes have a talent for design; you see that everywhere, in everything. Whether it’s old and stately or modern and sleek, it’s easy to get lost in the beauty of it all. I was struck by how much green there is everywhere; nature takes a front seat and has not been overlooked or forgotten. Sweden has embraced technology; therefore, using cash is impossible in most places. This is not the case in Portugal and took some getting used to. I’m sure the world is headed in this direction. I understand that germs and bacteria are abundant on cash.

You’re not really supposed to like ABBA in Sweden. It’s nerdy.
Izabella Scorupco

Marriage is not common in Sweden.
— Eva Gabrielsson

COVID-19 and Travel

I’m not going to spend a great deal of time writing about the pandemic in Sweden and traveling there from Portugal. I will say two things: First, I did not see a lot of mask wearing and there was no mandate to do so, and second, because it is an EU country, the only restriction for travel was that you had to be either vaccinated or tested. I was pleasantly surprised with both.

Future Travel

Lyon, France in mid-September

London for theatre in October

The Eastern Algarve in November

Christmas in Faro with friends

Hong Kong, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore in January ’22 (includes a cruise) — my flight has already been cancelled making this trip a big maybe (my second attempt)

Cuba February ’22

Toulouse, France April ’22

Basel, Switzerland June ’22

Colorado, USA September ’22

Northern Europe Norwegian Line Cruise October ’22

If Paco’s caretaker allows me to go, there will be additional travel in between.

Travel Quotes Those who wander are lost J.R.R. Tolkien Quote
#travelquotes #inspiration

Vila Real de Santo António

A gem on the southernmost border of Portugal and Spain

Please keep in mind, my travelogues are more about sharing highlights than telling you what not to do.

I have happily lived in the Algarve for 3 1/2 years now. I have only visited Vila Real de Santo António once and that was for a quick walk through the centre. I have passed through this little town several times on my way to Spain and I have spent time in neighboring towns. So why did I finally come to this town for an extended stay?

I had recently booked an Airbnb for three days and consequently had the opportunity to see the place I had booked. I don’t want to share specifics because it wouldn’t be fair to the owner of the Airbnb; he did not know I would be stopping by. I will only tell you two things: first I think the dude is a raging alcoholic, and second, he smoked like it was crack. There were ashtrays everywhere and the place reeked of smoke. I cancelled my reservation as soon as I got home. I also convinced Airbnb to refund the service fee — something they rarely do.

I opened Booking.com looking at the same dates and the Pousada Vila Real de Santo António popped up on my screen and so, I took a closer look. I viewed the photos and decided this place might be to my liking. Swimming pool on the first level and another on the roof.

Pousada Vila Real de Santo António (website photos)

Beautifully appointed, friendly, a great location and the price was right. I even received an email that I could upgrade to a bigger room for a reasonable fee. I have always wanted to stay in a Portuguese Pousada and this was my chance. I have two terraces and one of the best mattresses I have ever slept on. Breakfast is included and it’s excellent. I was able to get fresh coffee in the early morning hours; something I much appreciate. Fabulous property. I think I’ll join their Guest Club for offers and tempting benefits. I should note their website is very nicely done (not all hotels pay attention to their site).

“The Pousadas of Portugal Group is an exclusive chain of 34 historical hotels many of which are considered to be amongst the top hotels in Portugal and are the very embodiment of the best that Portugal has to offer. Many Pousada hotels were formerly monasteries, palaces, convents and castles and have been beautifully converted to offer luxurious, elegant hotel accommodation, often in superb locations. These unique hotels are located throughout mainland Portugal and the Azores in either historical cities such as Evora, a world heritage site, or in rural areas of outstanding natural beauty or interest such as Geres National Park.”

Dining

Di. Vino — my FB review

A fabulous eatery. I have to be honest, I chose this restaurant because I liked the owners reply to a reviewer. Among many excellent reviews, one diner was not a happy fella, but I liked the way the owner dealt with him. What I found was a quaint, authentic, executed with love, spot on the river with beautiful artwork and lovely jazz. The husband and wife team who own this gem have created a winning dining experience that will delight your senses.

I had an all shellfish night, clams and then shrimp. Fresh, simple and delicioso!

Green Buddha

Good food, good service, and a side street location. Looking forward to returning to try some of their other dishes.

Excellent Pad Thai

Pousada Restaurant

The Pousada had a beautiful restaurant with a mediterranean inspired menu. A wood fired oven (rare in Portugal), made choosing dinner at the Pousada a no brainer and I was not disappointed. There were lots of other offerings and a many cocktail and wine selections.

Gelato

Dedé Gelataria Italiana Artigianale

The pistachio gelato (my favorite) left me wanting more . . . and more.

Bistro – Bar Latté

A beautiful and inviting bar with delicious eclectic bar food (including British fish & chips that I didn’t get to try — too full).

Shopping

The entire centre of Vila Real is closed to traffic. There are many touristy shops you’ll want to pass up, but then every so often you’ll see a unique boutique shop worth visiting. There is also loads of shopping on the Spanish side (Ayamonte). I got this beautiful bowl for four euros (perfect for a small salad or ramen):

Amusements

There is a casino just a couple of miles away in Monte Gordo. I did go once to make a small donation. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

There are two museums and I saw an ad for a show (in Portuguese) that was recently staged here. It was competing rap artists — I missed it by three days.

Just look across the river and you will see Spain. You can take an inexpensive ferry ride to Ayamonte or drive across the bridge that links the two countries. It’s a real treat. A one hour time difference (keep this in mind when you look at the ferry schedule) and paella. A completely different culture only minutes away.

Travel To and From

I took the train which was just over 10 Euros round trip from Faro. It’s an old rail system, but it works. You can, of course, also drive there. Another option is the bus from Faro which takes about 90 minutes; for me, not as comfortable as the train.

There was an evening market in the square in front of the hotel on my second night. I assume it’s a summertime, Tuesday evening thing. An exhibition on “sardine” artwork was delightful.

Let me end by saying that I could easily live here.

Upcoming Travel

Stockholm coming up in a few weeks. They’ve got COVID-19 under control; looks promising. Lyon, France in September and London for theatre in October. I’m waiting to book November and December, but I’m looking at all of my options. I love these direct flights to different parts of Europe from Faro. I want to see what this virus will do to winter travel. I’ll be in five Asian countries in January ’22 and Cuba in February. Both of these trips were rescheduled due to COVID-19.

Humans Are Strange Mammals

The Travel Paradox

My last view (from my bed) prior to leaving the States

I am relieved to be home from a three week trip to the States. Ironically, I almost said, ” . . . three week trip home.” I did not go home, I am home, Portugal is home. We spend so much time making our homes comfortable and beautiful and then we travel someplace else.

In many ways returning to the United States during a pandemic was an insane proposition. My flight was cancelled, rebooked, cancelled, changed, changed again, and changed one final time. What should have been a seven hour direct flight turned into two stressful flights; the first in the wrong direction with a very tight connection — more like 17 hours. I had to be tested for COVID-19 prior to travelling, at my expense. It should be noted that the PCR test in the States was offered at no cost. COVID testing has become a big business with many charging as much $250; criminal.

Looking back, the four airports I travelled through were extremely busy — a plug for Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, which was by far the most efficient and user friendly.

I cannot help but wonder if I would have made this trip knowing what I know now. True, there are family and friends I wanted to see; I needed to see. It had been a long time and I lived in the U.S. for the first 59 years of my life. This trip took its toll on me mentally and physically like no other before it. I’m going to stop writing for afew days. My negative feelings about what I saw and experienced in the U.S. are skewed and time will help.

[An apology to friends and family: I imagine you grew tired of comparisons between Portugal and the U.S. For example, “I can get a latte and a pastry for two euros in Faro.” That must have sounded more like: wah, wah, wah and wah. My bad. Is it true people are no longer saying, “My bad.?”]

Some time has passed and I have gained some perspective.

One of positive things about travel was the renewed appreciation of my home. Whilst away, I thought a lot about Faro, Paco (my dog), and my apartment. After only a few days, I lamented about the rest I get in my own bed and the joy I get from hanging with Paco.

Of course I know that I think and say all of these things and by next week this time I will be thinking about my next trip and longing to be away again.

I didn’t take very many photos; living in the moment and creating living memories. No doubt, I am one lucky fella. Don’t be upset if you do not see yourself here, I chose these pics quickly — I blame jet lag.

Some of the highlights and pitfalls of my time in the States (not all fact, but a whole lot of opinion):

  • The non-U.S. passport line at JFK was a lot shorter; there is a first time for everything.
  • I oddly had little to no jet lag going west.
  • The old Penn Station was like entering hell without warning. I’m still suffering from PTSD — Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, or rape or who have been threatened with death, sexual violence or serious injury (Google).
  • New York City is not the same with Broadway gone dark and that’s just a fact.
  • People get angry with you when you’re nearby, but have no time to see them. Please don’t be mad at me.
  • The food in New York City is better than anywhere I have ever been (must be the competition).
  • Brooklyn Bridge Park is absolutely incredible and should not be missed — what a gift to the people of Brooklyn and the city of New York.
  • There is no bed like your own bed.
  • May is the best month of the year for good weather in the northeast (mostly not hot and humid).
  • I understand why they say you can never go home again.
  • No one gets you the way your siblings do.
  • Charlotte, North Carolina has exploded (I went to university there).
  • BBQ should only be eaten in the south.
  • Downtown Boston is not easy to navigate since the Big Dig. I almost missed my bus back to New York (plug for Flexi Bus; easy and inexpensive way to travel).
  • I’ve been writing this blog for three years and much to my chagrin, friends actually said this, ” . . . so what is your blog about?”
  • Not everyone is happy that I was able to get the J&J vaccine in Brooklyn. Doesn’t matter, I’m glad I did.
  • I spent way too much time throughout my travels, thinking about quarantine weight.
  • I refuse to travel back to the United States during this pandemic; I know we’re all hoping things will improve soon.
  • I thought turning your data off on your cell stopped you from roaming. A cell phone bill for hundreds of euros let me know that I was wrong. I’m certain cell carriers and cell phone manufacturers are in cahoots regarding this issue. My iphone has to be on airplane mode to avoid roaming charges. I can assure you that unless I have dementia (do I?), that will never happen again.
  • You know I have a lot more to say, note my restraint.

A Minha Casa

Now that I have been home for almost a week, I can sit back and reflect on the significance of this last visit to my place of birth. People I know and love have lots going on; they’re frenetic, preoccupied and manic. That doesn’t mean they love me or think of me any less. What it does mean, is that I need to be patient and understanding. All I ask in return, is the same consideration

I painted stenciled blue birds on my solarium floor on my first full day home. No doubt I was seeking peace and tranquility. Hoping to squash that PTSD.

I cancelled my trip to Lyon scheduled for next week. Too much COVID-19 testing and complicated travel. Businesses blaming everything that goes wrong on this virus is getting old.

I have tickets to Bristol, UK in July — who knows if that will happen. It’s only been postponed four times. Stockholm in August, Toulouse in September, London and a European cruise in October, and a long awaited trip to five Asian countries in January 2022. Cuba moved to February and the planning continues. I keep telling myself it’s okay to plan, even though it’s a bit insane. Humans are strange after all.

São Miguel Island, Azores

I’m getting a bit of flack for traveling during a pandemic, but there are some advantages and I believe in freedom to choose (if the law allows):

  • The airplanes I’ve travelled on have only been about a third full and studies have shown the air filtration systems are safer than if you go into a grocery store (for example). I usually pay for a comfort seat, ensuring more distance.
  • Plane tickets to European destinations have been greatly reduced.
  • Hotels that are open have been clean and fairly inexpensive (I stayed in a one bedroom apartment on the marina in São Miguel for a week, with breakfast, four star: 425 Euros).
  • The airlines and destinations require COVID-19 testing
  • You are helping the tourism industry. Frankly, without some influx of funds, many will go bust. This will create monopolies and greater costs to the customer in the long run.
  • A great way to visit places you’ve never travelled to.
  • A good cure for cabin fever.
  • Once crowded destinations are calm and peaceful.
  • Paco needed a break from being around his dad 24/7.
  • I’m not sure I can stop myself.
A full day eastern São Miguel tour

Getting There

From Faro I always have the choice of getting to Lisbon three different ways: air, train, or bus. I usually choose first class on the train. It’s a little over three hours, no pre-boarding obstacles at the station, lots of space to move around, very inexpensive, clean, and relaxing. My roundtrip ticket was 35 euros, and I think, a good value.

There were a couple of airlines going to São Miguel, however, Sata Azores Airlines, was reasonable and the flight times in both directions were perfect. I could take the train from Faro in the morning with more than enough time to make a 1:35 p.m. flight. The flight time was about 2 hours 15 minutes. A great way to get there. You may have to wait for the train on return, but I made the best of it by dining out for lunch (see Choosing Where to Stay).

I believe Air Portugal also flies out of Lisbon to São Miguel. They have decent fares, but they also have a lot of add-on fees (seats, bags, etc.).

If you’re going to any of the other islands, I believe you have to take another flight or a boat. I honestly did not explore these options. What I did learn, was that São Miguel was the only island that imposed restrictions on restaurants.

The airline insisted on luggage check which actually worked out well because I was able to purchase several authentic liquid products that I have not seen in Faro.

Choosing Where to Stay

I checked out Booking.com, Hotels.com, and Airbnb and ultimately went with Booking.com because the rate was good and I get free upgrades due to my status with the site. I also like that you can cancel most reservations up to a couple of days prior and you usually do not have to pay until you check in. When I booked the trip two weeks ago, restaurants and museums were open. Since then there has been an increase in COVID-19 cases and until the end of April, the restaurants (just a few), are only able to do takeout. Having learned this at the airport in Lisbon, there was obviously no turning back. I figured I’d go with it and in all honesty, it wasn’t a big deal. Well, the casino closing was a big deal, but in the long run I probably saved boatloads of cash.

I decided that it would be crazy to be in a double room for a week, being that I had to sleep and eat in the same space — I’m not in college any more after all. I asked the desk staff what it would cost for a larger room on the marina and he told me it would be an additional 80 euros. I was pleasantly surprised, paid for the upgrade and headed to my room. I was elated when I got to the room and it was a large, fully equipped, one bedroom apartment. Considering the hotel is fairly full, I felt very fortunate. Not only could I eat in a dining area on a dining table, but I could also reheat leftovers. This made the week a whole lot nicer. Hotel Gaivota is a four star property in need of a little redecorating. All in all, I was pleased with the service, cleanliness, and breakfast was excellent; especially the freshly made cakes and breads.

I was walking distance to just about anywhere in town and there was a walking/bike path right on the edge of the marina that went for miles along a beautiful coastline. It was the perfect spot for a week of sun, storms (I love storms), and lots of wind.

Unfortunately, I did not get my 5:00 a.m. wake-up call. I’m an early riser so it was fine. I never sleep well the night before an early flight so I was up by 4:15 a.m. You can never rely on a hotel wake-up call. I had also set my cell phone alarm as a back-up. You can see how being obsessive-compulsive can help you get places . . . and ensure that you lose your mind.

Wearing a mask from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. wasn’t easy. I had lunch at PekingPeking in Lisbon and so, a short reprieve. The best Chinese food I have had in Portugal to date. Delicious buffet and a very pretty restaurant . . . and indoor dining on the mainland. Paco was in surgery to remove a tumor on his paw while I was dining; not a great situation, but by the time I finished lunch he was out of surgery and doing well. Five hours later he was cuddled up by my side. This fella is a trooper.

Culinary Highlights

As I mentioned earlier, take-out or delivery was my only option and only a dozen or so non-chain restaurants were open.

I had take-out from Ramires twice and the food was excellent and travelled well. They’re well known for their piri piri chicken, however, I thought the ribs were even better. A full meal delivered to your door for 10 euros. They were on the marina and nearby.

These are the restaurants I heard and read were fantastic that I did not get to try because of the pandemic: A Tasca, Ōtaka, Balcony Restaurant, and Restaurant Mariserra. No doubt that I will return at a later date.

I discuss the famous cozido das Furnas stew later in this piece. You cannot visit the Azores without giving this dish a try.

There are several pineapple growers on the island. I learned that the São Miguel was once known for its oranges, but a plague wiped them out and the crops were replaced with hardier pineapple plants. Pineapples were not yet in season. I did eat pineapple, however, not certain of where it was grown. The pineapples from São Miguel are smaller and supposedly sweeter.

Impressions

  • Mainland Portuguese people are extremely welcoming and helpful, but the people I encountered on São Miguel were far more open and very laid back — island life I guess.
  • The food is different; spicier and more flavorful. Perhaps it’s the influence of other cultures. It’s out in the middle of the Atlantic and the cuisine has its own distinct signature. I was pleasantly surprised, especially since restaurants were not permitted to serve, indoors or outdoors.
  • Considering it’s a tourist destination, everything was quite reasonable. I was surprised that mainland wine was the same price as you pay on the mainland. I tried a couple of wines from the Azores and decided to stick with wines from Alentejo and Douro.
  • Hiking is amazing on the islands. It’s peaceful and naturally stunning. If hiking is your thing, the Azores is a great destination for you.
  • If you’re looking for nightlife and partying, this is probably not the right place. I was told that even during non-pandemic times, the nightlife is fairly mellow. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of bars and many public spaces for evening strolls. Definitely more my speed.
  • The natural thermal springs were my favorite part of this trip. There are several on the island and most were open.

Tours

My review for: São Miguel East Full Day Tour, Pure Azores (Miguel)

I had the great pleasure of spending the day with Filipe touring the eastern part of São Miguel. Despite the wind and the rain, I had a special tour in a naturally beautiful location. I was served an excellent lunch — a traditional Azores stew, cozido das Furnas, cooked in the ground. My first time experiencing food slow cooked this way and I enjoyed every bite. Four different kinds of meat, cabbage, greens, yams, and natural juices. If you can make the time for this island tour, you will be glad you did. Communication with Miguel was excellent. A five star experience.

The hot springs, Poça da Dona Beija

My second tour (experience) was a gin tasting with Ali. I booked it through Airbnb. I have mostly found Airbnb experiences to be a great value, entertaining, easy to book, and memorable. Makes me wish that I owned stock in Airbnb. I don’t always use Airbnb for overnight stays because I enjoy staying in the center of the cities. You can get to key locations quickly and a car is unnecessary. I find center city flats to be more expensive than high quality hotels. I’ve grown very fond of the breakfast usually included in European hotel stays. Having said this, I have found beautiful apartments at a good value, especially when I book early. For example, I’m going to Lyon in June and I found a beautiful apartment in the center for less than 100 euros a night. It takes a bit of work and planning, but always worth the extra effort. Hotels are also competing with Airbnb these days by offering suites and apartments at decent rates. I’m sure Airbnb owners are not happy about this. I understand having a cleaning fee; however, I have found some Airbnb owners abuse this part of the cost.

Gin Tasting details: “We will conduct our gin masterclass in the Gin Library, located on the grounds of The Solar Branco 1885 Eco-Estate. Perfectly located less than 10 minutes from the main city of Ponta Delgada.The heritage house sits on top of a hill, surrounded by farmland, overlooking the quaint town of Livramento and the ocean beyond.”

Ali is a British expat living the dream. He is renovating ruins on his property and he was happy to show me around; a real treat. I’m always amazed at the commitment and perseverance it takes to restore a centuries old property in Europe. Ali and his wife have been getting approvals and restoring since early 2018 and they are close to completing their living quarters, just a small part of this ambitious project. It felt special to be in on the details of making this happen.

Ali shares some great tips about the Azores. The best was his taxi resource, Carlos. Carlos was a treat: good driver, nice car, and reliable (+351.962.374.849). He also told me about Joana who delivers sushi to your door. Couldn’t ask for better than that when dining out is not an option.

That’s Ali of course and Brooklyn Gin — which I didn’t try or purchase because I’ll be in Brooklyn in a few weeks and I thought it would be fun to try to find it. Ali assured me it was a fin gin.

On my final day, I did an all day tour of the western part of the island. This is when I went to Sete Cidades (seven lakes) and visited several beautiful sites and small towns. The pineapple plant was a highlight. Due to closures, this tour was good, but not great. Once again I had a private tour, this time with the tour owner’s son. If you would like to know the name of the tour company, please let me know. I don’t believe it’s fair to judge them due to pandemic conditions.

Photographs of the Island

It’s easy to take great photos in the Azores. Everything is lush and green (several shades) and the light is beautiful no matter what time of the day. The weather changes frequently, but that adds to the charm and mystery of the place. I’m excited to see some of the other islands; the locals say they’re all different and worth a visit. Several are a short boat ride away and others are quick plane trip. Pico Island is the one I’m most excited to visit in the future. I selected only a few photos to share; as you know I try to remain in the moment and minimize my picture taking:

Future Travel

New York, North Carolina, and Boston May 11 if all goes well. I have be tested within 72 hours of travel and that means weekend testing. This might not be so easy in the Algarve. Booked for Lyon, France June 9.

Question of the Week:

Have you been to the Azores? What was your experience?

The Lessons We Learn

Or Choose to Ignore

Photo by Yogendra Singh

A break from someone will either help you realize

how much you truly miss/love them or

how much peace you have without them.

Saw this on Instagram this week

It’s been a year since the start of this pandemic. Hard to believe that much time has passed because to many of us, not much has changed. I say many of us because the majority of people in the world were not personally touched by tragedy. Many died, many got sick, we almost all experienced some sort of lockdown, but many among us were not personally touched by the pandemic . . . and yet.

We want to believe that it’s almost over; there is only so much disruption the average person can tolerate. In truth, COVID-19 will be with us for a long time, perhaps permanently. Over the last few months I have heard many intelligent, resourceful, optimistic people, talk about the upside of this pandemic. For many, the upside has been a discovery of who we are, what we can endure, and what we ultimately want out of our lives. A lot of this is me convincing myself that everything will be okay.

My education, training, and Ph.D. are in higher education, therefore, I am ill equipped to speculate on how this virus will impact our psychological well-being. As usual, I will write from my own experience and observations. What I propose is not science or gospel, it is one individual’s point of view. A point of view I am certain is shared by many and can be seen as a way of understanding why some of us do what we do or say what we say.

The Lessons I have Learned

One of the big life lessons for me is how much joy that I get from going to the gym five or six days a week. Aside from the use of machines to stay in somewhat decent shape, I do a great deal of socializing at the gym. I get there early, very early, and spend about an hour and 15 minutes catching up with gym friends and doing a semi-rigorous workout; convincing myself that because I do this, I can eat anything I want. This has been a steady practice for the last 40 years and until now, I have never missed more than a week at the gym in any given year; I even book hotels with gyms so that I can workout when on vacation. The lesson is, I need to be motivated by others in order to work harder, and two, the routine keeps me on track for the remainder of the day. No doubt I am much more productive after a workout.

I now know that going to bed at the same time everyday and waking up at the same time every morning, helps me to be and feel completely rested throughout the day. When I’m not in lockdown and I go to bed later, I still wake-up early, making me feel sluggish the entire day.

I have rediscovered the joy of cooking. I’m more creative in the kitchen than I have have ever been and I now have a large selection of recipes filed away in my head. The knowledge that things I might have been passionate about in the past can be revived, is the lesson for me. I have been doing a mental sweep of past activities or habits that have fallen to the wayside; several of the positive habits of my youth are worth revisiting (e.g., spending a good deal of time in nature, exploring music).

What I Have Heard From Others

  • Being home with my partner 24/7 forced me to communicate with him or her and truly get to know them. Well, you know which way that one might go.
  • I started out on my sofa in the morning, and ended up there at night.
  • I never realized how disconnected I was with my children. Time with them has been a rediscovery and gift.
  • I need structure in my life, otherwise I do nothing.
  • I never thought I had it in me to do ____________________.
  • I never realized how much I enjoy my own company.
  • I have finally learned to balance work and leisure time.
  • I didn’t have to do as much laundry while in lockdown.
  • We didn’t have much to say to one another after a while.
  • He got on my nerves.
  • I fell back in love with him.
  • I kept worrying that one of us were going to get the virus.
  • We never ran out of toilet paper.

Human beings are super resilient. Faced with adversity we find ways to make change, improvements, and get on with life. This pandemic has forced people to consider new careers and work in ways they never imagined they would or could. Sitting down and taking inventory of what lessons have presented themselves to us is important. Don’t just assume you will realize what you’ve been taught or what you have taken for granted. Pat yourself on the back for what you have accomplished and make that a habit, in time, you’ll rely on others less for motivation. Internal encouragement and cheerleading is healthy and will lead to success. It will also lead to your encouragement of others — something we do not do nearly enough. I think this is one of the reasons so many seek “likes” on social media.

The Lessons We Refuse to Learn

What has amazed me throughout this pandemic, is the number of people who refuse to a wear mask or who continue to gather in close spaces with large numbers of people. I’ve seen some of this in my own family and I find it baffling. When you consider the number of people who have lost their lives, the enormous amount of people who became seriously ill, and the impact closing the economy on the world has had on billions of people, many, refuse to believe the pandemic should be taken seriously. Refusing to comply with mandates is madness and a selfish act of defiance. Again, I rely on karma in place of revenge. Yes, I’m slightly pissed off.

Some of us have used this past year as an excuse to overindulge and become complacent; rationalizing the pandemic as a pass for sluggish behavior (who’s watching anyway). It’s not too late to get out of bed and start something new; something that might someday have you saying:

The pandemic was the start of me realizing my potential and fulfilling my dreams.

Travel

Cancelled Cuba which was scheduled for April 22. The government wanted to hole me up in my hotel room for a few days and bring me food. I’d be watching god knows what on TV waiting for COVID test results. Not going to happen. Rescheduled to February 2022. The good news (I think) is that I’m headed to São Miguel in the Azores instead. I’ve already book tours to the volcanos, falls and gin tasting. I’ll be writing about it for sure.

United Airlines wanted to re-book me from Lisbon to Newark on my seven hour flight, headed home in May. Their proposal: go through two countries in the wrong direction and get me to the States 29 hours later. I should note that this is without apology. Not going to happen. Booked Delta on a direct flight and crossing my fingers.

Toulouse, France in June: flight cancelled for the fourth time. This time I put it off until April 2022 (just around the corner).

I have tickets on EasyJet for Lyon, France in June; I’m waiting for that cancellation. They have already changed one of the legs of my journey. See a pattern here?

Bristol, UK in July. I’m thinking this will happen, it’s been postponed three times.

No sign of a vaccine for me here in Portugal, they’re very slow in getting this done. I’ll be getting lots of COVID-19 tests done for travel. It does feel a bit like things are changing for the good. There’s that optimist.

I’ve Been a Bad Boy

This week I started a big fight on Facebook around the issue of dog poop in Portugal. I have to say it was fun to watch it play out. People get really passionate around any attack on culture. I had to unfriend a couple of crazies. Root canal this week as well; a tooth infection could take you down a dark path. My dentist insisted it was a receding gum issue — doctors could do a better job listening to their patients.

Resources:

COVID: The Lessons I Learned From Lockdowns in 2020, BBC News, January 5, 2021

Five Lessons We Have Learned From Lockdown, Pro Group, Tom Eagle

Question of the Week:

Name something you learned about yourself during this pandemic?

Living Abroad — Reblog w/Updates

A bit about “my truth” as well.

I bought this authentic Gabbeh (Turkey) rug on the Facebook Marketplace this week. I made a little adventure out of retrieving it. It’s a funny thing about a rug, I think you have to live with it awhile to learn to appreciate it. Paco liked it right from the start. It’s the green that has me concerned; fortunately it’s a muted green. Dark grey/charcoal would have been better, but I don’t think those colors were used 60 years ago. My Portuguese tutor looked at it Tuesday and she said, “It’s really old.” I do realize that I’m giving this rug too much attention.

Repeat after me: I like my new/used rug, I like my new/used rug . . .

Reblog w/updates:

Counting My Blessings

I cannot imagine what it must have been like to live overseas 20 or more years ago.  Staying in touch with loved ones back home must have been very expensive and difficult. Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, and other forms of social media have made communicating and keeping up with friends fairly easy. Meeting friends through expat sites and Meetup groups is also a terrific and easy way to connect — sometimes too easy (update).

When you’ve been around the block a few times, you become more discerning. Picking and choosing who I spend my time with and how I spend my time has been of greater importance since moving abroad. It’s easy to regress back to my old ways; I have to remind myself that “my truth” is ultimately all that matters. As your truth should be all that matters to you. I needed a constant reminder, so a few years ago I stopped into a tattoo shop in Soho (Manhattan) and asked for this:

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Forearm tattoo — TRUTH (Chinese)

Last year I had a palm tree tattooed on my ankle. It was done to mark my new life in Portugal.

It’s been proven to slow down the aging process

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I fell in love with this piece last week. It was hanging on the wall at Carla’s Curve in Mexilhoeria Grande.  I know it’s for sale; I am determined to make it mine.

Update: when I went back to buy this piece I noticed it was damaged so I didn’t get it. However, I did buy two others that are in the first photo above (over the sofa). The artist lives in Lisbon. I never get tired of them.

The decision to relocate abroad was an opportunity to take stock of how I was living my life; the food I am eating, the amount of alcohol I am drinking, and how I am spending my time. The mind, body and spirit; holistic approach to living, seems like a better way to live in the present and think about the future. A philosophy that would be difficult to argue; especially in my own mind.

What role does social media play in my life?

I love social media. I enjoy keeping up with friends near and far, I enjoy the posted photos, I like how upbeat most of the postings are, and I even enjoy the occasional not-so-positive back and forth disagreements. That being said, I think some people take it a bit too far. I have learned rather than getting all pissy about it, I have several options:

  1. I can just quickly skim through postings and ignore the stuff that doesn’t speak to me.
  2. I can follow certain people on Facebook. This is different from unfriending, which I have also done on occasion. I have to admit that it is a very empowering exercise.
  3. I can stay away from social media for a few days and take a breather.
  4. I can counter with overwhelmingly positive posts and impart guilt on others.
  5. I can include my thoughts in my very subjective, highly personal blog.

Eating and Drinking Out

I found a wonderful coffee shop in the Faro Mercado Municipal. Most of her coffees come from Brazil; in fact I believe the owner is Brazilian. I’m enjoying learning a little bit more about her and her shop each time I stop by. There is nothing better than doing a little fish and fresh vegetable shopping and then spending time at her counter sipping a cortado. I have been waiting for my bean grinder to be released from Customs and I’m pleased to say I was able to have my coffee beans from home, ground here. More on this place to come (click for Mercado info).

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A cortado is a Spanish-origin general term for a beverage consisting of espresso mixed with a roughly equal amount of warm milk to reduce the acidity (Wikipedia)

One of the things I have always loved about Europe is that you can visit a small town and find fantastic food prepared by creative chefs. Carla’s Curve (A Curva) in Mexihoeria Grande is just that kind of place. Carla came out of the kitchen to describe what she had purchased that day and how she intended to prepare it. I did not take pictures of the food because sometimes I feel that it’s better to just be in the moment and fully enjoy everything that comes your way. Carla’s clams were prepared in olive oil with white wine, garlic and parsley and they were so fresh the simple ingredients did not over power the clams; incredible. Then I had beef ribs in a delicious barbecue sauce. I have not been very impressed with the beef since I arrived here, so I was anxious to try Carla’s ribs . . . they were tender and flavorful. People all around me were expressing their satisfaction and raving about Carla; she’s a warm, animated individual. It was a truly wonderful local dining experience and I cannot wait to return. The restaurant is literally located on a huge curve as you meander down the hill. The next time I will take pictures of the food.

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Carla, owner and chef at A Curva in Mexihoeria Grande in the Algarve.

New Stuff

There have been a couple of semi-lockdowns in the Algarve; mostly weekends. I have decided it is best to stick around Faro for a few months. I don’t want to expose myself to COVID-19 and I think it would be best to stay away from places that have a high rate of infection.

Faro has a new Italian restaurant and I’m becoming a regular. Forno Nero, excellent pizza and good pasta. Still need Thai, Korean, and BBQ. We have BBQ restaurants, but they’re not the same as our North Carolina or Texas BBQ in the U.S. I guess seeking out the food I love gives me a good reason to travel.

I’m focusing on learning Portuguese, making some home improvements, reading more, experimenting with some new dishes, and spending more time with Paco. He had a most unfortunate haircut in October, but his hair is fortunately growing back. How can you not love that face?

Paco, 2 years old, 4.5 kilos, & 100% love

No doubt I miss the States; I miss friends and family, I miss the smell of fall and the changing of the leaves, I miss the food, and I miss the familiarity of it all. I know all this would be true COVID-19 or not. It’s holiday time and it’s all very strange. I also know that what I have discovered in Portugal is very special and extremely beautiful in so many ways. I cannot take it for granted and I will not spend my days lamenting about what I had back home. Yes, Brooklyn will always be my home.

I’ve made some great friends since I arrived here. Also happy to report that a close friend from New York City purchased an apartment in Faro. She won’t be here full time, but she’ll be here a lot and that is making me very happy.

Finally, one of the owners of my croquet club in Tavira, Portugal has been in hospital for a few weeks now. He contracted the COVID-19 virus and became very ill pretty quickly. Unfortunately, he is not likely to survive. My thoughts are with his wife, family and friends. Anyone who still believes the virus is a hoax and that governments all over the world are overreacting, is a risk to the rest of us who would like to remain healthy. Please wear a mask when asked to do so, wash your hands frequently, and remain socially distant. Thank you.

A 2020 Update On Life In Portugal

I wrote a blog about moving to Portugal three weeks into my relocation (May 2018) and thought it would be fun to make some revisions and add new observations (as updates):

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The view from the Hotel Faro, my favorite watering hole (was, see update)

Update: It is no longer true that Hotel Faro is my favorite spot in town for a cocktail. I’ve discovered Columbus Cocktail & Wine Bar, not far from Hotel Faro, you still get the view of the marina, but unfortunately you’re on the ground level. Cocktails are creative, delicious, and reasonable. Great indoor and outdoor seating. If you’re coming from a big city in the U.S., the UK, Italy, Australia, etc., you’ll be getting a bargain at 8 Euros a pop.

Whoever said, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” did not live in Portugal. I knew some things would be different and in fact, I looked forward to change. In truth, I haven’t even been here three weeks and I hesitate to start complaining, but heck, it’s my nature to piss and moan so why wait.

I purposely decided not to purchase a vehicle for several reasons:  1) I wanted to reduce my carbon footprint, 2) I was hoping I’d get more exercise by walking, and finally, 3) I figured I could save a little money (more in the bank for food). I’ve spent quite a bit of time studying the Faro bus schedule. It’s complicated, convoluted and I have no idea where buses end up in the city. There are at least 10 different bus lines very close to my building, but I can’t figure out how to get from A to B. So I decided to go to the mall Saturday. The schedule clearly said that the number 5 goes to Forum every 30 minutes on Saturday. I took my time and meandered over to the bus stop; there I sat for over an hour. You guessed it, no bus. The good news is that Uber is cheap and a car arrived in minutes to whisk me off to the mall.

Update: I continue to be frustrated by a limited bus and train schedule; however, I’m still committed to reducing my carbon footprint; now more than ever in fact. I have finally figured out the schedules, and I’m using Bolt and Uber more often. I figure it’s a compromise and it gets me there most of the time. I am renting a car for the month of November in order to do some things that I have not been able to do without a car. For example, I rented a little place on the beach and I’ll need a car to make it work. I’m more excited about having wheels than I should be.

Intervalo is intermission in Portuguese and if you love film, be prepared. I recall now that this same thing did happen to me in Spain a number of years ago, but frankly, I wasn’t expecting it and I was startled. I was watching a dumb American film at the mall last week and the film stopped mid-scene for an “intervalo.” Although it is clearly a minor issue, I have several problems with it:

  1. If you’re going to have an intermission, why do it in the middle of a scene?
  2. Part of the excitement of a film is anticipating what is coming next and I’d rather not have interruptions. Holding it in because the film is that good, is a good thing. It’s two hours and easy to prepare for, no?
  3. Because I had time to kill, I felt compelled to purchase a snack and although candy at the movies is a lot less expensive in Portugal (1.25 Euros or $1.55 for a pack of M & Ms), I don’t need the calories.
  4. I’d rather not be thinking, “I like the way we do it in the States better.”

I guess I needed the comfort of an American film as part of my adjustment to a new home abroad. It worked, I felt better, and I don’t see it happening again anytime soon. Update: COVID-19 has changed the way we live and the intervalo has gone away. I guess they’d prefer you stayed seated and not have everyone getting up at the same time. I kind of got used to it, but I’m hoping it’s gone for good. The mid-scene break was annoying.

The good people of Portugal do not pick up their dog’s poop! I’m serious, I have to look down everywhere I go. After living in Maine where you rarely see poop on the ground, this has been difficult to deal with. Poop bags are on every other lamp-post and they still don’t pick it up. What makes this insane is that the Portuguese recycle everything. There is a bin for just about every kind of trash and people are psychotic about sorting it, but they leave the dog shit right there on the sidewalk. If it kills me I’m going to be THAT guy that calls out every pet owner in Faro who doesn’t pick up their dog’s poop. Update: Nothing has changed and I’m even more frustrated by it. I step in poop at least once a month. I think this is my 10th blog on this shitty subject.

Gyms don’t open until 9:00 a.m. and they’re closed on weekends; now how silly is that? People here do not workout before work. Back home, gyms were full by 6:00 a.m., and how can they be closed on weekends? Isn’t that when you catch up on workouts you may have missed during the week? Perhaps it’s when you extend your workout a bit? I’m a big believer is providing employees a good quality of life, but as far as I’m concerned, if choose to be employed in a gym, you should expect to work weekends; sort of like restaurants and grocery stores. Update: Well over a year ago I was touring a new gym close to my home. I was unhappy with the set-up; there was very little cardio equipment and not a lot of free weights. It was the kind of gym where you mainly work with a trainer — expensive and not for me. I left the gym and a young Portuguese man who had also done a tour, spoke to me in English. He told me that he could tell that I was unhappy with the gym’s set-up. He shared his thoughts on Centro de Ferro, a gym I had not heard of (gyms do not advertise here). I went to check it out that very day and I’ve been a member ever since; just renewed recently for 80 Euros less than last year and it was already reasonable. They open at 6:30 a.m. and they are open everyday except Sunday. It’s large and clean and for the most part, I like the clientele. All of this makes a huge difference in my life. This gym has been open since the end of the lockdown, however, my old gym never reopened. Had that Portuguese fella not told me about Centro de Ferro, I’m not sure I would have ever found it. This is why “they” say there are no coincidences — Nuno (his name) does not represent or work at Centro, he was just being helpful. I’ve thanked him many times.

Shocked, stunned, bewildered, and frustrated, that I have not received a single piece of Portuguese mail in my mailbox. I’m getting packages from Amazon and even a couple of forwarded pieces of mail from the U.S.; however, no Portuguese mail. Perhaps the post office knows I can’t read the mail anyway. My bank here will not allow me to change my U.S. address until I show them an official piece of mail with my new Portugal address. Considering I have owned my condo for over four months, it doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon. I never thought I’d say this, but I miss my AARP junk mail. And by the way, I don’t have a U.S. address Mr. Banker. Update: Since writing this, I do receive Portuguese mail, however, not much of it. There are occasional flyers for stores, but for the most part, the Portuguese do not do junk mail; perhaps businesses are not permitted or maybe, it’s just too expensive. Either way, I like it this way.

So what I am about to share is very embarrassing:  my attorney contacted me and said, “Have you checked your mailbox?”

I was extremely insulted and fired back, “Yes, of course I checked my mailbox.”

I was shown my mailbox on move-in day and used my key and the mailbox opened. I thought, “Good the key works,” and I have been checking the mailbox everyday since; as I shared earlier, no mail. Last night I met the head of the condo association in the lobby.

She said, “I will put all this in your mailbox,” and looked to her right.

I thought that was odd because my mailbox was on the left. Well, today I went to the mailbox she sort of turned to and alas, it was my mailbox. I have been checking the wrong mailbox for three weeks. How my key worked on another person’s mailbox, I haven’t a clue. Further, how is it that my neighbor has not gotten any mail? So now you know what it might be like living overseas. Update: I’m still embarrassed that this happened.

My quest to find San Marzano tomatoes has begun. I started cooking with these delicious Italian canned tomatoes over 25 years ago after taking a cooking class with Grace Balducci in New York City. They’ve been readily available to me throughout the years — that is until I moved to Portugal. It doesn’t make sense being that I am so much closer to Italy than I have ever been. I’m sure it has something to do with Italian migration to the United States and other countries. I know that I am fussy about ingredients, but if I have to take a train to Italy to find my tomatoes, then that’s what I’ll do. If you’re reading this and you know a place in or around Faro (75 kilometer radius) that sells these tomatoes, I’d be happy to end my search. Better yet, it’s a good excuse to travel to Italy soon. Update: A French grocery chain took over two of the main grocery stores in Faro. The canned tomatoes they sell are not San Marzano (the absolute best); however, they are a close second. The only time I can truly tell the difference is when I make pizza. I also use the beautiful fresh tomatoes grown in Portugal whenever possible (still not as good as San Marzano). A fact is fact.

There are no Walmart stores in Portugal, however, we do have Chinese discount stores. You can expect to find just about anything other than food (save for American candy) at these stores and they are everywhere — like Rite Aid in the U.S.. You have to be a discerning shopper, because no doubt, some products will fall apart before you take them out of your shopping bag. If I’m going to be honest, most products I have purchased at these stores are a great value. For example aluminum foil:  most of it is crap no matter where you buy it — the brand I always purchased in the States is not available here — our local grocery store has a decent size roll for a little over four euros. Four euros is a lot of cash for foil and that’s why a one euro roll of foil at the Chinese dime store works for me. I double it up and still save money. And this is how I spend my time. Update: I have since found decent foil at a decent price at the French supermarket. I love Auchan (the supermarket) and I’ve become hooked on many of the products. If you don’t shower or bathe with French soap you’re missing out — less than a Euro a bar, oh, la, la.

Martinis are hands down my favorite cocktail. It’s the combination of the amount of alcohol, the three olive garnish (considered a snack), and the classic martini glass it’s served in. I’ve been ordering martinis since it was legal for me to imbibe. Well, it’s a bit of a problem in my new home country. The Portuguese drink an aperitif bottled by Martini, Martini is a brand of Italian vermouth, named after the Martini & Rossi Distilleria Nazionale di Spirito di Vino, in Turin.  I ordered a Martini straight up on two occasions and I was served this vermouth chilled — not what I wanted. I have found a couple of places that serve it just the way I like it; however, I’m still looking for a bar with the glassware I prefer. These are the things in life that truly matter and I am not above bringing my own glass to a bar.

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Pictured: the perfect martini!

Update: Hotel Faro makes a great martini, in the correct glass, and you get a great view of the marina as well. I believe I pay eight Euros. It will do just fine.

Finally, life in Portugal has far exceeded all of my expectations. I will probably mention this often, but the people are welcoming and wonderful, the weather would be hard to beat and the food is in some ways, almost too good. I love knowing the differences one experiences when living somewhere abroad; hence my reason for sharing.

Update: I have been exploring Portugal as a resident for three years now. There are so few negatives to being here that I think it’s more important to focus on the positive (not necessarily most positive to least positive):

  1. Travel — Being in Europe positions me closer to many countries making travel easier and more affordable. Budget airlines such as RyanAir and EasyJet are normally (sans COVID-19) easy to book and if you can travel light, very inexpensive. TAP (Portuguese airline) is an excellent way to travel to and from the U.S. and all over Europe.
  2. Value — It seems more like products are priced according to their true value. I’m fairly certain less money is spent on marketing and distribution. I hesitate to state this, however, sometimes I feel like the quality is superior (e.g., Portuguese cotton, ceramic tiles). Conversely, there are non-American made products here that are poorly manufactured. If you’re a good shopper, you can get the best of just about anything.
  3. People — I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating: Portuguese people are lovely in just about every way — sorry I will be generalizing. I love how they treat people; I love how they care for their elderly; I think the decriminalization of drug use is humane and compassionate; social democracy works and is embraced; people like their privacy and do not get in your business; they are usually calm; riots are few and far between; crime rates are extremely low; “live and let live” is the cultural norm. Since I’m keeping my notes to the positive, I won’t talk about gay men here.
  4. Food — fresh, beautiful, affordable food at the markets (all markets). Portuguese restaurant menus can be tired and ordinary. The traditional dishes are good, however, most of them are not very complex and way too easy to make. There are a few excellent Portuguese restaurants, but you have to look for them and sometimes travel quite far to experience them. I’ve been here almost three years and I would say that I now know of a dozen exceptional Portuguese restaurants in Portugal. Unfortunately, Portuguese people enjoy their own food; therefore, finding variety outside of Lisbon or Porto, can be difficult. There are very beautiful seaport towns here that can use some ethnic variety in their offerings. Faro now has a good ramen restaurant and an excellent burger spot. I’m waiting for Korean, Thai, Moroccan (it’s so close), African variety (also so close), Malaysian, etc. If you live practically anywhere in the U.S. these days, you are accustomed to variety and excellence.
  5. Safety — I have never felt safer in my life and I mean that in every way. I have been very impressed with the handling of COVID-19 and although you do not see police officers everywhere, you know they are close by and keeping you safe.
  6. Weather — the Algarve weather is near perfect, nearly all year round. Winters are mild, spring is pleasant and the air is fragrant, summer is warm but dry, and autumn is cooler and breezier. With 300 or more days of sunshine a year and no tornadoes or hurricanes, it would be ridiculous to complain.
  7. My apartment — It didn’t cost me an arm and a leg and I have a magnificent view of the Ria Formosa: Classified as a Natural Park in 1987, Ria Formosa encompasses an area of about 18 000 hectares, and is protected from the sea by 5 barrier-islands and 2 peninsulas: the Peninsula of Ancão that the locals call Ilha de Faro, the Barreta Island also known as Ilha Deserta, the Culatra Island (where the lighthouse of Santa Maria is located), the Island of Armona, the Island of TaviraCabanas Island and, finally, the Peninsula of Cacela. This awesome area extends along the leeward coast of the Algarve through the municipalities of Loulé, Faro, Olhão, Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António. The Atlantic ocean can be seen just beyond the Ria. The view out of the back of my apartment are beautiful homes, gardens, and mountains. I live on a wide, tree-lined cobblestone avenue; filled with gorgeous architecture. I have a public park across the street from my building (for Paco), numerous cafés and restaurants, schools, a dog run, churches, and a magnificent convent with breathtaking grounds. Why would I ever leave?
  8. No vehicle — Reducing my carbon footprint has been my personal crusade. I know I can only do so much to save the planet, but I have to do something. I walk more more because I don’t have a car and I am burning calories and saving money. Admittedly, it’s not always convenient; however, convenience is overrated and the lazier option. I miss having a car, but I do not miss looking for parking or paying for gas. I’m a stubborn fella; sleeping with less guilt is essential for my peace of mind.

Admittedly, I am tempted to provide a list of my favorite places in Portugal to visit. I have blogged about many of these cities and towns and you can access these blogs (see table of contents). There are “top of my list” spots that a traveler should not miss: Lisbon, Madeira, Porto and the Algarve. There you will find natural beauty, history, excellent cuisine, vineyards, great architecture, value, and something for everyone. As with everything in Portugal, people are extremely humble and the country is only minimally promoted to the rest of the world; perhaps it’s intentional.

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The shrimp here are really THAT BIG
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Photos, starting at the top of the blog and up to here:

  1. Sitting on the roof deck of Hotel Faro in the marina (Old Town). It has become my favorite watering hole.
  2.  The view from the bus stop outside my apartment — Avenida 5 de Outubro. Strangely there is a good deal of exotic vegetation on this avenue, but you don’t see any of it in this photo. Palm trees, succulents, etc. This is a roundabout which saves me from hearing honking horns and keeps the traffic moving. A large public park is on the other side of the avenue.
  3. The back of a ceramic tile shop in Olhao. I met the ceramic artist after purchasing a tile wall piece I’m excited to have plastered to one of my walls. I’ll post a photo when it’s done.
  4. Shrimp and octopus right out of the Algarve Atlantic (click for Chefe Branco). Dinner with Brenda Athanus; I need to go back soon
  5. Caprese salad at L’Osteria, an Italian restaurant way too close to home.
  6. The foliage outside my building which I referred to in #2. The tops of the trees come right up to my floor (5th floor). Well in Europe it’s the 4th floor because the first floor is zero — go figure.
  7. My condominium — built in the 60s and built to last.

See Instagram, cpapagni (linked) for additional photos.

Some random recent shots:

Portuguese Wine Country: Alentejo in All Its Splendor

I was discussing Portugal and all there is to discover with some friends recently. We decided that this is a good time to explore some of the places we have not yet visited. COVID-19 cases are way down in Portugal. This was a fairly impulsive trip with very little planning, save for the hotel in Vila Viçosa (booked on Hotel.com) and one restaurant reservation (see below). I was with friends that are adventurous, flexible, and enjoy a good gin & tonic now and then. Traveling with others is not always easy, therefore, it’s a pleasure to be with friends who enjoy similar experiences. Meet Richard and Tina from the UK.

Keep reading, they’re pretty, but what’s to come is prettier.

[As always, I will only mention restaurants and experiences worth noting.]

Alentejo is 12,182 sq. miles (see map below). It can be hilly in some places and then fairly flat in others, but the roads are excellent and for the most part, your GPS system will help get you to where you want to go. Many of the vineyards were closed to the public. It’s harvest time for white wine; my guess is that they do not want to expose their staff to the virus. I would imagine COVID-19 could ruin the harvest. We managed to find two vineyards that were open to the public. Both were exceptional and had safe practices.

The Alentejo includes the regions of Alto Alentejo and Baixo Alentejo. It corresponds to the districts of BejaÉvoraPortalegre and the Alentejo Litoral. The main cities are: ÉvoraBejaSinesSerpaEstremozElvas and Portalegre.

It has borders with Beira Baixa in the North, with Spain (Andalucia and Extremadura) in the east, with the Algarve in the South and with the Atlantic OceanRibatejo and Estremadura in the West. (Wikipedia)

Map of Portugal

Note: I live all the way down south in the middle of the Algarve. That’s the Atlantic Ocean in blue. Nothing like pointing out the obvious.

Our first stop on our three day road trip was Beja. Beja is a pretty little town, not that different from any other small Portuguese town; an old town area you need to walk into. We had a coffee at a café and strolled for a bit. Nothing special, but we only visited as a quick stop so that we would not arrive too early for our lunch reservation. Tina made us a reservation at a vineyard restaurant: Quinta do Quetzal (click for website) is the name of the winery. Quetzal Restaurant served up a memorable meal. Once again I did not take a lot of pictures because I truly wanted to savor the moment with my friends. We all had dishes we thoroughly enjoyed and wine was outstanding.

Lamb, sweet potato, and spinach

Honestly, COVID-19 has truly had me down in the dumps, but sitting at an outside table enjoying this food, lifted my spirits and returned me to a time before this virus when the splendor of the world could be fully enjoyed. We will get back there soon I hope.

We arrived at our hotel later in the afternoon.

Hotel Solar Dos Mascarenhas

Vila Vicosa

I booked through Hotels.com. I would have gotten the same great rate through Booking.com, but I get rewards through Hotels.com and a free night after 10 nights is very attractive. The hotel is nothing fancy, however, very comfortable (save for Tina and Richard’s squeaky bed. I only know this because they told me). A delightful pool and a pretty view from my room make it all worthwhile. Tina’s opinion of the hotel: “It was fine.” I give it a 7 out of 10.

Hotel Solar Dos Mascarenhas, Vila Vicosa, Outdoor Pool
Hotel Solar Dos Mascarenhas
Hotel Solar Dos Mascarenhas, Vila Vicosa, Hotel Interior

Vila Vaçosa

Two days in this beautiful and welcoming town is more than enough. The historical significance of the area will astound and delight. We got lucky with the mildest August weather imaginable. I must have down something good . . .

I’m going to stop in the middle of this blog to make a very big statement: Portugal is one of the world’s best kept secrets. I think it’s intentional. The Portuguese people would prefer to keep it all to themselves. Seriously, every part of this country that I visit is special for a different reason. The beauty of Alentejo is unmatched and fortunately for me, it’s only a few hours from home. [It should be noted that you cannot explore this part of Portugal without a car. Unfortunately, this is true for most of Portugal. You will find car rentals to be fairly reasonable.]

I was unaware of the famous marble quarries throughout the area we visited. The pink marble is what they appear to be best known for. We were struck by the amount of marble everywhere; even the sidewalks were lined in marble. On one of our gin & tonic stops, we learned that one of the quarries was shipping to New York City for a Sixth Avenue skyscraper. Apparently, much of the marble from this Alentejo is exported to the U.S.

The 14th century Vila Viçosa Castle was worth visiting and the Palace was beautiful, but the Palace did not open during our visit — the hours on the door said otherwise. Unfortunately, this is a frequent occurrence in Portugal and nothing can be done about it. A small price to pay for splendor.

Vila Viçosa September 2013-15a.jpg
Ducal Palace of Vila Viçosa

We had cocktails and tapas at several cafés in Vila Vaçosa and found friendly staff, a nice variety of cocktails and good food. There was a sophistication that I do not always see in the Algarve; I was pleasantly surprised.

J. Portugal Ramos Wines, Estremoz

We were fortunate to book a tour and tasting with Lúcia Coimbra at João Portugal Ramos Wines. The tour and tasting was 14.23 Euros (discounted after purchase) and lasted a couple of hours. We were able to see most spaces (not all because of COVID) and ended the tour with the tasting. Lúcia was a delightful and knowledgeable guide. J. Ramos is a family business; their history is rich and interesting. What has been created from nothing but land, since only the late 80s, is very impressive. They have vineyards in several parts of Portugal and partner with one other winery in the north of Portugal. Most J. Ramos wines were a treat to taste. I asked about wine awards and was impressed to learn Robert Parker scored most of their wines in the 90s (out of 100) and many have won many top awards. I was surprised to learn that the U.S. is one of their largest customers. They also export to several other countries. They make a delicious olive oil as well (sampled at the tasting and purchased).

The Estremoz location (the one we visited) is where all the wine ends up for bottling and quality control. I believe Lúcia told us that they can bottle 6,000 bottles an hour. The numbers of bottles produced for each label depends a lot on the harvest and some labels are intentionally small batch. I stood close to João Ramos’ private collection with awe and envy.

I’ll let you read about them here: https://www.jportugalramos.com/en/homepage/

At the end of the tour you can purchase wine, fire water (similar to cognac), olive oil; all at a 10% discount. I won’t say I got any bargains, however, I walked away with two large shopping bags and a big smile.

Lúcia made a reservation for lunch for us at Gradanha, Mercearia and Restaurant in the center of Estremoz, only a few minutes driving from the vineyard. We were fortunate to secure an outside table (the weather was perfect for al fresco dining). The restaurant and shop were beautiful. We enjoyed the food very much; however, our initial greeting was less than cordial. They were bombarded by new customers at 1:00 p.m. and they were clearly flustered and not very friendly. The food did not come quickly, but it was excellent. Tina and I had a shrimp and clam risotto and Richard’s black pork steak was outstanding. After a taste of his pork, I regretted my order — black Iberian Pork in Portugal is usually a sure bet. We had exceptional Portuguese pork more than once on this trip.

Évora

Tina suggested we stop in Évora for sightseeing and a coffee on the way home. It was about 30 minutes southwest of Vila Vaçosa and it is the center of Alentejo and its largest city.

Évora is the capital of Portugal’s south-central Alentejo region. In the city’s historic center stands the ancient Roman Temple of Évora (also called the Temple of Diana). Nearby, whitewashed houses surround the Cathedral of Évora, a massive Gothic structure begun in the 12th century. The Igreja de São Francisco features Gothic and baroque architecture along with the skeleton-adorned Chapel of Bones (Wikipedia).

Evora was considered a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1986. According to this organisation, Evora is a museum-city with roots dating back to roman times. The golden age happened in the 16th century, when the portuguese kings lived here.

What There is to See

The Top Ten Places to Visit in Alentejo — we only got to see a small part of this beautiful, culturally rich, historical region. The Pousadas (government owned and operated hotels — usually beautiful and worthy of a visit). They might all be closed because of COVID; I couldn’t tell from the site. We were disappointed that we didn’t think to check them out for availability.

I am looking forward to returning to this region often; certain to see and experience something new each time I visit.

Two things I see wherever I travel in Portugal:

  1. The Portuguese love to smoke. They can be steps away from you while you are eating outdoors and light up without any consideration. I find this all over Portugal and it makes me crazy.
  2. Dog poop is everywhere; all over the sidewalks, wherever you walk. I will never ever understand why these very polite, very reasonable, usually very considerate people, leave dog shit on the ground so that others accidently step in it. I sometimes confront people when I see it happening in front of me. A few have become very angry and tell me that there are people who are paid to clean it up. I assume they are talking about the street cleaners and to that I say, bullshit! They should not have to clean-up your dogs crap and besides, it might be hours or days before they get around to doing it. I remember this was the case in Brooklyn when I was a child, however, new news and fines have made this practice a thing of the past (for the most part). I wish this would change here. I’m tired of having to look down at the ground when there is so much beauty all around me. Okay, I feel a bit better now. If you live in a Portuguese town that doesn’t have this issue, let me know.
Venting Quotes Funny. QuotesGram
I’m sure this also applies to YOU

The Pros & Cons of COVID-19 Travel

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I’m feeling a bit anxious about writing this piece. Whether or not to travel at this time is a highly subjective decision. Most governments are imposing COVID-19 travel restrictions that are somewhat ambiguous and I believe that is intentional. Human lives versus economic collapse: this is an impossible conundrum. Add to that the “Unknown” factor around COVID-19 and you’re left with a whole lot of speculation.

Personal Choices

When Portugal eased lockdown restrictions, I decided to take a train trip north to Cascais. I felt train travel would be safer for a number of reasons. I knew the Portuguese government was requiring masks be worn throughout the trip and I also knew that few people would venture out. I have mixed feelings about having taken the trip. Not seeing other tourists in an otherwise tourism driven town, was somewhat depressing. Strangely, I came home wanting more.

I’m not going to site articles about the safety of travel because there are as many telling you it’s safe as there are advising you to stay home. This is a very personal decision, however, there are many people out there who believe that when you travel you are endangering lives. Yes, they believe you are risking catching the virus outside of your community and taking it back to where you live. It would be wrong and dishonest to say that there isn’t some truth to those sentiments.

My argument is that life is full of risk at every turn. You get behind the wheel and there is a risk you could accidently kill someone else on the road; do you stop driving? You light up a cigarette outdoors knowing you are exposing people to carcinogens, do you only smoke in your own home? You consider sending your children to school knowing that there is a possibility that another student might open fire on school grounds, do you keep your kids home where it’s safer? You know where I’m going with these questions. One can rarely be 100% safe.

As you sit in judgment against others who exercise their personal freedoms, it doesn’t hurt to consider your own decisions and personal habits. Does anything you do endanger the lives of others in any way? Do you take every precaution to keep others safe? Doesn’t just being alive carry risk and uncertainty?

I realize that many will argue that travel is putting others at risk — if you were to contract the virus, you could potentially be exposing others. This argument also has validity; however, it takes us back to risk. If you are a responsible person who takes every precaution, are you not minimizing the risk for everyone else? I would use the analogy of driving: cautious drivers are doing everything possible to minimize the risk of an accident that might harm or even kill someone else on the road. Do not forget, driving is a choice.

Why You Might Want to Stay Home

  • There are few places safer than your own immediate environment. There you have almost complete control.
  • If you are in a high risk group (underlying medical conditions, age)
  • If you will have anxiety while you’re traveling, you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it.
  • You can wait it out
  • When flight circumstances change, you may not get a refund from your airline. Some are only offering future travel vouchers.
  • The numbers of confirmed cases and deaths around the world is staggering. This might be your barometer.
  • Your value system does not allow you to put others at risk.

The Upside of Travel

  • Some people are in serious danger of losing control of their lives and possibly losing their lives. The psychological and emotional impact of this virus is difficult to measure. Travel to be with a loved one or being outside of their isolated environment, could be a life saver.
  • If you can be disciplined and super careful, it could be fun.
  • This virus could be with us for a long time. Some of us feel that we need to adapt and adjust our lifestyles to cope with this new normal.
  • My flight was only 5% full going to England and 30% on the return. It was easy enough to social distance — something to consider.
  • You could also consider going to a place where they have controlled the virus.
  • For some people, it is important to exercise their personal freedoms.
  • There are lots of deals out there right now.
  • If you feel less safe or exposed on an airplane, you might consider staying local. I recently took the train to a resort town and truly enjoyed the quick and easy getaway.

There are more reasons to stay home and many more reasons to travel. Feel free to share them in the comments section.

From the UK since I was in Manchester (from the NHS) when writing this piece:

The main symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) are a high temperature, a new, continuous cough and a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste.


The main symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) are:a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normalTo protect others, do not go to places like a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital if you have any of these symptoms. Stay at home (self-isolate) and get a test.

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