Gun Shots in the Woods

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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A Lean-to

 

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My mother the redhead at Pharaoh Lake c.1973

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Lou you’re scaring the kids.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Fantastic offer for the holidays

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

 

 

 

Mercedes Country House – Christmas Package 2018

Check in: Dec. 23rd

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

Breakfast included each day

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

Dinner:  Dec. 23rd

Lunch:  Dec. 24th

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

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

Dinner:  Dec. 25th (optional 20€ pp)

Dinner: Dec. 26th (optional 20€ pp) 

 

1 Person – 540€

2 People – 690€

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

info@mercedescountryhouse.com

 

Catania, Sicilia . . . Finally!

 

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

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

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

Here are some of my first impressions:

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

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

 

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No donuts in Portugal and I LOVE them!

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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Bad angle, sorry.

 

 

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

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

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Steak House

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

The names of Deborah’s traditional Sicilian dishes:

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

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

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

A Side Note: 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Most Frightening Experience of My Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fucking faggot.”

“Grab his watch.”

“Make him bleed.”

“Mess him up and teach him a lesson.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What,” is how he answered the phone.

I said, “Dad, it’s Chris.”

“Chris, is everything all right?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Photo by Michael Foster on Pexels.com

Airbnb Travel

 

 

 

The Host

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

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

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

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

 

What a good host MUST provide:

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for being an exceptional host:  

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

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

 

The Guest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript

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

 

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More Money on Experiences and Less Money on Stuff

 

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The 34 footer I spent the weekend on in Portimão

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Portimão Sailboat Experience:  My Big Adventure

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

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

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

Day One

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

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

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

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

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

Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

Day 3

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

Other Adventures

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

Why Portugal, Why the Algarve, & Why Faro

 

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Magnificent architecture in Faro:  Moorish, Roman & Gothic throughout the city.

When you make a big and unexpected decision in your life, people are curious about why you went in a particular direction; it’s a reasonable curiosity. I’ve spent a bit of time on why I moved to Portugal in previous blogs; however, I thought since I am frequently asked this question, I would answer it thoroughly.

One of the most important things I learned throughout my career is to question “why” before you do anything. You want to start a business? Why? You want to get married? Why? You want to move overseas? Why? Asking this important question and answering it thoroughly and honestly, will help to insure that you are doing whatever you are doing for the right reasons — well most of the time.

So when I started to feel that U.S. politics were the cause of a good deal of my anxiety, I asked myself why I was wallowing in pity rather than working to change my situation. I had done some letter writing and personal campaigning for Hilary and then of course, I blamed myself for not doing enough. After a lot of soul-searching, it occurred to me that it wasn’t just that Hilary lost the election, it is the direction politics in general is going in, in the States. I’m not going to do a deep dive into politics; however, the big issues for me are gun control, healthcare, taxation, greed in Washington, and the negative perception Americans have of democratic socialism, www.dsausa.org/what_is_democratic_socialism. The conclusion that I came to was that I had to move to a country where the values of the government and the people more closely matched my own. In other words, why stay in a country where values will not be changing anytime soon.

Some “Why” Questions:

  1. Why am I leaning in this direction?
  2. Why is now the right time?
  3. Why is my heart telling me to do this?
  4. Why am I struggling with this decision?
  5. Why not?
  6. Why am I questioning the status quo?

 

Why Overseas?

Politics in the U.S. has become more conservative over the past few years. Some say it happens whenever you have a power base in office that leans in a particular direction (surprise, I lean left), the majority will tend to swing in the opposite direction the next election — that certainly is what happened in November 2016. This is likely to occur in any democratic society; however, in many European countries liberal policies and attitudes have a strong foundation, therefore, the bar is set higher.

The other reason I decided to move overseas is that I have never resided outside of the United States. I tend to agree with those who believe that life is not a dress rehearsal; this was an opportunity I may not have had again.

 

Why Portugal?

I have considered many other countries over the past few years. At one point I was certain I’d end up in Concon, Chile. I had been there a couple of times and fell in love with the coast and the lifestyle. Well then they had a big earthquake and read that there would be others. Sure enough, a short time later they were hit with a second large earthquake. I thought I had tempted fate far too many times to buy a condo in a high-rise there. I’ve thought about Italy because it is my father’s birthplace. I love visiting Italy; however, the instability of Italy’s government and economy concerns me. The Caribbean is too humid and has those pesky, life-threatening hurricanes; Norway, Sweden, and Denmark make it very difficult to reside there; and frankly other places were too expensive or too risky.

I had read a good deal about Portugal and decided to check it out. I’ve been told that it is dangerous to decide on relocating to a place having only visited once. Knowing that some advice is sound advice, I decided to do my homework. I read articles about retiring in Portugal, I joined a couple of expat groups on Facebook, I had several conversations with individuals who have made the move, and I returned to spend more time here.

 

Why Faro?

Most expats who decide to live in the Algarve DO NOT choose Faro. I discovered on several trips prior to moving to Faro that there are expat communities in many towns all along the coast; however, most people see Faro as a place to land or switch trains. I do not mean this in a disparaging way, so I hope no one takes it that way:  I did not want to be in the center of a tourist destination. Don’t get me wrong, tourists visit Faro; however, compared to other towns in the Algarve, Faro is not overrun. In fact, there are very few Americans in Faro.

The following are some of the wonderful things that drew me to this beautiful city:

Culture — music (Fado), theatre, festivals, food, ceramic tiles, history and art.

Portuguese — A majority of the people living in Faro are Portuguese or immigrants from struggling countries. I recently learned that when the European Union decided how many migrants each country should take based on their population, Portugal said, “We’ll take double that number.”

Faro is not as much a tourist city as say Lisbon, Porto or other parts of the Algarve. I’m happy about that.

Restaurants — I can find traditional Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Turkish, Indian and several other ethnic foods and the quality and value is outstanding.

The Market (Mercado Municipal) — in a huge open space (indoor) close to my apartment, it is probably the gift I will never take for granted.

Walking city — I can walk to just about every place I need to go.

Access to everywhere else — Faro is the capital of the Algarve; therefore, the airport, trains, buses, and highways, can get you just about everywhere and quickly.

Architecture — Preserved, historic, eclectic, and beautiful. Everything is understated.

Government offices — all of the Portuguese government offices I need to deal with are here in Faro.

What more can I ask of a city?

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Catholic Cathedral in Old Town — a short walk from my apartment and where the outdoor market is on Sundays (stock photo)

 

I took these photos when I was walking to the ferry yesterday — beside Faro Castle. This is Old Town, Faro and it dates back centuries. It’s a 15 minute walk from my apartment. I come here often to read, walk and eat. Some of the remains are from the 9th century.

And by the way . . . that blue sky is real (no touching up or color added). There is no smog to speak of here.

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There are several islands off the coast of Faro that offer spectacular beaches.
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Farol Island’s lighthouse is just a ferry ride through the Ria Formosa. A 5 Euro round trip ferry ride is a great way to go to the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Next?

For the first time in my life, I am not thinking about what’s next. I’m going to enjoy the here and now and see where it takes me.

Às vezes não consigo deixar de pensar se escolhi Portugal ou Portugal me escolheu.

Translation:  Sometimes I can’t help wondering if I chose Portugal or Portugal chose me.

 

Loulé and Sol e Serra Restaurant

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The fountain in the center of Loulé. When I’m there, I feel like I can easily be in Paris or Madrid.

I’m smitten with Loulé and for good reason. It’s an easy bus ride away and the town has a great vibe. It feels young, relevant, artsy and the food has been outstanding — clearly why I keep going back. Although I’m not familiar with the history of Loulé (click here), I’m certain that it has been an important cultural and political hub in southern Portugal for centuries.

I have had several good meals in Loulé; however, Sol e Serra Restaurant in Corte Garcia (north of Loulé) was exceptional. It was a great day for dining al fresco and I was famished. We started with a delicious warm goat cheese salad and then neither my dining partner nor I could resist the dish of the day (prato do dia), duck confit over pureed sweet potato (orange-colored, not the pale yellow variety more often found in the Algarve). I don’t care how full I am, when the food is memorable, I must have dessert. Sol e Serra offers homemade gelato. When I asked the owner what flavors he had I closed my eyes and wished for pistachio and don’t you know the first word that came out of his mouth was pistachio! Pistachio nuts have been very expensive in the U.S. and so you rarely find real, homemade pistachio ice cream on the menu these days. It’s been four days since I had this gelato and I have not been able to stop thinking about how creamy and delicious this gelato was.

Sol e Serra is a family owned and operated restaurant and I had the great privilege and pleasure to meet several family members. The matriarch of the family (I wish I had thought to photograph her) greeted us at the gate to her home next door to the restaurant. I also met Chef Alex (the son), who just returned from training in restaurants is France.

Note:  In Portugal the “prato do dia” is not the food the chef is hoping to get rid of. Often it is an inspired dish and worth ordering. The inspiration can come from many different sources.

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Duck confit over pureed sweet potato (prato do dia) 10 Euro, salad included.

 

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Homemade pistachio gelado (Gelato in Italian). Honestly it’s worth the trip just for dessert.

 

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It was a bit overcast Monday; however, Parque Municipal de Loulé, is a beautiful public park with a magnificent monument. A newish friend, Nora, was happy to show off the park and Loulé. It was one of those days when you’re content to stroll without the sun beating down on you. Nora told me that any respectable town in Portugal has a public park with an outdoor swimming pool, a good theatre and a football (soccer) stadium; Loulé has all of this and a lot more. Nora told me other things, but in order to be in the moment, I avoid taking notes.

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Brooklyn in Loulé

I’m proud of my birthplace and I know the other millions born in Brooklyn feel the same way. Having said this, the Brooklyn-mania thing is out of control. Brooklyn as a brand is sizzling hot and it has been for quite some time. Everywhere I go I see “Brooklyn.” Shows you what a good marketing campaign can do. I recall the beginnings of this campaign 20 years ago when Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn Borough President, would rave about Brooklyn to anyone who would listen.

I must admit, when young Portuguese people ask me where I’m from and I say Brooklyn, they are very impressed — I use it to my advantage. But alas, this fad will fade, as most fads do. In the meantime, I’m going to milk this craze in any way I can. Somehow, I don’t think the Portuguese immigration folks will be impressed.

 

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For my friends who live here and perhaps even those who visit. This amazing linen and lamp (yes they go together) shop in Loulé, Maquedones Decor is a FIND.

Thanks to my friend Pedro, I have visited Maquedones Decor in Loulé several times. The Portuguese cotton sheets are like butter on your skin. I have honestly never experienced such fine cotton in my life and it washes beautifully. Above is a duvet cover and pillow shams I am considering purchasing. The sizes are not perfect for American comforters, so I have to see. The sheet sets come in many different sizes.  I also bought a ceramic lamp here and I’m wild about that as well. Pricing is very fair for what you’re buying.

Loulé is also where the big mall and IKEA are located; I’m about 25 minutes door-to-door.