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.

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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

Photo by Soumya Ranjan on Pexels.com

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.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com
Photo by Yamil Duba on Pexels.com

Life Without A Car — reblog

Also: Traveling to Manchester, England during COVID-19 Lockdown

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

My love affair with the bicycle goes back to my paper boy days in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. I was ten years old and I went to my dad and asked him for a bicycle. My dad had nine children and he was a blue-collar worker, so asking for anything made me feel guilty and ungrateful. This was different, I told him that I had applied for a paper route and I needed a bike to deliver newspapers in South Brooklyn. My dad had a very surprised look on his face; wondering if I could rise before the sun and handle the elements. Looking back I realize just how much faith he had in me.

I got a shiny new red bike with a big basket in the front for my papers and I started earning my own allowance. I held onto that bike for a few years, but clearly it was worse for the ware and by the time I was a teenager, it was time for a new bicycle. My sister Debbie and I ended up at a bingo hall one Saturday night. I can’t tell you how we were allowed to gamble at ages 14 and 15, but we were and we did. I managed to win the big jackpot of the evening: a whopping $75 and with my winnings, I bought my sister and I used bikes. Mine was a yellow Schwinn with a white seat and my sisters; well I don’t recall. That Schwinn took me to Coney Island, our neighborhood bowling ally, the community pool, and on really hot days, for a bag lunch under the Verrazzano Bridge — that had to be the coolest spot (windy and 15 degrees cooler) in all of Brooklyn.

That bike was stolen a couple of years later and I was so angry about the theft I refused to purchase another bike. I realized that this personal protest was not hurting anyone but myself, so I decided to upgrade to a really nice blue ten speed. I don’t recall much about this bike except that my tire got caught in a trolley track and I went down hard. In fact, looking back I have had three or four bad bicycle accidents throughout my life. Still, bicycles have been a means for me to do great things and see so many interesting places. I may need to admit to myself that I might be accident prone. Still, I ride.

I did the Boston to New York AIDS Ride three years in a row and was able to help a great cause and meet new friends. I completed a week-long bike ride through Provence I will never forget. Biking through Tuscany was fantastic and the list of places goes on. Despite the aforementioned serious accidents, I am committed to riding for as long as I possibly can. In order to stay healthy in the Algarve and reduce my carbon footprint, I have decided not to get a car and to do more cycling and walking. Buying a used bicycle has not been easy in Faro. I ended up buying a mountain bike last week, only to hear from the owner of a bicycle I really wanted the next day. A bike rental shop in Tavira was selling 10 gently used bikes and the style and price were exactly what I wanted. I decided to buy one of these used bikes and sell the one I had just purchased. I must have had good karma last week because the owner of the bike agreed to deliver the bike to my apartment and when he arrived he said, “I brought you a new one.” Honestly, brand spankin’ new, right out of the box, and I got myself quite a deal (see photo below).

I’ve learned my lesson, albeit the hard way, and I have purchased a good helmet. I’m excited to see Faro and the Algarve by bicycle. I’ve already mapped out a route to the beach and the cinema, and I’m certain I’ll be using it for trips to the mercado (market).

Not having a vehicle is sometimes frustrating:  waiting for trains, complicated transfers, the loss of spontaneity, the freedom of mobility and the joy of a stick shift. If I’m going to be honest with myself, I love having a car and I love driving a car. However, this is a time in my life where being practical and smart takes precedence over convenience. Truthfully, I can and will survive without a car. Waiting for the train will teach me patience; I can plan trips to IKEA and the mall; walking and riding has far greater health benefits; and the money I save on gas, insurance, and maintenance will help take me to places far more exotic than the grocery store — a short walk or ride from my apartment.

Riding in a foreign country is a bit scary, but fear can get in the way of true adventure and I won’t allow this to happen.

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The mountain bike I purchased for 70 euros and then sold two days later for sixty euros — not a very lucrative proposition.
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My new Orbit. The right price, the right height, the right color, perfect handlebars for an old guy, fenders, kickstand, a light in the front, a cool bell, and a rack above the back tire. I’m good to go!

Update (July 5, 2020): I gave up the Orbit because it was difficult getting it in and out of the elevator. I purchased a smaller folding bike (pic unavailable) and it fits perfectly. Sometimes I find myself making several attempts before I get it right. Hopefully, I learn something in the process and I congratulate myself on being diligent.

When things are easier, you tend to do/use them more often. Easier isn’t always better for you.

I am reblogging from Manchester, England. I’ve been here since Thursday and happily returning home tomorrow. I had no problem getting here, only to learn they are doing “Track & Trace.” I can’t go into pubs because Big Brother is tracking my whereabouts. Portugal was not on the UK’s list of safe countries. I know it’s political and I’m caught up in the middle of it. The good news is that I have a beautiful one bedroom on the 19th floor right in the center of town. I have floor to ceiling windows and the sun is shining as I type this. Today I am going out with a tour guide to visit little known treasures. I’m hoping the sun stays out because it’s been mostly dreary since I arrived. I have reservations for dinner at Salvi’s Mozzarella Bar, an upscale Italian restaurant, this evening — a good way to say goodbye to Manchester.

It should be noted that RyanAir would not issue me a refund or a travel voucher; COVID-19 did not exist when I did my initial booking. Needless to say, I would have come at a better time had I known. I did not want to lose my ticket, and so I made the trip. I’ve been known to be fairly stubborn and righteous. No regrets, but I wish things were different. I also miss Paco. I wish that I could always have him with me. Patricia took this photo of him sunning on my terrace yesterday. I’m sure he’s wondering where I am and why I left him.

Cascais, Portugal and BelPonto Sushi

It’s been so long since I last traveled, I completely forgot that if you want an easier experience, you must pay attention to details before you leave. I’m not sure I was psychologically ready for this trip. I knew that I had to be careful because there were a lot more COVID-19 cases in the north of Portugal than there were in the Algarve where I live. After being confined to a square mile radius for three months, I thought a trip would do me good.

Fortunately, traveling is a lot like riding a bike: once you get going, your muscle memory takes over. In my case, my brain needed a bit of a kick start. I got on the train from Faro okay, but did not realize there was more than one first class car. A little bit of shuffling and I found my seat. I was on the right train and that’s all I cared about. Thinking that all trains to other places left from Oriente in Lisbon, I overshot my stop and lost about an hour. I found my way to the station where I needed to be to get to Cascais and ended up having a delightful lunch on the waterfront while I waited for my train. I had good grilled pork ribs, but not good enough for a mention.

That’s a statue of Jesus with his arms spread out in the distance (off-center left).

The train to Cascais runs every 20 minutes and my timing was fortuitous, so I only had to wait on the platform for a minute. I remembered to validate my ticket on the platform; something you do not have to do in the Algarve. Oddly, I did not have to wear a mask on the Faro to Lisbon train, but I did have to wear one on the train to Cascais; some authorities seem more relaxed than others. I immediately noticed that people in Lisbon and Cascais were taking the virus more seriously and that’s a good thing.

I stayed in a beautiful apartment with a view of the sea and an outdoor swimming pool. It was very windy and that made it a bit chilly when you were not in the sun; I swam anyway. I was told that one of the reasons the wealthy built holiday homes in Cascais after WWII, was the magnificent weather and beautiful sandy beaches. The breeze provides a respite from the brutal heat present in other parts of Portugal in the summer.

One of the reasons I traveled to Cascais was to visit a restaurant I had heard about in Faro. The owner, Mr. Thomas Schurig, owns Shiraz in the Old Town (marina) and I was anxious to try his restaurant in Cascais (see blog table of contents for more about Shiraz). I needed an excuse to see Cascais and to travel. I had very few options outside of Portugal, so why not. I’ve been trying to be more spontaneous anyway.

Spending time with Mr. Thomas was quite special for me. He was born in Iran and left for Germany when he was 14 years old. With $500 in his pocket, he set out to begin a new life. Mr. Thomas studied and practiced law in Germany. He met his wife there and then moved to Portugal in 2008. I didn’t want to pry, however, he shared that he had several careers before he opened his first restaurant; he has three restaurants, one in Cascais, one in Lisbon (Shiraz), and another Shiraz in Faro; I love this restaurant. Anyone who knows the restaurant business can attest to the challenges, financial and personnel, that keep one up at night. I listen to people in this business talk about feeding people and hospitality and get a glimpse into what drives their passion.

Mr. Thomas knows almost everyone who walks into Belponto. He thanks his staff often and smiles no matter what issue he might be dealing with. His menu at Belponto is mainly sushi and Persian cuisine. He told me that sometimes he does special German dishes for his regulars. He has a relaxed easy way about him, but getting him to stay with one topic is nearly impossible. It’s obvious that he has many things going on at the same time; he manages them all with charm and a cool demeanor. I was also taken by how sweet and reverential he was whenever his wife entered the room.

The food at Belponto is beautiful, fresh and delicious. Prepared by Mr. Thomas, Helena, Mr. Prem (sushi master) and Arjun (sushi chef) with love and expertise. The sushi was creative and melt in your mouth good. They also do several special curry dishes and a homemade Naan bread that blew me away. It is baked in an authentic tandoori clay oven. Paired with good Portuguese wine and excellent service, I was bowled over. The restaurant is also stunning; minimal in decor and tastefully done.

Mr. Thomas lit-up when talking about a fish tank that was to be built for the center of the restaurant before COVID-19 struck — COVID-19 has spoiled so many things. It is obvious that the virus has, like so many others around the world, taken its toll on Mr. Thomas. However, he remains optimistic and positive.

If you are a sushi lover, and who isn’t these days, Belponto’s is the place to eat in Cascais.

I had a delightful lunch on the ocean at Restaurante Mar do Inferno. It’s a family run business that has been successful for many years. The place was full to capacity (50% permitted); apparently always the case. It’s located in the Boca do Inferno part of Cascais — a must see if you’re visiting. The waves are usually big and spectacular; not so much for my visit.

Boca do Inferno without the big waves crashing on the rocks. Apparently, after they crash water flows out of the holes in the rocks making it look like a waterfall. Next time.
The fish is fresh and prepared to perfection

I don’t think it would be fair to comment on the quality of a Cascais visit during this time of COVID-19. It’s a beautiful part of Portugal. A walkable town with beautiful homes and a magnificent coastline. I felt badly for restaurant and shop owners. They have worked hard to create a gorgeous tourist destination and people are staying home. It’s understandable; however, I hope this changes soon or so many will completely lose their livelihood. My recommendation is to go and take precautions.

A Night in Lisbon

I left Cascais for a night in Lisbon before heading back to Faro. There was a lot more activity in Lisbon, but many hotels were still not open. I stayed on a beautiful two bedroom houseboat on the Tagus River. I booked it through hotels.com for 75 euros (breakfast delivered to your door for an additional 8.50 euros). Book directly using http://www.tagusmarina.com. You can book a one or two bedroom houseboat. It was a fantastic experience. The houseboats are only a 12 minute walk to Oriente train station. I highly recommend this accomodation. The Tivoli in Lisbon cancelled the reservation I had made the day before. I’ll make a point not to stay there in the future. I’ve had other bad experiences with this chain.

A room with a view

Expat Life in Portugal Two Years In

“It is wiser to find out than to suppose.”

— Mark Twain

 

 

 

It’s been close to two years since I acquired my residential visa and boarded a plane to Faro, Portugal. Three bags containing all that I chose to keep and my furball companion, Giorgio. I had no idea what awaited me, but what I did know is this:  I knew that life in Portugal would be extremely different in just about every way, I knew there would be challenges to overcome, I knew that it might at times be lonely, I knew that because I was too young to “officially” retire,  I would be living on savings for quite a while, I knew that good friends would come to visit, and I hoped that I would never experience another snowstorm or see my nextdoor neighbors in Portland — the ones I shared a condo wall with. There is nothing worse than bitter, unpleasant, holier than thou, neighbors.

What I didn’t know:

  • that the weather in the Algarve is near perfect.
  • that fish straight from the ocean could be that good and so affordable.
  • that Portuguese wine is delicious and a true value
  • I didn’t know what social democracy looked like.
  • that if you look hard enough you can find just about anything you “really” need.
  • that your neighbors could be so kind and caring.
  • that out of despair can come truth.
  • that people in your life who truly love you will be there for you no matter how far away you are.
  • that you can live on a whole lot less than you ever thought possible.
  • that there are toxic people who will make their way into your life no matter where you live or how hard you try to keep them away.
  • that you can do just about anything you put your mind to.
  • that forgiveness is the best medicine.
  • that it is okay to miss what you once had so long as you embrace what you currently have.

 

The Best Parts of Living in Portugal

One of the things I didn’t realize before I moved to Faro was how perfect the location is for travel. Portugal is your first stop in Europe and from here, you can travel to many different places. There are several budget airlines flying in and out of Faro to different parts of Europe. I hate connecting flights, so I try my best to visit places where I can take a direct flight. I’ve been to some beautiful cities in France, Great Britain, Germany, and the Netherlands. It’s quick and easy and my cell phone still works in all of these places. Apparently, there are some pluses to being a part of the European Union. I’ll be traveling to Manchester soon and I’m not quite sure if Brexit has spoiled my cell service there. I’m sad about Brexit for reasons I won’t go into here. I’ve enjoyed conversations about British and EU politics with my British expat friends in Faro. The United States is not the only place on earth — I wish I had been more aware of global politics in the past. Our influence is vast and more significant than I had ever realized.

I knew that the cost of living would less in Faro than it was in Maine; however, I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that certain taxes were very reasonable. For example:  my property taxes on my 1100 square foot, two bedroom, three bathroom condo, are 350 Euros a year. I paid more than that per month in Maine and my apartment was smaller. I cannot help but wonder why that is. What does your money pay for in the U.S.? Taxes are automatically added in at the grocery store, restaurants, department stores, etc.; therefore, you don’t really feel it as much. Groceries are usually about a third lower than what I paid in the U.S. even with the added taxes and in some cases, food cost even less. Fresh fish is inexpensive; therefore, my diet is much healthier and tastier. Fresh vegetables are, for the most part, local and free of toxins. It’s great not having to break the bank on organic food. Laws prohibit antibiotics in animals raised for food and green growing methods produce grapes used for winemaking that is far better for you.

The weather in the Algarve is absolutely phenomenal; 300 days a year of sunshine phenomenal. Even when the weather is bad, it’s good. Summers are warm, but there is a wonderful breeze off of the Ria Formosa (the body of water near my home), with fall comes relief from the warm temperatures; a bit of rain; when it comes you want more, winter is cooler, but a sweater is more than enough to warm you, and spring (now) is glorious:  birds chirping, warm sunshine and a sense of renewal. When we do have humidity, it’s during the cooler months so you welcome and embrace it. I cannot overstress the power of all of this vitamin D and the joy of not having to shovel snow. No wonder Portugal has been the #1 place to retire for a few years running.

The warmth and sincerity of the people is not to be taken for granted. There is a reason there is so little crime and and virtually no homeless people in the Algarve:  people here take care of one another. I think that this pretty much sums-up social democracy:  people take care of people; they don’t gripe about it or show any signs of regret, they genuinely care about humanity. Sure doctors make less money and people in general pay more taxes, but the quality of life is so much better for a greater number of people. That is not to say that they don’t care about humanity elsewhere; I can only speak to what I have experienced here in Portugal.

Portugal is not a wealthy country. There are pockets of wealth, but I chose to live in Faro, a working class, mostly Portuguese city. I have never for a second regretted this decision. When I want a bit of luxury:  Quinta do Lago, Vilamoura, Porto, I go to those towns. For the most part, it’s the gastronomy that might draw me to these places. This is not to say that Faro isn’t a beautiful city with great food; plainly speaking, it is special in its authenticity — there is no pretense or putting on of airs. There is history and culture in Faro and it is preserved, however, not widely promoted. The food is fresh and fairly priced, and as I mentioned earlier, the location is ideal for travel. In so many ways, that is just about all I need.

The morning has been glorious for me in Faro. Early morning has always been my favorite part of the day. I find it to be peaceful and hopeful. Every day is a new day after all. Aside from the ability to sit out on my terrace with a cup of Joe in the morning almost year-round, there is the fact that the United States is five hours behind and I rarely, if ever, hear from anyone from back home until noon at the earliest (except for my brother Leo who calls at any hour). It’s almost like being in a state of meditation; I can breathe, think, and enjoy the quiet with little interruption. I feel so much healthier not having frantic morning telephone calls due to work or family issues. Then there is the morning walk with Paco in the park across the street from my apartment; I rarely see another soul as the sky goes from fiery red to bright blue — it’s poetic and sublimely peaceful.

 

The Challenges

Language remains a bit of a challenge for me. I have learned a great deal from Memrise (a language app), a tutor at my home, and Portuguese subtitles, but I still have so much to learn. Although many people speak English well, I believe strongly, that if I am going to reside here, that I should speak the language as much as and as often as possible. I’m at a place where I get by with my limited Portuguese. I’d like to be able to watch the news in Portuguese and have a clearer picture of what is happening in Portugal. I’ll get there; however, getting over my shyness about pronunciation is essential. I need to realize that when I say something and someone laughs, they are not laughing at me; they are more than likely laughing at the meaning of the word I just uttered by mistake and there is a big difference. And if they are laughing at me, so what. My neighbors and friends are delighted that I have committed to learning Portuguese and most people are helpful.

I have to be careful about how I talk about middle aged men in the Algarve. Careful, because the last thing I want to do is offend the people I am living among. Generalizations can be unkind and unfair; therefore, I want to express my thoughts without prejudice. What I have noticed are merely my own observations — they should not be regarded as fact. Some men have a difficult time with me; questioning who I am and why I am here. I am careful in how I approach men I do not know. The gym has become the easiest place for me to learn more about the culture and why I am sometimes misunderstood.

Women here are very open, friendly and genuine. They have been gracious toward me and helpful in so many ways. Of course there have been exceptions. As a sociologist, what I have observed is mainly cultural. Men here seem to be very masculine and reserved; women seem to be more progressive and open to societal changes. I believe that behind the scenes they are quietly persuading men to be more tolerant and modern. By seeing it through this lens, it helps me to understand that when I sense a barrier or resistance, it is probably not due to anything I have said or done.

Older and younger men are similar in their dealings with me; however, I have less interaction with these two groups. I have often complained (when blogging) that young men smoke too much and overuse cologne and I stand by these thoughts. I live next to a high school where my sample group gathers daily.

[This is one of those times when I have to tell myself not to be judgmental.]

You know how much I love to complain about food; please, please, please bring more ethnic (world) cuisine to Faro. I just keep telling myself it will come. Too few countries are represented here. However, I have noticed things are changing in a more positive direction.

Pastry is sublime. It’s not quite as decadent as it is in France, but I love it just the same. What I like most is that a good deal of the baked goods here are not terribly sweet. It’s dangerous to be around so many bakeries. I have blogged about the bread so I won’t belabour the point. What I will mention is that I love French bread and it’s not that easy to come by in the Algarve. I have to go out-of-my-way to snag it and I do — in fact I’m going to Loulé today and I intend to pick up a baguette. This bread freezes well, which makes having it when I want it fairly easy. I’ll be in Toulouse in two weeks and I’ll load up on some good bread before I leave France. Portuguese people love their bread; I respect their opinion and I have found some Portuguese breads that I do like. This one will definitely get me in trouble.

Portuguese people are proud and stubborn and often refuse to admit that they might be wrong. I was at a self-checkout counter at the grocery store recently and the machine flashed a “printer not-working message.” I left the machine and walked to another. A staff member came over to me and said, “Please use the machine where you started.” I told her that the printer was not working and she said it was. Sure enough when it was time to get the receipt, which you have to show before you leave, the printer was not working. When I went over to her to inform her, she shrugged and went to the machine to fix the roll of paper for the printer; offering no apologies. I know this kind of thing happens everywhere, but I noticed it happens a lot in the Algarve. There is some expat resentment.

 

The Surprises

I had no idea that Portuguese cotton was so cool and soft. One of my three suitcases when I arrived had two sets of cotton sheets; one set for my bed and one set for my guest bed. I have been searching for the perfect set of sheets my entire adult life. Egyptian cotton is usually a good bet; however, this bedding can be very experience and sometimes a higher thread count doesn’t necessarily translate to comfort.

Giving up having a car in Portugal was a big, scary decision. It was the one thing I was truly concerned about. Using public transportation has been easier than expected. It’s certainly not perfect, but neither is being in a car. Reducing my contribution to the carbon crisis is rewarding and fiscally smarter; although Uber has benefited greatly. The walking and cycling are also beneficial to my overall wellbeing. There is a fairly long and steep incline when returning to my building from shopping or walking. I consider the health benefits as I climb; the sweets in my bag seem less threatening. Still, there will always be guilt.

I will not lie and say that I do not miss the city. Cluttered sidewalks, honking horns, packed public transportation, and the odors of an ethnically rich urban city, remains one of the great loves of my life. When I’m feeling the loss of grit and sirens, I board a train for Lisbon and I am at once returned to my city roots. I have learned how to mitigate any yearning that rears its head — feed the beast and it will simmer down.

Gay life has been a bit challenging, it gives me a reason to travel and I know that it will improve in time — Portuguese men in my part of Portugal are more closeted than what I’m used to.

There’s more . . . but there are some things that I prefer to keep to myself.

 

To Sum Up

I am hoping that I have conveyed that the pluses far outweigh the minuses. Living in Europe was a dream I never imagined possible. My friends and family often remind me that I took a risk and they are proud of me for it. When my visitors walk out onto my terrace and light up, I know that I made the right decision to be in Faro. I also know that I can leave whenever I choose to do so. On my walk with Paco this morning, I noticed how fresh and fragrant the air was. I took in the light, the sounds, and the scents and I embraced my good fortune. I’m not sure how long I will remain in Faro, but I know that for the first time in my life, I am at peace.

 

What Happens When Your World Expands

Travel to faraway places expands your mind; how could it not. You see and experience things that you might never have imagined possible. The impact this has on your thoughts and beliefs should not be underestimated. We are the sum total of our experiences. You can read it and hear about it your entire life, but until you see it up close and touch it, you cannot appreciate its effects.

 

 

 

 

Looking Ahead

I need a hobby. It used to be poker and now it’s not — and not because I don’t want to play either. I refuse to play online, I need to look into the eyes of my fellow players. Paco is helping to fill my day in wonderful ways:  walks, playtime, training. I’ve always been a voracious reader and the ability to sit with a good book for hours at a time has been a true gift. Then there’s the improving of my cooking skills:  24 Kitchen is a 24 hour cooking channel here in Portugal and I love it for so many reasons. I especially like the Portuguese shows, they don’t have all that yelling and screaming I used to experience. They’re quiet, instructional programs. It’s a great way to learn Portuguese because the chefs and home cooks speak slowly and it’s fairly easy to follow. When the say “faca,” they pick up a knife, so you learn that faca means knife.

A part of me believes I still have another big move left in me. I have dreamed of waking up to the sound of ocean waves and I believe I can make that dream come true. I guess I need to see how life plays out; so much can happen between now and whatever lies ahead.

A crazy world full of languages — “panda’s holiday” is a series of posts for when...

 

Paco Update

Paco has now had three visits to the Vet in less than two months. He is up to six pounds, but still way too thin. His immune system is so badly compromised, there is not much he tolerates.

The vet recently informed me that the Portuguese government has to be sure no one is looking for him before I can officially register him as mine. This angers me because he was clearly abused as a puppy. No dog who had love, kindness, food, disease prevention, etc. would have been found in his condition. I was told that if someone did come forward, I’d have to battle it out in court and I would.

Paco is one of the sweetest, most appreciative pets I’ve ever encountered. He wants to shower me with love and kisses whenever I allow it — his wet nose is very cold. He’s super smart:  he’ll learn a trick on the second try and repeat it the next day without review. He’s never once made a mistake in the house and he doesn’t mess with my things. He knows his toys and loves sunning on the terrace. I sense his loving gratitude. I know that he wants to stick around for awhile and he’s trying his best to recover . . . I’m convinced he will.

A good article on why yelling at your dog is a bad thing:

http://www.you.co.uk/never-shout-at-your-dog/

We’re in the training phase of our relationship. Paco was clearly traumatized early on in his young life. The best thing I can do is show him lots of love and patience. Gaining his trust is essential for good behavior. Learning tricks is good for dogs; they want. to please you and they love treats. He’s testing me right now — he’s exploring how far he can push me and how much he can manipulate me. When I show him that I make the rules, he becomes passive and loses his alpha male persona. In my world, there is no other way. Fortunately for Paco, he’s 100% on board.

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May 21:  Paco is fully recovered, weighs almost nine pounds, has been neutered, and he couldn’t be happier and of course, that makes me happy.