I usually cut, paste, add, revise, trim, and republish, when I update a previously published blog. I decided that this topic is more than most, a reoccuring theme in my life, it would benefit me more, to start from scratch.
This will not be the last time this topic comes up. I know now that letting go is a lifelong struggle for me. A struggle I am determined to conquer.
This list is not an exhaustive one. I think about letting go on a daily basis; new items get added, while others fade away. Where I am emotionally matters a great deal in terms of how well I cope. Also, how well I have slept, how I feel at any given moment, what I have planned that day, the people I am with, and so on, factor in.
For me, people have always been my biggest challenge. When you hold yourself up to high standards, you tend to expect the same of others. When you do this, you set yourself up for tremendous disappointment. Human beings make lots of mistakes.
It should be noted that I own my shortcomings and difficulties. I know that I’m stubborn, righteous, too direct, sometimes unforgiving, unrelenting, and occasionally wrong. Still, there are three things that can come up in a relationship that may or not be deal breakers. If a couple of the boxes or one box in particular is checked, it’s game over, done, so long sister. The three are trust (deception), a failure to listen, and taking me for granted. There are more, but these are the big three.
If you don’t like Paco, it can be a problem. I do forgive people with a deep seeded fear of dogs. I’m not sure how anyone can truly fear this guy.
Material things are nothing but a trap. When I moved to Portugal I left behind most of my things. I found it to be easier and more freeing than I expected. I highly recommend practicing detachment from material things. The one exception for me is my home. I am profoundly attached to my home; it is my safe haven, my nest, my sanctuary. I have learned that time at home is healing and restorative — especially when I’m home with Paco.
I occasionally come up with a new idea. Let’s call it a new way of being or a change in the way I have lived in the past. For example, there was once a club of sorts. For the sake of this blog I will say that I belonged to a bowling league. I bowled with the same group of twenty or so people for 10 years. During our scheduled season, I bowled every week for 12 weeks. After two or three seasons, I became frustrated because my bowling was not improving. I bowled on days other than league days, I took lessons, I purchased new equipment; nothing worked. After a while I felt like a total failure and it didn’t feel good at all. I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me to quit. I was complaining to a friend over a beer and he asked me why I bowl. Oddly, no one had ever asked me this question. It took me 10 long minutes to respond and I finally answered that I had no idea. My friend’s advice was try a new activity. I heeded his advice, took up tennis and never looked back. It’s so easy to fall into a rut and allow misery to be the norm. This was one example of way too many.
You can apply this same condition to people in your life. If you cannot answer this simple question about a friend, it may be time to walk away: Does your friend treat you with respect? You can substitute family members or co-workers for friends in this exercise. Although, I acknowledge that walking away from either may be extremely complicated and difficult. Our attachments come with all sorts of societal baggage and expectations. The bottom line is that you need to take care of yourself. This has been one of my toughest life lessons.
What An Absence of Emotional Pain Feels Like
Therapy and aging are two different, yet equally effective ways of dealing with the people and things in life we need to walk away from. I once had a life coach helped me through a difficult break-up (and career crap). What I remember most about our conversations were how she normalized my angst. There are times and experiences in life that will make us feel bad no matter how hard we try to deny or hide it. The greatest lesson I have learned is to feel it and ride it out. When people tell you it gets easier, you never believe them, but the truth is that if you are able to endure the discomfort and hurt, it does get easier. You must also accept that: 1) it may become difficult again, and 2) people will try to accelerate the process — mostly so that they can feel better. Grieve, be angry, suffer, retreat, agonize over the pain; do it all at your own pace.
I titled this section “What An Absence of Emotional Pain Feels Like;” however, I’m not so sure emotional pain ever leaves us completely. Except of course, when we are dead. Emotional pain and discomfort seem to go along with the human condition . . . human beings feel many things, emotional pain is just one of them.
Feeling moments of joy after an emotional upset is entirely possible and probable. When those moments finally come, embrace those feelings as well. We are allowed to feel all of the range of emotions we were meant to feel. Most of us overly concern ourselves with how things might appear to others.
A Peaceful Place
Moments, hours, days, and sometimes weeks, away from people and situations that are causing us anxiety, is usually a good thing. Taking a step back to assess your feelings and state-of-mind, is a healthy part of the wellness plan. Some people know what is bad for them in an instant; others have to be told. I am open to being told, because I know that I don’t always see things that are right in front of me. I am blinded by empathy, obligation, and habit.
I returned from a recent trip completely depleted. Isn’t a vacation supposed to be restorative? These days travel can zap all of your energy. Airports, Ubers, long lines, an hour wait for your table. No doubt you get the picture. I have consciously decided to give myself a break from travel and remain at home for a stretch. Except for the next few days: a short trip to Monte Gordo, Portugal and Seville, Spain. I’ve promised myself that this is it for a while.
My next trip (after Seville) will not be until March 2023. I will be flying to Fort Lauderdale to spend some time with good friends. Beyond Florida, I’ll be in the UK for a bit and France for short time. I’m realizing more and more that just a few days away is all I need for a reboot. My biggest trip in 2023 will be a two week adventure in Asia — land and sea. More about this trip in the coming months.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for reading my blog. I haven’t published for a while, spending most of my free time reading. A few of you reached out to me to see if I was okay. I cannot tell you how much that meant to me. I also want to let you all know that I feel better than I have in a long time. The essence of my life has always been love; I am feeling love deeply and profoundly at this moment in my life.
I’ve been trying to change several things about myself for a long, long time. Age helps you realize that there are things we cannot change. Acceptance is healthier and easier.
I’m in Amsterdam; a very tidy, liberal and picturesque city. It’s easy to walk and reflect, sit by a canal and ponder, or just allow your mind to wonder aimlessly. I write about acceptance a lot, I know. I have come to learn that denial is not sustainable or attractive.
Today is a good day to be grateful. It’s a beautiful spring day and I’m seeing a friend I rarely get to see. Today is not a day for feeling sorry for myself. Someone outside looking in might think I have nothing to sulk about, but in truth our demons can be invisible to others.
Today is more about acceptance. I apologize a lot, too much I think. I shouldn’t have said that, I should be more sensitive to how you’re feeling, I’m an idiot. Yes, I have uttered these words because I want to be liked and make myself smaller; less of a bully perhaps.
I am learning to accept the following:
I have physical limitations.
I beat my body up running marathons when I was young and fit and now I’m paying for it. There are things I can do to minimize the discomfort, but to say it’s frustrating is an understatement. Giving up some of the activities I was loved has been difficult. I’m finding news ways to challenge myself and push through the pain. This is one of those issues I believe you have to experience to truly understand the mental and emotional impact.
I am an older man.
When you have a voice inside your head saying you’re young and vital, it’s natural to believe it’s true. In truth, it’s better for me to accept reality. I am 63. It took some time and life experiences to get here. Embracing the truth and planning for the future will serve me well. Messages from the media and others may lead you to think you are done with the best part of your life; I know in my heart that the best is yet to come.
I am not the sharpest tack in the box.
This is not me being self-deprecating. I having always been aware of my intellectual limitations. I work hard to be informed and I use my average intelligence to gain as much knowledge as is possible. I think it’s unfortunate to believe you are smarter than you actually are. Humility and acceptance are better qualities for getting along with others. Some mistake humilty for conceit, but that’s more their problem than mine.
I may never love again.
It’s not sad or self-defeating or giving-up, it’s truth. I have been very fortunate to have been deeply in love multiple times. I know the space you have to be in to allow yourself to feel deep, unselfish, passionate love. For reasons I’m choosing not to divulge, I am not currently in this space. I hope that I will someday open myself up to these intense feelings, but for now I am happy to continue to fall in love with myself. Some say that this is necessary for the former to happen. I don’t know what is true for others; what I do know for certain, is that I have a lot to learn before I can give and receive a lasting love. The good news is that I embrace this truth and I accept what is or is not to be.
I like my creature comforts.
I have come to learn that there are many things I no longer wish to endure:
Two foot snow banks that I have dig my way out of.
People who are not genuine.
Individuals who lack empathy and understanding.
A twin bed
A man who is not a car mechanic and has dirt under his fingernails.
An excess amount of cologne or gnarly toenails.
People who talk and talk and do not listen.
People who ask you how you are, but couldn’t care less.
People who cut to the front of the line.
Try this exercise; it’s good to read these back to yourself and feel good about your list.
Many of you will read this and think it’s poppycock and ridiculous, others will relate, and still others will wonder why I am sharing such inane thoughts. It’s all good.
What I can tell you about Amsterdam, is that it’s worth visiting: beauty everywhere, wonderful people who for the most part speak English, culturally rich and diverse, great food, easy to get around, not cheap but not London, and a good place for reflection.
See subscribe buttons on previous posts, not sure why but I couldn’t add it on my phone app. I promise to add it when I get home.
Heading home Wednesday for a long awaited visit from my good friend David. I have a few trips in the next few months… To be continued.
This was the first time I have gone on holiday and left my laptop at home. Writing on a phone is not easy when your fingers are the size large sausages. Please forgive any typos or grammatical errors.
Let’s face it, we all have demons. Mine always choose the worst time to enter my consciousness: sometime around 2:00 to 4:00 a.m. Between having to get up to pee numerous times and these visitors, I get out of bed exhausted. These are people that were either a part of my past or live among the present. The frequent visitors are those I did not have closure with. Death, a major blow up, or fear that any sort of interaction would make things worse, keeps these demons around.
Whether in dreams, semi-consciousness, and/or periods of being fully awake, these wandering spirits, cause much consternation.
The Main Reasons These Nighttime Visits Occur
Therapists I have engaged throughout my life have told me that these visits are normal and a healthy way of coping. What they really mean to say is that approaching someone you’re angry with wielding a knife, is not good. Your mind is a complex organ where your thoughts are not always easily explained. Many of my conflicts play out in my dreams. Usually not a pleasant or productive dream, for the most part, it’s usually more of the same.
How These Conversations Usually Go
So you’re back?
I didn’t choose to be here.
Then why are you here?
You summoned me stupid.
Here’s the thing, I don’t remember asking you to be here and I’d rather you just disappear. I hate how you treated me all those years, but there is nothing I can do about it now.
Oh geez, let it go. I was an egotistical maniac and I treated everyone that way; you need to move on.
But you fucked-up my head. I have all sorts of anger bubbling up because of you. I alienate relationships, hide out for long periods of time, shut down, and sometimes blame others for my own bad behavior.
That’s not on me. Whatever I did, I did it because I thought it was right at the time. You can’t blame me because you kept it all in and never confronted me. And don’t make excuses like: “I couldn’t find the right time” or “You would never have listened,” it’s all nonsense. I’ve been your scapegoat for too many years. I’m tired of repeating myself — you are your own worst enemy.
That makes me feel so much better. Now get out and don’t come back.
[Cold sweats and a sleepless night are almost a certainty. Alcohol and other substances only makes things worse and pushes thoughts down temporarily.]
Recognize the endless loop of outrageous verbiage? It’s exhausting.
Getting Rid of the Demons for Good
As if getting rid of them is even remotely possible (the cynic in me).
I have found that there are very few ways to purge these demons.
Closure — confronting the individual and either receiving an apology (unlikely) or sorting it out.
Working it out in therapy. A good therapist will engage you in role play. Here you have an opportunity to say what is on your mind and purge your thoughts. You must be fully committed to the process.
Time — hopefully, a long period of time will help you to eventually let it go.
Holding on to resentment or anger is never good. It does awful damage to your psyche and your internal organs. The quicker you can work it out, the healthier you will be. I’ve been working on this for years and I can only report a slight improvement. It’s something to strive toward.
COVID-19 strikes again and Lyon and Bristol are not happening . . . now. Instead I am booking a shared cottage on the Island of Farol. I’ll get there by ferry from Faro in about 30 minutes. I booked it for July and I’m fairly certain it won’t be cancelled. This should be a unique experience that I will be excited to tell you about.
I was fortunate to have my entire row on the TAP flight coming into Madeira. I slid over from my aisle seat (I always sit in this seat so I can get up to pee without bothering anyone; I pee a lot), to get a good view of the landing. I had heard about the sometimes high winds and cancelled flights due to the aforementioned, but I stopped myself from watching videos or reading about my impending landing. Once it was happening in real time, I had to see it. We were approaching this magnificent island and the landing strip came into view. I had never seen it before and from a distance, it looked like columns on a huge palace. The whole experience was thrilling.
Just before landing, an announcement was made about a COVID-19 test at the airport. I was unaware that the government, the day before, had instituted a new policy about testing at the airport. I must admit that even though I was fairly certain I’d be negative, there was that .5% chance that I could have had the virus and I was asymptomatic. I was glad I had paid a little extra for additional legroom because I was at the front of the plane and I would be tested quickly. I have to compliment the Portuguese for their organization skills; this process was exceptionally well orchestrated. I had registered on-line, how I was traveling and where I was staying, and that saved me a bit of time. Honestly, it might have been six minutes from start to finish. The test is a bit uncomfortable, but not as bad as I had anticipated — only a few seconds of poking and swabbing. I was told the results would be emailed to me within the next 12 hours. I confess I didn’t check until this morning; I knew that if I’d tested positive I wouldn’t sleep. Fortunately, I had a very pleasant eight hours and woke-up to negative test results. You can talk yourself into almost anything.
One of the reasons I decided to fly to Madeira, aside from the island being on my “must go” list, is that most of Europe is a bargain (if you can go) right now. I get all happy inside when I land on a great deal. My four star hotel is normally double the price this time of year and I flew round trip for less than $200. I am on an island off of the northwest coast of Africa; not sure how much more exotic and perfect you could get?
There is a Aerobus right outside the airport that will get you very close to most hotels in Funchal for 5 Euros (8 roundtrip). The bus driver announced my stop and the Hotel Allegro was right across the street — no dragging of luggage and searching for my hotel with Google Maps.
I spent quite a lot of time booking my hotel. I didn’t even consider Airbnb this time for three reasons:
I wanted a room with a seaview
I wanted a big breakfast in the morning
It had to be an “adults only” hotel (love, love, love the little ones, but not on this trip)
They do breakfast at hotels really well in Portugal. It’s often included in the rate and it is quite a treat with omlets, fresh fruit, homemade jams, yogurt, granola and all sorts of delicious cakes. There is a photo below, but I don’t think you can tell that there is a mimosa in the photo; trust me, they had fresh orange juice and sparkling wine, I had two every morning.
The Hotel Allegro is in an area called Lido (allegro means: at a brisk speed and that sums me up) . The hotel is minutes from the beach, walking distance (or city bus) to Old Town, and surrounded by some very good restaurants. It’s a four star hotel, but I’d put it in the mid-range price group — important to have enough money to eat and drink while traveling. The room was spacious, comfortable, and had a Nespresso coffee maker. I was supplied with pods for the entire week. I bought some whole milk right next store and I had my 5:30 a.m. coffee in my room, every morning. You know by now how much the “little things” mean to me. The hotel also had a very nice gym overlooking the pool (used it four times) and a jacuzzi and sauna that were not in use due to the freakin’ virus. When you use the gym on vacation, you feel as if you can eat more pastry and so I did . . . eat more pastry.
I spent my entire first day sitting by the pool with a Grisham novel. The pool bar served a variety of cocktails and the bar menu was adequate. I had a delicious Caesar salad with huge chunks of chicken and fresh parmesan. Happy thoughts, happy body, happy tummy. By the way, pretty spectacular weather in early September; some clouds, but mostly sunny with temps in the high 70s and low 80s. I was told the weather is always good in Madeira. You’d have to look that up.
The Prince Albert Pub, a British Pub with British eats, for my first dinner. I wasn’t very hungry, I had battered shrimp and a margarita. Lots of people from the UK come here on holiday; their presence can be felt everywhere — not a criticism, more an observation.
A Casa do Vizinho for a scrumptious dinner my second evening. I had settled on a nicely reviewed Italian restaurant, however, it was closed on Monday night. Casa do Vizinho was a lovely alternative. Very pleasant outdoor seating, a view of the Atlantic, and a quiet side street. I had pork, mashed potatoes, all smothered with a rich & creamy mushroom gravy; delicious, but it would not have photographed well.
Mostly just relaxed and figured out where everything was on my second day.
Day Three in the Old Town
I ain’t gonna lie, you’ve seen one Old Town in Portugal, you’ve seen them all. Always a pretty church, always lots of cafés, and most assuredly, old architecture. There was something in Funchal’s Old Town I wanted to see and that was Rua do Santa Maria, a street filled with art covered buildings:
I was not at all disappointed. Many other streets in the Old Town were crowded, however, Rua do Santa Maria was all mine to take-in and enjoy. Sorry, I was not focusing on my photography skills. I did not get to see all the artwork, but I have learned over time, to always leave a bit for another trip.
Next on my day of playing tourist, I took the Teleférico do Funchal (cable car) up to the top of the mountain overlooking the city. I paid 11 Euros for a one-way ticket thinking it would be nice to take a bus down and see Funchal from a different perspective — very bad idea. Sitting on a hot city bus with a mask on, going down some very curvy roads, stopping to pick people up way too often, made me sick to my stomach. One hour of this and I was done.
The last photo is of community garden plots. I kept thinking about my time in Maine and how great it was to have a garden plot to grow vegetables.
At Carreiros do Monte you can have two men run you down the mountain in a wicker basket. It cost 25 Euros for one person (add another 5 or 10 for a tip) and 30 for two. It’s a very unique Madeira experience I just wasn’t in the mood to partake. There was a time in my life I would not have missed this experience, but alas those days are over. My heart goes out to these men whom I’m certain would normally be making a decent living; now they’re mostly standing around waiting for tourists who may not come for quite some time.
After hours of sightseeing and exploring, all I wanted to do was take a dive into my hotel pool, cool off, nap, and enjoy a well deserved ice cold cocktail. There was a German couple staying at Allegro and I could not help noticing them; in their 60s and very much in love. They held each other in the water, looked into one another’s eyes for what seemed like hours, kissed a lot and generally behaved like teenagers. I was jealous and awestruck. I honestly hope to feel this way about someone once again; very sweet and heartwarming indeed.
Dinner my third night at a local Italian restaurant with a view of the sea and a very talented guitar player. I had a half-bottle of some very nice Douro red, melon and Portuguese ham (the melon wasn’t ripe), and some “just okay” seafood tagliatelle. I won’t mention the name because although it was fine for my purposes, I wouldn’t recommend it. There are times when I’m travelling when all I want is a simple hot meal and a short walk back to my hotel. This restaurant was was perfect for what I required that night.
Day 4 — Skywalk, Wine Tasting and the Bumpiest Ride of My Life
You cannot and should not go to Madeira without going to Skywalk. I booked a full day island tour through Airbnb. I usually find their tours to be smaller and friendlier.
Dinner at The Wanderer
I made this reservation about a month ago. The restaurant only opened in October, but the reviews were excellent. Crazy concept: one day a week, one time slot, one table, one price, and whatever the chef is serving. I love that. 125 Euros, however, by most standards, a cocktail, five courses, and wine pairings, all in — that’s pretty darn reasonable. This was my one big splurge in Madeira. Save for the AC being out, this was an experience worth waiting for. Good company at the table and impeccable service. All around a winner.
My review for the Fork:
Christopher P. September 8, 2020 •
We live in a world of uniformity; these days very few experiences stand out as unique and memorable. Chef Selim is engaging, intelligent and masterful. His dishes are difficult to describe because they’re unlike other dishes you have been served and that’s a good thing. He and his staff will make you feel “at home” from the moment you enter this thoughtfully designed, intimate space. Each bite was magic and every pairing, complimentary. I’ve been dining out for 50 years and I have never had an experience that compared to The Wanderer. Perhaps Chef Selim will inspire others to follow suit.
That’s not soil in the center of the second photo (top right); Chef Selim forages mushrooms and prepares them many different ways.
Dolphin Watching and a swim in the Atlantic — I normally do not partake in large group activities, however, dolphin watching was included in my day four tour and I was able to push it off to the next day. I was welcomed aboard the Seaborn and I have to admit, it was an extremely pleasant three hours. The catamaran was not at all overcrowded and everyone was well-behaved. It was a gorgeous day and there were dolphins swimming alongside the boat a good part of the trip (there really are dolphins in the last photo below — they were black dolphins). We had a chance to take a dip and the water was delightful. Proving to myself, once again, that I need to keep an open mind; easier said than done when you think you’ve done it all.
Dinner at Asian Flavours (the Brits put a “u” in flavor; not a British island, but as I said, you see their influence everywhere); a nice 15 minute walk from the hotel. My sweet & sour chicken and egg fried rice was delicious and exactly what I wanted in my belly. I had a view of the sea, great service and I was showered and in my pjs by 9:30 p.m.
I must have been exhausted from sailing and walking for the better part of the day. I crawled into my comfy bed and slept 10 hours. I think the last time that happened, I was 15 years old. Honestly, when you’ve had a restful night like that, you wake up feeling like you could accomplish just about anything.
My Last Full Day (day six)
I was excited to get home to Paco in 24 hours. I couldn’t think of a better way to end my trip than a long workout at my hotel’s gym, followed by a return to the pool with Grisham’s novel (yes, same novel), The Rooster Bar. The Madeira Wine Festival was taking place and I admittedly was tempted, but sometimes you just have to be horizontal and relax.
Lunch at a local fresh fish restaurant that has been open for years and had good reviews. I’m not going to write about it. I have been eyeing a bakery near my hotel since my arrival and dessert was imperative and perfection. Lots of offerings and good coffee — Boutique Lido. Definitely worth the calories; pastry eye candy.
I can have my cake and eat it too.
I got to have a bonus day in Madeira. TAP changed my original flight about a week prior to my trip and pushed it back eight hours, which would have had me returning to Faro at midnight. I called the airline (got them on the phone right away) and told them it was unacceptable to have me sit in the airport in Madeira for eight hours due to a noon hotel checkout. The very agreeable operator said he’d be happy to book me on another flight. I asked if I could return the next day; he quickly booked me on a flight the following morning. Apparently, they have this policy that if the change is 5 hours or more, you can make a flight change without a fee; good policy. I called my hotel and added a day. Whenever I have been able to add a day to a vacation, my “bonus day” has always been special. Making lemonade out of lemons.
There was so much to see and do on the island of Madeira, I believe I must return. When I lived in the States, the Caribbean was a quick and reasonable getaway, now I have Madeira. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful places I have ever been; the people are lovely, the accommodations superb, it’s safe, it’s affordable, and it’s Portuguese. I hit a home run choosing to travel to Madeira during the time of COVID-19 and I look forward to returning sometime soon. Six full days on the island was perfect; good to know for the next time.
Yes, I do spoil myself. Admittedly, taking care of myself and attending to mind, body and spirit, has been the greatest lesson of my life so far. I dare say, it may end up being the greatest lesson of my life period. Well, that and knowing when to say, I have had enough.
Looks like Bristol, England, September 30 is off. The UK is bringing back the quarantine regulation for travellers from Portugal due to increased COVID-19 cases. EasyJet made it easy to change my flights and the hotel had a free cancellation policy — the only way to book these days. I’m learning to live with these daily changes and minore upsets.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
An early morning nightmare I wish I could erase from my memory.
A few years ago I was presented with the opportunity to visit Istanbul. One of our French Culinary Institute graduates was opening a cooking school in the center of the city and I was invited to stay at her home and take a look at her school. I had often dreamt about traveling to Turkey and what better reason could there be to make the trip.
Whenever I travel to a city I haven’t been to, I check out the gay scene; if there is a gay scene that is. I knew of course that Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country and it is essentially against a Muslim’s religion to be intimate with someone of the same sex.
This knowledge should have been enough to squelch any desire I might have had to explore the gay culture in Istanbul. Truth is, I can be way too curious and extremely stupid sometimes. Hence the night I came close to losing my life in Istanbul.
This was a few years ago and I couldn’t find anything about a gay community on-line prior to traveling to Turkey. I thought I’d inquire once I settled in. I was shopping at the Grand Bazaar on my second day in Istanbul and finally met a young, friendly, English speaking man, who was working at a spice stall. I had the notion he might be gay and so I delicately approached the subject of gay culture in Istanbul. He basically informed me that it was underground, not wildly popular and not easy to find. He was aware of one particular club, but not sure about others in the city.
I should note that I did not think it was appropriate to question my host about this matter or inform her that I would be going to a gay club. We had not been friendly prior to my visit and I didn’t feel comfortable sharing personal information. For the most part, I was scheduled to be on my own in the evening.
It was Friday afternoon and I thought it might be fun to venture out and find this club while there was still some daylight, so that it would be easy to find that evening. After walking around the vicinity of where the young man said the club would be, I found it sort of tucked away on a side street near the centre. It was closed and there were no hours on the door. I wasn’t even sure that what I found was a club. I figured I’d go at about 10:00 p.m., hoping to find it lively. When I arrived that evening, there was just one person at the door and the bartender. The bar was sparse and not at all enticing. I asked the bartender what time things got going and he just shrugged his shoulders acting as if he had no idea what I was talking about. I believe he spoke English, I wasn’t really sure.
Two hours later, a few others began to arrive. What I experienced at the club that night I have never experienced at a gay club prior. It was a pleasant enough space, one large room with a chandelier and some colorful club lights. There was a small dancefloor; unused that evening. There appeared to be one couple and then maybe three or four guys just standing around hugging the wall. I don’t recall any laughing or smiling, just guys looking very serious and holding their drinks. I’m not sure why, but I was intimidated and intrigued at the same time. At one point I questioned why in the world I was sticking around. A part of me thought that things might liven-up. I had been to clubs before that didn’t get going until 1:00 a.m. and so I thought that perhaps the culture in Istanbul was a late one.
I was dead wrong, it never got better. I decided to leave the club at about 2:00 a.m. I had not had much to drink due to the circumstances. I walked outside to find a taxi and a young gentleman followed me out. He tapped me on the shoulder and asked me where I was from. I told him that I was from New York and visiting Turkey for the first time. He then asked me if I would like to walk for a bit. The streets were very quiet, in fact, they were eerily deserted. I was curious why he had not spoken to me at the club, but instead, waited until I left the bar. His English was not great,but we understood one another. He told me that he had not said hello to me at the club because he was afraid I would reject him. He appeared shy and said that he had been working up the nerve to speak to me. He also apologized for his English. I asked about the gay culture in Turkey and I could tell that he was reluctant to go there with me. He started to become agitated as I probed, and so I apologized.
We were walking without saying much for about ten minutes, when he asked me if I was interested in going back to his place for a coffee. I told him that I didn’t drink coffee at that hour, but that it would be nice to see his place. I was very curious and he was attractive. We found a taxi and went to his apartment; it was a five minute ride at the most.
When we arrived at his apartment, I began to be concerned. His demeanor changed abruptly. I wasn’t sure if he was having second thoughts about inviting me to his place or if he was possibly dangerous. When you walked into his apartment there were three guys playing some sort of game, and whatever they were smoking filled the entire apartment with smoke. He did not introduce me and took me into his bedroom. Honestly, I’m not sure we ever exchanged names. The room was small, dark and very unpleasant. This is when I began feeling very threatened. I told him that I wasn’t feeling right about the situation. I didn’t share this, but I had gotten a bad vibe from the guys in the other room. He dismissed my discomfort and told me not to worry.
The next bit came as quite a shock. He asked me for $100 dollars. It was then that I knew I was in trouble.
I said, “You should have told me that you were working. I’m not interested in paying for sex.”
He became angry with me and told me that I had to pay him because I should have known. He was insulting and incensed. I was very frightened at this point. I asked him to please just let me leave.
“No, you cannot leave without giving me $100.”
I told him that all I had was $20 (in Lira) and that I needed it for a taxi. He said he didn’t believe me and I had to empty my pockets for him. He saw that I had my ID and bankcard. He said that if I didn’t pay him, that he and his friends would beat me. At that moment, I believed him. I told him that we’d have to find an ATM machine. He agreed that we would go to a machine with one of his friends. I know that I was shaking and close to tears.
We found a machine near his apartment. I made a couple of attempts to withdraw money, but it wasn’t working. His friend kept telling me to hurry. I tried to explain that it wasn’t working, but they said that I was lying. I asked them if we could try another machine. This was my first attempt at using an ATM in Turkey. I brought Lira with me, but I left most of it in the apartment where I was staying. I have never liked carrying a lot of cash. They took me to another machine a few streets away. I was looking for the police as we hurried through the streets, but I saw no one.
I had the same issue at the next machine. I thought that I might have been so nervous that I was using the wrong pin. At this point both men were very agitated. I tried to explain that it just wasn’t working.
I pleaded, “What if I give you what I have in my pocket and my watch as well?”
They just shook their heads and said they wanted the money. I took the money out of my pocket and handed it to one of them. I tried to give them my watch, but they refused to take it. At this point they were both screaming at me in Turkish. I threw my watch at them and ran. They chased me through the streets and all I could imagine was that I was going to be brutally killed in Istanbul. I was running marathons at this point in my live and fortunately, I was very fit. I ran toward a taxi I had spotted and begged the driver to allow me to get in; he refused. I ran a bit further and I saw another driver standing on the side of his taxi.
“Help, these guys are going to hurt me.”
The driver opened his door and I jumped into the taxi. The two Turks chasing me were pounding on the window as the taxi drove away. I thanked the driver several times, but he spoke no English. I tried to tell him that I did not have money, but that I would get some cash for him when we arrived to where I was staying.
When we got to the apartment I tried to tell him again that I had no cash on me. The driver was very angry that I was not paying him; he kept repeating something in his language and pointing to his hand. There was a military soldier standing with a rifle near the house where I was staying. This was a very wealthy neighborhood and there was a soldier on almost every corner. He spoke a little English and I explained my situation. He then spoke to the angry driver. He told me that I could go in and get the money. I quickly went in to retrieve some cash and I brought it out to pay him. He angrily grabbed the money and drove away. The soldier said nothing. I often wondered if he knew what had happened to me that night.
I showered and shivered for who knows how long. Sleep was elusive. The evening kept playing in my head on an endless loop. I crawled out of my bed a few hours later and spent the remainder of the day trying to forget what had happened. I told no one. I called my bank and I was told that I had not informed them that I was traveling and so their policy was to block my account.
Let’s be totally honest; what I did was dumb, insane, ridiculous, naive, and immature. At the time, I was a young man in my early 40s and I had put myself in dangerous situations more often than I care to admit. Hindsight is twenty-twenty and that’s all I’ll say. I wish I hadn’t been so stupid, but then, who knew I’d be chased through the streets of Istanbul at 3:00 a.m. You live and learn and I learned the hard way.
“I have no desire to suffer twice, in reality and then in retrospect.” ― Sophocles, Oedipus Rex
I want to talk about happiness today because this summer has marked the break-down point of a change that has been going on for a while in my understanding of the concept. I think I have been trying to redefine what happiness is for me for quite a while because I was not happy with my earlier definition and this summer gave me the clearest ideas of what it means for me. I thought we might as well discuss the concept here because it means something different, yet similar, to everyone.
Happiness is a word we like to say; a concept we like to think about and a feeling we want to feel. It is our life goal. We (mostly) do what we do because we chase happiness. It is what we are after. We want to reach it and when we do, we want to keep it. But do we really know what it is?
I did not. I just knew I got happy when I accomplished things. I got happy when I got into the schools I wanted. When I got good grades. When I went on a vacation to a city I wanted to go to. But none of these happened, I felt the turmoil inside. Happiness was externally conditioned for me at the time.
Now is not the same. Although I still have traces of my earlier mentality, now I feel happier when I am in silence. When I have my family or friends around. When I just chill. I do not need to accomplish anything. I don’t need to do something. Just being makes me happy.
How did my understanding change? (In passing: The situation now is fluctuating, as expected from any change in life –change is not overnight-, but at least that is my dominant mindset).
Well, I battled. For a long time in my life, everything seemed to go as I wanted them to go. So, there was nothing to challenge me. But at some point, it started not going as I expected. This is life. I will not go as we want when we want all the time. That change in the flow of my life took the tools I had to make me happy. Accomplishments used to give me happiness and now they did not exist as much. So, I did not have a reason to be happy (in my mind). I started getting less and less happy and more and more resentful. Granted, I did try to change my mindset at the time. But it did not work because I had already formed the strong mindset of associating happiness with achievements. It was not easy to change it and everything associated with it. But I tried.
Then, I hit a point where I took the radical decision that I was going to leave everything behind because I was just not happy. The lifestyle I was having did not make me happy. So, why not leave that style, right?
Surprisingly, then I started feeling happy again. It did help to just let go of things I was obsessed with and thought that I could not leave without. This letting go was not a momentary thing. It was the result of years of trying to change my mindset.
I had the clearest mind about happiness this summer. Now, the life I dream is not the one where I am applauded. I dream of a life where I have a few people around me and I just chill (or work in a relatively less demanding environment). Happiness is no longer accomplishment for me. Happiness is peace. Happiness is calmness. Happiness is slow.
This does not mean that I will ditch everything I have now. It just means I will value silence and peace over chaos.
How do you define happiness? What makes you the happiest? Let’s discuss happiness.
Another one of those “I won’t feel sorry for myself” blogs.
As you know, many people, consciously or unconsciously, decide to have children so that there will be someone to take care of them when they get old. Now don’t get all judgie on me, I’m not saying that it’s the primary reason for having children; stating that it is certainly one of many. So how does one sort out being single and/or childless and having to face the idea that he or she might be alone when help is needed later on in life. The other factor to consider, is the reality that children are moving further and further away from their parents. Another consideration is the unpredictability of the future and the longevity of a life partnership: people die, we get divorced, life happens.
I certainly cannot speak for all individuals in this position, however, I can and will, speak for myself.
I think we can all agree that remaining in a relationship because you fear being alone, is a terrible plan. I unfortunately know too many people who are in this situation. I have known friends who were “stuck” and then for whatever reason, decided to move on and never regretted that decision. On the flip side, I have also seen couples decide to stay together and consequently work through their issues. Fortunately, the stigma of remaining or choosing to be single is quickly disappearing. We have options.
There are several ways to tackle a problem. You can sit around and worry yourself to death or you can take action. By “take action” I mean develop a plan. Brainstorming all of your options on paper is one way to do this. If you know someone whom you trust and who you know will not judge you, it might be a good idea to ask them to brainstorm with you. There are so many different ways to deal with this issue and frankly, you may not currently be familiar with some of them.
Remaining Single (or not) To Assist if Needed Options
Move in with relatives
A life choice
Create a Community House
Agreement with friends
Create a simple chart to organize your thoughts. I’m obsessed with charts.
An abundance of good information is currently available on the internet (I will provide a few — click title for info):
You’ll be surprised how much is out there. Each individual needs to do their own research. Our needs are different, our desires are usually specific to our chosen lifestyle, and our financial situation will often dictate the direction we go in. Don’t forget that most people are good natured and want to help; help you find options and help you be independent.
I have a good friend who has decided that bringing together a group of friends in a single home or group of cottages, is the way to go. In this scenario, a group of people would all buy into a property and own equal shares. I like the idea in theory for many reasons; mainly, because you can do a lot more with five or six people contributing. You might have that oceanfront house you always wanted or you might be able to share a vehicle or hire help. The main problem would be equal contributions. Some people are better off financially and may want more amenities, whereas others, might be willing to settle for a lot less. Then there is also the issue of death and how to deal with ownership. All of these considerations could be dealt with, with the “right” group of individuals. I would think legal advice would be helpful.
I would not consider this option at this point in my life for the following reasons:
I prefer quiet time and solitude most of the time.
I’m not very fond of the way some people take care of themselves (I’m trying very hard to be diplomatic).
My idea of clean doesn’t match up with most individuals. I’m not a germaphobe, but have you see how some people live?
I like where I am.
One should be open to a change in attitude in the future. I’m always considering all of my options. The only thing certain in life is uncertainty.
“Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust…. and don’t expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
I’m not going to go into details about assisted living because everyone knows what it is. There are a few advantages such as on-premises medical care and shared living expenses, but it’s not right for everyone. I sometimes think about activities taking place right where I live and whether or not I would like that. Two of my sisters live in Florida residences where there are many activities and I have stayed with both of them for short periods of time. I do believe some people need the social connections. You have to decide what works best for you. And of course, all assisted living arrangements are different; there may be one out there that suits your needs — if and when the time comes.
I consider myself fortunate. I have nieces and nephews I am certain would take care of me if I were unable to take care of myself. I don’t mean being hidden away in a basement either. I also have a couple of siblings who would drop everything to move in with me for a bit. I am hoping to never have to rely on family; however, it’s good to know that loved ones would be there for you if you needed them. It’s important to have a conversation about this possibility, rather than just assume that it’s a given.
My mom and I would always joke about what would happen if she needed help. I would tell her that there was no way she could ever move in with me, but she knew in her heart that I would be there for her. My dad and I discussed his options when his body became riddled with cancer. Trust is everything when the future is uncertain. I was fortunate to have many caring siblings when the time came to help dad live out the remainder of his life.
I have several siblings I am sure would come to help on a temporary basis. I also know that I have a couple of siblings that I could live with if need be. I do not believe I will ever have to take advantage of this, however, it sure is good to know that I will have that option available to me. I would do the same for any of my siblings. I would also have to admit that I would, in some cases, have to insist on some behavior modification (ie., no smoking in the house or dancing on the dining room table).
Friends and longterm care are a delicate matter. It’s one thing to impose on a family member and another to permanently move in with a friend or expect a friend to move in with you. Let’s face it, it’s a lot to ask of anyone; therefore, I must admit that I’m not sure about this one. Friends often surprise you. Being open to help from others is essential.
I have had this lifelong issue about not being able to ask for help, but I’ve become better about it recently. Sometimes it takes a crisis to consider your options. Leaning on anyone for anything has always been one of those things I’ve struggled with and to be frank, pride is usually the issue. It’s important to consider the cost of remaining independent, if for some reason you cannot care for yourself.
Worst Case Scenario
Not everyone likes to think about the future by considering “the worst case scenario.” What would happen if I lost my mobility? What if I had a stroke and could no longer care for myself? What would happen if my life partner died? These are big and important questions. Although it might be difficult to consider the possibilities, many choose not to think about them and end up in the predicament where they have no choice but to give in to whatever option is presented to them at the time of a tragic event or major lifestyle change.
I know a man who did not consider his future prior to a major life change and ended up being forced to live with a child whose spouse he did not get along with. He pitted his daughter against her spouse and it caused many problems in his child’s marriage, eventually leading to their separation.
I had a drink with a friend this week; he had no idea I was writing about this topic and I did not share that I was — I don’t like pushing my blog on friends. He voiced a concern about a house he is renovating. He said he wasn’t sure he would be able to live in the house because it has a second floor and that’s where his bedroom will be. I was surprised to hear him say this, however, I do understand his concern. My response was that if the second floor ever became a problem, he could move his bedroom to the first floor (I’ve seen people do it). He did not respond to my rebuttal.
I’m not sure why, but I do think people shy away from relocating in their own homes. Perhaps it forces you to face your own mortality; I’m not sure. Humans are funny; there are so many topics that we choose to avoid. I’m hoping this will get you thinking about your future. Please write if there are considerations I did not mention.
I admittedly prefer to stay put when everyone else is traveling. There are a couple of local beach spots that I will venture off to. Next week I will spend a couple of nights at a contemporary hotel in Tavira. Tavira is one of my favorite towns in Portugal and it’s only 30 minutes east of Faro by train. There is a month-long food festival happening in June and I would like to take advantage of the festival and a few days relaxing by a pool.
I have also booked a few days in Albufeira, a small coastal city about 30 minutes west of Faro. I will be taking a train there in mid-July. Albufeira has a very pretty Old Town area and a robust nightlife. There are times when one must put oneself in the center of activity in order to partake. All part of self-discovery. Going to bed at 9:00 p.m. on Saturday night is not always healthy for one’s social life. It’s so much easier when it’s not about me.
When I was growing up, there was a very common euphemism that was used when referring to those who behaved arrogantly. Such people were said to be “full of themselves.” I don’t know if folks still use this phrase or not. Today, because the average person generally spends less time beating around the bush, it is highly likely that he or she would be more direct, saying the following instead: “Arrogant people are full of shit.”
Because arrogant people are full of themselves and they are, by definition, shitty people, that makes them full of shit. I suppose I’ve just proved, using a kind of syllogistic logic, that arrogant people can be both full of themselves and shitty. Actually, they are shitty because they are very much themselves.
We try to make some sense out of this weird brutal world. The problem is that the sense we’re making has the power f*ck us up inside and that’s what really matters. WE are the ones seeing the world so WE are the ones deciding how it is and we can only do it for us. The life we’re living has an unique sense because we’re the ones living it. Two different people can see the same life differently; therefore, what’s inside our head makes the difference.
I believe that people need to be more aware of how important the inside universe really is so I wrote a book to bring some awareness in this area along with some tools that can help us re-gain the control over our thought process and over our emotions.
How satisfied are you with your life? If you believe there is…