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:

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.

Why I Chose to Move to Portugal (reblog)

I will be rewriting an update for my almost two years living in Portugal for next week’s blog.

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

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

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

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

Some “Why” Questions:

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

 

Why Overseas?

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

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

 

Why Portugal?

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

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

 

Why Faro?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What more can I ask of a city?

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

 

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

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

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There are several islands off the coast of Faro that offer spectacular beaches.

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Farol Island’s lighthouse is just a ferry ride through the Ria Formosa. A 5 Euro round trip ferry ride is a great way to go to the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did I Do the Right Thing?

Time to Check In

 

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This is usually where I sit with my morning coffee (sometimes breakfast). The Ria Formosa looks different depending on the tide, time of day, and season. In other words, it looks different every day.

 

I thought this might be a good time to step back and consider my decision to relocate overseas. I’m going to ask myself some tough questions:

  1. Is Faro everything I hoped it would be?
  2. Did the move cost me more than expected?
  3. Have I made friends?
  4. Do I miss the States?
  5. Are there things I did not consider?
  6. Have I learned anything about myself?
  7. Would I do it again and would I choose the same place?
  8. Where do I go from here?

When I left New York City and moved to Maine a little over five years ago, I was fairly certain it would be the last time I was to move in my life. I’m still not sure why I felt that way, perhaps I was just tired. One of the biggest lessons this recent move has taught me is this:

Most decisions are not etched in stone and you’re allowed to change your mind.

When I make a decision now, it’s for today, tomorrow, and maybe next month. I no longer think about years from now. I’ve learned that living in the moment is much more satisfying and that whatever lies ahead, will somehow sort itself out. All the great philosophers talk about being present; experiencing the moment you are in. Until now, it seemed rather trite and esoteric. These words were meant for others, not for me. I knew what I was doing, where I was going and how I was going to get there, no? The truth is I spent much too much time in the future — planning, always planning. And it’s not that I don’t plan now; I plan, but I plan a lot less. When you’re enjoying the moment, thoughts pass through your mind with less urgency. What you find interesting and worthwhile will stick and the rest will fade.

Now is as good a time as any to look back and learn from the past so that the present will be that much more fulfilling.

  1. Is Faro what I hoped it would be? In a word, no; Faro is far more than I ever imagined. My mind did not have the capacity to extend that far; the unknown was frightening. I had never lived outside of the States, so in truth, I could not imagine what it would be like. I had an idea, I had hopes, and I had people telling me, but none of it was a true picture of reality and that’s a good thing. Why is it so important for us to know the future? Why can’t we just let the future unfold before us? Some of what I could not have anticipated:
  • The light:  I loved the light in Maine, the sky was often so blue, I didn’t know a blue so deep existed. The light in Portugal is different; it’s very bright and your skin reacts to it differently. I realize this probably has more to do with my own growth and awareness. Still, I am dazzled by and grateful for the light.
  • The environment:  taking care of Earth is paramount. It seems to be a consideration for nearly every decision.
  • The youth of Faro:  I’m seeing a lot of cigarette smoking and rudeness. Older people get on the bus and the young people on the bus rarely, if ever, get up to allow them to be seated. I see young people sitting at cafés drinking coffee and smoking — they’re mimicking their role models and that’s not good. This concerns me.
  • Food:  I’m just beginning to see a change in the food scene here. Most of the restaurants are either small bistro style restaurants that are very plain and unappealing (but cheap) or a lot of very traditional Portuguese food. Don’t get me wrong, the Portuguese food is delicious and except for at festivals and fairs, you unfortunately, don’t see street food or food trucks. I admittedly loved the food scene in the States and I miss the variety. The upside is that my diet is more stable and healthier — not a bad thing.
  • The absence of crime:  you do not see drug addicts passed out on the street, police cars everywhere and there is no talk of crime. This is a very pleasant surprise. I’ve written about the decriminalization of drugs here and very low crime rates. Makes you wonder why this is not the case elsewhere.
  • Money:  your money goes a lot further. Whether it’s the grocery store, restaurants, public transportation, etc. your Euro goes a lot further than your dollar did in the States. I’m sure it has a lot to do with annual salaries and government regulations. I saw a bit of this in Maine as well:  when an item is overpriced, people will not buy it.
  • The weather:  it is absolutely perfect nearly every day. I had to get used to the dry heat, but it’s a small price to pay for paradise. Keeping in mind I have only been here for five months. I did visit in October and February and it was beautiful then as well.

2. Did the move cost me more than expected? Not at all. I did a good deal of research on what my expenses would be and I would say that I ended up spending exactly what I anticipated I’d spend. I couldn’t bring a whole lot of my things with me and I’ve been careful not to buy things I don’t need. When I was selling and giving away stuff in Portland, I realized I often had two or three sets of certain household things. We buy more than we need these days and I’m trying my best to avoid doing that. I like being a minimalist; it feels less burdensome and it will make life simpler if I move again.

3. Have I made friends? Friendship is something that happens over a period of time. You can know someone for a very long time and never consider them a friend and you can know someone a very short period of time and call them a good friend. I have met a handful of people who will be lifelong friends. Portuguese people are very private and not easy to get to know; however, the woman who runs my gym is social, funny, and very warm. She has welcomed me to Faro and introduced me to several wonderful potential friends. I’ve also met a few people through friends in the States. In addition, I have had a few people reach out to me through my blog. I have to say I didn’t expect that to happen. I have been very fortunate about having rich friendships my entire life; it’s been pretty much the same here.

I’ve been dating more than I did in Portland or New York. I think there is a simple explanation for that:  I am open to meeting someone.

4. Do I miss the States? I miss my family, my friends and the food. I do not miss the politics, the cost of living, and/or the climate.

5. Are there things I didn’t consider? I did not consider how the change in environment would affect Giorgio’s health. The new bacteria and the climate change, did a number on Giorgio. We’ve had to visit the vet several times. I have also had allergies resurface. I have learned that all of this is normal and I guess I just didn’t think about it or anticipate it.

 6. Have I learned anything about myself? If you stop to think about it and you are willing to access your life, you come to realize that there is always something to learn about yourself. Maine revealed things related to ego and the leaving of New York City, my career and birthplace. In Portugal, I rarely if ever talk about the past. I’m writing about it in my blog, but what I discuss more than anything these days is the present; the now.

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Acceptance of my age, my wrinkles, and my many imperfections. Someday soon I hope to recognize that some might consider me an attractive 59-year-old. In truth, that reality seems far away.

 

7. Would I do it again and would I choose the same place? Yes and definitely. The same country, the same city and the same condominium.

8. Where do I go from here? Well . . . I’m going to just wait and see (that’s the new me). Two moves ago I said, “This is my last move.” I don’t say this or think this anymore. Property value is going up, up, up in Faro. Maybe in a few years I’ll buy an Italian villa on the Amalfi coast or a place right on the ocean in the Algarve. Or maybe I’ll just use Faro as my home-base and go to all the places I’ve dreamed about visiting.

A side note:  It’s not necessarily better here, it’s just a welcome change. Change is good, right?

Blogging has been an excellent way to let family and friends know how I’m doing. I’ve been keeping a journal for 35 years and blogging has sort of taken the place of journaling. It’s very intimate and freeing. I highly recommend either or both.

 

Coming up:

Lisbon this week for a few days

Catania, Sicily, October 1 to 7

Morocco in December (with friends from Maine)

 

 

 

 

 

More Money on Experiences and Less Money on Stuff

 

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The 34 footer I spent the weekend on in Portimão

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Portimão Sailboat Experience:  My Big Adventure

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

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

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

Day One

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

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

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

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

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

Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

Day 3

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

Other Adventures

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I paid to fly a plane; an experience I’ll never forget. I paid to jump out of one too (another one)!

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In Mexico. It was really hot and sticky and I was thinking, “Why did I do this?”

The day I learned how to butcher a hog

My friend MJ and I tooled around Sintra in this three-wheeled sardine can

Why Portugal, Why the Algarve, & Why Faro

 

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

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

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

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

Some “Why” Questions:

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

 

Why Overseas?

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

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

 

Why Portugal?

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

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

 

Why Faro?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What more can I ask of a city?

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

 

 

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

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

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There are several islands off the coast of Faro that offer spectacular beaches.

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Farol Island’s lighthouse is just a ferry ride through the Ria Formosa. A 5 Euro round trip ferry ride is a great way to go to the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Next?

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

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

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

 

Coming to Terms With Aging

 

 

*See note below

 

You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide

When I made the decision to leave the States:  my friends, my family, and my home; I also made the decision to leave some baggage behind as well. I’m not ashamed to say I have baggage; I’m fairly certain that all adults have baggage and lots of it. Coming to terms with getting older and losing my youth, has been one of the most difficult challenges of my life. As with so many other things I write about, I know others, many others, share my angst.

I decided awhile back, that rather than ignore the inner turmoil about aging, I would face those feelings head on. I challenged myself to look in the mirror when I didn’t want to, to tug on that sagging skin under my chin, to grab and hold onto my growing love handles; by doing this, I am fully embracing every imperfection. In truth, they are only imperfections because I identify them as such. I am learning that it is much healthier to just accept my aging body. To admire every line and to see the aches and brown spots as a reminder that I am alive. Not so easy this. Often I take two steps forward and three steps back. I know that it’s a process and I am determined to conquer this challenge. I welcome your thoughts on the subject.

 

Men are from Mars . . .

I don’t think it is sexist or stereotyping to state that this aging gracefully challenge is greater for women and gay men. Western society places a great deal of pressure on these two groups to stay young; the goal is to remain desirable. You have an inner desire to walk into a room and be noticed. When this stops happening, and it stopped for me over 20 years ago, you begin to feel less than.

There are things I have done to convince myself that I am still young and vital. One of them is something many men do, gay or straight, and that is to buy a shiny new sports car. I’ve done this more than once and although it does actually help make you believe you are young and fetching, trust me, it doesn’t last. Another thing I have done is to shop and purchase clothing that is suited for a younger customer. I actually wore skinny jeans for a few months last year, a truth I am not proud to admit. Thank goodness I came to my senses by summer. Why didn’t anyone tell me that it was very wrong. I know that my friends and family members are reluctant to share their thoughts in fear of hurting my feelings or facing a defensive me — I assure you that I’d rather be gently slapped into a more appropriate conscious state.

 

When I Started Feeling the Effects of Aging

I’m getting very close to being 60, so it may be difficult to recall when I started to feel the effects of aging. I remember when my hair started thinning and receding in college, I became very concerned about baldness. Although, embracing baldness seems to more prevalent these days, clearly society and the media place a huge emphasis on a full head of hair. When a person is described as someone who is getting older and letting themselves go, “fat and bald” are usually adjectives used in that description. If you yourself are bald, that seems somewhat derogatory. Now I know there are women out there that will say that they find baldness in men attractive. I believe that to be true because woman are much less concerned with physical attractiveness and more concerned with character and other attributes — sorry for the generalization, but that’s been my experience (it’s what women tell me). And you gay men know what I’m talking about. Just go to a gay resort and you’ll see what I mean. Many men cover up their bald heads in shame or surround themselves with eye candy in order to feel better.

Then there is the “fat” part of that “fat and bald” description. We all know that it is more difficult to keep weight off when you’re older. You reach a point in your life when you could afford a nicer bottle of wine and a thick steak and then you find yourself having to cut back on these foods because they negatively affect your health; not just your appearance, but your overall health. I don’t have to tell you about heart attacks rates, stroke, diabetes and other weight related illnesses. At a certain age you begin to think about the future and your quality of life.

 

 

*See note below

 

Dating Sites

I hate dating sites and I refuse to revisit this painful way of meeting people. Not all, but many people on dating sites have no regard whatsoever for your feelings. They send you flattering emails and attractive photos with promises of meeting up for a cocktail and then, poof, they’re gone! You haven’t said or done anything at all to warrant such rude behavior and you’re left wondering if it was you. Why put yourself through that kind of torture. For those of you out there who have been successful . . . good on you!

Of course there is always the meeting someone at a club option; however, in my world, you have to stay awake until 1:00 a.m. and that is no longer even a possibility.

 

Slowing Down or Halting the Process

There are a number of people in my life who believe they have discovered the formula for keeping aging at bay. They take 23 supplements at various times of the day, they eat only fresh vegetables they themselves witnessed being plucked from the ground, no bread, no carbs, no meat, no alcohol, no life! And then of course it is essential that they share their secret with you and convince you that they know better . . . well the experts said so. I have always said that if I learned today that I would live five years longer if I never ate bread again, I would eat bread and die a happier fella. True, I am only 59 years old, if you share the same truth when I’m 80, my answer may be different.

 

Golden Hawn said it best:

“What helps with aging is serious cognition – thinking and understanding. You have to truly grasp that everybody ages. Everybody dies. There is no turning back the clock. So the question in life becomes: What are you going to do while you’re here?”

 

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Pria de Faro this week. I wouldn’t use this photo for a dating site (if I were to ever go on one again). My big nose, double chin, big bald head; show prominently.

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But I might use this one. The graininess makes it even artsier (like a Renoir).

*stock photos

Dreaming Sweet Dreams

I am a dreamer. I don’t mean:  that I dream about being rich, that I dream about being a movie star, that I dream about having my own island, or that I dream about world peace; although it would be nice to have. What I mean is that lately, I dream colorful, wild, and memorable dreams. I cannot recall another time in my life when this was true. However, admittedly, when you get older, most of it becomes a blur.

When things change in your life, hopefully for the better, it’s difficult not to theorize about the cause of those changes. In some ways, that’s the fun part. It keeps things in perspective and helps one to feel more grateful for the good things. As I get older, appreciating the truly good things in life, has taken on new meaning.

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Photo by Gladson Xavier on Pexels.com

 

My theory is that this move overseas has been a fairly significant factor in the many changes I am experiencing; dreaming more is obviously just one change. It is my understanding that there are many factors that affect our sleep patterns. When we have things weighing on our minds, this will impact our dreams; your sleep will be fitful and not as deep. The other factor I am aware of is alcohol. When you drink heavily, the alcohol will affect your sleep and you will not dream as much. Therefore, these three factors:  the move, less drinking, and less on my mind; have contributed to more frequent dreams and better sleep overall. I like this Huffington Post piece on dreaming and sleep quality, www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/11/30/dreams-sleep-quality_n_8513908.html?guccounter=1.

I’ve been fortunate when it comes to the quality of my dreams. I’ve only had three or four nightmares throughout my entire life. They were bad dreams and I’m pleased that there have only been a few. My dreams tend to be very pleasant and they often offer little life lessons — that’s if I pay attention. I frequently play out conversations, that for some reason, I cannot have in my waking life. I tell people what is on my mind and wake up feeling better; lighter. It doesn’t always work; however, it is more often than not, a better way to deal with conflict. I’ve discovered that most people prefer to avoid conflict. I worked for a woman in New York that I could not share my concerns with. Conflict avoidance was her MO and I learned other ways to survive. I would often have a dream where I got my point across and then realized later, that all I really needed was to vent — dreaming provided a means to that end. We drag our baggage through life; dreams can be a positive way of getting rid of baggage.

When I can, I write down my dream and then use a dream interpretation (this one can be useful) app or website to figure out what the dream might have meant. Through my dreams, I have learned a great deal about the kinds of things my mind is processing. I recently had a dream where I was free-falling and learned that it probably had a lot to do with my move overseas and letting go of negative aspects of the past. When life is happening all around you, you’re not always in touch with your feelings or why you’re responding to people and things a certain way; your dreams can help you to better understand your moods.

A piece on dream interpretation from Very Well Mind might enjoy. Have a great week.

 

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A gin tasting at Cafe del Arte in Vilamoura on Monday.  Five excellent and very different gins to taste. Pacing myself was a challenge. An Uber home was a good plan.

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These are not the little necks I have eaten my whole life. They are smaller clams and are full of flavor. Chef Carla at Carla’s Curve in Mexilhoeria Grande serves them up with a big small and the most distinctive laugh in the Algarve.

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From my B&B (Casa Risa) window in Mexilhoeria Grande. A relaxing weekend by the pool with a good book and excellent eats.

 

If you’re looking for a good film on Netflix, Sunday’s Illness is outstanding.  In Spanish and French with English subtitles, it is cinema at its best:  great acting, beautiful cinematography, haunting music, and poignant themes. I cannot get several of the scenes out of my head and that’s a good thing.

The Air Travel Battle Within

 

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Photo by Anugrah Lohiya on Pexels.com

I have been struggling with something for years and I’m afraid a recent situation has caused my concern to come to a head. My issue is air travel. No doubt many share my uneasiness and much has been written on the topic. Here’s my take:

Air travel sucks big time! Unless of course you have a private jet and “people” to handle the details of your travel. I’m not in that category of flyers and I doubt I will ever be. I had an incident a few days ago at Edinburgh airport that still has me in cold sweats. A flight delay of over an hour led to an unfortunate domino effect with my connecting flight and had I not advocated for myself, I would have either had to spend the night in either Cardiff or Lisbon. Eight hours sitting at the airport was gruesome and disturbing, but an overnight at some airport hotel would have been more than I could bear on Sunday. It’s happened before and it’s never a pleasant experience.  What troubled me most was the airline’s handling of the problem. Their first solution was to put me on three flights which would get me home sometime after midnight — this was being negotiated at 1:00 p.m. I was fairly certain that with three flights pending, a delay or cancellation was almost a guarantee.

I asked about a direct flight I knew was scheduled later Sunday afternoon. “Oh no, that’s not possible,” I was told. When I questioned the denial of my request, I was told that the airline going direct was, “not a partner airline.” The one great thing about being a New Yorker is that you are taught to never accept an initial “no” response. I gently pressed and was told that I had a good case because my handler was having some trouble getting me on the Lisbon to Faro leg. A tiny corner of my brain was hopeful. There were at least 10 people behind me on the customer service line. Several of these troubled individuals even made their way to the counter to beg for assistance. When I heard some of the issues being presented I thought that my own issue was rather insignificant. I even allowed one woman to remain at the counter so that her problem could be resolved before mine (I knew I was not going anywhere, anytime soon). She was traveling to Australia; she somehow misplaced her boarding pass, and was being sent to several different help desks for a new one. This particular help desk did not have a printer and sadly, this distraught and panicked air traveler missed her flight. She had a family of four waiting for her arrival and I could not shake her justifiable despair.

I forgot to mention that my help desk person was mild-mannered and persistent. She asked me to stand in front of her so that no one else would interrupt. She was put on hold with my airline (I won’t mention the name until this is resolved) for a very long 10 minutes. She was able to get the airline to “sort of” commit to a refund of my ticket. She went ahead and booked me on the Ryanair direct flight. Some of you may read this and wonder if Ryanair got me home. To be fair, Ryanair has become a more efficient, friendlier (I may be pushing it) airline. I was grateful despite the fact that my flight was seven hours away. It was direct and there were five or six nice bars at the airport. I knew that I was about to have a real martini in a real martini glass — still haven’t found one in Faro.

A really great thing happened at the bar I chose to visit. I had been having major iPhone issues over the past week and I asked my neighbor if he knew how to force close an app. My Waze app was doing flips on me and I couldn’t erase it. He tried to help and we both failed; however, he asked me if my screen had been replaced recently. I said that I had replaced it a few weeks back. He asked me if I had gone to an iphone store and I laughed because that store doesn’t exist in Faro. I told him about this Chinese repair shop near my apartment and he said, “I hate to tell you this but you got a bad screen.” If I’m going to be truthful, I thought his diagnosis was wrong. Turns out he was right. They replaced my screen with a new and improved screen and all is well in iphoneland . . . for now. My airport angel strikes again! Kenneth took my mind off of the delay for 90 minutes and now I have a London acquaintance.

Anyway, I digress. This kind of delay can cause more anxiety than a fourth cup of coffee and I am once again questioning air travel. After all, I can take a train or drive to several other countries and I can walk to my own local paradise. There are obvious advantages to remaining closer to home:  save money, eat healthier, less stressful, do not have to leave Giorgio with a dog sitter, explore local sights you may not see otherwise, and countless others. Still, my hunger to see and experience as much of the world as possible while I have the energy and the means, is not an easy urge to resist.

Prior to opening my laptop to write, I researched the airfare for Sicily. I also have not been able to shake the idea of an African Safari. That should tell you the should tell you the clear winner of this battle.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

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Last night’s sunset from the back patio of my apartment. I should probably have opened the window before I took the shot. Two glasses of Sangria in, I really wasn’t thinking straight.

Exploring Edinburgh and Other Random Bits

One of the many reasons I moved to Portugal was to be closer to the rest of Europe so that I could travel more easily from country to country; and that includes countries on the African continent. I will get to Edinburgh in this piece, I promise.

My first country outside of Portugal to visit was Scotland. It’s was only a three-day trip because Giorgio is still getting acquainted with his new home and I don’t want him traumatized further by not having me around.

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Perhaps I’m over thinking Giorgio’s state-of-mind

The great thing about living in Faro is that you have easy access to every form of transportation and getting around is inexpensive. I had to drop Giorgio off by his sitter and I was cutting it close for time, so I took an Uber to the airport — less than ten Euros. I’m here on a temporary residence visa until my SEF (the immigration office) appointment in August, so of I was somewhat unsure of the complexities of travel from one Euro country to another. The border patrol asked questions about my visa status; however when I shared that I had an August appointment they believed me. When I arrived home last night when I told the border patrol officer I had moved to Faro, he actually said, “Good that you got away from Mr. Trump; smart fella.” It was almost midnight and I was spent from a day of travel, but I said to him, “How could you have known that one was of my reasons for leaving the States?” It was a wonderful welcome home.

I am not going to make this a travelogue about Edinburgh, but I have included a few photograhs and I will say this:  if you’re looking to travel to a city filled with history, incredible architecture, welcoming people, great restaurants, fantastic museums (mostly free), great transportation, many Airbnb options, and the desire to have hassle-free fun, Edinburgh is the place to go. Old Town, where I stayed, reminded me of the East Village in New York; filled with ethnic restaurants, young people and grit. I cannot say a negative thing about this Scottish treasure. If you would like more details about anything I am sharing, please write.

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This was a Japanese restaurant in the Edinburgh airport where your food passes by you on a conveyor belt. I had never seen anything like it. The dishes were  color coded according to the price. It was fast, delicious and what I thought was a brilliant concept (especially in an airport).

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This not-so-attractive bridge in the city centre was a good spot for a photo. The wall was a bit high for good pictures of the city, but if you leaned over, you got to see some great sights. I got the hat for four pounds at a thrift shop; it still at the original price tag on it.

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The Scotland Royal Museum is always free, open seven days a week and had some beautiful exhibits. This was a fashion exhibit — loved it.

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I walked into this sweet little coffee shop and the owner was being very playful bantering back and forth me with about what I’d been up to the night before. I didn’t expect it t all and really enjoyed his company. It truly felt like you were visiting an old friends home and his latte was perfection. If I lived in Edinburgh I’d return to The Coffee Mill.

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I discovered this grave on a guided tour. If you ever want a quick overview of a city, do a guided tour as soon after you arrive as possible, then you get to see where you want to spend your time. This is the grave of Grayfriar’s dog Bobby. When Grayfriar died in 1872, Bobby went to where he was buried and refused to leave his grave site. Although stray dogs without a license were normally put down, Bobby was so loved by the locals, a license was purchased for him and a dog house was constructed so that he could remain near the grave. He lived to be 16 years old and was loved by all in the neighborhood. Today there is a statue of Bobby and a pub named after him next to the cemetery. I’m hoping that all of this story is true. A tombstone erected where Bobby was buried and visitors lay fetching sticks at his grave.  If you don’t love this story, we are no longer friends.

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The Edinburgh Castle (click for more info), dates back to the 1100s and has so much fascinating history, I could not pretend to do it justice — go see it.

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These little stairways and courtyards exist everywhere and one is more interesting than the other. You just have to walk and discover.

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The Royal Mile is commercial, but closed to traffic, filled with happy people and historical sights. It takes you right to the base of the castle.

 

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I climbed “close” to the top of Arthur’s Seat for a truly magnificent view of Edinburgh. Admittedly, it wa quite the workout, but I’ll bever regret the sweat and time it took it do it. I also got to meet a lost jugger. I helped her find her way and she was great company climbing down. Random strangers can make your day. This video may give you a glimpse of this spectacular vista.

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The view of Arthur’s Seat from my Airbnb. I had no intention of climbing to the top, but it beckoned me and I could not refuse the invitation.

I’ll wrap up by telling you that choosing Edinburgh was not a long, thought out decision. I knew that a getaway would be good for me and it was just that. I came back with a true appreciation of the new home I have chosen. As I passed my new neighborhoods in Faro, I marveled at its history and beauty. Edinburgh and Faro look and feel nothing alike, but isn’t that the beauty of the planet we inhabit.

On another note:

The piece below was purchased quite a few weeks ago. I haven’t mentioned it because I was waiting for it to be hung in my bedroom and then I was going to snap a shot of it and show it off. I’ve been searching for a tile tradesperson willing to hang it on my wall (the way I want it to be hung). I’m closer to finding “that” person. What I love about this piece is that the original artist made one of the figures ambiguous. When I first looked at it I thought for certain it was two women. The truth is that it doesn’t really matter and that is preciously what I love about it. I love the posters from the early 20th century; I especially love this one. I probably should have made sure the tiles were straight before I photographed it — you can see why I love it.

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16 Tiles, painted and then fired; original poster circa 1920. I met the artist and was thrilled to discuss where and I how I intended to hang the tiles. From a ceramic shop in Olhão. I promised her I’d send a photo of where it will live. Artists care a great deal about how their work is displayed and why shouldn’t they.

Lastly, we lost one of my favorite celebrity food personalities this week. Anthony Bourdain was a complicated person; he was candid, intelligent, creative and paved the way for so many. I had the good fortune to meet him and work with him at The French Culinary Institute. He was a gentlemen and truly enjoyed mentoring students. He will be missed by many.