A Taste of Vienna

 

 

 

 

I’m afraid I may disappoint; not because I didn’t love Vienna, but because I spent three days there doing next to nothing. I love to walk, so I walked a lot. I did some things while I walked and I’ll mention a few. I also ate; I ate well. I’ll tell you about a few of my meals.

 

A Travel Tale of Woe That Ends Well

Allow me to start with a travel story while it’s fresh and still has me a bit shaky. Sunday morning I had a 5:30 a.m. flight. Since I had to be at the airport by 4:15 a.m., I didn’t sleep much Saturday night; in fact, I don’t think I slept at all. When it was time to leave my Airbnb, I gathered up all of my belongings and I placed the key in the lock box. It was about 3:45 a.m. when I stepped outside and called an Uber. The car came quickly. Because I hadn’t slept much, it felt more like an out-of-body experience. I had a very talkative driver from Serbia. While he was chatting I reached into my backpack to check for my boarding pass and passport. I have a deep pocket where I usually keep important things. I pulled out the boarding pass and checked for a terminal number and there was none. I reached back in for my passport and it was not there; shit.

I did what one usually does when they think something is where it’s supposed to be; I checked again, and again, and again. My passport was nowhere to be found in my backpack. My mind started going to dark places:  it’s been stolen, it fell out of my backpack in my Airbnb, the owner of the Airbnb entered the apartment while I was out and took it. I came very close to asking the driver to pull over. I was telling myself to stay clam and tried to consider all of my options. I was inclined to ask the driver to take me back to the apartment, but the keys were in a lockbox behind a locked door — no way I could get back in.  I would have had to call Ben, the owner, and wake him in the middle of the night and ask him to meet me there. I was fully aware that if I did this, I’d miss my flight. On the other hand, I wasn’t going anywhere without my passport. The decision I made was an important one and I hope that I remember to do the same in the future. I decided to breathe. I figured the best thing to do was just stay calm for the rest of the ride and then sort it out at the airport. The driver was unaware of the situation.

He dropped me off at Terminal 3 and that turned out to be the wrong terminal; the least of my concerns.

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Vienna International Airport at 4:00 a.m.

 

We unloaded my carryon and I set it down on the curb. I was going to check every corner of my backpack and my carryon. I unzipped the top zipper of my carryon and to my very pleasant surprise, there was my passport. I must have sat on the curb feeling very satisfied for a good couple of minutes. I had to think hard to recall that I had transferred my passport to my suitcase so that I would not lose it while carrying my backpack around Vienna. I think the incident was a combination of lack of sleep and some “normal” memory loss. I was so relieved that I smiled for the remainder of the day. This was of course, a teachable moment for me:

  1. Always check that you have all of your documents before you leave for the airport.
  2. Keep your wits about you and more often than not, you will find what you’re looking for.
  3. Avoid flights before 6:00 a.m.

 

Vienna On My Mind

I have had to step back to consider what I would tell you about Vienna. I have very mixed feelings about this city. The architecture is amazing and the history is rich. But frankly, it was difficult to be there and not think about the atrocities of the Nazi’s and WWII. The grand buildings and the history of resistance and death, filled me with dread. As I walked through the city I felt all sorts of emotions — mostly anger.

Then I watched the students march to express their anger concerning climate change; this shifted my thoughts to hope. Apparently, the march was happening throughout Europe and has been a regular Friday event. Encouraging thoughts replaced the dread.

 

 

 

I don’t mean to be overly dramatic. It wasn’t that long ago when horrible things occurred in this part of the world. It became more and more obvious that the Viennese are well aware of their horrific history and that they are remorseful and have, along with other parts of the world, righted their wrongs. Still, we should never forget.

 

A Few Excellent Meals

I travel in order to find foods that will delight and satisfy. I’m constantly in search of the meal that will blow me away. Both of these restaurants made me very happy in my quest for creativity and perfection:

 

Otto e Mezzo

I have complained about this before, but it is unfortunately true:  there just aren’t that many good Italian restaurants in Faro. Portuguese people love their own dishes and I can’t say I blame them. Since Faro is not much of a tourist town compared with the rest of the Algarve, excellent Italian is scarce. Therefore, when I travel, I look for good Italian food.

I hit the jackpot with Otto e Mezzo. It’s the real deal. A classically trained chef, simple and elegant aesthetic, outdoor dining, and an uncomplicated and delightful menu. I was so pleased to have done my homework and found this gem. I had a simple garden salad that was perfectly dressed; incredible cherry tomatoes and mixed greens. For my entree, I had a pasta dish that has always been in my top three:  penne arrabbiata (click for recipe). It was so perfect, I sat with it for a long time and savored every bite. The homemade pasta was cooked al dente and the sauce was spicy and memorable (I’ve thought about this pasta a lot since returning home). The meal was accompanied by an Italian house red that was a good value and paired well with the pasta. I believe my server was the chef’s wife and I knew I could trust her right from the start. I was way too full for dessert, but I am certain they would have all been delicious. I thanked the chef on the way out; his obvious appreciation made the meal even more satisfying.

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Penne Arrabbiata

 

Yong Street Food Kitchen

A varied menu of Asian street food that was worth the wait. The chef had gone out for 30 minutes so I had to be patient; not one of my best assets. Bibembap is one of my favorite Korean dishes, therefore, it was a must and it did not disappoint. I also had a couple of delicious pork belly buns, filled with all sorts of savory additions and oozing hoisin sauce. It was one of those menus where I wanted every dish on it and I had to control myself. I spied a lemon soda I haven’t had before (didn’t write down the name); not too sweet and paired well on a warm Viennese afternoon.

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Bibembap (click for fun video)

 

Vienna is a progressive city filled with street food, art and 200,000 university students; the largest number in Austria. Wherever there are universities and young people, you will find contemporary design and creative dishes — this aspect of Vienna made me very happy.

I had some fresh oysters at the Naschmarkt and if I’m going to be honest, it was because of the display. It was a beautiful outdoor space, on a perfect day and that made it special. Pricey and poor service nearly ruined it for me.

 

 

 

Don’t eat a meal at the Naschmarkt unless someone directs you to a special place. It’s better to snack at some of the smaller stalls.

 

Coffee/Breakfast

 

 

Breakfast at Vollpension was perfect after extensive travel the night before. I was thirsty, hungry and tired. This relaxing spot (looked like a Bohemian living room) was exactly what I needed early the next morning. I got to watch them set up and put all the cakes out. I had a traditional Viennese breakfast:  soft boiled eggs and brown bread. This was my first Viennese coffee and it was strong and creamy.

 

Sites Worth Seeing

Most of what I saw while in Vienna was on my walkabouts. I wasn’t really in the mood for museums because the weather was exceptional. I did walk into a few buildings just to see part of the interior. Many of the buildings were blocks long and very garish.

I went on an Airbnb tour:  The Hidden Gems of Vienna, the guide was knowledgable and he spoke English well. The tour was three hours long and we were shown beautiful courtyards, passageways and permanent artwork.

Some of what I captured for my memory of Vienna:

 

 

Not to be missed:

Karmelitermarkt — outstanding outdoor farmers market, food stalls and artists

Stephansdom — a gorgeous catholic cathedral with art installations

Naschmarkt — flea market on Saturday and food stalls and restaurants seven days a week

Heeresgeschichtliches Museum — impressive architecture

Karlskirche — beautiful structure

Secession — gold globe art at the top of the building

Leopold Museum, MUMOK and Museums Quartier

Parlament — wow; very big

The Danube — beautiful river through the city

Augarten — Porcelain Manufactory

Staatsoper — Opera House

Akademie der bildenden Künste

Haus der Musik

 

It’s a long and certainly not all-inclusive, list. Honestly, the buildings are massive and go on forever. The city is clean, safe, and walkable. The metro system is easy to navigate and reasonably priced (2,40 Euros). There are outdoor cafés and bars everywhere. Innenstadt, City Center, can be easily located and trekked.

 

New Vienna: 

On the outside of the inner city is the new Vienna you’ll want to see (my guide pictured below). Modern architecture, new hi-rise buildings and an expansive university. I also walked through an amusement park that boasts the largest ferris wheel of its kind and a couple of a casinos (for a change, I stayed away). This park is over 100 years old and was filled with happy Viennese families. It was only six stops on the metro, outside the city centre.

 

My Airbnb host, Ben, wrote to tell me that it rained the day that I left. Apparently, it rained for three weeks before I arrived and then they had sun for three days. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I must have done something good.

Estelle flew home with me. I met the gentleman who painted her and I could not resist. She is now part of my collection:

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Traveling as an American Expat: Morocco & Seville

My New Backyard (Europe and Africa)

 

 

Happy New Year! It’s nice to be back after a couple of weeks of celebrating and traveling.

If you prefer a travel blogger who provides the easiest way to get there and all the places to go, stay and eat; that’s not me. I’ll give you a glimpse of what I experienced and then some thoughts on culture, value, ease, etc. I may occasionally plug an exceptional restaurant and/or hotel. I want this to be fun and it won’t be if I have to chronicle my trips from start to finish.

I titled this piece “Traveling as an American Expat” because I noticed that each time I have left Portugal it has been very easy to exit and even easier to re-enter. I’m not stating that every American has the same experience that I have, but I have admittedly been pleasantly surprised. I have left Portugal a dozen times and I have only had to show my resident visa once and that was in Edinburgh and it took all of three seconds. I look around at border patrol/customs and I notice others do not have it as easy; this is especially true for middle easterners and that makes me sad. I won’t go into political implications and biases, but suffice it to say that I am ashamed of how many in this world are treated because of their residence or religion.

Allow me to come clean about a few things before I begin:

  1. I am extremely fussy. I like things a certain way and I’m rarely if ever completely satisfied; ask my friends.
  2. I often learn as I go. Because I sometimes make impulsive or rash decisions, I usually make a mistake and then try not to repeat it.
  3. I don’t take pictures of everything and I don’t go on social media every time I have an experience. I’m trying to be more present and that means less time on my cell phone.
  4. I don’t rely on TripAdvisor or sites where people share their opinions. I find that the average person’s standards are not up to snuff. I’m feeling somewhat hypocritical because I have been known to share my dining critiques on social media. Some people will write nice things because they can never say anything bad. Some people will always be nasty because they have no idea how else to be. Some people will write about food:  quality, taste, value, and so on and they know nothing about food.
  5. I truly love traveling off-season. The deals are hard to beat and there are so few tourists, you get a true sense of what it’s like for the locals. You may discover that some places are closed off-season or hours might be curtailed; a minor inconvenience I am willing to put up with. Be sure to research the weather if that is a factor for you. I prefer to travel to places where temperatures are mild in winter.

 

Asilah, Morocco

 

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I took this photograph from the living room  our Airbnb in Asilah

 

I took a day trip to Tangier over 15 years ago. I have always felt that since I had a guide and I only spent eight hours there, that it wasn’t fair to say much about Morocco. The last time I took a ferry from Tarifa, Spain and to be honest, it was more about stepping foot on the African continent. I wanted to travel to Morocco the same way this time; however, the ferry schedule off-season is sporadic and getting to and from Tarifa would have been no easy task. Instead, I took a comfortable and very affordable (34 Euros roundtrip) bus to Seville, Spain and then a flight on RyanAir (120 Euro round trip with checked bag). RyanAir is a no frills airline. Check-in is sometimes chaotic; however, the staff is efficient and travel is a bargain. I had a new airplane on my return flight which was very comfortable. Honestly, the flight is 30 minutes and the best part of that is that if you have to pee, you can hold it in. When you arrive in Tangier, you breeze through passport control because there are no other people at the airport. I don’t believe there are more than 10 flights going in and out of that airport in a 24 hour period; it’s almost eerie it’s so void of people.

My friend Patrick rented a car to get to Asilah and there were no other people at Avis so we got our car in five minutes. Again, we left the airport without seeing very many other people. Take note that if you decide to drive on Moroccan highways (toll roads) you need Dirham because they don’t accept anything else except Moroccan money at the toll booths. The roads are new and easy to drive on; except for the very strong winds that Patrick was forced to navigate.

When we arrived in Asilah we followed our GPS to the house, but it took us to a huge public outdoor bazaar. There were hundreds (maybe thousands) of Moroccans participating in an outdoor festival. When were a little lost looking for our Airbnb. The crowds were walking in the streets and the people did not really seem to notice our car, nor did they care to move for us. It was a strange experience. We had to crawl through the crowds of people. We eventually got hold of our host who told us that we could not park outside of the house which was located inside a walled city — the Medina (not the famous one). The Medina was filled with shops and homes and very narrow streets. We had to park in a paid lot in the middle of the festival and walk to our house. It was only meters away from the parking lot, but prior to setting out to find our place, we had no idea how far we’d have to lug our bags.

 

We found our house, which was not quite like the photos, but isn’t that usually the case. Still, it was a beautiful house with ocean and Medina views. We would all have been happier if it wasn’t so cold in the house. It took us 24 hours to figure out how to make it warm and we only had 48 hours. The best thing about the house was Fatima. Fatima and her husband are caretakers for the house and they truly did take good care of us. We had a terrific breakfast and they made us a fire. Fatima quietly disappeared and made-up my bed during breakfast. I’m nearly 60 years old and I’m not sure anyone has made-up my bed since I was five years old — that was a real treat.

The house was in the Medina (not the one in Saudi Arabia), a walled city in Asilah, (click for more from Lonely Planet).

We had a full day to explore the Medina and the surrounding area. Fortunately, we are all walkers and so we walked. The Medina had narrow streets and pathways and lots of artisan shops (see my big purchase below).

We decided to celebrate New Year’s Eve at a restaurant in Asilah and we stumbled upon:

Port IV (click) Restaurant

This is probably Asilah’s best place to eat right now and we enjoyed it immensely. The service was good and almost all of us were happy with our choices (no photos, sorry). Having a full bar was a bonus and the owner made me a very authentic gin martini. I was one happy fella. Although I was unable to stay up till midnight, I did enjoy being with friends and being in Morocco; it’s a night I won’t soon forget.

 

Tangiers (Tanger for the locals)

 

 

As I mentioned earlier, I visited Tangier years ago. I had only seen a small part of the city and from what I have heard, it has changed quite a bit. I stayed at the Movenpick Hotel and Casino for two reasons:  First I got a great off-season rate for this four star property and second, I was in the mood for some blackjack. Both paid off. My room was spacious and beautifully appointed (some really nice bathroom products as well) and the casino was pleasant and on the second day, I celebrated a small winning streak. I had a nice meal at Miami Restaurant which was nearby. Their French pastries were especially lovely. Most Moroccans speak French and there were French pastries at every turn (you see smatterings of French culture). There was a great deal to enjoy and celebrate. I went home a winner in every sense of the word.

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The two official languages are Modern Standard Arabic and Amazigh (Berber). Moroccan Arabic (known as Darija) is the spoken native vernacular. The languages of prestige in Morocco are Arabic in its Classical and Modern Standard Forms and French, the latter of which serves as a second language for many Moroccans.

Languages of Morocco – Wikipedia

 

 

Note:  I walked into the center of the city and if I’m going to be honest, although the city was clean and no one warned me to be careful, I did not feel safe. Beggars follow you and they do not take no for an answer; it can be off-putting and disturbing.

 

Seville, Spain

 

 

I am in love. Seville is a beautiful, culturally rich, culinary mecca, just three hours door-to-door from my place in Faro. I only just returned home, but I have already booked a hotel for the end of February. I now know that Seville will be my home away from home. I am delighted to have rediscovered this breathtaking city.

You will enjoy these two pieces written by my food writer friend Joanna Pruess. She wrote about Seville for Specialty Food Magazine. Joanna primed me for my Seville adventure with her delicious point of view and fabulous recipes:

Tasty Bites of Seville (click for article)

Savoring Seville (click title)

The Seville bus station, train station, and airport are all linked by a four Euro bus that has many stops throughout the city and runs every 20 minutes or so. The bus and train stations are centrally located and easy enough to get to. These days Uber rides are very inexpensive and although I love to walk, you can’t beat a five Euro Uber ride across town. The drivers usually speak English and they are (for the most part) good drivers.

I stayed at very nice Airbnb for 65 Euros a night. It was a two bedroom apartment in a great area — 20 minutes by foot to just about everywhere.

Note:  I have mixed feelings about Airbnb (see one of my earlier blogs). Some hosts are gracious and generous and truly want you to have a great stay. Others, seem to only care about making a buck. Be sure to read reviews and check for amenities. After awhile, you become better at discerning the true intentions of the hosts. They also have a review policy I totally disagree with:  both parties have to complete a review in order for the review to be posted. If you write a warranted poor review and the host does not review you as a guest, the review will not be posted by Airbnb — it seems like a way to ensure only good reviews get posted. I’m not sure how Airbnb gets away with this.

The weather in Seville was great for walking around the city and spending time outdoors. I don’t believe it snows in Seville and when the sky is blue, it is an intense blue.

Shopping

I had one objective as I explored Seville. Paella is one of my favorite dishes to cook and I was determined to bring two ingredients back to Portugal:  Bomba (click) rice and saffron. I’ve tried many different kinds of cooking rice and Bomba is by far the best for paella (https://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/rice-recipes/chicken-chorizo-paella/ Jamie Oliver’s recipe.

Also  . . . Spanish saffron which is less pricey in Spain. I paid 14 Euros for about an ounce of saffron — it’s fresh and beautiful and I can’t wait to cook with it. I use it when cooking rice with meat dishes as well. I also purchased hand sliced jamon (Spanish cured ham) and some homemade nougat. Purchasing food in other countries is one of the best things about travel and there are many items that you should only purchase in the country where it originated or was made. Note:  if its fresh food and you’re flying, be sure to have it vacuum sealed.

There are many shopping areas throughout the city; small boutique shops are my favorite. I was also impressed with the number of small art galleries. The artwork I looked at was quite beautiful and not outrageously expensive. A plug for El Cortes Inglese, a big chain store where I can spend hours just milling about. It’s like the Harrod’s of Spain. I’m praying one comes to Faro or the Algarve soon; hey we have an IKEA and Zara, so . . . what are you Spaniards waiting for

 

Don’t miss out on Contenedor if you visit Seville. It’s fresh, delicious, quaint, and well priced. Make a reservation (click for website).

I have already booked a hotel for a few days at the end of February and beginning of March. I did not book an Airbnb because I do not plan on cooking and I’d prefer amenities like a gym and indoor pool when I’m doing a quick culinary exploration trip. Yes, I’m spoiled, but after 40 years of busting my ass, I deserve it. I will write more about Seville after that trip.

My big purchase in Morocco:

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I purchased this hand-woven Moroccan runner in Assilah. The merchant said, “I don’t haggle,” but I got the rug for about 80 Euro less than ask. He didn’t know what he was in for when I walked into his shop. I have all the information about where the rug was made and how it was made.

 

Observation

Last post of the year. Reiterating an important message:

One of the many advantages of being present is the ability to take in what is all around us. Observation is a privilege very few people take advantage of. It’s way too easy to get so caught up in your own small world that you fail to see the many wonders around you. I have been keenly aware of my surroundings the last few months and the following are just a few of my observations:

  • I have never seen as many elderly people out and about as I see here in Portugal. It probably has a lot to do with the weather in the Algarve, but I also believe it is the culture. What I am seeing is that seniors are respected and not ignored, I have been observing their daily routines and I am loving what I see. The patience they show with their pets is admirable. I see healthy people in their 80’s and 90’s; although some are using canes and walkers and moving slowly, they are outdoors and they are enjoying themselves. I am observing lots of smiles and warm greetings. I am also constantly seeing people ask the elderly if they need assistance. On the bus, in the streets, on the sidewalks; everywhere. A couple of reasons I’m liking what I see:  for one, I’m approaching 60; therefore, I’m closer to be a senior than I ever was before, and two, I have always enjoyed being around the elderly and this makes me feel really good. Note:  I live on a street with an uphill climb. People that are up there in years are climbing this hill daily and many are doing it without assistance. It just seems like a good thing.

Side note:  I have a friend here who is in her 70’s. Yesterday, she looked me right in the eyes and said, “You just need to slow down a little.” I was struck by her honesty and directness; the truth is she’s right.

  • Young people are engaging in conversation (not always on their cell phones). I live next door to a high school and I see young people outside of the school almost daily. It is refreshing to see that many of these young people are talking to and laughing with one another. I was honestly under the impression that this practice of communicating in person, was a dying art. It seems to me that it is as much a part of life for our youth as it’s ever been.
  • The streets of Faro are filled with cafés. Due to the mild weather here, these cafés are overflowing with people enjoying one another’s company and drinking espresso. If you listen closely to the chatter it has a wonderful rhythm. The best part is that an espresso is still under a Euro here. A café com leite (coffee with steamed milk; a latte) is often one Euro.
  • Bicycle riding is often quiet and graceful. I love watching people dart around on them or peddle slowly through neighborhoods; taking in the local scenery. I try to do it myself at least once a week — it’s a nice break from the day-to-day.
  • Foliage:  the shedding of leaves, the receding of plant life, the changing fauna and flora; are all amazing to observe. If you pay attention to the foliage on a daily basis, you will notice the subtle changes. The changing seasons are another gift our planet gives us. Life is a precious thing to behold.
  • The sounds of  the city:  dogs, children, people chatting, traffic; are delightful — a city symphony if you will.
  • Sit on a bench and just watch humankind. You’ll see snippets of stories, anguish, real life playing out, right under your nose and you’ll know you’re not alone.

 

The Noise in Your Head

I have a noisy brain. Constant static and colliding thoughts. Switching from listening to that brain chatter, to taking in the world around you, can be calming and hypnotic. In fact, it can be a whole lot more pleasant than what might be going on in your head.

How to Stop Your Noisy Brain (click for article)

 

Meditation

There are many different ways to meditate; however, I have found that just being present — living in the moment — is a great way to meditate. Being acutely aware of what is around you is an eye opener. It sort of shocks your body and in turn, your entire being wakes up. If I had read this just a few years ago, I would have been a doubter; what a bunch of mumbo jumbo. However, practicing meditation — in its many forms — over and over again, will demonstrate the power of mindfulness.

Remember, this is all part of my journey. There have been some bumps in the road, people who are toxic, rules meant to be broken, checks that didn’t come, and so forth, but so far, I’m on the right track. Thank you for listening.

 

Happy holidays folks; until next year!

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There will be no blog post for the period between December 30 to January 6 (two weeks). The next blog post will be January 13 — Morocco. The Canary Islands

Catania, Sicilia . . . Finally!

 

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

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

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

Here are some of my first impressions:

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

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

 

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No donuts in Portugal and I LOVE them!

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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Bad angle, sorry.

 

 

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

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

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Steak House

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

The names of Deborah’s traditional Sicilian dishes:

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

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

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

A Side Note: 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Papagni Pages Launch

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Expat Defined

I am most comfortable with the word “immigrant:  a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.” My father immigrated to the United States from Italy and now I have emigrated to Portugal. Why Portugal? Simple answer:  finances. There probably are parts of Italy where I could enjoy the same lifestyle, but there were quite a few boxes to check off and Portugal offered me the best value for my retirement dollars. Most of my ancestry are rooted in Europe; Western and Eastern Europe, so as long as I am in Europe, I am content.

Deciding on a specific location requires a complicated answer. I will simplify my response by naming my top eleven criteria (it would have been ten, but Giorgio was a big part of my decision):

  1. The weather — at this point in my live being in a warmer, not-so-humid, environment was a must.
  2. Food — fresh seafood was a must. It was essential to be located in a place where local food is readily available and accessible.
  3. Water — My bucket list has long included seeing the ocean from my terrace. I was fortunate to look out over the East River in New York City for a short period of time. The Atlantic is right beyond the Ria Formosa (a river leading to the ocean) and I can see it clearly from my terrace.
  4. People — I want to be around progressive, liberal-minded people; who care about the planet, one another and preserving their culture.
  5. Accessibility — the ability to easily travel from my location without a vehicle is important to me. I have worked toward a smaller carbon footprint for a long time. There is no need to own a vehicle if you can easily get from point A to B.
  6. Affordability — I need to rely on my savings. That is not to say that I will not earn money while living overseas; however, depending on future income is an easy way to get into trouble. I am assuming nothing; Maine taught me that much.
  7. Healthcare — quality and affordability
  8. Safety — Crime stats and safe for older folks
  9. The Environment — where does the country stand on global warming, regulations, philosophical posturing, etc.
  10. The People and Culture — Are people friendly and welcoming? Do they like Americans or resent them? Do they hold onto and observe tradition? Are the arts celebrated?
  11. Taking a Pet — quarantine would be a deal breaker.

I would have to say that most, if not all, of the above were non-negotiable. I did not list them in order of importance, although some criteria are a bit more important to me. Several were easy to research and others required a visit and a gut feeling. I would imagine that everyone’s list is different and that is completely understandable. I was able to make this decision independently; add others to the mix and it becomes slightly more complicated.

Keeping in mind that few things in life are permanent helped me make the decision to leave the U.S. I have moved a dozen or more times, and therefore I know that moving once more would be manageable. Better to sort all of this out before I’m unable to. One of the many lessons I learned is the satisfaction one is provided when shedding material “things.” We accumulate so much that we do not need and it does nothing more than burden us; bog us down.

And then of course there is the great unknown:  What if I don’t make friends? What if the anticipated earthquake happens while I’m living in Portugal? What if my money runs out? And on and on . . . A have a wise friend, John Mclaughlin, who often says, “Palms up to the universe.” I have been far too concerned with every “what if” for far too long. Allowing life to be more organic and spontaneous is a lesson we can all learn.

It’s been two weeks today and I have made a couple of friends, the earthquake hasn’t happened, and most of my fears have remained silly notions. No doubt that I have a lot to discover and learn. But in the meantime, I’ve eaten well, enjoyed a jazz concert, started spinning (cycle exercise) again, sharpened up my awful Portuguese, had a visitor from Ireland (Alison), partly furnished my condo, helped Giorgio settle in, went to see an American film (not dubbed; they don’t do that here) and started a blog. Not a bad start to the next chapter.

Future blogs will be all about adventures, observations, strange but candid thoughts, and whatever you the reader might request. There may be big news coming. I won’t know for a week or so; therefore, you will have to wait.

Link to a piece I wrote about my dad a few years ago for The Phoenix in Portland, Maine is at the bottom of the page. Formatting will improve as I get better at this. It’s sort of like learning a new language — oy vey.

Is the red background with white text too difficult to read? Weigh in please. Other thoughts?

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Pastel de nata
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The typical appearance of the pastel de nata, in this case, produced in Macau
Alternative names Pastel de Belém
Course Dessert
Place of origin Portugal
Region or state Santa Maria de BelémLisbon(originally); produced worldwide within the Lusosphere
Created by Religious of the Monastery of the Hieronymites
Serving temperature Fresh from oven, with cinnamon and icing sugar
Main ingredients Egg yolks
Variations Regional
Food energy
(per serving)
298 per 100 grams (3.5 oz) kcal
 Cookbook: Pastel de nata   Media: Pastel de nata

Pastel de nata (Portuguese pronunciation: [pɐʃˈtɛɫ dɨ ˈnatɐ]; plural: pastéis de nata), is a Portuguese egg tart pastry, originally from Portugal which can also be found in Brazil and other countries with significant Portuguese immigrant populations

Photos: 

1-Jazz on a Saturday night very close to home

2-A sample of the famous Portuguese tile work you see throughout the country

3-Pastel da nata–a delicious pastry/custard dessert you quickly learn you cannot live without

 

The Phoenix piece I wrote about my father: about