Portuguese Wine Country: Alentejo in All Its Splendor

I was discussing Portugal and all there is to discover with some friends recently. We decided that this is a good time to explore some of the places we have not yet visited. COVID-19 cases are way down in Portugal. This was a fairly impulsive trip with very little planning, save for the hotel in Vila Viçosa (booked on Hotel.com) and one restaurant reservation (see below). I was with friends that are adventurous, flexible, and enjoy a good gin & tonic now and then. Traveling with others is not always easy, therefore, it’s a pleasure to be with friends who enjoy similar experiences. Meet Richard and Tina from the UK.

Keep reading, they’re pretty, but what’s to come is prettier.

[As always, I will only mention restaurants and experiences worth noting.]

Alentejo is 12,182 sq. miles (see map below). It can be hilly in some places and then fairly flat in others, but the roads are excellent and for the most part, your GPS system will help get you to where you want to go. Many of the vineyards were closed to the public. It’s harvest time for white wine; my guess is that they do not want to expose their staff to the virus. I would imagine COVID-19 could ruin the harvest. We managed to find two vineyards that were open to the public. Both were exceptional and had safe practices.

The Alentejo includes the regions of Alto Alentejo and Baixo Alentejo. It corresponds to the districts of BejaÉvoraPortalegre and the Alentejo Litoral. The main cities are: ÉvoraBejaSinesSerpaEstremozElvas and Portalegre.

It has borders with Beira Baixa in the North, with Spain (Andalucia and Extremadura) in the east, with the Algarve in the South and with the Atlantic OceanRibatejo and Estremadura in the West. (Wikipedia)

Map of Portugal

Note: I live all the way down south in the middle of the Algarve. That’s the Atlantic Ocean in blue. Nothing like pointing out the obvious.

Our first stop on our three day road trip was Beja. Beja is a pretty little town, not that different from any other small Portuguese town; an old town area you need to walk into. We had a coffee at a café and strolled for a bit. Nothing special, but we only visited as a quick stop so that we would not arrive too early for our lunch reservation. Tina made us a reservation at a vineyard restaurant: Quinta do Quetzal (click for website) is the name of the winery. Quetzal Restaurant served up a memorable meal. Once again I did not take a lot of pictures because I truly wanted to savor the moment with my friends. We all had dishes we thoroughly enjoyed and wine was outstanding.

Lamb, sweet potato, and spinach

Honestly, COVID-19 has truly had me down in the dumps, but sitting at an outside table enjoying this food, lifted my spirits and returned me to a time before this virus when the splendor of the world could be fully enjoyed. We will get back there soon I hope.

We arrived at our hotel later in the afternoon.

Hotel Solar Dos Mascarenhas

Vila Vicosa

I booked through Hotels.com. I would have gotten the same great rate through Booking.com, but I get rewards through Hotels.com and a free night after 10 nights is very attractive. The hotel is nothing fancy, however, very comfortable (save for Tina and Richard’s squeaky bed. I only know this because they told me). A delightful pool and a pretty view from my room make it all worthwhile. Tina’s opinion of the hotel: “It was fine.” I give it a 7 out of 10.

Hotel Solar Dos Mascarenhas, Vila Vicosa, Outdoor Pool
Hotel Solar Dos Mascarenhas
Hotel Solar Dos Mascarenhas, Vila Vicosa, Hotel Interior

Vila Vaçosa

Two days in this beautiful and welcoming town is more than enough. The historical significance of the area will astound and delight. We got lucky with the mildest August weather imaginable. I must have down something good . . .

I’m going to stop in the middle of this blog to make a very big statement: Portugal is one of the world’s best kept secrets. I think it’s intentional. The Portuguese people would prefer to keep it all to themselves. Seriously, every part of this country that I visit is special for a different reason. The beauty of Alentejo is unmatched and fortunately for me, it’s only a few hours from home. [It should be noted that you cannot explore this part of Portugal without a car. Unfortunately, this is true for most of Portugal. You will find car rentals to be fairly reasonable.]

I was unaware of the famous marble quarries throughout the area we visited. The pink marble is what they appear to be best known for. We were struck by the amount of marble everywhere; even the sidewalks were lined in marble. On one of our gin & tonic stops, we learned that one of the quarries was shipping to New York City for a Sixth Avenue skyscraper. Apparently, much of the marble from this Alentejo is exported to the U.S.

The 14th century Vila Viçosa Castle was worth visiting and the Palace was beautiful, but the Palace did not open during our visit — the hours on the door said otherwise. Unfortunately, this is a frequent occurrence in Portugal and nothing can be done about it. A small price to pay for splendor.

Vila Viçosa September 2013-15a.jpg
Ducal Palace of Vila Viçosa

We had cocktails and tapas at several cafés in Vila Vaçosa and found friendly staff, a nice variety of cocktails and good food. There was a sophistication that I do not always see in the Algarve; I was pleasantly surprised.

J. Portugal Ramos Wines, Estremoz

We were fortunate to book a tour and tasting with Lúcia Coimbra at João Portugal Ramos Wines. The tour and tasting was 14.23 Euros (discounted after purchase) and lasted a couple of hours. We were able to see most spaces (not all because of COVID) and ended the tour with the tasting. Lúcia was a delightful and knowledgeable guide. J. Ramos is a family business; their history is rich and interesting. What has been created from nothing but land, since only the late 80s, is very impressive. They have vineyards in several parts of Portugal and partner with one other winery in the north of Portugal. Most J. Ramos wines were a treat to taste. I asked about wine awards and was impressed to learn Robert Parker scored most of their wines in the 90s (out of 100) and many have won many top awards. I was surprised to learn that the U.S. is one of their largest customers. They also export to several other countries. They make a delicious olive oil as well (sampled at the tasting and purchased).

The Estremoz location (the one we visited) is where all the wine ends up for bottling and quality control. I believe Lúcia told us that they can bottle 6,000 bottles an hour. The numbers of bottles produced for each label depends a lot on the harvest and some labels are intentionally small batch. I stood close to João Ramos’ private collection with awe and envy.

I’ll let you read about them here: https://www.jportugalramos.com/en/homepage/

At the end of the tour you can purchase wine, fire water (similar to cognac), olive oil; all at a 10% discount. I won’t say I got any bargains, however, I walked away with two large shopping bags and a big smile.

Lúcia made a reservation for lunch for us at Gradanha, Mercearia and Restaurant in the center of Estremoz, only a few minutes driving from the vineyard. We were fortunate to secure an outside table (the weather was perfect for al fresco dining). The restaurant and shop were beautiful. We enjoyed the food very much; however, our initial greeting was less than cordial. They were bombarded by new customers at 1:00 p.m. and they were clearly flustered and not very friendly. The food did not come quickly, but it was excellent. Tina and I had a shrimp and clam risotto and Richard’s black pork steak was outstanding. After a taste of his pork, I regretted my order — black Iberian Pork in Portugal is usually a sure bet. We had exceptional Portuguese pork more than once on this trip.

Évora

Tina suggested we stop in Évora for sightseeing and a coffee on the way home. It was about 30 minutes southwest of Vila Vaçosa and it is the center of Alentejo and its largest city.

Évora is the capital of Portugal’s south-central Alentejo region. In the city’s historic center stands the ancient Roman Temple of Évora (also called the Temple of Diana). Nearby, whitewashed houses surround the Cathedral of Évora, a massive Gothic structure begun in the 12th century. The Igreja de São Francisco features Gothic and baroque architecture along with the skeleton-adorned Chapel of Bones (Wikipedia).

Evora was considered a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1986. According to this organisation, Evora is a museum-city with roots dating back to roman times. The golden age happened in the 16th century, when the portuguese kings lived here.

What There is to See

The Top Ten Places to Visit in Alentejo — we only got to see a small part of this beautiful, culturally rich, historical region. The Pousadas (government owned and operated hotels — usually beautiful and worthy of a visit). They might all be closed because of COVID; I couldn’t tell from the site. We were disappointed that we didn’t think to check them out for availability.

I am looking forward to returning to this region often; certain to see and experience something new each time I visit.

Two things I see wherever I travel in Portugal:

  1. The Portuguese love to smoke. They can be steps away from you while you are eating outdoors and light up without any consideration. I find this all over Portugal and it makes me crazy.
  2. Dog poop is everywhere; all over the sidewalks, wherever you walk. I will never ever understand why these very polite, very reasonable, usually very considerate people, leave dog shit on the ground so that others accidently step in it. I sometimes confront people when I see it happening in front of me. A few have become very angry and tell me that there are people who are paid to clean it up. I assume they are talking about the street cleaners and to that I say, bullshit! They should not have to clean-up your dogs crap and besides, it might be hours or days before they get around to doing it. I remember this was the case in Brooklyn when I was a child, however, new news and fines have made this practice a thing of the past (for the most part). I wish this would change here. I’m tired of having to look down at the ground when there is so much beauty all around me. Okay, I feel a bit better now. If you live in a Portuguese town that doesn’t have this issue, let me know.
Venting Quotes Funny. QuotesGram
I’m sure this also applies to YOU

Cascais, Portugal and BelPonto Sushi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Night in Lisbon

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

A room with a view

The Ups and Downs of My Relationship With Food

Who Am I Kidding, I Feel Fat

 

 

 

Eight weeks into quarantine and no surprise that my weight is weighing heavily on my mind. Apparently, one of the by-products of quarantine is a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Out of nowhere you can become all weepy or conversely, elated. This week I was sitting on my sofa and suddenly I was crying. I just let the tears flow and I felt better when it passed. I guess the absence of social human contact is taking its toll.

Eating dulls the ache. With food as a major focus, I have become hyper-aware of my weight. I refuse to get on a scale, however, I know from the tight fit of my pants, that I have gained weight. Yes, I have to wear pants when I walk Paco or go to the market.

I have one full length mirror in my apartment. When I walk past it, I look away. I’ve developed that “if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist” attitude. I guess it’s a defense mechanism or perhaps complete denial?

I think quarantine is playing tricks on my mind:
Is “walked past” or walked passed” grammatically correct …
Passed” is a verb which is the past (heh) tense of “pass“. So you could say either “walked past” or “passed“, but not “walked passed“. … Walked is a verb. Past is an adverb (we walked past, she drove past).
 

Body Type

I have written about this before, so I apologize for repeating myself. Naturally human beings have different body types, the reality is that some of us will never be thin and some of us could never be fat. Unless I’m very ill, I will never be skinny. All my life I have dreamt of being skinny. I wish I knew why; I don’t necessarily like feeling this way, but it is what it is — the grass is always greener . . .

There have been a few times in my life where due to surgery or stress, I have dropped a good deal of weight. During those times, although psychologically I was happy to be thin, I looked terrible. My face is too long to be thin, my frame is too large and wide; therefore, without meat on my bones, I look sick. One would think that having this knowledge would be enough to settle my mind and I’d just be satisfied with a “healthy” look. One would think.

I have my father’s body and I seem to have a weight my body comfortably settles into. I know I have some control over how big I get, but I also know that my body type is genetic. So when will the mental agony end?

 

The Media

We all enjoy blaming the media for a lot of our issues. We have been looking at beautiful people in magazines and on screen for so long, the ideal body type is ingrained in our psyche. By now we all know that what the media might see as the “ideal” body type is not a representation of how most of us look.

Sit at an airport lounge when things get back to normal. You will see every type of shape imaginable. The vast majority of people in our world do not look like the people in magazines. There has been an effort in recent years to change that, however, it’s a slow process and we’re a long way off. It is a known fact that seeing a likeness of yourself depicted in the media, helps you feel more comfortable with your own body type.

A piece on body type worth looking at.

I loved it when I started seeing bald male models. Unfortunately, overweight middle aged male models are a long way off; probably not in my lifetime. When you do see it, it’s Joe Middle America in a sad sitcom or a reality crime show.

 

Health/Exercise

Good health is linked to good eating and exercise. I embraced this fact many years ago and I attribute my excellent health to living a lifestyle where nutritious fresh food is paired with daily exercise; providing for a better quality of life. However, because I am human and because I have weaknesses and character flaws, I often veer off course. This pandemic has been a good excuse to sit or lounge a lot more and therefore, gain weight from being sedentary. And then there is the baking . . . just because. I am exercising several times a week, but not moving nearly as much as I usually do. The age factors in and metabolism is the enemy. Cookies and cake and ice cream and rich savory dishes and trips to the grocery store as my only activity; all leading to weight gain. It’s a downhill spiral with no end in site.

People all over the world are experiencing the same problem, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Please allow my gym to reopen soon.

 

Letting it Go

Often, when you share these thoughts of being overweight or out-of-shape with friends or acquaintances, their first reaction is to say the following:

  • “You are not overweight.”
  • “You are the healthiest person I know.”
  • “Are you kidding me?”
  • “Are you fishing for a compliment?”
  • “You have nothing to worry about.”
  • “You should see a professional.”
  • “We all feel that way.”
  • “Have you looked around these days.”
  • “You know it’s not true.”
  • “You look great for your age.”
  • “This is a temporary situation.”
  • “Just buy new jeans.”

What people do not always understand, is that in no way do any of these statements make you feel better. You might be flattered for about three seconds, but the reality is, if you feel overweight, than nothing other than weight loss can make it go away.

 

Mind Games

Talking yourself into believing something, is common practice. I tell myself that everything in life is a trade-off. If I’m going to eat the things I love, I’m going to have to deal with a few extra pounds. I also tell myself that at my age, being slim and toned is not as important as it was in my 20s and 30s; after all, no matter what I do I will not have the body I once had. To be honest, I give up on dating at least 100 times a day.

I tell myself that what matters now is that I remain healthy so that later in life, when my body continues to age, I will maintain a good quality of life. For example, if you exercise and stretch your muscles, they will continue to help you move without pain and discomfort. Healthy lungs, a healthy heart, a stimulated brain, and so on, will all insure ease of movement and a sharp mind later in life. I’m not in a hurry to experience this, however, it is a motivator.

When the elderly are asked what they would have done differently, they often say the following:

  1. They would have worried less
  2. They would have exercised more
  3. They would have taken better care of themselves

 

An expert speaks:

Older people who smoked, didn’t exercise or became obese were regretful about it, but the issue wasn’t only about dying.

“Many people will say to themselves, ‘I enjoy smoking’ or ‘I don’t like to exercise’ or ‘I just like to eat — who cares if I die a little sooner?’” Pillemer noted.

“The problem is in this day and age is you’re not going to die sooner; you’re going to be stuck with 10 or 20 years of chronic disease as modern medicine keeps you alive.”

Their advice: Pay attention to your health and change your lifestyle if it’s making you unwell, otherwise the incredible burden of chronic disease will make your life miserable.”

Follow A. Pawlowski on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

I just keep telling myself that this will end soon and life will go back to normal. The truth is, because of my lifestyle and my love of rich foods, I will never be thin and that has to be okay. I’m grateful that I’m not diabetic, not obese, not addicted to sugar, not lazy, and not an alcoholic. I do consider that any of these issues could become an unwelcome reality.

 

Ina Garten is one of my favorite television personalities. She has been overweight since I started watching her cook. She wears clothes that are flattering, she never apologizes for her weight, she has a beautiful genuine and hearty laugh, and she seems to truly enjoy life. When she had the gourmet food store, The Barefoot Contessa, in the Hamptons, New York, I would marvel at her magnificent displays and incredible food. I always wanted to buy and eat everything. If I could spend a day with any celebrity, it would be Ina. She made a quarantini on social media recently, and it went viral — everybody loves Ina.

Right Where I am Supposed to Be

Accept, Adjust and Adapt

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There have been many life lessons learned over the past couple of months. I can’t speak for those of us who were/are in quarantine with others and in fact, I cannot speak for those spending this time alone; I can only speak for myself. Clearly, this is and has been a unique experience for all of us. I have been alone in a foreign country since the lockdown began and it is surreal at the very least.

It’s difficult not to be confused about exactly what is happening with COVID-19. It depends on who you’re watching or reading and what you choose to believe. There is a reason most people no longer have faith in the media or their government. I only allow myself a few minutes of news a day. It doesn’t matter when you turn on the television, it’s one big loop of sensationalism and half-truths. For the most part I choose to read a couple of sources and form my own opinion. I do what I have to do to stay within the law as we battle the unknown. Since fear is a major motivator for government and the media, I refuse to get sucked into this toxic vortex. I rely on facts as much as possible and I leave speculation to others.

 

Once You Discover Who You Are . . .

When you’re alone with your thoughts, you come to realizations and you make choices. Do you dwell on the negative? Do you get angry? Do you find yourself escaping? What mechanism do you use to cope? You probably have an arsenal of weapons on hand to deal with reality. Choosing healthy tools is the best way to go, however, that’s not always possible. So how do decide the route to take? First, do you know who you are?

There are things I have discovered about myself that help me develop the tools I need and make the right choices:

  1. I do not like for anything to interfere with a good night’s sleep (about 7.5 hours).
  2. I do not like paying for my bad choices the next day.
  3. I do not like how it feels when I beat myself up.
  4. I love how it feels to be well rested.
  5. I do not like how my stomach feels when I have overindulged.
  6. When I have the discipline of going to the gym five or six times a week, I never contemplate not exercising. When that option is not available, one out of two times, I will not exercise. Even writing this down helps to motivate me.
  7. There are times when I’m stressed and concerned and in complete denial about my state of mind.
  8. As I get older, I have less tolerance for many things.
  9. Food has become my primary motivator.
  10. Having a pet helps with self-discipline.

It all seems pretty straightforward and normal. So why am I still uncertain?

 

Tools & Rewards

One of the tools I frequently use is the weighing of pros and cons. Yes, that second Marguerita would taste really good with my Mexican food, but what price would I pay? When I do this simple assessment, nine out of 10 times, I will decide to pass on the second cocktail.

I live for rewards. I find them to be a positive way to live a healthier life. If I do blank I get blank as a reward. This has been my MO for a long time. During this time — the lockdown, I have noticed this happening more often. If I complete my language lesson, I can read my novel for an hour. If I climb the stairs in my building for 30 minutes, I can have some chocolate and on and on. It seems to be the only thing that motivates me, but it works.

 

What Matters Most

What matters most in my life has been the greatest lesson learned during this time. I thought about this prior to the virus, but sorting it out has become a much greater priority. My family has always been important to me and that will continue until I die. A trip to the States this week was unfortunately cancelled. Now that I am a resident of Portugal, I cannot fly to the States at this time; my legal address is here. I need to be certain that I am okay with this situation for at least the next five years. Selling an apartment in Faro is not going to be like it was in the States — I sold my last three apartments in less than a week. In Portugal, your place can easily sit on the market for up to two years. That’s fine, it just means planning a bit further into the future.

The good news is that I have come out of this knowing that living overseas is definitely what I want and remaining overseas is a certainty. I have come to realize that there is another move left in me and it will more than likely be Italy. I ultimately want to be where my father was born. I am Italian after all. Now that I have my father’s birth certificate, I can begin to look into dual citizenship. The coast of Croatia is also a possibility — all options are currently open. It’s a big world out there isn’t it?

 

Noticing Changes 

It seems that people are more grateful now than they have been for a long time. Grateful to others, grateful for their own good health, and grateful to be alive. I remember how people in New York City were after 911. I rode the subway watching strangers who would have never considered giving up their seats, stand for older people or the disabled. I saw people smile at one another for no other reason than to show gratitude and solidarity. This was a New York City I could love. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. We slowly slipped back into our everyday, former routines.

I suspect the same thing will happen with this pandemic. People will be more grateful for a short while and then we will all go back to “normal.” Even if we have to socially distance ourselves from one another for a long while or wear masks when we get a haircut; we humans adapt pretty quickly. If we’re conscious of our nature, is it possible to change? I think it is very possible. Your new normal can be based on what you learned from past experience. If you took up running while in quarantine, then continue to run. If you started eating healthier foods, keep it up, if you called people you care about more often, and so on.

The hardest thing for me has been isolation. I enjoy being out and about. I’m not sure it’s in my nature to spend a lot of time at home. I currently do not have a lot of choice and I’m hoping that will change sooner than later.

Life Goes On! | Change my life quotes, Go for it quotes, My life ...

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Last Meal Imagined

Some people will find this thought morbid or difficult to digest (sorry). Not having a fear of death allows me to consider my last meal if, and that’s a big if, I was in the position to choose said meal. The photos below are not the actual dishes I would order; just having fun with stock photos.

 

My Choices

I will not go over possible scenarios that might get me to a place where I know that my last meal is a foregone conclusion. Let’s just imagine that it is a possibility. I think about these things, I do.

By the way, I won’t be cooking my own last meal. Although I like my own cooking immensely, I would rather imagine that a professional chef is part of my fantasy.

I’m going to order more than one appetizer, entree, and dessert because this is my fantasy and I can. I have a few thoughts about each savory dish:

  1. The food will be uncomplicated.
  2. It will be fresh.
  3. It will be mildly spicy.
  4. It will be served at around 6:00 p.m. I don’t like to go to bed with a full stomach and I assume I’ll want a full night’s sleep before I die.
  5. I will have a white tablecloth and white soft cotton napkins.
  6. I will have one person dining with me. I am not revealing who I would want that person to be (unless you’re a really close friend and you promise not to say anything). I can tell you it would not be a politician or religious leader.
  7. It will be hot; cold food can be delicious, but not for my last meal.
  8. There will be no photos taken.

No rules for desserts.

 

Appetizer

I love appetizers. I like that I can take a few small bites and I like knowing that there will be a break before the next course. I usually allow myself to indulge in something richer knowing that it will only be a couple of forkfuls of deliciousness. Of course for this fantasy — I know fantasy seems more like a positive, but since none of this is real — I’m well enough to enjoy food in this fantasy. Who knows, I might be 95 years old with a great appetite, deciding that I have had a good run and it’s time to rest. These are the dishes I might hope to be served:

Selections:  pan seared foie gras with some sort of fig compote on the side, grilled garlic and scallion marinated king prawns, fettucini arrabiata, Korean style chicken wings (drumettes), chicken based broth with ramen noodles and other goodies (paitan), and baked clams oreganata. They would be served with some time to savor and digest in between servings.

Caveat:  I may change up or a add a dish or two. I want to leave things fairly fluid knowing that anything can happen between now and then.

Fettuccine arrabiata

 

Entrees:  Grilled T-Bone (dry-aged, grass fed beef). I love that you get two cuts of beef:  a strip of top loin and tenderloin. I want it charred on the outside and medium rare on the inside (just salt and pepper). Perhaps a fresh rosemary rub prior to grilling. I make no apology for my choices.

How to grill t-bone steak

More entrees and sides:  A whole steamed lobster with clarified butter for dipping, creamy mashed potatoes and parsnip with a little bit of roasted garlic, sauteed broccoli rabe, turkey stuffing cooked in the cavity of a roasted turkey. I want the crispy part that was exposed during cooking. Buttermilk fried chicken — a thigh please. I might ask for seafood paella, I’m not sure yet. Not because I don’t love it; there are capacity issues to consider.

Dessert:  white cake with dark chocolate frosting (accompanied by a glass of whole milk), Toll House chocolate chip cookies with walnuts, pistachio ice cream — two scoops with nothing on top. I usually like to end the meal with something lemony. I’m thinking either lemon meringue pie or a French lemon tart topped with fresh whipped cream. I’d probably be happy with either. If key lime pie is possible, I’d go with that, also with fresh whipped cream. I know, it’s a fantasy, I should be able to have anything I want. I cannot help being practical; even when I fantasize.

By the way, I would do tastings; I wouldn’t want to be so full that I can’t eat dessert.

 

To Drink:  

I would start with a palate cleanser:  Ouzo with ice cold water

Paired with Appetizers:  a chilled French Sancerre

Entrees:  Louis Latour Corton Domain Gran Cru — the best vintage to found the wine sommelier I have employed for this occasion. If this is to be my last red, it had better be the best. I would be open to suggestions. If you’re reading this and judging my choices, you would be wise to keep in my that this is my fantasy and my taste buds; consider your own selections if can go there.

Dessert:  A very small glass of Italian Moscato d’Asti (lightly sweet, gently effervescent and low in alcohol, is mainly produced in the hilltop town of Asti, and in the nearby provinces of Alessandria and Cuneo in the north-western region of Piedmont).

When everything has been cleared away and right before I retire to my bed:  French Armagnac — the best available; I’m not that fussy. Served in a large brandy snifter.

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I have to say this was more fun than I thought it would be. My mouth watered the entire time I was blogging. I came to this conclusion:  I should eat these dishes more often than I do. Although I always go back to one of my college professors who started each lecture with:  “All things in moderation.” I wouldn’t want to hasten my demise.

 

What I Vowed to do this Week and How it Played Out:

I find myself very angry and upset with social media and the news. I get all caught up in drama with family and strangers over words; words worth fighting over, but it takes its toll. I decided to give myself a week away from all social media and the news.

It’s day two and it’s not working. I’m afraid the Corona Virus and American politics keeps me wanting more. I turn it on for a few minutes and then turn it off. It’s an addiction I cannot deny cold turkey. I’m telling myself that smaller doses are probably better for my state of mind. I spoke to friends over the weekend who are in a similar place. I cannot help but wonder what will come of this.

Day three:  it’s getting easier. I guess like any addiction, time and patience will prevail. A little bit of news because of the virus and the democratic primaries, but I’m rationing myself.

Day Seven: Unsuccessful experiment on the news side; I couldn’t stay away. Definitely a lot less social media and that was a good thing. I feel like I experienced less angst. I’m going to try to cut back. I’m going to cut back.

I have also developed some sort of ache in my abdominal area. I’m not sure if it’s psychosomatic or real.  The anxiety has to live somewhere; my head and stomach seem like obvious hosts.

Admittedly, I could not write about food when my stomach was bothering me. The good news is that I think I figured out that it was a machine I was using to stretch out my back at the gym. One of the staff members showed me an alternative machine that I believe will do less damage to my abdominal area; I’ve switched machines. It might also be a hernia — I’ve had two and it’s uncomfortable surgery to repair them.

 

Paco Update:

Paco has been with me for over five weeks now. He has completed his pack of antibiotics and his tail rash is getting better (difficult because he wants to lick the area and I refuse to put a cone on his head). He’ll have bloodwork done in 10 days to determine whether or not he beat the virus. On his last visit, his red blood cell count and all other readings were normal. He is animated, playful, sweet, has a great sense of humor and eats well. When he first arrived he was anxious and skittish; for the most part he’s a well-behaved,  “normal” pooch, with above average intelligence.

He a bit overly generous with kisses; a habit I may have a difficult time breaking.

I imagine I will always wonder if the people (person) who abandoned him will resurface and want him back, but I worry less each day. I have grown quite attached to my 3.5 lb. roommate.

He’s quite handsome, is he not? I intend to spoil him rotten. My

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Being Less Cynical/Shiraz Has Arrived in Faro

This week, I would like to explore the topic of cynicism.  I hear this out of Chris Cuomo’s mouth as I type, “You are so cynical.” He’s talking to Stephen Colbert on The Late Show. They’re in the middle of a playful repartee about the impeachment trial. I turned up the volume to hear what they had to say. Two intelligent and refreshingly sane men, talking about the current state of political affairs in the United States. Americans, people in general, have always been cynical, however, it feels as if cynicism is currently at an all time high. I’d like to explore my own cynicism and how I might become less so.

sky clouds cloudy earth

 

This is a difficult time for many of us. Sorting through truth and lies is never easy, but it seems as if conflicting news dominates the airwaves. Listening to individuals you thought you could trust, spin lies, makes it difficult to believe in justice and honesty. Trying not to be political here, because in truth, I’m not certain this is about politics. I think the problem is systemic and I can’t help feeling like we might be headed for the moment in time when it all comes to a head. I ask myself if what I am feeling is cynical or mistrust and what is the difference.

cynical
/ˈsɪnɪk(ə)l/
adjective
  1. 1.
    believing that people are motivated purely by self-interest; distrustful of human sincerity or integrity.
  2. 2.
    concerned only with one’s own interests and typically disregarding accepted standards in order to achieve them.

I cannot help feeling that a lot of what I’m hearing from our leaders is rhetoric which promotes a personal agenda. I don’t want to believe this; I want to see the best in people and believe they are sincere.

Image result for cynicism quotes

 

Why I Care 

When people say derogatory things about me, they probably say I’m controlling, opinionated, way too liberal, stubborn, talkative, dismissive, and possibly that I am self-indulging. I’m not sure I could argue about these character traits when they are applied to me. I’m being honest with myself; it’s not cynicism, I know who I am and I know that I can be controversial. People cannot truthfully say that I am cynical and I’d like to keep it that way. And I don’t mean occasionally cynical; there is a difference.

I am concerned about my own health and wellbeing. Doubting other people’s intentions stresses me out. It causes worry and anger and none of that is good for me. When I erase these doubts and tell myself that people are inherently good, that we all go adrift or make mistakes, I tend to feel better. It’s obviously a defense mechanism, but we possess these tools so that we can work on ourselves and be happier people.

When I start to think unpleasant thoughts about friends or family members, it changes how I feel about food, drink, travel and the rest of the things I love — my taste buds are soured and all things become tainted. I’m not as profoundly affected when I’m cynical about politicians; these days I almost expect them to lie and push their own agendas, no matter what the cost.

 

How Do I Prevent Myself From Becoming Cynical

If I have learned anything since I relocated overseas, it is that I need to be patient with myself. With good intention, I’d like to think that I can be a better version of my former self, if I truly put my mind to it. What it takes is practice and patience. When you repeat a behavior or practice over and over, it will become part of your automatic, natural reflexive, go-to, inventory of responses.

For example:  I’m at a dinner party and a friend announces that she is going to organize a fundraiser for children with cancer. She talks about a grand venue and the “who’s who,” who will be invited, the table centerpieces, etc. My mind might go to the reason she is planning this event. One might cynically believe that she’s doing it to make herself look good. It’s unfortunate that this is where your mind might go. In truth, does it really matter? If the end result is that a million dollars will go to help those children and their families, how you got there (as long as it’s legal) is irrelevant. I’d like to instead, go straight to the positive and praise her for her good work. We never truly know what motivates people, so why not think the best of them in all most cases.

 

Next Steps

Mindfulness — awareness of a problem or issue is a huge part of correcting the problem. Now that I am aware of my unintentional cynicism, I can work on moving toward a different way of being:

  1. Identify the pattern that causes a cynical thought or response (e.g., questioning another’s motives).
  2. Break down the cause. Did you ever discover that someone you cared a lot about, had self-serving motives? Did those motives affect the final outcome?
  3. Explore your feelings. Not as easy as it sounds; it means facing your skepticism and demons.
  4. Try out alternative responses and find one or two that serve you better; cause you less heartache or discomfort. Create a toolbox and learn how to retrieve those tools.
  5. When you immediately go to cynicism, push that thought away and use one of your new tools or thoughts. This tool is extremely effective — give it a try.
  6. Practice this over and over again until you go in a positive direction without having to think about it. Practice, practice, practice.
  7. Take inventory of your responses every so often. Sometimes we take two steps back without realizing it — as you well know, old habits are hard to break.
  8. Consider how your positive outlook and behavior has influenced others. How has this new way of looking at life affected your health and well-being? How has this affected your relationships?
  9. Celebrate your success.

If you have another way of dealing with this issue, I’d love to hear about it.

 

When People Are Just No Good

Sorry is that sounds cynical. Seriously though, there are people in this world that are just plain evil. I’ve come across a few in my life. When you discover this to be the case, my advice is walk away and don’t look back. We are sometimes cynical for good reason. Bad actors usually show their true colors over and over again. Cynicism can be a useful mechanism for defending yourself against these individuals.

 

Shiraz Has Finally Opened and You’ll Want to Visit

Shiraz Restaurant in Faro, Portugal (Pre-opening visit previously blogged)

Just a reminder that I am not a food critic and that my intention is only to promote good food.

I love the food in Faro, however, I often complain that there is not enough variety here. Prior to eating at Shiraz, I had never eaten Iranian (Persian) food; or at least I don’t believe I have. I have eaten dishes from that part of the world; however, as you well know, each country has its own unique cuisine.

Shiraz adds another interesting dimension to the Faro food scene and that makes me very happy. When the Portuguese locals experience how good it is and see for themselves the number of tourists eating at Shiraz, they will be more open to other ethnic cuisines coming onto to the scene (e.g., Korean, African, Malaysian, Turkish — to name just a few).

Shiraz has been plagued with issues that prevented an on-time opening. I have heard that it’s difficult to open a new restaurant in Faro:  work permits, old infrastructure, contractors, etc. Mr. Thomas, owner, persevered and I belief his tenacity will pay off. He recently shared that it took him three years to make it happen. I only met Mr. Thomas a few months ago, however, I find his patience and positive attitude refreshing. He is pleased to be working with Chef Ram.

Chef Ram specializes in Kababs and there are several to choose from on the menu. There are a few different preparations and meat choices featured. Simple dishes such as basmati rice topped with saffron are delicious and beautifully presented. I had a Kabab Negini (pictured below) which is made with chicken and grilled tomato sauce. The Baklava, which I learned is made with 21 layers of puff pastry, was the best Baklava I have ever tasted. Toasted almonds, pistachios and a caramel sauce made this delicacy a standout dish.

Chef Ram is extremely talented and has a smile as big as his heart; stop by the kitchen and say hello.

 

Córdoba, Spain

 

Friends were visiting from the States and it was their first trip to Europe. Over the past few months we have spoken about what we might do together during their time in Portugal. It probably would have been enough for them to stay local, however, it wouldn’t have been enough for me. I wanted them to fall in love with my country and that meant seeing the country that borders Portugal to the east. We decided on two days in Sevilla (two hours by bus — see blog from 2019) and two days in Córdoba. Why Córdoba you might ask?

Not too long ago I made a decision that has proven to enhance my life and make for a better experience for my guests. Whenever friends or family visit me from the States (or anywhere for that matter), we go someplace I have never been. If I keep going back to the same towns and cities, I will resent my guests and be bored to death. Don’t get me wrong, there are places I love to visit over and over again:  for example Tavira, a town about 30 minutes away from where I live — a French bakery, La Baguette Artisan Boulanger Français, and a pottery shop, Aroma Ceramics. These two places alone make Tavira worth a visit. There are also several restaurants I never tire of. My guests are rarely disappointed; of course, that makes me happy.

So Michelle, John and I did some touring around Faro first. They arrived New Year’s Eve day. To my surprise, the long journey from New York to Faro did not stop them from wanting to explore and sample the food of Faro.  I cooked, certain that they’d want to remain home to rest. The idea of staying up to bring in the new year seemed out of the question. I was shocked to see that they were perky and eager to stay awake and enjoy their first New Year’s celebration in Europe.

They dragged me kicking and screaming to the Faro marina where a lively band played and a fireworks display did not disappoint. I was surprised to see a few thousand locals enjoying the night together.

 

 

Being the morning person that I am, I’m not sure how I managed to stay up for the count. I spent last New Year’s eve in Morocco with friends and I still can’t remember whether or not we brought in the new year together. I’ll have to call Patrick and Sue to ask them.

Back to Michelle and John . . . After a few days staying close to home, we headed for Spain. I won’t be blogging about Seville because I have been there several times and although I love the city, I do not have much to say this time. I will mention that it was colder there than I thought it would be (close to freezing at night) and that Airbnb Adventures offered a paella rooftop experience that was outstanding. We had a challenging time leaving our Airbnb to get to the rooftop location. Our key got stuck in the door and we had to figure out a way to leave the key in the door, leave the door open and escape through another opening. I’m not sure why these things happen to me, but I’m beginning to wonder if I bring them on myself. No matter, we got out safely, made it to our dinner on time, and dealt with the lock issue later in the evening. I must admit I was a bit cranky, but my friends know how I am and put up with me.

 

Córdoba

The first thing I want to say about Córdoba is that everyone should visit this magnificent city. It has a rich history, it is walkable, it is breathtakingly beautiful, and it is very affordable.

 

 

We took a bus from Sevilla to Córdoba. It is an easy and comfortable two hour ride at about 24 euros round trip. The bus takes you to the city centre and then you can either walk or Uber to your destination. Google maps showed that we were about 23 minutes from our Airbnb by foot, so we decided to walk. Technology is only great when it works and this time it did not; we were taken about 1.5 kilometers from our Airbnb and I had to find another means of getting there. About 10 minutes later and none the worse for the wear, we arrived at our Airbnb. This two bedroom, two bath apartment was on four levels. We had a cozy living room and kitchen on the first floor, a bedroom and bath on the second and third floors, and a rooftop terrace on the forth. Honestly at $217 for two nights (all total), I think the place was a find (click for listing).

 

Salón con muralla Romana auténtica

Casa de diseño a 200m de la Mezquita

Casa de diseño a 200m de la Mezquita

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That stoned wall you see in the first picture is actually the original wall built by the ancient Romans — it is the wall that borders the Jewish Quarter and built in the first century; how’s that for experiencing history.

I will once again reiterate that I am not a travel writer, therefore, I will not share the history of this beautiful city or everything we did while visiting. There were some highlights in our 2.3 days in Córdoba and I am happy to share those with you. Part of the reason travel is so much fun for me, is that I do not chronicle every moment. I am happy to pass along details to any of you, please ask.

Staying in the centre of Córdoba, in the heart of the Jewish Quarter, was a good call. We were minutes from everything you’d want to see and experience while visiting. Arriving on a Sunday made it somewhat difficult to shop for groceries (eg., coffee, milk, wine), but with perseverance, we did find a Chinese all-in-one shop. To our pleasant surprise, the shop even had an Iberian paté we all three thoroughly enjoyed. We were also smart enough to bring some cheese, jamon and crackers from Sevilla. We were hell bent on enjoying our rooftop terrace while the sun was shining and we could experience the tiny bit of warmth we had left. It was all glorious:  our friendship (over 20 years), the view from our terrace, the historical significance of the place, the sun, and the fact that we’d made it there. These are the moments in life we live for.

We had tickets for a genuine Flamenco concert — music and dance — that evening and we were priming for it. We had dinner at a beautiful tapas restaurant close to our Airbnb. It wasn’t the best meal I’ve had, but I certainly enjoyed the atmosphere and the Spanish wine John selected. The Flamenco concert,  was to be performed within the Arab baths of Santa María dating over one thousand years.

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The concert was about 90 minutes in length, the performers were all sick with a cold (except the guitar player), and we had front row seats (there were only 9 people in the audience). I have often wondered if I would enjoy a Flamenco concert and it would be unfair not to comment:  I will say that first of all, I’m glad we did it and second, I would not do it again. I might also add that John caught whatever germs were spread that night.

The next day was very special and truly unforgettable. It would be our only full day in Córdoba and I was determined to make the most of it. I woke up early and went straight to The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba (Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba).

 

If you do nothing else in Córdoba, you must visit this significant landmark. It dates back to the 12th century and it is Islamic, Roman, Byzantine, and Christian, all rolled into one truly magnificent place of worship. You can spend hours and hours exploring this historic site. Afterwards, I ventured out to see the city by day.

The Roman Bridge may have been my second favorite site.

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The bridge flows over the Guadalquivir river; grand and gorgeous is all I can say about it (last photo from stock pics on the internet).

After a bit of lunch back at the Airbnb, I walked about three minutes to a hammam where I had an appointment for a warm bath, a sauna and steam, and a massage. The Hammam Al Andalus, is one of the most beautiful I have ever been to and worth every euro I paid (70).

 

I returned to our Airbnb just in time for a pre-dinner cocktail. We had reservations at Casa Mazal Restaurante Sefardi; Middle Eastern, Jewish, Spanish and very authentic. We did the tasting menu and once again John chose the wine — I can pick a good wine, but John knows wine better than I do. The restaurant was quaint and the service excellent. I would have to say that I enjoyed the appetizers far more than the main dishes, but overall, this restaurant did not disappoint. My friends usually claim that they will only take a small taste of dessert and more often, eat at least their share; I’m used to that.

It was an unusually chilly night is Spain, so we hustled back to our apartment and headed straight for bed; very comfortable beds I might add.

Córdoba is a place I will someday return to. I could have spent a week walking, exploring, eating and drinking. It’s only four hours for me by bus (3.5 hours by car) and I know there was more to experience. The history and the melding of so many cultures over the last two thousand years, makes Córdoba a city to behold and cherish. It’s Unesco World Heritage Centre will be forever etched in my travel memories.

 

Paco

This is Paco, my new companion. Paco is a rescue dog; I will be officially introducing him to you next week. The importance of adopting a pet, rather than purchasing one, has been an urgent message I have been wanting to relay for quite some time.

 

 

Nourishing the Mind & Body and How Faith Factors In

 

 

If you read my blog last week, you were probably thinking that I was as one reader put it, “In a funk.” In all honesty, you and she were probably right. One of the things I pride myself in is riding out those feelings and moving on. I find that if I face the fact that I am obsessing about silly things and I look those demons in their eyes and confront them, I will be that much healthier when I’m done dealing with them — them being the voices in your head that try to trick you into believing things about yourself that are just not true. This week I will focus on mind, body, and spirit. There is a reason these three are grouped together and I will explain why each is extremely important and how I attend to these aspects of self.

I realize that this particular blog will be all about me and I apologize in advance for that. The easiest way to write about this particular topic is to discuss how I apply the principles to my own life. Some of you will relate to my experience and others will not. Those who do not can either share what works for them with my readers or move on to other blogs. Hopefully, these folks will find my other topics more appealing. Oh and yes, I apologize way too often.

 

Mind

I have loved learning since as far back as I can remember. Fond of books, intellectual games, seminars, white papers, documentaries, and anything related to the mind and thinking. My Ph.D. is in education and although I am proud to have gone that far in my university studies, I do not believe it would be wise or satisfactory to stop now. Semi-retirement has provided a great deal more time for seeking the truth and exploring areas of thinking I have not yet explored. A few examples are:  language, world history, religion and culture. The ability to travel more has also been a useful tool for learning and it’s fun.

There are limitations that I have to contend with. I am not as bright as I wish I were; not fishing, I speak truth. When I was tested as I child, I was placed in average classrooms — thankfully, I do not believe this is practiced in elementary schools today. I’m afraid my turbulent home life and socio-economic status growing up lended itself to poor learning skills. I realized this was the case when applying to universities. I worked hard to break through my environmentally imposed limitations and excelled in my late teens and early 20s. The knowledge that a quieter home life, a proper diet, and sleep, could improve my study skills was a celebrated revelation.

I no longer view my brain power as an obstacle. Instead, I consider any amount of new knowledge as an achievement. As much as possible I nurture my mind and hope that it stays sharp until the day I die. I also believe that it’s possible to expand one’s mind at any age (even with limitations).

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“I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn.”

— Maya Angelou

 

Body

Coming to terms with an aging body is a reality we all eventually have to face. I can tell you from experience, it ain’t easy.

Physical appearance is everything in modern society. We spend a lot of time primping and shopping to make ourselves attractive. Keeping yourself trim for the wrong reasons could lead to body image problems that end up doing long lasting damage. People who have come to learn that taking care of one’s body is more about quality of life and good health, are far more likely to accept their physical imperfections. Being comfortable in your own skin comes from knowing that are treating your body respectfully and not taking it for granted.

Your body is a vessel for living your life fully. You can either abuse it and have to deal with the consequences or you can treat it kindly and make the journey easier. I realize that some health issues are genetic and/or unavoidable. I am writing about the things that are within your control and attainable (e.g., diet, exercise, medical care).

Quick Observation — Not too long ago I was employed by a narcissist. This person, which shall remain nameless, spent a lot of time looking at a reflection of herself. I didn’t notice it at first because I was one of many who admired her. Clearly, we see what we want to see. After awhile, I noticed that whenever we sat down for a meeting or go to a restaurant, she would position herself across from a mirror or window. She would glance over at herself occasionally and give herself a discreet approving smile. Every so often, when she didn’t think anyone was watching, she would stare at herself. Along with this self-adoration came constant boasting and taking credit for other people’s accomplishments. This extreme example of narcissism is shameful.

I share this observation because I met someone this week whom I notice does the same kind of thing in public. I also notice it at the gym with bodybuilders. Of course, not all bodybuilders are narcissistic and like cake decorating, you can’t know how the cake is turning out without constantly examining it. It’s important to love yourself and I’m not advocating the alternative; however, when I see an extreme example of self-love, I wonder where it leads. If you love yourself that much (mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all) is there room to love anyone else? It goes back to balance which I will discuss in more detail later. It is probably healthier for the ego to love yourself, but to also be aware that you are not the most attractive person in the room and that attraction goes way beyond the physical. Who we are and whether we live our lives with integrity, what we stand for, the good deeds we do — these are the things that make us attractive . . . inside and out.

Attending to the physical aspect of my life is probably the most challenging for me. At sixty, there is not much I can do about my body. I have significant arthritis in two places and it’s not getting any better. Having had too many surgical procedures, I’m avoiding having to go through that again; I fear that soon, I will have no choice. Fortunately, I enjoy going to the gym and by nature, I prefer to keep moving. I often consider how fortunate I am and how much worse it could be.

 

Spirit

Let me be clear that when I address the third sector of my own personal wellness, spirit does not mean religion. As a devout atheist, I think about religion only in its historical context. However, this does not mean that I am not spiritual and that I do not have faith. In fact, if there were to be a god I might worship, I would have to say it would be Mother Nature. The wonders of the earth are tangible, genuine, and a gift given to us by nature.

“If you can’t be in awe of Mother Nature, there’s something wrong with you.”

— Alex Trebek

There was a time in my life when spiritual awareness was dormant and not on my radar. I had no time for seeking answers to life’s most difficult questions:  who am I, how do I fit into the grand scheme of things, who are my mentors and teachers, and why am I here? Buddhism can teach us a great deal about how to explore these questions. Although I am not Buddhist, I do believe in many of the religion’s principles.

I have come to realize that faith for me is believing in myself. Belief that living life to the fullest is one of humankind’s obligations; a way of returning the favor of being given life. The belief that you as an individual has a responsibility to the earth, your fellow human, and the rest of the animal kingdom, is faith in life itself. Birth provides life and the ability to love. I have great faith in love. I believe love is the foundation of most religions and it is faith in love that will keep humankind thriving. If we ever cease to exist, it will be because we lost faith in love.

My faith lies in my belief that humankind is good and loving. I use meditation and other forms of self-reflection to remain in touch with my spiritual consciousness.

 

Balance

Moving to Portugal has been a blessing in many ways. It is a wonderful place to live and host guests. Friends and family often ask how I spend my day. I answer that question with a bit of hesitation and resentment. Part of me feels very protective of how I spend my time. Another part of me wants to share what I consider to be my good fortune, without boasting or judgment. I still consider how I spend my time to be extremely personal.

If I have learned anything, it is that balance is key for anything even remotely akin to happiness. My answer to “how do you spend your time?” would be that I am working toward personal fulfillment, but that seems rather pretentious and evasive. Perhaps a better answer is that I am attempting to create balance in my life; a balance between the peaks and valleys, a balance between what is too much of a good thing and what is too painful to consider, a balance between the person I’d like to be and the person that I am. I would like to be at peace with who I am.

person standing at the entrance of the cave on shore
Photo by Marco Trinidad on Pexels.com

Toulouse and All of Her Charms

Toulouse is all too often overlooked, but it’s one of France’s most historic and fascinating cities. Known to locals as La Ville Rose (The Pink City) after the distinctive pink stone used to construct many of its buildings, Toulouse receives just a fraction of the tourists of Paris or Nice.

Lonely Planet text (I have been buying Lonely Planet travel guides for at least 30 years and swear by them)

 

 

 

It’s hard to believe that there was a time in recent history when people were afraid to travel to cities because of crime and grit (1970s and 1980s). These days you visit many cities all over the world and experience something totally different:  they are clean, public transportation is efficient, you find many great restaurants and in some cases, the comforts of home in an Airbnb.

I chose Toulouse for several reasons:  I had never been, it is a direct flight from Faro, the airfare this time of year is very reasonable, the weather is mild, and I liked what I saw on-line. This was probably my best travel decision of 2019. Toulouse is gorgeous and so easy to navigate — I love walkable cities. It is France, a country where cuisine has been a focus for centuries, so there are indoor and outdoor markets and good food everywhere. There are many sites to see and they’re not all churches. I was very fortunate to find an Airbnb right in the center of the city. It was next to the Garonne River and a five to twenty minute walk to all the places I wanted to visit.

 

Air Travel

I flew EasyJet (a bargain no-frills airline) and my roundtrip fare, with carry-on, was 101 Euros roundtrip. These people know what they’re doing and they make it easy to fly. I feel fortunate that Faro is one of their hubs. You get your boarding pass on-line and you don’t have to check in at a desk, which will save you boatloads of time.

One hour and 50 easy minutes (even shorter on return) later and I was on the ground. Toulouse has a modern airport and you won’t walk for twenty minutes. Off the plane and out the door quickly.

 

Ground Transportation

There is a tram right outside of the Toulouse terminal that will take you right to the center of Toulouse (and everywhere in between). It is 1.70 Euro and a ticket can be purchased at a multi-language machine right next to the tram. Purchase two tram tickets if you intend to return by tram. It’s a 30 minute ride and it leaves about every 15 minutes — very civilized. You can also take a taxi or an Uber for about 20 Euros.

 

Accomodations

I looked at hotels and the ones in the center of Toulouse were 125 to 400 Euros per night. I like using Airbnbs when I plan on buying food at the market and preparing it myself. It’s a great way to eat fresh, local products and save some money. I found an Airbnb right in the center of Toulouse next to the Garonne River. The three nights with fees and all was $269 (I pay Airbnb with U.S. dollars and it saves me a few quid). I don’t usually share my Airbnb link, because everyone is looking for something different and I don’t want to be accused of giving bad advice. I am making an exception, because Nathalie’s place was beautifully appointed, in a great location and at a great price. She even left me bread, cookies, milk, coffee, juice and delicious homemade apricot jam.

Nathalie also lists the apartment on her own:

http://tounis.jimdofree.com

It’s a small studio with a sleeping alcove with a double bed and a good mattress. In addition, white cotton sheets and a down comforter made for cozy nights.

 

Dining & Food Markets

There are four indoor/outdoor markets in Toulouse that operate every day except Monday (you need to check the schedule for exact times). This link will provide some great information:  market info. My apartment was just two blocks away from Carmes, so I went to the market several times.

 

 

There is a public garage above the market and if you go up to the roof, you will be treated to a spectacular panoramic view of Toulouse.

 

 

 

Le Colombier

Listed on several sites as one of Toulouse’s finest traditional restaurants, I was compelled to give it a go. I learned from several on-line sources, that Le Colombier specializes in cassoulet. When I made my reservation for my first night in Toulouse, I intended to try the cassoulet, which was one of my favorite dishes when I was working at the French Culinary Institute. I had a nice leisurely walk to the restaurant, passing several historic sites along the way. Unfortunately, when I arrived I was not hungry enough for a hearty French stew. I ordered an aperitif thinking that might help my appetite, but alas, it did not.

The server pushed hard on the cassoulet and I nearly caved. Instead I ordered a pre fixe dinner where duck was one of the entree choices (I can’t recall the other option). I started with escargot; the snails were tender and very garlicky, just the way I like it. I also had some good dinner rolls to sop up the olive oil the snails were cooked in. The duck leg cooked very slowly in red wine sauce was probably the best duck (aside from Chinese Peking Duck which is one of my all time favorites) dishes I have ever eaten. The duck meat fell off the bone and the vegetables in the sauce were a perfect accompaniment. My savory taste buds were very satisfied. There were a few traditional dessert choices and I decided to go with the apple tart with whipped cream, real fresh whipped cream. I was pleased with all of my choices and walked back to my Airbnb with a full tummy and a happy heart. This is ultimately what I love most about France. The French know food and wine and rarely disappoint.

 

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My second day I had dinner with a friend at a Thai restaurant, Baan Siam located in the Carmes neighborhood, near my Airbnb — I like to walk home and go straight to bed after a good meal. There were several Thai restaurants near me and I chose Baan because it was on a quiet street and it had great reviews. As I have stated in previous blogs, Faro, regrettably, does not have a Thai restaurant, therefore, I satisfy my Thai cravings when I travel. I ordered several very traditional Thai dishes and again, was happy with my choices. I won’t go so far as to say it was great Thai food, but I can say that it was very good and the service was excellent.

I had my final dinner at an Italian Café because I was craving pasta. The server told me that the tagliatelle in a ham and cream sauce was their specialty. I was not bowled over, so I won’t mention the name of the restaurant. I did have a beautiful red from Puglia and that saved the meal.

There are hundreds of restaurants to choose from in Toulouse and they range from inexpensive and trendy to high-end and classic; you will not run out of excellent options no matter how long your stay.

 

Sites

I usually try to do an organized food tour on my first full day so I can learn more what a city has to offer. Airbnb usually has several options depending on the city you are visiting. I signed up for a food and wine tour with Jessica. This time I was treated to a private tour; not good for the guide, but fortunate for me.

Jessica Hammer on (TripAdvisor and Airbnb).

These are some of Jessica’s best spots. I don’t think it’s fair to Jessica to include them all; for more information and her excellent recommendations, I advise you to take her tour — at 80 Euros it was a bargain.

  • Maison Beauhaire – MOF (a big honor in France) boulanger. We tasted the chocolatine and the baguette de tradition. The baguette was excellent (even heated up the next day).
  • Papaix et Fils – farm to counter foie gras producer. We tasted their foie gras à la ancien (fatty duck liver cooked in duck fat – the ancient method), as well as their duck boudin, two types of magret de canard (dry-cured and slow-cooked), their white boudin with foie gras, and their duck saucisson. I purchased duck boudin to take home. As long as it is vacuum sealed, it is not a customs problem.
  • Various charcuterie from le Cochon Regaleur
  • Xavier Fromagerie – MOF fromager/affineur. We tasted their:
    • Crottin de Justine (raw goat milk cheese with a natural rind from the Lot, north of Toulouse)
    • Comté Réserve (the specialty of Xavier Fromagerie – a raw cow’s milk cheese, pressed and cooked, from the Jura, made only with summer milk from the cows when they graze in the mountains, aged at least 24 months)
    • Laruns (raw sheep milk cheese from the Hautes Pyrénées, southwest of Toulouse)
    • Bleu de Séverac (raw cow milk blue cheese from Aveyron, near where Roquefort is produced)
  • Criollo Chocolatier – various ganache and praliné chocolates (special tip: Criollo has another boutique in Toulouse on the Place St Etienne that also has a salon de thé/tea room where you can sit and have a cup of hot chocolate. I missed out on this treat, but I’ll be back.)

See other places to go for food in recommendations below.

There are numerous wine shops throughout the city. I went to several and found the sellers to be very helpful and friendly. You can expect to pay anywhere from six to 25 Euros for good French wine. I decided to stay away from wines from Bordeaux since I will be visiting there for Christmas.

Le Capitale — Hotel DeVille

 

 

 

Couvent des Jacobins — The Church of the Jacobins is a deconsecrated Roman Catholic church located in Toulouse, France. It is a large brick building whose construction started in 1230, and whose architecture influenced the development of the Gothique méridional style. The relics of Thomas Aquinas are housed there. Wikipedia

Toulouse’s Best Museums

Honestly, there are many museums in Toulouse and I had little time to explore. I’m saving most of the suggested museums for my spring trip. The above link highlights several.

 

Toulouse has a large gay population; therefore, there are quite a few gay bars and several shows with drag queens and female impersonators — the French love theatre. I wish I could say that I took part in the late night festivities, but alas I’m getting older and my ability to stay up past midnight has diminished.

 

The French Language

People will tell you that when you are in France no one speaks English and that the French expect you to speak French. This may be the case for some travelers, however, this has not been my experience. It’s true that there are some French people who do not speak English, just as there are some American who do not speak French; take me for example. I would say that most merchants spoke enough English to communicate and when all else fails there is always Google translator. The French, in general, love when you make an effort and who can blame them.

 

A Few Recommendations

  • If you are inclined to book a tour of any kind, do it the first or second day so that you can get the lay of the land and recommendations from your guide.
  • Whether you choose a hotel or an Airbnb, try to stay close to the city center if you enjoy walking. You might get a good deal outside the city, but then end up spending more than you’re saving in transportation expenses.
  • You can rent a city bike in Toulouse for a nominal 30 minute rate. As long as you dock it at any of the many docks throughout the city, every thirty minutes, you only pay the initial fee. Everybody does it and I believe the city likes it that way.
  • There are traditional French restaurants that offer classic dishes and then contemporary restaurants that are a bit more creative; both are very good, you just have to know what you want. The ethnic restaurants and street food options are outstanding.
  • Bring an umbrella if you’re traveling in the fall. The good news is that it doesn’t rain all day, everyday; however, the rain can be heavy at times in November.
  • As with any old cities, the sidewalks in the oldest part of town can be narrow.
  • Sundays in Toulouse are much quieter than the rest of the week.

 

  • Jessica’s notes to me:  If you have the opportunity to return to the Marché Victor Hugo for lunch at one of the restaurants, my recommendations are Le Louchebem (where my old-school French friends go for magret de canard, steak frites, and other meat-centric dishes) and Au Bon Graillou (for really good grilled fish – based on the recommendations of others, as I’m not a big seafood eater myself).
  • If you’re looking for other restaurant recommendations, my good friend Cat, who is a writer and food blogger, has written a great article on her 30 favorite restaurants in Toulouse, with short and sweet descriptions of each. It’s a fabulous resource if you’re looking for a good place to eat (all different kinds of food at different price ranges). https://catskitchenfrance.com/toulouses-top-30-eateries/
  • I also wrote a blog post about the winners of the 2018-2019 Lucien Vanel restaurant awards in Toulouse:  https://www.tasteoftoulouse.com/the-best-restaurants-in-toulouse-prix-lucien-vanel-2018-2019/ Out of the ones I’ve already visited, my favorite meal this year was at Une Table a Deux. I also loved eating at Les Fortes Têtes, which has good vegetarian options and excellent service (one of those places where you can tell that everyone loves working there).
  • If you want really typical cooking from southwest France, with impeccable local sourcing, I highly recommend le J’Go.
  • If you’re in the mood for exploring, I’d recommend checking out the Saint Cyprien neighborhood, on the other side of the Garonne river.
  • The Boulangerie Cyprien in Saint Cyprien is another one of my favorite bakeries, especially for their chocolatines which have THREE bars of chocolate, instead of the regular two. They also do a really cool baguette de charbon (charcoal).
  • Another of my other favorite chocolatiers in Toulouse is Cacaofages, also in Saint Cyprien, and they specialize in chocolate sculptures, so their shop looks like a sculpture gallery (except it’s all CHOCOLATE!) and they also have a salon de thé with fantastic hot chocolate.

 

Back to Me:

When I fall in love with a city, I always leave behind a reason or two to return.

Side Note:  I shouldn’t write this:  when I visited Vienna a few months ago, although beautiful, it felt severe, angry and cold (not temperature, it was May), however, as soon as I got off the plane in Toulouse I felt warmth, joy and comfort. Is it the people? The history? My mood? Probably all of the above. Something to keep in mind when people write about travel, their accumulated baggage may help form their opinion.

I have guests in Faro from the States, therefore, there will be no blog next week. See you all soon and thank you again for your interest in my adventures.