Lyon and Grenoble, France

Finally made it to Lyon after three attempts — thank you COVID-19. EasyJet decided to change my return flight prior to leaving Faro, enabling me to extend my adventure several days and take a trip to Grenoble.

The Saône River in the light
The Saône before rainfall

I’m going to mostly write in real time; it’s easier on the ol’ noggin and I can post it as soon as I edit and return. Tenses may vary due to blogging style.

Travel

Summer has not been easy on my psyche; COVID, Portuguese red tape, failed friendships; to name a few. This trip would hopefully be the start of some exciting, long overdue, travels.

Faro airport was a breeze. I printed out my boarding pass and I didn’t have to show my EU vaccination certificate until I reached the gate. The flight was uneventful, except that EasyJet tries to sell you everything including the airplane, making closing your eyes for a few minutes impossible. It was a fairly easy two hours; add 30 minutes on the return.

Upon landing, everyone, and I mean everyone, got up to grab their bags. I always choose an aisle seat, making it easy to pop-up when I need to. I was in aisle three; a fella in aisle one had to put his luggage in an overhead bin in the middle of the plane. There was no way this guy was going to wait until everyone deplaned, so he insisted on muscling his way to retrieve his bags — I was somewhat sympathetic. He stalled next to me and pinned me against another passenger and an aisle seat. I waited a minute thinking he’d move, but the passengers behind me were not going to allow him through. He even tried yelling to the back passengers to grab his bag; however, no cooperation. After being pinned for several minutes I asked him to please give me a bit of breathing room. He tried to justify staying put.

“Please give me a little space,” I said.

“Don’t you speak French,” was his reply.

I admittedly told him to shut up. Yes, it was late and I was travel weary, sweating, and fed up. The plane was completely full of vacationers returning to France, so my frustrated response didn’t land well. The seas parted and I moved away from him. It was over in a flash, but I’m certain my angry American persona was duly noted by my fellow travellers. Drama seems to follow me wherever I go . . . or perhaps, I create the drama?

I had researched getting to Lyon Centre where I had an Airbnb reserved. I had to take a train which was not right outside the terminal, but the signage to get there was good (about a six minute walk). I arrived at a massive train station where there were no people. It was like the twilight zone, except it was only 10:00 p.m. There were machines for tickets everywhere, but I had no idea which one to use. A stranger entered the vast rotunda; fortunately for me he refused to leave me until we found someone who could help. He looked around and located someone who was going my way, he was not only going to the same train, but he was from Grenoble where I was off to in a few days. He offered restaurant advice and told me about some hiking trails I will explore. There are no accidents.

A Snack

Lyon is known for being the original culinary capital of the world. Many say haute cuisine started here. For this reason (and because I love food), I am going to mention eateries throughout this blog. As always I will only post names of restaurants or cafés if they are exceptional — why bother with mediocrity when you can have sublime.

When I arrived close to midnight, many restaurants were still open in Bellecour (my Airbnb neighborhood). I was tired and hungry, so I gave in to the hunger before bed. There was a sweet little French tapas restaurant at the base of my building. It was quiet, open to the outdoors and that was just about all I needed. I had a slice of country terrine that looked a lot like the one pictured here. Accompanied by a glass of French Bordeaux and some toast points, I was fairly satisfied.

French Style Country Terrine or Pâté (Terrine de Campagne) | Meanderings  through my cookbook
An example of a French Terrine

A terrine, in traditional French cuisine, is a loaf of forcemeat or aspic, similar to a pâté, that is cooked in a covered pottery mold (also called a terrine) in a bain-marie. If I’m going to be honest, it reminds me too much of my French Culinary Institute days. It’s a lot of meat and it looks and tastes way too fatty for my liking. I do love pistachio nuts and this time, the combination of the fat and a bold French red was sublime.

Old Lyon

Vieux Lyon sits on the River Saône quayside, overlooked by Renaissance-era mansions with hidden courtyards and terracotta-tiled roofs. The medieval Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste is noted for its ornate astronomical clock, while the Movies & Miniature Museum showcases scale models by miniaturist Dan Ohlmann. Hilly, medieval streets lead to fine-dining restaurants and stylish bars selling Beaujolais wines (Google).

I often choose the “Old Town” in European cities; it’s where you’ll experience the rich history and traditional foods of the region — Vieux Lyon was no exception.

My Airbnb (click for URL)

As I said before, this trip has been rescheduled numerous times, but this AIrbnb is the one that I chose over a year ago. Delphine, my host has been patient and kind, as I shifted around dates and number of nights.

I’m providing the URL (see above) because I found this accomodation to be one of the best I’ve ever stayed in. Stylish, cozy, comfortable, quiet, and nicely situated in the very heart of the old town. I think if it was chilly outside and had a fireplace, I would have squatted (unlawfully occupying an uninhabited building or unused land).

The building is probably close to two hundred years old. The apartment is on the second floor facing a small courtyard. To say that it’s quiet is to understate the silence. I don’t remember the last time the only thing I could hear was the hum of the refrigerator. Between the peaceful quiet and the cave like atmosphere, I am sleeping soundly.

That machine pictured above is the smallest washing machine I have ever seen or used. It is perfect for three or four garments and since I pack light, I was happy to take advantage of it.

Honestly, you cannot find anything like this in a hotel. Delphine provided a Nespresso coffee maker with pods, a cabinet full of staples and she told me about a restaurant in the neighborhood that I will mention later. I am pleased to share that this gem was just over $130 per night. Anything close to this at a hotel would be four star and easily $500 a night. Airbnbs are not always the way to go, but this one was the right choice.

Coffee Shop

I asked the owner of the restaurant where I enjoyed my snack on my first night, where I should go for coffee in the morning; without hesitation, he pointed to Slake. Fortunately, it is very close to where I am staying. My apartment is surrounded by quaint cafés; no doubt they are all good (I got to try several).

Slake Coffee House is warm, inviting, and the coffee is powerful reminder of how a good cup of coffee should taste. I could have sat there all day with my laptop and this view.

Although I love Portuguese cafés, I have nothing even close to what you see here, in Faro. I paid three times what I usually pay for a cup of Joe back home, but hey, I’m on vacation and this is paradise. I didn’t try all the baked goods, however, what I did taste had me wanting more.

The far left corner of the café was my cozy spot. I could see and experience everything.

My First Lunch

Café Terroir, recommended by my Airbnb host, is steps away from my apartment. I had the menu of the day. I ate well and I did not blow away my budget. All fresh, all local, and all good. I provided the menu if you care to see what I devoured.

Philosophical Thoughts for the Day

My idea of a good day on holiday is good coffee in the morning, a walk around the city, trying out the local cuisine, and a restful night’s sleep. My first day in Lyon offered all of that and then some.

Skipping the gym and walking for hours instead, is a great way to burn off calories and discover or rediscover, a city.

I have friends who have travelled the world and offer great recommendations. I think it’s important to listen to the people you trust; however, doing your own research and making your own choices is essential for making a vacation your own. I’m trying to be diplomatic here.

The Weather

Fall weather anywhere can be tricky. What I like about traveling in September and early October, is two things: 1) kids are back to school and not on holiday (sorry parents), and 2) it’s not as hot as summer can be. Lyon gets a lot of rain in the fall and I knew that I would experience rainy weather on this trip. Still, the temp is in the high 70s and thunderstorms are one of my favorite things — another thing I don’t get a lot of in Faro (300 sunny days a year). For the most part it’s been partly cloudy and pleasant. The weather, is what it will be, as they say.

Second Day

The weather my second full day in Lyon is absolument parfait. I’m headed to the train station to get tickets for Grenoble (the French Alps), where I head tomorrow. How could I be only two hours away from the Alps and not take a trip? A train to the station and a bus back. Public transportation is amazing in Lyon; easy to navigate and it takes you very close to where you want to go. Ticketing on buses is sort of on the honor system.

So far I have covered about half the city on foot and by train and bus. I return in a few days, so I thought I’d see as much as possible and get an idea for where I want to return.

Cuisine et Dépendances

I have a friend in Portland, Maine that has lived all over the world, travelled extensively, and she knows good food. When she told me about this restaurant in Lyon, I made a reservation immediately. Fortunately, unlike a couple of others I also wanted to try, it remains open.

The food was delicious and the service was outstanding. I had dishes I don’t cook and cannot get cooked this way back home. Escargot and magret, cooked to perfection; just enough on the plate to satisfy. I’m no longer in the business, so describing each dish is not going to happen.

It’s a good thing I brought my EU vaccine certificate; I’ve had to show it just about everywhere in France.

The restaurant was about a 15 minute walk from my apartment — providing a bit of exercise to ward off the guilt.

A Film

I know, I know, don’t give me a hard time. When I travel and I have the time, I see a film on the big screen I’m not sure will come to Faro (one multiplex theatre, however, not every film I want to see is shown there and sometimes, it’s only showing for a few days).

Tonight, instead of a big meal, I’m going to the movies to see Dune. I love space films and the trailer on this one looks pretty good. There are some films that are just better when they are bigger and louder, especially when they’re intergalactic.

Dune review — I think this Vulture review sums it up well. I will say that I enjoyed the film, even though it was dark and confusing at times. You’re told that it was only Part I from the get go; it will be interesting to see how far they go with the Dune series. I know that I’m spoiled in Faro where the price of admission is five euros and change, 13.50 euros was steep, but I am on vacation.

Moments to Share

Morning light
More morning light
Naturally I arrived at the Saturday outdoor market before it officially opened

Don’t you hate it when you see something and you can’t have it. Here’s what happened:

I have never gone wild for mussels. I’m not sure why; I love shellfish, always have. On my way back from dinner a few nights ago I passed a mussel restaurant in Lyon’s Old Town. Can’t explain why, but I wanted those mussels. For whatever reason it just didn’t work out. A couple of days later I’m doing a 45 minute walk to the Part Dieu train station. I had purchased a ticket for after lunchtime so that I could eat before boarding. I also wanted to arrive in Grenoble close to 3:00 p.m. for my Airbnb check-in.

I found Hippopotamus Steak House near the train station. I think it’s a chain, but none of the other places I passed were appealing; this place had a nice vibe. I look at the menu and right there, three down in the fish column, chorizo mussels — voila! Waiter comes over and I point to it on the menu. He quickly shares that they do not have the mussels. I may have wept loudly, I don’t recall. Instead I chose the fish & chips. But suddenly, divine intervention:

“I’m sorry sir, I misunderstood, oui, we have les moules.”

Again, I may have wept. Perhaps it was the size of the mussels or maybe it was the circumstances, but I know now, without a doubt, that I love mussels when they are small and happen to be in Lyon on a perfect day.

The waiter felt so bad for telling me they did not have mussels, that he showered me with extra dishes. I was happy to accept what was offered.

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Grenoble

First let me say that I’m glad I will be returning to Lyon on Monday. I held back a bit on the tourist stuff knowing I would be returning. There are several restaurants in Lyon I’d like to try and I will get to do just that. I’m also looking forward to a hotel I booked in a different part of Lyon.

Grenoble was planned because I love mountains and I have never been to the Alpes. I took a train through the Swiss Alps a number of years ago, but it was just a pass through. The Airbnb I choose is actually on the side of a mountain with a private terrace and a view (middle photo). I’m looking forward to a relaxing 90 minute train ride (I got a senior ticket, oy vey) and highly anticipated Grenoble. I should have plenty of time to take a walk and relax before dinner this evening. I made a reservation for dinner; if it’s good, you’ll hear more about it.

As I mentioned earlier, the airline changed my flight, I was able to add a few days to my trip, hence Grenoble. I honestly did not do a ton of research, but here I am. The weather forecast was for two days of rain and my expectations were low. I did make a restaurant reservation I was excited about (the one thing I did research). To my delight I exited the train and the sun was shining high in the clear blue sky and it was about 80 degrees; fortunately I had worn my shorts. I walked and hiked to my very secluded Airbnb, nestled into the Alpes (how the French spell it).

There were many people walking around visiting a multitude of art galleries and museums. I discovered that the Biennale Saint Laurent 2021 was in progress. These are the times when I remind myself just how fortunate I am.

I climbed the mountain (seriously) to my Airbnb, sat on my terrace (middle photo above), to marvel at my view and then I left to join the Biennale goers and find a bakery. I had a French press in my studio; morning coffee on the terrace would require the accompaniment of some French pastry (bread would be stale by morning). I visited a dozen galleries, saw some artwork I really liked, but not enough to schlep it home. I then walked into the centre of Grenoble where I found a marvelous bakery, a shoppers paradise (specialty foods, clothing, books, etc.), the Old Town. I wasn’t into shopping at that point and I had a bottle of French white chilling in my little refrigerator. My private terrace was calling my name and I was badly in need of a shower before dinner.

Chez Marius

Chez Marius might have been my favorite meal on this trip to date. I had flank steak in a porcini mushroom sauce and traditional potatoes baked in a light cream sauce; accompanied by a beautiful salad (fresh greens with a vinaigrette). An excellent organic Cote du Rhone, a beautiful clear night, and a table on the edge of an open doorway. I was in the most Zen state I have been in, in a very long time.

The End of a Magnificent Day

A seven minute climb to my mountain retreat, a sweet night’s sleep; window open, a slight cool breeze and rainfall as I dreamt of what the next day in Grenoble might bring.

As I crossed the Isère River on my way home from dinner (by bridge)

My Second Day In Grenoble

It’s day five of my trip and I can’t help missing Paco and my own bed. This happens everytime I go anywhere, but I push myself because I am compelled to see as much of our amazing planet before I die.

Side note: Celebrity just cancelled my cruise in Asia (five countries) scheduled in January ’22. I’m rescheduling it for January ’23 with a big cancellation credit. Plenty of time for COVID to play out and for a nice cabin selection. I’m learning patience — shhhhh!

The Esère River and the road I walked along side it:

The music part of the Art & Music Biennale

A fabulous female vocal trio, Trio Nazani. They sang acapella — mostly chanting and chamber music, astoundingly beautiful.

Lunch at La Toscana

Remember I told you about the guy who helped me find my way to Lyon from the airport. He was coincidentally from Grenoble. When I told him I was going, he shared this little gem. Grenoble is not far from Italy and there were many Italian restaurants. La Toscana was the real deal. I had orecchiette with eggplant, onions, and tomatoes and it was perfection. Good Italian wine from Abruzzo and the best Italian bread. I was so pleased.

Pasta always takes me to my happy place

Tonight a cocktail before dinner and then a local Thai restaurant. My Airbnb is so comfortable, I don’t want to leave. Since I have to hike up a mountain to get to it, I can’t drink too much or get home too late.

This is a good time to mention that although I love good company, I have been meeting many wonderful, interesting, kind, people all week. I bought a small piece of artwork today (see below) from the artist and truly enjoyed our conversation.

By the way the night did not go as played; see below:

The Sixth Day

This is when I start to wonder if I made my vacation a bit longer than I should have. I didn’t have much of a choice this time because EasyJet only flies in and out of Faro twice a week — four days or eight days, those were my choices. And so it goes, in a few hours I’ll get on a train for Lyon. The good news is that I have an upgraded room at a very nice centre city hotel and I get to see the Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth film that I missed in Faro (Supernova only played for two days).

A quick and cynical recap of my evening last night: I was getting ready to leave my studio tucked into the French Alpes and I hit the top of my head on a vaulted stairway ceiling — I’d been doing really well with that fucking ceiling till then. I waited for the bleeding to stop and it didn’t so I left with toilet paper stuck to my head. I hiked down the mountain and crossed the bridge to where the Thai restaurant supposedly was, but my Google Maps wasn’t googling properly and I ended up too far in the opposite direction. I murmured, fuck this, to myself and decided to go to this sandwich spot closer to where I was staying. I had seen pictures of the sandwiches before lunch, but I’d already decided on Italian and there was no turning back. I got to the sandwich spot and it was closed. I thought, fuck this shit, and I walked to this British ghetto where I intended to drown my sorrows in whiskey and fish & chips. If you’re thinking, “British ghetto in the French Alpes?” I promise you it’s true. There was this sprawling, out-of-the-way spot in Old Town Grenoble that was swarming with Brits and British pubs. No wonder the French kept it far from the rest of the village. I’m not sure why, but I’ve noticed when Brits travel, they like to go to British pubs; stick with what you know I guess. I picked the pub with the least number of humans, showed my vaccination certificate, and crawled into a corner seat where I intended to sulk and hide and sip my whiskey. American rap music was blasting into my ears and I thought, I gotta get the fuck out of here, but where the fuck will I go? I sat in suffering silence for what seemed like hours and no one came to take my order. I went to the bar where a lone service person tells me that I have to order drinks and food from her, there at the bar. I sigh, it was a big sigh with lots of drama attached, perhaps even Oscar worthy, I said, “I’ll have a dark & stormy and fish & chips,” she screamed over the rap, “I don’t know what a dark & stormy is and if I were you, I wouldn’t order the fish & chips.” It was a freakin’ British pub for Christ’s sake (she was British by the way). I thought, ain’t this the fucking worst night of my life? and said, “Have you got a bandaid, my head is bleeding.” I saw no sympathy in her judgmental eyes. She hollered, “I’ll go check.” My lady returned 10 minutes later sans bandaid. How is it possible that a commercial kitchen doesn’t have a bandaid? I ordered a rum & ginger ale and a medium rare burger, thinking I was already dead so what would it matter if I were to die again. She handed me one of those plastic disks that lights up like a spaceship and she told me to come back when it explodes. I ate that overcooked god-damned burger as fast as I could so that I could exit that rap den while I still had an ounce of dignity and or life left in me. I walked slowly dreading the mountain I still had to climb before I could crawl into my bed and sleep off the dread. I’m not proud of this, my blood stained pillow case and I have only ourselves to blame, but there is one thing I do know and that is that today will be better; I’ve set a low bar after all.

I posted this recap on Facebook and learned that my friends really do read my posts. The F-bombs were not said out loud by the way.

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Easy train trip back to Lyon and a short walk to my hotel. My Google Maps is super wanky these days and it took me there in a roundabout way; I’m certain it knows I need the exercise — cheeky GPS. I settled into Greet Hotel, a recently opened, trendy hotel that was priced right. I had upgraded to a larger room on an upper floor. I asked not to be put in a room with a skylight because I wanted to have a view. But of course they put me in a room with a skylight. After a few apologies, I got my view and a very comfortable room for my last two nights in Lyon.

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From my tiny balcony: Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere on the top of Fourviere Hill in Lyon

I walked over the bridge to Kenbo, an excellent Asian street food restaurant that was open (many restaurants are closed on Monday night). The restaurant was in a very funky, young neighborhood that had a good vibe. Not a bad day. Everything was smooth and easy and I finally got to eat the Asian food I was longing for. Almost forgot, my head feels a lot better, although it is still tender at the top.

Day Seven

I must admit I am ready to go home. I miss my dog, I miss my bed, I miss the gym, and I miss my normal life. I imagine most people feel this way after a week away.

Today I will do whatever I please (I know that’s what I do everyday), when I please. I did not pay for breakfast at the hotel because all I want is a coffee and a cookie. I have not stopped eating since I got off the plane in Lyon. Today will be a light food day and lots of walking. It will be partly cloudy and cool. Sunshine is forecasted for my day of departure and for several days after; isn’t that always the way? I can’t complain, I did have lots of cloudy sky and some rain, but I also so had some unexpectedly beautiful weather as well.

HEAT Lyon

I went on-line and found this amazing street food court about 30 minutes walk from my hotel. It was in a part of Lyon I had not been to and I love street food. The internet had it opening at noon.

I happily strolled to the location and viola, no more Heat. This sort of this has happened to me before. The problem with the internet, is that it is often not updated. I had past an Italian restaurant along the way with what looked like amazing wood fired pizza. I went to A Tavola and had an outstanding pizza. I could have been upset about Heat, but getter older teaches you to breathe and let it go.

The southern part of the peninsula is being built out and renovated. I think if I lived in Lyon, this is where I’d want to be — in that area on the Saône (the lesser known river in Lyon).

Don’t miss Supernova (Tucci and Firth), it’s outstanding cinema.

Final Impressions

Lyon is beautifully laid out; most of the city is a grid, making it easy to find your way. The rivers on either side of a center peninsula (where I stayed when I arrived and when I returned) help you navigate without too much effort or dread. I walked for hours and stopped in many galleries and food shops. I passed numerous churches and only went into one — I have strong feelings about the Catholic Church, I will not go into now. The people who live and work in Lyon and Grenoble are kind and helpful people; for that I am grateful. Many do not speak English, but thanks to Google translator, I got by. There were many museums I did not visit. I prefer the art being created now; especially by local artists. I’m not sure I will return to Lyon, there is so much more of the world to see.

The Rhône and Saône converge to the south of the historic city centre, forming a peninsula – the “Presqu’île” – bounded by two large hills to the west and north and a large plain eastward. Place Bellecour (my first location) is located on the Presqu’île between the two rivers and is the third-largest public square in France.

A whimsical piece I purchased in Grenoble. It will always remind me of this trip. I know it’s a bit off, my pic, not the painting — I took the photograph without lining up the lens.

The Final Day

I happily leave this place later today. Not that I didn’t love it here; in fact, I’m thrilled to have finally made it to Lyon. I want my Paco and my Portugal. It’s nice to be going home to a pet and a place I love so much — a choice I have never regretted. I’ve come to a time in my life where a cup of coffee out on my terrace, watching the sun come up, is all the paradise I need.

Au revoir pour le moment!

Vila Real de Santo António

A gem on the southernmost border of Portugal and Spain

Please keep in mind, my travelogues are more about sharing highlights than telling you what not to do.

I have happily lived in the Algarve for 3 1/2 years now. I have only visited Vila Real de Santo António once and that was for a quick walk through the centre. I have passed through this little town several times on my way to Spain and I have spent time in neighboring towns. So why did I finally come to this town for an extended stay?

I had recently booked an Airbnb for three days and consequently had the opportunity to see the place I had booked. I don’t want to share specifics because it wouldn’t be fair to the owner of the Airbnb; he did not know I would be stopping by. I will only tell you two things: first I think the dude is a raging alcoholic, and second, he smoked like it was crack. There were ashtrays everywhere and the place reeked of smoke. I cancelled my reservation as soon as I got home. I also convinced Airbnb to refund the service fee — something they rarely do.

I opened Booking.com looking at the same dates and the Pousada Vila Real de Santo António popped up on my screen and so, I took a closer look. I viewed the photos and decided this place might be to my liking. Swimming pool on the first level and another on the roof.

Pousada Vila Real de Santo António (website photos)

Beautifully appointed, friendly, a great location and the price was right. I even received an email that I could upgrade to a bigger room for a reasonable fee. I have always wanted to stay in a Portuguese Pousada and this was my chance. I have two terraces and one of the best mattresses I have ever slept on. Breakfast is included and it’s excellent. I was able to get fresh coffee in the early morning hours; something I much appreciate. Fabulous property. I think I’ll join their Guest Club for offers and tempting benefits. I should note their website is very nicely done (not all hotels pay attention to their site).

“The Pousadas of Portugal Group is an exclusive chain of 34 historical hotels many of which are considered to be amongst the top hotels in Portugal and are the very embodiment of the best that Portugal has to offer. Many Pousada hotels were formerly monasteries, palaces, convents and castles and have been beautifully converted to offer luxurious, elegant hotel accommodation, often in superb locations. These unique hotels are located throughout mainland Portugal and the Azores in either historical cities such as Evora, a world heritage site, or in rural areas of outstanding natural beauty or interest such as Geres National Park.”

Dining

Di. Vino — my FB review

A fabulous eatery. I have to be honest, I chose this restaurant because I liked the owners reply to a reviewer. Among many excellent reviews, one diner was not a happy fella, but I liked the way the owner dealt with him. What I found was a quaint, authentic, executed with love, spot on the river with beautiful artwork and lovely jazz. The husband and wife team who own this gem have created a winning dining experience that will delight your senses.

I had an all shellfish night, clams and then shrimp. Fresh, simple and delicioso!

Green Buddha

Good food, good service, and a side street location. Looking forward to returning to try some of their other dishes.

Excellent Pad Thai

Pousada Restaurant

The Pousada had a beautiful restaurant with a mediterranean inspired menu. A wood fired oven (rare in Portugal), made choosing dinner at the Pousada a no brainer and I was not disappointed. There were lots of other offerings and a many cocktail and wine selections.

Gelato

Dedé Gelataria Italiana Artigianale

The pistachio gelato (my favorite) left me wanting more . . . and more.

Bistro – Bar Latté

A beautiful and inviting bar with delicious eclectic bar food (including British fish & chips that I didn’t get to try — too full).

Shopping

The entire centre of Vila Real is closed to traffic. There are many touristy shops you’ll want to pass up, but then every so often you’ll see a unique boutique shop worth visiting. There is also loads of shopping on the Spanish side (Ayamonte). I got this beautiful bowl for four euros (perfect for a small salad or ramen):

Amusements

There is a casino just a couple of miles away in Monte Gordo. I did go once to make a small donation. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

There are two museums and I saw an ad for a show (in Portuguese) that was recently staged here. It was competing rap artists — I missed it by three days.

Just look across the river and you will see Spain. You can take an inexpensive ferry ride to Ayamonte or drive across the bridge that links the two countries. It’s a real treat. A one hour time difference (keep this in mind when you look at the ferry schedule) and paella. A completely different culture only minutes away.

Travel To and From

I took the train which was just over 10 Euros round trip from Faro. It’s an old rail system, but it works. You can, of course, also drive there. Another option is the bus from Faro which takes about 90 minutes; for me, not as comfortable as the train.

There was an evening market in the square in front of the hotel on my second night. I assume it’s a summertime, Tuesday evening thing. An exhibition on “sardine” artwork was delightful.

Let me end by saying that I could easily live here.

Upcoming Travel

Stockholm coming up in a few weeks. They’ve got COVID-19 under control; looks promising. Lyon, France in September and London for theatre in October. I’m waiting to book November and December, but I’m looking at all of my options. I love these direct flights to different parts of Europe from Faro. I want to see what this virus will do to winter travel. I’ll be in five Asian countries in January ’22 and Cuba in February. Both of these trips were rescheduled due to COVID-19.

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.

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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.

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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.