Time & Patience Blog Updated

I’m spending this week in Eindhoven and Den Bosch, Holland and next week I’ll be writing a piece on what I experienced. I thought it might be interesting to update a blog I published shortly after arriving in Faro. I’ll note my changes or updates in red.

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The view from the Hotel Faro, my favorite watering hole — I’ve discovered that I prefer the rooftop bar at the Eva Hotel at the marina. It’s more casual and drinks are less expensive. You also get a great view of the marina.

 

Whoever said, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” did not live in Portugal. I knew some things would be different and in fact, I looked forward to change. In truth, I haven’t even been here three weeks and I hesitate to start complaining, but heck, it’s my nature to piss and moan so why wait. I do complain quite a bit; mostly about:  smokers, too much cologne on men, the long lines everywhere, the absence of rain, too much paper, and add-on fees and charges. Sometimes you get charged extra for ketchup in a restaurant.

I purposely decided not to purchase a vehicle for several reasons:  1) I wanted to reduce my carbon footprint, 2) I was hoping I’d get more exercise by walking, and finally, 3) I figured I could save a little money (more in the bank for food). I’ve spent quite a bit of time studying the Faro bus schedule. It’s complicated, convoluted and I have no idea where buses end up in the city. There are at least 10 different bus lines very close to my building, but I can’t figure out how to get from A to B. So I decided to go to the mall Saturday. The schedule clearly said that the number 5 goes to Forum every 30 minutes on Saturday. I took my time and meandered over to the bus stop; there I sat for over an hour. You guessed it, no bus. The good news is that Uber is cheap and a car arrived in minutes to whisk me off to the mall. I still do not have a vehicle and I do not plan on getting one anytime soon. I have sort of figured out the bus system, but every so often I wait for buses that do not arrive. The problem is twofold:  first, there are many different schedules and many different routes, and second, the schedules change depending on the time of year — old schedules remain on-line and new schedules cannot be located. I try to go with the flow and I always carry a good book. Trains are much more reliable and they cost less and are more comfortable. If a guy is slathered in cheap cologne sits near me, I can usually get away from him on the train (it’s never woman by the way.)

Intervalo is intermission in Portuguese and if you love film, be prepared. I recall now that this same thing did happen to me in Spain a number of years ago, but frankly, I wasn’t expecting it and I was startled. I was watching a dumb American film at the mall last week and the film stopped mid-scene for an “interval.” Although it is clearly a minor issue, I have several problems with it:

  1. If you’re going to have an intermission, why do it in the middle of a scene?
  2. Part of the excitement of a film is anticipating what is coming next and I’d rather not have interruptions. Holding it in because the film is that good, is a good thing. It’s two hours and easy to prepare for, no?
  3. Because I had time to kill, I felt compelled to purchase a snack and although candy at the movies is a lot less expensive in Portugal (1.25 Euros or $1.55 for a pack of M & Ms), I don’t need the calories.
  4. I’d rather not be thinking, “I like the way we do it in the States better.”

I guess I needed the comfort of an American film as part of my adjustment to a new home abroad. It worked, I felt better, and I don’t see it happening again anytime soon.

In truth, I have come to appreciate the break during the film. It’s an opportunity to use the restroom and stretch. My sister was here this week and we went to see Joker. When the film stopped and the theater lights came on, I told her what it was. We laughed about it for hours. Kathy said, “They had an intermission at the movies when we were kids.” Not sure why they discontinued this practice in the States; I’m sure it had something to do with cost.

The good people of Portugal do not pick up their dog’s poop! I’m serious, I have to look down everywhere I go. After living in Maine where you rarely see poop on the ground, this has been difficult to deal with. Poop bags are on every other lamp-post and they still don’t pick it up. What makes this insane is that the Portuguese recycle everything. There is a bin for just about every kind of trash and people are psychotic about sorting it, but they leave the dog shit right there on the sidewalk. If it kills me I’m going to be THAT guy that calls out every pet owner in Faro who doesn’t pick up their dog’s poop. I recently scolded a young man who just left his dog’s poop on a beautiful grassy area in front of my building. He got really angry and basically told me to fuck-off. He said something about there being street cleaning people who would pick it up. I see him every so often and sneer at him. My only hope is that he steps in a big pile of shit while he’s out on a date with a girl he’s trying to impress. I have a difficult time understanding why anyone would choose to leave the shit on the sidewalk. If this starts keeping me up at night I’ll have to move to the country where there are no dog walkers — or Vilamoura (nearby) where the police will fine you; perhaps they fine people in Faro, I’m not sure.

Gyms don’t open until 9:00 a.m. and they’re closed on weekends; now how silly is that? People here do not workout before work. Back home, gyms were full by 6:00 a.m., and how can they be closed on weekends? Isn’t that when you catch up on workouts you may have missed during the week? Perhaps it’s when you extend your workout a bit? I’m a big believer is providing employees a good quality of life, but as far as I’m concerned, if choose to be employed in a gym, you should expect to work weekends; sort of like restaurants and grocery stores. Good news:  I joined a new gym that opens at 7:00 a.m. everyday except Sunday. I paid the same annual fee, but alas, this gym has a lot of great equipment and they’re open on holidays. I have to bring my own soap, but it’s a small price to pay. The receptionist is a sweetheart and she’s helping me with my bad Portuguese. If it wasn’t for the gym I’d weigh 500 pounds — Portuguese pastries are really good.

Shocked, stunned, bewildered, and frustrated, that I have not received a single piece of Portuguese mail in my mailbox. I’m getting packages from Amazon and even a couple of forwarded pieces of mail from the U.S.; however, no Portuguese mail. Perhaps the post office knows I can’t read the mail anyway. My bank here will not allow me to change my U.S. address until I show them an official piece of mail with my new Portugal address. Considering I have owned my condo for over four months, it doesn’t seem likely to happen anytime soon. I never thought I’d say this, but I miss my AARP junk mail. And by the way, I don’t have a U.S. address Mr. Banker.

So what I am about to share is very embarrassing:  my attorney contacted me and said, “Have you checked your mailbox?”

I was extremely insulted and fired back, “Yes I checked my mailbox.”

I was shown my mailbox on move-in day and used my key and the mailbox opened. I thought, “Good the key works,” and I have been checking the mailbox everyday since; as I shared earlier, no mail. Last night I met the head of the condo association in the lobby.

She said, “I  will put all this in your mailbox,” and looked to her right. I thought that was odd because my mailbox was on the left. Well, today I went to the mailbox she sort of turned to and alas, it was my mailbox. I have been checking the wrong mailbox for three weeks. How my key worked on another person’s mailbox, I haven’t a clue. Further, how is it that my neighbor has not gotten any mail? So now you know what it might be like living overseas. News flash:  the Portuguese do not use the postal system for marketing as much as we do in the States, so I get very little junk mail. There is no mail on Saturdays and the mail person does not have a key to my building; hence, if no one buzzes her in, our mail is not delivered. I love the mail person; she’s funny and when she rings my bell to be let in, she says, “I have a letter for you (in broken English) or bom dia.” There is no other way to deal with this except to laugh. 

My quest to find San Marzano tomatoes has begun. I started cooking with these delicious Italian canned tomatoes over 25 years ago after taking a cooking class with Grace Balducci in New York City. They’ve been readily available to me throughout the years — that is until I moved to Portugal. It doesn’t make sense being that I am so much closer to Italy than I have ever been. I’m sure it has something to do with Italian migration to the United States and other countries. I know that I am fussy about ingredients, but if I have to take a train to Italy to find my tomatoes, then that’s what I’ll do. If you’re reading this and you know a place in or around Faro (75 kilometer radius) that sells these tomatoes, I’d be happy to end my search. Better yet, it’s a good excuse to travel to Italy soon. I have found fresh tomatoes in my French owned supermarket that are almost identical to San Marzano tomatoes. They are incredibly delicious and not terribly expensive, so I cook them down for a sauce. I have some canned whole tomatoes in my pantry that I have not yet opened, so stay tuned for the verdict. I know it’s crazy for me to spend so much time on this stuff, but I do. Spain is so close, I visit Seville on a regular basis and I have been known to carry back half a suitcase of groceries:  Bomba rice, liquid chicken stock (only cubes or powder in Faro). The point here is that if you really want something, you can find it somewhere.

There are no Walmart stores in Portugal, however, we do have Chinese discount stores. You can expect to find just about anything other than food (save for American candy) at these stores and they are everywhere — like Rite Aid in the U.S.. You have to be a discerning shopper, because no doubt, some products will fall apart before you take them out of your shopping bag. If I’m going to be honest, most products I have purchased at these stores are a great value. For example aluminum foil:  most of it is crap no matter where you buy it — the brand I always purchased in the States is not available here — our local grocery store has a decent size roll for a little over four euros. Four euros is a lot of cash for foil and that’s why a one euro roll of foil at the Chinese dime store works for me. I double it up and still save money. And this is how I spend my time. I buy a lot of home supplies at the Chinese bargain shops, but I have learned to buy some products elsewhere (e.g., batteries, dish soap, umbrellas).

Martinis are hands down my favorite cocktail. It’s the combination of the amount of alcohol, the three olive garnish (considered a snack), and the classic martini glass it’s served in. I’ve been ordering martinis since it was legal for me to imbibe. Well, it’s a bit of a problem in my new home country. The Portuguese drink an aperitif bottled by Martini, Martini is a brand of Italian vermouth, named after the Martini & Rossi Distilleria Nazionale di Spirito di Vino, in Turin.  I ordered a Martini straight up on two occasions and I was served this vermouth chilled — not what I wanted. I have found a couple of places that serve it just the way I like it; however, I’m still looking for a bar with the glassware I prefer. These are the things in life that truly matter and I am not above bringing my own glass to a bar. Alas, there are a few places in the Algarve that both have vermouth and the correct martini glasses; however, I have to say I have frustrated many a bartender in Faro; these folks do not appreciate one of our favorite cocktails. I now have vermouth at home and my martini glasses were released from Customs — you think it’s easy don’t you?

 

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Pictured: the perfect martini!

Finally, life in Portugal has far exceeded all of my expectations. I will probably mention this often, but the people are welcoming and wonderful, the weather would be hard to beat and the food is in some ways, almost too good. I love knowing the differences one experiences when living somewhere abroad; hence my reason for sharing. Update:  I love Faro even more today than when I wrote this blog. I love how easy it is to navigate the city, I love how close I am to the airport and how easy and inexpensive it is to fly direct to so many other European countries and cities; I love how helpful the Portuguese people are; I love how far my money goes; I love that I’m getting a dog soon and so many people here will help make it happen; I love how fair most things are here; I love that Portugal practices social democracy and that most people like it; I love my phone, cable, wifi company; I love that I now possess a Portuguese drivers license; I like my neighbors; I love the food and the what is happening with the food scene; I love how cheap and good Portuguese wine is; and I love that I love that I made the right decision to come here. What I don’t like seems mostly petty and ridiculous. I want to just embrace it all.

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The shrimp here are really THAT BIG

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Photos:

  1. Sitting on the roof deck of Hotel Faro in the marina (Old Town). It has become my favorite watering hole.
  2.  The view from the bus stop outside my apartment — Avenida 5 de Outubro. Strangely there is a good deal of exotic vegetation on this avenue, but you don’t see any of it in this photo. Palm trees, succulents, etc.
  3. The back of a ceramic tile shop in Olhao. I met the ceramic artist after purchasing a tile wall piece I’m excited to have plastered to one of my walls. I’ll post a photo when it’s done.
  4. Shrimp and octopus right out of the Algarve Atlantic (click for Chefe Branco). Dinner with Brenda Athanus; I need to go back soon
  5. Caprese salad at L’Osteria, an Italian restaurant way too close to home.
  6. The foliage outside my building that I referred to in #2.

If there is something in particular you would like me to write about, please let me know. I’m happy to entertain any and all topics. Facebook has helped me to create a new Christopher emoji.

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Flashback Experience

 

“Existence is no more than the precarious attainment of relevance in an intensely mobile flux of past, present and future.”

 — Susan Sontag

 

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Mercedes Country House in Faro — where the tasting took place.

 

I need to feel relevant. Whether or not that will happen today, is yet to be seen.

Working at the French Culinary Institute in New York City occasionally afforded me the opportunity to taste and evaluate dishes prior to a restaurant opening or before a new seasonal menu was released. Last week I received a call from Miguel, the owner of Mercedes Country House, about a new restaurant opening in downtown Faro. The name of the restaurant is Shiraz.

Shiraz is owned by Mr. Thomas, born in Iran, lived in Germany for many years, and currently resides in Portugal. Mr. Thomas has a restaurant in Cascais and he recently purchased and remodeled a space in Faro. Miguel and Mr. Thomas are friends and Miguel suggested that the tasting take place at The Mercedes House where there are guests who know good food and there is plenty of parking. I’ve had Miguel’s cooking several times, Miguel knows food. Miguel insisted that I meet Mr. Thomas.

I was happy to meet him because Faro does not have very many non-Portuguese restaurants. There have been a couple of new and trendy restaurants recently; it is obvious the landscape is changing. I imagine it has something to do with an influx of tourists from all over the world. It is obvious that people visiting Portugal love Portuguese food, especially the fresh fish, but variety is essential for vacationers. Shiraz will be an Asian restaurant; that’s a really good thing.

I thought I would have an opportunity to interview Mr. Thomas, but he unfortunately did not get to sit down at the table until the end of the tasting and I did not think it would be fair or appropriate to monopolize his time. I’ll do a piece about him and the food at Shiraz after it opens.

 

The Tasting

Mr. Thomas’ curry is not a typical curry. Curry is usually thickened with cream, however, Mr. Thomas’ curry is thickened with onion. I’m pleased with any alternative to cream. His delicious curry is flavorful, but it does not overpower the fish. Mr. Thomas has not yet decided which fish he will feature with his famous curry sauce. By the way, I love that he prefers to be called Mr. Thomas.

There were at least ten tasters sitting at one large table. Fish is a tricky dish to evaluate due to different likes and dislikes when it comes to texture and taste. Individuals usually have very strong opinions about the fish the prefer or dislike. What I found most interesting about this particular tasting panel, was the diversity of the panel; visitors from several countries were asked to participate. Early on in my tenure at the French Culinary Institute I met Julian Alonso a graduate of the school. He was the Chef de Cuisine at The Sea Grill at Rockefeller Center. He taught me that the fish I disliked, I disliked because when I ordered that fish, it had not been prepared properly. I sampled five or six different types of fish that day that I would have never ordered from the menu. Chef Julian’s dishes were all exquisite. One dish after another changed my way of thinking about fish. I went into this tasting keeping Julian’s words in mind.

We started with mackerel and went on to taste, spider fish, sea bass, grouper and ended with prawns. All of the dishes were served with basmati rice and curry. The objective, with all things being equal, was which fish paired well with this particular curry sauce. It would be unfair to give away my favorite, however, one or two of the types of fish I sampled, did stand out.

We were each asked to complete an evaluation form, rating each dish on a scale from one to ten, ten being the highest score. I must admit that all of my scores were high, save for one — no matter what anyone does to mackerel, I cannot bring myself to enjoy it.

The dishes were paired with a delicious Portuguese Vinho Verde. The name Vinho Verde refers to the lush green landscape where the wine is produced.

 

Shiraz

We were not asked our opinion about the name of the restaurant, however, I will weigh in. What I like about the name is two things:  first, I love wine made from the Syrah grape (sometimes a blend), and second, the name conveys, albeit in a subtle way, that Iran was the inspiration for the restaurant. Having not spoken to Mr. Thomas about this matter, I should reveal that I am only speculating.

Map of Shiraz, Fars Province, Iran

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Legends of Syrah’s origins come from one of its homonyms, Shiraz. Because Shiraz, Capital of the Persian Empire (modern-day Iran), produced the well-known Shirazi wine, legends claim the Syrah grape originated in Shiraz and then was brought to Rhône (Wikipedia).

 

The menu is, of course, extremely important when designing a restaurant, however, the name of a restaurant is equally as important. Give a restaurant a name people do not understand or cannot pronounce, and they will not come.

 

Feeling Relevant

The School of Management, Hospitality and Tourism has an impressive campus located close to the Ria Formosa in Faro. One of the offerings at the school is a highly regarded culinary program. I attended a beautiful event at the school and I had an opportunity to taste the food prepared by the students. It was my understanding that school was not in session, however, several students volunteered to prepare the sit-down, multi-course dinner. The food was terrible. And I mean all of it. It’s been over a year so my memory is not 100%, but I believe dessert was edible. I thought that because of my work in the culinary industry, I could help. I didn’t think it was appropriate to bring this up on the night of the event, so I waited.

I wrote the the event organizer and shared my disappointment about the food. She informed me that she had already received numerous complaints. I asked her who I could speak to at the school about volunteering to help with the curriculum. She implied that I should contact the head of the program, but I probably would not get very far. Being bullheaded and persistent, I decided that I would give it a try. I wrote to the culinary department and after a long wait, I received a brief email telling me that the person I needed to speak to was on vacation and that my email would be forwarded to him. I was told that I would hear from him when he returned. Weeks went by and I heard nothing. I wrote several emails and no reply. I spoke to a couple of Portuguese residents of Faro about my frustration; they told me that they were not surprised. I was basically informed that people here were very proud and they do not welcome outside help. I believe there is an expat influence that is changing that. For now, I just have to accept that this school would rather not have me as a volunteer.

I will be showing up at the hospital sometime in the next few weeks. It is my hope that they will welcome me as a patient relations volunteer; if not, I’ll move on to the next thing . . . until I feel relevant.

A Portuguese Retreat in Castro Marim

Be prepared, I get a bit corny.

 

 

 

I have been spending the last few months looking for the perfect quick getaway in the Algarve and I believe I have stumbled upon it. Not that other parts of the Algarve aren’t beautiful mind you. Castro Marim is different; it’s old world, it’s unspoiled, it’s an hour door-to-door.

I discovered Castro Marim while surfing Airbnb. I must have rented six or seven apartments or rooms this summer and I wanted to make sure there was nothing out there that I was missing. I’ve spend more time west of Faro, so I decided I should explore the towns closer to Spain. While looking at Monte Gordo (resort-like) and Vila Real Santo Antonio (at the Portuguese border), I found an Airbnb that was very reasonable on a beekeeper’s farm. I have always had a fascination with bees and I’m a big fan of honey. It is almost like wine or olive oil in that it has a very distinct taste depending on where it is harvested. Apparently, there is a good deal of substituting other sugar substances with the real thing, so I’m always searching for local honey I know will be pure.

The train station is a few minutes walk from my apartment in Faro and the train ride was a little less than an hour. I usually have to take an Uber or taxi to my destination, but in this case the directions to the Airbnb looked fairly straight forward from the train station; about a ten minute walk. I opened my phone to look at the directions and I heard my name. It was Jennifer, one of the owners of the Airbnb. I was pleasantly surprised. Jennifer told me that when she saw when I was arriving, she thought it would be easier just to meet me at the station — gotta love that. We walked and talked and I knew I had happened on something special in Castro Marim.

The farm is owned by four friends who have pretty much built it from the ground up over the past five years. I had booked “Ameratasu” The White Room at Phaedra. It was one of the four rooms in a very cool sort of adobe type building with a beautiful courtyard in the center. Honestly, I hate spending all my time taking photos, if you go to the Airbnb site (click), you will see more photos.

 

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This was my room. The front leading to the terrace is open to the elements and I loved the fresh air (and ignored the bugs). Ameratasu  private deck

 

Jennifer graciously showed me the property; swimming pool, vegetable garden, chicken coop, outdoor lounge space, outdoor community kitchen, communal bathroom complete with compost commode (a little sawdust over your poop that’s all). It’s not for everyone, but it’s a step above camping and the price is right.

I asked about dining options and Jennifer told me about my many choices:

  • Taberna Remexida — only about 100 yards from the property and where I had dinner my first night
  • São Bartolomeu — the town very close to the Castro Marim train station. It’s a tiny town with a couple of traditional Portuguese restaurants — always good and always inexpensive
  • Praia Verde — nearby beach (see later on in this piece)
  • Castro Marim centre — I would say it’s about seven miles from the property. I had lunch there my second day (more later).

If you have a vehicle, you are also fairly close to Tavira, Monte Gordo, Vila S. Antonio and only about 15 minutes from Spain. Many, many options.

I needed an ATM machine so I biked (bicycle provided by the Airbnb) to Praia Verde to see the beach and the properties near the ocean. It was a hilly 20 minute bike ride. What I found was a pristine beach and lots of amenities. There were shops, a supermarket, a pastry shop, a place to sign-up for water sports, a spa and a very fancy restaurant. Infante Panoramico was right on the ocean and offered a very extensive menu (not cheap by Portuguese standards) of beautiful seafood. I will definitely return to this restaurant for a special occasion. I also want to get a condo by the beach; perhaps next June.

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Praia Verde from a window at Infante

 

Cash in pocket, I bought some fresh bread for breakfast (Jennifer invited me to get my own fresh eggs from the coop, which I did both mornings), pastel de nata — I like to compare these famous Portuguese pastries, some groceries for the communal kitchen; and cold beer most importantly. My favorite thing about an Airbnb is the ability to make some of your own meals and snacks which can obviously both save you lots of money and keep you away from giant rich meals. I have to show some constraint.

I biked back to the property and took a big dip in a very refreshing pool. There were only two other couples staying at the property and they must have been out touring. I happily had the place to myself.

Staying close to the farm was essential for dinner, so I made a reservation at Taberna Remexida down the road. When you’re on foot, on very narrow country roads, it’s actually quite dangerous to be out in the dark for obvious reasons. This restaurant was close enough that I could almost see it from the farm. And what a treat it turned out to be. Gigi my Italian waiter made it even more savory.

 

 

 

I finally got to try Sharish Gin as an appetite stimulator. It was wonderfully herbaceous and fresh. I picked some up at the market in Faro yesterday.

 

Sharish Original Gin

Sharish Original Gin Bottling Note

Sharish Gin comes to us all the way from Portugal, and it made with a selection of botanicals grown by the distillers themselves, including oranges, lemons and apples. Other botanicals in the mix include juniper, vanilla, cinnamon, clove, coriander and lemon verbena. Interestingly, the base spirit for Sharish gin is made with a mixture of molasses, rice and wheat!

 

I moved on to simply prepared local clams and shrimp. So fresh and perfect for a warm evening near the sea. I ended with chorizo which was sauteed in honey; a nice combination of sweet and savory. All accompanied by a perfect white from Alentejo. During my last course, the dining room suddenly erupted in screams and laughter. Three playful puppies charged the dining room and all three came to visit me at my table. They were the last of a recent litter; cute and adoptable. It took everything I had not to snatch one up. I strolled back to camp very satisfied.

A couple of rather large mosquitos accompanied me to bed; admittedly not very desirable, but when you’re sleeping half indoors and half outdoors, it’s to be expected. I did bring insect repellent, however, I ended up being a day late and a dollar short rubbing it on. No worries, a bit of cortisone topical cream and I was good as new.

Turned out that a 90 degree day turned into a 60 degree night and I had to wrap myself up in a big comforter; provided of course. Eight delicious hours later, I was ready to tackle the day. Two fresh farm eggs, some Spanish ham and toast prepared (by me) in the outdoor kitchen, made for a beautiful start of the day. I watched the sun rise and the cows graze and honestly, I felt more alive than I have in a long time. A very verbal kitty came by to have breakfast with me and she was pleasant company indeed. Now for activities:

Spa Salino, a place where I could enjoy a natural salt bath and a mud application was in Castro Marim about a 35 minute bike ride north. I had never seen salt harvesting and I was certain I would enjoy floating in rich mineral sea water.

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After the bath you cover yourself with mud rich in minerals and you can feel it draw all that toxic garbage from your skin.

The entire time I’m soaking in the salt, I’m thinking about two very important things:  First, where am I having lunch? And secondly, how am I going to make that brutal trip back in this 95 degree heat. Since food always reins supreme, I focused on lunch. The owners of the baths told me about a place in Castro Marim that they thought I’d like. I showered off, convinced myself that I was fully rejuvenated and ready to get back on the bicycle, and headed to town. I went straight to what I thought was the restaurant and alas it was closed — it’s early September, is tourist season over already?

My second stop was to be the market to purchase provisions for the evening meal. I had decided that if I had a big lunch, it would be nice to eat a light meal that evening in the great outdoors. I found the mercado and bought fresh bread, olives, jamon, and a nice bottle of Portuguese red. At the check out, I asked the cashier if she could recommend a place for lunch. She and the customer behind me, named the same restaurant the guys at the baths had mentioned. I said that it was closed and both ladies gave me a funny look. I got back on the bicycle and thought I’d eat at the first Portuguese restaurant I came across; after all, they’re always excellent. Sure enough I found A Tasca Medieval (click for more) and got a nice outdoor table in the shade. I mistakenly had gone to the Taberna Medieval, an easy mistake to make. I had a delightful black pork dish and the best lemon meringue tart I have ever eaten.

I was dreading the bike ride back to the farm; my belly was way too full, it was scorching hot and I was way too relaxed — oh, and my backpack was heavy. Faced with a daunting task, I usually tell myself that it will be good for me:  lies, lies, lies. I got on the bicycle and started pedaling. At some point about 45 minutes in, I realized I’d made a wrong turn. I was wet from sweat, tired and the roads were eerily free of vehicles. I thought that if I’d passed out I would not be found until 2020. Okay, I exaggerate a bit, but truthfully, it was a bit scary. I had been conservative with my phone battery and I willed Google Maps to open. Alas, it all worked out — there was a cut through and I was back on the farm in 15 minutes. I didn’t stop to put the food away, I headed straight for the pool, undressed and jumped in. The whole day was extremely surreal because of the absolute quiet everywhere. Minutes later, I met Tom, another one of the property owners, and was thrown back to reality. He was careful not to invade my solitude.

A gin & tonic and a good book, made the afternoon in paradise heavenly.

Tom was cooking his meals for the week when I went to prepare my own snack in the community kitchen Wednesday evening. It was nice to hear his story; a young man in his early thirties, living his dream . . . sort of. The combination of Portuguese cheeses, jamon, olives, and that delicious red, were the perfect way to end a very adventurous day — I was sated and proud of myself for making it happen. I spied what Tom was cooking and I was grateful for my meal.

Early to bed, not quite as cool as the night before, but pleasant. As usual, I was up before the sun and made coffee under the stars. I sat quietly listening to the roosters and watching the sun start a new day. Many things crossed my mind on that glorious morning, but mostly I just smiled and took it all in.

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An hour later I was on the short train ride home contemplating a place close to home to escape the day-to-day and remind myself of all that I am grateful for.

 

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I sat about 30 feet away from this child at the restaurant and I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her. She was incredibly beautiful and very pensive.

Porto and the Duoro Valley

 

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A view of Porto and the Duoro River from the Museu Romântico.

 

I have to begin by admitting that it took much too long to get to Porto. When I first visited Portugal, I knew that I wanted to live in the south because I had done research on the favorable climate and the robust, affordable economy.  I concentrated on exploring areas in the south and since Porto is north of Lisbon (about 3 hours by train — see map below), it was not in my travel plans.

Side note:  traveling throughout Portugal is a pleasure. Public transportation is usually easy to navigate, the airports are not overcrowded, and most people speak English fairly well. It’s good to know some Portuguese because as with all natives, they truly appreciate any attempt to speak their language.

 

Porto

I had some friends (Neal & Winnie Borden) coming into Porto on a cruise ship on Tuesday of this week and that gave me an excellent excuse to fly to Porto. I have been trying to keep these short distance excursions to three or four days. I believe three days is plenty of time to get a feel for a place and if there are parts I do not get to see, it gives me a good reason to return.

I rented a studio Airbnb in the city centre — I usually stay in the center so that I can walk out of my apartment and visit many places on foot or use public transportation — this particular apartment was in the back of building and it was quiet and had a magnificent, large terrace.

 

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Neal and Winnie are true foodies. Their son Adam and I met at the James Beard House in Manhattan over 20 years ago and we bonded over our love of fine food; he gets it genetically from his parents. I arrived to Porto on Monday evening so that I could meet them at the cruise port early Tuesday morning. We only had about five hours and there was lots to see and do. We had decided that lunch would be the only pre-arranged item on our itinerary. I made us a lunch reservation at Antiqvvm (a one Michelin starred restaurant) and decided we’d discuss the rest of our time together over coffee.

If you’re ever going to meet friends at a cruise ship, leave yourself lots of time. I discovered that being drop off at a pier doesn’t necessarily mean you will be close to the ship. I had to walk over a mile to get to where the ship was docked.

Fortunately, I arrived in time to greet them as they disembarked. We took a taxi from the pier to the historic part of Porto. I had heard about the Majestic Café and thought it would be a good spot for planning.

 

 

 

The Majestic Café, opened in 1921, this absolutely gorgeous and charming café should not be missed. [note:  for those of you who are new to my blogs, you can click on the names of restaurants and places for more information. Also note that I do not share every place I eat or visit; only those that are exceptional or awful are mentioned.]

The historic center was perfect for walking, but be aware that many of the streets are hilly and should be carefully navigated. We decided to head out and see as much as we could see on our way down to the river where the “colorful houses” were located.

 

The incredible colorful houses in Ribeiria (a UNESCO world heritage center) on the riverRelated image

Sites in Porto you will not want to miss:

 

 

Stay away from Puro 4050 — awful “Italian” food. Viva Creative Kitchen was interesting, fresh food, in a cozy contemporary setting.

Antiqvvm

Antiqvvm is a one Michelin star restaurant minutes from the center of Porto. Spend a few minutes at the garden overlooking Porto right outside of this beautiful glass and stone building — it’s a magical experience and you will not want to miss a moment. A memorable meal is all about the mood of the day, the people you are dining with, the quality of the food, and the service and ambiance of the restaurant. This was one of those meals where everything was as you hoped it would be. I am savoring this memory and I know it will remain with me for a lifetime.

A big thank you to Neal Borden for these gorgeous photographs of the food we were served. The soft shelled crab, lobster and veal were just some of the highlights.

 

 

 

The Duoro Valley

If it’s true what they say about doing things when you are supposed to do them, then I was not destined to explore wine country in Portugal until now. I’ve been enjoying Portuguese wine for awhile. The best thing about Portuguese wine, besides the great taste, is the value. I have taken several wine classes, but I am far from an expert. There is so much to know; however, I only know enough to appreciate it — I have a lot to learn.

Airbnb offered a full day excursion I could not resist. José, our guide, was knowledgable, friendly, funny and a very good driver. The last part is important when traveling through the Duoro Valley:  with its mountains, curvy roads and narrow streets. Sometimes group tours can be a bust — too large, obnoxious guests; you know the score. This was a group of nine people from five different countries. All of us were delighted to experience the Duoro Valley on this perfect weather day. I honestly enjoyed getting to know all eight of my fellow travelers.

The Duoro Valley is most famous for Port wine. We were fortunate to do a tour and tasting of Quinta do Tedo vineyards. This beautiful vineyard is a boutique winery selling 80% of its product to consumers who visit the vineyard. We were given a very thorough tour, followed by a generous tasting. We tasted tawny port, ruby port and late bottled port. I have always been a big fan of port wine. Good ports are easy to find in the States and I have been enjoying them for many years. I’ve also been fortunate to taste several fabulous vintage ports.

The Spruce Eats — an informative piece on Port wine.

The best part of the day was the drive to the top of one of the mountains. It was a clear, gorgeous day and the vista was breathtaking. We were also treated to a boat tour on the Duoro River. We drank a sparkling Duoro white and marveled at the beauty of the land and water.

My take away from a marvelous day in the Duoro Valley is that this place is a well kept secret. I learned of several train trips I can take for a weekend getaway or pleasant day trip. I have a feeling I’ll be blogging about this wine region in the near future.

 

 

 

 

It’s going to take me a very long time to truly appreciate the breath and beauty of Portugal, but heck, all I have is time. The next stop? Well, who knows.

 

MAP of the Iberian Peninsula

Portugal And Spain Map From Kolovrat 1
So you can see how far Porto is from Faro (about 7 hours drive). It’s actually not far from the Spanish Galician border.

 

 

Observations Concerning the U.S. and What is Happening Now

Some thoughts before this American expat flies home later today:

 

I wasn’t going to write this blog until after I returned home to Portugal and had some time to reflect on my five weeks in the U.S. After a year away from my country, my family, my friends and the politics of my former home, there are many observations I feel compelled to share. I will not name names. Not only would it be unfair and inappropriate to do so, but in truth what I saw and experienced could have come from anyone, anywhere in this country. Some might argue this point, however, the culture of the U.S. is reflected in every city and town throughout the country.

If you consider the history of the U.S., a year is hardly more than a moment in time. To be clear, my comments will not be generalizations that can and should be applied to all Americans. What I will share are subjective observations about the people and places I visited.

Politics

One of the things I said when I moved abroad is that I would try not to pay too much attention to the politics in the States. That didn’t happen. I watched the news everyday and I found myself feeling just as angry and bewildered. I left Portugal in April willing to listen to what everyone I spoke to about politics had to say.

I have several Trump supporters in my life. This became a big problem for me when he was elected because Mr. Trump and the people he surrounds himself with, represent just about everything I am opposed to. At first I did not want to speak to or interact with these people. Over time, I found myself missing them and feeling badly about my attitude. I made the decision to put politics aside and to try to understand where these friends and family members were coming from.

I had several very difficult conversations with family members I care deeply about. I remained calm and listened carefully. What I learned was revealing and comforting (in a way):

For the most part, the people I know who support Trump are kind, smart, caring individuals. They are fully aware of most of his shortcomings and they watch and pay attention to a variety of media. They seem to know that, for the most part, they are not the majority of this country. They say that there are lies and distortions on both sides of the aisle and I would have to agree with this assessment. They know how I feel and they respect my thoughts. I could go on; however, the bottom line is that they have thought about the pros and cons and the facts. They are not 100% conservative or 100% liberal. They believe in much of the same things I believe in and they are not all the same; not in any way.

I came out of this experience feeling a bit better about the people in my world. I’m admittedly still not happy about the choice they have made, but I can no longer dismiss them or their beliefs. The best I can do is continue to share when I witness distorted facts or atrocities. I also need to remind myself that my truth may not be my “brother’s” truth.

The Economy

I was shocked at how much more expensive everything was. Hotels, restaurants, the subway; everything has gone up and not just a little. There was a time when I could buy a cup of mediocre coffee at a street vendor for a buck — that same cup of mud is now two dollars. I guess what I don’t understand is why people keep going back for more. You cannot have a casual sit down lunch at a restaurant without spending twenty dollars or more (including diners).

When I was a teenager I would see Broadway shows for $8 and that was considered a lot of money because movies were a dollar. Now, cheap Broadway tickets are over $100 and movies are $15 (or more). My friends told me stories about rising rents. Between Airbnb and greedy landlords, there appears to be big problems for renters everywhere. You either have to live far from where you work or share a small space. Greed seems to have gotten worse.

I realize these kinds of issues arise with every generation; however, the difference today is how pervasive price gouging is and big business and its impact on the economy. If more and more people are using their homes as Airbnb rather than renting on a long-term basis, what inventory will be left for those who cannot afford to buy or pay high rents?

Some of the Comments Made to Me or Overheard

  • Americans should take an intelligence test before they’re allowed to vote — overheard at a restaurant in Brooklyn, NY.
  • I like Trump. I mean he’s just a man and men love women. I don’t care what he does in the bedroom and I don’t care if he sends out mean tweets; what I care about is how safe we are and our the security of our economy — someone I know very well.
  • This country will soon be run by minorities; we have to try to slow them down before they ruin it for the rest of us — also someone I know well.
  • What we’re doing to our planet is scary and I’m wondering if I did the right thing by having children — a family member.
  • What we are experiencing is surreal and difficult to comprehend. I know this country has been through tougher times, but this feels like the beginning of the end. I waiting for a huge implosion — a family member.
  • New York City has become a place where there is no longer a middle class. You’re either very rich and live well or you’re poor and living day-to-day — a good friend.
  • There are no more mom and pop restaurants. All of the new places are owned by corporations or rich investors — a friend in the food business.
  • Keeping cars out of NYC only makes it easier for the rich to get around. If delivery trucks cannot or will not pay to enter the city, how will people get milk or afford milk — a friend in NYC.
  • We better be prepared for a second term of Trump because it’s going to happen — several people.
  • Not all Floridians are pond scum — a stranger at the bar at Miami airport.
  • Guns that kill will always be easy to get in America; it’s the people who use them that are the problem — a good friend.
  • Late term abortions are wrong and causing problems for other more legitimate abortions — a liberal friend.
  • Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are too old to run for president. I know it’s agist to say this, but I know how being old feels and the elderly have no place running the country — an older friend.
  • Doctors will never work for less — a friend in healthcare.

There was so much more said in my presence. What I learned is that opinions and thoughts are strong and real. In the end we have to do our own research and search our own souls for answers.

The Future

What I see and hear concerns me deeply. Many people I know and love have the means to survive for years to come, but there are also many people in my life that are living a life that borders on poverty. I cannot imagine surviving on minimum wage today or being out of work for any length of time. People seem more concerned with their own future and less concerned with their neighbors and humankind in general. I don’t necessarily have answers, but I do have questions:

If the United States becomes a country divided by haves and have nots, how long can it survive? Will there come a time when the marginalized and forgotten rebel? If that time comes, who will survive? Would it not be better for those who have an abundance to share a percentage with those who do not? “Charity begins at home,” has true meaning in today’s world.

What is happening in Venezuela and other parts of the world should teach us many lessons, but are we willing to learn?

Note:  Pardon any spelling or grammatical errors, it’s time to pack.

Nearly One Year Abroad

 

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Asilah, Morocco for the New Year 

 

I thought I’d share the highs and lows of relocating overseas. I’ll be in the States for my 60th at the one year mark, so I thought I’d blog about it now.

 

A Brief Overview

I have pondered living outside of the United States my entire adult life. Until a couple of years ago, the opportunity had not presented itself. I moved to Maine a few years ago, but it never felt like the right fit. When I’m unhappy I usually consider something I might do to change things up; leaving the country was my best option. I love America and will never give-up my citizenship. You just never know what the future has in store for you.

The Highs

I think the best part of leaving the States has been the ability to gain some perspective. A big move, such as the one I made, forces you to take inventory of your life. I left most of my material belongings behind. I didn’t put my things in storage, I got rid of them. I brought five suitcases full of memories I did not want to part with and clothing I hoped would fit for a long time. The purging of most of my material belongings was a good exercise for me. It made me realize that I can live without so much of what I have accumulated. It was also nice to start fresh.

The people in Portugal are gracious and welcoming. I have never felt like an outsider. I had dinner in a restaurant last week and when the owner learned that I was living in Faro, she gave me her cell number and said that I should call her if I ever needed anything. That’s just one example of the reception I have received.

I know this is odd, but I had no idea that I would be only a little over two hours away from Seville, Spain and that it was an easy bus ride away. It’s been a huge bonus to take two or three-day trips to one of my favorite cities. I love everything about Seville. Spanish culture is very different and there’s a whole lot to discover.

The weather in the Algarve is amazing all year-round. With an average 300 days of sunshine, no humidity most of the year and the temperature never dipping below 45 degrees, I have to say it’s hard to beat. There is often a beautiful breeze in Faro during the summer months because of where we are located on the south side of the Atlantic. The beautiful and diverse beaches here are also more than I could have hoped for.

Taxes on property are much lower in Portugal. Condo maintenance is one-fourth the cost in Maine and one-tenth of what I paid in New York. Groceries are about 30% less. Insurance costs are a lot lower. There are bargain airlines that allow you to fly for less than 30 euros each way (if you carry a small bag onto the plane — I’ve learned how to pack more efficiently). Sometimes I wonder why things cost so much more in the States.

The Little things that make a big difference:

  • Because there is very little humidity here, things like sponges and clothes never get that damp, musty odor.
  • No snow . . . ever! I loved snow until I couldn’t ski anymore (knee issues).
  • The Portuguese government has regulations prohibiting the use of pesticides in farming, no hormones, no food additives, etc. Eggs are bright orange and delicious and do not have to be labeled organic — all food is grown naturally.
  • Very little crime. I feel very safe.
  • Public transportation is cheap and efficient. City buses are less than a euro a ride and run frequently. Going outside the city is also easy and only a few euros. Buses and trains are never overcrowded. Not owning a car has been freeing and has saved me a good deal of money. My commitment to lessen my carbon footprint has been rewarding. It took me a while to figure out the system, but once I did, it was a right.
  • Because we have an abundance of sunshine and great weather, I can cycle all year-round.
  • I have discovered many European healthcare products that are inexpensive and work well (i.e., face cream, toothpaste, pimple cream). I have a French grocery store a few blocks away and a fresh food market right above it. The outdoor farmer’s market travels from town to town and it’s in Faro on Sunday.
  • Labor is inexpensive. I have been able to do some very nice renovations to my apartment that did not cost me a fortune (i.e., french doors in my kitchen, tile work, painting).
  • Furniture is well-made here.

The Lows

Losing Giorgio to heart disease has been the worst thing that has happened in Portugal thus far. In truth, he would have had to be put down in the U.S. at some point; however, knowing that the climate change adversely affected his heart, made his death more difficult. The wide sidewalks were great because I could walk him without a leash. He loved our new home (parks and beaches) and that gives me great comfort.

I indeed miss my friends and family and that can be tough at times. I fortunately chose a place people want to visit and so, I’ve had more friends and family come to see me than I ever anticipated. It’s been quite a treat to show the people I love, my new home. My brother and his wife are with me now and we have been to places I had not discovered yet; I’ll make sure to explore the unexplored, in the future.

I’ve gained some weight and I’m not happy about that. Delicious pastries are everywhere and they’re so cheap. I think the novelty will soon wear off; either that or I’ll get tired of buying new pants. I’ve always had to work hard to keep the weight off, but aging makes this even more difficult.

Flying back to the States is expensive. Currently, airfare back to the U.S. is 900 euros during the high season, April to July. I won’t be returning very often. There are bargain fares; however, you have to accept long layovers and not great airlines. I like TAP — Air Portugal.

Did I Make the Right Choice?

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I chose the right country at the right time. Portugal is becoming more attractive to expats because real estate prices are reasonable; however, in the year since I purchased my condo, the value has risen by 20 percent. It will soon be just as expensive as everywhere else. I saw this happening with Spain 20 years ago. More importantly, I love it here. I love the people, I love the food, I love the weather, the quality of life, my location in Faro, my healthcare, and I love how it all makes me feel. I’ve mentioned this before, but I am 45 minutes to Spain by car and I can fly or take a train to several other European countries very easily. The time difference in other countries is only an hour or two and that’s manageable.

Access to Travel

Faro is not a very large city; however, it is the capital of the Algarve and the airport is a fairly large hub. Multiple airlines fly direct to many cities throughout Europe. The rail system in Europe is also quite extensive and efficient. I can see the world more easily from my new home. I know that as I get older I will want to stay closer to home where I get to enjoy all the creature comforts. I sleep better in my own bed than anywhere else. Still I know it’s best to travel as much as possible; while I still can.

 

Photos:  I took these photos in Sagres, Portugal a couple of days ago. Sagres is the furthest south and west you can go on the Iberian continent. It’s difficult to capture how truly peaceful and spectacular this part of the world is. It was an easy two and a half hour drive from my home.

Sagres Guide

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What Lies Ahead?

The best is yet to come . . .

I have decided to stop thinking long-term. I am open to possibilities I might not have ever considered before. I have two big trips coming up in 2019. After I return, perhaps a rescue dog? A pet would probably force me to stay put for a while, but that’s not a bad thing. I’m going to go the organic route on this decision and see where the future takes me. Getting older means aches and pains I did not anticipate and other small medical issues that I have to be dealt with. Staying on top of these things is important for long-term good health. When you get older, health becomes a priority.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
― Soren Kierkegaard

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”
― Beryl Markham, West with the Night

“We don’t have to be defined by the things we did or didn’t do in our past. Some people allow themselves to be controlled by regret. Maybe it’s a regret, maybe it’s not. It’s merely something that happened. Get over it.”
― Pittacus Lore, I Am Number Four

Running From Demons — PART III

Final Chapter

Greg dug into his pocket to see how much he had left to his name; his new name. He was relieved he’d had the foresight to grab a couple of thousand from his stash before he left his room. It would have been easy to blame himself for this mess, but that would be a waste of time and time was not on his side. His choices were limited. He had a new name, a new passport and so little money.  Greg didn’t like the name Joseph. He didn’t even like Joe; it reminded him of his high school football coach, Joe Ballard. Coach Ballard was an asshole. He wanted to be a Carl or a Matt; he’d have to live with Joe. He’d think about it on the way to the airport, maybe he’d go with José or use a nickname.

When Greg got to the airport in Lisbon, he looked on the board to see if there were any flights going direct to Morocco. He wanted to minimize the number of airports he had to pass through. A flight to Marrakesh at 3:00 p.m. would work. He would have a few hours at the airport, but he’d have to wait and it would give him time to think. He knew he would have to avoid the bars; he needed a clear head and his funds would soon run out.

After buying his plane ticket, he was left with a little over $1800 dollars. He’d exchange the dollars for Moroccan dirham at a bank away from the airport where the exchange rate would be better. Greg had to give his passport to the ticket agent and that went well. The big hurdle would be in Marrakesh where he has to go through passport control. He knows that if he worries about it, it won’t make things easier, so he pushes the thought from his mind and he considers next steps. He figures the only work he’ll be able to find in Marrakesh is waiting tables. Perhaps he’ll find something at a nice American hotel. He’ll have to lie about his past, but he knows that server jobs are fairly easy to find.

Sitting at the gate he cannot help but notice the faces around him; so many smiles and so much pain. Empathy is so foreign to Greg he has to think about what he’s feeling in order to process it. At first he dismisses it as a sign of weakness and moments later he embraces it — he even likes it. He sits up and throws back his shoulders. He can feel the air filling his empty lungs. There’s an announcement about boarding. He figures he has time; in fact he has nothing but time.

When it’s time to board, he approaches the gate with a feeling of hope. He sees his plane on the other side of the glass, but the sun is almost blinding. A hand lands on his forearm and startles him.

“Por favor, venha conosco.”

“What?”

“Please come with us.”

Greg notices there are two uniformed men on either side of him. He wants to resist; he wants to run; he cannot move.

“Sir, you need to come with us now.”

After passing the security checkpoint, Greg enters a small room. A desk, a file cabinet, and security cameras fill the room. He knows what’s happening and he’s not afraid. The men take his passport and tell him to wait. He waits and thinks about Sarah and how much he loves her. He wonders why he hurt her and how he can become the man he saw on the sidewalk in Lisbon, in the market stall, in the coffee shop, and at the gate. His heart is full and he feels lighter; almost like he’s floating.

Later, Greg is staring out the airplane window. This time he is on a flight to JFK. He is handcuffed to a stranger to his right; his future is unclear. Hours pass as clouds break below; he is not sad, he is not angry. The wheels touch the ground and he is aware of the present. Escorted by security, he exits the plane. He sees Sarah standing in the distance and he knows he’s left Joseph Campos behind and Morocco was never meant to be.

 

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A moment of contemplation on Desert Island

 

“You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.” —Mary Pickford