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.
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.”
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!
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.
A beautiful and inviting bar with delicious eclectic bar food (including British fish & chips that I didn’t get to try — too full).
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
believing that people are motivated purely by self-interest; distrustful of human sincerity or integrity.
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.
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.
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:
Identify the pattern that causes a cynical thought or response (e.g., questioning another’s motives).
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?
Explore your feelings. Not as easy as it sounds; it means facing your skepticism and demons.
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.
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.
Practice this over and over again until you go in a positive direction without having to think about it. Practice, practice, practice.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tip #6 — Traveling solo is a great opportunity to meet people. Strangers seem to be drawn to someone sitting alone; especially if you’re smiling.
I was forced to meet people wherever I went because I had forgotten my laptop charger (grabbed the wrong cord actually). I was struck by how friendly people were and how much they truly wanted to help me. One guy on the train to Bordeaux, held my laptop on his own lap for an hour while it charged (stop those dirty thoughts, his wife was the one sitting next to him). I was almost pleased to have had to ask for help — something I’m not very good at I’m afraid.
This event was a beautiful gesture in Bordeaux on Christmas day. Bodega, a restaurant in the city centre, was feeding the homeless. Festive music and good food was provided. They served wine and passed foie gras. I was extremely humbled by what I saw. I was also invited to join in, so I stayed for a bit.
Tip #7 — Money: don’t carry huge amounts of cash; use your debit card for purchases and use ATM machines to get cash. The conversion rates are usually reasonable (TD bank boasts reimbursed ATM fees for certain accounts). It is safer all around. Check with your bank.
Tip #8 –Tell your bank and credit card companies where you are traveling.
It’s no fun getting denied use of your card when it’s for your own protection.
I had a bit of a conundrum this year: do I visit someone I know for Christmas, stay at home in Portugal, or do I extend my U.S. travel plans to Europe and go someplace I have never been? I decided that I have grown quite a bit over the last few years and that I would be fine alone over the Christmas holiday. I was not alone before Christmas and I would not be alone after Christmas. I had spent a little over a week with friends and family before Christmas eve and friends came from New York on New Year’s eve. I have never seen Paris during the holidays and I wanted to be there when it was all lit up and festive. It’s not my favorite city, so I didn’t want to be there Christmas eve or Christmas day. I researched cities within three hours of Paris and I decided it was time to experience Bath Spa and Bordeaux. Bordeaux wines are some of my favorite wines and I had heard about the wine museum there.
Tip #9 — When you’re travelling through Europe or anywhere for that matter, take the train as much as possible.
Train travel was once very inexpensive (in fact in Portugal it still is), however, the cost of has gone up quite a bit in most parts of Europe. Still, the train is the way to go. It’s less of a hassle than air travel and much more comfortable. Move about, see the countryside and get there on time (most of the time).
Next stop: London, England
When you live in Portugal there are very few options for direct flights to the U.S. TAP flies to New York and Miami, but if you’re headed to Baltimore, you’re going to have to fly to France, Germany or London first. These countries are all east of Portugal, making it a bit frustrating. I imagine there will be more options out of Lisbon and Seville in the future. But this is how I ended up in London on the outbound flight. Knowing I had to return to London inbound, I decided to spend a few days there and I’m really glad I did. I’m not a frequent visitor. My main reason for going is the theatre and there was always plenty of that in New York City. This time around I would not be going to NYC and there were a few plays I wanted to see in London.
First I want to tell you about a hotel I thought was perfect if you’re looking for something inexpensive and centrally located. I found this hotel called Motel One London–Tower Hill. I’m not sure why they put “motel” in the name of the hotel because it’s nothing like a motel. Small but with an excellent mattress and great linen and wired for every device. I was close to the Underground and several excellent eating spots. By the way, the Underground is working well these days. I was able to get everywhere quickly and efficiently. It isn’t so cheap anymore at almost 5 quid a ride.
Back to my main reason for going. I wanted to see Sam Tutty in Dear Evan Hansen. I got a center stall seat (orchestra in the States) for 100 pounds. I’m not sure how that happened. I bought the ticket on-line and there were only four seats left; the other three tickets were almost twice the price. Sometimes being a solo traveller pays off. The play was wonderful, my seat was perfect, and it made London worthwhile. I also saw Ian McKellen’s one man show; all I can say is if you get an opportunity to see it, go. I saw Come From Away on the same day; although it was somewhat enjoyable, I have to say I didn’t love it — no memorable tunes and a bit campy.
I ate well, but it was more about the theatre. There was a bit of rain (it was London), but I had some sunshine too. I found a great Columbia jacket while wandering around between shows. It was about a third the original price and ended up being my “find” of the trip. Sometimes I purposefully leave articles of clothing at home so that I will have no choice but to buy whatever I need while I’m away. That was the case with a windbreaker/rain jacket.
No stories of dred to share; all went well in London. I hear that Big Ben is up and running again, so if you find yourself there, go and see it. I have decided that since I am now living in Europe, I will make a theatre trip to London annually and see several shows over a few days. I have a love/hate relationship with New York City and now I can add London to that short list.
Tip #10 — Travel is a good excuse to leave negative stuff behind.
I watched and read very little political news while I was away and I found myself in a much better emotional state of mind.
Bath is a place I have wondered about for many years. I took the train from London and arrived about 90 minutes before I could check in to one of the most most beautiful Airbnbs I have ever stayed in. It was in a 260 year old building with gorgeous views of the countryside. With time to spare and a rainy day, I found a brick oven pizza place not far from the train station. The chef was Neopolitan and the pizza was outstanding. I later learned that Franco Manca is a chain restaurant; you could of fooled me.
My friend Rachel was coming from South Wales the next day, so I was alone the first evening. Six weeks prior, I had made a reservation at The Olive Tree Restaurant, the only Michelin star restaurant in Bath and the food was exceptional. I then dropped some pounds off at the casino, met some really nice locals at the blackjack table and went back to my beautiful apartment.
Rachel joined me the next day and we did the Thermae Bath Spa, which was a two hours of pure bliss. There was a rooftop nicely heated pool which was great for my sore muscles. We went out for cocktails at a very upscale bar and then Rachel treated me to a terrific Italian dinner at Martini Restaurant. The entire experience was delightful in every way and it made me want to return to Bath often (and I will). It also made me want to see more of Rachel (and I will).
I had taken the Eurostar to Paris a number of years ago and I thought I should take a short trip to Paris on my way to Bordeaux. This time the boarding process was much more efficient. It’s a 3.5 hour journey; comfortable and fast. I got lucky and didn’t have anyone sitting next to me.
There were announcements about the Metro strike at the train station in London and all I could think was that the French were going to mess with my travel once again. Sure enough I arrived at the train station in Paris and there were hundreds or thousands of people everywhere. Gypsy taxi drivers were asking for crazy fares to wherever and on principle, I wasn’t having it. I decided to use Uber to get to my hotel. I can’t say how many people had the same idea, but I can tell you that there were many, many, many people outside the station looking at their phones and looking for their Uber.
Tip #11 — Do yourself a favor and do not overplan. Allow yourself the luxury of free time.
Leave your hotel or Airbnb and wonder around. I always seem to discover something wonderful or unexpected. It’s honestly one of the best things about traveling to a place you’ve never been. Get out and explore.
The metro strike forced me to stay local and that turned out to be a good thing. I discovered an outdoor food market that went on forever. I spent quite a bit of time there and enjoyed it.
I had to take a very expensive Uber share to the train station. Traffic was terrible and the Uber driver was agitated; seemingly trying to make as much money as possible during the strike. We arrived at the train station, I exited his vehicle to get my luggage and he drove off. I chased him, banged on his back window and he stopped. I went over to the driver’s side window, he rolled it down and I told him that my luggage was still in the trunk of the car. He got angry at me for some reason that I still do not understand. Needless to say, he only got one star and no tip. Another wild day of travel.
Tip #12 — Allow yourself plenty of time to get places.
Have a good book and relax when you get to where you’re going.
I chose a hotel right in the centre of the city because I love walking. The Quality Hotel was very central and super affordable. The desk staff seemed to be very sensitive to my solo status and they made me feel welcome, comfortable and at home; an especially nice since it was Christmas. They even upgraded my room. I think the mattress and linen were the most comfortable for any hotel I have ever stayed in or perhaps it was just my satisfied frame of mind.
The day I arrived was dark and dreary and I was fairly spent. I got to the hotel, unpacked and set out to find a place for dinner. I found a fantastic ramen restaurant, Restaurant Fufu. To say that I was pleased is an understatement. Saki and hot soup on a rainy night . . . ah. And the last seat at the bar too. Had this place been open Christmas day, I would have returned for more.
Cité du Vin the Bordeaux wine museum was the main reason I wanted to visit Bordeaux. It was a fairly new, high tech experience, very close to the center (about a 30 minute walk) and right next to a very cool (newish) food market with restaurant vendors. The museum boasts an innovative way to learn about the history of wine and the different varieties of wine from all over the world. You can do it at your own pace, but I would recommend a minimum of eight hours. After you’ve explored the museum, there is a beautiful space at the time of the museum where you get to choose a lovely glass of wine and take in a spectacular view of Bordeaux. Get Your Guide offers tickets in advance at a discounted price.
The next day was Christmas day and I was a bit concerned because I had attempted to make a reservation for dinner months prior, only to discover all the restaurants I tried were closed. I decided to just leave it and find a restaurant while in Bordeaux. Christmas morning I walked around town and found a man cleaning a restaurant in one of the main squares. He told me the restaurant would be open for dinner and he noted my reservation in a book. I was pleased that that was taken care of. I had dinner at Le Noailles Restaurant next to the Intercontinental Hotel and the food was traditional French cuisine; beautifully prepared and presented. I paired the food with a 2015 Bordeaux (1/2 bottle, see pic below) and the whole meal was wonderful. I need not have worried because unbeknownst to be, there was a large food festival with music right across the street from the restaurant. No regrets though, I loved my dinner and I was glad that I had made a reservation because they turned many people away.
I took a slow walk back to my hotel and had a delicious nights sleep.
Home on the 26th. I flew back to Faro; on time and uneventful, the way one hopes it will be.
Tip #13 — Expect that there will always be a few bumps in the road and breathe.
I committed to adopting a pooch last week. We’ve met, he’s just under a year old, and I have named him Paco. Paco will be joining me at home in a few days. After a bath (or two), I will blog a photo.
Toulouse is all too often overlooked, but it’s one of France’s most historic and fascinating cities. Known to locals as La Ville Rose (The Pink City) after the distinctive pink stone used to construct many of its buildings, Toulouse receives just a fraction of the tourists of Paris or Nice.
Lonely Planet text (I have been buying Lonely Planet travel guides for at least 30 years and swear by them)
It’s hard to believe that there was a time in recent history when people were afraid to travel to cities because of crime and grit (1970s and 1980s). These days you visit many cities all over the world and experience something totally different: they are clean, public transportation is efficient, you find many great restaurants and in some cases, the comforts of home in an Airbnb.
I chose Toulouse for several reasons: I had never been, it is a direct flight from Faro, the airfare this time of year is very reasonable, the weather is mild, and I liked what I saw on-line. This was probably my best travel decision of 2019. Toulouse is gorgeous and so easy to navigate — I love walkable cities. It is France, a country where cuisine has been a focus for centuries, so there are indoor and outdoor markets and good food everywhere. There are many sites to see and they’re not all churches. I was very fortunate to find an Airbnb right in the center of the city. It was next to the Garonne River and a five to twenty minute walk to all the places I wanted to visit.
I flew EasyJet (a bargain no-frills airline) and my roundtrip fare, with carry-on, was 101 Euros roundtrip. These people know what they’re doing and they make it easy to fly. I feel fortunate that Faro is one of their hubs. You get your boarding pass on-line and you don’t have to check in at a desk, which will save you boatloads of time.
One hour and 50 easy minutes (even shorter on return) later and I was on the ground. Toulouse has a modern airport and you won’t walk for twenty minutes. Off the plane and out the door quickly.
There is a tram right outside of the Toulouse terminal that will take you right to the center of Toulouse (and everywhere in between). It is 1.70 Euro and a ticket can be purchased at a multi-language machine right next to the tram. Purchase two tram tickets if you intend to return by tram. It’s a 30 minute ride and it leaves about every 15 minutes — very civilized. You can also take a taxi or an Uber for about 20 Euros.
I looked at hotels and the ones in the center of Toulouse were 125 to 400 Euros per night. I like using Airbnbs when I plan on buying food at the market and preparing it myself. It’s a great way to eat fresh, local products and save some money. I found an Airbnb right in the center of Toulouse next to the Garonne River. The three nights with fees and all was $269 (I pay Airbnb with U.S. dollars and it saves me a few quid). I don’t usually share my Airbnb link, because everyone is looking for something different and I don’t want to be accused of giving bad advice. I am making an exception, because Nathalie’s place was beautifully appointed, in a great location and at a great price. She even left me bread, cookies, milk, coffee, juice and delicious homemade apricot jam.
It’s a small studio with a sleeping alcove with a double bed and a good mattress. In addition, white cotton sheets and a down comforter made for cozy nights.
Dining & Food Markets
There are four indoor/outdoor markets in Toulouse that operate every day except Monday (you need to check the schedule for exact times). This link will provide some great information: market info. My apartment was just two blocks away from Carmes, so I went to the market several times.
There is a public garage above the market and if you go up to the roof, you will be treated to a spectacular panoramic view of Toulouse.
Listed on several sites as one of Toulouse’s finest traditional restaurants, I was compelled to give it a go. I learned from several on-line sources, that Le Colombier specializes in cassoulet. When I made my reservation for my first night in Toulouse, I intended to try the cassoulet, which was one of my favorite dishes when I was working at the French Culinary Institute. I had a nice leisurely walk to the restaurant, passing several historic sites along the way. Unfortunately, when I arrived I was not hungry enough for a hearty French stew. I ordered an aperitif thinking that might help my appetite, but alas, it did not.
The server pushed hard on the cassoulet and I nearly caved. Instead I ordered a pre fixe dinner where duck was one of the entree choices (I can’t recall the other option). I started with escargot; the snails were tender and very garlicky, just the way I like it. I also had some good dinner rolls to sop up the olive oil the snails were cooked in. The duck leg cooked very slowly in red wine sauce was probably the best duck (aside from Chinese Peking Duck which is one of my all time favorites) dishes I have ever eaten. The duck meat fell off the bone and the vegetables in the sauce were a perfect accompaniment. My savory taste buds were very satisfied. There were a few traditional dessert choices and I decided to go with the apple tart with whipped cream, real fresh whipped cream. I was pleased with all of my choices and walked back to my Airbnb with a full tummy and a happy heart. This is ultimately what I love most about France. The French know food and wine and rarely disappoint.
My second day I had dinner with a friend at a Thai restaurant, Baan Siam located in the Carmes neighborhood, near my Airbnb — I like to walk home and go straight to bed after a good meal. There were several Thai restaurants near me and I chose Baan because it was on a quiet street and it had great reviews. As I have stated in previous blogs, Faro, regrettably, does not have a Thai restaurant, therefore, I satisfy my Thai cravings when I travel. I ordered several very traditional Thai dishes and again, was happy with my choices. I won’t go so far as to say it was great Thai food, but I can say that it was very good and the service was excellent.
I had my final dinner at an Italian Café because I was craving pasta. The server told me that the tagliatelle in a ham and cream sauce was their specialty. I was not bowled over, so I won’t mention the name of the restaurant. I did have a beautiful red from Puglia and that saved the meal.
There are hundreds of restaurants to choose from in Toulouse and they range from inexpensive and trendy to high-end and classic; you will not run out of excellent options no matter how long your stay.
I usually try to do an organized food tour on my first full day so I can learn more what a city has to offer. Airbnb usually has several options depending on the city you are visiting. I signed up for a food and wine tour with Jessica. This time I was treated to a private tour; not good for the guide, but fortunate for me.
These are some of Jessica’s best spots. I don’t think it’s fair to Jessica to include them all; for more information and her excellent recommendations, I advise you to take her tour — at 80 Euros it was a bargain.
Maison Beauhaire – MOF (a big honor in France) boulanger. We tasted the chocolatine and the baguette de tradition. The baguette was excellent (even heated up the next day).
Papaix et Fils – farm to counter foie gras producer. We tasted their foie gras à la ancien (fatty duck liver cooked in duck fat – the ancient method), as well as their duck boudin, two types of magret de canard (dry-cured and slow-cooked), their white boudin with foie gras, and their duck saucisson. I purchased duck boudin to take home. As long as it is vacuum sealed, it is not a customs problem.
Crottin de Justine (raw goat milk cheese with a natural rind from the Lot, north of Toulouse)
Comté Réserve (the specialty of Xavier Fromagerie – a raw cow’s milk cheese, pressed and cooked, from the Jura, made only with summer milk from the cows when they graze in the mountains, aged at least 24 months)
Laruns (raw sheep milk cheese from the Hautes Pyrénées, southwest of Toulouse)
Bleu de Séverac (raw cow milk blue cheese from Aveyron, near where Roquefort is produced)
Criollo Chocolatier – various ganache and praliné chocolates (special tip: Criollo has another boutique in Toulouse on the Place St Etienne that also has a salon de thé/tea room where you can sit and have a cup of hot chocolate. I missed out on this treat, but I’ll be back.)
See other places to go for food in recommendations below.
There are numerous wine shops throughout the city. I went to several and found the sellers to be very helpful and friendly. You can expect to pay anywhere from six to 25 Euros for good French wine. I decided to stay away from wines from Bordeaux since I will be visiting there for Christmas.
Couvent des Jacobins — The Church of the Jacobins is a deconsecrated Roman Catholic church located in Toulouse, France. It is a large brick building whose construction started in 1230, and whose architecture influenced the development of the Gothique méridional style. The relics of Thomas Aquinas are housed there. Wikipedia
Honestly, there are many museums in Toulouse and I had little time to explore. I’m saving most of the suggested museums for my spring trip. The above link highlights several.
Toulouse has a large gay population; therefore, there are quite a few gay bars and several shows with drag queens and female impersonators — the French love theatre. I wish I could say that I took part in the late night festivities, but alas I’m getting older and my ability to stay up past midnight has diminished.
The French Language
People will tell you that when you are in France no one speaks English and that the French expect you to speak French. This may be the case for some travelers, however, this has not been my experience. It’s true that there are some French people who do not speak English, just as there are some American who do not speak French; take me for example. I would say that most merchants spoke enough English to communicate and when all else fails there is always Google translator. The French, in general, love when you make an effort and who can blame them.
A Few Recommendations
If you are inclined to book a tour of any kind, do it the first or second day so that you can get the lay of the land and recommendations from your guide.
Whether you choose a hotel or an Airbnb, try to stay close to the city center if you enjoy walking. You might get a good deal outside the city, but then end up spending more than you’re saving in transportation expenses.
You can rent a city bike in Toulouse for a nominal 30 minute rate. As long as you dock it at any of the many docks throughout the city, every thirty minutes, you only pay the initial fee. Everybody does it and I believe the city likes it that way.
There are traditional French restaurants that offer classic dishes and then contemporary restaurants that are a bit more creative; both are very good, you just have to know what you want. The ethnic restaurants and street food options are outstanding.
Bring an umbrella if you’re traveling in the fall. The good news is that it doesn’t rain all day, everyday; however, the rain can be heavy at times in November.
As with any old cities, the sidewalks in the oldest part of town can be narrow.
Sundays in Toulouse are much quieter than the rest of the week.
Jessica’s notes to me: If you have the opportunity to return to the Marché Victor Hugo for lunch at one of the restaurants, my recommendations are Le Louchebem (where my old-school French friends go for magret de canard, steak frites, and other meat-centric dishes) and Au Bon Graillou (for really good grilled fish – based on the recommendations of others, as I’m not a big seafood eater myself).
If you’re looking for other restaurant recommendations, my good friend Cat, who is a writer and food blogger, has written a great article on her 30 favorite restaurants in Toulouse, with short and sweet descriptions of each. It’s a fabulous resource if you’re looking for a good place to eat (all different kinds of food at different price ranges). https://catskitchenfrance.com/toulouses-top-30-eateries/
If you want really typical cooking from southwest France, with impeccable local sourcing, I highly recommend le J’Go.
If you’re in the mood for exploring, I’d recommend checking out the Saint Cyprien neighborhood, on the other side of the Garonne river.
The Boulangerie Cyprien in Saint Cyprien is another one of my favorite bakeries, especially for their chocolatines which have THREE bars of chocolate, instead of the regular two. They also do a really cool baguette de charbon (charcoal).
Another of my other favorite chocolatiers in Toulouse is Cacaofages, also in Saint Cyprien, and they specialize in chocolate sculptures, so their shop looks like a sculpture gallery (except it’s all CHOCOLATE!) and they also have a salon de thé with fantastic hot chocolate.
Back to Me:
When I fall in love with a city, I always leave behind a reason or two to return.
Side Note: I shouldn’t write this: when I visited Vienna a few months ago, although beautiful, it felt severe, angry and cold (not temperature, it was May), however, as soon as I got off the plane in Toulouse I felt warmth, joy and comfort. Is it the people? The history? My mood? Probably all of the above. Something to keep in mind when people write about travel, their accumulated baggage may help form their opinion.
I have guests in Faro from the States, therefore, there will be no blog next week. See you all soon and thank you again for your interest in my adventures.
I am starting my blog with this travel story because it captures the essence of why seeing the world is so important to me. Sharing my experiences with you cements them into my conscious mind forever.
A Delicious Restaurant Story
It was my last full day in Eindhoven. I had just seen an early showing of Downton Abbey. I had to pay twice the price I pay for a film as I pay in Faro, but no matter, it was Downton Abbey and it hadn’t arrived in Faro yet. The film was delightful and delivered on every level; I may have even been whistling when I left the theater. Whenever I feel really good or really bad, I want pasta. I typed “good Italian restaurant” into my browser and found Ristorante Sicilia nearby. I walked in and noticed no one in the restaurant. It was 12:30 p.m. on Monday in a touristy part of town. There were two people in aprons in the kitchen, so I waited by the bar. The chef spotted me and walked into the dining room. He said hello in Italian and I said, “Are you open for lunch?” He held up a finger and went back into the kitchen. He was speaking in a whisper to his colleague. A minute later he walked back into the dining room and said, “Please, take a seat wherever you like.”
What happened next almost seems like a fantasy out of a novel. This very good looking, authentic Sicilian chef, took my order, prepared my meal and served me. The entire time I sat there, no one else walked into the restaurant. As I type this I’m wondering if this really happened or did I dream it.
The chef came to my table by the window and showed me a menu. He spoke to me in Italian and that was fine; it might have been because I thanked him in Italian when he told me to sit anywhere. I ordered a vino rosso della casa and he brought me a full glass of delicious red. There are times in life when you do not ask questions and this was one of those times. When he returned I ordered a Stracciatella and a tagliatelle arrabbiata with prosciutto, olives and onions. The chef asked me a question in Italian and I said, “Non capisco.” He replied in perfect English, “Do you like it spicy?” I said, “Si, si, si.”
I’m no longer in Holland at this point; I am in a hillside town somewhere in Italy and I am one happy fella. The soup is rich, tasty, and hot. It was every bit as good as my father’s Stracciatella and that’s saying a lot. My pasta was perfection; al dente, perfectly seasoned, full of ham and green olives and the right portion size. I asked the chef for some bread and he told me that the bread would be delivered later in the day; he looked sad. About 5 minutes later — and not too late — he brought me some homemade biscuits. I grabbed one and dipped it in my sauce while he was standing over me. He gave me a huge smile and went back to the kitchen. From the time I entered the restaurant until I paid the check, it was just me and the chef interacting. I told him that my father was an incredible cook, but that his food was outstanding and I would never forget the experience.
Looking back, I don’t think the restaurant was open for business. I think the chef was prepping for dinner and decided not to turn me away. It was an act of kindness I embrace with gratitude. There is something about cooks and feeding people that I find incredibly unselfish and heartwarming. I will of course review the restaurant on-line and pass along my five stars; however, this will be a small gesture compared to what was done for me that day.
The Joys of Travel
When I moved to Portugal I expected to see more of Europe, however, I did not expect to see so much of it, so soon. Since losing Giorgio, I have visited several countries and I have seen some breathtaking cities. I recently heard the news that RyanAir will no longer be flying in and out of Faro Airport as of January. Although I know that some of the other budget airlines will probably pick of most of their routes, I decided to take a final trip flying Ryan in and out of Faro.
I looked at the list of places Ryan flies to from Faro and realized that I have already been to many of these cities already. To be honest, there were some I had no interest in seeing — sometimes it just a gut feeling. I spotted a city on the list I had never heard of before, Eindhoven. I googled it and I liked what I saw. It’s still pretty hot in Faro (high 80s) and so I thought temperatures in the 60s would be a nice change. I didn’t realize that it rains a lot in the Netherlands in the fall, but that’s okay because we get so little rain in the Algarve.
Eindhoven 20th Century [Wikipedia historical info]
By 1920, the population was 47,946; by 1925 it was 63,870 and in 1935 that had ballooned to 103,030. The explosive growth of industry in the region and the subsequent housing needs of workers called for radical changes in administration, as the City of Eindhoven was still confined to its medievalmoat city limits. In 1920, the five neighboring municipalities of Woensel (to the north), Tongelre (northeast and east), Stratum (southeast), Gestel en Blaarthem (southwest) and Strijp (west), which already bore the brunt of the housing needs and related problems, were incorporated into the new Groot-Eindhoven (“Greater Eindhoven”) municipality. The prefix “Groot-” was later dropped.
A first air raid in World War II was flown by the RAF on 6 December 1942 targeting the Philips factory downtown. 148 civilians died, even though the attack was carried out on a Sunday by low-flying Mosquito bombers. Large-scale air raids, including the bombing by the Luftwaffe on 18 September, 1944 during Operation Market Garden, destroyed large parts of the city. The reconstruction that followed left very little historical remains and the postwar reconstruction period saw drastic renovation plans in highrise style, some of which were implemented. At the time, there was little regard for historical heritage. During the 1960s, a new city hall was built and its neogothic predecessor (1867) demolished to make way for a planned arterial road that never materialized.
Born to a Dutch family of Jewish heritage, Anton was the second son to Maria Heyligers (1836 – 1921) and Benjamin Frederik David Philips (1 December 1830 – 12 June 1900). His father was active in the tobacco business and a banker at Zaltbommel in the Netherlands (he was also a first cousin to Karl Marx). In May 1891 the father Frederik was the financier and, with his son Gerard Philips, co-founder of the Philips Company as a family business. In 1912 Anton joined the firm, which they renamed Philips Gloeilampenfabriek N.V. (Philips Lightbulbfactory NV) — wikipedia
Anton was a well known and highly respected resident of Eindhoven. The city erected a statue of him and you can see it in the city centre.
Van Abbe Museum
Fortunately for me, the Van Abbe Museum was very close to my Airbnb. I visited the museum my second day in Eindhoven and walked past it numerous times. It’s next door to a micro-brewery and some noteworthy bars and restaurants.
The museum exhibits modern and contemporary art on five floors. The exterior of the museum is architecturally stunning and you’ll find the temporary exhibits to be relevant and worth viewing. There were a good many interactive installations; my kind of artwork — you can touch it and sit on it. The permanent collection was a bit of a disappointment, yet still somewhat impressive. There were way too many copies exhibited. I always want to see the real thing.
The church and square are magnificent and worth a visit if you happen to be in Eindhoven. Personally, as a fallen Catholic, I find these kinds of churches to be garish and full of excessive amounts of gold and shiny objects. I think a majority of the interior should be sold off to feed starving children all over the world.
It was not allowed for Jews to settle in the city of Eindhoven until 1772, when StadtholderWillem V summoned the city council to open its doors for Jews. Not until 1796 however were Jews totally free to settle in Eindhoven – between 1772 and 1796 the city council succeeded in summoning numerous orders to make Jewish settlement in the city incredibly difficult. Because of the prohibition for Jews to settle within the city, nearby villages contained fairly large numbers of Jews. However, from 1796 onward, the Jewish presence in Eindhoven started to grow considerably. Most of the Jews were immigrants from Germany, specifically from Cologne, Krefeld and Bad Kreuznach. They were all Ashkenazi. A synagogue was put into use. After another period of growth after 1850, the city became the seat of the chief rabbinate for the province of Noord-Brabant (wikipedia).
Eindhoven has a rich Jewish history and the Jewish Quarter commands your time and attention.
The Railway and Bus Station
The station is in the center of the city. It’s a very attractive, with lots of space, shops, easy to read signage and it seems to run efficiently. There are several bicycle parking lots around the station. People love to cycle in Holland; therefore, auto traffic is light and the city is not noisy. You do have to watch out for cyclists, but for the most part they obey the traffic laws. I noticed they stop for lights and smile when you cross in front of them. And it’s great for the environment. When I use my bicycle in Faro, I pray to my higher power for safety.
Places to Eat
Spice Up — excellent Thai food; unpretentious and delicious.
Street Food Eindhoven (a corner restaurant)– trendy, but a great spot for people watching and good chow.
Rodeo — great steak from Argentina. Recommended to me by my Airbnb hosts. This is a trendy, busy restaurant and I was glad I made a reservation. I was seated at the bar and loved the eye candy I enjoyed with my meal. My tenderloin steak was juicy and tender and cut like butta.
Noedobar — Asian Street food — good and reasonable. I ordered Thai coconut chicken soup (my favorite) and excellent pork dumplings. They also had a charger for my iphone — I love when that happens.
Arigato’s — Japanese — couldn’t get in; however, the restaurant was beautiful and they had great reviews; high-end dining.
Ristaurante Sicilia — see story at the top of blog
I found the food in Holland to be much better than expected. I have been to Amsterdam, The Hague, and Rotterdam, several times in the past and I have been disappointed. I was very pleased to see that the food scene has improved. I have to say that this has been my experience just about everywhere; even Salisbury, North Carolina, which I was certain was hopeless (to my family: there is still room for growth).
‘s-Hertogenbosch — Den Bosch
Below are some of my memories of Den Bosch. I spent the day with my friend Annelies from Amsterdam; we haven’t seen one another for over seven years. I was there on Saturday and the outdoor market was in full swing. We hadn’t planned to be there for the market, but we happened to hit Den Bosch on the “right” day. The full name (above) of the city is difficult for foreigners, so the nickname Den Bosch was created for people like me. I’m told the locals prefer the “real” name. It’s a beautifully preserved city and very easy to navigate. Canals and cafés everywhere and smaller and less crowded than Amsterdam. I could see myself spending a week here.
STADSBISTRO CHRISTOFFEL — We had lunch at this restaurant in Den Bosch (translation Christopher, but we didn’t know it until we left the restaurant). The food was excellent and the service was even better. They took our order at the bar while we waited for our table. We were seated 15 minutes later and our food was delivered to us immediately — very civilized. The crispy chicken was sublime.
MonQui Koffiebar (see first pic) — was a delightful coffee shop near the train station. The coffee was exceptional and the decor a delight for the senses. Annelies and I loved it.
An Easy Time Traveling (for a change)
Have you taken a trip by air where you thought: Wow, that was seamless. These days that would be a rare thing indeed. This was one of those adventures for me. The flight check-in was quick and easy; right to the gate and all the lines were short in both directions. Buses and planes were on-time and reasonably priced, my Airbnb was in a great location and very comfortable, the weather cooperated, I won five Euros at the casino, and I felt well-rested when I got home. Can’t ask for more than that can you? You know there is little to complain about when the only thing you can piss and moan about is the fact that your Airbnb host did not supply soap for the shower.
Two disclaimers: Once again, I did not mention a few restaurants that were not noteworthy and I did not take very many photographs. I have been working on enjoying and being in the moment and when you are truly taking in all of the sights and sounds around you, it is mental photographs and visual/audio recordings that are occupying your mind.