The Canary Islands

Natural Beauty and Tranquility

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Looking toward El Teide (the highest peak in Spain) on the island of Tenerife

 

There are many places all over the world that offer the traveller unparalleled beauty; however, from where I’m sitting, the Canary Islands have many destinations beat for the following reasons:

  1. Gorgeous natural beauty off the coast of Africa (part of Spain)
  2. Many natural parks, hiking trails, and hidden treasures
  3. Many micro-climates
  4. Volcanic beauty
  5. Easy to get to from anywhere in Europe
  6. Extremely affordable
  7. Very friendly
  8. Easy to travel from one island to the other
  9. Great roads for driving
  10. Excellent cuisine

Admittedly, I was fortunate to be visiting a friend who has lived in Tenerife for a few months. Alex is a world traveler and he has excellent taste. He designed my four-day trip to the Canary Islands based on answers to my questions about what I wanted to see and do. I have known Alex for many years; he knows what I like and do not like.

I will not be laying out my trip in order of chronology; instead I will write about what I enjoyed the most, first, then go from there. I will not be writing about every restaurant; however, I will highlight a few that were memorable. I will note all three hotels and I will share several travel tips.

Alex generously sent me the latest edition of Lonely Planet (we both love this guide), so that I could read about the islands prior to traveling.

Tenerife

El Teide is a magical place.

 

 

 

Weeks prior to my visit, Alex and I discussed where we would go and what we would do on my trip. He told me later that the one thing I was certain about was taking the cable car up to the summit of El Teide. This is the highest mountain in Spain, 3718 meters or 12,198.16 feet. I para-jumped out of an airplane a few years ago and I wasn’t as high up off the ground as I was on El Teide.

All of the roads leading up the mountains of the Canary Islands are narrow and not for the faint-of-heart. The views were breathtaking and worth the scare, but I’m not sure everyone would agree. I was fortunate to be with a good driver who was willing to stop whenever I needed a break or wanted to take a photo.

We stayed at Parador Nacional. This Parador was located right inside the Parque Nacional del Teide (see below). I was very happy about the fireplace and the indoor pool, but in truth, the place needed a bit of TLC. Many bikers and hikers use it as a place to stop for a bite or a resting spot. The desk person told us that we needed to make a reservation for the cable car that would take us to the summit. I went to the reception desk at a specified time and the desk person said that they only had a few spots left for a cable car going to the top in 30 minutes. We hustled and made it with time to spare (the Parador was only a few minutes away). It’s chilly at the summit all year round, so dress warmly. The peak is often covered with snow this time of year, but not this time.

Note:  twenty years ago I would have insisted that we hike to the summit of El Teide; however, on this trip, I was happy to enjoy the warmth and safety of a cable car.

Paradors are state-owned and there are 94 of them throughout Spain (six in the Canary Islands). I’ve stayed at six or seven Paradors on other trips to Spain. They can be pricey and accommodations vary from castles that are centuries old to buildings that are newer and nothing special to look at. Alex told me that there are three types of Paradors:  1) Paradors that are in a historic setting, Paradors that are themselves historic, and Paradors that are in nature; More on Paradors (click).

 

 

Parque Natcional del Teide covers 189.9 square km. and you don’t want to miss it. Drive, hike, walk; it’s beauty and splendor will astound you.

We made a one hour stop in Vilaflor, a small, pretty little town, on the way down the mountain. It was our halfway point to the ferry and worth a stop.

We took a side trip to La Laguna for a walk about and to have lunch. La Laguna is on the Unesco list of world Heritage sites. It is beautiful, young, sophisticated and I wish I had had more time there. We had lunch at Restaurante Guaydil (click for website) and it was by far my favorite meal of the trip. The cuisine was contemporary and the restaurant was packed with happy locals.

 

La Gomera

La Gomera was my favorite island of the three we visited and I hope to return there someday. We took the car on the ferry (we took the car on all three ferry trips) and after a pleasant 50 minute ride, we drove on a beautiful, windy road to one of La Gomera’s breathtaking valleys. Hermigua, our destination, was a 30 minute drive on a very scenic route.

We stayed at a boutique hotel, Rural Ibo Alfaro, moderately priced and very comfortable. The views from our room were spectacular (see photos below).

In the evening, we took a walk down to the valley to a very nice restaurant, Tasca Telémaco. We had tequila at the bar and then sat down for Almogrote (click for recipes), a cheese paste Alex is very fond of. We also had a delicious seafood Paella; I believe Alex only agreed to share the Paella because I wanted it. He feels very strongly about eating Paella in other parts of Spain where it is prepared properly. He gave me a hard time about putting chorizo in my paella — clearly I am a sinner.

We finally had a chance to hike on this island. There are many trails throughout La Gomera. We chose a trail deep in the forest — reminded me of the Amazon rain forest; very green and very damp. The trail took you to a small church, Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Lourdes. It was about 20 minutes from our hotel, near El Contadero. We walked for about 1 kilometer and came upon the church and stream. Alex told me that I was on holy ground. Very peaceful and serene indeed.

 

 

 

 

Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria is where my plane landed. I took an easy flight from Lisbon on TAP (Air Portugal). TAP is a bit more expensive than some of the other airlines, but the airplanes are generally newer and service is excellent.

Alex picked me up at the airport and drove me to our first Parador.  Parador de Cruz de Tejeda is where we had our best views. Our balcony was high atop the mountains and made the price of the hotel worthwhile. We had a nice breakfast (not cheap) and a very relaxing stay. I would definitely have eaten dinner somewhere else. The Parador had a spa, but it was 25 Euros just to use the jacuzzi (which looked amazing BTW) and the hours were not convenient. I would have splurged in the morning, but the spa did not open until 1:00 p.m. and we were long gone by then. Unlike Americans, Europeans tend to care more about their own staff and spa and gym hours are not always ideal.

Restaurante & Brewery Taxeda — This Tejeda brewery offered delicious tapas and micro brewed beer. We tried the Scottish brew and were not crazy about it; I thought it was way too hoppy. I love trying micro brewed beer and I wish I hadn’t switched to wine so quickly.

 

 

 

We were only in Tejeda for 16 hours, therefore, I can’t say very much about it. The views were spectacular and if you enjoy a curvy climb, you will love the views as you approach Tejeda. We didn’t have the time to hike on this island; however, the trails looked amazing and I’m certain they would not disappoint.

Note:  If you enjoy a good cocktail, I do not recommend staying in a Parador. The bartenders have no idea how to mix a drink — I’d say they are generalists who know the bare minimum about bar service.

 

This Type of Travel

One of the things that struck me on this trip was something Alex said to me several times (to be fair, I don’t always listen). Alex said that tourists visit the Canary Islands and never leave their all-inclusive hotels/resorts. The first thought I had was how unfortunate for them. The truth is that some people are happy to remain in their limited surroundings and just eat, drink, and enjoy the sun. It wouldn’t be fair to criticize these travelers. If that’s the way people choose to vacation, they should be permitted to do so without ridicule. I guess that is why all-inclusive properties do so well.

That’s not the way I prefer to travel. I want to eat what and where I choose to eat. I want to see as much as I can so that I know what to take a closer look at when I return. And if I don’t return, that’s okay too. Alex and I laughed about doing three islands in three days. That meant many hours on the road and three island hopping ferry rides. We originally had a whole week to explore; however, due to  my unfortunate calendar errors, our days together were nearly cut in half. It forced us to narrow down our choices and choose what was most important for this short trip. I admit it was a world-wind tour, but I wouldn’t change a thing. When you’re making memories, it’s best to go with it. We were both flexible enough to make some changes if time or circumstances allowed for it; adaptability and flexibility are key.

Be prepared for:

  • varying climates
  • a good deal of time on the road
  • making reservations for just about everything
  • some spots on the islands are very tranquil (on purpose)
  • this time of year is the peak season in the Canary Islands — the weather is mild (except for at high altitudes)
  • be aware of in-season travel and crowds in certain places
  • if and when driving, you’ll be waiting for and passing many cyclists
  • the motorcyclist will make you crazy (unless you are one)

All of the islands offer these great maps that show roads, historic sites, and hiking trails; use them, they are very helpful.

 

 

 

Scary Story:

As you know, when you travel abroad you need your passport for just about everything.  We were in the car line for the ferry and Alex wanted me to use the 30 minutes we had to explore Los Christianos, the marine area next to the ferry terminal. He thought I’d enjoy that more than sitting in a hot car. I can make a short story long, so I’m going to cut to the chase.

I needed my passport to board the ferry and I got through the line quickly. I saw Alex on the top deck and made my way to greet him. We enjoyed a very pleasant crossing and 50 minutes later we were in the car and on our way to Hermigua on the island of La Gomera. About 20 minutes into our 30 minute journey up the mountain, Alex received a telephone call on his car Bluetooth. The person said, “Christopher,” and then some other dialogue in Spanish. Alex made some arrangements in Spanish and then thanked the person several times. I was dying to know what was going on. I had dropped my passport on the ferry and someone turned it in. Alex made arrangements for us to pick it up prior to boarding the ferry the following day. Needless to say, I was and still am very grateful. I wonder what I would have been like when the desk person at our hotel asked for my passport and it wasn’t in my pocket. Alex noted that it would not have been pretty. I know I have an angel on my shoulder because had it not been found the remainder of my vacation would have been a downer. Instead I had a few cocktails to celebrate my good fortune and slept like a baby that night. If Alex had not purchased our tickets in advance, they would not have had his cell number. If Alex’s cell was turned off, we wouldn’t have been able to take the call at that moment. If cell service was spotty on the mountain, the ferry staff may not have gotten through. If I had thrown my passport away when I threw away the rest of my trash, I would never have seen it again. The “what ifs” can make you crazy.

The moral of this story:  1) Always put your passport in a safe space, and 2) Be grateful for your good fortune.

Side note:  Los Christianos is a strange sort of grungy tourist spot. The sand on the beach is brought there from somewhere else, the food spots are sub-par, and you get this “nobody wants to spend money” vibe. I wouldn’t waste my time here. There are so many other beautiful places to visit in Tenerife.

Added Bonus for my adventures:

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I took this photograph in Tenerife while dining on Maria’s (Alex’s mom) delicious Galician chicken stew. I now have a framed photograph for my apartment.

Traveling as an American Expat

My New Backyard (Europe and Africa)

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Asilah, Morocco

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Port IV (click) Restaurant

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

 

Tangiers (Tanger for the locals)

 

 

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

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

Languages of Morocco – Wikipedia

 

 

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

 

Seville, Spain

 

 

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

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

Tasty Bites of Seville (click for article)

Savoring Seville (click title)

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

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

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

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

Shopping

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

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

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

 

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

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

My big purchase in Morocco:

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

 

Running From Demons — Part II

 

 

 

 

Greg was feeling confused, let down, lonely and lost; all new for him. He  reminded himself that he had confided in someone. One person who would never come looking for him and never tell anyone. His ex-wife Sarah hated him, but she would protect Greg to his death. Twelve years of marriage had tied them together forever. He considered calling her to tell her he was about to become someone else. A part of him wanted her to know so that no matter what, there would be one person alive who knew the truth. Greg also knew that he’d be putting Sarah in danger by sharing his whereabouts. He had always admired her strength and tenacity; despite his better judgment, he’d give her a call tomorrow. For now, he had to get back to his room.

He meandered through the streets of Lisbon, ducking in and out of crowded cafés. He needed to return to his hotel room before 5:00 p.m. or he wouldn’t get the money to Slim in time. He realized he’d never know the names of these characters who were helping him. Greg had no choice then to give the guy what he asked for.

He counted out the $10,000 and wrapped the bills in a plastic grocery bag. Slim had asked for Euros, but he figured he’d take dollars; everyone wanted U.S. dollars. The exchange rate had never even occurred to him. He quickly wiped down the room with some disinfectant wipes he found at a store on his way back to the hotel. He hoped that he’d only have to spend one night in this filthy room. Greg locked the door and checked the knob twice.

He looked around the outside of the hotel to be sure he had not been followed and headed for the pawn shop. Pawn guy and Slim were watching the game when he entered the shop. He smiled and handed Slim the money. Slim did not smile back; he grabbed the bag and headed to the back room. Ten minutes later he returned looking extremely unhappy.

“I told you Euros. What am I going to do with your fucking dollars? You have any idea what the exchange rate is these days? This is 25 percent less than what I told you.”

The last thing I needed was to piss this guy off, but it occurred to me that it was time to play hardball.

“Take it or leave it. You’re not the only guy in Portugal with access to passports. I’m paying you more than enough. Give me back my money if it’s not good enough.”

Slim studies Greg for a solid minute. Pawn guy never takes his eyes off of the game. Slim motions Greg into the back room. Greg reluctantly follows, thinking perhaps he’d gone too far. Slim gets uncomfortably close to Greg’s face and whispers,

“Considering where you’re going, I guess I can settle for less.”

“What do you mean, where I’m going?”

“The best I can do is Morocco.”

It was like he’d been punched in the stomach and kicked in the head. He had to choose his words carefully or this wouldn’t end well. It was Casablanca or he’d be back at square one.

“Is it ready now?”

At this point Slim is incredulous. “Are you fucking crazy man? Tomorrow morning if you’re lucky.”

Greg turned around so he couldn’t see his rage and disappointment. He pulled it together and walked toward the door. He turned and spoke and his words were sharp.

“I’ll be back at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow. If my passport isn’t waiting for me, there will be hell to pay. My connections in the States are not as forgiving as I am.”

Greg was so pissed off he’d forgotten to lose himself in the dinner crowd filling the streets. He stopped off at one of those international calling stores to telephone Sarah. The shop was packed with women in Hijabs, reminding him that he’d soon be in Morocco.

Sarah didn’t pick up on the first try. Not recognizing the number, she probably ignored the call. He hoped she’d realize it was him and answer the phone. He tried her again and this time she picked up.

“Who is this?”

“Sarah, it’s Greg, I’m in Portugal.”

“What the hell Greg, I told you to leave me alone. I’m gonna hang up.”

“No, no Sarah, please just give me two minutes. I’m not asking for anything.”

“Ninety seconds and I’m cutting you off.”

He’d be the worst husband and didn’t deserve ninety seconds. When they met, Sarah was naive and sweet and he’d made into a bitter woman. Greg didn’t cheat on Sarah. He didn’t physically abuse her. He didn’t stop her from buying things; he didn’t tell her she was worthless. What he did was inexcusable; He spent every penny Sarah had saved since she had her first job. There was always that business that was going to make them rich. Greg would focus on that next scheme and forget the rest of the world existed. It was a reckless way to live and he knew it, but he couldn’t stop himself. She watched him destroy his own life and take her down with him. Greg’s parents, friends and anyone he did business with tried to stop him, but he didn’t see it — he only saw green and more green until all the green ran out and than all he thought about was a way to get more. Sarah was the only one who stuck by him, until she’d had enough.

He knew that someday Sarah would be a force to be reckoned with, but today, she was done. He tried to soften her up a bit.

“You know how much you mean to me Sarah?”

“Greg, you asshole, you told me you were not going to ask for anything.”

“Alright, I only have a few seconds left so let me say something I need you to remember. As of tomorrow morning, I will no longer be Greg Torino. I’ll be leaving Portugal and hiding out for a while. I’m not going to tell you where I’m going because it’s better for you not to know. I don’t know how long it will be before we speak again so I wanted to tell you that I know I was a shitty husband. I never meant to hurt you, but I know that I hurt you badly and for that I am sorry. I hope to someday make it up to you Sarah. You’re a good woman and I never deserved you.”

“Greg, you didn’t have to say any of that, but for the first time in your fucking wasted life, you’re right, you were a shitty husband. I would wish you luck, but that would be a stretch.”

“Goodbye Sarah, I love you,” and he hangs up the phone.

He realizes a woman is banging on the phone booth door and trying to get his attention. He can only see her eyes and her fist pounding the glass. He turns away to wipe away tears. Greg cannot recall the last time he wept. He leaves the booth and walks toward his new life.

When he wakes the next morning after a fitful sleep, he recalls his conversation with Sarah. He feels good about apologizing; she deserved some closure and he was finally man enough to give it to her. He felt a little stronger and more resolute. He’d make a life for himself and perhaps someday he’d find a way to forgive himself as well. For now, he had to see if his passport was ready to be picked up.

Knowing that was his last night in that stuffy room made him smile for the first time in days. He locked the door and headed to see Slim. As he was leaving the hotel he notices someone watching him from across the street. He remains still for a moment to see if the man continues to look over at him. When he casually glances back that way, the man is lost in the crowd of street traffic. He wishes he’d left the hotel earlier; he’s made too many mistakes. He shrugs, chalks it up to paranoia and walks toward the pawn shop.

Greg immediately notices that Slim is not there. Pawn guy comes out of the back room and approaches Greg.

“He’ll be right back — you wait here.”

Greg doesn’t like it, however once again he’s at the mercy of these bottom feeders. He sits and considers his past. He has always been a near-do-well, but he wasn’t a crook.  He’d never stolen from anyone or cheated anyone. He had taken a lot from those he loved, but he always asked for it. He had cheated himself out of a decent life. He could have had so much more than what he ended up with.

It’s twenty minutes before Slim walks in with the passport. He barely looks at Greg and offers no apology. Greg asks him if he has the passport. Slim takes it out of his jacket pocket and hands it over.

“I’d leave the country soon if I were you.”

I’m confused about the sense of urgency. I thought I would spend some time traveling around Portugal and Spain before going to Morocco. After all, I had years of hiding in front of me.

“It’s not safe here for you,” Slim adds.

Greg grabs the passport and opens it to see who he is. He checks out the photo first; that’s fine. He thinks to himself, this looks pretty real. He’s not sure he likes the name Joseph Campos.

Slim says, “You have Spanish relatives; it’s a good name — suits you.”

At this point Greg just wants to get out of the shop and away from these lowlifes. He thanks Slim and gives a thumbs up to Pawn guy.

He decides to leave the hotel with the money he has left and head for Morocco where he can blend in with the locals. He’ll book at flight to Casablanca or Marrakesh at the airport, pay with cash and start fresh. He realizes he’s smiling again, having been resourceful enough to accomplish his first big task. Greg finds himself almost giddy with excitement. He feels lighter and hopeful.

When he gets back to his hotel, his smile disappears. He finds his door ajar and there is no one in sight. He enters the room and everything is turned upside down. He goes right to the dresser which is on its side. His stash is gone. This is exactly what he feared might happen. Greg’s only thought is now what and he falls to his knees.

To be continued next week

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fear Can Hold You Back . . . And a Bit of Lagos, Portugal

 

full frame shot of text on wood
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

I know fear is normal. We all fear many things and fear keeps us alive. At this time of self-reflection, I think it’s important to address some of my fears and question why I do not possess some of the fears I see in others.

What I am hoping this process will accomplish:

  • Self-awareness
  • Coming to terms with what is real and what is irrational
  • Celebrating fears I have conquered and learning more about how I did it
  • Addressing the fears I avoid and learning more about why I avoid them
  • Developing a process for overcoming fears
  • Learning more about the connection between fear and human nature

 

 

My fears seem to be deeply rooted in my childhood experiences. Without getting too analytical, many of my fears are connected to my mother and how I was raised. My mother had seven children before she was thirty. Her own complicated parenting made it difficult for her to show love and properly nurture her children; therefore, we were all shortchanged in one way or another. As a result, what I fear most is rejection. This is a common fear; however, it does unfortunately interfere with healthy relationship building. I find myself apologizing for just about everything; more often than not, for things that are either beyond my control or unworthy of an apology. What this self-flagellation does is create doubt in people’s minds. This behavior is misinterpreted as a lack of self-confidence and strength. Being aware of how this fear impacts my everyday life is helpful, but it is an uphill climb; fifty years of apologizing is a tough habit to break.

Another big fear is also a fairly common one, the fear of failure. You might say that no one wants to fail and that would be true. However, all fears are attached to levels of intensity; how deep and strong is this fear. For me, the fear of failure has prevented me from interviewing for positions I was interested in, playing sports I enjoyed, taking courses I wished to take, pursuing romantic relationships, and the list goes on. When I did put aside my fear, I gained much from the experience. For example, when I completed my master’s degree, I hoped to further my studies. I dreamed of becoming a Dean of Students as a result of exceptional mentors in college; deans I admired and revered. I was in a fairly secure and comfortable position at Hofstra University and heard about an opportunity at New York University. The desire to live and work in Manhattan was so strong, I decided to pursue the NYU position and the university’s Ph.D. in Higher Education program, throwing caution to the wind. At that time, failure to acquire this dream was stronger than the possibility of failure to obtain the NYU position. Looking back, I recall many sleepless nights of self-doubt and fear. The outcome was a job at NYU and completion of my Ph.D.

What helped me to conquer this fear, was an overwhelming desire to improve my station in life. Many of us are told that we will never be what we aspire to me. You know the verbiage, “You’re not smart enough; you don’t have the money to pay for that; they’ll never choose you.” People say these things to save you from pain and embarrassment. What is does is hold you back — it keeps you from pursuing your dreams and goals. At this point, your dreams have to be stronger than your fears. The only way to be successful is to concentrate on your dreams and push away your fears. There is a reason the old adage, one step at a time, holds up. Small successes lead to big ones. Land an interview and celebrate that success; it puts in the right frame of mind. Next, you get a second interview and finally you claim your prize. In may cases it’s a fight to overcome your fear of failure. I have played the worst case scenario game with myself throughout my life. I find that reminding myself that the worst thing that could happen, would not be the end of the world, made in easier to move forward. Sometimes, going forward rather than remaining stagnant is all that you can ask of yourself. We’re all dreamers; it’s more a question of how badly you want it and what you’re willing to do to get it. Remaining in your comfort zone is rarely the answer.

The last fear I will mention is the fear of being incapacitated. I never want anyone to have to take care of me on a long-term basis (more than a couple of days). This fear is linked to my inability to ask for help when I need it. Friends have forced me to be better about reaching out. Family and friends have shared that it makes them feel good to help and that I should be better about accepting their help. I’m doing everything — or almost everything, I can do to remain healthy, but life can throw you a curve ball and this fear is real. I am currently in the process of coming up with a game plan so that I can rely on a “facility” to care for me if this were to happen. Leaving it to chance is not in the cards. I cope with this fear by taking control of my options and the outcome.

 

Death

I don’t fear death; I never have. I have always felt that when it happens, it will probably be fast and painless. Rational or not, it’s how I feel. I was in a bad bicycle accident a couple of years ago and I’m certain that when my body hit the pavement, there must have been intense pain. I couldn’t tell you what that pain felt like because my brain has completely erased it. Studies show that our brain protects us from severe trauma — shock shuts down certain body functions and we are not fully aware of the pain we are experiencing. I know there are many ways in which one can die; however, I’m banking on a painless death. The fear of dying keeps people from pursuing many dreams in life. I’ve been fortunate not to possess this fear. As a result I have jumped out of a plane, gone hang gliding, done some rock climbing, worked as a bicycle messenger in New York City, experimented with psychedelic and other mind opening drugs, and so on. To be clear, this is not to say I welcome death.

 

What have I learned from this exercise?

Plainly speaking, it is clear that I have a fair number of fears. Some have been conquered, some I’m working on, and still others are an ongoing challenge. I am okay with accepting that some fears will never go away. I told myself I wouldn’t say or think never prior to relocating overseas. I am willing to accept that some of my fears may remain with me until I die.

I realize that I am revealing a good deal about myself in my blogs. Several individuals have written to me to tell me that it is helping them to be more honest with themselves. Seems like a win-win to me.

 

 

Lagos with Friends from Cape Elizabeth, Maine

 

Jim and Gillian Britt visiting from Maine. A beautiful November day at Ponta da Piedade. The sky really was THAT blue.

 

 

Difficult to capture the true beauty of the place.

 

 

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Tasca Jota— delicious suckling pig, Lagos

 

 

Gun Shots in the Woods

 

The trigger my mother squeezed on a .45 Colt rifle in the woods of upstate New York that summer night will be an image captured and cemented in my mind for a lifetime.

 

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I’m the teenager with the shaggy brown hair unloading my stepfather’s jeep c.1973

I was an overweight, troubled, 14-year-old, with a great deal of anger. My stepfather, Frank, reluctantly accepted that I came with the package when he married my mother. I’m sure on some level he knew I was gay and that turning me into a “real man” was either hopeless or a waste of his time. But try he did, as often as he could. As far as my mother was concerned, on this particular dark night in the woods, he went too far.

As a family, we spent a lot of time camping in the summer. My mother and stepfather enjoyed being outdoors and it was an inexpensive way for a big family to travel. Frank relished seclusion in the wild, so we usually camped far away from the rest of civilization. There was a lean-to (three-sided housing structure) camp high in the New York Adirondacks called Pharaoh Lake. We would spend hours in Frank’s loaded-up jeep to get to the camp. We would have to get out of the jeep and hike the last hour because the trails were steep and rocky, it was too dangerous to ride up in the vehicle. To be fair to my mother, the safety of her children was paramount.

Our family trips would start out on a positive note. Frank and my mom were eager to get us out of the city and they looked forward to time with each other in their own private lean-to. Unfortunately, drama was a big part of my mother’s life and it almost seemed that she lived to create as much of it as possible. This trip upstate would be no exception.

 

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A Lean-to

 

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My mother the redhead at Pharaoh Lake c.1973

 

We had a pleasant enough first few days:  hiking, fishing, target practicing with Frank’s rifles; rifles he proudly displayed on the back wall of the open lean-to — I’m talking four or five rifles. We were instructed to stay away from the guns and I’m assuming he hid the bullets. Frank was stern and if you were smart, you did whatever he asked you to do; especially when he was drinking. I usually responded to instructions with a grunt or a nod.

My chores were fairly simple. I would be responsible for gathering wood for fires, sweeping up the campsite, storing the boating equipment; for the most part, doing these things without having to be told. For some reason, I never knew why, my mother was fairly agitated a few nights into our trip. She’d snap at any of us who had anything at all to say; especially laying into Frank (later in life she was diagnosed as bi-polar). She prepared the usual campfire meal of spam, potatoes and some canned vegetables. We all ate quietly so as to not upset her any further.

Dinner was over, my sisters cleaned up and darkness descended on the campsite. Frank stoked the fire with one hand and nursed a glass full of Canadian Club with the other. I crawled into my sleeping bag with a flashlight and a novel. I kept to myself growing up. My siblings liked to play cards and horse around; I wanted no part of it. I was no angel mind you. I was defiant and arrogant most of the time; feeling fairly superior and smarter than the rest of my siblings — they called me Big Cheese. My cocky attitude didn’t sit well with Frank. Whenever he had the opportunity, he’d try to set me straight. I was deep into my novel when I heard my name called several times. I walked out of the lean-to to see what was up. Frank told me to take the empty water cans to the stream to fill them. I asked him how I was going to do this with it being so dark on the lake.

With his back to me, Frank responded, “Take a flashlight and holler if you need help.”

My mom must have heard this and shouted, “Oh no Frank. He’s not going out on the lake by himself.”

We had a small boat with a trolling motor and the stream was a couple of miles from our campsite. I was fairly certain the man had lost his mind because it was pitch black on the lake and I was wasn’t very good at navigating the boat even in broad daylight. I don’t recall there was much of a moon that night. They argued back and forth for a while. My mother suggested that he send Frank’s son, my stepbrother Larry, who was a few years younger than I. Frank continued to insist that I go to the stream and I figured my mother would convince him otherwise. Voices were raised and my siblings all sat silently waiting to see how this one would play out.

Frank finally shouted, “He’s going Lou and that’s the end of it.”

This next part happened so quickly I wasn’t even aware of it at first. My mom ran to their lean-to and grabbed the .45 Colt. She cocked the trigger and aimed the rifle at Frank. The kids watched in horror as my mother ran down a list of reasons why she was going to shoot him. My sister Grace’s finger nails broke through skin on my arm and my brother Leo dropped to the ground to hide behind me; he would have been eight or nine years old at the time. Frank seemed genuinely frightened, although I’m still not sure if the rifle was loaded; Frank would have known. He actually had the presence of mind to point to us standing off to the side.

“Lou you’re scaring the kids.”

My older sister Kathy actually walked toward my mom to plead with her.

“Put it down mom, he’s not worth going to prison over.”

My siblings and I were probably all thinking what my sister was able to say. My mother eventually put down the rifle. Frank left the campsite with Larry and the water cans and was gone for quite a while. My mother apologized to us for scaring us. I secretly cheered her on, hoping I’d have one tenth of her chutzpah when I got older. My mother and Frank thrived on this kind of insanity and they’d usually kiss and make-up pretty quickly. But not this time. While Frank and his son were getting water, my mother instructed us to pack. It was our usual bedtime mind you; I was hoping she wasn’t serious.

When Frank got back to the campsite, we were all standing by the trail with our packed bags.

My mother said, “We’re leaving Frank. I’m done.”

He tried to reason with her, but she was fairly resolute. She let Frank know that we were going to walk down the mountain and find our way home. At this point his anger and drunken state prevented him from putting up a fight.

“Do whatever the fuck you want; I’m done too.”

We hiked in the dark for over an hour until we got to the road leading to the highway. I’m not sure what my mother was thinking; I’m not sure she was thinking at all. The six of us were walking on the road for maybe twenty minutes when Frank drove up beside us and told us to get in. It took some time, but my mother finally caved and we all climbed into the jeep. My mother was crying hysterically and some of my brothers and sisters were weeping as well. I was numb; wondering when and if the drama would end.

They argued parked on the shoulder of the road and then finally decided to pull into a nearby motel. We were six hours drive from home and Frank had been drinking heavily; there was no other option. I don’t recall getting any sleep. I was only 14 years old, but I was certain that I could survive on my own, therefore, I plotted my escape. Just as soon as we returned to Brooklyn, I was going to talk to my father and move in with him. I dreaded the idea of living in his dark and dreary studio, but anything was better than the life I was living.

The following morning, my mother came to our motel room to wake us. She told us that she and Frank had made up and that we were going back to the campsite. I’m sure that I rolled my eyes and silently protested. To my mother’s credit, she didn’t blame me for their argument. She kissed the top of my head and assured me that things would get better. She was optimistic and convincing and because I’d heard this before, I doubted her. I changed my mind about moving in with my father; I always did. As insane and chaotic as our household was, truth be told, I couldn’t have imagined myself anywhere else. This was my life and until early adulthood, I believed it was perfectly normal.

Much of my youth is a blur; I guess your mind sorts it out for the sake of self-preservation. Today, quiet means everything to me and my primary goal in is to avoid drama. Admittedly, that’s not always the case; in truth, there is a little bit of momma in me.

 

Alternative fact:  A different version of the story . . .

This particular camping incident is fairly vivid in my mind for obvious reasons; however, there is one part of the story that I am not sure about. My mom may or may not have fired the gun. There is a tiny part of my brain that has her pointing the gun up to the sky and pulling the trigger; you know, for dramatic effect. I figure one of my brothers and sisters will read this and tell me which version is correct. It just seems like something my mom would have done. Unfortunately, I cannot ask her. I don’t think she would have minded retelling the story; she wore these memories like a badge of honor.

 

Fantastic offer for the holidays

I have written about this beautiful bed and breakfast outside of Faro a few time and just learned that they are offering a Christmas package that would be a special gift under anyone’s tree. If you’re in the Algarve or coming to the Algarve, Mercedes is not your typical vacation spot. I took these photos just a few weeks ago when I spent some time there. Paco (their pug) is a wonder.

 

 

 

Mercedes Country House – Christmas Package 2018

Check in: Dec. 23rd

Check out: Dec. 27th with late check out (subject to availability)

Breakfast included each day

Meals (wines: white, red and vintage port included with dinner Dec. 24th and lunch Dec. 25th)

Dinner:  Dec. 23rd

Lunch:  Dec. 24th

Dinner: Dec. 24th (traditional Christmas eve Portuguese dinner) 

Lunch:  Dec 25th (traditional Christmas day Portuguese lunch)

Dinner:  Dec. 25th (optional 20€ pp)

Dinner: Dec. 26th (optional 20€ pp) 

 

1 Person – 540€

2 People – 690€

3 People (extra bed in the room) – 840€

info@mercedescountryhouse.com

 

Purpose

What is purpose? Why I need a purpose? Will I find my purpose?

 

 

purpose
noun
a person’s sense of resolve or determination.
“there was a new sense of purpose in her step as she set off”
synonyms: determination, resoluteness, resolution,

resolve, firmness (of purpose), steadfastness, backbonedrivepushthrustenthusiasmambitioninitia-tiveenterprisemotivation, single-mindedness, commitmentconviction,

dedication

Whenever I think of purpose, I am reminded of Steve Martin who plays Navin in The Jerk, where he goes on and on about his “special purpose.” The purpose I’ll be discussing is not quite the same; my purpose is less sexual in nature. I’m certain that’s a better way to go.
A person’s sense of resolve or determination; that’s seems essential to me. So I ask myself, do I have purpose? Considering that I am a planner and that I need to have future goals or plans to look forward to, I would say that I have purpose. However, now that I am no longer a pet owner — I hate the word owner when referring to a pet, it seems to me that a pet is a member of your family and ownership isn’t really the right word, so I’m going to change that to having a pet — that is a huge obligation that I longer need to consider. I don’t plan to acquire another pet anytime soon; losing Giorgio has provided an opportunity to explore the world without being tied down. This was Giorgio’s final gift to me. I miss the little guy.
Career
When you have a career, a sense of purpose comes easily.  For over 30 years I focused on education; first on my Ph.D. and then educating others. I truly felt that I was making a difference. Then I focused on creating a consulting business and when I achieved a certain amount of success (over 20 clients in two years) I decided consulting was not fulfilling and that I needed to move on. There were parts of consulting that I enjoyed immensely; however, convincing potential clients that they needed my help or any help, was tough on the ego. And that brings me to now . . .
Writing
I did some professional writing in Portland, Maine and discovered how much I enjoy it. The question I need to ask myself is do I want to take it further than a blog? I thought perhaps putting together a memoir (a collection of all of the personal stories from my blog) might be worth pursuing. I’m frankly concerned about those that might not like what they see in print and I’m not sure the purging is worth the pain. The other option might be an Expat How To book. Either of these two considerations would be fulfilling and perhaps helpful to others.
Daily Stuff
There are many things I do on a daily basis which provide purpose. For example, I am motivated to rise in the morning for two big reasons:  1) I love the quiet. It’s usually dark and the city is still sleeping. I make coffee and either work on my blog or read. Sometimes I watch the news, but with all the negative things going on in Trump world, I’ve been attempting to avoid this trap, and 2) I have always had more energy at the start of the day. That is after a good night’s sleep and sleep has been elusive lately.
Going to the gym is a big part of my physical drive. I enjoy the community I have at the gym and I like how it makes me feel. I usually do my market shopping after the gym. I’m freshly showered, shaved and raring to go.
I have always looked forward to lunch and dinner. I don’t think about breakfast much, but I do mix it up in the morning. I eat whatever I feel like that day (ex., eggs, toast, cereal, avocado, fresh juice, granola). I don’t eat all of those items on the same day. I start thinking about lunch at around 10:00 a.m. and I usually have a salad, sandwich, or leftovers by 12:30/1:00 p.m. I’m inspired by the food at the market and that’s when and where my dinner decision is made. The Algarve is a great place for fresh fish, beautiful vegetables, fruit (amazing oranges and melon), organic chicken and charcuterie. I like to make enough so that I have leftovers for the next day. In the summer, I freeze homemade tomato sauce and pesto (basil and parsley from my terrace garden) , so that I can have summer dishes during the winter. I’m no Martha Stewart, but using my freezer to store food is something I learned from my father.
I have a terrace garden (see as much as I could get in the two frames below). My terrace is very long and narrow and has lots of room for potted plants. I’m growing flowers, succulents and herbs. Tending to my garden brings me a great deal of pleasure and purpose. I am proud of what I grow and enjoy sitting out on the terrace, either by myself or with friends. It got started in June so I have aways to go.

 

Film
I’m a film buff, so I go to the cinema at least once a week. I prefer a matinée because I’m less likely to fall asleep. And for you snarky folks, it’s not because I’m getting old; movies are more likely to make me sleepy in the evening, probably because film allows me to take mind off of other things that may be troubling, thus I become more relaxed and sleepy. Theatre has the same effect on me, but alas, there is little or no theatre in English in Faro. We do have live ballet and opera at the cinema; a big plus.
architecture building business cinema
Photo by Nathan Engel on Pexels.com
Language
Now that I’m living in Portugal, I believe it would be in my best interest to learn to speak Portuguese. I started with an on-line tutor about four months prior to relocating. Frederico who lives in London, but he is from Lisbon, was a great help; however, I knew that what I was learning would “stick” once I moved to Portugal and started hearing the language daily. In theory, this is true. The problem lies in the number of Portuguese people who speak English. Anyone aged 40 or younger (older people as well) has a pretty good grasp on the English language. They learned English in school, they watch non-dubbed American film and television, and I believe they enjoy speaking English. Many Portuguese people need to know how to speak English for work. This can make an English-speaking person in Portugal very lazy. I’m dedicating time to learning the language, but not enough time. I’d like to be able to converse in Portuguese sometime in the next two years. I plan to take classes and spend more time practicing. This is a necessary goal and a great way to keep my aging brain active.
Driving
It is also important for me to practice my driving here. I’ve rented a car a couple of times and I feel a certain level of confidence; however, I want to improve. The roundabouts that are everywhere in Europe, are very efficient, but tricky and they’re so much better than traffic lights. European drivers tend to be faster, take more risk, and they are not very tolerant of beginners. I know this is a huge generalization, but even Europeans would agree with this assessment. I’ll have a car for a few days in November, so I plan to practice.
Friends/Socializing
A few weeks ago I was complaining (to myself) that many of my new friends here in Portugal live 45 to 90 minutes away. Then it occurred to me that when I lived in Brooklyn, many of my friends were either outside of Brooklyn or over an hour away by subway. So what am I complaining about? The only issue has been coordinating the train or bus schedule with visits outside of Faro. It’s a minor inconvenience, therefore, I’m going to heretofore just be grateful to have wonderful people in my life no matter where I live. I have more time in my schedule for socializing and that’s a good thing. I’m trying not to fill my dance card so that I can be more spontaneous. I know several of you who know me are reading this and laughing out loud. People can change you know.
Volunteer Work
I need to work with animals, it’s non-negotiable. I have discovered that there is a pet shelter in both Olhão and Loulé. Neither city is far away, so I will be looking into spending some time at one of these shelters. I have been volunteering since I was in my early twenties; few things in my life have been as satisfying. I cannot adopt or foster right now; therefore, this will be the next best thing.
Travel
I struggle with travel. I love routine, I love my own bed, and I love cooking my own food. When I travel, I sacrifice a great deal; poor me right?. Having stated this, I truly do want to see the world and I don’t mean by watching the travel channel. I now have the time to be more methodical and smarter about travel. I can take longer trips and combine multiple locations, thus making travel more economical and less of a hassle. The last thing I want is more time in airports and the shuffling of my luggage from one hotel to another. I want to spend more time in one place, I want to see people I care about who live in other countries; and I want to be able to boast about the deals I garner.
Possible Citizenship in Portugal
Keeping up with the red tape of full-time residency in a foreign country is a full-time job. I am obviously exaggerating, but seriously, there is a lot of paperwork. It seems at times that policy and law surrounding living in Portugal is intentionally ambiguous or confusing. I had some recent issues with attaining a Portuguese driver’s license. Several expats have warned me about the process. It was clear, that if I did not complete the process for acquiring a Portuguese driver’s license within the allotted 90 days from becoming a legal resident, I would have to go through the process as if I were attaining my very first driver’s license and I would have to take the written and physical driving test in Portuguese. Clearly, that was enough to motivate me to get this done ASAP. Except that there was a huge obstacle. Apparently I should have known that the Portuguese Consulate in Boston needed to verify my Maine driver’s license prior to relocating to Portugal. How could I have not known this? I won’t go into details about how I managed to get a temporary Portuguese driver’s license, however, what I will say is that I believe in my heart, it would have been easier to compete in Hawaii’s Iron Man competition and place.
After a few years of renewing my temporary residence, I will be eligible for dual citizenship (I will never give up my U.S. citizenship). This will not be an easy process, but if it mean shorter lines at passport control in airports all over the world, I am willing to at least try.
In Summary
I highly recommend the exercise of laying it all out. If like me, you are sitting around wondering what you are going to do with your life, it will certainly help you to see and realize, that you have a lot going on.
I won’t lie, I miss the feeling I got when considering that the school I worked for would shut down if I missed a day at the office. I miss the routine of Giorgio jumping into my bed in the morning for a one hour cuddle (that was always the best hour of my day), I miss my weekly poker game, I miss southern barbecue, I miss hopping into my car to see friends and family, I miss English being spoken all around me, I miss the thrill of anticipating my annual raise and bonus, and I miss using work as an excuse to decline social engagements. I can go on, but I ‘m afraid if I do, I will begin to regret early retirement. So where does this leave me when considering purpose?
What I have in my life today, is that opportunity to relax without guilt, take care of my spiritual, physical and mental health, and the ability to see the world. None of these are minor commitments. If I accomplish half of what I have planned for the next ten years, I will be successful, happy and satisfied or at the very least, I can tell myself that I am all of these things. I can also look forward to change. Change is a constant we can count on. Okay, I am motivated.

Catania, Sicilia . . . Finally!

 

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

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

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

Here are some of my first impressions:

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

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

 

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No donuts in Portugal and I LOVE them!

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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Bad angle, sorry.

 

 

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

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

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Steak House

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

The names of Deborah’s traditional Sicilian dishes:

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

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

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

A Side Note: 

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

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