Why Eindhoven, Netherlands?

A trip to Holland Worth Sharing:

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.

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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 in 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.

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From the internet — I did not take a photo (in the moment)

 

 

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.[11] 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 medieval moat 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.

People of Eindhoven (during World War II) watching Allied forces entering the city following its liberation from Axis forces on 19 September 1944.

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.[12][13] 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.

 

Anton Philips

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.

 

Catharina Church and Square

St. Catherine ‘s Church is a Roman Catholic church in the inner city of the Dutch city of Eindhoven , dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria.

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.

 

Synagogue

It was not allowed for Jews to settle in the city of Eindhoven until 1772, when Stadtholder Willem 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 CologneKrefeld 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.

Prentbriefkaart van de synagoge in Eindhoven, ca. 1920

 

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.

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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.

 

 

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This little guy was clearly the king of this beautiful carpet shop. 

 

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.

 

 

Time & Patience Blog Updated

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Pictured: the perfect martini!

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

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The shrimp here are really THAT BIG

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Photos:

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

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

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A Portuguese Retreat in Castro Marim

Be prepared, I get a bit corny.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Praia Verde from a window at Infante

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

Sharish Original Gin

Sharish Original Gin Bottling Note

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

South Wales in August

 

 

 

Not everything in life can be explained. Why I have always had a desire to see Wales is not something I can easily put into words. Not unlike my father’s birthplace in Italy, I have dangled Wales in the corners of my mind for decades; like a treat I was savoring for another day.

Moving to Portugal made Wales an easily attainable adventure and I was ready.

I decided that August would be a good month for my getaway; it’s hot in Faro and I thought it might be cooler in Wales. I was hoping for some rain since I was certain it would be quite awhile before we had any rain to speak of in southern Portugal. I looked at airlines and Flybe had an inexpensive flight to Cardiff, the capital, in both directions. I hate to be negative and bitter, but I’m fairly certain I will not be flying Flybe again — they nickel and dime you, charging you for your seat and everything else that is not part of the aircraft. They informed me at check-in that my bag was larger than the regulation size and I had to pay 98 Euros (total both ways) to check it. I bought this particular “small” bag because I thought I had learned my lesson after flying RyanAir. What pisses me off more than anything, is that airlines continue to report record profits and they never lower their prices. I guess that’s what’s called capitalism and we have no choice but to just watch the airline CEOs make millions off the backs of the average Joe and Josephine.

Back to Wales. I decided on an Airbnb for this trip, thinking I could have breakfast and lunch in my apartment. I was able to rent a one bedroom .5 miles from the city. It was a modern flat with a queen size bed and an owner who was very hospitable. Mike provided great tips for dining and excursions. The place cost me less than $100 a night and a hotel room would have been twice that.

My friends in Cardiff told me that the weather would have been better in June, however, I did have two beautiful days and I felt fortunate.

The apartment in case you’re interested (click for details).

My flight was delayed nearly two hours forcing me to take a taxi to the apartment (it was after midnight and the city bus wasn’t running and I couldn’t find an Uber nearby). Fortunately, the apartment had a lockbox so I didn’t have to wake the owner. Thank goodness for cell phone flashlights or I’m not sure how I would have gotten in. It was 1:30 a.m. before I got to go to bed on my first of four nights. Once again, I will never fly Flybe again if I can help it.

After a solid seven hours sleep, I ventured out for coffee and a bite to eat. Mike told me about a Portuguese bakery just around the corner from the Airbnb. I was in a neighborhood called Adamsdown (see below) and the bakery was Nata & Co on Clifton Street. The coffee and pastries were excellent and I felt as if I had never left home.

History of Adamsdown (history everywhere you turn in Wales)

In mediaeval times, Adamsdown lay just outside the east walls of Cardiff and was owned by the lords of Glamorgan. The area may be named after an Adam Kygnot, a porter at Cardiff Castle around 1330 AD. The Welsh name Waunadda derives from (g)waun (a heath or down) and the personal name Adda (Adam). This name appears to be a recent creation, and there is no evidence that Adam Kygnot was ever called ‘Adda’. Y Sblot Uchafis the Welsh name of Upper Splott, a farm that stood on the site of the later Great Eastern Hotel (demolished 2009) on the corner of Sun Street and Metal Street (the very spot where my Airbnb was located.)

According to an 1824 map, Adamsdown was largely a 270-acre (1.1 km2) farm. A replacement for a prison which was located on St Mary Street opened in the area in 1832, and a cemetery in 1848. In the following year, an outbreak of cholera affected the area. As the cemetery became full, it was converted into a park. In 1883 the “South Wales and Mounmouthsire Infirmary” was opened at a cost of £23,000. Many were refused from the hospital, such as those with infectious diseases and women in the advanced stages of pregnancy. In 1923, the hospital became the Cardiff Royal Infirmary. Source:  Wikipedia.

 

 

 

My new friend Rachel was picking me up at 2:00 p.m. so I decided to stay close to my apartment. Clifton street had some great thrift shops and a good deal of local color. I was able to buy two great novels for under three quid (slang for one pound sterling). I also found a fully stocked grocery store and was able to shop for the apartment; beer I never drank and snacks.

 

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Rachel and I in our matching Birkenstocks; same color even and totally by accident. She’s a pip.

Rachel pulled up to retrieve me at exactly 2:00 p.m. and off we went on our adventure. I only met Rachel a few weeks ago sitting by a pool in Albufeira. Cardiff had already been booked and she was happy to show me around and cook me dinner. This is why they say there is no such thing as a coincidence.

 

 

 

 

I spent my second day just walking around Cardiff, seeing the sights, and enjoying the weather (75 degrees fahrenheit).

My last full day in Cardiff was meant to be an organized tour of the Gower Peninsula. The tour was cancelled because there were not enough people signed up for it. It would have been an eight hour tour because four hours would be traveling to and from. I think it would have been cancelled due to the weather anyway. It was a rainy, low visibility day.

[Gower or the Gower Peninsula is in South Wales. It projects westwards into the Bristol Channel and is the most westerly part of the historic county of Glamorgan. In 1956, Gower became the first area in the United Kingdom to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Wikipedia]gower peninsula fullday south wales tour from cardiff

I guess it just wasn’t meant to be this time. I had just met my new friend Rachel’s husband Mark at their place for dinner the day after I arrived. Mark felt that by staying in Cardiff, I wasn’t getting a true sense of what Wales is like. Cardiff is a fairly modern city and in many ways, it resembles many other cities. He offered to take me to Brecon and the hillside about 45 minutes from Cardiff. Let’s face it, a private tour is always better than a group tour. Sometimes I believe I was just born lucky. Despite the poor weather, we drove through beautiful hills and quaint towns and we got to walk around a bit. And the best part was stopping for a truly authentic pub lunch. I ordered fried fish and I couldn’t have been happier. Mark shared a good deal of Welsh history throughout the day and I got to talk American politics — a perfect day.

 

Places that I got to visit in Cardiff and enjoyed immensely:

Cardiff Bay

The Port of Cardiff

Cardiff Market

The National Assembly for Wales

Caerphilly and Caerphilly Castle (Rachel gifted me some Caerphilly cheese which I brought home. It’s even better than cheddar).

Penarth and the Penarth Marina

Bute’s Castle

National Museum Cardiff (museums are always free in Wales)

Many Arcades in Cardiff Centre

The Rainbow Casino (should have stayed away)

City Hall

Cardiff Castle (I believe I visited four castles — all amazing)

 

There was more to see, but I only had three full days on this trip. It’s a very walkable city and the people are a pleasure to talk to. It was also a fairly diverse city; certainly rich in history. I will return to Cardiff someday.

 

My two favorite restaurants in Cardiff Centre:

Thai & Asian Delish Café

This Thai food booth at The Central Market blew me away. I had the Thai coconut milk and chicken soup; creamy, smooth, spicy and delicious.

 

 

 

Elgano Italian Restaurant 

I’ve had a lot of pasta’s in my life and I have to say this one ranks in the top 10 (see below). I also had mussels in a garlic and tomato sauce and they were very disappointing; flavorless in fact. The owners were a husband and wife team. He was rushing around, acting very pretentious and she was sincere. I watched the husband spill wine on a customer because he was going too fast and not paying attention — you can tell I didn’t like him. They were, however, from Italy and the food was authentic. Maybe the husband was in the kitchen and the waiter was just some random Italian guy; I don’t know for sure. Click on the name of the restaurant above if you plan on going or you’re just curious.

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Tagliatelle with shrimp, radicchio & a creamy spicy tomato sauce

A Taste of Vienna

 

 

 

 

I’m afraid I may disappoint; not because I didn’t love Vienna, but because I spent three days there doing next to nothing. I love to walk, so I walked a lot. I did some things while I walked and I’ll mention a few. I also ate; I ate well. I’ll tell you about a few of my meals.

 

A Travel Tale of Woe That Ends Well

Allow me to start with a travel story while it’s fresh and still has me a bit shaky. Sunday morning I had a 5:30 a.m. flight. Since I had to be at the airport by 4:15 a.m., I didn’t sleep much Saturday night; in fact, I don’t think I slept at all. When it was time to leave my Airbnb, I gathered up all of my belongings and I placed the key in the lock box. It was about 3:45 a.m. when I stepped outside and called an Uber. The car came quickly. Because I hadn’t slept much, it felt more like an out-of-body experience. I had a very talkative driver from Serbia. While he was chatting I reached into my backpack to check for my boarding pass and passport. I have a deep pocket where I usually keep important things. I pulled out the boarding pass and checked for a terminal number and there was none. I reached back in for my passport and it was not there; shit.

I did what one usually does when they think something is where it’s supposed to be; I checked again, and again, and again. My passport was nowhere to be found in my backpack. My mind started going to dark places:  it’s been stolen, it fell out of my backpack in my Airbnb, the owner of the Airbnb entered the apartment while I was out and took it. I came very close to asking the driver to pull over. I was telling myself to stay clam and tried to consider all of my options. I was inclined to ask the driver to take me back to the apartment, but the keys were in a lockbox behind a locked door — no way I could get back in.  I would have had to call Ben, the owner, and wake him in the middle of the night and ask him to meet me there. I was fully aware that if I did this, I’d miss my flight. On the other hand, I wasn’t going anywhere without my passport. The decision I made was an important one and I hope that I remember to do the same in the future. I decided to breathe. I figured the best thing to do was just stay calm for the rest of the ride and then sort it out at the airport. The driver was unaware of the situation.

He dropped me off at Terminal 3 and that turned out to be the wrong terminal; the least of my concerns.

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Vienna International Airport at 4:00 a.m.

 

We unloaded my carryon and I set it down on the curb. I was going to check every corner of my backpack and my carryon. I unzipped the top zipper of my carryon and to my very pleasant surprise, there was my passport. I must have sat on the curb feeling very satisfied for a good couple of minutes. I had to think hard to recall that I had transferred my passport to my suitcase so that I would not lose it while carrying my backpack around Vienna. I think the incident was a combination of lack of sleep and some “normal” memory loss. I was so relieved that I smiled for the remainder of the day. This was of course, a teachable moment for me:

  1. Always check that you have all of your documents before you leave for the airport.
  2. Keep your wits about you and more often than not, you will find what you’re looking for.
  3. Avoid flights before 6:00 a.m.

 

Vienna On My Mind

I have had to step back to consider what I would tell you about Vienna. I have very mixed feelings about this city. The architecture is amazing and the history is rich. But frankly, it was difficult to be there and not think about the atrocities of the Nazi’s and WWII. The grand buildings and the history of resistance and death, filled me with dread. As I walked through the city I felt all sorts of emotions — mostly anger.

Then I watched the students march to express their anger concerning climate change; this shifted my thoughts to hope. Apparently, the march was happening throughout Europe and has been a regular Friday event. Encouraging thoughts replaced the dread.

 

 

 

I don’t mean to be overly dramatic. It wasn’t that long ago when horrible things occurred in this part of the world. It became more and more obvious that the Viennese are well aware of their horrific history and that they are remorseful and have, along with other parts of the world, righted their wrongs. Still, we should never forget.

 

A Few Excellent Meals

I travel in order to find foods that will delight and satisfy. I’m constantly in search of the meal that will blow me away. Both of these restaurants made me very happy in my quest for creativity and perfection:

 

Otto e Mezzo

I have complained about this before, but it is unfortunately true:  there just aren’t that many good Italian restaurants in Faro. Portuguese people love their own dishes and I can’t say I blame them. Since Faro is not much of a tourist town compared with the rest of the Algarve, excellent Italian is scarce. Therefore, when I travel, I look for good Italian food.

I hit the jackpot with Otto e Mezzo. It’s the real deal. A classically trained chef, simple and elegant aesthetic, outdoor dining, and an uncomplicated and delightful menu. I was so pleased to have done my homework and found this gem. I had a simple garden salad that was perfectly dressed; incredible cherry tomatoes and mixed greens. For my entree, I had a pasta dish that has always been in my top three:  penne arrabbiata (click for recipe). It was so perfect, I sat with it for a long time and savored every bite. The homemade pasta was cooked al dente and the sauce was spicy and memorable (I’ve thought about this pasta a lot since returning home). The meal was accompanied by an Italian house red that was a good value and paired well with the pasta. I believe my server was the chef’s wife and I knew I could trust her right from the start. I was way too full for dessert, but I am certain they would have all been delicious. I thanked the chef on the way out; his obvious appreciation made the meal even more satisfying.

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Penne Arrabbiata

 

Yong Street Food Kitchen

A varied menu of Asian street food that was worth the wait. The chef had gone out for 30 minutes so I had to be patient; not one of my best assets. Bibembap is one of my favorite Korean dishes, therefore, it was a must and it did not disappoint. I also had a couple of delicious pork belly buns, filled with all sorts of savory additions and oozing hoisin sauce. It was one of those menus where I wanted every dish on it and I had to control myself. I spied a lemon soda I haven’t had before (didn’t write down the name); not too sweet and paired well on a warm Viennese afternoon.

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Bibembap (click for fun video)

 

Vienna is a progressive city filled with street food, art and 200,000 university students; the largest number in Austria. Wherever there are universities and young people, you will find contemporary design and creative dishes — this aspect of Vienna made me very happy.

I had some fresh oysters at the Naschmarkt and if I’m going to be honest, it was because of the display. It was a beautiful outdoor space, on a perfect day and that made it special. Pricey and poor service nearly ruined it for me.

 

 

 

Don’t eat a meal at the Naschmarkt unless someone directs you to a special place. It’s better to snack at some of the smaller stalls.

 

Coffee/Breakfast

 

 

Breakfast at Vollpension was perfect after extensive travel the night before. I was thirsty, hungry and tired. This relaxing spot (looked like a Bohemian living room) was exactly what I needed early the next morning. I got to watch them set up and put all the cakes out. I had a traditional Viennese breakfast:  soft boiled eggs and brown bread. This was my first Viennese coffee and it was strong and creamy.

 

Sites Worth Seeing

Most of what I saw while in Vienna was on my walkabouts. I wasn’t really in the mood for museums because the weather was exceptional. I did walk into a few buildings just to see part of the interior. Many of the buildings were blocks long and very garish.

I went on an Airbnb tour:  The Hidden Gems of Vienna, the guide was knowledgable and he spoke English well. The tour was three hours long and we were shown beautiful courtyards, passageways and permanent artwork.

Some of what I captured for my memory of Vienna:

 

 

Not to be missed:

Karmelitermarkt — outstanding outdoor farmers market, food stalls and artists

Stephansdom — a gorgeous catholic cathedral with art installations

Naschmarkt — flea market on Saturday and food stalls and restaurants seven days a week

Heeresgeschichtliches Museum — impressive architecture

Karlskirche — beautiful structure

Secession — gold globe art at the top of the building

Leopold Museum, MUMOK and Museums Quartier

Parlament — wow; very big

The Danube — beautiful river through the city

Augarten — Porcelain Manufactory

Staatsoper — Opera House

Akademie der bildenden Künste

Haus der Musik

 

It’s a long and certainly not all-inclusive, list. Honestly, the buildings are massive and go on forever. The city is clean, safe, and walkable. The metro system is easy to navigate and reasonably priced (2,40 Euros). There are outdoor cafés and bars everywhere. Innenstadt, City Center, can be easily located and trekked.

 

New Vienna: 

On the outside of the inner city is the new Vienna you’ll want to see (my guide pictured below). Modern architecture, new hi-rise buildings and an expansive university. I also walked through an amusement park that boasts the largest ferris wheel of its kind and a couple of a casinos (for a change, I stayed away). This park is over 100 years old and was filled with happy Viennese families. It was only six stops on the metro, outside the city centre.

 

My Airbnb host, Ben, wrote to tell me that it rained the day that I left. Apparently, it rained for three weeks before I arrived and then they had sun for three days. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I must have done something good.

Estelle flew home with me. I met the gentleman who painted her and I could not resist. She is now part of my collection:

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Porto and the Duoro Valley

 

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

 

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

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

 

Porto

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

Sites in Porto you will not want to miss:

 

 

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

Antiqvvm

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

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

 

 

 

The Duoro Valley

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

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

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

The Spruce Eats — an informative piece on Port wine.

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

MAP of the Iberian Peninsula

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

 

 

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

Some thoughts before this American expat flies home later today:

 

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

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

Politics

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

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

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

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

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

The Economy

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

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

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

Some of the Comments Made to Me or Overheard

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

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

The Future

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

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

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

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