My Last Meal Imagined

Some people will find this thought morbid or difficult to digest (sorry). Not having a fear of death allows me to consider my last meal if, and that’s a big if, I was in the position to choose said meal. The photos below are not the actual dishes I would order; just having fun with stock photos.

 

My Choices

I will not go over possible scenarios that might get me to a place where I know that my last meal is a foregone conclusion. Let’s just imagine that it is a possibility. I think about these things, I do.

By the way, I won’t be cooking my own last meal. Although I like my own cooking immensely, I would rather imagine that a professional chef is part of my fantasy.

I’m going to order more than one appetizer, entree, and dessert because this is my fantasy and I can. I have a few thoughts about each savory dish:

  1. The food will be uncomplicated.
  2. It will be fresh.
  3. It will be mildly spicy.
  4. It will be served at around 6:00 p.m. I don’t like to go to bed with a full stomach and I assume I’ll want a full night’s sleep before I die.
  5. I will have a white tablecloth and white soft cotton napkins.
  6. I will have one person dining with me. I am not revealing who I would want that person to be (unless you’re a really close friend and you promise not to say anything). I can tell you it would not be a politician or religious leader.
  7. It will be hot; cold food can be delicious, but not for my last meal.
  8. There will be no photos taken.

No rules for desserts.

 

Appetizer

I love appetizers. I like that I can take a few small bites and I like knowing that there will be a break before the next course. I usually allow myself to indulge in something richer knowing that it will only be a couple of forkfuls of deliciousness. Of course for this fantasy — I know fantasy seems more like a positive, but since none of this is real — I’m well enough to enjoy food in this fantasy. Who knows, I might be 95 years old with a great appetite, deciding that I have had a good run and it’s time to rest. These are the dishes I might hope to be served:

Selections:  pan seared foie gras with some sort of fig compote on the side, grilled garlic and scallion marinated king prawns, fettucini arrabiata, Korean style chicken wings (drumettes), chicken based broth with ramen noodles and other goodies (paitan), and baked clams oreganata. They would be served with some time to savor and digest in between servings.

Caveat:  I may change up or a add a dish or two. I want to leave things fairly fluid knowing that anything can happen between now and then.

Fettuccine arrabiata

 

Entrees:  Grilled T-Bone (dry-aged, grass fed beef). I love that you get two cuts of beef:  a strip of top loin and tenderloin. I want it charred on the outside and medium rare on the inside (just salt and pepper). Perhaps a fresh rosemary rub prior to grilling. I make no apology for my choices.

How to grill t-bone steak

More entrees and sides:  A whole steamed lobster with clarified butter for dipping, creamy mashed potatoes and parsnip with a little bit of roasted garlic, sauteed broccoli rabe, turkey stuffing cooked in the cavity of a roasted turkey. I want the crispy part that was exposed during cooking. Buttermilk fried chicken — a thigh please. I might ask for seafood paella, I’m not sure yet. Not because I don’t love it; there are capacity issues to consider.

Dessert:  white cake with dark chocolate frosting (accompanied by a glass of whole milk), Toll House chocolate chip cookies with walnuts, pistachio ice cream — two scoops with nothing on top. I usually like to end the meal with something lemony. I’m thinking either lemon meringue pie or a French lemon tart topped with fresh whipped cream. I’d probably be happy with either. If key lime pie is possible, I’d go with that, also with fresh whipped cream. I know, it’s a fantasy, I should be able to have anything I want. I cannot help being practical; even when I fantasize.

By the way, I would do tastings; I wouldn’t want to be so full that I can’t eat dessert.

 

To Drink:  

I would start with a palate cleanser:  Ouzo with ice cold water

Paired with Appetizers:  a chilled French Sancerre

Entrees:  Louis Latour Corton Domain Gran Cru — the best vintage to found the wine sommelier I have employed for this occasion. If this is to be my last red, it had better be the best. I would be open to suggestions. If you’re reading this and judging my choices, you would be wise to keep in my that this is my fantasy and my taste buds; consider your own selections if can go there.

Dessert:  A very small glass of Italian Moscato d’Asti (lightly sweet, gently effervescent and low in alcohol, is mainly produced in the hilltop town of Asti, and in the nearby provinces of Alessandria and Cuneo in the north-western region of Piedmont).

When everything has been cleared away and right before I retire to my bed:  French Armagnac — the best available; I’m not that fussy. Served in a large brandy snifter.

Image result for brandy snifter glass

 

I have to say this was more fun than I thought it would be. My mouth watered the entire time I was blogging. I came to this conclusion:  I should eat these dishes more often than I do. Although I always go back to one of my college professors who started each lecture with:  “All things in moderation.” I wouldn’t want to hasten my demise.

 

What I Vowed to do this Week and How it Played Out:

I find myself very angry and upset with social media and the news. I get all caught up in drama with family and strangers over words; words worth fighting over, but it takes its toll. I decided to give myself a week away from all social media and the news.

It’s day two and it’s not working. I’m afraid the Corona Virus and American politics keeps me wanting more. I turn it on for a few minutes and then turn it off. It’s an addiction I cannot deny cold turkey. I’m telling myself that smaller doses are probably better for my state of mind. I spoke to friends over the weekend who are in a similar place. I cannot help but wonder what will come of this.

Day three:  it’s getting easier. I guess like any addiction, time and patience will prevail. A little bit of news because of the virus and the democratic primaries, but I’m rationing myself.

Day Seven: Unsuccessful experiment on the news side; I couldn’t stay away. Definitely a lot less social media and that was a good thing. I feel like I experienced less angst. I’m going to try to cut back. I’m going to cut back.

I have also developed some sort of ache in my abdominal area. I’m not sure if it’s psychosomatic or real.  The anxiety has to live somewhere; my head and stomach seem like obvious hosts.

Admittedly, I could not write about food when my stomach was bothering me. The good news is that I think I figured out that it was a machine I was using to stretch out my back at the gym. One of the staff members showed me an alternative machine that I believe will do less damage to my abdominal area; I’ve switched machines. It might also be a hernia — I’ve had two and it’s uncomfortable surgery to repair them.

 

Paco Update:

Paco has been with me for over five weeks now. He has completed his pack of antibiotics and his tail rash is getting better (difficult because he wants to lick the area and I refuse to put a cone on his head). He’ll have bloodwork done in 10 days to determine whether or not he beat the virus. On his last visit, his red blood cell count and all other readings were normal. He is animated, playful, sweet, has a great sense of humor and eats well. When he first arrived he was anxious and skittish; for the most part he’s a well-behaved,  “normal” pooch, with above average intelligence.

He a bit overly generous with kisses; a habit I may have a difficult time breaking.

I imagine I will always wonder if the people (person) who abandoned him will resurface and want him back, but I worry less each day. I have grown quite attached to my 3.5 lb. roommate.

He’s quite handsome, is he not? I intend to spoil him rotten. My

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Córdoba, Spain

 

Friends were visiting from the States and it was their first trip to Europe. Over the past few months we have spoken about what we might do together during their time in Portugal. It probably would have been enough for them to stay local, however, it wouldn’t have been enough for me. I wanted them to fall in love with my country and that meant seeing the country that borders Portugal to the east. We decided on two days in Sevilla (two hours by bus — see blog from 2019) and two days in Córdoba. Why Córdoba you might ask?

Not too long ago I made a decision that has proven to enhance my life and make for a better experience for my guests. Whenever friends or family visit me from the States (or anywhere for that matter), we go someplace I have never been. If I keep going back to the same towns and cities, I will resent my guests and be bored to death. Don’t get me wrong, there are places I love to visit over and over again:  for example Tavira, a town about 30 minutes away from where I live — a French bakery, La Baguette Artisan Boulanger Français, and a pottery shop, Aroma Ceramics. These two places alone make Tavira worth a visit. There are also several restaurants I never tire of. My guests are rarely disappointed; of course, that makes me happy.

So Michelle, John and I did some touring around Faro first. They arrived New Year’s Eve day. To my surprise, the long journey from New York to Faro did not stop them from wanting to explore and sample the food of Faro.  I cooked, certain that they’d want to remain home to rest. The idea of staying up to bring in the new year seemed out of the question. I was shocked to see that they were perky and eager to stay awake and enjoy their first New Year’s celebration in Europe.

They dragged me kicking and screaming to the Faro marina where a lively band played and a fireworks display did not disappoint. I was surprised to see a few thousand locals enjoying the night together.

 

 

Being the morning person that I am, I’m not sure how I managed to stay up for the count. I spent last New Year’s eve in Morocco with friends and I still can’t remember whether or not we brought in the new year together. I’ll have to call Patrick and Sue to ask them.

Back to Michelle and John . . . After a few days staying close to home, we headed for Spain. I won’t be blogging about Seville because I have been there several times and although I love the city, I do not have much to say this time. I will mention that it was colder there than I thought it would be (close to freezing at night) and that Airbnb Adventures offered a paella rooftop experience that was outstanding. We had a challenging time leaving our Airbnb to get to the rooftop location. Our key got stuck in the door and we had to figure out a way to leave the key in the door, leave the door open and escape through another opening. I’m not sure why these things happen to me, but I’m beginning to wonder if I bring them on myself. No matter, we got out safely, made it to our dinner on time, and dealt with the lock issue later in the evening. I must admit I was a bit cranky, but my friends know how I am and put up with me.

 

Córdoba

The first thing I want to say about Córdoba is that everyone should visit this magnificent city. It has a rich history, it is walkable, it is breathtakingly beautiful, and it is very affordable.

 

 

We took a bus from Sevilla to Córdoba. It is an easy and comfortable two hour ride at about 24 euros round trip. The bus takes you to the city centre and then you can either walk or Uber to your destination. Google maps showed that we were about 23 minutes from our Airbnb by foot, so we decided to walk. Technology is only great when it works and this time it did not; we were taken about 1.5 kilometers from our Airbnb and I had to find another means of getting there. About 10 minutes later and none the worse for the wear, we arrived at our Airbnb. This two bedroom, two bath apartment was on four levels. We had a cozy living room and kitchen on the first floor, a bedroom and bath on the second and third floors, and a rooftop terrace on the forth. Honestly at $217 for two nights (all total), I think the place was a find (click for listing).

 

Salón con muralla Romana auténtica

Casa de diseño a 200m de la Mezquita

Casa de diseño a 200m de la Mezquita

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That stoned wall you see in the first picture is actually the original wall built by the ancient Romans — it is the wall that borders the Jewish Quarter and built in the first century; how’s that for experiencing history.

I will once again reiterate that I am not a travel writer, therefore, I will not share the history of this beautiful city or everything we did while visiting. There were some highlights in our 2.3 days in Córdoba and I am happy to share those with you. Part of the reason travel is so much fun for me, is that I do not chronicle every moment. I am happy to pass along details to any of you, please ask.

Staying in the centre of Córdoba, in the heart of the Jewish Quarter, was a good call. We were minutes from everything you’d want to see and experience while visiting. Arriving on a Sunday made it somewhat difficult to shop for groceries (eg., coffee, milk, wine), but with perseverance, we did find a Chinese all-in-one shop. To our pleasant surprise, the shop even had an Iberian paté we all three thoroughly enjoyed. We were also smart enough to bring some cheese, jamon and crackers from Sevilla. We were hell bent on enjoying our rooftop terrace while the sun was shining and we could experience the tiny bit of warmth we had left. It was all glorious:  our friendship (over 20 years), the view from our terrace, the historical significance of the place, the sun, and the fact that we’d made it there. These are the moments in life we live for.

We had tickets for a genuine Flamenco concert — music and dance — that evening and we were priming for it. We had dinner at a beautiful tapas restaurant close to our Airbnb. It wasn’t the best meal I’ve had, but I certainly enjoyed the atmosphere and the Spanish wine John selected. The Flamenco concert,  was to be performed within the Arab baths of Santa María dating over one thousand years.

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The concert was about 90 minutes in length, the performers were all sick with a cold (except the guitar player), and we had front row seats (there were only 9 people in the audience). I have often wondered if I would enjoy a Flamenco concert and it would be unfair not to comment:  I will say that first of all, I’m glad we did it and second, I would not do it again. I might also add that John caught whatever germs were spread that night.

The next day was very special and truly unforgettable. It would be our only full day in Córdoba and I was determined to make the most of it. I woke up early and went straight to The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba (Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba).

 

If you do nothing else in Córdoba, you must visit this significant landmark. It dates back to the 12th century and it is Islamic, Roman, Byzantine, and Christian, all rolled into one truly magnificent place of worship. You can spend hours and hours exploring this historic site. Afterwards, I ventured out to see the city by day.

The Roman Bridge may have been my second favorite site.

Image result for The Roman bridge in Cordoba

The bridge flows over the Guadalquivir river; grand and gorgeous is all I can say about it (last photo from stock pics on the internet).

After a bit of lunch back at the Airbnb, I walked about three minutes to a hammam where I had an appointment for a warm bath, a sauna and steam, and a massage. The Hammam Al Andalus, is one of the most beautiful I have ever been to and worth every euro I paid (70).

 

I returned to our Airbnb just in time for a pre-dinner cocktail. We had reservations at Casa Mazal Restaurante Sefardi; Middle Eastern, Jewish, Spanish and very authentic. We did the tasting menu and once again John chose the wine — I can pick a good wine, but John knows wine better than I do. The restaurant was quaint and the service excellent. I would have to say that I enjoyed the appetizers far more than the main dishes, but overall, this restaurant did not disappoint. My friends usually claim that they will only take a small taste of dessert and more often, eat at least their share; I’m used to that.

It was an unusually chilly night is Spain, so we hustled back to our apartment and headed straight for bed; very comfortable beds I might add.

Córdoba is a place I will someday return to. I could have spent a week walking, exploring, eating and drinking. It’s only four hours for me by bus (3.5 hours by car) and I know there was more to experience. The history and the melding of so many cultures over the last two thousand years, makes Córdoba a city to behold and cherish. It’s Unesco World Heritage Centre will be forever etched in my travel memories.

 

Paco

This is Paco, my new companion. Paco is a rescue dog; I will be officially introducing him to you next week. The importance of adopting a pet, rather than purchasing one, has been an urgent message I have been wanting to relay for quite some time.

 

 

Tips From A Seasoned Traveller — Part II

Tip #6 — Traveling solo is a great opportunity to meet people. Strangers seem to be drawn to someone sitting alone; especially if you’re smiling.

I was forced to meet people wherever I went because I had forgotten my laptop charger (grabbed the wrong cord actually). I was struck by how friendly people were and how much they truly wanted to help me. One guy on the train to Bordeaux, held my laptop on his own lap for an hour while it charged (stop those dirty thoughts, his wife was the one sitting next to him). I was almost pleased to have had to ask for help — something I’m not very good at I’m afraid.

 

 

This event was a beautiful gesture in Bordeaux on Christmas day. Bodega, a restaurant in the city centre, was feeding the homeless. Festive music and good food was provided. They served wine and passed foie gras. I was extremely humbled by what I saw. I was also invited to join in, so I stayed for a bit.

Tip #7 — Money:  don’t carry huge amounts of cash; use your debit card for purchases and use ATM machines to get cash. The conversion rates are usually reasonable (TD bank boasts reimbursed ATM fees for certain accounts). It is safer all around. Check with your bank.

Tip #8 –Tell your bank and credit card companies where you are traveling.

It’s no fun getting denied use of your card when it’s for your own protection.

I had a bit of a conundrum this year:  do I visit someone I know for Christmas, stay at home in Portugal, or do I extend my U.S. travel plans to Europe and go someplace I have never been? I decided that I have grown quite a bit over the last few years and that I would be fine alone over the Christmas holiday. I was not alone before Christmas and I would not be alone after Christmas. I had spent a little over a week with friends and family before Christmas eve and friends came from New York on New Year’s eve. I have never seen Paris during the holidays and I wanted to be there when it was all lit up and festive. It’s not my favorite city, so I didn’t want to be there Christmas eve or Christmas day. I researched cities within three hours of Paris and I decided it was time to experience Bath Spa and Bordeaux. Bordeaux wines are some of my favorite wines and I had heard about the wine museum there.

Tip #9 — When you’re travelling through Europe or anywhere for that matter, take the train as much as possible.

Train travel was once very inexpensive (in fact in Portugal it still is), however, the cost of  has gone up quite a bit in most parts of Europe. Still, the train is the way to go. It’s less of a hassle than air travel and much more comfortable. Move about, see the countryside and get there on time (most of the time).

 

Next stop:  London, England

When you live in Portugal there are very few options for direct flights to the U.S. TAP flies to New York and Miami, but if you’re headed to Baltimore, you’re going to have to fly to France, Germany or London first. These countries are all east of Portugal, making it a bit frustrating. I imagine there will be more options out of Lisbon and Seville in the future. But this is how I ended up in London on the outbound flight. Knowing I had to return to London inbound, I decided to spend a few days there and I’m really glad I did. I’m not a frequent visitor. My main reason for going is the theatre and there was always plenty of that in New York City. This time around I would not be going to NYC and there were a few plays I wanted to see in London.

First I want to tell you about a hotel I thought was perfect if you’re looking for something inexpensive and centrally located. I found this hotel called Motel One London–Tower Hill. I’m not sure why they put “motel” in the name of the hotel because it’s nothing like a motel. Small but with an excellent mattress and great linen and wired for every device. I was close to the Underground and several excellent eating spots. By the way, the Underground is working well these days. I was able to get everywhere quickly and efficiently. It isn’t so cheap anymore at almost 5 quid a ride.

Back to my main reason for going. I wanted to see Sam Tutty in Dear Evan Hansen. I got a center stall seat (orchestra in the States) for 100 pounds. I’m not sure how that happened. I bought the ticket on-line and there were only four seats left; the other three tickets were almost twice the price. Sometimes being a solo traveller pays off. The play was wonderful, my seat was perfect, and it made London worthwhile. I also saw Ian McKellen’s one man show; all I can say is if you get an opportunity to see it, go. I saw Come From Away on the same day; although it was somewhat enjoyable, I have to say I didn’t love it — no memorable tunes and a bit campy.

I ate well, but it was more about the theatre. There was a bit of rain (it was London), but I had some sunshine too. I found a great Columbia jacket while wandering around between shows. It was about a third the original price and ended up being my “find” of the trip. Sometimes I purposefully leave articles of clothing at home so that I will have no choice but to buy whatever I need while I’m away. That was the case with a windbreaker/rain jacket.

No stories of dred to share; all went well in London. I hear that Big Ben is up and running again, so if you find yourself there, go and see it. I have decided that since I am now living in Europe, I will make a theatre trip to London annually and see several shows over a few days. I have a love/hate relationship with New York City and now I can add London to that short list.

Tip #10 — Travel is a good excuse to leave negative stuff behind.

I watched and read very little political news while I was away and I found myself in a much better emotional state of mind.

 

Bath, England

Bath is a place I have wondered about for many years. I took the train from London and arrived about 90 minutes before I could check in to one of the most most beautiful Airbnbs I have ever stayed in. It was in a 260 year old building with gorgeous views of the countryside. With time to spare and a rainy day, I found a brick oven pizza place not far from the train station. The chef was Neopolitan and the pizza was outstanding. I later learned that Franco Manca is a chain restaurant; you could of fooled me.

My friend Rachel was coming from South Wales the next day, so I was alone the first evening. Six weeks prior, I had made a reservation at The Olive Tree Restaurant, the only Michelin star restaurant in Bath and the food was exceptional. I then dropped some pounds off at the casino, met some really nice locals at the blackjack table and went back to my beautiful apartment.

 

Rachel joined me the next day and we did the Thermae Bath Spa, which was a two hours of pure bliss. There was a rooftop nicely heated pool which was great for my sore muscles. We went out for cocktails at a very upscale bar and then Rachel treated me to a terrific Italian dinner at Martini Restaurant. The entire experience was delightful in every way and it made me want to return to Bath often (and I will). It also made me want to see more of Rachel (and I will).

 

Paris, France

I had taken the Eurostar to Paris a number of years ago and I thought I should take a short trip to Paris on my way to Bordeaux. This time the boarding process was much more efficient. It’s a 3.5 hour journey; comfortable and fast. I got lucky and didn’t have anyone sitting next to me.

There were announcements about the Metro strike at the train station in London and all I could think was that the French were going to mess with my travel once again. Sure enough I arrived at the train station in Paris and there were hundreds or thousands of people everywhere. Gypsy taxi drivers were asking for crazy fares to wherever and on principle, I wasn’t having it. I decided to use Uber to get to my hotel. I can’t say how many people had the same idea, but I can tell you that there were many, many, many people outside the station looking at their phones and looking for their Uber.

Tip #11 — Do yourself a favor and do not overplan. Allow yourself the luxury of free time.

Leave your hotel or Airbnb and wonder around. I always seem to discover something wonderful or unexpected. It’s honestly one of the best things about traveling to a place you’ve never been. Get out and explore.

The metro strike forced me to stay local and that turned out to be a good thing. I discovered an outdoor food market that went on forever. I spent quite a bit of time there and enjoyed it.

I had to take a very expensive Uber share to the train station. Traffic was terrible and the Uber driver was agitated; seemingly trying to make as much money as possible during the strike. We arrived at the train station, I exited his vehicle to get my luggage and he drove off. I chased him, banged on his back window and he stopped. I went over to the driver’s side window, he rolled it down and I told him that my luggage was still in the trunk of the car. He got angry at me for some reason that I still do not understand. Needless to say, he only got one star and no tip. Another wild day of travel.

Tip #12 — Allow yourself plenty of time to get places.

Have a good book and relax when you get to where you’re going.

 

Bordeaux, France

I chose a hotel right in the centre of the city because I love walking. The Quality Hotel was very central and super affordable. The desk staff seemed to be very sensitive to my solo status and they made me feel welcome, comfortable and at home; an especially nice since it was Christmas. They even upgraded my room. I think the mattress and linen were the most comfortable for any hotel I have ever stayed in or perhaps it was just my satisfied frame of mind.

 

 

The day I arrived was dark and dreary and I was fairly spent. I got to the hotel, unpacked and set out to find a place for dinner. I found a fantastic ramen restaurant, Restaurant Fufu. To say that I was pleased is an understatement. Saki and hot soup on a rainy night . . . ah. And the last seat at the bar too. Had this place been open Christmas day, I would have returned for more.

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Cité du Vin the Bordeaux wine museum was the main reason I wanted to visit Bordeaux. It was a fairly new, high tech experience, very close to the center (about a 30 minute walk) and right next to a very cool (newish) food market with restaurant vendors. The museum boasts an innovative way to learn about the history of wine and the different varieties of wine from all over the world. You can do it at your own pace, but I would recommend a minimum of eight hours. After you’ve explored the museum, there is a beautiful space at the time of the museum where you get to choose a lovely glass of wine and take in a spectacular view of Bordeaux. Get Your Guide offers tickets in advance at a discounted price.

The next day was Christmas day and I was a bit concerned because I had attempted to make a reservation for dinner months prior, only to discover all the restaurants I tried were closed. I decided to just leave it and find a restaurant while in Bordeaux. Christmas morning I walked around town and found a man cleaning a restaurant in one of the main squares. He told me the restaurant would be open for dinner and he noted my reservation in a book. I was pleased that that was taken care of. I had dinner at Le Noailles Restaurant next to the Intercontinental Hotel and the food was traditional French cuisine; beautifully prepared and presented. I paired the food with a 2015 Bordeaux (1/2 bottle, see pic below) and the whole meal was wonderful. I need not have worried because unbeknownst to be, there was a large food festival with music right across the street from the restaurant. No regrets though, I loved my dinner and I was glad that I had made a reservation because they turned many people away.

I took a slow walk back to my hotel and had a delicious nights sleep.

Home on the 26th. I flew back to Faro; on time and uneventful, the way one hopes it will be.

Tip #13 — Expect that there will always be a few bumps in the road and breathe.

I committed to adopting a pooch last week. We’ve met, he’s just under a year old, and I have named him Paco. Paco will be joining me at home in a few days. After a bath (or two), I will blog a photo.

Toulouse and All of Her Charms

Toulouse is all too often overlooked, but it’s one of France’s most historic and fascinating cities. Known to locals as La Ville Rose (The Pink City) after the distinctive pink stone used to construct many of its buildings, Toulouse receives just a fraction of the tourists of Paris or Nice.

Lonely Planet text (I have been buying Lonely Planet travel guides for at least 30 years and swear by them)

 

 

 

It’s hard to believe that there was a time in recent history when people were afraid to travel to cities because of crime and grit (1970s and 1980s). These days you visit many cities all over the world and experience something totally different:  they are clean, public transportation is efficient, you find many great restaurants and in some cases, the comforts of home in an Airbnb.

I chose Toulouse for several reasons:  I had never been, it is a direct flight from Faro, the airfare this time of year is very reasonable, the weather is mild, and I liked what I saw on-line. This was probably my best travel decision of 2019. Toulouse is gorgeous and so easy to navigate — I love walkable cities. It is France, a country where cuisine has been a focus for centuries, so there are indoor and outdoor markets and good food everywhere. There are many sites to see and they’re not all churches. I was very fortunate to find an Airbnb right in the center of the city. It was next to the Garonne River and a five to twenty minute walk to all the places I wanted to visit.

 

Air Travel

I flew EasyJet (a bargain no-frills airline) and my roundtrip fare, with carry-on, was 101 Euros roundtrip. These people know what they’re doing and they make it easy to fly. I feel fortunate that Faro is one of their hubs. You get your boarding pass on-line and you don’t have to check in at a desk, which will save you boatloads of time.

One hour and 50 easy minutes (even shorter on return) later and I was on the ground. Toulouse has a modern airport and you won’t walk for twenty minutes. Off the plane and out the door quickly.

 

Ground Transportation

There is a tram right outside of the Toulouse terminal that will take you right to the center of Toulouse (and everywhere in between). It is 1.70 Euro and a ticket can be purchased at a multi-language machine right next to the tram. Purchase two tram tickets if you intend to return by tram. It’s a 30 minute ride and it leaves about every 15 minutes — very civilized. You can also take a taxi or an Uber for about 20 Euros.

 

Accomodations

I looked at hotels and the ones in the center of Toulouse were 125 to 400 Euros per night. I like using Airbnbs when I plan on buying food at the market and preparing it myself. It’s a great way to eat fresh, local products and save some money. I found an Airbnb right in the center of Toulouse next to the Garonne River. The three nights with fees and all was $269 (I pay Airbnb with U.S. dollars and it saves me a few quid). I don’t usually share my Airbnb link, because everyone is looking for something different and I don’t want to be accused of giving bad advice. I am making an exception, because Nathalie’s place was beautifully appointed, in a great location and at a great price. She even left me bread, cookies, milk, coffee, juice and delicious homemade apricot jam.

Nathalie also lists the apartment on her own:

http://tounis.jimdofree.com

It’s a small studio with a sleeping alcove with a double bed and a good mattress. In addition, white cotton sheets and a down comforter made for cozy nights.

 

Dining & Food Markets

There are four indoor/outdoor markets in Toulouse that operate every day except Monday (you need to check the schedule for exact times). This link will provide some great information:  market info. My apartment was just two blocks away from Carmes, so I went to the market several times.

 

 

There is a public garage above the market and if you go up to the roof, you will be treated to a spectacular panoramic view of Toulouse.

 

 

 

Le Colombier

Listed on several sites as one of Toulouse’s finest traditional restaurants, I was compelled to give it a go. I learned from several on-line sources, that Le Colombier specializes in cassoulet. When I made my reservation for my first night in Toulouse, I intended to try the cassoulet, which was one of my favorite dishes when I was working at the French Culinary Institute. I had a nice leisurely walk to the restaurant, passing several historic sites along the way. Unfortunately, when I arrived I was not hungry enough for a hearty French stew. I ordered an aperitif thinking that might help my appetite, but alas, it did not.

The server pushed hard on the cassoulet and I nearly caved. Instead I ordered a pre fixe dinner where duck was one of the entree choices (I can’t recall the other option). I started with escargot; the snails were tender and very garlicky, just the way I like it. I also had some good dinner rolls to sop up the olive oil the snails were cooked in. The duck leg cooked very slowly in red wine sauce was probably the best duck (aside from Chinese Peking Duck which is one of my all time favorites) dishes I have ever eaten. The duck meat fell off the bone and the vegetables in the sauce were a perfect accompaniment. My savory taste buds were very satisfied. There were a few traditional dessert choices and I decided to go with the apple tart with whipped cream, real fresh whipped cream. I was pleased with all of my choices and walked back to my Airbnb with a full tummy and a happy heart. This is ultimately what I love most about France. The French know food and wine and rarely disappoint.

 

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My second day I had dinner with a friend at a Thai restaurant, Baan Siam located in the Carmes neighborhood, near my Airbnb — I like to walk home and go straight to bed after a good meal. There were several Thai restaurants near me and I chose Baan because it was on a quiet street and it had great reviews. As I have stated in previous blogs, Faro, regrettably, does not have a Thai restaurant, therefore, I satisfy my Thai cravings when I travel. I ordered several very traditional Thai dishes and again, was happy with my choices. I won’t go so far as to say it was great Thai food, but I can say that it was very good and the service was excellent.

I had my final dinner at an Italian Café because I was craving pasta. The server told me that the tagliatelle in a ham and cream sauce was their specialty. I was not bowled over, so I won’t mention the name of the restaurant. I did have a beautiful red from Puglia and that saved the meal.

There are hundreds of restaurants to choose from in Toulouse and they range from inexpensive and trendy to high-end and classic; you will not run out of excellent options no matter how long your stay.

 

Sites

I usually try to do an organized food tour on my first full day so I can learn more what a city has to offer. Airbnb usually has several options depending on the city you are visiting. I signed up for a food and wine tour with Jessica. This time I was treated to a private tour; not good for the guide, but fortunate for me.

Jessica Hammer on (TripAdvisor and Airbnb).

These are some of Jessica’s best spots. I don’t think it’s fair to Jessica to include them all; for more information and her excellent recommendations, I advise you to take her tour — at 80 Euros it was a bargain.

  • Maison Beauhaire – MOF (a big honor in France) boulanger. We tasted the chocolatine and the baguette de tradition. The baguette was excellent (even heated up the next day).
  • Papaix et Fils – farm to counter foie gras producer. We tasted their foie gras à la ancien (fatty duck liver cooked in duck fat – the ancient method), as well as their duck boudin, two types of magret de canard (dry-cured and slow-cooked), their white boudin with foie gras, and their duck saucisson. I purchased duck boudin to take home. As long as it is vacuum sealed, it is not a customs problem.
  • Various charcuterie from le Cochon Regaleur
  • Xavier Fromagerie – MOF fromager/affineur. We tasted their:
    • Crottin de Justine (raw goat milk cheese with a natural rind from the Lot, north of Toulouse)
    • Comté Réserve (the specialty of Xavier Fromagerie – a raw cow’s milk cheese, pressed and cooked, from the Jura, made only with summer milk from the cows when they graze in the mountains, aged at least 24 months)
    • Laruns (raw sheep milk cheese from the Hautes Pyrénées, southwest of Toulouse)
    • Bleu de Séverac (raw cow milk blue cheese from Aveyron, near where Roquefort is produced)
  • Criollo Chocolatier – various ganache and praliné chocolates (special tip: Criollo has another boutique in Toulouse on the Place St Etienne that also has a salon de thé/tea room where you can sit and have a cup of hot chocolate. I missed out on this treat, but I’ll be back.)

See other places to go for food in recommendations below.

There are numerous wine shops throughout the city. I went to several and found the sellers to be very helpful and friendly. You can expect to pay anywhere from six to 25 Euros for good French wine. I decided to stay away from wines from Bordeaux since I will be visiting there for Christmas.

Le Capitale — Hotel DeVille

 

 

 

Couvent des Jacobins — The Church of the Jacobins is a deconsecrated Roman Catholic church located in Toulouse, France. It is a large brick building whose construction started in 1230, and whose architecture influenced the development of the Gothique méridional style. The relics of Thomas Aquinas are housed there. Wikipedia

Toulouse’s Best Museums

Honestly, there are many museums in Toulouse and I had little time to explore. I’m saving most of the suggested museums for my spring trip. The above link highlights several.

 

Toulouse has a large gay population; therefore, there are quite a few gay bars and several shows with drag queens and female impersonators — the French love theatre. I wish I could say that I took part in the late night festivities, but alas I’m getting older and my ability to stay up past midnight has diminished.

 

The French Language

People will tell you that when you are in France no one speaks English and that the French expect you to speak French. This may be the case for some travelers, however, this has not been my experience. It’s true that there are some French people who do not speak English, just as there are some American who do not speak French; take me for example. I would say that most merchants spoke enough English to communicate and when all else fails there is always Google translator. The French, in general, love when you make an effort and who can blame them.

 

A Few Recommendations

  • If you are inclined to book a tour of any kind, do it the first or second day so that you can get the lay of the land and recommendations from your guide.
  • Whether you choose a hotel or an Airbnb, try to stay close to the city center if you enjoy walking. You might get a good deal outside the city, but then end up spending more than you’re saving in transportation expenses.
  • You can rent a city bike in Toulouse for a nominal 30 minute rate. As long as you dock it at any of the many docks throughout the city, every thirty minutes, you only pay the initial fee. Everybody does it and I believe the city likes it that way.
  • There are traditional French restaurants that offer classic dishes and then contemporary restaurants that are a bit more creative; both are very good, you just have to know what you want. The ethnic restaurants and street food options are outstanding.
  • Bring an umbrella if you’re traveling in the fall. The good news is that it doesn’t rain all day, everyday; however, the rain can be heavy at times in November.
  • As with any old cities, the sidewalks in the oldest part of town can be narrow.
  • Sundays in Toulouse are much quieter than the rest of the week.

 

  • Jessica’s notes to me:  If you have the opportunity to return to the Marché Victor Hugo for lunch at one of the restaurants, my recommendations are Le Louchebem (where my old-school French friends go for magret de canard, steak frites, and other meat-centric dishes) and Au Bon Graillou (for really good grilled fish – based on the recommendations of others, as I’m not a big seafood eater myself).
  • If you’re looking for other restaurant recommendations, my good friend Cat, who is a writer and food blogger, has written a great article on her 30 favorite restaurants in Toulouse, with short and sweet descriptions of each. It’s a fabulous resource if you’re looking for a good place to eat (all different kinds of food at different price ranges). https://catskitchenfrance.com/toulouses-top-30-eateries/
  • I also wrote a blog post about the winners of the 2018-2019 Lucien Vanel restaurant awards in Toulouse:  https://www.tasteoftoulouse.com/the-best-restaurants-in-toulouse-prix-lucien-vanel-2018-2019/ Out of the ones I’ve already visited, my favorite meal this year was at Une Table a Deux. I also loved eating at Les Fortes Têtes, which has good vegetarian options and excellent service (one of those places where you can tell that everyone loves working there).
  • If you want really typical cooking from southwest France, with impeccable local sourcing, I highly recommend le J’Go.
  • If you’re in the mood for exploring, I’d recommend checking out the Saint Cyprien neighborhood, on the other side of the Garonne river.
  • The Boulangerie Cyprien in Saint Cyprien is another one of my favorite bakeries, especially for their chocolatines which have THREE bars of chocolate, instead of the regular two. They also do a really cool baguette de charbon (charcoal).
  • Another of my other favorite chocolatiers in Toulouse is Cacaofages, also in Saint Cyprien, and they specialize in chocolate sculptures, so their shop looks like a sculpture gallery (except it’s all CHOCOLATE!) and they also have a salon de thé with fantastic hot chocolate.

 

Back to Me:

When I fall in love with a city, I always leave behind a reason or two to return.

Side Note:  I shouldn’t write this:  when I visited Vienna a few months ago, although beautiful, it felt severe, angry and cold (not temperature, it was May), however, as soon as I got off the plane in Toulouse I felt warmth, joy and comfort. Is it the people? The history? My mood? Probably all of the above. Something to keep in mind when people write about travel, their accumulated baggage may help form their opinion.

I have guests in Faro from the States, therefore, there will be no blog next week. See you all soon and thank you again for your interest in my adventures.

 

If it Were My Last 24 Hours on Earth

“No one here gets out alive.”

— Jim Morrison

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Not to worry, not checking out anytime soon, just reminding myself how fragile life can be. The last thing I want to do is hurt anyone; therefore, I think it’s best for me to respond in the abstract and not name names.

What if you knew that you were going to die and you had 24 hours or less left to live? Would you want to be surrounded by those you love? Would you run away and hide from everyone? Would you tell people you cared about? Would you share things you have been holding back? Would you look back at memories? Would you end your life sooner in order to control the situation?

These are the kinds of questions I ask myself when considering just how finite life is.  And by the way, the questions come up occasionally, not every day. There are statistics that guide us when we consider our lifespan. There are formulas based on how long your parents lived. Then there are calculations based on lifestyle. Genetics sometimes come into play. However, an accident may make all of those theories insignificant and irrelevant.

I had a pretty bad accident a couple of years ago that made me question life, death and how I feel about both. Up until the accident, I was fairly certain that I would grow old and cranky. If I’m going to be honest, I have to say I’m well on my way.

I attended a dinner party a few days ago and raised my blog topic for this week. It’s interesting to hear what people have to say in a relaxed social setting. I don’t usually share my own thoughts until after I’ve heard from others. As with any difficult subject, some people prefer to avoid the matter altogether and this time was no different. One of the things I love about people is how very unique we all are. It’s for this reason that I try my best not to judge. Our prospective can be polar opposite based on things like upbringing, religious beliefs, the truth we hold on to, and so forth. I would be untruthful if I didn’t admit to feeling strongly about my own beliefs; the power of personal conviction is essential for many reasons. Keeping that in mind, I don’t claim to be right, but I do think that what I am espousing is true for me; sometimes, that’s all that truly matters.

I posed the question to a small group of people sitting at the table after lunch:

If you knew you had 24 hours or less to live, what would you do? 

The answers I got were interesting and understandable:

“I wouldn’t change anything; I’d want it to be a normal day.”

“I wouldn’t tell anyone because all they would do is cry and pity me.”

“I would be with a very small group of people I love very much.”

“I wouldn’t do very much because I would want time to slow down. When you do a lot of things, time speeds up.”

“I might consider ending my life sooner — when I decided it should end.”

“I would have a couple of conversations I have been avoiding.”

“Why, do you know something I don’t know?”

The thing is, do we truly know how we would behave until we are actually in a particular life altering situation? I could easily say I wouldn’t tell anyone that I was going to die, but in truth, if I knew it was the end and I became extremely emotional or scared, I might need to tell or want to tell someone.

What follows are some thoughts on why we live our lives as if there is no expiration date:

I love this poignant comic included in Brian Lee’s piece on living life as if we’re never going to die at Lifehack. Check out www.zenpencils.com.DALAI-LAMA-answers-a-question

We are complex creatures with hopes, fears, frailties and misgivings. Our highly developed brains allow us to tuck away thoughts and focus on things that make us feel good; I should note that some of us are better at this than others. We often behave as if our daily actions do not have consequences for the future. Vices and health related toxins are often imbibed or eaten without concern for longevity. It’s a curious human occurrence considering that most of us would like to grow old. So what drives us to recklessness? It’s as if there is a little switch in our brains that we choose to turn off when desire overpowers restraint.

It is no accident that the precise timing of our death is unknown. Imagine the chaos and emotional instability that would ensue. I think that animals have a better sense of death and what it means than we do and, therefore, have better dying coping skills. I’ve been with several dogs at the end of their lives and the sense of peace and acceptance I felt from these animals was both life affirming and beautiful. We live and we die and that is the true miracle of life.

As I consider complicated mechanisms for denial and delusion, it once again brings me to how I might deal with knowing when my own demise is just around the corner. Here are some thoughts that come to mind (not necessarily in order of importance):

  1. There is no doubt in my mind that I would want to truly enjoy the wonders of the earth. The sunrise and sunset continue to amaze me and I take both in as often as possible. The smell of flowers and the feel of earth between my fingers, gives me great pleasure. I can only imagine that knowing these wonders would no longer be accessible would heighten my desire to experience them.
  2. The people in my life who have shown me love and devotion would be on my mind at the end; I would hope that these cherished few would be nearby. I would want to let them know how much I love and appreciate them. I still do not know that I would share the inevitability of my passing. We all know that we should be showing our love and appreciation often, not waiting until we are sick or dying.
  3. I have loved food since I could smell my dad’s pizza in the oven when I was a wee toddler. My relationship with good food has never waivered and I hope I remain true to my passion until the day I die. I have been reading research about taste buds and how our sense of taste diminishes with age. I refuse to believe that this applies to me. My father and aunts and uncles on my father’s side, all enjoyed savory dishes well into their 80s. If I knew that my death was near, I would want to devour my favorite foods:  shellfish, pasta and cake and a nice red of course. I know that knowing it was almost over would probably have an effect on my appetite; however, knowing how I sometimes eat and drink to feel better, I imagine I’d be hungry and thirsty. A very expensive armagnac would be a must have.
  4. Being present and cherishing every moment of what life I have left, would likely be my mode of thinking and feeling. I have never feared death, therefore, I’m fairly certain i would be at peace with it.
  5. I would want to be comfortable; the right temperature, the right place, and the right people around me.
  6. I would probably want to be on a good dose of xanax.

I have had many people in my life pass:  my grandparents (three before I was even born), my parents, several siblings, close friends, teachers, co-workers and acquaintances. My mother’s brother died of a massive heart attack in his 50’s; how could I not consider the possibility of dying at anytime? Personally, I don’t find this morbid or sad.

Long ago I decided that if I had a fatal illness, I would travel (if I could) to a place where you could choose to die with dignity. If this were to happen, I would have an opportunity to decide how I would spend my final hours; all of this provides great comfort. I am not obsessed with dying, I am focused on living and making sure my quality of life is the best it can be.

The purpose of this blog is twofold. First, it is my hope that it will get you thinking about how you live your daily life; what are your priorities and do you consider and cherish the people and things that bring you the greatest happiness. Second, it is my belief that we as individuals have the power to change the course and direction of our lives. I felt stuck, misguided and unhappy in Maine. It wasn’t so much the place or the people, but an environment that was too comfortable and unchallenging. I moved to Europe in order to reboot, recharge, and start afresh. It’s not right for everyone, but it has taught me more about myself than I anticipated. Self-discovery and change can be as exciting as a new relationship; driving gleefully into the future with renewed hopes and dreams. Fear is what usually holds us back. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of death. Put all of your fears aside and go for it. The unknown can be a wonderful and rewarding future. Focus on the image of a door opening to a paradise you never imagined existed; more often than not, we have the ability to manifest our dreams. I choose to manifest those dreams while I am still alive.

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Vanity at Any Age

Before I even type the first word I realize that if I’m going to write about vanity, I’ll have to reveal thoughts I usually reserve for my journal and trusted friends. I will try my best not to rant or overshare.

“The surest cure for vanity is loneliness.” Tom Wolfe

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I’m about 20 pounds overweight and I hate it. What I hate even more, is that I care about it so much. I go back and forth between loving food and wanting to be slender. My weight is about the only thing about my body that I can control and I, like so many others, have very little control. My face is my face and I can’t/won’t change it. I do the best that I can with skincare — meaning that I keep my pores clean and I moisturize. This part all makes sense to me for a number of reasons. First, the minute I let myself go, that’s when it all goes south; drinking too much, spending too much, watching too much television; it’s a slippery slope. It all goes back to moderation; doing most things to excess, is not positive or healthy.

For me, vanity means giving too much thought to physical appearance. I want to care, but I’d like for it to be a healthy amount of caring. For example, I don’t want to be fat, but if I want a slice of cake, I’d like to eat it without feeling guilty about it. A good part of this is looking good for dating. I know how much emphasis I put on potential partners taking care of themselves and I know that others will judge me the same way. Unfortunately, this is how we’re wired.

What I Have Done to Look Good/Better

  • Denying myself — At various times in the recent past, I have denied myself something I really wanted (e.g., dining out, another piece of cake, buying ice cream at the supermarket). I do it all day, everyday. Monitoring your own behavior and actions is not a bad thing; what is bad, however, is when you impose your own restrictions on others and when you deny yourself happiness.
  • Plastic surgery — I had a nasty scar on my face (under my mouth) that I had cleaned up. I don’t compare this to plastic surgery to rid oneself of sagging eyelids or an extra chin — not judging here, I just haven’t done it and I do not intend to.
  • Laser work — I have had small oily glands zapped on my face over the past thirty or so years. This is a genetic issue I’ve always hated. I’m usually left with a tiny scar and if I cannot see it, I assume others cannot either.
  • Facials — I’ve been getting facials since I was 20 years old. I do them myself now. I once purchased placenta to smear all over my face for deep cleansing (I still have some); it wasn’t cheap. Every once in awhile, an extravagant present to yourself can be a healthy thing.
  • Improving my daily routine — I wish I’d known about toner was I was a teenager. I use face toner everyday and it does close your pores. It also makes your face feel cleaner.
  • Go to the gym five or six times a week — I’ve been going to a gym since graduate school. As an undergrad in North Carolina I mostly ran around the track to keep my weight down, and at that point in my life I was shy about my body. This was when I started running; can’t do that anymore because of a bad knee. When I could no longer run marathons, I lamented running for two years. Running was my emotional therapy and I still miss it a great deal. Yes there are other physical activities that can take the place of running, but a runner’s high is like no other.
  • Had some work done on my front teeth — I was born with a minor birth defect:  my two upper front incisors never grew out. I had caps made to fill in the gaps. Until I could afford to have this done, I could not smile with my teeth showing. I also had surgery at 21 to push back my lower jaw. I had a horrible underbite (lower jaw stuck out further than my upper jaw — I believe Michelle Obama has the same affliction). I saved up to have it corrected. I blame it all on my mother’s smoking while she was pregnant to me. I know that most of what I am describing was cosmetic, but imagine at age 20 looking in the mirror and seeing all of these flaws. I couldn’t do anything about losing my hair, however, I could fix my teeth and improve my skin. I’ve become much more relaxed about my face. At this point in my life, the best I can do is take good care of what I have.
  • Removed a large mirror from my bathroom — I had a floor-to-ceiling mirror that I hated. It took 16 months to have it removed because I couldn’t justify the expense. In its place is a beautiful piece of marble and I love it. Do whatever you have to do to feel better about yourself.

What have you done?

 

What I Tell Myself

Like most people, I have these little conversations with myself that sound something like this:  You need to eat less because if you gain too much weight you’re going to have problems with diabetes or other health related issues. Also, your clothes won’t fit. Okay, go ahead and have that piece of cake, but no other desserts today. Don’t look in the mirror, it will make you feel bad about yourself. You look pretty good for a 60 year old man. It doesn’t really matter because at this age nobody wants to be with you anyway.

People will read my thoughts and say, “Nonsense, you’re an attractive guy and you have a lot to offer.” That’s all well and good, but the truth of the matter is, we feel what we feel and the human condition is unique for each of us.

I keep telling myself it’s all about balance and moderation — the yin and the yang, the highs and the lows, the peaks and the valleys, and the do and the don’ts. Sometimes I feel that I have grown tremendously and at other times I feel that I’ve regressed.

Some of the other things I say to myself — you may or may not relate to this:

  • You’re fat
  • You’re unattractive
  • Nobody wants to be with you
  • You have a double chin
  • Your back looks terrible
  • There is more, but I can’t bring myself to type it

All of these awful thoughts undermine good mental health. If anyone else said any of these things to me, I’d be furious with them, but I take it to heart when it comes from my own thoughts; the dark side of vanity. There is hope for me yet; there are times when I actually feel good about myself.

 

We’re Not Alone

Societal pressure — We feel pressure from all around us; however, pressure from society as a whole is difficult to combat. The pressure to be young, look young, and think like the young, is strong. Many of my friends laugh at me for going to bed at 9:30 p.m. “You act like an old man.” Good night is my reply.

The Media — People in magazines and on television look so freakin’ good. It’s difficult not to compare yourself, but obviously, it’s better if I don’t. A few years ago I started to see bald men modeling. I was pleasantly surprised by this since “fat and bald” are two descriptors that usually go together. I’m hopeful that the media is giving thought to doing the right thing.

How we’re raised — My mother had a horrible obsession with weight. My sisters all had some form of an eating disorder and I think her sons had unhealthy issues with weight as well. Imprinting is difficult to overcome.

Culture — Some pressure to look good is probably a good thing — sort of a way to keep ourselves in check. Unfortunately, some cultures take it too far. I’m not talking about plastic surgery. Although I wouldn’t spend money on major work to my own face or body, I do not judge people who do. What I am referring to is professions where the way you look determines whether or not you are promoted or able to keep your job. The damage this can do to an individual is impossible to measure and sad to think about.

 

How I Can Help Others

Disclaimer:  I cannot and do not speak for everyone. When I share my thoughts, I never claim to be an expert. I write about men as a man; I write about women as the brother of five sisters, as a son and as a friend of many women; I write about gay men as a gay man; and I write about the human condition as a human being. What I write about is also based on what I have read. All of it is either firsthand experience or conjecture; please do not read more into it.

Gay men — It is difficult not to generalize a bit:  gay men are a lot like women when it comes to body image. Could be a feminine thing for some; could be who we identify with? Part of it is the gay culture in the States; gay men tend to want to be with younger men — youth is revered. There are only so many younger men who want to be with older men, so this is an obvious supply and demand problem. You have a good many older gay men trying to look younger and they’ll do whatever it takes to be “young.”  This part of the gay culture worries me. People sometimes take these things to the extreme and the results can be pretty scary. One of the many reasons I love RuPaul, is that he does not take himself too seriously. Vanity is not a bad thing in and of itself; however, issues arise when one’s thoughts concerning body image are imposed on others.

Older men — There are a good many men out there, gay and straight, who struggle with body image issues and the challenges of being seen. We get older and become invisible. Invisibility is tough on the psyche. Self-worth does just disappear when you hit 50; we need to feel good about ourselves until we no longer can feel anything.

Women — Women (from what I have been lead to believe) are expected to do whatever it takes to look good. Look good to whom? To their husbands, their bosses, their fellow passengers on the train, to the person in the mirror? I have seen that kind of fierce pressure make a person do horrible things; hurtful things to one’s body and damage that is irreversible. I know that this is a problem that has existed for centuries, but I still have hope that woman will take control of their own lives and do what is best for themselves. I admire woman who are strong and determined, despite the men in their lives who believe that they are second class citizens. Sure there has been progress in progressive societies, but as long as one culture on earth minimizes the equality of women, all women are adversely affected. The same is true of humankind in general.

 

 

Goals

Weight — A constant struggle because I love food; sometimes rich food, sometimes sweets, and pasta. I’d like to lose a few pounds. I don’t believe my current weight poses a health risk; however, losing some weight would satisfy the vanity box.  I haven’t been able to check that box for 20 years.

Diet  — Always trying to eat more fruit. Otherwise I eat fish, lean meat, vegetables, whole grains, maybe two beers a week, a glass and a half of wine in the evening, and too much hard alcohol. I currently average about six cocktails a week and I’d like to cut back to three.

Sleep — When I sleep well, I look better and when I look better, I feel better. There are things that I do that make for a poor night’s sleep (e.g., alcohol, staying up late, worry). My memory is short when it comes to vices.

Disposition — When I’m upset about something or worrying, I look awful. I’m often upset about the smallest, stupidest, silliest things. I want to have a sunnier disposition.

Open mind — An open mind and an open heart, is so important for how you look and feel. I want to be less judgmental.

Writing — Writing about superficial matters (i.e., being bald), helps me keep my life in perspective. I need to keep writing.

Be Present — I’ve written about this several times. Let me just say that when I practice mindfulness, I am a much happier person.

 

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I had this tattoo done this week. I associate tattoos with youthfulness, so I guess it’s making me feel younger. I now have two tattoos and I intend to stop there.

There is a tiny thread hanging off of my sock (see photo above). You have no idea how much that loose thread bothers me. That pretty much sums up my life.

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.