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.