Portugal

Although we began our journey last year with a retirement mindset, this month I began the search for a new work situation that would allow us better access to family in Austin and the USA.  Many interesting options have come up and we are considering each carefully to decide which is a great fit for both sides.  Thanks to all who have reached out with advice and opportunities!
Everyone has to lay their head on a pillow somewhere, and we decided the place we wanted to be while we outline our next chapter is PORTUGAL!  We’ve been here before and love it.  However, we’ve changed our pattern of staying in one city for one month at a time and have been traveling around Lisbon area and the Algarve (which is the southern coast once ruled by the Moors).
General Impression
The British have been vacationing in Portugal for centuries so English is widely spoken, which is a good thing because the Portuguese language seems nearly impossible.  I’ve heard people claim it’s similar to Spanish, but I don’t hear it.  Many of the words are close and look the same when written, but the pronunciation is very different.   To me, it sounds more like Russian than Spanish.

There seem to be very few Americans around.  Maybe that’s why we like it so much!  The natural environment can be rugged with cyclical drought, not unlike Central Texas.  But it doesn’t drop below freezing in the coastal areas and while it can get quite hot in the summer months the most extreme heat is confined to July and August.  And, even then, it’s more off and on than constant (which IS unlike Central Texas!).

Dining
As you might expect for a seafaring nation with a lot of coastline, fresh seafood is the dominant cuisine here. The grilled sardines are amazing!  Italian is common as well, often with a local spin.  There’s also a variety of wonderful pastries, most notably  Pastel de Nata, a flaky crusted tart filled with rich custard.  The back story is that nuns in this Roman Catholic country raised hens because they needed egg whites to starch their habits.  They mixed the leftover yolks with plentiful sugar from the Portuguese colony of Brazil to make the creamy custard filling.  It may be true or not, but they are delicious either way, especially hot from the oven!
Lisbon
A cosmopolitan city with between 2 and 3 million people in its metropolitan area that should be on everyone’s travel list.  I’ve heard Lisbon described as “unnecessarily pretty” and that’s an apt description.  But, although there are plenty of tourists, it’s also a city dominated by the people who live and work there.  Since the late 2000’s downturn, which the locals call “the crisis”, Lisbon has seemingly recovered and there’s renewed interest in commerce and construction.  There is also a bridge (25th of April Bridge) across the Tagus River estuary that’s reminiscent of the Golden Gate.
Carvoeiro
Pronounced CARVE-WHERE-OH, this formerly tiny fishing village is now a tiny tourist haven.  We broke from our pattern of AirBnB/Home  Away apartments and stayed at a beautiful upscale resort hotel for a few days.  It was the perfect spot to vacation from our vacation!  We enjoyed the rooftop bar, as well as the local seafood.
Lagos
Pronounced LA-GO-SH, this is a bigger tourist town where we stayed in a great apartment with a big balcony from which we could see the ocean.  We could easily walk down to the beach or into town, but often opted to sit on the balcony and enjoy the quiet.  There was a wine shop right below our apartment that kept us stocked up!  One afternoon we hiked along the cliffs overlooking the coast to the neighboring village of Praia da Luz, another fun place where we’d vacationed a few years ago.
Portimao
This seemed to us to be the Portuguese city that gets no respect.  The rest of the country dismisses it as a working city of no interest, but we really enjoyed our time there.  We had a light and airy apartment with two massive balconies that collectively were larger than the entire apartment.  We were walking distance to beautiful beaches and plenty of restaurants.  We also made a day trip to the adjoining village of Ferragudo and enjoyed it there as well.
Pera
Another departure from “our usual” we stayed way out in the country, not really walkable to anywhere, and inland from the ocean.  We had a nice, quiet stay as the only occupants of a small four unit motel with a swimming pool and expansive view of the neighboring city of Armacao da Pera, where we visited and ate several times.  We also spent a pleasant afternoon at a local vineyard and sculpture garden.  Barbara rented a bike for the week to do her Geocaching hobby and we got to know two or three of the local Uber drivers well.
Albufeira
Locals warned us against staying in this touristy city but we’had pre-booked an apartment so were committed.  However, much like Portimao, we found the local perception to be off the mark.  We stayed in the old city, rather than on the beach strip and, although it was a little loud at night, it was a picturesque place well worth checking out.
Costa da Caparica
We took the bus from Albufeira for a 3-1/2 hour ride north toward Lisbon for our stay in this seaside town on the southern end of the aforementioned 25th of April Bridge.  The weather was cloudy and the wind blustery for most of our stay here, which may have colored our opinion, but this wasn’t one of our favorite stops.  It’s not an especially pretty place and the oceanfront consists of a series of jetties with sandy areas between them.  But we had a wonderful AirBnB host, Hugo, that bent over backwards to take care of us – including bringing us a new coffee maker at 11:30 pm so we could have coffee the next morning!  Hugo grew up in the former Portuguese colony of Mozambique and moved to Lisbon to work at a venture capital firm.  Portugal makes special provisions for people from all its former colonies to live and work here at will.
Setubal
We enjoyed our stay in this authentic working port city.  It’s not beach-oriented but has a well preserved old town and a number of bustling squares.  We didn’t see a lot of tourists around, but the ones there were seemed more domestic than foreign.  There’s an old fort that sits atop the city and offers great views.  Although seafood dominates, we found a great restaurant that specialized in beef and game and ate there twice during our 4-day stay.
Tidbits
Lisbon has an extensive and cheap metro system with subways, trains, boats and buses that’s pretty easy to access and figure out.  There are trains and buses between various cities, but once in the smaller cities we mostly relied on taxis and Uber cars.  Our train ride from Lisbon to the Algarve cost 28 Euros each and the return trip by bus was only 19 Euros each (and actually took about the same length of time).

It was actually on the chilly side for most of our stay  – the locals remarked that this May’s weather was more like March, and it was actually warmer in Scotland than Portugal at times.  Most days saw highs about 70 and lows about 60, but there were some stiff winds that made it seem colder and quelled any desire to jump into the ocean.  But we enjoyed the beaches being less crowded than normal.

Most things were more expensive than in South America and eastern Europe where we’ve spent the last year but much more reasonable than the rest of western Europe.  We paid Austin prices for food in most of the tourist restaurants, but there were many local places where we could have a great meal for about 10 Euros each.  Bottles and glasses of wine were dirt cheap both in restaurants and stores.  Our AirBnB/HomeAway digs typically were around $60 per night for short-term, off-season rates.

The Ugly
After being spoiled by the mostly great WiFi and telephone coverage that our Remote Year program arranged for us during the last year, we’ve been a little disappointed by some of the WiFi speeds and local cellular data/voice plans we’ve encountered on our own.

As pretty as the mosaic sidewalks throughout Portugal are, they can be very slippery even when they aren’t wet, especially in steep areas.  Girl shoes tend to make the situation worse, and Barbara had quite a bad fall one day.  Fortunately, she suffered only minor scrapes and bruises.

Service providers here are typically slow to respond to things.  The owner of one of our apartments had been waiting for months for the internet provider to hook up their new service and still had no idea when it would be done.  There can also be a fair amount of waiting in line, although the lines are very orderly.

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Tenerife, Spain

We’re following up on US job opportunities and will head stateside in July to be with family while we sort things out.  It’s an exciting time for us but, on the down side, this will likely be my last update.  Cheers to all who have followed our “mis-adventures” over the past 14 months!  We’ve enjoyed staying connected and hearing back from some of you off and on!
Through our Remote Year connections, we stumbled upon an unbelievable opportunity to travel to the Canary Island of Tenerife (Spain).  Our friend, the amazing Anne Kuppens, is opening a live/work space called Nine Coliving in a 150-year-old colonial style mansion in the heart of the historic Village of Orotava.  She let us stay free for three weeks in exchange for help painting and otherwise preparing her incredible place for a September opening.
General Impression
We’d never visited the Canary Islands so Tenerife sounded exotic and remote.  We were surprised that it was only 2-1/2 hours from Lisbon on a direct flight.  The Canaries are far more populated than I expected, with nearly 900,000 on the island of Tenerife and just over 2 million on the seven primary islands overall.  The tourist activity supports TWO airports – one on either end of the island.  As you would expect for a volcanic island with a huge peak in the middle (at 12,200 feet it is the highest peak in Spain) most of the development is around the perimeter of the island.  It reminded us of Hawaii.
Dining
Nothing especially notable on the food side.  There were lots of fresh vegetables available, many harvested locally, but it was hit or miss as to what you might find on any given day.  We looked for strawberries to make shortcake for July Fourth but had no luck.  One common local crop is potatoes – several tasty varieties are grown.  Small potatoes cooked unpeeled in salt water are served as tapas with different dipping sauces.  There’s also a local wine industry and we tasted some good ones.  Fresh fish was also typical.  Grilling on the roof was our favorite dining option!
Mount Teide
Others in our group, Jan and Jelske from the Netherlands, rented a car and gave us a ride to the funicular (gondola lift) from where we could access the top of the volcano that originally formed the island.  They parked, hiked to the top, spent the night, watched the sun come up and returned the next day.  Barbara and I did the middle-aged thing (or maybe the old thing? – I guess people don’t usually live to be 120…), riding up and back to the peak on the funicular and returning on the bus.  The vegetation changed from tropical to piney woods as we traveled up, eventually petering out entirely.  The top of the mountain was above the clouds so had a surreal feeling.
Winery
We spent a nice afternoon (our 31stwedding anniversary) with our group at a winery, tasting local vintages and taking a cooking class.  We learned how to make some dipping sauces for the local salt potatoes and then we had a competition within our group to see who could make the best one.  I won, of course.
Nine Coliving
The highlight of our stay was the house itself – some days I never went out at all!  It was originally home to a wealthy family and has a historic designation, as do a large number of other houses in the old city center.  High ceilings, lots of stairs, nine bedrooms (with potential for more as rehab progresses), huge roof deck, beautiful central courtyard and a lush back garden and patio.  We painted, gardened, cooked, cleaned and otherwise tried to make ourselves useful – although I’m pretty sure we got far more than we gave by being able to stay in this beautiful place for three weeks for free.  There were several others staying too, and the faces evolved over time, so it was also a very pleasant social experience.  Many thanks to Anne for letting us stay!
Beaches
The beaches are black volcanic sand and look very hot, although I’m ashamed to admit I never once went to the beach during our stay.  Surfing is big here (another similarity to Hawaii) and several of our fellow house guests surfed on many occasions.  Apparently, the waves are particularly variable, so every surf day is a slightly different experience.  And there are several beaches to choose from, depending on what you’re looking for.
World Cup
I must say, the World Cup experience is generally more exciting to follow in Europe than in the USA as the fans are extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and the games are televised in every bar and restaurant.   However, we found the experience on Tenerife to be more subdued that we had in Portugal.  Unless the Spanish team was in the game, there didn’t seem to be a lot of people following the other matches.  Surprising.
Activities
Maybe it was just the time of year, but there was a lot going on.  Nine Coliving was only a few blocks from the main La Orotava central square, in fact our roof deck overlooked it, so we were able to experience several concerts, fun runs and other events while we were there.  They also had a small but well stocked farmers market on Saturday mornings.  Barbara went whale watching on a catamaran with our group, but I passed on that since boats aren’t my thing.
Tidbits
There was no Uber on the island, so we mostly took taxis if we had to go more than a mile or so.  They weren’t unreasonable to take just to the neighboring villages, but the trip to the north airport near the city of Santa Cruz (about 15 miles away) was about 25 euros.  We also took the local buses to some locations – they were affordable but often crowded and tended to be slow as they stopped many times.  And we generally walked to destinations within the Village of Orotava, since it was a small place.  Tenerife itself is well connected to Europe and we were told that the locals were given special deals with the airlines that allowed them to travel for just a fraction of the normal fare.We expected it to be hot along the west coast of Africa, but we were more often chilly, even in July.  It only rained significantly during one day of our visit – most days were a combination of sun and clouds, often changing dramatically within just a few minutes.  The house had no AC and we never felt the lack.  The peak temperature hit mid-eighties F many days, but generally with a cool ocean breeze.  The Tenerife climate is arid overall (between 5 and 20 inches of rain per year at various locations) but there’s a fair amount of vegetation in many spots because it never gets terribly hot.  Winters are cooler (most people have space heaters), but never freezing.

We were expecting prices for food and other things in this island location to be high, similar to Hawaii, but didn’t find it so.  Grocery store prices were about the same as our previous stop in Portugal.  We didn’t have to buy much besides food, but the few things we did buy seemed reasonable.  And since we were staying free we didn’t get a handle on real estate rental prices at all.

The Ugly
We didn’t find any significant warts here during our stay.  I’m not a big fan of the volcanic “black beaches”, but that’s more a matter of personal taste than a complaint – and since I never went anyway I have little reason to complain!.  While I think overall it might be too quiet for a permanent home it was a GREAT and relaxing place for an extended visit.
Our travels are at a temporary standstill, so this will likely be my last post for now.  Hopefully, our paths will cross soon.  Until then, SAFE TRAVELS!

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One Friday Evening

Sarah spent Friday evening with some friends from work. They were nice people, but most of them didn’t meet all her standards of education, sophistication, political leaning and looks, excepting her boyfriend, Javier, of course. But even Javier lacked something Sarah couldn’t quite put her finger on, even though he technically checked all her boxes. She found his need to continually please her slightly pathetic.

Javier knew something different was going on with Sarah, and had been for several weeks. He’d done his best to be extra attentive. But, it didn’t appear to be working and Javier couldn’t help but suspect the worst – that Sarah was looking to end things. Then he’d be alone again.

Javier knew Sarah took advantage of him. He knew he’d eventually be miserable if they stayed together. He knew she was only interested in having him there to validate her own superiority, not in who he really was or what was in his heart. But Javier also knew loneliness, and he was afraid of it. He’d been lonely for so long before meeting Sarah. With all its faults, their relationship at least kept that sad loneliness at bay. Some of the time, anyway.

Sarah put on her best wooden smile and was at her most clever all evening, but somehow it felt wasted on the group. Every fifteen minutes or so, she took a moment to scroll through various messages and alerts on her phone to see if anything more stimulating might be going on elsewhere. Then she’d rejoin the banter as its rightful queen.

At eleven, Sarah feigned a headache and said her goodbyes, even though it was way too early for a fashionable exit. Javier got up to leave with her. Normally this would have been expected, but tonight Sarah suggested he stay with the others, so he could fill her in on the rest of the evening’s events. He raised his eyebrows at her, questioningly, but Sarah was already headed for the door.

Javier stood until the door closed behind Sarah. At first, he felt a bit confused she hadn’t wanted him to come with her. And hurt. But then another feeling snuck its way into his mind.

Javier felt relieved.

 

PC: Dogancan Ozturan on Unsplash

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The Fairlane

Randy backed his Ford Fairlane out of the driveway, being careful to go slowly over the hump at the sidewalk, where the car tended to bottom out if he went too fast. Especially when fully loaded, like it was today.

It was a big day for the Fairlane. Randy had special ordered it new from a dealership across town many years ago. He still remembered the day he’d taken possession. The smell of new vinyl and carpeting. The contrast between the shiny chrome accents and the Acapulco Blue paint. The new style shoulder belts hanging clumsily by the front seats before he’d tied them back out of the way.

Now, the odometer read 99,932 miles, and the vehicle had never needed a single repair. Oh, there’d been routine maintenance work – oil changes, lube jobs, new tires, wiper blades, radiator flushes. But nothing had ever malfunctioned, which was virtually unheard of in a vehicle with so many miles.

The family was embarking on a day trip to visit a relative a few hours away. Wherever they happened to be when the odometer turned 100,000 miles, Randy planned to pull over and pop open a bottle of champagne he’d brought in a small cooler on the seat beside him. Usually, Randy liked to drive “straight through”, something he’d picked up from his father, but today they planned to stop at a rest area for a picnic lunch to prolong the celebration. He would even let the kids try a taste of champagne.

They were getting a late start. First, Randy had insisted everyone use the bathroom one last time. Then, Randy’s wife, Martha, had misplaced something from her purse and needed to find it before they left. On the way to the car, Randy’s daughter Melissa stepped in something someone’s dog had left on their lawn and needed to go back in to change her shoes. And, of course, they’d all waited for Aunt Betty.

Aunt Betty was old and had grown up in a different time. She’d been groomed from a young age never to go on long car trips without changing into clean underwear “in case of an accident”. Apparently, the medics would be grossed out if they noticed anything unpleasant when they pulled you from the wreckage, other than blood and guts, of course. It took Aunt Betty an inordinate amount of time to select and don the appropriate underthings for the occasion.

Randy tried to ignore the annoying bumping in his lower back, as Melissa cheerfully kicked the rear of his seat. She’d ripped a hole through the once pristine vinyl seat with her constant pounding. Randy used to reprimand both kids for their kicking but eventually had given up. Even though they’d always comply obediently the moment he asked, it would only be a minute or two before they’d start again.

Randy glanced in his rearview mirror as he maneuvered onto the street. Aunt Betty stared back at him, her beady eyes clearly visible behind tortoiseshell glasses that may have been fashionable in 1960. Aunt Betty always insisted on sitting in the middle of the back seat. She claimed it was for safety reasons, but Randy suspected it had more to do with wanting to watch him in the mirror. Then he saw the beady eyes shift right.

“Buddy, stop that this instant!” Aunt Betty exclaimed to the nine-year-old boy sitting next to her.

It wasn’t immediately clear to Randy what Aunt Betty wanted Buddy to stop doing, but it became clear very soon, as the noxious odor drifted toward the front seat. Buddy giggled a bit, as the others quickly rolled their windows down. Buddy’s giggling ended up making him burp, and then he started laughing uncontrollably, which led to more unsavory noises and odors from both ends. It took quite a while before Buddy calmed down.

Every second or third song, Martha would fiddle with the AM radio, trying to find a clearer signal, or a better song, or a DJ whose voice she liked, or any number of other reasons, none of which seemed important to Randy. He thought about whether he preferred the fiddling or the pouting he knew would follow if he said anything. Randy kept quiet.

After a while, Randy tuned into the rhythm of the road, and all the other things faded into the background. He was vaguely aware of Melissa and Buddy arguing about something across Aunt Betty’s lap, and of Martha snoring quietly. He unconsciously read the road signs as they whizzed past and glanced regularly at his speedometer to make sure he stayed no more than a few miles per hour above the legal limit.

Finally, Martha’s voice brought Randy out of his near trance.

“I thought we were going to stop at 100,000 miles,” Martha pointed out, with a question in her voice.

Randy glanced down at the odometer. It read 100,011. He’d missed the big milestone. Randy was disappointed, but a sign a while back had indicated there was a rest area with picnic tables just a short distance ahead. They’d celebrate anyway and enjoy their lunch. Randy pulled off on the ramp and parked near a wooded area. Everyone piled out. That is, everyone except Aunt Betty, who preferred to eat her sandwich in the car. She found picnic tables uncomfortable. And she didn’t care for champagne anyway.

Randy pulled the champagne from the cooler while Martha set up the picnic. He untwisted the wire securing the cork and shook the bottle a bit. Since they were outside, Randy thought he’d let the cork really explode and the champagne foam freely out to give the kids a great show. It didn’t matter if some contents were wasted – he’d only sip a small glass since he was driving, and Martha couldn’t drink the remainder by herself.

Randy pushed with his thumb to ease the cork out, just to get it started. Nothing. He tried again with both thumbs. Still nothing. He grabbed the cork with his fist and twisted. The top part disintegrated in his hand.

Randy wasn’t about to be beaten by a cheap champagne cork. He’d seen people pop champagne corks in movies simply by striking the bottle bottom against a hard surface. If James Bond could do it, so could Randy. He hit the bottle against the picnic table. Then he did it again, harder. And then a third time. The cork didn’t budge.

Undaunted, Randy thought a minute. He’d also seen people in movies open bottles of champagne with swords. Russian dukes and such. Randy didn’t have a sword, so he’d have to improvise. The only thing at hand remotely similar to a sword was the tire iron from the trunk. That would have to do.

Randy held the champagne bottle in his left hand. He held the tire iron in his right. He pointed the bottle away from the picnic table and slid the iron along the seam in its neck. Hard. The champagne bottle exploded into hundreds of pieces, and its entire contents spilled on the ground. Worse, the tire iron flew out of Randy’s hand, directly toward the Fairlane and through the open window, where Aunt Betty was nibbling her sandwich.

They all raced to the car. Aunt Betty was still sitting in the middle of the back seat. The tire iron was in her lap, as was her limp left hand. There was no blood, but the hand had clearly been injured – a purple bruise was growing larger as they watched. Randy hurried to the rest area pay phone to call an ambulance, while Martha comforted Aunt Betty, who was relieved she hadn’t listened to Randy and had taken the time to change into her best underwear, now that a hospital visit was imminent.

When the ambulance pulled away, with both Aunt Betty and Martha aboard, Randy and the kids packed up the picnic remains, planning to meet the women at the hospital emergency room. Randy slid his key into the ignition and turned, expecting the reliable Fairlane to fire immediately. Instead, there was only a loud hum, followed by an explosion. Flames and smoke engulfed the engine compartment. They scrambled out, and Randy grabbed Buddy and Melissa’s hands to drag them what he thought was a safe distance away. There was another, bigger, explosion, and the entire car blew up.

Yes, it had been a big day for the Fairlane.

 

PC: Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

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