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Exploring Portugal

Excited to be exploring Portugal for a few months. My interest stems from three Portuguese travelers I met a few years ago. I met a couple in Turkey and a guy in Cambodia. They were such neat people I knew their country had to be cool, also. I’ll arrive in Lisbon on January 19th and the posts will start shortly after that!

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My Next Trip – Croatia

Hi all! I don’t leave for a couple of months, but I wanted to let you know that I’ll be visiting Croatia (and maybe one or two other countries) in September. Here is the link to the blog: https://exploringcroatia.blog/

I’m excited to be going there and I’m hoping to explore a few cities in the eastern part of Croatia, places that tourists don’t usually visit because everybody heads to the islands.

Hope you join me on my 6-week journey!

Michael

 

Until Next Time, Final Thoughts

As much as I complained about the weather the past three months, it was a major reason for visiting Portugal during winter. I wanted to check its livability and even though this winter was abnormally cold, even the usual climate wouldn’t be the year round 23-32C temps I like.

While I’m on the topic of livability there’s another important reason that Portugal doesn’t work for me. While I could afford to live there on my income, I couldn’t save enough to afford to travel. In Mexico, I can. So, I’ll settle for visiting this prize of a country again. And I must because there was so much I didn’t see.

Here are a few final thoughts before I close the blog.

  • I still can’t believe how many Portuguese people smoke.
  • Portugal is a June-September country for me.
  • You have to carry cash; a number of places didn’t accept credit cards, at least, not mine. I saw Portuguese customers use theirs in restaurants where I was told I couldn’t. Probably because my card wasn’t issued by a national bank.
  • I read more than once that when you need to use an ATM always decline the exchange rate the machine offers. It’s always higher than your bank will charge. I believe this applies everywhere, not just Portugal. I decline it in Mexico, now.
  • Also, use Multibanco (MB) ATMs, not Euronet. When you withdraw 100 Euros from the former you get 4-20 and 2-10; with the latter you get 2-50. Of course, this is just my personal preference.
  • The delicious food and wine, the welcoming people, the picturesque scenery and so much more make Portugal a special place.
  • Lisbon grabbed me immediately. Sort of reminds me of Chicago in that it’s surprisingly livable for a large metropolitan city. I know it’s not as large as Chicago, but still…
  • I had the good fortune to meet four totally different, but equally special people on this trip. Pedro, the snack shop owner, who introduced me to traditional Portuguese food; Guta, the photographer, who took me on a day trip filled with fabulous food, photos and philosophy; Michele, a retired teacher and still somewhat active actress from Belgium, who made my month in Morocco more enjoyable than it already was; and Jamila, a super special young Moroccan woman, who 20 years ago would have stolen my heart and changed my life. I truly believe I’ll see all of them again some day.

I’ll close with a couple of opinions (not mine) which made me chuckle. I’ll leave it up to you to agree or not. As a rule I read the reviews other travelers write for restaurants, stores, etc. and I came across these. From a review of an Algarve establishment, “They’re (the proprietors) friendlier and more helpful once they learn that you’re not a Brit.” And in an effort to be fair, “Americans look a lot, but don’t buy, They’re cheap.”

Many thanks to all who took the time to read “Exploring Portugal.” I hope you were educated and entertained. If so, I accomplished my goal. See you next trip.

Portugal Part Two – Quarteira

Climate change, global warming, my presence in Portugal; something has caused this unusually cold weather this winter and spring here. But, it’s not only here. It snowed in the Sahara and the northeast US has been hit with some brutal storms. While I didn’t experience anything like NYC did I couldn’t get out of bed for six days in Porto, and the other morning I awoke to this…

Storm.jpg

Thankfully, I didn’t come here to sunbathe as I normally would, but to work on my book (shameless plugs alert), “Mail From China: My Five Years in the Far East,” which I can do inside; it’s a follow-up to my first book, “Mail From Kyrgyzstan: My Life As An Over-50 Peace Corps Volunteer” (available on Amazon). Still, it would be better if I could sit on my balcony while I write. Granted, it hasn’t rained every day, but the temperatures have been about 10 degrees Fahrenheit lower than normal.

I’ve never rented an apartment on vacation before, but I might do it again. I have a 1BR 50 meters from the beach. It comes equipped with everything I could ask for, including a washing machine. The hostess/owner is really nice and what a pleasant surprise to see my welcome gifts when I arrived. I was hungry!

Welcome gifts
Welcome gifts
Quarteira apartment
Living/kitchen area

I haven’t done a second of sightseeing, so the only photos I have to post consist of the foods I’ve eaten. Portugal is known for their pastries. Pastelerias are like bars in Milwaukee, one on every corner. Here’s one of my favorites, made with 100% sugar. LOL

queijada de amendoa.jpg
Queijada de amendoa (Almond Cheesecake) but no cheese. 😀

I found another good Indian restaurant called Shalimar. I ate there twice; ordered veggie dishes both times, mixed veggies and then lentils. Very tasty.

On the first floor of my building you can find the Fantasia Restaurant & Bar. No, not a Walt Disney themed joint, but a place where a lot of Brits eat. Could be why the board out front advertises bangers and mash. I tried the restaurant because it’s reasonably priced with large portions. I should have spent a couple more quid and eaten elsewhere. It wasn’t terrible, but my pork chops were overcooked, dry and touch to chew. Maybe that’s why they came with a bowl of gravy.

Pork Chops
Pork chops

I had to add photos of the best chicken and second best cheesecake I ate on this trip. Restaurant: Girassol’s.

I’m at the beach, so where’s the seafood photo? Right here. I ate octopus with garlic, onions and olive oil. So good. The restaurant is called Casa de Vila Madeira. Madeira is an island pretty far off the coast of Portugal, but is part of the country.

Octopus.jpg
Octopus w/ onions

One final food photo features another new potato chip flavor for me.

BBQ Ham chips.jpg
BBQ Ham chips

Overall, Portugal is a very clean, litter free country. Could be because these guys are everywhere and everybody uses them.

Recycle Receptacles

Quarteira’s beach is clean, but maybe that’s because there are no people on it. Too cold. It’s not as beautiful as Thailand’s or the Philippines’ beaches, but better than many that I’ve visited. And everything you need is within walking distance. Overall, I’d give it a B+. There could certainly be more picturesque beaches in the Algarve, I don’t know. This is only one I’ve seen.

One more post after this. I’ll summarize my trip when I get back to Mexico in a couple of days.

Portugal Part Two – Évora

I spent a couple of days in this loveliest of cities. Évora’s “el centro” is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets and the architecture features arches. Lots of arches.

Of course, it has a few big churches, but it also has a few Roman ruins. That was a bit of a surprise.

Roman ruin

I should mention another popular tourist attraction, The Chapel of Bones. The inside walls are made up of thousands of human bones. I passed on seeing it because after visiting the Mummy Museum in Guanajuato I’d seen my fill of decomposed body parts. 😀

I ate some good food. Évora has many wine and tapas shops. One of the best was less than a minute from my hotel. Sara, the resident wine expert and tapas maker (chef?), is the most delightful person. The tapas I ate included tomatoes stuffed with black pork, mackerel pate (the only spicy dish on the menu) and smoked ham with fresh goat cheese. Three glasses of wine accompanied the food. The place is called Vinarium.

Tapas 1Tapas 2Tapas 3

One local specialty I tried and enjoyed very much was dogfish soup. A tasty broth and a succulent whitefish made for a satisfying lunch. Most people eat bread with it, but I was bread-ed out by this time.

Dogfish soup

People who received my emails from my China years know that I love to discover new snacks. Well, I have another one to add: black olive flavored potato chips. My new favorite, but I’m sure I won’t be able to find them in Oaxaca.

Black olive chips.jpg

I’m now in Quarteira (The Algarve) for 12 days where I will continue to write my book and hit the beach once in a while. Then it’s back to Mexico.

 

Portugal Part Two – Lisbon

 

FINAL MOROCCO THOUGHTS

It’s nice to be wanted. It’s even better to be loved. The seeds of the latter had been planted in Jamila’s heart during my month in Aourir. I knew we enjoyed talking to and messaging each other, but several reasons stopped me from pursuing any kind of relationship beyond friend. These included age (she’s 27), location (I don’t want to live in Morocco) and children (I don’t want one or two or…). I found out that Jamila didn’t have any reasons, barriers or anything stopping her from asking me if I would get married again, still wanted children, would like to teach English in Agadir and various other questions pertaining to a life together.

I liked the feel of the village of Tamraght. No big stores; everything locally owned; that’s going to change soon. Fairmont and Marriott are building big hotels on the beach and I was told that other companies will follow suit. In a few years it won’t be the same, sadly.

Lisbon. Within 24 hours of my return I viewed it in a new light. Spring had arrived and although the temperatures didn’t reach my maximum comfort level, I could at least walk around without fear of catching pneumonia like I did in Porto in February.

It also helped that I stayed in one of the city’s upscale neighborhoods, Belém. The streets are lined with big houses and Porsches and Beemers can be seen on every block. It’s also home to Lisbon’s embassy row.

Belem street
Belem houses

Several museums could be found about a 20-minute walk from my house. On the way to them, I snapped a photo of the Tower of Belém, which has pretty much become the identifying landmark of Lisbon, as the Eiffel Tower and Sydney Opera House have become for their cities. Other things and places I saw were a 15th Century monastery and an Escher exhibit at the Museum of Popular Art.

Belem TowerOld monasteryEscherShip art

I ate the best cheeseburger. Just meat and cheese, nothing else. And great fresh bread to hold it together. Mouth watering. Then I ate something many people rave about around here, duck rice. Yup, duck meat mixed with rice and it’s as bland and dry as eating paste. And I know about eating paste. It needed a heavy dose of salsa.

Lisbon appeals to me except for the weather and the fact that even though I could afford to live here, I probably couldn’t save enough to travel like I want. Those are two pretty big reasons for me. I would like to visit it again, though because I didn’t see all that I had hoped.

 

See You Again, Morocco

I’m sad to leave Morocco because in my month in Aourir I made three good friends, workers at the hotel. They are Jamila, Abdel and Rachid. Not just them, but everybody I encountered was so welcoming. Because I treated this trip as a writing retreat, I want to return one day to see the rest of the country.

Rachid and Abdel.jpg
Rachid (l) and Abdel (r)

I also met a woman from Belgium who has been coming to Morocco for three months every winter for several years. Her name is Michele. She stayed at my hotel, Hôtel Auberge Littoral, and we realized we had a few things in common. She’s a retired teacher and an actress. She has a small group of friends back home that like to perform, so I gave her some of my short plays. Aside from being a wealth of knowledge about Morocco, she also served as a tour guide for me. She took me to the big market in Agadir, the wine shop and a superb restaurant in Taghazout.

The photos for my final week center mainly on food. I ate a plate of assorted fried fish that I really liked although I think I ate too much as my stomach was a little upset that evening. 🙂  I found a decent cheeseburger although the bun fell apart midway though eating. I tried the grilled steak which was tasty but somewhat tougher than I’m accustomed to. Still, it beat the steaks I’ve eaten in China and Mexico.

Finally, I want to talk about the best dish I’ve eaten on this trip. It’s official name is pastilla maison du poulet. I called it chicken pie. Michele took me to a restaurant called Josephine’s in Taghazout owned by two French women who moved here maybe 30 years ago. They are now in their 70’s but are still somewhat involved with the three places they own. We had hoped to see them that day, but no. I can’t tell you what goes into this dish except to say it was savory. All I know is it’s topped with sugar and cinnamon.

Fried fish
Assorted fried fish
Cheeseburger
Cheeseburger
Grilled steak
Grilled steak
Chicken pie
Chicken pie

Having tasted Moroccan wine about 15 years ago and liking it, I wanted to try it again. The bottle I bought was just as good as I remembered the other to be. It’s a little strong at 13% ABV. I guess with the French influence here, it shouldn’t be surprising that they can make good wine.

Moroccan wine
Moroccan wine

Tomorrow I head back to Portugal for three weeks before going home to Mexico.

Three Weeks in Morocco

This week I tore myself away from writing to visit a couple of places. One was the local big market (souk in Arabic), an every Wednesday event. I bought some fresh dates and strawberries and took a photo of one the colorful spice tables.  I also went to CrocoPark. It’s a place that is trying to protect the Nile species of crocodile. The park also has trees and plants from all over the world. It was a picturesque day.

 

Now I have some photos of food I ate this week which included camel. It’s like beef. You have to season it to give it flavor. It is not expensive, but not so popular, so I’ve been told. Other dishes included a decent pizza, tagine kefta and my new favorite fast food, the sardine sandwich. Did you know that Morocco is the world leader in exporting sardines? No? Well, now you do. 🙂  The soup photo is harira, semi-spicy and made with fava beans; shebakia is the sesame pastry covered in honey that’s available year round but is especially popular at Ramadan.

 

There are meat markets on a street near my hotel and a creek that runs behind them out to the ocean. The meat you buy at them is as fresh as you’ll find. That brownish streak in the water is the blood from recently killed sheep. I call it Blood Creek.

Blood Creek.jpg

 

Finally, a feel good photo. The hotel cat just gave birth and I caught one of her kittens feeding the other day.

Cat and kitten.jpg

One more week in Morocco and then back to Portugal for three.