Posts Tagged With: Portugal

For Americans Considering A Move to Canada (If Donald Trump Becomes President)

If you are praying that Donald Trump isn't elected President of the United States and your prayers fail, no need to move to Canada. Come join these folks in Bangkok, Thailand, and pray he doesn't turn the world upside down

If you are praying that Donald Trump isn’t elected President of the United States and your prayers fail, no need to move to Canada. Come join these folks in Bangkok, Thailand, and pray for the world. Maybe make and offering. 🙂

 

So much talk from Americans about leaving the United States should Donald Trump become president. Canada appears to be where all these disgruntled Americans will be headed en masse, aiming straight for the northern border where hopefully “The Donald” will be too distracted building his “Great Wall” on the southern border and waging war with the world that he won’t notice the grand exodus to the north.

Canadians, of course, are not relishing this notion of Americans flocking like ants across the border to spend the next four years. They’d rather their pesky cousins stay home. Such is the relationship between Americans and Canadians. It’s best described as siblings who care about each other but can only stand the sight of each other for so much time. At least that’s the point of view of many Canadians. Have you listened to Canadian talk radio lately? 🙂

My fellow Americans,  there are hundreds of countries in this world, be more adventurous! Canada is the lazy way out and so Vietnam-era. If you are going to leave the good old U.S. of A. for four years, at least try to live it up! Canada is safe harbor. Try the expanse of the ocean, a desert’s endless stretch, a mountain full of hope, a placid beach or big waves. Plop down in a developing country and maybe do your bit to help it develop. Teach English. Learn a different culture, another language. Injoy. That’s not a misspelling: Injoy. Let joy come from within. And unleash it. Forget Canada! Make this hiatus worth your while. And use it to let the rest of the world know we’re not all like Donald Trump. Not sold? Okay, how about this: It’s freakin’ freezing in  Canada. You might as well move to Alaska. At least you’d still be in the U.S.A. and not run the risk of returning to the U.S. attaching “eh” to the end of every sentence.

“how’d you like that ice cream, eh?”

Having traveled to more than 100 countries in the course of my lifetime, I’m in a good position to offer alternatives to Canada to all Americans considering escaping the U.S. while “The Donald” is wrecking it and making an even bigger mess of the world.

I’ve spent weeks and in some cases months in these places. I know them firsthand. They’ve been carefully chosen to satisfy all types of individuals and lifestyles. And they’re all better infinitely better than twiddling your thumb while you’re freezing your butt off in Canada. Did you know it snows in Canada even in the summer? Okay, no it doesn’t, that was a last-ditch effort to have you choose, say, Singapore. Never been there, but I hear it’s nice.

And alright, maybe none of these offerings are better than Canada, but you will certainly be better off choosing one of them if you want those four years to go by fast. Remember time flies when you’re having fun.

Besides, since you’ll be away for at least four years, unless “The Donald” is impeach within the first week in office for something he said or more likely did, location is everything. All these alternative countries to Canada have also been chosen based on neighboring countries. So if you by chance get bored with the country you’re in, you can travel to neighboring countries to mix things up, get back your mojo.

Alright, let’s do this. Here are my 10 alternatives countries for Americans ready to move to Canada to escape President Trump.

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  1. Medellin, Colombia: The weather is always perfect, the it’s the home of Botero, the beer is cheap, the food is great, the city has a nice vibe, the people are super friendly and welcoming and the party zone is one of the best in all of South America. Okay, I hear the groans: Isn’t Colombia dangerous? Doesn’t Medellin have a drug cartel named after it? Wasn’t this the kingdom of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar? Won’t I get shot or blown to bits upon arrival? No, yes, yes, no. Let me say this for the record. Colombia is not the same country you heard or read about on the news. Yes, there are still pockets of danger, but you know where they are and you have no business going there unless you know somebody who lives there or you are going to score some coke – highly not recommended! Stay within bounds of the city, ask locals, hang with locals, they know the deal. Medellin also has great shopping malls. Word of caution to the wannabe players: if you see a stunning woman – there are many – well put together, built of shall we say, some plastic, in a nightclub or bar, do not approach. Stand back and observe first. Make sure she’s not there with her sugar daddy kingpin, otherwise you will find yourself in a world of hurting. You’ve been warned, player. NEIGHBORS TO VISIT: Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia

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  2. Zürich, Switzerland: I once traveled from the United States to Zürich just to buy a watch I saw in a magazine. The watch was not yet available in the U.S. Yes, those were the days I could hop on a plane on a whim and go anywhere my heart desired. After my mission was accomplished, I stuck around Zürich for a few days and fell in love with the city. Diverse, friendly, hip, happening, great vibes. I hear you still groaning: It’s damn expensive! Yes, Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries on Earth. While there I tried not to pay attention to my bill. But one day, I took a peek at how much one beer I was drinking cost, and almost fell off my bar stool: $10 for one beer! What had I just ordered, brew imported from the ends of the Earth? Anyway, Switzerland is an amazingly beautiful country, especially if you love the outdoors. And those Alps! You can’t beat them for scenic beauty. It’s a small country, so it’s easy to get around. Great place to spend for years. NEIGHBORS TO VISIT:  Austria, France, Italy, Germany

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  3. Cuenca, Ecuador: Worried about your inability to speak Spanish? Don’t worry, there are so many “gringos” living here that English is the unofficial second language. Just about every turn I took in Cuenca I bumped into Americans speaking English or very bad Spanish. Most of them are retirees. Who knew that Cuenca was such a big draw for U.S. retirees? They live well here on their pensions. And because there are so many Americans, many businesses have clerks on hand that speak English. I didn’t particularly care for this side of Cuenca. After all, I had left the United States and I felt like I was on an unending tour with so many Americans around. On the positive, you won’t have any shortage of people ready and able to give you tips and directions in English. Beyond this, Cuenca is a cool city, with Inca ruins and great restaurants. It has a nightlife as well. Lots of hostels full of backpackers. I enjoyed Cuenca. You will, too. NEIGHBORS TO VISIT: Peru, Colombia, Galapagos

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  4.  Wroclaw, Poland: Yes, there’s Warsaw, the capital and financial center. And Krakow. And even Gdansk, which I absolutely loved, especially its Old Town in winter. But Wroclaw, once part of Germany, is such a cool town, with its centuries old buildings that the Germans spared during World War II. Its town squares and bars and restaurants, the city teems with people from all around the world. Not a bad place to spend your next four years. NEIGHBORS TO VISIT: Germany, Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland, Norway

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  5. Lagos, Portugal: You’d rather spend the next four years forgetting Donald Trump even exists? This is your great escape. Breathtaking beaches, mild winters, sizzling summers that attract party people looking for fun, but also families on holiday. Lagos is it! The town shuts down in winter, with a few businesses remaining open year-round, but come March the place begins to come alive. Careful here. You might become one of those people who came to Lagos for a weekend visit and stayed 10 years and counting. Which might be a good thing should Trump get reelected to a second 4-year term. You must go to Nah Nah Bah restaurant if you love burgers. NEIGHBORS TO VISIT: Spain, Morocco, Italy

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  6. Santorini, Greece: Athens has the antiquities but it lacks a soul and it definitely lacks friendly people. Worst experience I’ve had anywhere. But get out of Athens and get to the islands and it’s night and day. The people outside of Athens are super friendly, welcoming and helpful. Santorini is amazing, overlooking the bluest waters of the Mediterranean. With Greece’s recent economic woes, things are even cheaper. Greece is all about relaxing and “The Donald” will be far from your mind on Santorini, as you sit on one of its narrow streets sipping coffee in the morning or beer at night. Or beer in the morning and coffee at night. Santorini is where I intend some day to drop out of society and chill for the rest of my days. NEIGHBORS TO VISIT: Turkey, Egypt, Cyprus, Israel

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  7. Vilcabamba, Ecuador: Ecuador, again. Such as small country with so much. By the way, I also LOVED Montanita. If you are a hippie or you just want to know what it’s like to be a hippie, Vilcabamba and Montanita are for you. Vilcabamba is where the Inca royalty came to play and relax. It was their retreat. Lots of trails to explore. The pace in Vilcabamba is extremely slow, so if its wild excitement you are looking for, look elsewhere. then again, it’s a great place to tune out from what “The Donald” is doing to the rest of the world, like ending it. Oh yah, like Cuenca, you will come across a fair share of Americans and Canadians, so you won’t feel bad about skipping Canada. NEIGHBORS TO VISIT: Peru, Colombia, Brazil, Chile

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  8. Bangkok, Thailand: If hot tropical weather, dirt cheap living, spicy food, best street food ever is what you need, look no further than Bangkok. This is a good place to sort of drop out and escape four years of Donald Trump. Enough here to hold your attention. Best way to get around is by riverboat. Lots of temples and Buddhas everywhere. Many similarities to China except freer, more open society. NEIGHBORS TO VISIT: Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia, China

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  9. Berlin, Germany: So much history, a rich art scene, Berlin is popping. It’s my favorite city in Germany, although Cologne and Hamburg are cool, too. Check out the remnants of the Berlin Wall. Check out the public toilet that is now a burger joint. Just check it out. Every turn you take in Berlin will remind you of why you left the U.S. – “The Donald”, of course. Say no to fascism, right? Drawback: You will have to learn German. Oh, you might be able to get away with not speaking German for a while, but not for four years. NEIGHBORS TO VISIT: Denmark, Belgium, United Kingdom, France, Poland

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  10. Fiji: The ultimate middle digit to “The Donald” – a tropical island where you can lounge in a hammock by the ocean, live in a wooden house built over the ocean, eating fresh seafood all day and drinking coconut milk. Indulge with tropical cocktails. Walk around topless all the time. Be king or queen in paradise. Live it up. You can check after four years to see if “The Donald” will be handed four more years in the White House. And if that’s the case, smile as you contemplate staying on 4 more years! Yes! Four more years. Life is good. NEIGHBORS TO VISIT: Hopefully none

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Laid Back Lisbon To Soothing Sintra

Laid back Lisbon

 On my way to someplace else in Portugal, I sped through Lisbon like a race car driver.

 

 

 

A classic trolley in Lisbon

A classic way to go

Of course I knew I should spend more time in Lisbon. After all, Portugal’s capital city is supercharged with history and cool places to hang loose. To willfully skip Lisbon would be a huge dumb travel move. It would be like traveling across Italy and closing your eyes through Rome. All along I never intended to bypass Lisbon, no way. It was simply my intention to get back and give the city, in due time  its due time. But for that moment, for a variety of reasons, the beacons of other cities sparkled a tad brighter. So off I went to places such as Guarda, Porto, Lagos, Albufeira, Faro, Portimao, Cascais, Parede, Guincho Beach, Seville – towns big and small, stretching across the Iberian peninsula.

One of those cities was Sintra. Sintra is a town blessed with a myriad of medieval castles that date back to the 8th or 9th Century, including the imposing Castle of the Moors built on a looming hilltop with a downward panoramic view of the city. I had made it from Guarda, a semi-rural region near the border with Spain, west to Paredes on the coast, where I stayed with a Portuguese family with whom I’ve now forged a friendship. Early on, they recommended I visit Sintra and offered me a bicycle for what should have been an hour-long journey along city streets. But I failed miserably in my first attempt to reach Sintra on two wheels. I ended up way off course, facing a major highway. Bicycles are not allowed on highways in many European countries, Portugal included. So I spent most of my journey, which turned in to several hours, trying to get around the highway, with every person I asked giving different directions and instructions to breach the motorway and reach Sintra.

When you come to Lisbon, buy one of these. It's a 3-day tourist pass for unlimited travel on the train. Cost: 14 €.

When you come to Lisbon, buy one of these. It’s a 3-day tourist pass for unlimited travel on the train. Cost: 14 €.

While some said it was impossible to reach the medieval city by bicycle from my location, others suggested that it was too dangerous, too far or too steep a climb up and over the mountains. But experience has taught me that locals often will say that a place is too far or too risky or too whatever because they think a foreigner is not cut of the stuff to handle a trek even if the traveler says he or she does

Portugal is the world's top producer of cork, so stuff made of cork is easy to find. Everything you see here is from cork, including her clothes and the umbrella. Clever, no?

Portugal is the world’s top producer of cork, so stuff made of cork is easy to find. Everything you see here is from cork, including her clothes and the umbrella. Clever, no?

not mind the long or uphill or even arduous walk. If  I were given a penny every time I heard some place was too far to walk, I’d be a wealthy man.  Still, as darkness loomed, I gave up and returned to Paredes without having seen Sintra. My gracious hosts seemed more disappointed than me. They knew the magic I had missed in Sintra, and several months later I would come to realize that. Sintra, with its rich history of conquerors, invaders and rulers, chief among them the Moors, also draws thousands of tourists each year interested in its Masonic history. Like the Moors, who ruled the Iberian peninsula for more than 500 hundreds, they left their mark on the landscape, with beautiful gardens and castles.

Recently, I  paid another visit to my friends in Paredes. Paredes is a coastal town very close to Cascais, Sintra and Lisbon. I made it my mission to see Lisbon and Sintra on this particular trip. But first, Lisbon.

I arrived in Lisbon from Lagos, Portugal, located in the southern region of Portugal known as the Algarve, by ride share arranged through Blablacar. Lagos is a Portuguese fishing town that explodes with tourists in summer. It is served by all major transports, including an international airport in the town of Faro.

If you are ever in Europe, I highly recommend Blablacar, a car ride share that is often faster, cheaper and more convenient than public transportation. Soon as I arrived in Lisbon, I purchased a 3-day tourist rail pass that allowed me unlimited travel on the train that links outer communities to Lisbon.

At the Moorish Castle in must-see Sintra, Portugal. In the background, the grand Pena National Palace.

At the Moorish Castle in must-see Sintra, Portugal. In the background, the grand Pena National Palace.

Unfortunately, the pass does not extend to the metro trains, buses or streetcars. For those you have to buy a separate pass or ticket. But for me, the commuter train pass worked just fine. It allowed me to reach distance cities, such as Cascais, and I would easily get around Lisbon by walking or buying a metro ticket if necessary. I was getting around by commuter train more than anything else. You have to choose what transport option works best for you. The express bus from Lagos to Lisbon is 20 euros during peak season and runs every hour several hours a day. Portugal is well-served by public transportation but it is not always convenient as far as time schedule and cost. Do your homework.

And so on my first real visit to Lisbon I went, recalling during my 3 hour journey on the bus how I had spent my first time in Lisbon at the foot of a bridge trying to hitchhike south to Lagos. On my second visit, I never even stopped, marveling at the longest bridge in Europe, the Vasco de Gama Bridge, which spans the Tagus River. This bridge, which was inaugurated in 1998, is 17.2 kilometers, or 10.2 miles long, and it will blow your mind when you begin to realize how long you’ve been on it trying to get to the other side. It’s just one of the cool things Lisbon serves up. The city, once ruled by the Romans, also has an aqueduct that survived an earthquake and tsunami that destroyed the city in 1755.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lisbon, but the thing that struck me the most was how laid back, patient and helpful residents are with tourists. They stop and take their time to give directions, to help, unlike some other European capitals. It was refreshing.

From Lisbon, there’s a direct train to Sintra. The Viva pass works on this line. There are buses as well, from other coastal cities. One option is to go to Cascais, spend some time there on the beach or having a nice lunch or walkabout, then hop on a bus to Sintra. Some buses make a slight detour to the most western part of continental Europe, Cabo da Roca.

The Moorish Castle in Sintra

The Moorish Castle in Sintra

The southwesternmost point of mainland Europe – Cabo San Vicente near the city of Sagres – is also in Portugal. I can now claim I’ve been to as far west and as far southwest point of mainland Europe. Now, keen on the southernmost. That would be Punta de Tarifa, Spain.

From the moment I arrived in Sintra I felt an inexplicable sense of joy. The city has a zen vibe that soothes the soul. Yes, there are thousands of tourists walking about, but it doesn’t feel overrun.

It is nestled in the Sintra Mountains and Cascais-Sintra Nature Park, with beautiful architecture that goes back centuries, and several castles built on hilltops.

Queen Beach in Cascais

Queen Beach in Cascais

Some of the most impressive castles in the world are here, including Pena National Palace, which was the summer residence of Portugal’s  monarchs of Portugal during the 18th to 19th centuries. There are a total of seven palaces in Sintra, all worth a visit. Ask for a special discounted fare if you decide to see at least three of them.

In the city center you will find local foods, including traditional regional  pastries. Tourists and locals line up to buy them at local shops. Don’t get sucked in by tourists traps, however. You will pay more if you don’t go to the spot, Cafe a Piriquita, for the tasty pastries, including queijadas de Sintra. You might have to take a number and wait, but it’s well worth it. The queijadas look like small custard tarts, but are cheesecakes with a healthy dash of cinnamon in a crusty outer shell. I bought a dozen. But by far my favorite Sintra pastry was the one known as travesseiros, the Portuguese word for pillow. These desserts with a dusting of sugar and a creamy filling inside are heavenly, especially served warm. I couldn’t stop eating them. In Portugal you will find that most towns have a dessert all their own, including Lisbon, but in my opinion, none come as close to perfection as the ones from Sintra. Get to Sintra, have a coffee and a pastry, it will complete your day.

Below, Sintra seen from the Moorish Castle. Quite a climb to get here, but buses deliver those who choose not to walk.

Below, Sintra seen from the Moorish Castle. Quite a climb to get here, but buses deliver those who choose not to walk.

 

 

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Playful Dolphins Come In Waves Off The Coast of Portugal

dolphin

I’ve done my share of whale watching tours.

Unless you own a boat or have friends who own a boat, your options are limited to get out on the open ocean to see these magnificent mammals in their natural environment.

But let’s be honest. Like me, you could probably do without being loaded like cattle onto a boat where you will spend the next two hours with new parents struggling with strollers, youngsters wildly running

 about the ship’s deck, messy food in their little hands, with minimal supervision, rowdy, half-drunk 20-somethings still drinking the beers they sneaked aboard; loud, obnoxious teenagers trying to one-up each other with foolish antics; iPad-toting seniors baffled by the technology and trying to figure out how to take pictures with the device yet blocking others from the best shots. So it is.

I try to go it alone whenever and wherever I can, but crowds often come with the travel turf. You just have to bring your patience.

With Zuka, the dolphin-spotting Portuguese water dog, aboard the Days Of Adventure

With Zuka, the dolphin-spotting Portuguese water dog, aboard the Days Of Adventure

An opportunity came my way to see dolphins outside of an aquarium and although the chosen tour company stated emphatically that there were no guarantees, they also stressed that the chances of seeing dolphins were good to excellent.

So off we went.

From Lagos, Portugal, I took the boat to see common dolphins on the vast Atlantic Ocean.

I was not disappointed.

Less than an hour out to sea, we – or should I say, Zuka the dolphin-spotting Portuguese water dog aboard – spotted countless dolphins feeding. (He barks in the direction of the pod to alert the boat crew).

Soon we were surrounded by dolphins. Like pets, the dolphins came to us, curious creatures that they are, some taking advantage of the boat’s wake to surf. They apparently love the waves.

Others swam right alongside the boat or darted under. In pairs, they seemed to be dancing with each other, happy and free.

Each time the boat picked up speed to leave, the dolphins also stepped up their pace and swam faster to keep up with the boat.

They seemed as curious about us as we were about them and also appeared to enjoy the visit just as much as us humans enjoyed seeing them.

 Out of Lagos, dozens of tour companies offer dolphin and whale watching tours. The two-hour tours include a cruise along the coastal cliffs, but the boats are too large to actually go inside. For that you have to hire smaller vessels, which charge between 10 and 15 euros. Prices for the dolphin tours vary and also depend on the season. Still, they are worthwhile.

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