FlyerTalk Forums - The Sabbatical (2024)

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The second month of my year long Sabbatical began with an early morning alarm and a quick Uber to the Malaga airport. I was a bit sad to leave my lovely flat in Torremolinos. I really enjoyed its views of the Med. I am a total sucker for a room with a view. I will be returning for my final month in Europe and both places have a nice view. It’s a nice luxury that I really value.

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This would be my last flight with two large, heavy bags. Time to leave one at my brother's house.

Since I was dealing with lots of check-in luggage, I arrived two hours before departure. Little did I know at this point the long day I had ahead of me. Today’s flight to Porto was through Iberia’s hub in Madrid. A while back I opened both the Chase Iberia and British Airways credit cards yielding 200,000 Avíos without much work. These points are great for short hops around Europe. Unfortunately, the points needed are by the sector but that allows for easy stopovers. Today it worked out to be 10,000 Avíos and $35 in taxes for an economy seat. I had debated going business but European “business class” is simply having the middle seat free. I get most of the other benefits due to my lifetime Oneworld Sapphire status. Plus it’s good to fly economy class once in a while. It reminds me how most people experience flying. Luckily, once I leave Europe, I have just a few economy flights planned in South Africa but the rest are business and first.

As this is supposed to be a Trip Report on Flyertalk, I’ve been doing a lot of talking and not much flying! So today I will right this wrong and dig deep into my dorky AVGEEK-dom. Flyertalk SUPER POWERS unite!

FLIGHT #3 - Malaga - Madrid - Porto
IBERIA #3865 AGP - MAD 09:15 - 10:30 Seat 10C
IBERIA #8744 MAD - OPO 11:25 - 11:45 Seat 18C

CHECK-IN: (3/5)
The business class line was short for Iberia. I quickly was served and greeting the agent with a friendly, “Good morning.” I had two very heavy bags to check in. I was worried that they might over the absolute limit of 32 kg. Luckily they came in at 29 and 31 kgs. Phew! The day before, I had successfully checked in online and gotten my boarding passes. I had purchased a second 32 kg bag for €45. But I wondered if they would charge me for the extra weight over the allotted 23 kg for my first bag. Unfortunately, there was no way to pay for this supplement on the website. In retrospect I should have just paid for two bags. The supplement turned out to be €88 at the airport. As a Star Alliance Gold, I always get an extra bag free. But Oneworld only offers extra baggage allowance to their top tier Emeralds. It has been decades since I have paid for any extra bags and in the game of being an AVGeek, paying for bags is a huge deduction of points in the game of travel. I asked her if I could have purchased the supplement online when it would be cheaper, but she shared that she doesn’t know anything about the website.

I inquired about accessing a lounge because of my Oneworld status, she simply said there wasn’t one. I questioned this in my mind but knew I could access the Sala VIP with one of my Priority Pass cards. She turned out to be wrong in the end.

I was frustrated at paying so much at the airport for the supplement of the bag when I should have been able to do it online at a cheaper rate. While I know it is not her fault about the website, she definitely should have known about the lounge. Check-in could have been a lot better. I was grateful that I didn’t have to stand in line to check-in.

LOUNGE: (4/5)
Security was about 10 minutes this morning. I preemptively removed ALL my electronics and cables. The screener even told me that it wasn’t necessary but I offered that in the end it saves me time. Soon enough I was upstairs and entering the Sala VIP lounge.

The lounge agent scanned my digital Priority Pass card and then asked to see the physical Capital One Venture X card! This had never happened to me. As I was digging it out, he said that I didn’t need to bother since my Oneworld Sapphire status was on my boarding pass. That’s all he needed! The check-in agent should have known this.

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Love the TAP Lounge with a tarmac view!

I entered the lounge and it was spacious with great views of several aircraft parked at gates. While there were no hot items offered, the buffet had great croissants and other traditional cold breakfast items. I made a couple of phone calls and even went back for an extra croissant.

Overall, this lounge was very nice and I enjoyed passing the time there. Soon enough it was time to board and I was on my way.

BOARDING: (3/5)
Iberia has a priority line for Groups 1 and 2 and a general line for Groups 3-99. Unfortunately, they clump Group 1 and 2 together so there is no benefit for being Group 1. They simply invited priority passengers to board at the same time and one third of the passengers crowded through the priority lane. My pole position wasn’t very good and I was late in the priority boarding.

FLIGHT: (4/5)
Luckily I had snagged an exit row seat and I had tons of leg room. It’s definitely the way to fly economy. I was surprised that Iberia charges for water and soft drinks in economy! Times have definitely changed. Luckily I had snagged a bottle of water and a co*ke Zero in the lounge so I was well hydrated. The flight up to Madrid was under an hour and my 55 minute connection time was fine.

CONNECTING FLIGHT BOARDING: (1/5)
We landed at one end of Terminal 4 and my connecting flight was literally at the other end of this super long terminal. Just minutes from my boarding time, I abandoned all thoughts of the Iberia lounge as I trekked across the terminal. I arrived at the new gate just at the boarding time on my ticket.

I knew enough to get in the priority line and I was set to be the first to board this time. More people filled in behind me. Then we waited. And we waited. No announcements were made. At the departure time, I saw the flight crew board which is often a good sign. Then we waited and waited more. Still no update announcements. After standing there for 40 minutes, they began boarding still with no announcements. They just started processing passengers. I was happy to board.

The gate ramp led us down to the ground level. It became apparent that no one told the ground staff that we were boarding because a young man in a yellow vest ran up to me and told me that they were not ready for boarding and I should go back! He asked me to stand back in the building and wait. I found this all to be humorous at this point. To make things even more confusing, the same gate was also boarding an Iberia flight to Vigo, passengers were now beginning to queue up for the wrong flight.

We all began to chat as we stood there. It seemed the polite thing to do: band together amidst the chaos. The couple behind me was American and they were returning to their home in Porto. Like so many others, they had moved to Portugal recently and were loving the whole experience. Finally my young gate worker invited us to follow him back outside to begin boarding. Portugal here we come!

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Finally ready to board my flight to Oporto!

FLIGHT: (4/5)
Boarding happened quickly as we did the typical “hurry up and then wait” routine. My seatmate was a young 16 year old traveling with her family from South Africa. They were here visiting family back in her parent’s homeland. She was excited to see all her cousins. I shared I was on my way to see my family too. I love the excitement of travel when you are visiting family.

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Love a nice 2-2 layout

The flight was uneventful and in less than an hour we were touching down in Porto. It is interesting because in Spanish, the city is called Oporto. This came from confusion hearing the Portugués talk about the city. The “O” that was added in front is actually the word “the”. The Portuguese always referred to the city as “the Port”. The silly foreigners just heard “O Porto” and merged them together to call the city “Oporto”.

We landed and the lottery handed us a bus gate. I was surprised that a legacy carrier like Iberia had bus gates as LLC EasyJet had several of the jetway gates! A wall of heat hit us all as we exited the aircraft. Europe had been experiencing a very hot summer. And this current heatwave was challenging for everyone. Northern Portugal was struggling.

BAGGAGE COLLECTION: (0/5)
I was surprised to only see four baggage carousels for the number of planes on the tarmac. We were directed to carousel 3 and we began our wait. Our flight was listed on the monitor along with two other flights that had already landed. As bags came out we quickly figured out they were for earlier flights. So we just kept waiting. Finally it seemed like it was the time for our bags to come out. But nothing came. Then another flight was listed on the carousel monitor and their bags started coming out. When an additional flight was listed for the carousel, our flight disappeared! We had been waiting for about 50 minutes at this point and didn’t take this to be a good sign. My band of new friends from my flight began to chat about this curious turn of events. No one from Iberia was around and our flight even disappeared from the main monitor at the entrance to the hall.

Global pandemic, labor shortages, challenging summer of travel… We were all trying to be patient but MAMA needed her bags! Around this time a baggage handler appeared and reported that the bags would be coming out on Carousel 4! Huzzah!

We all quickly migrated over to the next carousel with glee and anticipation. Indeed, some bags from our flight were beginning to come out interspersed with bags from other flights. People audibly cheered when seeing their bag. We had been waiting about an hour and half and it seemed like it was all working out.

Now, as a Flyertalker, I could have been mildly upset that the priority bags weren’t the first bags out. But we were just happy to see ANYTHING from our flight. No explanation was given ever but here they were finally.

My purple bag containing all the things I was leaving at my brother’s house appeared and I was super excited. This was the second batch of bags from our flight. My other black bag must be in the next batches! But nothing more came. After an additional 20 minutes, someone reported that there were no more bags. About 30 of us still needed bags!

I quickly headed around the corner in search of the baggage handling office to begin reporting the loss. I joined the queue with about 10 people in front of me. Quickly the other 20 lined up behind me. It was going to be a long day. The travel gods were not smiling upon me today!

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The lost luggage line in front of me. Ugh.

The processing of all the lost bags was excruciatingly slow. My brother had been waiting outside expectantly but at this point I directed him to go have some lunch. He had been there 3.5 hours and it was going to take longer.

We were scheduled to arrive at 11:45 am. I left the airport with one of my bags and lost bag report at 4:15 pm. Unfortunately ALL of my clothes that I would be traveling with for the next six months were in the lost bag. Why had I ever thought to pack my bags this way!! Also all my AirTags were in my backpack. I had forgotten to put them in the checked baggage. WAS THIS MY FIRST TIME TRAVELING?

As I exited the hall, I saw my brother and we cheerfully embraced. He looked great. Retirement and Portugal had been good to him. He has always been more easygoing that me. And he took these baggage delays in stride and soon we were in the car on our way to his house about 25 minutes away.

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Summer of 2021: Paul and Susan arrive for their new life in Portugal

Last summer Paul and Susan arrived in Lisbon while I happened to be there also. I welcomed them with some local sparkling wine at a beautiful Rooftop Bar Ático. It was a magical moment as they were beginning retirement and their new life in Portugal. Susan had never visited Portugal but they had steadfastly chosen this place as their new home sight unseen. She often explains that they had watched a LOT of YouTube videos about Portugal during the pandemic. So once they arrived, they toured Portugal for three months exploring all its regions.

They booked an Airbnb outside of Braga run by a delightful woman Silvia and her husband Rui. They became fast friends and Paul and Susan were sad to move on with the rest of their trip of discovery. A few weeks later, Silvia called with a proposition. She had another house on their farm and she was wondering if they wanted to rent it. They needed a one year lease for their retirement visa so this could work out well.

A year later, it has worked out so well. Silvia and Rui have become their best friends. They share at least one meal together and see each other daily. Silvia has been invaluable with helping them navigate getting settled with the healthcare, buying a car, getting insurance and a Via Verde… A year later, Paul and Susan have learned minimal Portuguese because they report that everyone their age and younger speaks wonderful English. I have chastised them a bit because I think it is super important to learn some of the local language. They quickly got tired of my comments and have pledged to start language classes in September. Eles tem de.

As we entered the farm in Padim da Graça, Rui and their two children were just leaving to go to Coimbra. But they stopped and got out of the car to meet me. I was impressed that that Ricardo, 20, and Catarina, 16, both spoke excellent English.

As we parked, Susan and Silvia were chatting and I was warmly embraced by both. Susan too looked fantastic. Previously she worked in financial services for a major bank. She worked hard and it took its toll on her. The Susan of Portugal looked relaxed and happy. Their huge Great Pyrenees/Swiss Shepard dog quickly joined in on the greetings covering me instantly with white hair. At least he is a sweet dog!

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A nice local sparkling wine started my month finally in Portugal

Their house had four bedrooms, three of which were on the upper level. With the current heat wave, my room was very hot as I entered around 5 pm. How would I ever sleep in this weather? Their room was downstairs where it was a bit cooler but they too complained it was uncomfortable. The forecast didn’t show any improvement in the next week.

Quickly my brother made Porto Tonics with a lovely white port and we were on our way to hang out in the swimming pool. The water was delightful and provided a much needed break from this crazy heat. We spent an hour enjoying our co*cktails and bobbing up and down in the pool.

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Beat the heat with Porto Tonics in the pool

Their little village is about 4 miles from downtown Braga giving them country living with direct access to a bigger city with malls, an IKEA, city center walking streets, and many great restaurants. We parked in the main underground parking lot, and came out next to the beautiful Jardim de Santa Barbara with its beautiful flower gardens set against medieval arches. As we strolled Braga’s streets, I was charmed by how beautiful the city was. I really appreciated how the city plants and maintains all the flowers throughout the city. We stopped as the sun was setting for a photo in front of the big Braga sign at the Santa Cruz church. The setting was perfect. From the beginning moments, I fell in love with this city.

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Jardim Santa Barbara, Braga

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Love all the flowers in Braga

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Brothers back together

Paul and Susan hadn’t booked our dinner and since it was Saturday night, most places were fully committed. We finally ended up at Palatu for a nice meal of Portuguese favorites. A pitcher of sangria helped with the evening heat. Soon we were full and the day’s activities were hitting us hard.

Unfortunately even with a fan pointed on me all night, I didn’t sleep much. At one point I wetted a large towel and placed it over my body to try to cool myself down. It must has worked because I got a couple of hours of sleep before waking up. The heat was ínstense and unrelenting.

Even Paul and Susan downstairs had struggled to sleep. Europe has been hit hard this summer with continual heat waves. Coastal living in Torremolinos had protected me enough. But I wasn’t getting any relief in Braga. So that morning Paul and I headed to the local Leroy Merlin hardware store to buy a portable air conditioner. Susan prepared a lovely cold salmon and garbanzo salad for lunch. Like many people, we dealt with the afternoon heat by going to the Braga Parque mall because I needed to buy some clothes! My missing suitcase still hadn’t been found. Twenty-four hours later and I didn’t know if I would see my things again.

When we got home, the only option was hanging out in the pool. It was just too hot to do anything else. Silvia came out and joined us and I really enjoyed getting to know her more. She is such a wonderful addition to Paul and Susan’s lives.

My hubby had texted saying he would like to chat and catch up. Before I left, we had decided that we would play it by ear to see how much we communicated. There were no definitive rules to our relationship Sabbatical. Instead we were inventing things as we go. Unfortunately, our latest conversation hadn’t gone so well. So I was apprehensive about engaging again.

I poured a glass of wine and gave Terry a call. The conversation was awkward. I avoided talking about his parents, his sister, his troubled niece and her kids. I knew that if I asked, there would be some new episode of drama and I really had enjoyed not being part of it all. I quickly figured out that he has chosen to simply continue his life in Sacramento amongst it all. I was hoping he would use the summer to adventure and focus a bit on himself. But this year was his to spend as he chooses. My opinions and suggestions didn’t matter. One of the purposes of this year is that he got to “drive his own car”. He just happened to be parking it a lot in Sacramento with his family.

I was pleased to hear that he was going to audition for a part in the fall musical “Something Rotten” at the local community college. Terry is always happy when he is pursuing an artistic endeavor like writing, acting, or directing. I had mentioned that if he spent his sabbatical based in Palm Springs, he could produce a play of his there or get involved with another production. I suggested that this could bring him lots of satisfaction and happiness.

Before I left, I really tried to avoid offering any suggestions about my thoughts on his sabbatical. Of course I asked a few questions and ended up sharing some concerns about him just spending the year helping his parents. But by design the whole point was he got to choose how he would spend each day of his sabbatical.

So our awkward conversation turned more difficult when we started to talk a bit about his family. At one point he responded, “Well you hate my neice.” It was an impulsive, stupid thing to say. But it definitely pissed me off and I concluded the conversation quickly after that.

We sent some texts after that but no apology. I let him know that I was pissed off and REALLY wanted to avoid conversations like this in the future. Still no apology.

His family drama has gotten in between us before. I was hoping that this year that I would be relieved of the burden of it.

So I was bit rattled after this phone call. I unloaded it all on Paul and Susan. I knew that communicating less would be challenging. But after the past couple of phone calls, we were struggling.

Paul and I hopped into the car and drove to Churrasqueira Martins where we picked up a roast chicken, some ribs, french fries, beans, and rice. They said they do takeout from this place once a week. It was all delicious and was enough for two meals!

My family has a long tradition of playing cards so our evening ended playing an adapted version of Spades. Paul kicked our butts but we all had lots of fun. By the time I made it to bed, my anger with my conversation with Terry had begun to fade.

I was quickly adapting to country living in northern Portugal. I really appreciated that they were part of a tiny village but still only like 10 minutes from downtown Braga. With the heat, we spent a lot of time in the pool. The world this summer seems to be boiling and on fire. I am sure floods are next. The apocalypse is near.

I called and heard my bag had been found and was at the Lisbon airport! Yay!! But they had no idea when it would be delivered. So I had to head to the Nova Arcadia Braga mall for more clothes to wear. Because it was so hot, I was buying sportswear to keep me comfortable.

Many mornings begin with walking the dog. The favorite is a nice hike up the hill to the Monastery of Tabais. Much of the hike is along old Roman roads lined with centuries old rock walls. Much of what we saw was a thousand years old. The hour and a half journey took us through forests, country paths, and village streets. I loved how all of the locals out in their front gardens greeted us with a friendly, “Bom dia”. Having a dog the size of a horse draws attention.

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Paul told me a story of how one day one of the women that they see daily drove by and stopped to chat. She only spoke Portuguese and they only speak English. She was trying to tell them something but communication wasn’t happening. Finally with the help of Google Translate they figured out she wanted to have them over for lunch! They fixed a date and they looked forward to it with anticipation.

They arrived and her daughter was also there. But no one spoke English. So they used translators and shared a two hour lunch together. She offered them some homemade wine and seemed shocked they accepted. They reported that it was not very “drinkable” but they tried their best. In the end they enjoyed the very local experience. They have found the Portuguese to be so friendly and welcoming. They just need to learn some Portuguese to be able to communicate better!

When I was in Braga on my first day, a guy that I had met in Berkeley saw me on SCRUFF and said hello. I knew he had moved to Porto last summer but he had recently bought a flat in downtown Braga!

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Great to see Fabio!

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Our first Menu do Dia in Portugal

So we met Fabio for lunch at the local restaurant to sample their “menu of the day”. Just like in Spain, many restaurants off a specially priced affordable meal. We all started with a nice soup, and then had a clams with pork dish served with both fries and rice. Complete with wine and bread, it was about €10 a piece!

Fabio told us of getting settled in Portugal first in Porto and then deciding on buying in Braga. He was originally from Brazil but worked many years in the Bay Area before moving to Portugal. He was struggling now to connect with local people. Even though he speaks Brazilian Portuguese, he wasn’t finding friends easily. So Paul and Susan talked about their experience and offered him some ideas. They have been meeting people through some Facebook expat groups where they get lots of information and advice. I am allergic to Facebook so I will have to rely on other means of meeting people.

Paul and Susan had been renting a car so far while living in Portugal. They finally decided to buy a new Toyota RAV4 but like enerywhere else in the world, it had been back ordered and they had been waiting months. So this afternoon was the big day of picking up the car. They were gone for three hours so I spent the time in the pool chatting with Silvia. She has had a fascinating life. Her dad left Portugal during the Salazar dictatorship to live in France. She was born there and stayed until she was 11. She speaks fluent French and considers herself to be French. But also Portuguese. At one point my mobile rang with the news that my suitcase had arrived and the driver was on the street out front! Four days later and I didn’t have to entirely replace my wardrobe. Amen!

The new car arrived in the driveway and I was shocked at how big the RAV4 had gotten. I can’t imagine driving such a large vehicle on the tiny village streets in Portugal. Navigating the small parking garages also has involved lots of beeping proximity sensors and using all the perimeter cameras. Technology is nice but it can’t change the size of a tiny European parking space.

We grabbed some Portuguese tapas in Braga for dinner at Casa de Pasto das Carbalheiras and then gelato at Pappa Lab. I was surprised that the meals out were all a bit more expensive than in Spain. We had discovered the same thing in the Algarve.

Finally on my fifth day in Portugal, we drove into Porto and I took a free walking tour. What an amazing city. It felt so much bigger and thriving than quiet Braga. As Portugal’s second largest city, it has a similar feel to Lisbon: on a river off the coast, lots of hills, bustling central area… I really enjoyed walking around hearing about its past. The most interesting thing is discovering that Ryanair gets credit for making Porto a tourist destination. They set up a hub here and then started offering €20 flights. The tourist started flocking in. And they haven’t stopped. The city instantly changed forever. So many restaurants and Airbnbs have popped up to meet the demand. The locals struggle with rents now because of competing with the tourist dollars. But this city is alive and has taken a place among the European cities.

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Beautiful Porto train station

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Along the river

By the time the tour finished, I was hungry for some lunch. So I met back up with Paul and Susan and they took me back up the hill to Gazela’s next to the national theater. This restaurant is famous for their “hot dogs” and beer. Cachorrinhos are actually more like pigs in a blanket with a sausage wrapped in pastry. Whatever they are they were delicious. Paul says it’s a perfect late night snack too. I’m sold.

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Cachorrinhos at Gazela

We spent the rest of the afternoon with a local real estate agent looking at possible apartments for them in the Gaia area directly across the river from Porto. Many of the buildings are still being built. I was shocked that we could walk around the construction sites with no hard hat. We used our phone flashlights to illuminate our way at times. And we constantly had to be careful not to fall to our death. Their attitude was simply PAY ATTENTION. If you get hurt, it’s your fault. Very European approach.

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Sure! Have a look around!

The ocean views from this area are spectacular. Perfect oceanfront locations with views of the river and Porto. Some have the floor plan of kitchen/living/dining in front with the bedrooms facing the back parking lot. Others have all the rooms with an ocean front view. These are of course more money, but I say buy the apartment that will appreciate the most since Europeans from all countries love a beautiful ocean sunset view, even from their bedroom.

The tours gave them lots to think about. Of course, the one they want the most is a bit out of their price range so they have to figure it out. They are now thinking they will keep the house near Braga in addition to buying the flat in Gaia. Since the house is just €650 a month, this would give them a nice variety. They also have looked into the possibility of Airbnb’ing the oceanfront flat. The rules are constantly changing so they can’t include any rental income in their calculations.

At one point they went to the agent’s office in Matosinhos and I enjoyed walking along the beach. It was a beautiful day and the beach was full in spite of being a weekday. I found a nice chiringuito and had a beer to cool me down. Portugal has some amazing coastline. I definitely see us living somewhere along it. I just want to be a little closer to the Lisbon airport.

For dinner that night we ate the famous Portuguese francesinha at Cafe Sanchez. This “gut plugger” uses thick slices of white bread with ham, steak, sausage, and cheese all topped with more cheese and then smothered in gravy. And then served with french fries. Many people pride themselves for being able to finish a whole sandwich. It took me some time, but I did it! I felt like a band should have started playing or at least a server should ring a bell when I was done! It’s NOT a meal you eat every night. But I will probably try another on my next trip. It’s like climbing Mt. Fuji; you feel like you’ve accomplished something when you’re done.

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Francesihna at Cafe Sanchez

One evening we drove into Braga because I had seen a beautiful restaurant Cozinha da Sé and had made us a reservation in the courtyard. It turned out to be a lovely meal. The highlight was a delicious veal steak with a pepper sauce. Absolutely stunning. My un-PC dining tastes challenge lots of people but it’s how I was raised and I like all foods.

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Mussels with a vinegrette

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Veal steak with a pepper sauce

Paul and Susan were throwing a dinner party on Friday night to celebrate Silvia’s husband’s birthday. Rui was turning 49 and Silvia had a big lunch planned for Saturday including all his brothers and sisters from Coimbra. So the night before it was just the immediate family for dinner. Silvia’s parents also got added at the last minute to complete the festivities. Both Paul and Susan love entertaining like me. We all enjoyed spending our day shopping and cooking. Tonight’s meal started with a typical Portuguese platter of cold cuts, cheeses, and olives. Then the starter was potatoe leek soup. The main was ribeye steak with chimichurri sauce, brown butter rustic mashed potatoes, roast head of cauliflower, and green beans. The meal was finished with a cream cheese flan. And whiskey. A decent amount of whiskey.

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Enough ribeye for 9 people?

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A nice Portuguese tabla

This was my first opportunity to get to know the family. They are all warm, lovely people. The son Ricardo has just graduated from university and is looking for a job now in international business. Catarina is a lovely 16 year old who speaks amazing English and is mature beyond her years. I also loved talking in French with Slivia’s parents. Like their daughter, they both have found memories of their years in France and enjoyed dusting off their rusty French conversation. The evening was filled with lots of laughter and joy. To me there is nothing better than sharing food with friends. These kinds of connections are what life is about.

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Paul and Susan's newest best friends

A slight food and alcohol hangover made for a quiet morning. Paul and Susan both enjoy a simple morning ritual of hanging out on the terrace drinking coffee and catching up on news and computer stuff. I have adopted a similar start to my day since I have been in Europe. Without a job to rush off to, a leisurely morning is a lovely luxury to be cherished.

I had debated going to Braga or even Porto on my own but the meal at Silvia and Rui’s would be starting around 2:30 pm. We, but mostly Susan, finished cleaning up from the night’s festivities. Nine people definitely make lots of dishes.

I also spent the morning planning the rest of my month in Portugal. Back in 1994, a mere 28 years ago, I met TJ who was also a new singer with me in the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. We became fast friends and enjoyed many great years together. Then he moved away to Hawaii and we moved to Europe. Fast forward to February, and TJ gave me a call saying he was coming to San Francisco and was I free for lunch?! Luckily with my job with the Quaker’s, I was ALWAYS free for lunch! So he showed up at my work and we went to my ramen place. It turns out TJ was in San Francisco to file his paper for his Portuguese visa! WHAT?!? He had found an apartment in Leiria, a smallish city just south of Coimbra. Like my sister in law, he had never even to Portugal but had done lots of reading and watching YouTube and had decided to pack up and trying living there. He was shocked to hear that Paul and Susan had also moved there! The American Portugal invasion is definitely happening.

Around 2:30 pm, Catarina came over announcing that the party was starting. The first siblings from the south had arrived. Today three of the brothers and one sister arrived with various spouses and teenage-ish kids. We were twenty people in total and they had set a long table under the garden’s trees. Platters of Portuguese meats, cheese, olives, and breads lined the tables. Wine was poured and the birthday party began.

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Rui's birthday with the family

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The brothers all enjoy the party together.

I really treasure eating in locals homes when traveling. It’s such a wonderful way to get to know people and understand their culture. All of Rui’s family welcomed us warmly and we began communicating in the mix of Portuguese, Spanish, and English. Two in the family were teachers so we really enjoyed hearing about each other’s lives. I looked up that the average teacher in Portugal makes about €25,000 a year before taxes. This turns out to be about €1400 a month take home. Salaries in all sectors here in Portugal are much lower than the USA. Like in Spain, people just don’t earn much. It greatly affects their housing, spending, and savings. International travel is simply out of many people’s financial reach.

We chatted and chatted. And drank and ate. All the family was really good about switching seats so by the end I felt like I had spoken to all the adults.

The “kids” aged 16-24 seemed to get along great and played ball, swam and did a lot of laughing. These cousins had all grown up together and really enjoyed themselves.

As the sun set, I realized that we had been sitting there for many hours. Whisky and port came out and the party didn’t show any signs of waning. Then the music started and people took turns putting on a nice variety of music.

At some point, the kids hit their parents up for some money and walked into the village to join others at a local bar.

Finally around 2 am, we headed back to our house and the siblings set out on their two hour drive home! None of them spent the night! This seemed crazy to me. Each of the drivers had stopped drinking at some point in order to make it back home.

This celebration with Rui’s family is truly the reason I travel. They shared so much with us during our almost 12 hours together. In a few days we will be in France having similar experiences with our wonderful French family.

Expats sometimes share that the people in the north are more closed and keep to themselves. We never found this to be true with the experiences I had. People were warm, generous, and inviting. Paul and Susan are so lucky to have connected so well with Silvia, Rui, and their kids. They have genuine, deep friendships.

On Sunday we all slept in after two nights of late night fun. Staying up late in Torremolinos is one thing. But staying up late in the Padim da Graça countryside is also hard on my fifty-something body. Who did I think I was??

We would be leaving north in the morning to begin our pilgrimage to our family village in the Pyrenees Mountains in France. I hadn’t been there for the past decade. And it had been 18 years since Paul and Susan made it back home. The relatives had been warned and were waiting for another visit of Les Américans. We all were very excited.

We decided that we would visit Guimarães for the afternoon. With its beautiful, renovated palace and ruins of a castle, it has lots of charm. We enjoyed walking the picturesque streets. This is definitely a MUST SEE for anyone making your way to northern Portugal. Paul and Susan mentioned that there are several wonderful restaurants too that all require advanced reservations.

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Outside the castle of Guimarães

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One of the rooms of the palace

They decided to bring their dog Ghost and he drew lots of attention as we walked around. His size and beauty often make him the central focus. We found a nice cafe in the main plaza and enjoyed some drinks and tapas as we played cards. The nearby church sounded its bells at 6:05 pm encouraging us to stop drinking and playing cards, and presumably encouraging us to get to church. We survived the two minute serenade but decided to stay put. Next came the parade of a brass band followed by lots of locals dressed in traditional costumes and carrying religious artifacts. It was all part of our lovely afternoon in Europe.

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Playing cards, listening to the LOUD church bells, and watching a parade. All while drinking Aperol Spritz!

So my first week in Portugal has been wonderful. I really enjoyed my time with Paul and Susan in their new home. Life here agrees with them. They have made good friends which has helped their transition.

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On our way home, we stopped by their monastery to see the sunset lights

Up until my arrival, the barometer of where I think I might end up living was definitely pointing towards Spain. I had had a wonderful month in Torremolinos. I love my life there and being able to speak the language was a big part of that. But after a week, I was successfully communicating in Portignol and I know that speaking proper Portuguese was possible.

I also believe that Portugal would be an easier place for Terry to live if I can convince him to live in Europe. Proximity to the Lisbon airport with its nonstop flight on TAP Portugal to San Francisco is a huge advantage over southern Spain. Getting a resident visa is also easier in Portugal compared to Spain. But most importantly, the tax situation is better for residents of Portugal over Spain. With a Spanish retirement visa, there is a significant wealth tax that can be hefty. I definitely need to talk with a financial advisor in Spain to find out how much this could cost us.

But where we will live and with which country we will get our residence visa aren’t my biggest problems. Instead, my greatest concern is my relationship with Terry. I anticipated that our relationship would be strained during our Sabbaticals. So far we were struggling to communicate well. In fact, it was going pretty badly. I was hoping we would settle into less communication with ease but that wasn’t happening. Instead our few conversations and intermittent texts were causing me grief.

I am scared of pursuing more communication. The little communication that we had attempted was going poorly. But one thing that I have figured out so far with my sabbatical is that the space I am getting is important. I need some distance from Terry, his depression, and all the drama in his family. And I am worried that with more communication, this space will disappear and I will get sucked up into his life and how he’s chosen to spend his sabbatical.

Why hadn’t he taken a break from them to focus more on himself? Instead he continues life with his family like before I left. He tells me that he misses me. And I can assume that he is reaching out for some support. But I need to take a break from constantly offering this. He has others he can turn to support him during this year. I need him to do that.

At this point I am still pissed off about our last conversation. But I don’t want it to get worse. Why didn’t he apologize for saying I hate his niece after I told him it really bothered me?? I am definitely avoiding conversations with him now because I don’t want it to get worse. I am thinking of contacting our therapist to schedule an hour with the three of us. Something isn’t working here. And our therapist has helped in situations like this before so maybe that is a tool we should use to help us to get through this moment.

My brain that loves to plan is still constantly thinking about what our pathway after the sabbatical looks like. What is our relationship going to look like in our next chapter? In the past few years, he spends about half his time with his family and half his time with me. Should this continue? Can we live in Europe and then he goes home to his family just like we have been doing. But instead of our time together happening in Berkeley, it happens in Portugal or Spain.

The other big realization that I have had is that I don’t think I want to live in the US anymore. I need a big break. I am fearful that the next election process is going to divide Americans even more. From my position, I cannot understand how HALF of America can follow Donald Trump after EVERYTHING he has done. Then add in all the racism and gun violence that happens on a daily basis and I end up simply worried. I am scared of it all and don’t want to be a part of it. If Terry insists on living in the US, this could be a huge problem for our relationship. I don’t think I can do it.

When talking on the phone the other day about our two months of “reintegration” next summer, Terry said that he thinks it MUST in the US and not the other more neutral places that I have suggested like India, Madagascar, or Vietnam. I started to share my huge concerns about this, but stopped and said this is a conversation we can have during the couple of days at Xmas when I will see him. I really hope that he doesn’t use this to draw a line in the sand. It fills me with dread.

The good news is that I am an eternally optimistic person. I do see this working out between us. I see us being happy. We have often chosen pathways unknown and uncommon. I am used to this. We also have worked through many difficult times during our 32 years together. But we can do this.

I have enjoyed my two months of figuring out who I am as I pause to focus on myself. It has felt so healthy. Invigorating. And hearing from others that they see me happier is a good sign. Let me recharge my batteries. Let me work on some issues with myself. Let me gain confidence as I figure out who I am without work in my life. So much has changed and I hope I can continue to let it all just “be”. Live in the moment. I don’t have to make any decisions until next summer. I have the luxury of a whole year of exploration. I simply need to appreciate each day for what it brings and what I can make of it.

FlyerTalk Forums -  The Sabbatical (2024)

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