Sunday, September 20, 2020

Life In Portugal....At A Snails Pace....

Yesterday was just another day in Portugal when my dear husband Clyde said he was going to run to the pharmacy for a few things. Time passed by and eventually he returned empty handed, looking frazzled and a bit angry. He said he couldn't get out of  the gate to our complex because it wouldn't open. Perhaps the key fob was not working? Quickly he found a battery and replaced it, even though he had just replaced it recently. Off he went down the 30 stairs to the underground garage to try again. But still the gate would not open. Next he called our landlady who owns the condo we are renting, but she didn't answer her phone. As the minutes passed he was getting more and more frustrated. Back up the stairs he came to tell me that we would not be going out for the day as we were stuck inside the complex.

But then he decided to go down again since surely there must be a solution, a hidden key or some way out? This time he noticed a Portuguese man in the garage who was having the same problem. The man was renting a condo for vacation and he called the owner of that condo who also didn't answer the phone. They went outside to look at the gate when Clyde noticed a phone number on a sign that featured the name of the management company for the complex. Since the man spoke Portuguese he called and someone did answer. The person on the other end of the phone suggested looking at the sensors closely to see if there was a snail hiding in one. A snail? Yes a snail. Portugal has these tiny snails everywhere and yesterday one just happened to be napping in one of the sensors. Apparently it has happened before! Our landlady called back in the meantime and said that yes, it does happen occasionally. A strange but true story of our life in Portugal.....along the gringo trail.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Are We Still In Portugal? Our Lives In The Algarve....

 We packed up our belongings and drove 3 hours south to the Algarve region of Portugal. Many people say, including us in the past, that the Algarve is NOT real Portugal. Instead this area has been called, "little Britain," for the large number of people from the United Kingdom that call it home. Many of the Portuguese in this region speak English, at least those that work in the tourist industry. But unlike the Silver Coast area, in the Central Region of the country, where we lived for the past two years, here we are warm! Strangely enough, the expats that we have met so far here speak American or Canadian English without a British accent. There are also people from other European countries that speak English as a second language. 

Entry Sign

Entry into our subdivision

Praia Falesia, just a few kilometers from our home.

The Algarve is to Portugal as Florida is to the rest of the US. If this is not real Portugal then Florida is not real America. Because of the hot summers and miles of white, sandy beaches, the Algarve is packed with tourists most summers. Of course this summer is the exception due to Covid 19. There are still tourists here but all that we have encountered are Portuguese from up north. Some have holiday homes here while others are just renting a place for a family vacation. And since we live in the upscale community of Vilamoura, the tourists here are young families with children, some with grandparents in tow. None have been the noisy or rowdy party type, just people enjoying some family time, fun in the sun and  relaxation. 

Praia Falesia is known for it's stunning cliffs, which is what Falesia means in Portuguese

Checking out the beach!

The Algarve is unbelievably a totally different world from the rest of Portugal. Lined with palm trees, people dressed in shorts, summer dresses and swim suits galore, we are experiencing full on summertime. I had NOT wore any of my summer clothes since we moved here two years ago. Back in our old neighbourhood near Caldas da Rainha, we rarely took off our sweatshirts. In fact the house we rented there was so cold that we were still using heat and running our pellet burner into July until the day we moved. Cool, cloudy days were the norm with temperatures barely hitting 70 on a good day. Humidity was high which made it feel even cooler. Night time temperatures dropped into the 60's and we would snuggle under a quilt every night in bed. 

Our Complex. Our condo is on the left, upper level which here in the First Floor. The Pyramid is a skylight to the underground garage. The condo has 5 terraces,

Here we leave the sliding glass doors open most of the time to enjoy the sea breezes cooling off the condo. The air is much drier here so even though temperatures plummet into the 60's overnight, we are still warm and comfortable. 

When we decided to make this move we had no idea where in the Algarve we wanted to live. But after visiting with friends in Albufeira we decided we wanted to find a place somewhere in the central Algarve. Being central would allow us to easily access the best of both worlds on either side of the region. An International Airport in Faro is a mere 20-minute drive from our home, for the day when we can travel once again. The border into Spain is just an hour or two drive from here with the beautiful city of Seville just a few hours away.

Just like our first rental house on the Silver Coast that seemed to find us, this condo also did the same. Since Clyde and I both used to be morbidly obese, lost a great deal of weight and have made daily exercise and a healthy diet part of our lives, we could not have stumbled upon a better location to call home.

Our view upon entry to Vila Bairos.

These photos are from the advert before we moved in. The ashtray is long gone since we don't smoke. 

Nicely staged.

The area of Vilamoura sits within the community of Quarteria on Portugal's southern coast. It makes up one of the largest single tourist complexes in Europe, covering nearly 5,000 acres of land. The resort was built around a small harbour in between sandy beaches, and close to the Roman ruins of Serro de Vila. In Roman times the area was important because it produced a fish paste called, "garum." Back in the day the fisherman would bathe in the Roman baths nearby. The resort was founded by Portuguese banker Cupertino de Miranda in 1966. The Vilamoura marina is the largest in Portugal with enough berths to hold 1000 vessels. The resort has two beaches, five golf courses, lawn bowling, a sports complex, shooting club, tennis club, riding school, and casino with glamorous nightly shows.

Have not been there yet.

Besides all of that Vilamoura has miles of perfectly manicured paths for walking, running or cycling and all are right on our doorstep. When quarantine began back in March we did walk near our home on the Silver Coast for an hour or more each day. Walks there were hilly and often out in the road, but did offer us some spectacular scenery. Here we are much safer on specially designed walkways, lined with flowers and shrubs, complete with drinking fountains and exercise stations along the way. Here our scenery is hard-bodied, tan, muscled men jogging by or scantily clad females. Yes, it's a tough price to pay but makes our walks a bit more enjoyable. 

A few of the many paths to walk on.

And the best part is that we have been warm since we arrived here two weeks ago! From what we have been told next month life will return to normal here as the tourists leave and all will become quiet. Our small condo complex has 14 units and only four are occupied full time. There is a small Spar grocery store just a five minute walk from our condo along with a handful of restaurants and a bakery too. Nearby is a large array of shopping including mega-malls, grocery stores, clinics, hospitals and gyms. Thus far we have been lifting weights and exercising at home, but will eventually join a gym when we feel safe again.

Vilamoura Marina

We have attended a few small, expat mixers in Albufeira. They are held outside with social distancing in place, so we do feel safe there. Portugal has handled the virus well and people seem to observe the mandatory use of masks and hand sanitizer everywhere we go. The country has been shut off to tourists from most countries and those that are allowed must show a negative Covid test upon arrival. Special surgical masks are required when entering clinics and medical offices to ensure safety of everyone there. Before leaving the Silver Coast I saw my allergy doctor one last time. She wore a special mask with visor and when she came over to examine me she covered her entire body with a plastic gown and gloves that went up the length of each arm. 

So life is good in our new home and new area of Portugal. We look forward to getting out to explore more once the tourists are gone and we can discover some treasures of this region.....along the gringo trail. 

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Portugal, The Next Chapter.....

After a long hiatus I decided to do a blog earlier this month about our first two years living in Portugal. But soon we will be moving onto the next chapter of our lives here, a move that takes us further south to Portugal's Algarve region.

A view of our new Home
Vila Bairos

Months of quarantine kept Clyde and I hanging out inside our rental house much of the time. Because we are both always cold we were looking forward to the hot days of summer. July came but still it was cold here on the Silver Coast. With temperatures in the low 60's at night and barely reaching mid 70's on a good day we were still chilly. Despite others posting photos of themselves being in swimming pools and on the beaches, we still kept heating the house with our pellet burner. Instead of dressing in shorts and flip flops we still wore long pants, long sleeves shirts and furry, winter slippers.

This is our second summer in Portugal and just like last year, this one seemed to offer us little to no hot weather. I began to keep an eye on the weather only to discover that everyone else in the country seemed to be enjoying the warm, lazy, hazy days of summer except for this area. Even way up north temperatures were warmer than here.

I badly needed and longed for some time in the sun. How I love to lay outside and feel my body bake under the warm, mid-day sun. Yes, I do realize that it's not healthy and am aware of the skin cancer risks, but a little Vitamin D is good for us and so I choose to indulge. Due to Covid we had not been traveling or going anywhere due to fear. Eventually I convinced Clyde to take a vacation to the Algarve region. I found a hotel online that boasted of the "clean and safe" seal. It meant they had been inspected and would adhere to special guidelines for sanitation. The list was posted on their website and I was so impressed, we decided it would be safe enough to venture out. And with tourism way down hotels all seemed to offer great deals to encourage people to visit.

We arrived to a nearly empty hotel where all staff wore masks, hand sanitizer was everywhere. Our ocean view room overlooked the expansive pool areas where we saw just one couple enjoying the sunshine.

The Pool, Notice it is empty

Over the next five days we drove around to explore the Algarve for a few hours every morning, then wasted away the afternoon hours poolside. The area offers a different kind of beauty than the central part of Portugal where we currently live. Here we enjoy vistas of green, lush rolling hills, farmland full of bountiful crops and charming stone buildings topped with orange tiled roofs. The Algarve features modern buildings, high rise housing complexes along the beaches, palm trees, water parks and typically would be filled with tourists in the summer. Temperatures are on the average 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than where we are living now in the Silver Coast.

Neat little area where there
were benches in the water
A "Swim up BarP"

We basked in the warm, dry weather and for the first time in two years, we were both warm. Clyde wore open toed shoes and shorts for the first time in years. I enjoyed putting on a summer dress and flip flops. The typical runny nose and post nasal drip from my allergies was gone and breathing for me was so much easier. Clyde seems to think because he has a very low blood pressure that his body cannot get warm. Perhaps it's because he has a pacemaker which keeps his heart at a steady beat of 60 beats per minute, his average blood pressure is 99/65/  Before his pacemaker, his normal heart was 40 beats per minute!  He got the pacemaker when we showed up at the hospital with a pulse of 15 in Spain. We did not even keep the air conditioner on inside of our hotel room because we enjoyed the feeling of heat so much. Instead we kept the sliding glass doors open and allowed the warm, sea breezes to blow inside.

Although we LOVE the area we currently live in, LOVE our rent house, LOVE our Portuguese landlady and LOVE the friends and activities we have come to enjoy here in Caldas da Rainha, we knew in order to be warm and happy, we would have to move south. Yes, it would cost more to live there, but what is the price of happiness?

Our Present Home

We decided to drive around to explore possible areas that we might want to live in, sometime in the future. Online we even viewed realtor websites to see just how expensive apartments would be down there to have an idea of prices. There was one apartment that popped up and seemed to speak to both of us. Although we were not ready to pick up and move anytime soon, we decided to make an appointment to see the apartment. While it looked perfect online the first thing we noticed upon arrival was that it offered absolutely NO heat or air conditioner. The property manager said she had another and we went to see that one too. Neither had what we wanted but later in the week a third one had everything on our list.

Buildings in Portugal are not insulated, windows are typically single panes of glass that offer no protection from heat and cold, and many offer no central heat. We knew in order to keep warm we needed to have a place with central heat, a newer, modern build with double glazed windows, and something much smaller that would be easy to heat and cool. If we had to live in an apartment complex we hoped for a small, quiet one and I was hoping for a pool. We needed two bedrooms, two bathrooms, parking and all of the modern conveniences. The Central Algarve appealed to us since it was close to an international airport, featured good hospitals and medical facilities, and we already had several friends that lived there.

Even though we were not really ready to make the move yet, when the right apartment found us we knew it was time to go.

But now came the hard part, the saying good bye to a house, area and people that we have come to know and love. First we would have to tell our landlady who we came to know and love, almost like family.

She has been absolutely wonderful to us from the first day she met us with double cheeked kisses. The challenge has been that she speaks no English, just Portuguese and French and upon arrival we spoke very little Portuguese. As our language skills improved we grew to know her a bit more, especially Clyde who challenged himself to chat with her in Portuguese. She lives and works in Lisbon and comes to stay at her house next door to ours for the occasional holiday. Often she would offer us tons of fruits and vegetables from her garden which we were encouraged to help ourselves to also. When we complained of the coldness in the house she offered to install a pellet stove, and Clyde offered to share the expense. The house is 40 years old and she also treated us to a brand new oven, stove and dishwasher during our time here. Through the years we have met her son and daughter, making her feel even more like a member of our family. We are so grateful for all that she has done for us and will truly miss her and this old house.

Before settling down in Portugal, those that follow this blog know that we were living as nomads for two full years. We left our home in Panama with two, carry-on sized suitcases each and traveled the world full time doing house and pet sitting. It was an easy transition to arrive here and put away the few things that we owned. But sadly, we went crazy once we settled in and began buying stuff. This week we purged, sold and gave away tons of stuff but still we had to hire a man with a van to help us move.

The sadness we both feel about leaving behind the house, friends and all that is familiar will soon be replaced by the excitement of beginning a new chapter in our lives. A new home, new friends to make and plenty of new areas to explore.

Our new home in the Central Algarve region is in Vilamoura, near the larger area of Quarteira. The nearby cities of Albufeira and Faro will provide us with plenty of shopping, medical facilities, an airport and more.
Part of the Vilamoura Beach

Vilamoura, considered to be the largest resort complex in all of Europe, boasts of beautiful, golden sandy beaches, world class golf courses, and one of the largest and prettiest marinas in the world. It was designed as an exclusive area that offers the best of everything for the rich and famous.

The Vilamoura Marina

Now where do we fit into to all of this? Since we are neither rich or famous? We just found an apartment that we liked and it just happened to be in Vilamoura. And the price was in line with others we'd seen elsewhere in towns that offered far less.

Nearby our apartment are manicured walking trails that go on forever, plenty of green spaces for relaxing, not to mention some of the most gorgeous beaches in the entire world. The Algarve has milder winters then the rest of Portugal, well over 300 days a year of sunshine, and some of the finest weather in all of Europe.

Our monthly rent will go from 350 euros per month to 850, but we will not be heating the place year round, so we will save money on pellets. We have been using three bags of pellets per day at a cost of 4 euros per bag. That's a total of 336 euros per month on average added to our rent now during the cold of the winter.. And although we are not using the stove all day in the summer, we still use it on occasion.

So as we bid farewell to the Silver Coast area of Portugal we look forward to our new life in the Algarve. Stay tuned for photos as we explore the new world of southern Portugal......along the gringo trail.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Our Lives in Portugal.....The Past Two Years

It's positively perplexing how we managed to complete TWO years already of living in Portugal. Time sure does evolve when enjoying life as Europeans in yet another adopted country of our choice.

Over the past two years we have learned lots, traveled a bit, made friends and struggled with yet another new language. As we settled into life here things that were new became old and I stopped blogging because I had nothing exciting to post. Our nomadic life of travel and adventure became a routine life of going to the gym, meeting with friends occasionally, a night of bowling and Portuguese lessons.

But due to blogs like this and travel or niche publications singing the praises of Portugal, people began to swarm here in droves. Perhaps that's exactly why I stopped blogging, because Portugal was receiving far too much publicity already. With somewhere around 500,000 foreigners already living here, from what I believe I read, do we really need any more? Ok I am not trying to be cynical here just giving my opinion, and using my poetic license so to speak.

It's exhausting to read the many expat boards on social media where thousands are dreaming of and longing for a new life, in the promised land. Almost as if the entire country of Portugal has this heavenly beacon of light radiating from it. A light so seemingly powerful with a seductive lure that pulls people into it's open arms.

The unknowing dreamers insist on houses with central heat, clothes dryers, window screens, no humidity or mould and refrigerators large enough to hide a body inside. They long to move here to utilize the public healthcare system which they think is free, but it's not.

For those who cannot live without the comforts of home, please do us all a favour and just stay where you are. I hear many complaints about peanut butter, an American staple that seems by many to be overpriced here. Surely that's because Nutella is far more popular with Europeans than peanut butter, but it is available here and always in our cabinet.

Portugal is a beautiful country, with warm, wonderful people, many of who speak English, but certainly not all. They are willing to help foreigners, generous to offer vegetables and fruit from their gardens and always offer a friendly greeting. And while we have come to love it here it does have its share of quirks.

Houses here are typically NOT insulated and feel colder on the inside than out. Central heat is NOT the norm but instead the Portuguese tend to heat just the room they are using at the time. And when that fails they put on a sweatshirt or wrap themselves in a blanket. Window screens or "fly screens" as the British call them are also not common. Anyone who has travelled through Europe knows all too well how Europeans love to stand at the window with shutters wide open and watch life going by. Some are chatting with passer-by's or just being nosy.  So what about bugs? Are there any here and do they come inside? Of course, but that's life in Europe. Screens are available and can be purchased here, just not the norm. Clyde bought screen kits and made some for our rent house that came out great. But then we discovered that summers on the Silver Coast are chilly to us, so we rarely even open the windows. For example, here we are in mid July and the high of the day here is just 77F/or 25 C. And inside the house is the same temperature.

We blame our coldness on places that we lived in the past. Clyde and I met in Corpus Christi, Texas which is in the south and has temperatures comparable to that of Florida. Hot summers and winters so mild that we only had to wear a light jacket on occasion. I actually looked forward to a few cold weeks when I could put on a sweater or jacket to go to work.  And then there was our move to Panama in 2011. In order to enjoy life in Panama one needs to get used to hot, humid, rainy year round temperatures. We could always spot the people that lived with the a/c on in their homes. They would be dripping in sweat whenever we saw them while others like us, were comfortable. Much of life in Panama happens outside, or in open air businesses. So if one does not get used to the heat and humidity, then they suffer much of the time.

And the same can be said about living anyplace new, either adapt or leave. Speaking of mold which I mentioned above, Clyde just walked by with a bucket and rag. He is in the process of removing mould from the doors, an ongoing project and one of those quirks of life here. Even with two, large dehumidifiers, mould is part of life here. Mould was common in Panama too so it's not something new to us.

Over the past two years we explored much of the country, from one end to the other. We started to travel once again and picked up a few wonderful house and pet sits. In November we mingled with the French in the beautiful countryside as we walked two little dogs. The charming, cobblestoned village of Pepieux sat in the midst of vineyards and wine caves. The cool autumn air was thick with the aroma of wine and we could almost drink it in for a buzz. The nearby villages offered us many day trips from the house, including the medieval city of Carcassonne complete with fortresses and castles.

We rang in the New Year just outside of Geneva, Switzerland in the town of Divonne les Bains, France. Our huge temporary home was built in the early 1900's yet offered all the modern conveniences that we would need.  From the large living room windows we could see the snow-capped peaks of the Swiss Alps. On the other side were the Jura Mountains on the French side. With just one resident dog to care for our days were free to explore the area with the permission of the homeowners. From Alpine villages blanketed in snow to Christmas markets, lakeside towns and more we visited as much of France and Switzerland as time would allow.

But since Switzerland is one of the most expensive countries in the world, we found it necessary to pack lunches everyday to take with us. For example, the average price of the "meal of the day" for lunch ran between 20-25 euros per person. Compare that to Portugal where we can eat lunch out for just 4 to 8 euros each, depending on where we are.

Then in March we took a short flight to Valencia, Spain for yet another sit. Famous for it's annual Fallas Festival, we had been to Valencia a few years back and made friends with the homeowners', as we had friends in common. Last March she posted photos of the statues that are built and displayed for fallas, but eventually burned in the end. I commented on her pictures and said, 'we'd love to see that sometime. Maybe next year you can go away and we can come watch your dogs?' They agreed and a house sit was created.

But then the pandemic happened and our trip was cut short since their trip was cut short. We quickly made our way home and stayed put for months, not knowing how this would all play out. Portugal was proactive in closing down everything in early to mid March. Fortunately, they had the benefit of seeing the pandemic coming this way since it had already effected Italy and Spain by that time. More testing was done here and medication was also used proactively which ended up with many being cured and less deaths than elsewhere.

Portugal does have a national healthcare system which offers low cost care to its citizens and residents like us living here. One requirement of our resident visa is that we must carry private health insurance, but also can use the public system if we choose to. Costs for insurance vary greatly by the age of the person, pre-existing conditions along with the level of coverage desired. Since Clyde has a pacemaker several insurance companies here would either not cover him or exclude any treatment to his heart. Eventually he did find one company that would write us a policy. He choose a high end plan with no deductible that covers us at 90% in network and 80% out. When we see an in network doctor we just pay the 10% but if they are out of network we must pay the full amount, and then wait for reimbursement. Full amount to see a doctor here can cost anywhere from around 60 euros to maybe 120 euros depending on the specialty. Our cost for this insurance coverage is 250 euros per month for both of us, but is paid for the full year ahead of time.  When Clyde retired 9 years ago in Texas his insurance would have cost $1400 per month for the two of us.

While neither of us has needed to be hospitalized here we have visited doctors and been to the emergency room. Clyde had become light headed and dizzy one time and we thought it had something to do with his heart, since those are the symptoms he had prior to getting the pacemaker. We went to the ER at the local public hospital where he was seen quickly for a cost of just 18 euros. Since they found no issue with his heart we stopped by the office of his cardiologist to see him also. With no appointment he still managed to be seen after just a one hour wait. It turns out the feeling was due to a drop in blood pressure from a new medication he was taking for his prostate.

Last summer while doing an outside boot camp near the beach I fell and hurt my left elbow. We went to a local private hospital to have it checked out. Immediately I was seen by an English speaking doctor, x-rays were taken and he said it seemed to be broken. But since it was Sunday they had no orthopedic doctor there and I would need to go to the public hospital to see one. The cost at the private hospital was around 75 euros. Off we went to the public hospital where I waited for about an hour to be seen. More x-rays were taken and the doctor called me in. He said that my elbow was broken but since it was just a small fracture I would not need a cast, just a sling for a few weeks. Total cost there was just 18 euros.

As Americans whose healthcare system is outrageously overpriced, we all long for and think we want a public healthcare system. Let me tell you what we have seen and heard of the public healthcare system here in Portugal. Clinics are crowded and doctors are not assigned to even the Portuguese, never mind the foreigners. If we want to we can go to a public clinic here and sit and wait to see a doctor, along with the many other people. Public hospitals are overcrowded and we have seen patients lying on beds lined up in the hallways near the emergency room when we had been there. A mix of all sexes and ages were in these beds, some with iv poles attached to them. Patient charts hung off the end of the bed and some people had a bottle of water propped up nearby. There are no family members allowed into this area to wait with the patients, due to overcrowded conditions. Perhaps they are waiting to be moved to a room, or to be seen by a doctor? Several friends have told us of their experience on one of these beds. One had a broken ankle and was held overnight until she could be seen by a doctor in the morning. Another had broken ribs and also had to wait to be seen before being sent home. As you can imagine, just like people in any hospital around the world, these are sick people. Some are in pain and moaning or yelling out. Others are sick to their stomachs and vomiting while others are just trying to get some needed rest.

We have been told that some public hospitals here are better than others but even so, we will choose to go private when needed. But in the event of an emergency we have been told that we would be taken to the local public hospital until we can be moved elsewhere. Scary to say the least and something we hope to never find out about first hand.

Hospital rooms here in the public system are not typically private but instead a ward with many beds. A few months back we visited a friend in a public hospital to find him in a room with five other patients. He told us back in England this is typical and wards are even larger there. This is done in order to need less staff to care for the patients. So what did we see in that hospital? It appeared clean and tidy to us, just like most other hospitals we had seen. Hand sanitizer was on the walls in the hallway. Each patient had a chair next to his bed for visitors along with a small cabinet to put their stuff in. There were curtains around each bed but all were open when we were there. Unlike most hospitals the room was warm and even I was comfortable in the middle of winter. Our friend felt that the care was good and would have not been any better in the UK. He paid nothing at all for three weeks in the hospital.

Since March we have been staying home much of the time, only leaving to buy groceries or the occasional meal in the local shopping mall food court. Last November we decided to change to a whole foods, plant based diet which makes eating out a challenge. Most people who have met us know that we both used to be fat and lost massive amounts of weight. It was sixteen years ago that I said good bye to the fat girl on an operating table in Texas as I went in for gastric bypass surgery. I lost a total of 150 pounds (68 kg or 10 stone) and have kept it off ever since. Clyde underwent gastric band surgery, lost 100 pounds (45 kg or 7 stone) and has also kept it off.

Since our surgeries we have eaten healthy much of the time. We rarely ate red meat, and lived mostly on chicken and fish along with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Clyde began researching foods for brain health and foods to help us live longer. As we age we all want to live as long and as healthy as possible and going vegan seemed like the answer. We are not trying to convert anyone but feel that it was the right choice for us. Since that time we both feel great and are enjoying a variety of delicious foods too.

So there you have it, a brief rundown of what we have been doing for the past year or so just living our lives in Portugal.....along the gringo trail.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A Somber Day.....In Auschwitz, Poland.....

From the moment we left our hotel for our trip to Auschwitz the mood was being set for this life changing experience. Clyde and I were the last two to be picked up. We entered an over-stuffed van that was full of tourists like ourselves. Inside the long van was dark with barely enough light to make our way down the narrow aisle. It was SO dark that we could not even see IF there were any empty seats left. Clyde made his way to the rear and asked those nearby if there were any seats?

We were left with no choice but to sit in the very rear of the van, next to an oversized couple from the US. Tighter than airplane seats, there was literally no room for our legs or other stuff. But we made the best of things, since there was no other choice. Then we found out from our guide that it would take about 90 minutes before we reached Auschwitz, the first concentration camp that we would visit.

Fortunately our seat mates were visiting Poland from New Jersey, a place that I know all too well having grown up there. The conversation made the sardine like conditions of the van bareable and before we knew it, we had arrived.

The gray sky, damp drizzle and cool breeze added to the bleak atmosphere of this place. The ground was wet with puddles from last nights' rain and the terrain was uneven and muddy, as we followed closely behind our guide. Rows of people marched in unison behind their leaders and I could only imagine that this was how it looked as a full working concentration camp back in 1940. But today they were just tourists, trying to understand why and how such a horrible thing could have ever happened, yet it did.

As we entered through the gates that promised, "Arbeit Macht Frei," which translates to, "work sets you free," reality set in. I was walking through the gates where 1.6 million people were put to death, just because Adolph Hitler said so.

According to our guide, NO one, ever, was rewarded in this horrible place for hard work. That was just a ploy to make people believe this was someplace good. 

Our guide told us that 90% of those that died were Polish, just because Hitler had NO use for them. "Poles were considered to be as insignificant as insects. Totally unnecessary, and easy enough to kill." This comment hit me hard because I am Polish and it was hard to swallow that an entire race needed to be exterminated, according to one man.

Yet people were taken from their homes, moved into ghetto's, then onto cattle trains. Over 100 people were stuffed into cattle wagons with standing room only, no food, water or toilets. The trains travelled for days or weeks to their final destination at one of these death camps. 

Children were useless and killed immediately and woman were not far behind. Once off the train, prisoners were told to strip out of their clothes and walk naked to the showers. All of their worldy possessions that they brought with them were taken and they were given one prison outfit to wear. Men and women were separated, hair was cut or shaved and used for other reasons. 

As one women left the train she was told to leave her child right there on the dirt, and she refused. She was killed immediately along with her child for all to see. 

Although there are thousands of tourists every day that tour Auschwitz the guides keep the lines moving and the spirit somber. With the help of audio guides we could hear our guide talk yet he did not have to yell. There was not a smile in the place, just serious, sad faces of disbelief and not a word was uttered other than from the tour guides.

I wonderered IF or WHY we really needed to visit this place but am so thankful that we did. We learned so much, not just today but over the last few weeks on our Poland adventure. "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it." Perhaps I am here today because my ancestors escaped from Poland many years ago?  

We are never too old to learn, explore and have more adventures as we travel......along the gringo trail.


Our Guide

Heads Were Shaved With Razors To Cause More Pain and Humiliation

Prisoners Were Given A Number That Was Tattooed On
They No Longer Had Names

Small Tunnels For Air Raid Protection For Guards Only

Temporary Barracks to Await Death
Chimneys Were Added As Propaganda To Make It Seem Like Prisoners Were Cared For

Ten Women Per Each Layer Of Bed
A Total Of 30 People

Life In Portugal....At A Snails Pace....

Yesterday was just another day in Portugal when my dear husband Clyde said he was going to run to the pharmacy for a few things. Time passed...