Series Finale

We are stepping out of our “Radical Sabbatical” a bit frayed and tattered. Nearly 20 months since we quit our jobs and the better part of a year before that of planning and preparing. I think of it as a series of episodes, some brief and some long. Regardless of date of return from our overseas travel, the ‘next steps’ are the same. Re-entry into the work force, establish home again and settle into routine.

I have 10-15 years of full-time ‘required’ work before I can call myself truly retired; although, I now know I am most healthy being productive and adding value. While traveling I realized that it’s no longer important ‘WHAT’ I do for a living but with whom I do it. My last years at ABC were the best of my career so, with Vickie’s support, I have decided to focus my attention on returning to ABC. The specifics of the role are still under negotiation. Working as a remote employee isn’t an option, a change in the company’s direction I knew when I terminated my employment; therefore, we have to live in one of the cities where there’s an office: Valley Forge (PA), Charlotte (NC), or Frisco (TX). We chose the city with the shortest plane ride to our family and friends.

Vickie had only been to Texas when we traveled to San Antonio in 2016. The final step before making the final decision about where we’d live was to travel to Frisco to explore and look at apartments. To be honest, neither of us were terribly excited about living in Texas. It certainly wasn’t on the list of possibilities but we always knew my job would dictate our ultimate location. Texas has a reputation for being extremely conservative, non-LGBT friendly and lacking in diversity. We were pleasantly surprised to find Frisco to be widely diverse and comfortable. The weather was pleasant and there’s even promise of a winter. I contacted an apartment locator and provided criteria that she used to put together a list of properties for us to review while in town. We went to 13 of the 17 properties before finding the place and signing the lease.

We returned to Phoenix to gather what few belongings we kept at the casita and say our ‘so longs’. Vickie had planned to help her cousin with her mom’s (Vickie’s Aunt Barbara) estate and move to Washington after we were to arrive in Frisco, but the situation changed and she ended up going to California before the move. The change in plans meant I drove to Texas by myself. Everything we had in the casita fit into the Subaru and the 1,100 miles took the better part of 2 days. The drive was a gift to process through some thoughts and emotions about leaving Arizona, where I’d lived my entire life.

Before the ink was dry on the lease, we went shopping! Nebraska Furniture Mart was like Disneyland. Our furniture was scheduled for delivery the day after I arrived to the apartment and it was like Christmas! Most of the furniture I’ve owned have first been owned by someone else, so having all new stuff has been fun. Starting a home from scratch has been a bigger project than I expected. It’s amazing how many little things that simply accumulate over the years and are, therefore, taken for granted. For example, scissors!!! The most important household tool.

We decided to use our travel expertise and learn about our new home and take a tour of Dallas and Ft Worth. We spent a day with a tour guide learning about the cattle industry history of Ft Worth and all the museums and neighborhoods of downtown Dallas. There is a lot to do in Dallas and we look forward to getting into the theaters. The tour ended on the grassy knoll where John F Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable about the Dallas/Ft Worth area, but explained the hundreds of hours he has spent studying the JFK history. It was fascinating hearing about his studies and comparing things we’ve also heard and learned over the years and then physically standing in the exact place.

Cancun, Mexico was the only part of the overseas travel we didn’t cancel and was planned as the place to be our final retreat before having to return to reality. I hadn’t been to Mexico in over 25 years and had always been a little apprehensive about vacationing there but after watching many of our friends and family share their experiences there, I was convinced to go. We were gifted a beautiful timeshare by our friends, Lori and Ginny, and we enjoyed a full week in the jungle. We purposely didn’t plan too many activities during our stay because we wanted to simply relax and enjoy the ocean air. I caught a bad cold early in the week, but still managed to attend the Cirque du Soleil show, Joya. One of the best things I’ve ever done in my life was our hike through the Rio Secreto (Secret River). Overall, the hike was less than a mile through clear, cool water. Sometimes the water was below our knees and sometimes we couldn’t touch the bottom. In addition to those things and hanging out by the pool, under a palapa, while the pool staff brought us food and beverages, we enjoyed a relaxing couple’s massage. It was the perfect way to spend the final week of our amazing, adventurous chapter.

It’s been 11 weeks since that final night in Lisbon, Portugal. Vickie and I have worked very hard to mend and strengthen our bond to prepare for our future. It’s no cliché that marriage isn’t always easy. I can say with confidence, though, that I am ALL IN… and so is she. We’ve agreed to call Wednesday, October 4, as the first day of the next new chapter and there’s no one else in the world with whom I’d rather do this crazy, wild ride call LIFE.

Mission Aborted

Monday night, July 17 in Lisbon, Portugal, it all came to a head and we chose to save our marriage and our family.

I’m writing this now from the comfort of my (temporary) home looking back at this horrible night, but I remember it like it was just last night. Traveling takes a toll on you… physically, emotionally, and it took a toll on our marriage.

Every meal: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack. Every drink: water, cocktail, soda, otherwise. Other than those included in a tour, every one of them required a hunt and negotiation. Sometimes the hunt was easy: we ate breakfast at the hotel most of the time. Sometimes the hunt was difficult: many menus were not in English and we refused to eat at McDonald’s, Burger King, or KFC, so we were ‘hangry’ going into a meal time because we couldn’t find a place we felt comfortable.

Living out of a suitcase for 3 months, wearing the same clothes, and negotiating laundry tasks took it’s toll. Thankfully our luggage was handled for us when we were on tours, but in order for it to be taken care of, we were given an early morning time every day to have our suitcases outside our room. That meant being organized and having ourselves ready to go by the time the suitcase was outside. The two cruises allowed us a break from having to open and shut the suitcase every day and we were quick to unpack and enjoy drawers and a closet. The cruises also allowed us the opportunity of laundry service.

All of the above, though, is trivial compared to the toll on our relationship. While we were quick to smile for our ‘selfies’ posted to Facebook, the ‘behind the scenes’ shots weren’t so happy. Being together 24/7 for such a long time with very little dilution was too intense. We weren’t able to take enough breaks from each other and we were getting on each other’s nerves. The ‘me time’ we were afforded on the cruises weren’t enough.

We didn’t feel like we could reveal the downsides of traveling because it was such a privilege to do what we did. Our most common feedback was, “I’m living vicariously through you guys”. It becomes a responsibility. We had an obligation to show the beauty, and the amazing places and activities we were doing. And we did see and do some AMAZING things!! How could we complain? It couldn’t possibly be understood by anyone. We couldn’t even show the back side to those we were touring with. We were making friends, but it’s not like we could unload the intensity onto people we just met. For many, this was a ‘break’ in their work lives, a vacation. For us, this was our life.

I missed Adi and my Gram. I missed my friends. But most of all, I missed familiarity. I missed the routine. And the only person I could express my struggle and unhappiness to was Vickie. I had started to express my feelings about the exhaustion of travel several weeks prior to this point, but we both agreed that there were still too many places we hadn’t been to yet that we wanted to see: Africa, Israel, Italy, Greece. And, Adi was coming to join us. She was super excited to get to see Spain and Portugal, so we couldn’t blow her vacation. We were hoping I would feel better once I saw her and got to be with her.

Aborting the travel was a huge financial decision. All of our tours, including the safari and final cruise, were paid for. All of our flights to and from each of the locations were paid for. We knew going in that most of it would be non-refundable and our travel insurance wouldn’t cover our decision to go home early.

But, that night in Lisbon, I didn’t care about any of it. I wanted to go home.. at any cost. I couldn’t take it anymore. And I didn’t really leave Vickie, or Adi, with a much of a choice. The pain I knew I was causing that night was heart wrenching, but I was beyond the point of return. And so we called our tour guide and told her we were going home. We worked with her to file the report she needed for us to be able to leave the tour and messaged Patrick to ask him to cancel our future tours. Then, we returned to the room to break the news to Adi that we were going home.

It took 72 hours, almost to the minute, to get back to AZ. We left the Lisbon hotel at 6:30am and landed in Phoenix at 2:30am on Thursday, July 20.

We both felt terrible that we not only aborted our travel, but we also pulled the rug out from under Adi’s vacation. She still had 5 days before she had to return to work, so she and I headed for San Diego on Friday afternoon and returned home Sunday afternoon. Monday, July 24, was Vickie’s birthday and we spent the day together as a family.

Being home feels good to both of us. We are working on healing ourselves and our marriage. It’s going to take time. We’ve recovered from the jet lag. We’re taking time when we can to have some ‘me time’. We’re talking and we’re both committed to working through it all. We’re going to be ok.

Portugal Tour – 2

Monday morning we were treated to a bus tour of the city of Lisbon from a local tour guide. The most memorable thing of Lisbon is the various, beautiful tiles found attached to the many buildings. The sidewalks are made of yellow and black limestone tiles.

We were taken to the ‘coast’ of the giant Tagus River to see the Belem Tower, built in the 16th century as a defensive structure. The Tagus is so large it looks more like one of the Great Lakes. While walking around this area, Adi turned her ankle pretty badly. The limestone tiles are uneven and it’s easy to step the wrong way. It was very sweet to see so many of our new tour friends come to her side. We had only just met these people just a few days earlier and yet they were genuinely concerned. In addition to the concerned friends and a few strangers, the Portuguese police also showed up within a few minutes. They were ready to call an ambulance and Adi, out of fear, jumped up and walked to the bus. In hindsight, I wish we had allowed him to call the ambulance so she could be treated for what we know now was a hairline fracture.

After the morning tour, we returned to the hotel to transfer people who didn’t want to remain in the city. While at the hotel I found an orthopedic ‘pharmacia’ where I purchased an ankle wrap so she had a little support to get her through.

From the hotel, we were members of a subset of the tour to participate in an optional excursion to the Portuguese Rivieria and Sintra. The first town was to Cascais, a beach town between the Tagus River and the Atlantic Ocean. We had a yummy lunch, each of us trying to have authentic Portuguese meals. I really enjoyed the Chicken Piri Piri, which is grilled chicken with a spicy, Piri Piri chili oil drizzled over. We all walked to the beach, even Adi with her bad ankle, just so we could take our shoes off and wade in the water for a few minutes.

Sintra is another small town included in the Riviera. The local tour guide has remained with the group during this excursion and she guides us to the Castle in Sintra. Since there were so many stairs in the castle, Adi decided to sit it out at a coffee shop near the spot to meet the bus. So many beautiful, ancient tiles lined the walls of the castle. We didn’t have time for much else in this small town and after the tour we met up with Adi to catch the bus back to the hotel.

Once back to the hotel, we rested and relaxed. The heat and humidity zaps energy and it felt good to have a little down time. For dinner, we found a local restaurant across the street from the hotel. Spain and Portugal are big on meat and the main meats are fish and beef. Vickie had had enough fish and we all shared a couple of delicious beef dinners. The best part of the meal was chatting with our waiter. He was so friendly and we had fun visiting with him.

Portugal Tour – 1

After leaving Coimbra on Sunday, our first stop of the day was a Catholic pilgrimage site called, Fatima. People come to this location from all over the world because of it’s historic, religious significance. In the early 20th century, three children claim to have been visited by the Virgin Mary at a tree that is now preserved in the courtyard of this church site. The site has also been recognized by one of the Popes, validating the spiritual sighting and creating the pilgrimage destination. Along with the huge cross and rosary monuments, there is a chapel, and some sort of sacrificial burning building. We couldn’t get close enough to see what exactly was happening at the burning site, but it looked like people were tossing in wood and candles into this bon fire kind of place. Since it was Sunday, there was a mass taking place while we were there and, despite the people milling about, there many people offering a form of sacrificial prayer by crawling on their knees the entire length of the courtyard to the sanctuary.

I don’t understand why we were in Fatima for an hour and a half. Seems that most of the tour group was ready to move on to the next stop after about 30 minutes of taking photos and seeing the church happenings.

Obidos was similar to Avila in that it was another walled city, built by the Moors as protection during wartime. There was a large, fully intact aqueduct that ran into the walled city built in the 16th century. Portugal is very proud of the beautiful tiles they make and place on the external surfaces of their buildings. Before entering the walled city, we took a horse-drawn carriage into the surrounding village. It was nice to see something not typical for tourists. The homes of the town’s people were modest, but modern. After our village tour, we climbed to the top of the wall and walked along for a short while before finding a place to eat within the city. Vickie had a signature meal of grilled sardines. I had a Portuguese chicken stew and Adi had a grilled pork chop. The meal was delicious and followed by enjoying a glass of Ginjinha, a cherry flavored liquor.

We didn’t cover nearly the distance we had the day before and entered Lisbon at a reasonable, afternoon hour. We had plenty of time to relax and prepare for our evening excursion of Portuguese culture. We went to a place called, Luso, where we were served a dinner and treated to Fado music. The setting was dark and we were asked to listen in silence to the passionate performances. It was so beautiful. We all enjoyed it very much.

Spain Tour – 1

Unlike the first 2 Cosmos tours, we didn’t begin with a tour of the starting city. Madrid touring is scheduled for the last day of the tour. Instead, we headed west toward Coimbra, Portugal for our first overnight stay. Spain and Portugal distinguish themselves from other European cities by Moor influence of the Middle Ages. The Moors were Muslim people from North Africa and while the main religion of this region of Europe is Catholicism, the Muslim religion is still very present.

We stopped in Avila (Spain) for a brief walking tour of this beautiful, ancient, walled city. It was quite amazing at the exquisite preservation of the historic structures from the 11th century. It’s still difficult for me to wrap my head around the history and how long something like this has been in place. The people that have been through the gates. The various modes of transportation that have been used on the streets. The battles fought. The love and play. It’s mind blowing to me. While in the inner walls, we poked our head into the beautiful church but there was a mass service in progress. The temperature was already rising.

It’s another interesting, culturally diverse tour group including two special needs gentlemen. What are the odds? One guy, Fuzi, is traveling with his parents who are all from India. The other guy, Bill, is a solo traveler and is from the US. I am deeply inspired by their bravery to venture out into the world and explore. In addition to Fuzi’s family and Bill, there are travelers from Malaysia, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and (of course) the USA. Right away the people are friendly and inclusive and seem anxious to get to know each other. Most importantly, I am thrilled to have Adi with us. I love having this time to visit and see the world together.

We stopped in Salamanca for lunch. Bill’s physical challenge is his eyesight so he asked if he could hang out with us at this stop. We were all hungry and decided to eat first, before setting out and exploring the area. Salamanca is home to the oldest University in Spain, founded in the early 13th century, and comprises several of the buildings in the city. Churches, however, are always some of the most brilliant architecturally. There was just enough time to see La Plaza Mayor which is almost an exact replica of St Marcos Square in Venice, just slightly smaller.

This first day was a long day, travelling approximately 600km across the border to Portugal. I had not slept well and my body was feeling the hours of the bus ride so I opted to go directly to the hotel when we arrived into Coimbra. Vickie and Adi ventured into Coimbra for exploration. We weren’t sure what the hotel experience would be like with all three of us staying together. Based on previous hotel rooms Vickie and I had on the other tours, we were a little worried that adding a third person would make for some very cozy quarters; however, the rooms we seem to be provided so far are very large and roomy suites. Unfortunately, Adi hasn’t had the most comfortable beds, but at least we aren’t stepping on each other. And the hotel in Coimbra was quite nice, with a spectacular view overlooking the city.

Coimbra

Madrid

We arrived in Madrid on Monday and, like most travel days, sought food as the number one priority. The hotel directed us to Santa Square and we walked into the first place we saw that had indoor eating. It was hot and humid. I was craving food with spice and was counting on authentic Spanish food to deliver. Well, if you consider SALT spice, then it fully delivered! WOW was this meal salty! Chunks of salt on the “fried potatoes”, which looked a lot like potato chips. Chunks of salt on the peppers. And some beautifully grilled beef. I couldn’t eat very much of anything except the meat. Disappointing! And, worried if this was how all Spanish meals would be cooked.

Our first full day in Madrid was spent reacquainting ourselves with our upcoming Africa and Israel tours. As soon as we return from the Spain/Portugal tour, we have 4 full days to prepare for Africa and Israel. We have supplies we still need to acquire and I didn’t want to wait until after the tour to know where to find the things we need. So, we went on a hunt for sporting goods, to no avail.

Vickie’s sister has lived in Madrid for over a year. Unfortunately, Kathy was in California during the time we were in Madrid. She did, however, put Vickie in touch with her girlfriend, Bea, and we had plans to meet her on Wednesday. Bea brought Kathy’s dog, Base, with her to meet us and hunt for sporting goods, again to no avail. Bea was very kind and a pleasure to be around. She took us to several stores and then treated us to lunch and then showed us where Kathy lives. It was nice to sit and visit. I loved playing with Base (Bah-say), too. Bea generously offered to allow us to have things shipped to her home and then get them when we get back to Madrid.

Wednesday evening we went to the Arabian Hammam with a 30 minute massage. A Hammam is a Turkish bath house. I found it through the Viator app, like I do most of our tour activities when we do things outside of the Cosmos tours. We were both really tired and Vickie considered skipping the evening, but I had already paid for it so she joined me. I was looking for something that would calm my nerves and allow me to sleep since Adi was already enroute for the long travel to meet us. When we arrived to the Hammam we were handed a printed sheet of instructions and advised to read them carefully. We read them and waited in the lobby along with about 15 other people for our 8pm appointment. When it was time to go in, a woman came out and spoke to the group in Spanish saying, what I assume were, the same instructions we read on the sheet. We walked through the door and immediately went into the changing room and changed into our swimsuits. The rooms were all below ground branching off from dimly lit corridors. We were asked to be silent to contribute to the relaxing environment. We were taken to the aromatherapy room and told to select the aroma we would like for our massage. The massage was so relaxing. After our massages, we started exploring the pools. There was a sauna along with a hot, warm and cold water pool. We started in the warm water pool and also visited the hot water pool. Vickie wasn’t interested in either the cold water pool or the sauna, but I wanted to visit everything. I only stayed in the sauna a few minutes, but I really enjoyed the cold water pool as much as the other pools. We were there a total of about an hour and a half. It was perfect and both of us were so glad we went.

Adi’s travel was like most any of our own and she got hit with a delayed flight causing a missed connection before even leaving Phoenix. Thankfully, it was before she left Phoenix and before she checked her suitcase. The ticket agent helped her secure a new flight and, other than just being a long day, had smooth sailing from there. She arrived Thursday afternoon in Madrid. I was so emotional and excited to see her. After checking her into her hotel room, we went to a restaurant recommended by the hotel for good paella. It was a great recommendation! The three of us enjoyed a “meat paella” that included pork, chicken, and rabbit. It was the first time Adi and I had tried rabbit and we both really liked it. It was great to have all together again. Since Adi was exhausted from her travel, we all went back to the hotel and called it a day.

Friday morning, before we checked out of our hotel and headed for the tour meetup, we went out touring Madrid on a Hop On Hop Off bus. Despite the triple digit heat, we stayed out for several hours. Madrid is the capital of Spain. It hosted World (Gay) Pride 2017 just weeks before we arrived. It has very similar physical characteristics of many other European cities with cobblestone, narrow streets and beautiful architecture. The difference, though, is it has a very relaxed feel. There wasn’t the ‘hustle and bustle’ felt in London, Paris, or Berlin. Everyone we encountered was so friendly and helpful noted specifically by the giant sign on the front of the Palacio de Cibeles, “Refugees Welcome”. I never found the “spice” I was looking for in the food, but I love paella and the vibe of Madrid.