travel Posts

Hello, Dali

One of the perks of being retired in Europe is having the time and easy, cheap access to some pretty amazing places.

“How about Spain?” I asked Jessica one morning as we savored our cappuccino.  “We could leave on the 28th and travel around for a couple of weeks.”

“Spain sounds great,” she said, “but we can’t go then.  “You have to present yourself to the immigration office in Bari on the 30th for your permesso di soggiorno renewal so we can keep living in Italy.  And we have a cookout planned with Henrik and Sharon before they go home to London and don’t forget that Cher is coming to stay with us for a few days that week.”

“Right.  I forgot.” I said and then immediately forgot again and booked our flight to Barcelona for the 28th.

Jessica had spent a month in Spain as a high school exchange student but it was a country in which I had never set foot.  Our two-week itinerary would begin and end in Barcelona with stops in Madrid, Sevilla and Bilbao and a few side trips thrown in.

Vueling Airlines deposited us unceremoniously, but without incident, at the Barcelona airport and we took the airport shuttle into the center of the city.  It was then that I made my first mistake.  Armed with an inadequately detailed map the deficiencies of which were enhanced by a lack of street signs, we set off on foot from the shuttle stop to the hotel in precisely the wrong direction.  At the outset, the large backpack strapped over my shoulders didn’t seem so heavy but it contained two week’s worth of clothing for the both of us and, after an hour or so of wandering about the streets of Barcelona in 100+ degrees, I was becoming cranky.  Fortunately, a kind, English-speaking soul approached us and offered to help us find our way.  The young man was in Spain on an internship in furtherance of his degree from Carlow University, a school in, of all places, Pittsburgh, our home town in the US.  It’s a small world after all.

We spent the next day strolling the streets of Barcelona, staying out of the direct sun whenever possible as the temperatures again breached triple digits.  The heat begged for a large pitcher of sangria and we obliged, sitting at a large square just off The Ramblas, Barcelona’s pedestrian-only boulevard lined with shops, restaurants, hotels and markets.  Jessica’s lunch started with a gazpacho that was herb-laced and just spicy enough to bring out the richness of the thick soup.  After a full and completely satisfying lunch in a very touristy area for which we paid only €30, we went back to our street walking.  Had I known what awaited us the next day, I may have chosen to spend less time on my feet that first day.

The alarm was set for 5:30 am so that we could catch the three subway trains that would get us to the train from Barcelona to Figueres, site of the Salvador Dali Museum.  Before visiting the museum that Dali himself designed, however, we would be taking a bus from Figueres to the seaside town of Cadaques.  From here, we planned to take a leisurely walk to Portlligat where Salvador Dali and his muse/wife, Gala, lived for most of 50 years.  The walk was necessary because, despite the major tourist draw of the Dali residence, no train, bus or taxi serves the Portlligat Bay.  Rick Steves, our travel guru in all things Europe, advised us to take the walking route across the peninsula, a 20-minute stroll.  Unfortunately, doing so required that we find the beginning of the path, something that we were never quite able to do.

We had given ourselves a full hour to make the trek to Portlligat, a luxurious amount of time we thought, so it should be no problem to get to the artist’s house in time for our 12:10 tour reservation.  Having taken note of the warning that failure to report for tourist duty 30 minutes ahead of our appointed time could result in forfeiture of our tickets, we gave ourselves some extra time but it soon became evident, even to us, that following the “Casa di Dali” signs in Cadaques was ill-advised.  Our leisurely stroll became a 4-mile mad dash in triple-digit temperatures up well-endowed hills, along crowded, verge-free highways, through forests and fields.  From time to time, I would spot a building off in the distance.

“That must be it,” I would say.

“No,” said Jessica who had actually done some research on the place and seen photos.  “It isn’t.”

Our power walk, interrupted by a few stints of jogging, lasted about ninety minutes.  By the time we finally arrived at the house-now-museum, breathless and drenched with sweat, we had used all of our grace time so we rushed panting and soaked to the ticket window, fully prepared to beg forgiveness and mercy for having appeared just moments before our tour was scheduled to begin.  The woman at the window looked at our tickets, told us to wait for our tour guide at the bottom of a set of steps, and smiled pleasantly as if to say, “Go away now.”  We obliged her.

The mature gentleman who guided our tour of the artist’s home spoke little but gave us the allotted 10 minutes in each of the rooms of the house.  Dali’s studio, complete with an easel that held a room-sized canvas, was my favorite stop on the tour.  His actual paint brushes and other tools of his trade were placed about the room, as were sundry objects of inspiration that included a stuffed polar bear wearing necklaces and holding a lamp.  Seeing this, I began to understand Dali’s work.

Salvador Dali's studio

Salvador Dali’s studio

In the house of Salvador Dali, this was not particularly wierd

In the house of Salvador Dali, this was not particularly weird

Words fail me

Words fail me

The artist’s bedroom bore the mark of consistency with Dali’s persona: Gaudy, eclectic and garish.  I thought I noticed a tongue hanging on the wall but convinced myself that it was not, for my own sake.  Gala’s boudoir, on the other hand, looked more like an homage to her husband.  I concluded that Dali had decorated both of these rooms himself.

The artist's bedroom

The artist’s bedroom

The interior of the home was incredibly interesting but no more so than the grounds.  Pieces of the artist’s work were scattered about the property and we wandered around for as long as our tight schedule would allow.  Having gotten directions to the “shortcut” back to Cadaques, we headed off and soon became lost again, a state which is normally not a problem for us but we had a bus to catch back to Figueres, a museum to check out and a train back to Barcelona booked.  Back into power walk mode, we made our circuitous way back to the bus station just in time for our bus.

Just popped in for a four minute egg visit

Just popped in for a four minute egg visit

The Salvador Dali Museum was designed by the artist himself, a fact that is abundantly clear the instant one enters this mind-bending fantasy world.  While the museum contained less of the iconic Dali works that I had hoped for, it was, nonetheless, a fitting tribute from Dali to himself.

Welcome to the Salvador Dali Museum

Welcome to the Salvador Dali Museum

Odd facade

Odd facade

A quick cab ride to the train station got us there in time to have a relaxing glass of wine which turned in three glasses of wine since the train turned out to be an hour late in leaving.  No harm, no foul.


Photos, as always, by the lovely and talented Jessica Coup.  Visit her work at




















Three (Unassailable) Reasons You Should Not Retire and Move to Another Country

I believe I speak from a position of “been there, done that,” when I advise you to stay where you are, as you are, and continue to live a life in which your hard work is rewarded with a bi-weekly check automatically deposited into your joint checking account.  No recognition of your toil can be more satisfying than that electronic transfer of funds and no better barometer of your value as a human being can be found than your value as a good employee to your bosses.

The reasons for continuing to work at your job and avoid the temptation of chucking it all and trying to find a comfortable existence in a foreign country are numerous, but here are my top three.

You LOVE your job.

Come on, just admit it: you love your job.  It has become your social network, your basis of self-worth, your very identity.  What would you ever do with your time were it not for the challenge of the to-do list you embrace every morning?  Oh, sure, you could take the huge step of substituting your daily work efforts with those of learning a new language, making new friends and adapting to a new culture, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  It’s very hard work and, since you’ve been at your job for decades and can almost do it in your sleep, why take on a new intellectual challenge and push yourself?  Just sit back in the comfort of your life and, whatever you do, don’t take those kinds of risks.  Pay no attention to Eleanor Roosevelt who unwisely said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”  I find myself faced each day with a new challenge–speaking a language that I am not fluent in, dealing with a culture with which I am unfamiliar and eating foods that are, well, different– and it is uncomfortable.  I’m no longer a “vice president” or an “executive.”  I just have to be me and that’s scary.  I yearn for the days when I could simply show up at my office, take up my position behind my desk, look and feel important and read and respond to emails all day.  Now THAT’S living.

Would YOU eat this?

Would YOU eat this?

You can’t afford it.

Be honest.  You can’t afford to retire.  No matter how much money you’ve saved, regardless of the size of your 401(k) plan, and despite your stock portfolio that’s growing by the day, you’re silly if you think that you’ll ever have enough money to hang up the ol’ spurs (assuming you’re a cowboy) and ease into a life of leisure.  You have been raised to acknowledge that you must work until you have not only enough money to support yourself post-career, but you must then die quickly enough to ensure that your children can live the life that you might have had you been less responsible.  You should ignore the fact that there are many places in the world, absolutely amazing places, where the cost of living is lower and the quality of life is higher than where you are now.  And the mere thought of, perhaps, changing your life in ways that would allow you to live a less-costly life, is ridiculous.  Why should you sit on a beach at sunset, spread a blanket on the sand and dig into the bread and cheeses that you packed, washing them down with a crisp white wine, when you can go to an expensive restaurant and let someone else do the work, right?  And who would have the nerve to suggest that you resign your health club membership and, instead, get your exercise by riding your bicycle to the local market?  Trust me, it’s better that you work for a few more years and a few more years after that and, if you’re lucky, you will one day have almost enough money to begin to live before you die.  I made the mistake of retiring when I COULD, not when I should have. Another “couple a mill” in the bank and I could fly to Croatia instead of taking the ferry and I could still be drinking wine from expensive bottles instead of out of plastic jugs.  Forget that we can go to Croatia or Greece by ferry or go just about any place in Europe by car or, after just a half-hour flight, be in Malta.  And nevermind that the wine we buy by the jug comes straight from the producers and is the same stuff for which people in the US pay $20 a bottle.  I just wish that I had stayed at that desk and made more money so that I could spend it on those $20 bottles instead of having to buy the same wine for the $1.50 I pay now.

Dubrovnik, Croatia...

Dubrovnik, Croatia…



Malta...Ho hum.

Malta…. We just can’t afford to do much in our retirement.

You’ll be bored.

If your retirement is anything like mine, you’ll be spending it sitting on your butt, just thinking, sometimes with your mouth hanging open.  Your mind will become undisciplined and wandering and you will find yourself constantly trying to figure out what to do with your newly-found leisure time.  For Jessica and me, our typical day begins late in the morning since we stay in bed until we feel like getting up.  Our first hour is spent drinking a cappuccino under the span of a 200-year old olive tree that spreads just outside our front door.  Boring.  After a cappuccino, there’s really nothing to do but to have another one, so we do.  Sounds exciting, huh?  After that, just to kill some time, we might take a drive to one of the medieval hilltop towns scattered about the Pugliese countryside and wander aimlessly around its historical center, looking at buildings that were old 500 years ago.  Yawn.  Or, if we’re desperate, we might go down to the sea–Adriatic or Ionian doesn’t matter, they’re all the same, right?–and have lunch.  Okay, the fish is pretty good because, you know, we actually watch them bring it in off the boats but it still makes for a pretty dull day.  Afternoons are the worst, though, with all of the shops closed and everyone either napping after a big lunch or lying on a beach.  Oh, to still be sitting at my desk!  Sometimes things get so incredibly, mind-numbingly dull, we get in the car and just go.  A few weeks ago, we drove to the Amalfi Coast (At least it was a change.) and next week, just to avoid the excruciating boredom, we’ll be going to Rome for a few days.  In the evenings, there is just nothing at all to do so we just go into town, sit in a little piazza and eat local foods or maybe a pizza and drink local red wine.  Anything to make life interesting.

I just spend most of my time lying around.

I just spend most of my time lying around.

Sometimes, out of sheer boredom, we'll drive over to the Amalfi Coast.

Sometimes, out of sheer boredom, we’ll drive over to the Amalfi Coast.

Occasionally, I'll put on a tie just for ol' time's sake.

Occasionally, I’ll put on a tie just for ol’ time’s sake.


So, please, do yourself a favor and keep your day job.  The life of a retiree just isn’t for you.  Or, is it?