● Where was I? Spain, Portugal, USA, & Italy
Here we go again! As always, I write this for personal reasons but you’re welcome to revisit the past year with me. Full of new destinations, new challenges & very little free time. Par for the course.
Work: When I requested to guide only in Spain (no Portugal tours this year), I thought I’d be at home more. Ha. First, the office said I was the most qualified to lead a Spain tour during Semana Santa. True enough, but logistics from Granada to Sevilla during Holy Week were insane & took tons of preparation. Then the book research department wanted to send me to places I’d never been before… in Italy! Crazy times in Naples, Paestum, the Amalfi Coast & Venice. Mamma mia. Next, I found out that I’d been designated as lead guide on the brand-new Andalucía tour. Even more logistics work & the challenge of managing 24 guinea pig tour members + 3 fellow guides. Most of my regular tours went very well, except for the occasional oddball. Variety is the spice of life, right? However, I can’t remember a year that I’ve worked so hard.
Vacation: Immediately after the Rick Steves workshop in January, Rafa & I set off on an Iowa/Missouri road trip. The Kansas City to St. Louis stretch turned out to be even better than we’d imagined. Hopefully I can find time to write up some of the fun things we did in those ungodly freezing temperatures! Best of all, next month we’re picking up where we left off in St. Louis & driving through Memphis to Atlanta. Can’t wait!
Although Rafa had to work, I went with him for a couple days to Almería… part of Andalucía that I’d never explored. The city had some architectural surprises, but the food turned out to be my best memory. Oh, those tomatoes! Oh, those shrimp! If only Almería were closer & I could go back more often.
In July, Rafa & I needed a bit of small town atmosphere & some Portugal time. We rented a car for a week & criss-crossed the Spain-Portugal border just north of Sevilla. With a car, we packed in a ton of things we wouldn’t have been able to visit otherwise. Fortifications like the Forte da Graça in Elvas, an abandoned castle in Juromenha & the walls around Olivenza were remarkable. I’d love to continue that same kind of trip north of Badajoz-Elvas at some point in the future.
Personal: Miracle of miracles! All my mom’s correspondence got scanned. All her photos were semi-organized by year. All my grandparents documents found a proper home. And I have no more plastic containers sitting in my office staring at me. Although there’s still work to be done on the family archive, much of the mold & mildew is gone as well as items I couldn’t justify saving. Quite a relief. I could even piece together much of my mom’s personal history that she never shared with me.
Not much time for cooking new dishes this year, but I managed to score big with an upscale version of bacalhau à Bras. I may not live in Portugal, but I can eat like it! And we almost bought a house in the former Portuguese town of Olivenza. On a hot day during our July borders road trip, we sat at a bar & looked up local properties. Just on a whim. Turns out one place kept calling our name. So we rented a car for 24 hours in October, went back & checked it out. In the end, the place wasn’t for us but we’re hooked on Olivenza —only 18 minutes away from Elvas— because it’s like being in Portugal & Spain at the same time. The best of both worlds. Probably more significant, that trek began our house hunt. Only time will tell how that goes or where we’ll end up…
Endless Mile: Both my blogs —this one & AfterLife— saw about the same activity as last year with 13 posts each. Even with an insane work schedule, I kept my goal of publishing at least one post per month. This blog also got a much-needed redesign, & increased sales of Endless Mile guides must be a direct result of the new look. No drastic changes but easier to read on a portable device, & sales are back at 2015 levels. So thank you! My online presence pays for itself + gives me additional income to buy books for education… not a bad cycle.
Although I published the Lisbon Catholic heritage guide in January, I haven’t had time to do any marketing. Zero. Soon after, I began to put together my first guide with Rafa: the 1929 Ibero-American Expo in Sevilla. We drew up an outline & gathered resources in February, then all heck broke loose with work. Just this December I’ve been able get to a comfortable place where I can concentrate on writing… only to switch gears. Time to take a gamble.
Since I already have a very good foundation about the former Cistercian monastery in Alcobaça —thanks to all those years guiding in Portugal— I thought I could write that guide quickly. Why not see how it goes? After four weeks of solid work, that somewhat rash decision has paid off. I have about 70% of the text written & most illustrations are complete. Unbelievable. The guide should be ready for release in March 2020. Stay tuned! Update: Finished & released in April 2020.
Magic moments: With so many new experiences this year, several became moments I’ll never forget. Entering the Manueline church in Olivenza, probably the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen. Learning about the 1519 Magellan/Elcano voyage with Rafa throughout the entire year. Celebrating my 15-year blog-iversary. The most perfect afternoon in Paestum. The marvel that is Venice. Seeing a tiled church floor in Capri & having an immediate flashback that I’d seen it in a documentary as a kid —never thought I’d see it in person. And watching the floats of Corpus Christi in Sevilla for the first time. When I began the year, I had no idea that I’d experience most of the above… which is probably why those moments were so special.
To sum up 2019: hectic & exhausting. I spent several weeks preparing logistics work for new tours. They went very well, but that commitment meant personal projects got placed on hold. Book research turned out to be rewarding & much fun, but took lots of effort since I’d never been to that part of Italy before. Other things happened as I found time… all those musty boxes of my mom’s belongings had to be sifted through & stored properly. Vacations were fantastic but without much time to rest. When November came, my body & brain had had enough. I must have vegged out for two weeks straight.
What’s coming in 2020?
The main priority for next year is once again balance. I’d hoped things would come together this year by focusing only on Spain tours, having time in between to be at home & finishing work on the apartment. Some of that happened, but guiding & book research managed to dominate the year once again.
At least the groundwork for 2020 has been set, so I’m confident I can have more of a real life in Sevilla next year instead of feeling like I’m constantly passing through. Plus, next year I’ll turn 50 & will need to celebrate big time. Any suggestions? Maybe 50 will be that magical turning point where life isn’t quite so complicated. Just maybe. Have a fantastic new year!
Hi Robert! Just saw the article about you the RS Travel Newsletter. Having spent 10 days in Andalucia in October, I can see why your heart is there. This was my fourth time in Spain but my first time in Andalucia and I didn’t expect this to be my favorite part of the country but I think it may be. I’m happy that you have found someone wonderful to spend your life with. Best wishes always. Kristine
Hi again, Kristine! It came as a surprise that they wanted to feature me this month. Back in 2015 when we were on tour together, I had no idea where I was going to end up living… my bets were on Portugal, but then I met Rafa & all of a sudden I was back in Andalucía. I’ve always loved this part of Spain –Cádiz was the first place I lived away from the US– and I understand why you like it as well. August in Sevilla is a bit warm for me, but otherwise Andalucía is a fantastic place to live. Thanks for the message & take care!
Dear Robert, so good to keep us informed of your insatiable capacity to discover places, describe them to your followers and “infect” us with this contagion to enjoy life. I am writing to you not from Buenos Aires, but brom Málaga where I am spending a semester.
Un abrazo enorme, que disfrutes mucho el 2020 con Rafa y todos tus afectos. Te veo en el rostro de tu mami. A brillar mi amor para estos gloriosos 50 que se vienen!
Hello Estela – Good to hear from you! I was in Málaga with family over Christmas… lots of fun & a beautiful city. We’ll see how 50 treats me 😉 Hope you are having fun & say hello to Buenos Aires for me when you return. Besos!